NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Air Force is taking action to reshape its electronic warfare enterprise after a recent assessment found that the service was too stovepiped and not responsive enough to emerging threats, its No.-2 general said.
“The goal is to make [electronic warfare] part of everything we do in the Air Force,” said Gen. Stephen “Seve” Wilson, the Air Force’s vice chief of staff, during an exclusive interview with Defense News on Tuesday.
Wilson announced in 2017 that the Air Force would conduct an internal study, known as an Enterprise Capability Collaboration Team or ECCT, that would assess whether the service was doing what was necessary to maintain superiority over the electromagnetic spectrum. Brig. Gen. David Gaedecke, the service’s director of cyberspace operations and warfighter communications, was tapped to lead the effort in 2018 and briefed the team’s findings to Air Force leadership in January.
First, the study found that the Air Force’s electronic warfare efforts were disjointed across different stakeholders, Wilson said. So the service stood up an electronic warfare directorate, led by Gaedecke, inside the Air Force’s A5/8 division for strategic plans and programs.
That new office is charged with working with the Air Force’s major commands, as well as the other services, to ensure that EW programs and investments are aligned.
“We've lost focus on the importance of being able to dominate the spectrum, and so he and his team are working on that,” Wilson said. “There's a huge education and training piece across all aspects of our Air Force because, quite frankly … all the different domains aren’t going to be able to do what they need to do unless we can dominate and control the electromagnetic spectrum.”
The other major task involves moving to a software-defined approach for EW systems so that new countermeasures can be reprogrammed across a given system as new threats are identified, he said.
"I can't build individual equipment that is unique to that platform, so getting out of the individual hardware piece. … Things will change rapidly, and I need to be able to reprogram based on here's what we just found out,” he said
“Really, we’re going to get into cognitive EW,” he added, using a term used to describe an EW system equipped with artificial intelligence. Having that capability would allow the electronic warfare system to learn from enemy systems on the spot, figuring out how to counter frequencies and waveforms it had never encountered previously.
Gaedecke added that the Air Force had already been moving to a software-centric approach, but that it hadn’t been coordinated across different programs.
“We’ve recognized that a lot of different people are doing it for different things, and if we just increase the amount of collaboration that we have then we will be able to be that much better,” he said. “We can learn from each other and we can take the best of breed.”
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.