Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Electronic Warfare Magic Beans

Many times we have discussed the military’s abandonment of electronic warfare (EW).  Heck, the Air Force, Marines, and Army gave up their EW and let the Navy have it with the result that the EA-18G Growler is the only significant EW platform left.  Common sense trumpets the folly of that course of action but the military is not exactly known for common sense so they remain unmoved and steadfast in their desire to leave EW behind.  Now, however, the Russians have demonstrated the power of EW in the Ukraine and Syria and the military is, belatedly and ponderously, beginning to rediscover and refocus on EW.

While the renewed recognition of EW may be slow, hesitant, and, thus far, largely ineffective, it’s still good news, isn’t it?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, it’s good that we’re grudgingly admitting that maybe we should have some EW capability, however, in true US military tradition we’re attempting to leap a generation or two ahead and field a magic-level EW instead of investing in good, solid, functional EW that can be used today.

From a Breaking Defense article describing a new CSBA report on EW,

Despite rising budgets and high-level attention to electronic warfare, the Pentagon’s “efforts have been unfocused and are likely to fail,” warns a congressionally mandated study out today. What the US needs, the Center for Strategic & Budgetary Assessments report says, is a radically new approach that can outfox Russia and China. (1)

There it is …  instead of a good, solid, functional EW that can be used today, this report calls for “a radically new approach”.  Isn’t radical, revolutionary, leap ahead technology exactly what has failed miserably and repeatedly in the LCS, F-35, Zumwalt, Ford, etc.?  So, with that kind of dismal track record for radical new technology staring us in the face, CSBA wants us to do it again?  Does that make sense?

China and Russia have invested heavily in traditional platforms – planes, ships, and heavy trucks laden with high-power antennas – and the US just can’t match them on their own terms, CSBA warns. Instead, the US should leapfrog ahead of its adversaries by deploying a new generation of both technology and tactics. (1)

“leapfrog ahead” …

“new generation” …

Isn’t this exactly how we have failed, time and again?  How’s that Zumwalt Advanced Gun System doing?  How’s that LCS coming along?  How are those Ford magic elevators working?

Why do we need to ‘leapfrog ahead’?  According to CSBA, it’s because “the US just can’t match” the Russians and Chinese in conventional EW power.  What???  The greatest financial, industrial, and military country the world has ever known can’t match Russia and China?  Does that sound right to you?  Of course we can match and overmatch them, if we choose.  Will we choose to match or overmatch them?  No!  That’s not our way.  Our way is to abandon the tried, true, and effective for the promise of technological magic beans.

Sure, let’s develop a new, never before seen generation of EW.  Of course, it won’t be ready for decades.  What happens if we have to fight a war today?  We won’t have any EW.

Here’s the CSBA vision:

Imagine a multi-domain command and control network that can pull together forces from air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace, reorganizing as needed on the fly. The goal: create a dispersed, flexible force our authoritarian adversaries’ centralized systems can’t keep up with. (1)



“command and control”


“on the fly”



No wonder our “authoritarian adversaries’ centralized systems can’t keep up with” us.  They don’t have a buzzword bingo scorecard!

Bingo!  I just won!  “Flexible” was the last word I needed to fill my score card.

Hey, all of that is great and it’s some magnificent buzzword stringing but where’s the real magic beans?  It’s right here:

… this kind of networked force could survive enemy attack – physical destruction, hacking, or jamming – by reorganizing itself to pass data around the damaged nodes, Clark & co. argue. (1)

The network reorganizes itself to make itself immune to damage!!!!!!!!!!  Whoa, I’m feeling faint.  The excitement is too much for me.

Does anyone else have a vision of the most advanced, wondrous, magnificent battle command and control center in the universe (hey, let’s really think big!) being stormed by an enemy soldier with a club, who’s never even heard of electrons, and skull-bashing all our PhD EW specialists without realizing that he was supposed to be helpless before our advanced electronics and artificial intelligence battle management ?  We’ll be the most well informed army to lose a war in the history of warfare!

Okay, having [rightfully] mocked yet another leap ahead technology idea, let’s get serious.  EW is a vital aspect of modern warfare.  We need to be EW capable both offensively and defensively.  However, we need a basic level of competency now, not decades from now.  The leap ahead F-35 is now pedestrian, if not bordering on obsolete because it’s taken decades to field.  Had a major war broken out while we were screwing around with the F-35 development (and we still are), we’d have been forced to fight with 1980’s aircraft.  If China provokes a war tomorrow, I don’t want to face them with promises of a future EW capability, I want to face them with actual, existing, functional EW.  That means building real capability today, not spending our EW budget on some future concept that probably won’t pan out.  How’s that rail gun coming along?  Twenty years ago, lasers were just around the corner.  Guess what?  They’re still around the corner.

Let’s get going on today-EW before we start on tomorrow-EW.  Once we’ve fielded actual, functioning EW throughout the military then, by all means, let’s start on the system of tomorrow – but not until then.  The US military is constantly chasing the dream of tomorrow at the expense of the capability of today.  We need to give up magic beans and stick with the cow (you know, Jack and the Beanstalk).

ComNavOps is all for a leapfrog, next generation EW capability … after we establish today’s capability.


(1)Breaking Defense, “US Electronic Warfare: You’re Doing It Wrong”, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., 21-Nov-2019,


  1. Once the Chinese Navy is annihilated by an endless barrage of buzzwords you'll have to apologize, CNOps!

  2. There is a squadron of Growlers ready to fly over the Pentagon and employ their super-secret buzz word suppression mode III emitters.

  3. It is noteworthy that we manage to survive all the enemy attacks, reorganize, keep moving,etc,etc but when do US forces or US EW go on the offense? At best,even if all these buzzwords work, aren't we just playing for a tie?!? I didnt notice any mention of kinetic or non kinetic effects on the enemy....

    1. You're quite correct. Our entire surface Navy is defensive in nature. The only real nod to offense is the aging/obsolete Tomahawk.

    2. When you say surface Navy, do you exclude aircraft carriers and their air groups? The doctrine is to use naval airpower in an offensive role rather than using surface ships to directly project power. This has been the case since the demise of the battleship in world war 2. As mentioned by previously in this forum the 4 SSGN also packs a mean punch. It all gets back to doctrine. Other navies in the world do not possess this offensive capability and therefore their surface combatants armed with offensive capabilities.

    3. "When you say surface Navy, do you exclude aircraft carriers and their air groups?"

      Largely, no. Today's carriers (meaning, today's air wings, of course, since a carrier is only what its air wing is) feature short-legged, non-stealthy Hornets in reduced numbers. Working through the requirements for a major aviation strike, it quickly becomes apparent that the air wing is extremely limited in strike capability and is really only useful to defend the carrier (the carrier exists to defend the carrier - self licking ice cream cone). Now, this is not too terrible, in my opinion, because the role of the carrier, today, is not strike but air superiority in support of other strike assets. Further, operating carriers in groups of 4 mitigate the problem to an extent although there's no getting around the short legs of the Hornet. So, the carrier is largely defensive. The rest of the surface navy is clearly defensive other than the Tomahawk.

      Finally, but significantly, $15B carriers are simply too expensive to risk in offensive operations which will relegate them to safer defensive missions.

  4. The air force has Compass Call, but it's based on a C 130 cargo plane and I think there are maybe twelve of them.

    Worse than not having the hardware is the lack of trained operators. The Navy may need to push AI because there aren't any human personnel to do the job...

    1. You can fix the people issue probably faster than you can fix the hardware capability.

      The Navy is still partially operating with analogue gear that I was using in the 1970s. Moving to the digital age is the current upgrade being rolled out now. And like many things, its already WAY obsolete.

    2. You might find this helpful. Its a pretty good summary of where things are now.

      SEWIP block 2 gets you digital, finally, and it really is a must have. You need SEWIP block 3 to get close to the modern era. Slowing acquisition by two years was not helpful.

      December 13/17: Report-Wasting of Funds A report external link released Monday by the Department of Defense (DoD) Inspector General into the US Navy’s Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program has found that the service did not effectively develop and manage electronic warfare capabilities for upgrades to the AN/SLQ-32 Electronic Warfare Suite. The mismanagement resulted in the waste of almost $2 million and lengthened the acquisition process by about two years with inadequate results. Managed by the Program Executive Office Integrated Warfare Systems under Naval Sea Systems Command, the Inspector General found that Navy officials waived a step of the development process—details of which were redacted from the report—in order to stay on schedule instead of correcting problems before entering initial operational test and evaluation. This skipping resulted in additional costs of $1.8 million to conduct a second phase of initial operational test and evaluation on Block 2, delaying the acquisition schedule by almost two years. Program Executive Office Integrated Warfare Systems said it will continue to work with the commander for operational test and evaluation force to close the remaining deficiencies, according to the declassified report.

  5. Was doing some reading, and found mention of a new addition the the SLQ... Believe its the '59(?) thats found its way onto select DDGs, mostly the Rota based ones that do Black Sea ops... Not much info on it, but it seems the Navy isnt totally oblivious to emerging needs for up to date ECM...

    1. Here's the only good write up on it that I'm aware of:


    2. Howdy, Im a current ew on a ddg. SLQ 59 is an addition to the slq 32 v6. It helps to do detect more specific threats and uses really roundabout methods compared to traditional means to defeat them. Still pretty new system so cant really say a lot

    3. Well, good to hear from you. Give us an update when you can.

  6. I had thought, and information is understandably scant, that the AWAC platforms all had significant EW performance.

    1. Not that I've ever heard of. The Air Force fact sheet makes no mention of such capability. The aircraft carries no jamming pods and has no likely antennae for such.

    2. @John: Your confusion may stem from the F-35's AESA radar, which can also perform electronic attack, however at present the USAF's E-3 Sentrys do not have AESA radars. The US has had ESM and ELINT aircraft build on the 707 airframe (modified KC-135 tankers, to be precise), which may account for your confusion.

      While the shift to AESA radars theoretically makes AEW aircraft capable of conducting EW, in practice that isn't going to happen because they're too valuable doing AEW things. Tactical EW will remain the province of Growlers. (Also keep an eye on the MQ-25 - the Navy may well pursue EW UAVs in the future, given that MA-25 pilots are being pulled from all communities, including EA-18G).

    3. @WG. You raise a good point, not because everything in the near future will be AESA, doesn't mean that particular radar on that particular platform will be capable or worthwhile for it to do EW. Just because its AESA means it can do EW.

    4. In the book "Warriors" by by Barrett Tillman (1990) in Chapter 12, John Bennett's F-20 Tigersharks were supported by "Royal Saudi Air Force had configured several Tornadoes for the same role, with modifications to the E-3s to back up ECM operators." Which, in the novel, were used to defeat the Israeli Air force.

      By the way, I think the F-20 Tigershark would be perfect for today, low maintenance and high readiness, if it worked as advertised.

    5. The closest current plane to the promise of the F-20 is the Saab Gripen. Low maintenance, high readiness, short field/improvised runway capability and a bonus proposed naval variant (Sweden doesn't have an aircraft carrier so they need a launch customer to justify the naval version).
      Very low $4,700 per flight hour cost. (f-18 is $24,400 for comparison) (both figures from Jane's)
      The latest Gripen has an AESA radar the Raven ES-05.

    6. "the F-20 Tigershark would be perfect for today"

      Perfect for doing what?

    7. Well, in Barrett Tillman's novel I mentioned there was that two-seated F-20 that had "Black Boxes" for electronic warfare (ok, a few of the single seat F-20 "wing leaders" too had black boxes for electronic warfare if I remembered correctly), so they could support the Growlers as a low-end mass support, not to mentioned the low maintenance cost advertised would make them a more cost effective trainer, with it, they Air Force may not have to turn to "supersonic mercenaries."

      That is if the F-20's low maintenance cost is really as low as advertised.

      Oh, and they could really help beef up the air defenses of our allies given that the f-16 is "too expensive to maintain" as below:

      Oh, and since the F-20 was developed by Northrop without much government help it, could have encouraged other companies to also do the same, like come out with better alternative to LCR, Ford carriers, and Zumwalt Class Destroyer on their own imitative, maybe....

    8. Sorry, I mean to type "LCS" not "LCR" and "initiative" not "imitative", but anyway since I read about the low readiness of out air forces like the marines below:

      And how worn out our planes are, the F-20 may be a good way to bulk up.

    9. Oh, and the F-20's low cost and high readiness would mean that our pilots would not be forced to train on simulators as they are going to:

      "He cites a price tag for the new F-35 as $330 million per plane. The service can’t buy and maintain a large number of trainers at those prices, he says. As a consequence, much of fighter pilot training must be done on simulators, which, in Pedersen’s view, are an inadequate substitute for real flight time."

      After all:

      " And the F-16N sale that doomed the F-20? The F-16N was quietly retired long before its time due to airframe cracks. The F-16N simply could not hold up to the daily use that those Navy fliers expect from an airplane. "

      And again since: "Four Tigershark aircraft were started by Northrop at their own expense. "

      It may have encourage other compainies to develop better alternative to the LCS, Ford, Zumwalt, "at their own expense" and thus saving the taxpayer's money.

    10. @Anonymous: The F-35's unit cost has fallen just below 80 million USD, just FYI. Still steep, but it's par for the course with other international offerings that approach what the F-35 does (it's actually cheaper than the Dassault Rafale, which for a time was touted as a more wallet-friendly F-35 alternative).

      Also while the Tigershark is a tempting aircraft, what really killed it was Reagan throwing the F-16 and the F/A-18 on the international market. It just makes so much more sense for foreign buyers to go for an aircraft in US service and be able to piggyback off FMS, instead of being the sole user of a unique type.

    11. WIld Goose,

      Wow! I did not know that the F-35 was cheaper than the Dassault Rafale, economy of scale I guess.Thank you for the information.

    12. "Barrett Tillman … F-20"

      The issue is not simply whether or not the F-20 is cheaper to buy and/or cheaper to operate; the issue is whether it can EFFECTIVELY perform some role. An F-20 that only costs a hundred dollars is pointless if it can't effectively do anything useful.

      Even as an adversary trainer, it is not really effective. What the military needs now is a stealthy or, at least, semi-stealthy adversary trainer aircraft because every aircraft currently being manufactured by unfriendly countries is stealthy or semi-stealthy. The F-20 is not even a little bit stealthy, as far as I know.

      As a base defense aircraft for allies, it might have some usefulness. It has a limited payload which is a drawback. I know nothing about its A2A performance against modern fighters.

      It lacks the range to be an interceptor or strike aircraft.

      In short, while it might be cheap (need some data to back that up) it doesn't appear to be an effective option for too many roles. Maybe base defense.

    13. From wikipedia: "Unit life-cycle costs for the F-20 estimated as high as 40–50% lower than for the F-16. Another estimate of the F-20 found it less expensive than other designs like the $30 million F-15 Eagle, or $15 million F-16 Fighting Falcon"

    14. Of course you are right ComNavOps,

      However, my original intent was to chip in where the concept that AWACS with electronic warfare idea may have came from(in this case the E-3s that backed up ECM operators in Barrett Tillman's Warriors novel from 1991).

      And maybe added more that was needed, if so sorry.

      Anyway if really needed, I suppose you could make the F-20 have a reduced cross section like how the Russians advertised for their non-stealthy Flankers to make them stealthy

      I seem to remember that the Russians (and others) advertised "stealth" add on's to make non-stealth stealthy, like the Israeli "stealth paint" below:

      Which may or may not fill that "stealthy or, at least, semi-stealthy adversary trainer aircraft" if painted on the F-20 had it gone into service.

      Not that I know anything or am suggesting anything.

    15. I may have pasted the wrong link to Russian "make non-stealthy stealthy" Stealth I mentioned so here is another that says: "Design features aimed at stealth capability enhancement" from the "KnAAPO Su-35 Description" linked to from:

      And of course for that semi-stealth need I supposed that by using HAVE GLASS finding (from the F-16 radar signature reduction tests) one may make the F-20 somewhat stealthy if one wishes, again I am no expert, so this is just a suggestion of "what if the F-20 gone into service".

      Not the mention that gold cockpit looks cool...

    16. Also most sources (I would say all, but I have not looked at every single source the universe has ever known) says that the F-20 Tigershark is cheaper (lower cost) relative to the F-16:

      All of the above mentioned " Northrop said the F-20A would have a low price tag" so "the F-20 was less expensive" compared to the F-16. So it would be good for "Quantity has a Quality All Its Own,” Allied Interdependence Newsletter No. 13, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 21 June 1979 (which Callaghan produced and presumably authored)" by presumably Thomas A. Callaghan Jr.

      And the F-20 sources also claims that it was effective, if not more effective, than early-model F-16 fighters. So given that the F-35 may be equal to or less than F-16 in performance(I don't really know), the F-20 might be, in fact, quite effective, not to mention its' rapid scramble time which , for the F-20, is claimed to be the fastest in the world at the time and maybe still is.

      So, maybe with some stealth add-on's it just might be a great way to "bulk up" if all works as advertised, after all look at "Silent Eagle" for the F-15:

      With aerial refueling, fuel tanks both conformal and drop, to extend range, it will be a good way to replace high causalities if needed, as well a base defense and all, as ComNavOps already said.

    17. Of course all I typed is just a "what if" as there already is a stealthy training tool in development as show below:

      "The Department of Defense (DoD) awarded Sierra Technical Services, Inc. (STS) with a follow-on contract to build a second demonstrator of the 5th Generation Aerial Target (5GAT) stealth drone."

      Of course there is the problem it is a drone and not an manned fighter as a manned training plane may give different responses but what do I know? It was advertised to be replacing the QF-16 anyway at lower cost (and a QF-20 may be lower cost still). I guess we'll find out when :

      "The defense contractor expects the first 5GAT to fly this summer. The second drone is scheduled for flight testing in the second half of 2020."

    18. "5th Generation Aerial Target (5GAT) stealth drone."

      As you correctly noted, this is a target drone, NOT an adversary fighter aircraft. It is something to shoot at not something to train in air-to-air combat against.

      We still desperately need a stealth adversary aircraft. One possibility is the hundreds of initial production F-35s which, due to concurrency, have been left behind developmentally and are not really suited for combat. They ought to be suitable as stealthy adversary aircraft.

    19. The USAF announced in May 2019 that the 65th Aggressor Squadron, which was deactivated in 2014 due to sequestration, will be reactivated with F-35s as a stealth aggressor squadron. Early production airframes will be used to fill out the squadron.

    20. There's also the reports, from the middle of the year, of F-117s in aggressor color schemes flying in Nellis airspace, doing *something*. Speculation is that they're being used as a control to test the effectiveness of ISRT sensor pods against stealth aircraft.

    21. And to add to what Wild Goose has said there is also that F-16, and Navy F/A-18 aggressor, in Russian Su-57 paint:

      Yes, I know it was, officially in the article at least, from a "crowdsourced competition", along with the Navy one with the F/A-18 also mentioned, but they may or may not, and could have been, also "Have Glass"-ed and maybe with that stealth "PACER GEM" to make them at least somewhat stealthy... Maybe they improved those stealth coatings from the short time "fine-to-grey-very-dirty-looking-quickly" stuff from the original experiments.

      The PACER GEM was mentioned at the forum below(About HAVE GLASS not stealth aggressors):

    22. Also, have you noted that the F-16 in the Su-57 paint-job has a golden (or what seems to me like a golden) cockpit in at least some of the photos, like in the very top picture of the link below:

      The gold cockpit could be a sign of Have Glass modifications.

    23. And before anyone says anything yes I know that the pictures from the businessinsider link are rendering, but in photos like from thedrive and below:

      Skip the above video to around-0:09 or 0:48 and you will, or at I did, the golden F-16 cockpit, that may or may not be a sign of HAVE GLASS-ed after all: "the canopy treatment was only one of the changes made for Have Glass, there are many others. "by habu2 from link below:

      And of course the F-117 aggressor that Wild Goose already mentioned:

    24. @Anonymous:

      The gold plated cockpit is nothing new - F-22s have it, F-35s have it, Rafales have it - the idea is that the thin gold film plating will trap cockpit emissions.

      Strictly speaking, Have Glass V refers to the paint itself.

    25. No, Have Glass refers to a whole series of "stealth" measures of which the gold plated cockpit is most obvious, as said when you scroll to where they talked about Have Glass at the forum linked to below:

      Posted by "fermis" from link above:

      "Have Glass is the code name for a series of RCS reduction measures for the F-16 fighter."

      Or maybe you have a better source?

    26. @WIld Goose,

      That is unless you are taking about a specific part of Have Glass of which part is "Have Glass V" which is the paint itself(I though the paint part was PACER GEM which you may read in PACER GEM part I liked to) the which may or may not be your intent, if so I apologize (I admit I am not an expert on really anything)

    27. Sorry, I mean to type "linked to" not "liked to" above, thank you for the information but yes I know that gold plated cockpits are on most "stealthy" aircraft and non stealthy one too, like the Chinese People Liberation Army Air Force J-20 below:

    28. @ Wild Goose
      "The F-35's unit cost has fallen just below 80 million USD"

      The following links call into question the accounting of the cost of the F-35.

      Deceptive Pentagon Math Tries to Obscure $100 Million+ Price Tag for F-35s

      New Faces, Same Fibs: Pentagon Misleads on F-35 Costs

    29. The 2019 Navy budget docs show a flyaway cost for the F-35C as $121M each and a gross cost (support included) of $149M each.

      The same docs show the F-35B flyaway unit cost at $119M each and the gross cost at $131M each.

      Interestingly, the projected costs for the F-35B out to 2023 show increases to $126M flyaway and $135M gross.

      These are not press release claims, these are actual budgeted costs as documented in the Navy's budget docs.

  7. Russia is good at tactical EW and have the assets while the US Army could use the US Air Force and didn't need too much organic. Re Russia the USAF cannot still provide this service to the USA due to S400s.

    The US is probably the world leader in EW, just not tactical.

    The USN appears to think big. They want theatre wide EW. See recent article in the War Zone about Nemesis

    1. Have you seen the descriptions of the LCS, Ford, Zumwalt, EMALS, AAG, rail guns, lasers, etc.? All promised to change the future of warfare. So far, none have and most have been abject failures.

      Will this Nemesis be the program that defies history and the odds and truly revolutionizes warfare? Maybe but history says with near 100% certainty that it won't.

      Very interesting link, though. I hadn't seen it. Thanks!

    2. Thanks for the link. I learn so many interesting things reading this blog and it's comments. I was thinking about an UAV sonobuoy idea and your link has a naval drone called Nomad that is very similar in design to what I envisioned, though the drone appears to be used for electronic warfare in it's current form.

    3. Seeing you like my links.

    4. David, I very much appreciate relevant links although I would strongly encourage you to add some relevant analysis or observations to accompany any links - some value-added, so to speak. The problem I encountered early on was that, without value added, people tended to simply copy long lists of links with no explanation.

      So, by all means, continue to offer interesting links but please add some analysis or observations of your own. In other words, use the links to support or illustrate your own comments. I look forward to more!

      The last link you offered didn't work for me. It was a dead page notice. That aside, what was important about it? What caught your eye about it? Give me some analysis or observation!

    5. The link worked for me copying and pasting it from this page.

      It is a wargame where Russia, China, and North Korea all attack at the same time.

      The opening paragraph;

      The United States can win World War III, but it’s going to be ugly and it better end quick, or everyone starts looking for the nuclear trigger.

    6. PS From the Marine War College war game.

    7. "It is a wargame where Russia, China, and North Korea all attack at the same time."

      Okay. So, what's notable about it? What's your analysis? What lesson do you see?

  8. No glory or medals in EW.

    Not what proper soldiers do, especially as it implies that a degree of intelligence is required.(I was Signals myself and I fully appreciate what infantry do and that not everyone can do it).
    When did you last see a 5 star general come from a technical arm? Never in the British army (not that we use stars).
    There will never be much interest in EW unless it looks good on a parade.

  9. This post's critique of the US military's obsession with super-dooper-pooper, leap ahead wank tech reminds me a lot of Arthur C Clarke's famous short story Superiority.

    1. One of the best short stories ever! Plus, I think that's exactly how US military is headed.

  10. You have not mentioned the next generation jammer which has been in development for five or more years in which the first units are in testing with the US Navy. This project is actually on time.

    I can understand your concern about the pace of development of weapons systems. The f-35 has taken 20 years and is not really deployed. We really should be on to its replacement by now. Zumwalt is a complete disgrace as is the LCS. Looking at the frigate competition fills me with consternation.

    1. According to the Mar 2018 GAO Annual Report, the NGJ project started in Jul 2013 commenced full development in Apr 2016. The estimated development cost is $3.6B and procurement cost is estimated at $4.1B. Unit cost will be $57M each.

  11. The Chinese will have the exact system we design and spend billions on 2 years before we do.


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