Army leaders say they are making progress in rebuilding the service’s electronic warfare capabilities through its ranks and its equipment.
Following the conclusion of the Cold War, the service divested the majority of its electronic warfare tools. Since then, much of the electronic warfare equipment has lacked the sophistication needed to compete against peer threats. Instead it has been designed to combat improvised explosive devices used by insurgent groups in the Middle East.
But that’s changed in recent years.
“We’re really at a renaissance [with] electronic warfare,” Col. Kevin Finch, program manager for electronic warfare and cyber at Program Executive Office Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors, said Aug. 23 at TechNet Augusta. “We have a force that hasn’t had EW equipment … We have a generation of leaders that have to learn what EW is all about.”
The Army is taking these problems — lack of electronic warfare professionals and actual equipment, namely, jammers — head on and simultaneously.
Building the force
As of October 2018, electronic warfare personnel were folded into the Army’s cyber branch, often referred to as the 17 series. Officials said this will allow the service to build a more holistic information warfare force, given the similarities between cyber operations and electronic warfare.
Maj. Gen. Neil Hersey, commander of the Cyber Center of Excellence, told reporters Aug. 22 at the TechNet Augusta conference, that this creates a “multi-skilled officer." He explained on the enlisted side, the Army expanded its functional electronic warfare course from nine weeks to 32 weeks. There, they’ll learn about the theory of electronic warfare as well as the equipment they’ll use.
“Think of it as akin to [how] we have our traditional SOF … and then you have your very, very high-end SOF in [Joint Special Operations Command]. That is sort of the model we’re putting in place,” Maj. Gen. John Morrison, who previously served as the commander of the Cyber Center of Excellence, said.
JSOC refers to the elite special operations units such as Naval Special Warfare Development Group — better known as SEAL Team 6 — and Delta Force.
“We’ll have tactical cyber operators … then the very, very, very best will move into the cyber mission force,” Morrison said, referring to the cyber warrior cadre that serves U.S. Cyber Command and conduct remote cyber operations.
Among the operational force, there will exist planners and operators.
Hersey said the planning elements — called cyber and electromagnetic activities (CEMA) cells — at each echelon will inform commanders of what capabilities reside where and how to use them to accomplish their mission.
On the operational mission side, Hersey said the planning elements will plug into units on the ground. The Army is creating the 915th Cyber Warfare Support Battalion, which will be able to conduct local cyber and electromagnetic spectrum effects on the ground. In some cases, they will work with Cyber Command.
Hersey said today there are more staff officers than operators in the electronic warfare force, but the Army is working to boost the number of operators.
One way to do this is for electronic warfare soldiers could go to a formation — depending on the needs of the Army — such as an electronic warfare platoon or a staff section. Officers will be team leaders.
On the cyber side, soldiers could go to the Cyber Warfare Support Battalion or the cyber mission force working on defensive cyber operators on a cyber protection team or the offensive mission on a mission team.
“There’s a lot of opportunities for different types of echelon work within the [electronic warfare] career field. I think one of the benefits is we’re going to have officers throughout their career that are going to be able to work at both the tactical, operational and strategic level and bring those capabilities and skillsets to those formations,” Hersey said.
On the equipping front, the Army is following a “build, fix, learn” methodology.
“We build something, we give it to the soldiers, then we learn from it and then we fix whatever that is,” Finch said.
The Army has used a variety of urgent capability needs requirements from soldiers in Europe to help inform how the service can develop future capabilities. It’s also a way to get interim capabilities in the hands of soldiers as a way to reduce risk.
The first program of record that the Army has awarded contracts to that focus an offensive electronic warfare capability is the Multi-Functional Electronic Warfare Air Large, a jamming pod mounted on board an MQ-1C Gray Eagle.
This capability is the Army’s first brigade organic electronic attack capability.
Lockheed Martin was awarded the first prototype for MFEW Air Large last year. In late August, the prototype pod flew and is slated to participate in Cyber Blitz in September.
Deon Viergutz, vice president of spectrum convergence at Lockheed Martin, told Fifth Domain in an August interview that his company’s pod, called Silent Crow, has been flying on other platforms for some time. He added that Lockheed Martin is seeking to integrate this pod and its capabilities with other assets to include ground assets.
Finch said MFEW Air Large will begin fielding to combat aviation brigades in 2022, though, he noted the Army is still working to figure out which units that will be.
Aside from Air Large, the MFEW family will also include small and rotary wing. These are still a ways off, especially small, for which the electronic warfare community is waiting on what the Army decides to replace RQ-7 Shadow drone.
On the ground side, the Army is working on the Terrestrial Layer System, the service’s first integrated signals intelligence, electronic warfare and cyber system.
As part of the development effort, the Army has created two pre-prototypes as a means of informing the final system; the Tactical Electronic Warfare System (TEWS) and the Tactical Signals Intelligence Vehicle. Both are integrated platforms the Army is using to experiment with different technologies that would allow for sensing, signals intelligence, electronic warfare and RF-enabled cyberattacks.
The 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division is currently utilizing the TEWS platform, and is serving as the prototyping unit for not just TLS, but new electronic warfare platoons the Army is creating.
In fact, Finch noted that 2/2 Stryker was supposed to go to Europe as the second phase of the “fix” methodology, but the Army directed they serve as the prototyping and experimentation unit for TLS back in the states.
TLS will ultimately include TLS large, which will be a brigade asset mounted on a large vehicle like a Stryker, TLS small, which will likely remain vehicle mounted but a smaller form factor, and TLS dismount.
Officials also described the TLS Extended Range, which, provides an extended range in distance but also gives commanders with an extended range of capabilities. This will primarily be a division asset and will include a variety of deception capabilities.
For example, these capabilities may include pods that could be air dropped during an air assault at a different location than where troops emitting signals. This could help in confounding the enemy as to the exact location of troops.
These capabilities could also include small boxes that emit the electronic signature of a command post, also confounding enemies.
On the deception front, officials said that many of these capabilities are commercially available, but the problem becomes getting the requirements approved.
Aside from deception, an extended range system could also include counter targeting, defense from electronic attack and long range sensing and long range attack.
The Army wants to be able to wage attacks from areas that are separate from sensing platforms.
“Perhaps the altitude for the sensor would be far behind enemy lines and because we have greater altitude we have sensing capability. That’s not the same area we want to transmit from because it will take more power to be able to generate an effect,” Col. Mark Dotson, the electronic warfare capabilities manager at the Cyber Center of Excellence, said.
Ultimately, the goal is for these capabilities to be integrated and used by a variety of forces.
“We have a golden opportunity here in that we can have these systems be interoperable with each other,” Finch said.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.