U.S. Navy aircrews hone unique skills in the Pacific Northwest

The mission of the United States Navy is to maintain, train and equip combat-ready naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas. One aspect of this mission, unique to the Pacific Northwest, is the training of Navy aircrew in electronic warfare.

The Navy has been flying electronic warfare missions from Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island using various aircraft for more than 40 years. Electronic warfare involves the control of electromagnetic energy. People experience various forms of electromagnetic energy each day in their homes. The energy can come from radios, TV remote controls, cell phones, and even the microwave oven.

During combat, electronic warfare operators save U.S. and allied forces lives by eliminating threats such as search and track radars, surface to air missiles, and anti-aircraft artillery batteries. These are known collectively as an integrated air defense system.


EA-18G Growler, VAQ-138 from NAS Whidbey Island, Washington.

During Operation Odyssey Dawn in March 2011, EA-18G Growler aircraft located and disabled Libyan radar and anti-aircraft sites, which effectively eliminated air and missile defense systems.

The Navy is enhancing electronic warfare training in the Pacific Northwest by adding one land transmitter station and three mobile transmitter vans. The mobile transmitter vans pose no danger to the public, as maximum power output is very similar to the output of microwave-antenna vans used by television news and sports stations.

There is no public health risk from the Navy’s proposed electronic warfare training to humans or wildlife. This type of training has been conducted across the nation for decades with no adverse effects on people, animals or the environment. The public is not exposed to electromagnetic energy from the transmitters because the signals are pointed skyward toward the aircraft in flight.

The mobile transmitters send a narrowly focused electronic directly skyward to Navy aircraft in flight. These mobile transmitters send out transmissions that mimic threat signals, providing a dynamic training environment for more-realistic signal intercept and identification practice.


 OAK HARBOR, Wash. (July 11, 2014) An EA-18G Growler assigned to Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 129 lands on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s Ault Field. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John Hetherington/Released)

Aircrew must also be able to differentiate between specific electronic signals and other sources of electronic signals like radio-wave towers and radar sites. The Navy requested to place the mobile transmitter vans on established U.S. Forest Service roads in remote locations under designated military airspace.

Currently, EA-18G squadrons assigned to Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island fly more than 400 miles each way to a training range near Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, to experience live-signal training. Transit flight hours put unwanted wear and tear on assigned EA-18G Growler aircraft. Eliminating long transit times by hosting localized training promotes training efficiency and reduces fuel costs. Local Electronic Warfare training enhancements are estimated to save U.S. taxpayers $5 million annually.

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