WASHINGTON — The U.S. must “regenerate” its electronic warfare capabilities after years of neglect to ensure dominance on battlefields of the future, John Sherman, the Pentagon’s chief information officer, told a congressional panel.
“As we get ready for China, we better be able to fight and dominate” the electromagnetic spectrum, he told the House Armed Services Cyber, Information Technology and Innovation subcommittee at a March 9 hearing on defense in the digital era.
The CIO oversees national security and defense business systems, including communications, spectrum management, cybersecurity and positioning, navigation and timing policy.
While funding has so far been “sufficient,” Sherman told the panel that the U.S. move away from smaller-scale fighting in the Middle East to confronting world powers around the globe is underscoring the need to get things right in EW, and fast. President Joe Biden’s fiscal 2024 budget blueprint, released Thursday, includes a promise of “investments to out-compete China globally and to continue support for Ukraine in the face of unprovoked Russian aggression.”
“This is something I’m going to bird-dog very carefully from my office here, particularly as we see the services starting to, kind of, regenerate electronic warfare and other capabilities, both to put the enemy back on their heels and ensure our [non-commissioned officers] and our trigger-pullers can stay in touch with one another,” Sherman said. “I think we need to keep a close eye on it here, and monitor, as we regenerate this capability that we had in the Cold War, that we had to maybe somewhat turn away from a bit during the war on terror.”
The electromagnetic spectrum is relied upon by militaries for communications, weapons guidance and situational awareness, among other vital uses. Electronic warfare wields the spectrum in an effort to detect, deceive or destroy.
A conflict with either China or Russia would likely involve significant amounts of digital-first tactics, including jamming, spoofing, hacking and influence campaigns. In Eastern Europe today, forces are jumbling communications, jamming GPS signals and more.
“As we’ve seen on the Ukrainian battlefield — all the dynamics with [electromagnetic spectrum operations], of how the Russians are trying to use it, and the Ukrainians are using it — we cannot be cut off on this, to be able to make sure we can conduct combat operations,” Sherman said.
The U.S. Army and Air Force are trying to inject new life into their respective EW arsenals after years of allowing them to atrophy.
The Army 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 collection of electronic warfare, cyber and signals intelligence capabilities. It’s also rolling out batches of upgraded communications equipment — to infantry and armor, alike — every two years in an effort known as capability sets.
And the Air Force, as of late last year, was organizing a sprint to identify deficiencies and fix them, according to Lt. Gen. Leah Lauderback, the deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and cyber effects operations.
“As we regenerate it, I want to assure this committee I’m going to keep a close, close sight on this,” Sherman told the lawmakers.
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.