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Army must dominate in electromagnetic spectrum

March 14, 2017 (Photo Credit: DARPA)
The military services often discuss dominating in their respective battle spaces. Part of this domination, as applied to the electromagnetic spectrum, deals with untangling friendly forces to prevent them from interfering with themselves.

Henry Muller, Director of the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, said that when discussing the electromagnetic spectrum, the force has to talk about operations in a congested and contested environment. Congestion is a self-inflicted wound, Muller said during a panel discussion at the AUSA Global Force Symposium on March 13 in Huntsville, Alabama.

If the spectrum is not managed properly, friendly systems can interfere with each other and backfire, jamming friendly communications. During the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, electromagnetic countermeasures were used to detect and defeat improvised explosive devices. However, despite the success of these countermeasures, they prevented friendly forces from communicating because they jammed everything as opposed to targeting a specific frequency within the spectrum.

“We do this to ourselves the way that we employ technology and design and build systems,” Muller said regarding EMS congestion. “We need to do better at designing our systems in a more integrated fashion to prevent fratricide.” 

He explained the need to look at new systems based upon what the enemy can do. These systems should be capable of finding the enemy, jamming the enemy, directing fires, and improving ability to maneuver in addition to detailing friendly signature in the EMS, especially as it concerns command posts. The ability to observe friendly EMS emission is critical in enjoying freedom of maneuver.

“We can get all camouflaged up, we can hide in holes, we can put camouflage nets on, wear ghillie suits, camo up our faces, color our teeth green and you can’t see us at all until I push the button on my radio to talk, to tell my boss, ‘Hey I’m here,’” Col. Jeffery Church, chief of strategy and policy at the Army’s cyber directorate said in October. “Bam. All that physical camouflage from the eyeball just went away because now you’re broadcasting in the spectrum. So we can show that to commanders and they can start getting an appreciation of how the spectrum is a capability for them and a vulnerability.”

The Army has begun to address these concerns from a planning aspect with its Electronic Warfare Planning and Management tool. This suite allows commanders to visualize the EMS and plan around a domain that cannot be seen with the human eye.

It does not, however, get at the challenge of redesigning individual systems such as radios or jammers.
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