BELCAMP, Maryland — The Army used a series of exercises to prove out and mature its forthcoming aerial jamming pod, drawing lessons for senior leaders to make more informed funding decisions.
Most recently, the Army tested the Multi-Function Electronic Warfare Air Large pod — the service’s first organic brigade electronic attack asset mounted on an MQ-1C Gray Eagle drone — at Edge 21, an aviation-focused exercise leading up to the larger Project Convergence event later this summer. The Army is scheduled to field MFEW Air Large in 2022.
“This is the first time that we’ve had airborne capability like this. The big piece of it is just giving it visibility for senior leaders,” Col. Kevin Finch, project manager for electronic warfare and cyber at Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors, said Wednesday at the Cyber Electromagnetic Activity conference hosted by the Association of Old Crows. “What we’re trying to do with Edge 21 and also with Project Convergence is to provide data points for the senior leaders so as they make decisions, making informed decisions versus guesses on what the capability will actually do.”
That information will factor into the Army’s decisions as it plans for the 2023 budget and lays out its program objective memorandum for 2024, Finch said. His office has been providing white papers to senior leaders after demonstrations to help them decide on capabilities based on what the systems can actually do.
In terms of the actual capabilities, Finch told C4ISRNET that the team tries to add more electronic attack techniques at each exercise or demonstration.
While declining to discuss specifics due to classification, he said some additional techniques at Edge 21 surrounded communications and electronic intelligence. Vendor Lockheed Martin also adds new capabilities and techniques regularly to improve the pod.
“When you start looking at it holistically, it’s proving a) we can integrate it on the Gray Eagle, and b) we can definitely sense the target sets that the platform is designed to go after. And then when you start talking about Edge 21, Edge 21 is kind of like the trial run of Project Convergence,” Finch said.
They plan to add cyber capabilities to MFEW’s portfolio over the summer as part of Project Convergence and Defender Pacific 2021. This will also be the first time the Army’s new tactical cyber force, the 915th Cyber Warfare Battalion, will use MFEW Air Large.
Personnel from the 915th will be able to upload techniques to the pod and deliver them from the air, which Finch said will demonstrate that the pod is configurable and can accept new technologies and techniques.
“We’re really demonstrating, it is just not a fixed capability that provides you these particular things. Now, it’s a capability that when you get it fielded in the tactical environment, you can upload new techniques into the pod and run them as software,” he said.
As part of the concept for the 915th, the Tactical Cyber Equipment-C4ISR/EW Modular Open Suite of Standards (CMOSS) chassis is the primary tool available to these forces. It’s a backpack that will plug directly into organic brigade assets, including MFEW, and leverage their capabilities to a higher degree than the conventional forces.
The 915th has specialized training and skills for these cyber- and radio frequency-enabled operations, but team members also possess necessary authorities that the brigade, or in the case of MFEW, the division combat aviation brigade, doesn’t.
But as authorities continue to change in the future, Finch said the Army is building capabilities into the systems.
“The policy may change over time, but the technology is already there,” he said. “Eventually, I think, senior leaders will realize or come to a decision that they may need to expand authorities down to a lower level, but the system’s already designed to do that so then when those decisions, if they’re ever made, the units already have the capability.”
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.