NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The U.S. Air Force is stepping up efforts to improve electromagnetic spectrum capabilities that are “nowhere near” where they need to be, according to Lt. Gen. Leah Lauderback.

The deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and cyber effects operations told the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference that the service is poised to answer questions about requirements and funding flows.

“We are just starting the sprint,” she said Sept. 20. “It’s with the acquisition community, it’s with the operational community.”

Modern warfare relies on the electromagnetic spectrum, which militaries leverage for communications, situational awareness and even weapons guidance. Competition over the spectrum is expected to be heated in a conflict involving the U.S., China or Russia.

The Air Force undertaking could eventually produce a so-called operational imperative — a service priority marked by intense focus and investment. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall in March laid out seven imperatives, among them the pursuit of the Advanced Battle Management System and a better understanding of resilient basing, sustainment and communications in contested environments.

“You might see this turn into another operational imperative, like a year from now, or something of that nature,” Lauderback said Tuesday. “But it’s something that we do not have a deep bench on, at all.”

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown has said the service was “asleep at the wheel” for decades in electromagnetic operations. Adversaries have observed how critical the spectrum is for U.S. forces and have sought sophisticated methods to deny, jam and spoof.

Taking full advantage of the spectrum and related assets, Brown said last year, could save money while still delivering results. The Air Force last summer activated the 350th Spectrum Warfare Wing, a first-of-its-kind entity designed to optimize electromagnetic capabilities and provide maintenance, operational and technical expertise.

“In some aspects, an electron is much cheaper than a very expensive missile,” Brown said at the time.

Colin Demarest was a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covered military networks, cyber and IT. Colin had previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

More In Electronic Warfare