Pentagon sets up panel to study electronic warfare requirements

By Andrea Shalal WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Defense Department on Tuesday set up a new panel to address shortfalls in U.S. electronic warfare capabilities across the U.S. military and to ensure the United States retains its competitive edge. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work signed a memo creating a new "Electronic Warfare Executive Committee" to be chaired by Pentagon acquisition chief Frank Kendall and Admiral James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Work told a conference hosted by McAleese & Associates and Credit Suisse that the United States still had greater capabilities in the electromagnetic spectrum than potential adversaries, but other countries were investing heavily. "We still have a lead, but I think that lead is diminishing rapidly," Work told the conference. In the memo, Work said he created the panel after the Defense Science Board found the Pentagon had "lost focus on electronic warfare at the programmatic and strategic level." He said the committee would oversee and coordinate electronic warfare programs, strategy and acquisition, while balancing budget and capability needs. The move could spell good news for Boeing Co, which builds electronic attack jets for the Navy, but may open opportunities for other companies that work in the sector, including Raytheon Co and Northrop Grumman Corp as well as Britain's BAE Systems Plc. Kendall told reporters the committee's work would have some impact on the Pentagon budget process, but it was unlikely to get the full $2 billion in extra funding for electronic warfare equipment recommended by the science board last year. He said he did not favor designating one service to manage all electronic warfare needs for the entire military since each of the services had its own needs and capabilities. The Navy is nearing the end of a separate study of electronic warfare requirements across the military services. A top admiral last week said the study would probably point to the need for more Boeing EA-18G electronic attack jets, but Boeing needed orders in fiscal 2016 to preserve the option of building more EA-18Gs in coming years. Kendall said he was more concerned about getting to a next-generation capability than extending the Boeing production line to maintain the option of buying more Growlers. "The problem is that even if Boeing gets another foreign sale," he said, "at some point in the next few years for sure they’re going to have to shut down the line." (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Dan Grebler, Lisa Von Ahn and Ken Wills)