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BOOK REVIEW


Electronic Aggressors: A Pictorial History of U.S. Navy Electronic Threat Environment Squadrons, Part I
(1949-1977) -- Angelo Romano/Ginter Books



The “dark arts” of electronic warfare (EW) represents one of the most significant pillars of modern U.S. warfighting capability:  the use of electromagnetic radiation and related means to disrupt an enemy’s warfighting ability.  Broadly defined, EW spans three major tasks:  (1) neutralizing enemy communications by transmitting high-powered electronic signals to overwhelm or disrupt radio or radar waves; (2) electronic protection involving spoofing hostile electronics and allowing other aircraft to complete their missions without being detected or attacked; and (3) collection of signals and electronic intelligence.  

Your reviewer’s deep interest in the subject goes back to when I was young watching the last batches of EA-6B Prowlers come off the production line and taking their first flights at Grumman’s Calverton, New York, plant.  Something about the Prowler and the EW mission struck me as exotic and very daring.  EW has thus long been a topic of considerable study for me, and from this perspective, I approached Angelo Romano’s new two-part book, Electronic Aggressors: A Pictorial History of U.S. Navy Electronic Threat Environment Squadrons.  It covers the unique, noteworthy, and still relatively unknown history of the U.S. Navy’s efforts to train its airborne and surface forces in the world of EW.

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Part I of this two-part accounting (click HERE for our review of Part II) is a big book, coming in at 218 pages with 544 photos (mostly in color), nearly 50 color profiles, 22 squadron and unit patches, and 34 tables and graphs. The author, Angelo Romano, is a widely published and well-known writer on U.S. naval aviation subject matter whose first book came out in 1986. 

Part I explores the origins and history of the U. S. Navy’s FEWSG (Fleet Electronic Warfare Support Group) into its 1970s heyday.  The book is part written narrative, but it is mostly a visual chronicle.  The book starts by examining FEWSG’s roots that go back to May 1949 when VC-33 was formed at NAS Norfolk as a composite anti-submarine squadron operating multiple variants of the Avenger and eventually the Douglas AD Skyraider.  Their mission was soon extended to night attack, radio relay, nuclear weapons delivery, and the emerging Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) role.  VC-33’s men and aircraft were regularly embarked on aircraft carriers as detachments (Dets) for nearly 20 years beginning in 1951.  During the Korean War, their role started to increasingly emphasize a somewhat miscellaneous side duty:  jamming enemy radars.

The book then details the late 1950s resignations as VA(AW)-33 and then VAW-33 as this diverse squadron added the Grumman TF-1Q Tracker, extensively modified AD-5Ns, and Douglas AD-5Q and AD-5W (the latter with its massive ventral radome) as their roles grew further into offensive jamming, EW support, training, and classified “special missions.”

During the Vietnam era, Romano documents what eventually amounted into a paradigm shift for the squadron and the Navy as a whole.  Now VAQ-33 had their Dets over Southeast Asia conducting standoff jamming and other forms of EW support through 1969.  At the same time, the Navy was aggressively rethinking EW to the point of modifying two EB-47Es on loan from the USAF.  These aircraft became the most sophisticated jammers and threat simulators developed at the time.  The work those jets conducted help drive home the point that U. S. navy airmen and sailors needed explicit EW training given the current and forthcoming Soviet ant-ship missiles and EW capabilities.

Accordingly, FEWSG (Fleet Electronic Warfare Support Group) was born in July 1969 to both simulate these threats by producing a “replica” active Soviet/Chinese ECM environment and to evaluate all manner of fleet (surface and airborne) responses and use of friendly ECM and ECCM in such a situation.  The two EB-47Es were soon joined by A-3 Skywarriors.  VAQ-33, now renamed as the Firebirds, was the air arm of FEWSG and it became the fleet electronic warfare training squadron and the intellectual center of the ECM world for the Navy.  Romano takes the reader through the squadron’s acquisition and use of EC-121Ks (employed as long-range standoff jammers), F-4Bs, EF-4Bs, EF-4Js, TA-4Fs, and EA-4F Skyhawks (used as various missile simulators, jammers, and dispensers of chaff), and ERA-3A and ERA-3B Skywarriors (used for noise jamming and with their special chaff hoppers, they could lay down corridors of chaff some 75 miles long).     

The final section of the book provides the reader a rich photo essay of the diverse aircraft operated by FEWSG during this era.  It also includes notes and descriptions of the various aircraft systems, listings of various training exercises, squadron structure, and many other details – up to the point when FEWSG retired its EB-47Es in 1977.  The book wraps with highly informative excepts from the ERA-3A/NR-3B/RA-3B NATOPS flight manual, a look at the intriguing AQM-37 missile simulator drones that were air-launched by FEWSG assets, and finally, details on the AN/ALQ-76 ECM pod used by their jets.

This book is outstanding.  I am not sure where to start with the accolades.  The text is very well written and clear.  The choices of photos are all excellent and they are all highly informative.  There are also a good number of gorgeous color profiles of many different aircraft as well.  The author’s remarkable depth of research and knowledge on the subject matter is plainly evident, and I learned a lot on virtually every page.  There is, in fact, a great deal of rich, new information for readers here.

Romano’s book illustrates, one-by-one, the history of the Dets between 1951 and 1969 and FEWSG’s activities thru 1977 via a remarkable photographic tour of the changing aircraft, evolving aircraft configurations, details of the carriers, and a number of poignant narratives from people who were there.  Speaking of aircraft, some of this stuff is down-right exotic.  These are not your stock Stoofs, Spads, Stratojets, Connies, Scooters, and Whales.  Many of these aircraft feature striking and unusual paint schemes, modifications, configurations, and other details – some of which I have never seen!  In this way, the book provides a rare, meticulous, and very valuable look into the world of FEWSG.  From a production point-of-view, the book is also beautifully made.  The printing is gorgeous, layout is perfect, and the binding looks great.         

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There’s really nothing to critique in this excellent volume.  However, some readers might have caught the fact that the term aggressor is used in the title.  Navy opposing force (OPFOR) assets are adversaries, while the Air Force refers to its “good guys gone bad” as aggressors.  Still, at least some members of this Navy EW community referred to themselves as aggressors (see our review of Part II), and the term “electronic aggressor” was given the thumbs-up from the people who were there as the term appropriate to their mission. 

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Angelo Romano’s Electronic Aggressors:  A Pictorial History of U.S. Navy Electronic Threat Environment Squadrons, Part I (1949-1977) is outstanding.  It gets a bravo-zulu rating all the way.  Many readers will find that it is hard to put down once you open it.  It is as immersive as it is impressive.  Readers interested in topics as diverse as American airpower, electronic warfare, naval aviation of any era, and students of the Korean, Vietnam, and Cold Wars will all find a great deal of valuable information here.  I would also add A-1 Skyraider fans will not want to miss the rich coverage of the many uniquely configured Spads that are covered in significant depth.  This book will likely find a central place on many reader’s bookshelves.  Still, the story of theelectronic threat environment squadrons is incomplete, as it continued into the 1990s.  That’s where Part II of this book picks up, and you can read our review of the companion volume to Part I HERE.  

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale


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