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B-1 countermeasure system
The B-1B Lancer sits in a hangar, awaiting routine maintenance. The B-1 features the ALQ-161 countermeasure system, which protects the B-1 from enemy attacks and radar detection.(U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jarad A. Denton)
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Profiles of the B-1: Electronic Warfare Technician

Posted 8/26/2009   Updated 8/26/2009 Email story   Print story


by Airman 1st Class Jarad A. Denton
28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

8/26/2009 - ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- When the B-1B Lancer flies missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, it relies not only on the pilot and proper maintenance - it relies on a sophisticated system to counter America's enemies.
Because of the sensitivity of this system, a highly skilled team of electronic warfare technicians is needed to maintain it. 

This team is charged with the task of maintaining a system that keeps the flight crew safe during missions over hostile territory. 

"The system is designed to give off a false signal when enemy radar picks it up," said Staff Sgt. John Steele, 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron electronic warfare technician. 

Radar works like a sounding device that gauges the distance of an object. Sound waves are sent into the skies overhead from a transmitter on the ground. 

These waves hit the B-1 and bounce back to the transmitter. The radar system then gauges the time it takes the waves to hit the B-1 before bouncing back. Enemies use this data to determine the exact location of the B-1. 

To deter this, the B-1 is equipped with the ALQ-161 electronic countermeasure system to detect a wide variety of threats and apply the appropriate jamming technique. This makes it very difficult for enemy radar to track the B-1. 

Once the ALQ-161 is engaged, it cycles through several jamming options before selecting one automatically, or waiting for manual input from the flight crew, said Sergeant Steele. 

The ALQ-161 system is a strong line of defense for the B-1, said Staff Sgt. Natasha Staab 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron electronic warfare technician. Our job is to make sure that system, or any other countermeasure system, doesn't malfunction. 

"My job is very important," said Sergeant Steele. "Not everyone can say they are responsible for the lives of the flight crew." 

It was overwhelming to see such an intricate system when I came to Ellsworth in 1999, said Sergeant Steele. But, since then I've had a fantastic opportunity to learn my job, deploy with the B-1, and observe the ALQ-161 in action. 

Sergeant Steele said the system has kept the flight crew safe during missions for many years. It's been upgraded and improved several times to ensure the success of the B-1's mission down range. 

Those upgrades have allowed the B-1 to remain the backbone of America's long-range bomber force. They have also allowed members of the 28th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, like Sergeant Steele, to continue to help put bombs on target.

5/27/2010 3:48:22 PM ET
I do not know of any other RWR jamming system that depends so much on EW technicians for proper operation. Fact is ALQ161 operational testing was a failure disaster when first designed by AIL there is plenty of congressional records to support this fact. And ever since it has been an uphill battle to fix improve and update. To do so requires critical operational analysis to keep the system functioning optimally. The EW tech is being asked way too much beyond the call of duty from a design engineering perspective to keep the system running. My recommendation is to question everything and don't be afraid to red tag when in doubt pay particular attention to parts that do not function consistently over time temperature and power.Henry DelfornCarpinteria CA
Henry Delforn, Carpinteria CA
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