Now Hear This - EW Remains At Bare Steerageway in Coast Guard

By Michael Milburn

The Navy has schoolhouses that accept Guardsmen based on availability (Navy first), but these spots are limited. Afloat Training Group San Diego also has been open to holding training when ships pull into San Diego, but Coast Guard commands have little interest as EW is not an active Coast Guard realm.

In addition, although conducting EW and identifying EW threats is a joint effort, there is a lack of coordination among the services. Aside from written documentation, cutter EW operators are kept out of the loop regarding improvements to equipment and in the EW field, and their contributions are minimal because of limited tactical and operational use.

But the news isn’t all bad. The Navy and Coast Guard share proven electronic warfare systems: the AN/SLQ-32(V) Anti-Ship Missile Defense (ASMD) system and the AN/SSX-1 Specific Emitter Identification (SEI) system.

The SLQ-32 can detect, track, classify, and report the locations of contacts well beyond transmitter/receiver respective ranges. It has been a reliable, long-range, all-weather, positive target identification capability against surface, seaborne, and land-based systems emitting radar signals. A significant feature is its exploitation of the adversary-preferred lower operating bands.

SLQ-32 and SEI have limitations, but effective beyond-CONUS employment of these electronic sensors, combined with the intelligence capability from the national security cutters’ (NSCs’) Shipboard Signal Exploitation Equipment, will result in increased collection of valuable foreign entity information. As independent Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deployers, typically on patrol for two to five months, cutters could augment maritime intelligence databases while performing their routine missions. This information would enhance situational awareness for both DHS and the Department of Defense (DoD), supporting near real-time decisions.

In today’s world, there is an increased need for U.S. Navy units, a demand the Navy is having a hard time meeting. Such a gap could be filled by Coast Guard platforms, especially in the Pacific. The Coast Guard has unique diplomatic leverage with China, and there is a push for more focus on EW in the South China Sea. As the Coast Guard continues to build national security cutters, with two projected for homeporting in Hawaii, it makes sense to use their capabilities. 1

Solving the EW Problem

Addressing the EW issue requires major and minor actions.


• Perform independent reviews and ship assessments by the Association of Old Crows, Fleet Electronic Warfare Center, Electronic Warfare Technical Guidance Unit, and Afloat Training Group Pacific

• Conduct a statutory mission review for EW integration

• Permit EW operators to form a professional working relationship in the intelligence community, akin to that created within the Navy cryptologic technician–technical (CTT) ratings

• Establish a DHS and DoD working group to integrate the Coast Guard into training and real-world missions

In addition, as schedules permit, NSCs should participate in Navy joint warfare exercises and return to steaming in Navy strike groups. Work-ups leading to deployment oftentimes include flexing self- and area-defense measures in a simulated war zone, building up to adversarial attacks, and practicing soft kill/self-defense measures. As a result, operators will improve; the system will be fully tested; and national security will increase.


By and large, it boils down to training, but schoolhouse instruction often is beyond the budget of a cutter. If funding were provided, however, consider four proposals for EW betterment:

• Increase attendance at brick-and-mortar courses. The student pool must include both officers and enlisted professionals—district commanders, commanding officers, junior officers, and select combat information center watchstanders. Topics must include an overview of EW and potential threats; lessons from real-world events; the NSC’s role in EW; and policy, guidance, and tactics, techniques, and procedures.

• Send EW operators to EW conferences and Navy strike group post-deployment briefs. The conferences are led by subject matter experts (SMEs) and focus on enhancing shipboard operations. The briefs are excellent opportunities to gather lessons learned from real-world operations and observances.

• Provide training against civilian aircraft. When steaming in designated East/West Coast operating areas, request pod-equipped Lear jets for a four-hour period to make profile runs on the ship. While there is a cost, the return is beneficial EW operator training and a technical assessment of the systems’ operations.

• Embark a civilian EW contractor and/or Navy CTT rating during DHS and DoD missions to provide training to EW operators and all combat information center watchstanders. To host just one EW SME contractor can be expensive, so an alternative could be forging a relationship with Navy CTT SMEs.

There’s no action or proposed plan right now to address the EW operation gap. Despite ready equipment and schoolhouse-trained operators, joint opportunities are not exploited and EW capabilities wane. Now more than ever a requirement exists for a Coast Guard EW command to create guidance, fund training, and provide direction.

A Possible Way Forward

The Coast Guard also may find relief in a proposed concept called “Littoral to Offshore Electronic Warfare Support” (LOEWS), which is tailored and tied to Coast Guard missions indirectly supporting national missions.

LOEWS is the detection and monitoring of vessels operating in the littoral and offshore maritime domains to locate, identify, classify, and track contacts and create unique data sets for a broader understanding of maritime traffic. Patterns are recognized, and signals are compared with on-board sensors.

LOEWS can be a single unit or a multi­unit networked environment that commands can tailor for specific missions. Information can be sent out through USSID SG5302, a universal format for reporting and sharing electronic intelligence data. Combat information center watchstanders also can take signals from the EW operators, fuse them with their tactical/navigation data, and push it to other units nearby or hundreds of miles away. Commands can integrate measures such as emissions control by reducing on-board electronics to avoid counterdetection while still tracking contacts of interest. This gives the Coast Guard the ability to control the electromagnetic spectrum in areas where threats may exist outside a hostile or high-threat region.


Senior Coast Guard leaders need to embrace EW, remain informed of advancements in this important warfare area, and put measures in place for cutters to respond to EW threats and missions. At the same time, cutter EW operators need to wipe the dust off their SLQ consoles and SEI laptops and strive to better understand their invaluable equipment. Our operators and commands need to think outside the box. U.S. coastlines and waterways must be kept safe. Relying on the other military branches to detect the asymmetric “invisible threat” must stop. DHS and the Coast Guard no longer can turn a blind eye to electronic warfare.


1. “Sea Trials Complete for NSC Named for USCG CMOH Recipient,” American Security Today, 11 August 2016, .


Mr. Milburn , a career Coast Guard cutterman, left active duty in 2017 and now serves as a C4ISR subject matter expert supporting the Coast Guard C4ISR Surface Acquisitions Program Office and as a fleet liaison for EW matters. His service assignments included the USCGCs James (WMSL-754), Morgenthau (WHEC-722), Boutwell (WHEC-719), and Stratton (WMSL-752). He has completed Operations Specialist A School and attended U.S. Navy “C” schools for electronic warfare, satellite communications, C4ISR, and leadership and management. He currently is pursuing a degree in cybersecurity at American Military University.


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