Military leaders are reluctant to treat the electromagnetic spectrum as a separate domain of warfare as they do with air, land, sea, space and cyber, even as the service increasingly recognize the importance of superiority in this area.

At the Association of Old Crows conference Oct. 30, representatives from the Army, Navy and Air Force weighed in on a lingering debate: whether the electromagnetic spectrum should be considered its own domain.

In short, while the spectrum can legitimately be described as a physically distinct domain, it does not make sense logistically for the Department of Defense to declare it a separate domain of warfare, they said.

“It’s something that we’ve had a lot of discussion about … In one way, you can argue that the physical nature of the electromagnetic spectrum, the physical nature of it being a domain. However, I understand the implications and those are different challenges for a large organization like the Department of Defense. So I think that there’s a little bit of a different discussion when you talk about domain and what that implies for the Department of Defense and each of the departments in a different way,” said Brig. Gen. David Gaedecke, director of electromagnetic spectrum superiority for the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration and requirements.

Regardless of whether it’s an independent domain, military leaders made clear that leveraging the electromagnetic spectrum is a priority for every department and every platform.

“We’re going to operate from strategic down to tactical, and EMS … is going to enable all of our forces to communicate and maneuver effectively, so we’ll have a layered approach across all the domains that we operate in,” said Laurence Mixon from the Army’s Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors. “EMS is definitely an aspect of the operational environment that every tactician has to be aware of, understand and leverage. And on the acquisition side we have to consider EMS when we are developing every one of our systems. I think since EMS crosses all of the domains that we currently have today that we identify and use in the joint parlance--I don’t think the Army is ready to call it a domain."

Similarly, while the Navy is working to understand how EMS works best within the maritime domain, Rear Adm. Steve Parode, director of the Navy’s Warfare Integration Directorate, N2/N6F, indicated that there was no rush to declare EMS a separate domain.

“For the Navy, we’re pretty comfortable with the way we are into the maritime domain as our principal operational sphere. We are working through understanding the EMS and the way it relates to physical properties in that domain. We know where we’re strong and we know where we’re weak. And we understand principally why we’re weak. We’re making decisions about how to get better,” said Parode.

Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.

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