WASHINGTON — Simple shifts in how the Pentagon approaches its electromagnetic spectrum tools could offer the U.S. superiority needed to best adversaries that have figured out over the last decade how achieve their own advantages, leaders have said.
This notion for how to achieve an affordable competitive advantage with non-kinetic capabilities looks beyond platforms, such as planes or ships, and rather at the pieces and specific capabilities within those platforms, Col. William Young, the incoming commander of the Air Force’s forthcoming 350th Spectrum Warfare Wing, said during a virtual event Dec. 9 hosted by the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.
The new wing, expected to be activated in March, will fall under the purview of the Air Force Warfare Center instead of the new information warfare command, 16th Air Force, which has operational control of electronic warfare. The Air Force Warfare Center performs operational test and evaluation, tactics development, and advanced training.
As an example of this different approach, Young described breaking apart a fourth-, fifth- and sixth-generation fighter and a satellite to connect the various capabilities within them, so forces at the edge can solve problems.
This is all done by taking advantage of the software nature of modern systems within the spectrum today and designing systems with open architectures.
“The power of that competitive advantage is not merely in the technology,” Young said. Rather, the forces at the edge innovate by looking at the capabilities available to them and string them all together, he explained.
From the Pentagon level, the office of the undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment is looking at how to create more efficiencies in these capabilities that exist on platforms across the joint force.
The office is shifting its perspective to pay more attention to electronic warfare efficiency, David Tremper, electronic warfare director for A&S, said during the same event.
“If I can make $1 worth of EW investment, and it impacts my four services, I’ve effectively gotten $4 worth of efficiency out of that $1 worth investment,” he said.
The key to this investment is the software-defined nature Young described, which allows greater flexibility.
An electronic warfare system could pursue a submarine operation one day, but in another platform, it’s on a tactical aircraft, Tremper said. Since such an electronic effort is software-based, its function and role are able to change slightly, making fixed platforms much more flexible.
One goal of the new spectrum wing is for the Air Force to tackle the software-defined capabilities of electronic warfare, Young said.
He described a vision in which the wing can provide new capabilities rapidly by composing existing systems without having to alter the underlying forces, battle plans or hardware.
This software approach can solve a problem that is not enduring, meaning a different problem may arise tomorrow that can be addressed through rapid reprogramming.
For the Air Force and the larger joint force, part of this effort is connected to the need to rebuild a skilled workforce within the electromagnetic spectrum.
“Part of that changing paradigm is also recognizing that our EMS-savvy workforce has really atrophied to unacceptable levels,” Brig. Gen. AnnMarie Anthony, deputy director, for Strategic Command’s Joint Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations, said during the event. “We have a loss of EMSO expertise and capabilities over the past 20 to 30 years. In order for us to take a more broader view of the electromagnetic operating environment, we need to smartly rebuild a cadre that can focus on EMS-specific challenges and tasks.”
The services and department as a whole are beginning to undertake efforts to build proficiency back into their ranks. One such example is the joint electromagnetic spectrum operations cells that are being created at each of the combatant commands. They will help commanders better understand the spectrum and plan operations.
Professionals from Strategic Command have been working on manpower studies and resourcing actions to staff the combatant commands with their respective cells, she said.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.