The current trajectory of the military’s electronic warfare modernization is too incremental and insufficient to regain the upper hand against top competitors, a new EW plans and programs assessment mandated by the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act asserts.

In a report to be unveiled Nov. 21, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) finds that budgetary increases in the technologies are unlikely to yield significant improvements against Russia and China.

While the Department of Defense increased funding in fiscal year 2017 for EW, the sector will stagnate in budgets after fiscal year 2020 and the earlier funding increases were appropriated without a clear vision or strategy for how forces will operate in the electromagnetic spectrum, according to the report.

“DoD dramatically increased its spending on EW and EMSO [electromagnetic spectrum operations] during the last five years, but did not focus additional funding on the most important new technologies and programs needed to gain an advantage in the EMS,” the report finds. “The misapplication of funding continues into the Future Year’s Defense Plan, during which funding for development of new capabilities is planned to decrease while spending on procurement is projected to go mainly to upgraded versions of today’s EW and EMSO systems.”

Moreover, at the current pace, DoD will need a decade or more to address gaps relative to Russian and Chinese militaries, the report states. Of note, the report points out that Russia has modernized 80 to 90 percent of its EW units in the past decade with 70 percent of pre-2009 systems set to be replaced by 2020. By contrast, the DoD largely did away with much of its EW units and capabilities in the last decade.

This imbalance in capabilities risks Russia and China’s continued pursuit of objectives through gray-zone operations, political warfare and/or military aggression.

CSBA identified asymmetries between U.S. capabilities and strategies and those of competitors, as opposed to identifying specific gaps or shortfalls, because fully mitigating all gaps could be infeasible given fiscal and temporal constraints. Instead of building or revising electronic warfare capabilities to avoid all adversary jammers and sensors, DoD should pursue a more proactive strategic approach, argues the study.

Instead of deterring great powers through a credible ability to delay, degrade or deny enemy capabilities, for example, DoD should focus its electromagnetic concepts and capability development on opportunities to reduce the confidence of militaries.

One of the biggest challenges for U.S. forces, CSBA highlights throughout its report, is that it will always have to fight away games. Russia and China benefit from being able to deploy systems closer to home in their sphere of influence as a means of having a leg up on U.S. forces, which must be more expeditionary by nature.

The report notes four categories that trends and asymmetries fall into:

  • Challenges DoD should acknowledge and try to mitigate. While some asymmetries are nearly insurmountable, DoD should focus on mitigating some, such as reducing their impact through new approaches to defense innovation or challenging Chinese and Russian EMS superiority in areas outside their primary regions of military concern.
  • Challenges DoD should attempt to alleviate or overcome. DoD can focus more intensely on experimentation on par with adversaries shifting from live training and certification toward virtual and constructive training, which could level the playing field in experimentation and concept development.
  • Challenges that could be turned to opportunities. DoD could accelerate the development and fielding of adaptive or cognitive multifunction capabilities in new or existing systems and begin experimenting with the electromagnetic battle management capabilities in development by the services. By decoupling systems from specific functions or frequencies, DoD could reduce its battle management challenges while turning the number of EW systems in the Russian and Chinese militaries into a battle management liability.
  • Opportunities DoD should more fully exploit. U.S. forces could exploit proximity of allies to conduct EW operations against Chinese and Russian forces during peacetime and support resilient operations during conflict.

The report offers four recommendations:

  • Implement new operational concepts that employ maneuver and complexity, enabling full exploitation of EW and EMSO;
  • Adopt more opportunity-based, rather than requirements-based, innovation;
  • Implement maneuver warfare in the electromagnetic spectrum, meaning; and
  • Emphasize virtual and constructive EW and EMSO training at the expense of live events.

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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