The cat-and-mouse nature of electronic warfare means systems need to always be up to date, but the Pentagon’s acquisition authorities don’t always allow for the Department of Defense to move fast enough, a senior acquisition official said Oct. 28.

Speaking at the Association of Old Crows international symposium in Washington, Alan Shaffer, the Pentagon’s deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said success in electronic warfare means agility, speed and low-cost systems.

“We’ve got to stop doing just one-size-fits-everything for development of new systems and fielding capabilities," he said. “We’ve got to get away from the linear large scale … major capability acquisition process when we can.”

He pointed to the department’s attempts to re-write the acquisition rulebook and the new authorities granted by Congress for what’s called “middle tier acquisition” allowing for rapid prototyping and experimentation of certain capabilities.

“If I’m fielding something that’s going to cost multiple billions of dollars, [we’re] probably not going to go agile. If I’m demonstrating a capability using middle tier of acquisition, I can go quickly, especially if you have open systems,” Shaffer said.

Following this approach means breaking the development of systems off smaller, more manageable chunks and not creating a system that can do everything under the sun for decades, only to be obsolete upon fielding. The next part of the equation, he explained, is for companies to make these systems more affordable.

Shaffer said by 2026, nuclear deterrence projects will make up 6.5 percent of the defense budget and interest on the debt will be more than the entire defense budget itself.

This means everyone, especially the relatively small electronic warfare community, will have to fight for funding and thinking about electronic warfare as a continuum of capabilities.

“How do you compete for dollars … by talking about what capability you deliver,” he said.

In addition, the United States is also behind the cost curve in many cases.

“We have to remember that as we field very expensive system a $1,000 jammer can defeat a $1 million platform. That’s the wrong side of the cost curve so we’ve got figure out how to get around that,” he said.

Ultimately, if the United States doesn’t become more agile in this space, it will be to its detriment.

“The competition of the digital battlefield is here and it is now. If we, the West, do not win that, we will not be able to operate militarily in parts of the world that we have to operate in,” Shaffer said.

Information warfare

For years, U.S. adversaries have viewed the electromagnetic spectrum along the larger continuum of information warfare and information dominance, a reality the DoD is now coming to grips with in its own reorganization.

What this means, Shaffer said, is that the electronic warfare community needs to develop new concepts for how they can be used in a more information warfare-centric battlefield of the future.

“How can you disrupt someone else’s information feeds. How can you present maybe information that may or may not be true. How can you put doubt in the mind of the adversary,” he said. “To me controlling data depends upon controlling the electromagnetic spectrum. I look to this community to be able to do that. We have got to be able to control the electromagnetic spectrum, we’ve got to stop thinking in terms of just jamming, but in terms of how do you effect information that’s available to war fighters.”

In a fight in the future, it’s not the “biggest bicep” that will win, but rather the speed of decision and quality of information, Shaffer said.