Electronic Warfare – The Wild Boars
By Senior Airman Jessica H. Smith, 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 02, 2017
MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Recently, the Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen W. Wilson visited the 390th Electronic Combat Squadron, a geographically-separated unit of Mountain Home Air Force Base, working out of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash.
During his visit, Wilson attended an electronic warfare symposium as the key note speaker and later met with members of the 390th ECS to discuss their role and impact on the mission.
Unbeknown to most, there has been an Air Force presence at Whidbey Island for the last 17 years.
The 390th ECS attaches Air Force members to Navy EA-18G Growler squadrons whose mission is airborne electronic attack.
“We’re the Air Force Squadron here,” said Capt. Chad Gagnon, 390th ECS electronic warfare officer. “We man, train, equip and deploy the expeditionary squadrons.”
While most of the Air Force uses defensive electronic attack to jam pods that protect aircraft against a missile in flight, the 390th Wild Boars are using offensive electronic attack to suppress the enemy’s capabilities to take a shot in the first place.
“The means through which radar and radio travel is through the electromagnetic spectrum,” explained Lt. Col Jeffery Kassebaum, 390th ECS commanding officer. “What we want to do is take away from the enemy their use of the spectrum because they use that spectrum to shoot missiles at our aircraft.”
With the Boars focusing on the suppression of enemy air defenses, they’re able to provide support to other aircraft on their strikes.
“The whole purpose of air power is the ability to drop bombs on the enemy and to take from the enemy things that they hold dear,” Kassebaum said. “In order to get the strikers there we have to suppress the enemy’s air defense that’s trying to shoot at them on the way in – the Growlers suppress that air defense to allow the strikers to get in and drop those bombs.”
With technology constantly evolving, air superiority is more dependent upon spectrum superiority than ever before.
“In the next major conflict, we will fight in the spectrum way before the first missile is thrown or the first bomb is dropped; it will happen,” Kassebaum said. “We have to be there because just to put a plane in position to throw a missile is dependent on the spectrum to get to that point in the first place.”
By flying with the Navy in the airborne electronic attack mission, the Air Force is able to keep a small group of members who understand airborne electronic attack and how to employ offensive electronic attack against a threat’s integrated air defense system, maintaining the ability to fight in the spectrum.
In addition to a shared critical mission, both branches have much to gain from working together.
“It’s career broadening,” Gagnon said. “It’s more or less like an immersion program – learning how to speak another services language and then working with them day in and day out.”
Not only is a partnership built, but both the Air Force and Navy are able to show the Department of Defense what they can bring to the joint electronic-warfare fight.
Once members of the 390th ECS return to a normal Air Force assignment, they’ll be able to take with them a skillset found in very few places in the Air Force.
“You have a lot to teach the Navy and you have a lot to learn from them,” Wilson said. “It doesn’t matter what we do – air, space [or] cyber – everything goes through the spectrum. Thanks for what you guys are doing here; thanks for helping build our joint team.”