Two new Air Force squadrons are joining the service’s growing cadre of software coders focused on rushing new electronic warfare tools to the field, along with tacticians who will advise the joint force on how best to use them.

The 388th Electronic Warfare Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, will begin operations Thursday, one week after the 563rd EWS launched across the country at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

Together, they aim to bolster the military’s ability to disrupt the networked weapons, navigation tools and communications systems that form the backbone of modern warfare.

“Operational-level tools that we use as a force to plan, integrate, synchronize and collaborate [on] electronic warfare effects are basically nonexistent,” Col. Josh Koslov, head of the 350th Spectrum Warfare Wing at Eglin, told reporters Wednesday. “We’re building that capability.”

Electronic warfare allows troops to manipulate the spectrum of radio waves to block forces from talking, distract precision-guided munitions from their targets and install malicious software on enemy systems, among other offensive and defensive options.

The service is also mulling fresh tactics that would allow its combat missions to succeed even if airmen can’t communicate, if navigation systems go down, or if command centers are cut off from forces in the field.

Rather than supporting a particular asset, like the Compass Call electronic-attack fleet, the squadrons are the Air Force’s first units solely dedicated to software for electronic warfare at large. They’ll also help manage the “mountains of data” the Air Force amasses on its adversaries, to better understand the enemy and create new tools to counter them faster, Koslov said.

“Externally, it’s about providing tools by which to plan, synchronize, collaborate,” Koslov said. “Internally, it’s about speed.”

The 563rd EWS, which previously trained electronic warfare and combat system officers before it was deactivated in 2010, will focus on responding to operational units’ requests for new EW software, based on what they encounter in the field. Airmen will update the apps as needed to keep pace with evolving threats.

One program now in development will track the process of receiving commanders’ requests for new EW tools, building them and deploying them through the Air Force’s Pacific-focused 613th Air Operations Center in Hawaii, Koslov said.

Once that’s complete, the 563rd EWS will look at ways to speed up new software for the Air Force’s most advanced assets, like the F-35 Lightning II fighter, Koslov added.

At Eglin, the 388th EWS plans to study the digital capabilities of adversaries like China to determine where the Air Force could worm its way in to disable them. Those discussions will shape how the service codes and wields its own EW tools, and how airmen train to use them, an Air Force spokesperson said.

For instance, electronic warfare could lead air defenses to shoot away from an incoming U.S. aircraft, or stop a signal jammer from blocking an American attack.

“We’re going to ensure that we are using the best techniques, tactics and procedures in order to attack ‘red’ — our adversaries — to achieve blue objectives and support that joint force,” said Lt. Col. Tim West, the squadron’s incoming commander.

Multiple intelligence-focused teams will be nested within the 388th EWS, West said, including a group who will pore over Chinese, Russian and other electromagnetic offenses and defenses to determine what poses the greatest threat to U.S. and allied forces.

The two new squadrons are staffed by a combination of new trainees and those who have served in other EW units. Koslov expects the 563rd and 388th will grow to 150 to 200 airmen over the next few years.

Another existing squadron, the 39th EWS at Eglin, will pivot from developing electronic warfare tools to instead become stewards and curators of data collected on the capabilities of foreign forces.

The new units arrive in the midst of the Air Force’s yearslong push to revamp its electronic warfare enterprise with a more holistic view of those battlefield needs and a warfighting mindset. Koslov said the service has opened six new EW units in the past year and plans to launch at least four more.

Last October, the 350th Spectrum Warfare Wing launched two other detachments at Robins AFB, Georgia, that will identify weak points in U.S. networks and move to protect them. Their parent organization, the 950th Spectrum Warfare Group, is designed to assess how effectively various aircraft can wage and endure electronic attacks, and improve jamming and spoofing at military exercises.

Koslov said he aims to bring at least 400 people to Robins as part of that effort.

Despite a staff shortage and other growing pains of revitalizing the Air Force’s once-robust EW enterprise, Koslov said airmen’s recent success in training exercises show they’re on the “glide path towards ultimate success.”

“We’re working towards getting better,” he said.

Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.

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