WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee wants to reimagine how the U.S. military fights, including across the electromagnetic spectrum, and is looking to Ukraine for clues.
“We are in a tremendously dynamic situation, where technology is changing rapidly, techniques are changing rapidly,” Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, said Feb. 7 at a Defense Writers Group event. “We are truly multidimensional.”
The recent, notable shifts, Reed said, include the Department of Defense’s growing emphasis on space and its investment in electronic warfare, which can be employed to find and fool adversaries and, on the flip side, fend off foreign attempts to do the same.
“How do we operate? All of that has to be reimagined and integrated,” he said. “And the experience in Ukraine is giving us insights for this transformation.”
Electronic warfare is a fight for control of the spectrum, which is used for communications, weapons guidance and situational awareness. While the invisible struggle lacks the spectacle of tanks tearing through town or bombs busting bunkers, the techniques are critical, U.S. military and industry leaders say, as battlefields teem with high-tech, software-first systems.
In the Russia-Ukraine war, now approaching the one-year mark, forces are jumbling communications, jamming GPS signals and more. At least one Ukranian defense official has described the embattled Eastern European country as a “testing ground.”
The U.S. is taking note, according to Reed, who advocated during the Tuesday event for “equipment that is capable of operating effectively” while remaining “ahead of the competition.” The contest for spectrum dominance in a conflict involving the U.S., China or Russia is expected to be intense.
“I think the most adaptable is the field of electronic warfare,” Reed said. “And the innovation that they’re seeing taking place, some of it spontaneously, on the part of the Ukrainians — just doing some ingenious things, because desperate times require desperate need. They’re doing it.”
The U.S. Army, specifically, is trying to reinvigorate its electronic warfare armory after decades of decay. The service in 2022 awarded multimillion-dollar contracts to Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics Missions Systems for what is known as the Terrestrial Layer System, which will provide soldiers a bloc of electronic warfare, cyber and signals intelligence capabilities.
And the Air Force, as of late last year, is organizing a “sprint” to assess where it stands and how it can improve, according to Lt. Gen. Leah Lauderback, the deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and cyber effects operations.
“You might see this turn into another operational imperative, like a year from now, or something of that nature,” Lauderback said at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference. “But it’s something that we do not have a deep bench on, at all.”
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.