Electronic Warfare

DOD working on a more agile approach to EW

After some time on the back burner, electronic warfare has recently come to the fore. The capabilities demonstrated by Russia in the Ukraine and elsewhere have grabbed the attention of key leaders in the U.S. military, who want to bolster electromagnetic spectrum operations such as EW. 

“In EW, we’ve sort of atrophied a little bit in terms of our core EW competency, in terms of delivering ground-based jamming capability,” Mark Kitz, acting director of System of Systems Engineering for the Army’s Program Executive Office for Intelligence Electronic Warfare & Sensors office (PEO IEW&S), said at a March 31 event hosted by AFCEA NOVA.

His comments reflect a sentiment that is shared among the joint force. “We did not put enough emphasis on it [EW] for a period of time because it really was, in the air domain, it was less of a factor in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Gen. Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle, commander of Air Force Air Combat Command, said in September. Air Force Maj. Gen. Linda R. Urrutia-Varhall, assistant deputy chief of staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, also noted that the U.S. military had “stepped away" from EW.

“We can’t shut them down one-tenth to the degree they can us. We are very unprotected from their attacks on our network,” the former commander of the Army’s electronic-warfare division has said previously.

Kitz mentioned that the Army is approaching EW from an agility perspective. “Getting to a more, for want of a better term, generic or a more threat-agile EW platform is the focus of the team within IEW&S,” he said. “And that is really the focus of the multi-function electronic warfare program.  And that will be based on the multiple different platforms that we want to deliver in EW capability.  So I don’t think it’s directly, a specially near-peer or a peer-state [threat], it’s more geared towards, how do I deliver an EW platform that can be threat-agile?”

Agility in EW means being able to adapt to a changing threat landscape. He said that EW capabilities are only built toward known threats, despite reports that the Army won’t field an offensive jammer until 2023. “My comments in terms of agility are on the base capability. Today we build EW capabilities against threat,” he told Defense Systems. “They’re not platforms for future threats. So it takes time for us to come up with load sets and build against the threat … Our future capabilities need to be able to go after different threats more readily.” 

Kitz’s point parallels the issue many have struggled with in the cybersecurity world. Threat detection platforms were designed to catalog and combat known threats that had previously came across the network, eschewing any predictive capability. “It’s a challenge but it’s also opportunity.  So I think a lot of the software-defined capabilities that have been coming out from industry offer opportunity for us to build more, be more agile,” he said. “So if you don’t have to pull an antenna out and put a new antenna on you can build it via software, kind of how we do today with crew devices in a more agile way. That’s really what we’re going after.”

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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