Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 4, one of only four squadrons in the Marine Corps to use the Prowler aircraft, is deployed to Japan for six months. (Lance Cpl. Brian Stevens / Marine Corps)
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The Marine Corps’ electronic warfare community is getting a jump-start on its renewed participation in the Unit Deployment Program in Japan.
Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 4, out of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., is the first EA-6B Prowler squadron in five years to deploy as part of the UDP, Lt. Col. David C. Anderson, the squadron’s commanding officer, told Marine Corps Times in March.
While VMAQ-4 has deployed regularly over the years in support of combat operations, their six-month pump in the Asia-Pacific region will afford them an opportunity to train in continuous joint operations by partnering with other Marine, Navy and Air Force units.
“At home we conduct individual unit training, but any time we are able to work with other units it makes training more realistic. It raises the quality,” he said.
The squadron’s deployment is tied to the Corps’ renewed emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region. As part of that, the electronic and cyberwarfare communities are receiving more attention.
“I think what you have seen over the past decade or longer is a growing awareness of cyber and electronic warfare,” Anderson said. “I think that trend is going to continue.”
If rhetoric from Marine leadership in Washington and politicians on Capitol Hill is any indication, Anderson is spot-on, and his field could see continued growth at a time when most are being slashed.
In short, the job of electronic warfare squadrons like VMAQ-4 is to protect U.S. electronic assets and communications while disabling the enemy’s, effectively paralyzing their command and control.
“We spend billions of dollars to design and field the most advanced equipment in the world. All of that equipment is dependent on use of the electromagnetic spectrum,” Anderson said. “That dependence on the electromagnetic spectrum could be a bit of an Achilles heel for the force if we don’t maintain dominance.”
With China, Russia and Iran ramping up their own investments in electronic and cyberwarfare, the U.S. is taking note. Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle recently said that electronic and cyberwarfare share similar missions even if they use different tools to influence the electromagnetic spectrum. They are beginning to overlap and merge.
“I view this to be very much the wave of the future, and I see that the line between them today is a bit fuzzy,” he told an audience during a Feb. 20 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
To investigate that fusion, Marines will run joint cyber/electronic warfare exercises this spring at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., during the Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course. He was scant on details, but made clear the objective is to bring the two together with the goal of improving the service’s ability to dominate in this arena.
Tests at WTI this spring could include the use of EW-capable unmanned aerial vehicles, according to the Marine Corps’ Electronic Warfare branch head, Lt. Col. Jason Schuette. They won’t replace manned aircraft for the mission, but they will bolster reach, he told Marine Corps Times earlier this year.
While in the Pacific, Anderson said, his squadron’s traditional mission won’t change much, though he declined to discuss specifics. His Prowler crews will refine their current skill set in a region the Marine Corps has identified as a future flashpoint plagued by instability, poverty and piracy.