The history of the Electronics Warfare Technician (EW) rating is directly linked to RADAR (Radio Detection And Ranging) systems installed on U.S. Navy ships and submarines prior to and during World War Two.
Although the EW rating merged into the Cryptologic Technician (Technical) (CTT) rating on October 1, 2003, the fundamentals of this rating continues to play a significant role in the tactics, techniques and procedures applications of the CTT rating today!

U.S. Navy RADAR History:

In the autumn of 1922, Albert H. Taylor and Leo C. Young at the U.S. Naval Aircraft Radio Laboratory were conducting communication experiments when they noticed that a wooden ship in the Potomac River was interfering with their signals. They prepared a memorandum suggesting that this might be used for ship detection in a harbor defense, but their suggestion was not taken up. In 1930, Lawrence A. Hyland working with Taylor and Young, now at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, D.C., used a similar arrangement of radio equipment to detect a passing aircraft. This led to a proposal and patent for using this technique for detecting ships and aircraft.

The foremast of the USS Washington (BB-56) showing the SG radar antennae on the foreward face of the tower. As documented in Muscant’s book, the placement of this unit was cause for a significant sector blindspot, leaving the ship vulnerable during the first Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November of 1942 (U.S. Navy image).

Robert Morris Page was assigned by Taylor to implement Young’s suggestion. Page designed a transmitter operating at 60 MHz and pulsed 10 microseconds (μs) in duration and 90 μs between pulses. In December 1934, the apparatus was used to detect a plane at a distance of one mile flying up and down the Potomac. Although the detection range was small and the indications on the oscilloscope monitor were almost indistinct, it demonstrated the basic concept of a pulsed RADAR system. Based on this, Page, Taylor, and Young are usually credited with building and demonstrating the world’s first true RADAR.

Antenna size is directly associated to the operating frequency/wave length; therefore, the operating frequency of the system was increased to 200 MHz, allowing much smaller antennas. At the time, the frequency of 200 MHz was the highest possible frequency due to existing transmitter tubes and other components. The new system was successfully tested at the NRL in April 1937.  That same month, the equipment was temporarily installed on the USS Leary (DD/DDR-879), with a Yagi antenna mounted on a gun barrel for sweeping the field of view.

In May 1939, a contract was awarded to RCA for production. Designated CXAM, deliveries started in May 1940. One of the first CXAM systems was placed aboard the USS California (BB 44), a battleship that was sunk in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. By 1942, over twenty Navy ships were equipped with fully operational RADAR systems. Prior to WWII, selected Sailors within the Electrician Mate (EM) rating (a) were designated to operate and maintain the systems, but these Sailors had very little, if any training on the RADAR systems.

Creation of the Radarmen Rating:

Radarmen can trace their beginnings to the Electrician’s Mate (EM) rating.  This World War I era EM first class bears the distinguishing mark indicating that the sailor was a radio operator and technician. Shipboard radio technology was in its infancy at this time and in the ensuing decades, a specific rating would be created.

As the RADAR systems were being installed ships and submarines, they were also being turned over to untrained operators and technicians and readiness became an issue. In Admiral Richard O’Kane’s book, Wahoo: The Patrols of America’s Most Famous World War II Submarine, the Admiral made significant mention of the submarine’s unreliable RADAR system and the continuous need for the ship’s radiomen (RM) to operate and service this new technology. The USS Wahoo (SS 238) was not the only ship having these problems.

This Radarman first class rating badge is date-marked with “1944” embroidered on the reverse of the first chevron.

To correct this deficiency in readiness, the Navy’s Bureau of Personnel (BUPERS) in 1943 created Radarman rating (RdM) in order to send qualified personnel to the fleet to better operate and maintain this new technology.  Because many of the early Radarmen had previously served as Radiomen, the rating badge symbol used the electrical spark bolts (three rather than the four seen on the Radioman’s insignia) with an overlaid arrow indicating the directional detection aspects of the job, indicating the rating’s origins and the technology from radio. In 1946, the Navy updated the insignia, incorporating the oscillator symbol while carrying over the arrow insignia.  In 1950, the RdM rating changed to RD.

Creation of the Electronics Warfare Rating:


In 1973, change impacted this rating once again as BUPERS split the rating. Those Radarmen who operated the WLR-1 Electronic Support Measure (ESM) system located in the EW module of CIC on surface ships were designated as EW Technician. As a result of this new rating, the EW rating badge was created. Because of the maintenance requirements for the system, several Communication Technicians (Maintenance) (CTMs) and Electronic Technicians (ETs) were involuntarily converted to the EW rating. The Sailors who remained in the RD rating were redesignated as Operations Specialists (OS) with the RD rating badge carrying over to the OS rating.

Operations Specialist (OS) Rating Badge

For ratings performing similar duties on non-surface platforms, the ETs were assigned to submarines; Aviation Electronics Technician (AT), Aviation Electrician’s Mate (AE), and CTT were assigned to VQ squadrons; and Aviation Warfare Systems (ASW) Operator (AW) were assigned to VP squadrons.

(a) Today’s Electricians’ Mate (EM) rating is descended from the Electrician rating, which was established in 1883. Not coincidentally, that was also the year that electrical lights—238 lamps in all—were installed on the USS Trenton between June 7 and August 21. In 1921, the Electrician rating was renamed Electrician’s Mate.

-The BLUEJACK’s Manuals 1944, 1950
-LCDR Robert E. Morrison, USN (ret.)