Electronic Warfare Prototypes Improve Operational Understanding Against Near-Peer Threats

With the Army moving EW branch personnel into Cyber branch, and the creation of Cyber Electro Magnetic Activities teams, it’s almost as if they’re putting the band back together. The one they disbanded just after the turn of the century.

MCLEAN, Va. — An adversary is spotted positioning fighters along the border of an ally nation. As U.S. Army forces are quickly deployed, one unit is under special instructions: detect and survey the adversary’s electronic warfare jammers and emitters.

As vital as this information is for the commander’s situational awareness, a few months ago mapping out the electromagnetic spectrum would have been much more difficult.

Sgt. Jessie Albert, an electronic warfare specialist assigned to 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, trains on the Wolfhound Radio Direction Finding System at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, on April 11, 2018. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Armando R. Limon)

While only a simulated experiment, the realism of this scenario reflects how the Electronic Warfare Officers of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment must operate to ensure freedom of maneuver for ground forces. To help them do this, the Army recently rolled out its initial set of EW capabilities for brigade and below, giving Soldiers at the lowest echelons operating in a contested environment the ability to detect, identify and locate targets within the electromagnetic spectrum.

Now, just a few months after the 2nd Cavalry Regiment and other Europe-based units received the integrated package of mounted, dismounted, and command and control EW capabilities, a small group of EWOs traveled to the U.S. to see the next phase of upgrades, participate in simulated scenarios based on potential real-world missions, and provide feedback on how they would fight with the new systems. The simulation experiment, or SIMEX, helps the Army evaluate the operational value of the capabilities by determining whether the operators can accomplish the mission under the scenario-based exercise.

“Prior to this fielding, there was no equipment in the Army inventory to do what we’re doing today,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael Flory, an Electronic Warfare Technician for 2nd Cavalry Regiment. “The EW community was organized around that counterinsurgency fight, and you were essentially a staff advisor for other capabilities. Now we are capable of offering the commander not just information, but decisions for him to make and assets he can deploy and control himself.”

Delivered in response to an Operational Needs Statement from U.S. Army Europe, the technologies are interim solutions designed as a bridge to enduring EW programs of record that are still in development. The Army Rapid Capabilities Office and the Project Manager for Electronic Warfare & Cyber teamed with 2nd Cavalry Regiment and other receiving units on a rapid prototyping approach to shape system design, performance, functionality and training to meet operational needs in the near- and mid-term.

“This is the short-term [solution] until something more long-term comes along,” Flory said. “So it really helps to bridge that gap. It helps the commander see the electromagnetic spectrum that he’s responsible for fighting in.”

The 2nd Cavalry Regiment EWOs came from Europe to take part in a two week-long SIMEX, designed to help improve operational understanding and effectiveness of the EW prototypes. The event played out in a MITRE lab in McLean, Virginia, which accommodates over 50 personnel representing the operational roles of “blue” or friendly forces, and “red” or enemy forces. The SIMEX lab provides the appropriate computer infrastructure to conduct simulation experiments with real military Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, or C4ISR, systems.

This experiment allowed the 2nd Cavalry Regiment EWOs to use their newly fielded capabilities in various operationally relevant scenarios in order to identify best tactics, techniques and procedures. The event brought together in one room the Soldiers who use the capabilities, the engineers who are designing them, the project manager responsible for fielding the program of record solution, and the RCO team delivering the interim prototypes.

“Development works out a lot better when you have direct user feedback,” said Capt. Kevin Voss, assistant product manager for Electronic Warfare Integration. “With the SIMEX, we can modify and tweak through constant feedback and constant interaction with the operators. We can map out what they need, based on how they use it in the field.”

One scenario required the EWOs to detect communications between enemy forces’ headquarters and insurgents, then send an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle to confirm. Other scenarios involved detecting enemy jammers, networks and UAV communications; determining if a report that their network is being jammed is real or false; and intercepting, detecting, identifying and locating the source of interference that is affecting their communications.

By the end of the SIMEX, which concluded May 4, the Soldiers were becoming experts at utilizing their new kit of capabilities in order to command the electromagnetic spectrum.

“The SIMEX is not focused on the individual system,” said Nickee Abbott, who was one of the lead RCO engineers on the prototypes. “Instead, it’s about integration and operational understanding. It’s looking at the package of capabilities and how the Soldiers leverage that under realistic threat scenarios.”

With the engineers and operators working side by side, some of the suggested changes were made over lunch or by the next morning.

“This is a great way to give feedback,” said Staff Sergeant Justin Dugan, EW Non-Commissioned Officer for 2nd Cavalry Regiment. “It’s an opportunity to spend concentrated hours on the equipment in a simulated environment with the engineers that are developing it, [so we are] able to turn to the engineers or PM and say, ‘Why does it do that instead of this, or could it do this?’ And it’s incredible to see that information go straight from the operators’ thought process into the engineers’ thought process, and [they] immediately start working on it. ”

Flory agreed, adding that the experiment also provided valuable training experience.

“Sometimes there is a disconnect [between] the engineer level and the user at the tactical level,” he said. “We’re trying to help illustrate where we live and fight, versus where they come to work. It’s showing them what is most valuable to us, and they’ve been incredibly receptive.”

The Soldiers also evaluated some new capabilities their fielded prototypes currently don’t have, in order to inform whether future iterations of the EW prototypes or programs of record should include added features, such as a sensor that provides a potentially wider and clearer image of the electromagnetic environment, and improved signal identification. Some software updates to the fielded systems are already on track to be delivered this summer, with additional “Phase 2” upgrades to the prototypes expected throughout 2018 and 2019.

By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest, Army Rapid Capabilities Office

6 Responses to “Electronic Warfare Prototypes Improve Operational Understanding Against Near-Peer Threats”

  1. Mehmaster says:

    I wouldnt beleive the hype. The last thing you sent to the EW community that wasnt a dogshit-money lasagna was vrod/ vmax.

  2. Kirk says:

    Nonetheless, this is something that we have to attain expertise at, or we’re gonna fill a lot of body bags with our troops. My guess is that by mid-century, there’s gonna have to be a EW position in every squad, or an EW element permanently attached to the platoon, just like the crew-served and indirect fire weapons are.

    The RTO position is already getting to the point where we almost need to start school-training these guys at the platoon level, or making it an ASI.

    Not to mention, there’s going to be a critical need for placing “smart guys” down at the pointy end of things for gathering intel. It’s really bizarre to me that we haven’t recognized this, already–Huge AAR point from the mid-2000s in Iraq was how the guys out doing patrols were finding stuff that they simply didn’t recognize as being indicators, and we only found out by accident, for example, that the presence of washing machine timers in large quantities didn’t indicate a huge local industry in appliance repair, but that they were probably an IED factory…

    I can’t remember how it went down, but one of the EOD guys happened to see a picture of a pile of timers that someone took by accident, and went ballistic over it. Nobody on the maneuver side really had a clue, at that point, and it was scary to observe the way information pipelining affected things. People outside the EOD community at that time simply had no damn idea what those timers were used for in IEDs.

    Similarly, going forward? We’re gonna have to get better at information dissemination and collection, which will likely require a dedicated specialist down at the pointy end, just like a machinegunner. We sort of did this historically, and kinda do it now, but it’s always been haphazard as hell and without a real plan for it–Call it an “information warfare specialist”, or something, but there should be a guy who’s job it is is to gather the data, send it up the pipeline, and then take in what the system has to offer in the way of lateral information and/or top-down intel, disseminating it to the platoon/squad. Information is life, and if you’re not feeding the things you find up, and seeking out what the higher already knows from what the other units have encountered…? You’re going to be a lot less effective. In some cases, you’re gonna be dead.

    Warfare is gonna get real complicated, by comparison to today. I suspect that by 2050, a squad leader is going to have to be able to keep as many balls in the air as today’s 2LT, in terms of coordination and everything else he’s going to have to handle. I think the complexity push-down that we’ve seen since WWII is only going to accelerate and increase, and that we’d better recognize that and prepare for the implications of it all. When you think about it, it’s kinda mind-boggling just how much things have changed: WWII platoon leaders and company commanders probably had less in the way of job complexity than some of our squad leaders do, today. I shudder to think what handing off a full squad set of electronic equipment from today would do to a WWII-level leader. The whole thing has crept up on us, and it’s invisible to us, but even the average soldier from the 1980s would be daunted by the kind of crap we routinely saddle our troops with, today. Sweet baby Jesus, but when I remember sitting through a class on doing authentications and shackling of grid coordinates with a CEOI, and how hard a lot of the guys had it with that stuff, and try to extrapolate to today’s variegated fills and timing problems with frequency-hopping radios…? Not to mention, having damn near everyone in the unit having radios…? I think even my Rhode’s Scholar company commander from back in the day would have had his head explode from trying to keep track of things, these days.

    The Marines seem to be taking steps in this direction, and I think the Army had better look at doing something, as well.

    • Justin says:

      By mid-century the communication system, EW system and SIGINT sensors will all be a single networked system controlled by AI and machine learning. There won’t be a need for humans in the loop. In fact, humans won’t have the capability to do what needs to be done with regards to the electromagnetic spectrum.

      • Mehmaster says:

        in the meanwhile we keep dropping millions on useless shit produced by PM CREW, src, and the rapid fielding office. The closest thing to a cognitive approach I have seen is mesmer which only does the counter drone thing. Again its supposed to be offered by the RCO but good luck getting anything to actually test. 0 for 3 right now. The counterdrone shit sandwich stryker, the useless million dollar laptop and the other thing PM CREW made.ARMY EW is small the only dudes who have a clue are in usasoc, smu, awg, and the 173rd. Having anything “validated” by anyone else snacks of the military industrial complex trying to market some useless shit.

  3. GAND!S says:

    Good article.