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The military will need the Marines' electronic warfare squadrons beyond 2019

May 28, 2016 (Photo Credit: Cpl. Neysa Huertas Quinones/Marine Corps)

Editor's note: The following is an opinion piece. The writer is not employed by Military Times and the views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Military Times or its editorial staff.

The Marine Corps' decision to decommission four electronic warfare squadrons over the next three years is short sighted and ill-advised — especially when considering the continued threats to our country and the operational challenges facing the F-35 program. 

As with the Air Force's A-10 "Warthog" program, funding issues have played a major role in the Marine Corps’ decision to phase out its EA-6B Prowlers.  The tactical jamming and electronic attack capabilities the Prowler brings to the battlefield are still relevant, and will be well into the next decade. The technology will also be vital to the survival of our legacy aircraft like the AV-8B Harrier, F/A-18 Hornet and MV-22 Ospreys, as well as our fifth-generation aircraft.  

Cost should not be the determining factor in the electronic-warfare community’s demise. The "risk to" and "safety of" our aircrews and assets should be paramount!

This decision sends two dozen EA-6B aircraft into the sunset. It also stands down the Intermediate Maintenance Support assets, vans and personnel used to support autonomous squadron operations and shuts down the electronic warfare schoolhouse where Marine EA-6B aircrew have trained since Vietnam.

This not only negatively impacts Marine Corps operations, but the tactical and strategic capabilities to support the operational plans and tactical requirements of the entire Defense Department and all combatant commands. 

After the disbandment of the VMAQ community in 2019, 50 percent of DoD's expeditionary electronic attack capabilities will be gone. There are no comparable replacement electronic-warfare capabilities within DoD.  

The first step in this sundown decision has already been implemented with the decommissioning of Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Training Squadron 1.  That move will be followed by the total demobilization of the remaining Marine Corps EA-6B squadrons, and the loss of airborne electronic warfare/attack capabilities and expertise that have supported the requirements of the Marine Corps and Defense Department since Vietnam.

The Navy Department has indicated it will assume DoD's expeditionary airborne electronic-warfare requirements after the last VMAQ community is shuttered in 2019. However, the Navy’s EA-18G expeditionary community will undertake this mission without adding more expeditionary squadrons or EA deployment capabilities. The four Navy expeditionary EA-18G squadrons will be extremely challenged — or perhaps unable — to meet, global operational requirements.

The loss of the four Marine Prowler squadrons will severely limit the U.S. military's warfighting capabilities. The initial stand down of the VMAQ community should be delayed until 2020, providing additional time to review alternatives and minimize the loss of these capabilities. 

Lt. Col. Ricky B. Johnson (ret.) is a Cubic EA-6B ICAP III instructor at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, who trained EA-6B aircrew for more than 19 years. He spent 23 years in the Marine Corps, with nearly half of that time spent with Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2, commanding the squadron from July 1993 to June 1995. He also spent six years as an electronic-warfare officer on four Marine headquarters staffs.

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