VIDEO: Sen. Kelly Presses Air Force Leadership to Continue Modernization of Arizona-based Compass Call Fleet 

Emphasizes need to invest in sophisticated electronic attack systems to counter China’s integrated air defenses 

On Tuesday, in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to examine the Air Force’s budget request for fiscal year 2023, 25-year Navy veteran and Arizona Senator Mark Kelly asked U.S. Air Force leaders about their plans to invest in the Compass Call program, an airborne tactical weapon system that disrupts enemy command and control communications and limits adversary coordination.

The program is based solely at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, and the Air Force plans to replace 14 EC-130 aircraft with 10 more-advanced and more capable EC-37B aircraft. In recent months, Kelly has been urging the Air Force to acquire and upgrade this fleet of aircraft that will ensure our Air Force maintains a strong competitive edge over our adversaries. Just two weeks ago, during an oversight hearing on the 2023 budget authorization request, Kelly urged Secretary Kendall to devote funding to modernizing the Compass Call program, noting that four of these aircraft are currently on the Air Force’s “Unfunded Priorities List.” During the hearing, Air Force officials agreed that a fully modernized fleet of 10 Compass Call aircraft is needed to support national security.

Senator Kelly addresses witnesses at the hearing on May 17. 

Read a transcript of Kelly’s exchange with witnesses below, or watch the video HERE 

Kelly: […] General Richardson, so a couple weeks ago, I asked Secretary Kendall about the value of our electronic warfare capabilities specifically jamming capability and our ability to suppress enemy air defenses with electronic warfare capabilities of our systems. And as you know, this is one way that helps us achieve and maintain air superiority. So specifically, what I was referring to is the Compass Call program, which was on pace to replace 14 EC-130s with 10 Compass Call EC-37B aircraft and it was on pace until [the] fiscal year 2023 budget request was submitted to Congress. I’m concerned with the Air Force’s decision to delay the EC-37B purchases and place the remaining four airplanes on the unfunded priorities list, rather than requesting funding for them. 
So General, what would be the operational impact … and maybe this question is for anybody… but particularly given the sophisticated integrated air defense systems that is being fielded by China, if we don’t have the additional funding for the EC 37Bs? 

General Richardson: Senator, I’ll just give you a very short update. Then I’ll pivot to General Nahom and General Guastella…so the good news is we got 6 of them on contract. The first 2 have actually completed their supplemental type cert work and are now at L3 under mod. So we’re looking pretty good to start to deliver the first one the first quarter of FY 23 to start the testing, so that’s really going well. The other thing I would mention about the capability before I ask General Nahom to answer the second question you asked about the for the other 4 aircraft is: that is also I’d say a sale marquee program for this new digital acquisition method. So we’re making sure that we build them so that they’re very rapidly reprogrammable. So, once we do get those aircraft and we can quickly software change them out so to speak, without years of time, and I’ll ask General Nahom to answer your direct question.

General Nahom: Yes sir, we do want to get to a fleet of 10, 6 is too small. If you take a couple away for training, or maybe one or two away for maintenance, you’re not left with a lot for operational use and there is a lot of use for those airplanes right now, the EC-130 certainly and we know the EC-37 will be in high demand as well. So… when you look at the balances we made on this year’s POM, in this year’s budget submission, we just… we had limited resources and this is one of those places. We just could not get to the whole 10 aircraft. That’s why the Chief did put it on the unfunded priorities list. But we do see the need for a fleet of 10, so we can train, we can fix, and we can employ, all at the same time, and I would be concerned with a fleet of only 6 airplanes, sir.  
General Richardson: I would just add on and just say for the balance of the 4, we’re keeping a sharp eye on the used G- Gulfstream 550. And so there are some available. We’re also looking at when the Rolls-Royce engine line shuts down for new orders in December. So all that stuff is part of this mix.  

Kelly: So the EC-37B uses these Rolls Royce Engines? [Yes, sir.]  

General Richardson: So we’re keeping an eye on that … that particular engine stops taking new engine orders in December. Gulf already stopped taking new G550 orders. Thankfully there’s a pretty healthy used market. . .those last four we’ll do the same thing with the engines if we need to. 

Kelly: Do you plan on getting some spares for the 10 aircraft? [Yes, sir, absolutely.] We’re willing to work with you to make sure we get the additional 4 airplanes.  

Thank you.