Activation of New Electronic Warfare Squadron at Eglin Signals New Priorities For Air Force

For the second time in a week - the Air Force has stood up a Electronic Warfare Squadron. The increase in the pace and size of these types of squadrons signals a shift from the Global War on Terror.

The word “China” used to be frequently replaced with a more nebulous term like “near-peer” or “potential adversary”— not so much anymore. 

As the 33 current members of the squadron and about 200 other guests in uniform piled into the Air Force Armament Museum – dozens of ‘2027’ tabs graced the left arm patches of the airmen. Those patches refer to a report given by Joint Chief Of Staff Mark Milley that the Chinese People’s Revolutionary Army (PLA) wants the ability to invade Taiwan successfully by 2027. The thought behind the patch is that it reminds everyone about the war that’s coming up next – and the need to be ready for it. 

May 2 saw the 388 Electronic Warfare Squadron (EWS) stand up under Lt. Colonel Timothy ‘Beast’ West. It’s the second standup of an electronic warfare squadron under the 850th Spectrum Warfare Group in a week—the other being the 563rd EWS in San Antonio at Lackland Air Force Base. 

“I’ve watched Beast bring hard work and success to everything he’s touched in the last decade. He is among the most intelligent electronic attack aviators in the business. He has an uncommon ability to bridge the technical and operational sides of spectrum warfare seamlessly,” Colonel Andrew Finkler [the Commander of the 850th Spectrum Warfare Wing] said of Lt. Colonel West at his installation, “I can think of few officers I’d rather hand a vision and a guide on and trust to deliver above and beyond expectations.”

Lt. Colonel West will have his work cut out for him. The Air Force must bring its spectrum warfare bona fides to a new level as the Air Force pivots away from the Global War on Terror and moves toward a potential conflict with the Chinese and Russians shortly. But his passion for the mission means that the 388th will have a commander who knows the gravity of the situation he’s been placed into. “We take the fight to the enemy; we destroy the enemy’s ability to command and control and to coordinate,” West remembers upon hearing about the mission of EWS for the first time as a young officer, “And I was like, that sounds like a cool mission for me! And so I got there, and it turns out I loved it. I did the best I could and was able to do some amazing things because of the teams that were working with me and the leadership that I had.”

Captain Ben Aronson, the public affairs officer for the 850th Spectrum Warfare Group, said simply after the ceremony, “The Air Force realized that after all that time in the Middle East, we let our capabilities fall a little bit, and they weren’t up to snuff when it comes to our near-peer adversaries,” Aronson said. The captain noted that the changes in the threats the Air Force needed to be prepared to respond to “was a big factor in why we built the 350th – to get that competitive edge back and that advantage back to the Air Force. They did a study of our capabilities and were like, this is not where we needed to be.”

The force’s needs, once met by the spectrum warfare teams at the time, had become too small to do what might need to be done against those near-peers. “What we had was very effective,” Aronson said, “But as we are shifting away and bringing eyes on to China and Russia – other near-peer adversaries – they have a lot stronger capabilities than ISIS and Al-Qaeda and those other folks.

History of the 388th Squadron

The 388th was activated in 1942, just four months after the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor, as part of the 312th Bombardment Group. “The squadron was formed to address the pressing need for robust aerial bombardment capability in the Pacific during World War II,” said 850th Spectrum Warfare Wing Commander Colonel Andrew Finkler

 

The unit started its service with antisubmarine patrols in the Atlantic before moving to the Pacific theatre to fight the Japanese-owned North American A36 Apache Dive Bombers. 

 

The unit faced unyeilding Japanese resistance in the skies above Port Moresby (in what is now Papua New Guinea), Leyte, Mindoro, Luzon, and Formosa (What is now called Taiwan). 

 

As with many units after the war – the Army Air Corps disbanded the unit. 

 

In 1954, the Air Force reactivated the unit as a fighter-bomber squadron at Clovis Air Force Base in New Mexico. The unit used F-86 Sabres and had a solemn mission: to drop tactical nuclear warheads if given the order. 

 

The unit was deactivated in 1959 but returned in 1977 as the 388th Tactical Fighter Squadron, based at Mountain Home, Idaho, where pilots were trained on the F-111A. By 1981, the squadron had new life as part of the 366 Tactical Fighter Wing at Mountain Home. Designated the 388th Electronic Combat Squadron, the unit began to resemble the one that was reconstituted at Eglin in May 2024. 

 

“During it’s active years, the 388th Electronic Combat Squadron played a significant role in Cold War deterrence operations,” Colonel Finkler noted in his remarks.

 

After another deactivation in the 1990s, the Air Force brought back the unit in December 2004 to fly the EA-6B Prowler. The Prowler, typically a ship flown by the Navy, used state-of-the-art jamming systems to enforce the United States Military’s advantage against lower-tech foes by suppressing their anti-air capabilities (looking at you, Iraq). 

 

As the United States moved forward into the Global War on Terror, the need to suppress anti-air assets became less critical to the overall mission. After all, ISIS, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda had minimal anti-air assets in play. 

 

Now, as part of the US Air Force’s decision to re-align its priorities toward the Russians and the Chinese, they must significantly step up their radar jamming and other electronic warfare capabilities—hence the rapid creation of several Electronic Warfare Squadrons around the country. 

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