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BOOK REVIEW


Electronic Aggressors: A Pictorial History of U.S. Navy Electronic Threat Environment Squadrons, Part II
(1978-2000) -- Angelo Romano/Ginter Books



In 1969, FEWSG (Fleet Electronic Warfare Support Group) opened its doors.  It was the U.S Navy’s fleet electronic warfare (EW) training center and the intellectual focus of the Navy’s EW and ECM (electronic countermeasures) communities.  Their mission was multifaceted and complex, but it all centered around efforts to simulate enemy EW threats.  FEWSG aircraft produced a “replica” real-world active hostile ECM environment and evaluated all manner of fleet (surface and airborne) responses and use of friendly ECM and ECCM (electronic counter-counter measures).  In 2019, Angelo Romano’s two-part book series on FEWSG was released.  Part I (see our review HERE) covered the history of FEWSG from its late 1940s roots into its heyday up to 1977.  Here, we turn our attention to Part II that follows the FEWSG story to the beginning of the 21st century.

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Part II of Electronic Aggressors: A Pictorial History of U.S. Navy Electronic Threat Environment Squadrons contains 218 pages, 499 photos (just about all in color), 31 color profiles, 33 illustrations of squadron and unit patches, and 31 tables and graphs.  Part II seamlessly resumes where Part I left off.  The reader is introduced to the two NKC-135As loaned from the Air Force in 1977 and modified heavily as KING CROW and KING CROW II aircraft, replacing FEWSG’s venerable EB-47Es.  These NKC-135s (also called the NUCAR aircraft) carried an extensive range of internal gear as well as rather exotic underwing-mounted pods such as the TREE HORN, TREE SQUID, and TREE HOUND ECM pods.  The text also highlights in detail other concurrent developments at VAQ-33 Firebirds, including taking on the role of the A-3 RAG and the addition of EA-6A Intruder for their EW missions.  The EA-6As did plenty of jamming work with the Firebirds, but it also employed other pods including dedicated chaff dispensing gear and missile simulator pods.  Additional histories are provided, detailing FEWSG deployments out of NAS Norfolk and Dets to Key West, fleet exercises, and other work into the early 1990s.  It is a complete and very thorough history to be sure.

The next section of the book chronicles the origins of VAQ-34.  By 1983, VAQ-33’s services were in such high demand that VAQ-34 Flashbacks was stood up at Pt. Mugu to supplement the Firebirds.  They were initially outfitted with newly modified ERA-3Bs (outfitted with additional gear expanding on the configurations of their East Coast sister squadron) and TA-7C Corsair IIs modified as EA-7Ls.  As described in the book, the ERA-3B and EA-7L proved to be a highly effective EW threat simulation combination.  VAQ-34 also gained notoriety as home to some of the first operational female Navy combat jet pilots, perhaps most notably CAPT Rosemary Mariner.  By the late 1980s, VAQ-34 moved away from Gull Gray-over-White schemes and lost the GD coded lightning bolt tail art in favor of a faux Soviet red star.

Meanwhile, back on the East Coast, the book covers how VAQ-33’s ranks grew with the vital addition of a specialized EP-3 Orion used as the Navy’s only Command, Communications, and Countermeasures aircraft.  The expanding range of AST-, ALQ- and ALE- pods in their inventory is also illustrated, keeping up with the task of presenting the simulations of the newest, and most hostile, and most complex hostile emitters known at the time. It is shown how aircraft color schemes went progressively lower-viz into the late 1980s.  Also, the book provides looks around and inside another heavily modified 707 airframe used by FEWSG:  the EC-24A.    

The ERA-3B Skywarrior was a FEWSG workhorse, and last of the these 1950s-era airframes was retired in 1991.  To fill in the EW training gap, Romano describes how VAQ-35 Greywolves was established at NAS Whidbey Island in 1991.  They were equipped with seven EA-6B Prowlers.  Then, as the EA-7L was phased out, eight F/A-18A/Bs joined VAQ-34 flying with various pods and used as threat simulators, high-volume chaff dispensers, jammers, and threat detectors.

By 1993, the end of the Cold War and subsequent force downsizing and reorganization reached FEWSG.  The final part of the book’s narrative chronicles the disestablishment of VAQ-33 and VAQ-34, both in October 1993.  Electronic threat environment simulation work went to the EP-3Js of VP-66 who were still supplemented by the NKC-135As.  Further cuts led to the retirement of the NUCAR -135s in 1994. VQ-11 took as many of these roles as possible with their two EP-3Js between 1997-2000 as EW training and simulation, but the work was progressively outsourced to civilian-operated Learjets.  Indeed, this age of USN threat electronic environment simulation bore little resemblance to the zenith of FEWSG.  The last section of the book is a deep look inside of both the NKC-135A and EC-24A capability manuals.  Especially interesting is the great coverage of the NUCAR’s many exotic pods.     

Just like Part I, Part II is outstanding.  Again, the text is very well organized and written while being detailed and informative.  The choices of photos are all excellent and they are all highly informative.  There are also lots of first-rate color profiles of the 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.  The book illustrates, as noted earlier, the many unique configurations flown by the aircraft of VAQ-33, - 34, and -35.  In this way, the book provides a rare, meticulous, and privileged 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 almost nothing to critique in this excellent volume.  I only saw one small typo – VF-102 is referred to as the Sidewinders on p. 163; they’re the Diamondbacks.  The Sidewinders are a Hornet operator.

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Overall, Angelo Romano’s Electronic Aggressors: A Pictorial History of U.S. Navy Electronic Threat Environment Squadrons, Part II (1978-2000) is outstanding.  Together, Parts I and II combine to form a singular history of these squadrons and document their thoroughly unique contributions to the defense of the United States.  Readers interested in topics as diverse as American airpower, electronic warfare, and naval aviation of any era will all find a great deal to enjoy here.  The author is to be highly commended.  These two books will find a central place on many reader’s bookshelves.  They are, frankly, a must-have for readers who are interested and care about these subjects.

POSTSCRIPT – A NOTE TO AFTERMARKET DETAIL SET AND DECAL MANUFACTURERS:  there are some really interesting schemes here!  While a 1:48 scale VAQ-33 FEWSG EA-4F was done as part of the 2008 IMPS/USA Nats decal sheet, it was not complete and hads a few errors in it.  There’s a TON of really interesting markings for many of the aircraft in this book for both existing 1:72 and 1:48 scale kits from the electric Scooters and Whales to the EA-6As, EA-7Ls, and F/A-18s.  Your reviewer implores you:  do a sheet on FEWSG subjects!!!  Further, the Trumpeter 1:48 scale ERA-3B kit decals for VAQ-133 could really be improved upon.  For aftermarket resin and 3D printing manufacturers, the pods and other mods could be relatively easily produced.  Hopefully, these two books and their contents will stimulate interest and a market for such products.    

Haagen Klaus
Scale Modeling News & Reviews Editor
Detail & Scale


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