Two military leaders admitted at the TechNet Augusta conference this week that the United States is falling behind in its electronic warfare capability.
“When it comes to electronic warfare, we are outgunned,” Maj. Gen. John Morrison, the commander of Fort Gordon and the Army Cyber Center of Excellence, said during a Tuesday presentation at the conference held in Augusta, Georgia. “We are plain outgunned by peer and near-peer competitors.”
This sentiment was seconded by Lt. Gen. Paul Funk II, the commanding general of III Corps, who addressed the TechNet audience via video teleconference, adding that the U.S. is also outranged in EW.
Russia ― and to some extent, China ― have exhibited advanced and stunning capabilities in the electromagnetic spectrum.
“If we don’t win the cyber/EW fight, then the maneuver fight may not matter because we may not get to it,” Maj. Gen. Wilson Shoffner, the director of operations with the Army‘s Rapid Capabilities Office noted in June. He said at the time that the decisive fight may well be the electromagnetic spectrum as opposed to maneuver.
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The capabilities of competitors, combined with the fact that the U.S. Army divested its capabilities during the last two decades ― a decision Morrison said was warranted given the fight in which the military was involved ― has put the U.S. at a significant disadvantage in the EW space.
To get at this issue, the Army is looking to regrow its capacity by building integrated cyber and electromagnetic activities, or CEMA, cells into every operational formation, Morrison said.
With this, the Army can “bring together and really start getting after the basic tenants of multi-domain battle in a fused, synchronized and integrated fashion, [which] is something the Army really has to start getting after,” he said.
“If you buy into CEMA at all, it is all about integrated operations in support of the maneuver commander operational scheme,” he added, noting that commanders in the field who might not be well-versed in these emerging domains of war don’t need any convincing to integrate CEMA cells because commanders are currently demanding this
One of the courses every new two-star commander now must take involves integrating CEMA operations.
Morrison also highlighted pilot efforts the Army has underway to get at these challenges and capability gaps.
One is in the Pacific to figure out what that force structure will look like; what are the capabilities needed in formations; and how to leverage reach back from the cyber personnel at Fort Gordon, Georgia, or at Fort Meade, Maryland, as opposed to putting cyber personnel in every formation.
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Similarly, the Army has been undertaking a larger pilot effort at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, to game out at what echelon the service wants certain CEMA capabilities; what it needs organically for certain maneuver elements; and what type of reach-back capability it might need or be able to dial in — all to figure out what future formations will look like.
The latest CEMA Support to Corps and Below pilot in May featured the first use of reach-back capability, conducting both offensive and defensive cyber supported from Fort Gordon. “In real time, this reach-back element provided a capability that degraded the adversary‘s ability to report on U.S. troop movements and impair the command and control,” Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander of Army Cyber Command, said of the reach back tested this spring, during his keynote address Tuesday at TechNet.
After figuring out what the right level and capability of reach back, the force must figure out what is to be organic to brigade combat teams, Morrison said. “I think it’ll be electronic warfare. Now these won’t be the electronic warfare professionals of today. It’ll be the ones we’ve transitioned into cyber operational planners,” he said.
Currently, cyber protection teams are not organic to the brigade and provide reach back from sanctuary.
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“Then we’ve got to up the game of our 255S and 25Ds, and grow that capacity because they’re really going to be the terrain owners in that [brigade combat team] formation, and the rest of the [concept of operations] is going to be reach back,” Morrison said, referencing electronic warfare billets.
The echelon at which these forces will be integrated — and even the specific capabilities — is still to be determined, be it at the corps, the division or the brigade combat team, Nakasone said.
The next step for the CEMA Support to Corps and Below pilot? Finding out what has been learned over the years, which the Army has requested as a report, Nakasone told C4ISRNET in an interview at TechNet. He said this report will be completed in the coming fiscal year.
Additionally, there will be recommendations of where the Army should go with the manning, equipping, training and employment of these elements, Nakasone added.
What is certainly clear is the force needs “a tailorable, an agile force that is ready at a moment’s notice to support a tactical commander,” he told the TechNet audience.
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.