RAeS - Virtual Trenchard Lecture: Torn Curtain - How Bomber Command Pioneered Electronic Warfare

27th May 2021 6:00 pm

This Virtual Lecture will be broadcast live at 6.00pm on Thursday 27 May and will be followed by a Q&A. This lecture is free of charge however we do ask that you pre-book a free ticket as seats are limited. 

Thirty years ago in the skies above Arabia coalition warplanes filled the ether with torrents of electrons. Below them the radar screens of Iraqi air defenders went blank and their radios died. The coalition was firing the opening electronic and metallic salvoes of Operation Desert Storm.

The liberation of Kuwait and subsequent NATO and US-led air operations over the Balkans, Iraq and Libya have placed electronic warfare front and centre of the so-called Offensive Counter-Air doctrine. This aims to render the fighters and ground-based air defences of an hostile air force incapable of offering meaningful resistance.

Yet the realisation that enemy air defences must be made inoperable was not discovered in the skies of Vietnam or Korea, or in the myriad of other conflicts. It was discovered by Bomber Command in the skies above Western Europe.

Electronic warfare lives in the shadows. The Second World War has its tales of Enigma machines, and Knickebein radio navigation systems, but some stories have lacked similar recognition shrouded as they have been in secrecy.

From 1943 Bomber Command’s 100 Group harnessed state-of-the-art science and engineering to attack Luftwaffe radars and radios. Germany had invested heavily in radar and communications before the war. These were used to great effect costing the Command blood and treasure during the first half of the conflict.

Official timidity hampered Bomber Command’s embrace of avantgarde technology like jamming systems to attack the Luftwaffe’s eyes and ears. When D-Day finally showed the contribution electronic warfare could make operationally and tactically, the tide began to turn. The subsequent electronic warfare activities of 100 Group, accompanying every Command operation, finally helped stem the bleeding.

This lecture will tell the intriguing story of Bomber Command’s electronic war, the scientific endeavour that underpinned it and how, eight decades later, the pioneering work of 100 Group remains an indispensable part of the modern air campaign.

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