NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The U.S. Army’s efforts to develop and deploy electronic warfare capabilities face two fundamental hurdles split between the digital and physical realms, according to Undersecretary Gabe Camarillo.

The first challenge, he told reporters Dec. 7 on the sidelines of an Army industry conference, is “primarily software-based, and making sure that we have the ability to counter and address and respond to any type of EW threats that we would encounter on the battlefield.”

The second, he said, relates to the actual space available for new tech on Army vehicles and other machinery.

“As we all know, mounting it onto a Humvee or a [Joint Light Tactical Vehicle] is one thing,” Camarillo said. “Mounting it onto a UAV or something else with a different payload, essentially, is different, or is a different set of challenges.”

The Army is rethinking its networks and EW armory after decades of counterterrorism operations in the Middle East — a time when electronic systems were at less risk of harassment and when U.S. and allied troops fought forces outfitted with less-advanced gear. EW is a battle for control of the electromagnetic spectrum, used for communications, weapons guidance and more, which defense officials say is paramount in a potential fight with China or Russia.

The service, which requested some $178 billion for fiscal 2023, over the summer inked EW deals, including two with Lockheed Martin for the Terrestrial Layer System-Brigade Combat Team and its heftier counterpart, the Terrestrial Layer System-Echelons Above Brigade. Together, the contracts are worth more than $60 million.

Lockheed, the No. 1 global defense contractor ranked by revenue, according to Defense News, also produces the Multi-Function Electronic Warfare-Air Large, or MFEW-AL, an EW pod intended to be mounted on an MQ-1C Gray Eagle drone.

Camarillo on Wednesday said he was impressed by an MFEW-AL he saw at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, and further expressed confidence in existing relationships with industry and its ability to refresh software and confront even the most cutting-edge adversary advancements.

To address issues of limited space, Camarillo said the Army is embracing a Lego-like, plug-and-play approach known as CMOSS, the C5ISR Electronic Warfare Modular Open Suite of Standards.

The CMOSS method embeds critical capabilities, such as communication, navigation and timing, and mission planning, into cards that are then inserted into a standardized, ruggedized chassis. The swappable system, once fully realized, is expected to shrink development cycles, slash equipment downtime and boost the Army’s adaptability.

“I think where we need to continue to emphasize is not new authorities, but more of the modular, open-systems approach that enables or facilitates that integration in a much more streamlined way,” Camarillo said.

“As we continue to push to an open-standards, open-architecture approach, it will really facilitate different form factors, different approaches to that hardware-software integration,” he added. “And I see a lot of investment by the Army in that direction. I think that that’s going to continue over the next few years.”

Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin 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.

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