Battlespace Tech

Service leaders call for more focus on electronic warfare training

It has been a long time since the United States fell behind in any kind of arms race, but military officials warn that other nations could be pulling ahead in the tools of electronic warfare—and in the training involved in using those tools.

One example of this is Russia’s proficient use of EW in Ukraine and Syria, according to electronic warfare division chiefs from each of the military services, who briefed a congressional panel on the issue this week.

"Russians train, maintain and fight in a contested EMS," said Col. Jeffrey Church, Army EW division chief, using the acronym fo the electromagnetic spectrum. "They demonstrate that to us in places like Ukraine where they integrate EW into their operations before, during and after their mission."

From the beginning of its move into Ukraine in 2014, Russia has jammed both manned and unmanned aircraft and at times left Ukrainian troops’ radios and phones inoperable, according to a report in Foreign Policy. Those tactics are part of Russia’s larger campaign of hybrid warfare, which also involves misinformation, economic strategies and cyberattacks, along with traditional military approaches.

Military leaders have noted recently that, after 14 years of operating in the relatively uncontested spectrum in the Middle East, U.S. forces need to catch up in the field of EW, noting Russia’s demonstrated skill and improvements being made by China.

The keys to advancing the United States’ EW abilities, the division chiefs told the bi-partisan Congressional EW working group, is investing in EW technologies and training service people in contested environments.

"We have invested billions of dollars into our technology," Church said. "Our adversaries have invested time and money to defeat those technologies."

The Army is planning a training exercise for next summer at the National Training Center, or NTC, at Fort Irwin, Calif., and its organizers are hoping that the Secretary of the Army and other senior leaders will attend. "The intent is to bring a lot of these EW capabilities to the NTC and provide them to the opposing force, and then let the unit that is in that rotation experience what it would be like to fight in a contested EMS," Church said.

Beyond training, the Army also needs to bolster its EW programs. Although the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps have EW programs of record, the Army is just getting its underway. "I can show you Army EW soldiers' equipment wall lockers right now and they are empty," Church said, noting that the Army has relied on the other services for electronic support.

At the briefing, the division chiefs emphasized that the electromagnetic spectrum is a growing part of the threat environment and that training exercises such as the one planed at NTC are a start toward improving the military’s EW capabilities. The Army also is conducting some smaller-scale EW training, such as a recent exercise at Fort Carson, Colo.

"Most of our Army commanders grew up like I did; we stand on one hill and watch things blow up on the other hill and if things blew up you knew that you won," Church said. "The EMS is different, commanders cannot see things blowing up in the EMS so they question if it is really there. An EW demonstration at the NTC will show them that EW is really there and that the EMS is a maneuver space where they must be prepared to fight and win."

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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