The United States Air Force is embracing electronic warfare as an essential front in the future of combat. In November, the service announced it would launch an Enterprise Capability Collaboration Team (ECCT) to study how to use electronic warfare, because, as the service’s Vice Chief of Staff put it in November, “he that dominates the spectrum wins.”
Now, that collaboration team is reaching out to industry leaders with a formal request for information about the “art of the possible” regarding electronic warfare technologies. In the request, the Air Force says it’s actively seeking assessments of current and near-term capabilities, which they describe as between 2018 and 2025. While the government insists the request for information is for planning purposes only, it does offer some insight into the potential capabilities the Air Force is considering.
The Department of Defense has long been pivoting toward a multidomain approach to warfare, so it comes as no surprise that the Pentagon is spending a great deal of time and attention on offensive cyber. American cyber authorities and capabilities are currently governed from very high levels within the U.S. government. The 24th Air Force is the Air Force’s component of U.S. Cyber Command through which the Air Force conducts offensive cyber operations. With more advanced offensive cyber capabilities, the Air Force could bombard adversaries with complex multidomain attacks at a speed adversaries likely could not keep up with.
Cognitive electronic warfare systems
Cognitive electronic warfare seeks to use artificial intelligence to adapt to rapidly changing electromagnetic surroundings in the field. The former head of DARPA told the Atlantic Council in May that machine learning cognitive EW solutions can already “scan the radio spectrum in real time to determine what the adversary’s radar is doing and then right there on the spot create a jamming profile that will protect those aircraft in real time, in the battlespace even when the world around them is changing.” The Air Force’s wants to learn more about this innovative technology and is considering how exactly artificial intelligence will be used in the field of electronic warfare.
Space-based electronic warfare
The Air Force says it wants to identify electronic warfare capabilities which “could be applied to counter-space missions, or space based electronic warfare.” There is little precedent for space based electronic warfare as a concept, however as space becomes a more contested intelligence domain, the Air Force appears to be preparing for battle.
“The United States is dependent upon space and our adversaries know it. We must organize and train forces to prevail in any future conflict which could extend into space,” Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson said in June. The Air Force is likely interested the capability to disrupt adversaries’ satellite based tactical advantages which can be used for surveillance, communications, and positioning systems.