Electronic warfare is more than jamming IEDs
By JOE GOULD — When it comes to electronic warfare, the Army’s longtime focus has been roadside bombs and jamming the signals that trigger them. But now the Army is readying to go on the attack.
Col. Jim Ekvall, chief of the Army’s Electronic Warfare Division, said the service is developing its Integrated Electronic Warfare System, a family of technologies that will include the ability to attack and disrupt the enemy’s command, control and communications capabilities.
The mainstay of Army electronic warfare has been an evolving series of vehicle-mounted, counter-IED systems meant to jam the signals of repurposed household gear -– from key fobs to cordless phones — used to detonate roadside bombs.
But the Army’s still-developing technology, whose first stages received pre-acquisitions approval in August, would be geared toward full-spectrum operations.
The systems are meant to jam anything from low-end cellphones and proximity-fused munitions to multimillion radar systems and aerial drone uplinks.
“It’s a family of systems that will operate in the full spectrum of conflict against a variety of targets, which far exceeds the $3 walkie-talkie,” Ekvall told Army Times.
The goal is to provide maneuver commanders with the ability to operate freely in the electromagnetic spectrum, while denying adversaries the use of it, whether that adversary is in Iraq and Afghanistan, or Iran and China.
“We will be victorious in our war against terrorism, and then another adversary will come along and he will not look like the enemy we’re fighting today, and he may be more inclined to a high-intensity conflict,” Ekvall said. “Electronic warfare has a place in high-intensity conflict, as it has in the past, and in the COIN environment.”
As part of IEWS, the Army is developing the offensive Multifunctional Electronic Warfare; the EW Planning & Management Tools meant to help prevent jammers from knocking out friendly communications and other sorts of signal fratricide; and IED-jamming capabilities geared toward countries outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, Army officials said.
In August, Army acquisitions executive Heidi Shyu approved “analysis of alternatives” studies for Multifunctional Electronic Warfare and EW Planning & Management Tools. The electronic warfare requirements community is looking at what technologies are already available.
The studies are expected to take six to nine months for the planning tool and a year for the offensive capability.
EW acquisitions officials released two requests for information in August to solicit the defense industry’s input on the two systems, and also hosted an industry day for contractors, academia and other government organizations at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.
Michael Ryan, the Army’s deputy project manager for electronic warfare, said companies have been spending money on electronic warfare research, and the Army needs to help guide that spending.
Given electronic warfare’s focus on counter-IED technologies, Ekvall said defense contractors often ask him whether the Army’s electronic warfare programs will survive the conclusion of hostilities in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Absolutely,” he says.
“There is fear out there that when we cease operations in Afghanistan and we’re no longer confronted by an IED threat that we’ll completely shelve the electronic warfare development and maturity,” Ekvall said. “I don’t believe there is a danger of that. I believe the senior leadership of the Army understands electronic warfare is more than just the defeat of IEDs.”
In 2009, the Army announced plans to establish an electronic warfare career field for officer, warrant officer and enlisted career fields. The Army has a requirement for 3,283 electronic warfare soldiers for the active component, Reserve and National Guard, of which 1,570 have been authorized. According to Army data, 384 active component soldiers have completed 29-series training.
The Multifunctional Electronic Warfare System is due to be fielded in stages. Increment 1, which is expected to be fielded in 2017, is primarily meant to jam enemy command, control and communications.
“With Increment 1, we’re really looking for where we can do some rapid turn and field some things in the next three to five years,” Ryan said.
The Army plans for these systems to be mounted on unmanned aerial vehicles, wheeled vehicles and on backpacks.
The EW Planning & Management Tools are software that would help the Army’s new cadre of electronic warfare experts deconflict offensive, defensive and friendly signals.
The software would essentially mesh intelligence and terrain data to provide a common operational picture for the electromagnetic spectrum. Electronic warfare officers would use it to perform premission planning, identify likely threats, advise commanders and predict which devices would be most effective.
“Today, those [electronic warfare officers] have nothing,” Ryan said. “They’re smart guys and gals that give advice, but they don’t have this ability today, and when you start to field these more complex systems, they’re going to need these types of tools.”
Army officials predicted that as these technologies proliferate, they would be almost as invisible to soldiers on the battlefield as the electromagnetic spectrum itself.
Rod Mentzer, the Army’s program manager for electronic warfare, said as it would grant more soldiers the ability to “blacken the eyes and ears” of an enemy, but that its impact would largely be strategic.
“For the infantry soldier, I don’t think the change to him will be as noticeable,” Mentzer said.
Ekvall envisioned a future in which soldiers wear systems on their backpacks that automatically hone in on and jam enemy signals, whether to neutralize enemy communication or protect soldiers from IEDs and proximity-fused munitions.
“All you’ll know is you have it on your back,” he said.