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Fighting The Invisible War: The Electronic Spectrum

Posted by Chris Bernhardt on



UPDATED: The company has asked we change the author of the article. See note below.

During the last decade the execution of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has shown a dramatically changed battlefield, and with it America’s approach to defense is evolving to embrace new dimensions. A new front has emerged with heightened importance.

Wars are increasingly influenced, won or lost in an electromagnetic spectrum (EMS), which is crowded with simple to complex threats and where we must dominate — as we do in the air — to succeed. The need to target and deny enemy electronics will require experts who can out-innovate our opponents, acting in tandem with combat forces in all domains.

Our armed forces increasingly fight battles via joystick and controller, via drone and computer. Multi-spectral situation awareness, highly accurate threat warning and countermeasure capabilities are now necessary to be successful. Electromagnetic countermeasures will marry intelligence, cyberspace, surveillance and electronic attack to execute missions. As outlined in the Department of Defense’s Strategic Review, the United States and its defense industry partners must create a new type of defense and security infrastructure that matches this new electronic warfare (EW) paradigm.

Defense companies have been adapting technology across the EMS for years. Only recently, however, have EMS issues become highlighted as a serious problem. Enemies now manipulate the spectrum themselves and are increasingly trying to gain advantage through its use. The best known example has involved radio-controlled improvised explosive devices (IEDs), where simple but effective electronic devices are used to detonate explosives to injure and kill troops and disrupt operations, as we’ve seen in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Winning in this environment requires dominance of the full EMS, a continuum of all types of electrical, magnetic, and visible frequencies. Spectrum dominance will allow our fighting forces to see and block threats while preserving its use for our own purposes.

We need to be two steps ahead of our opponents in this area, not only sustaining capabilities against threats we know, but also provisioning technology and solutions for future operations where EMS dominance is already an established factor in success. As we re-set from recent counterinsurgency operations and look toward a more full-spectrum operational capability set, we must not forget the permanence of the EMS as an operational dimension or our need to dominate within it.

We must out-maneuver our opponents by countering their radars, surveillance and communications mechanisms. We must deter and avoid their systems so they cannot see us, and we must ensure we can see them despite their best efforts. To win, we must make the visible invisible…and the invisible visible.

A key program in the development and integration of effective tools to win in the new EMS environment is the Army’s Integrated Electronic Warfare System (IEWS) – a forward-looking capability that begs support. After years of post-Cold War atrophy, Army EW capabilities naturally focused on defeating radio-controlled IEDs throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, resulting in a number of counter-RCIED EW (CREW) solutions. As it looks forward to operations requiring broader capabilities in the EMS, the Army seeks to not only preserve and improve counter-IED capabilities but also expand overall capability to address a broader range of real threats with multifunctional systems. An additional effort is set to concurrently deliver appropriate EW planning and management tools for both legacy and multifunction counter-IED systems, with a near-term focus on legacy systems.

The defense electronics industry must offer its best of breed concepts, architectures and technologies in the IEWS development process – from definition of alternatives to realization of capable, affordable solutions. At ITT Exelis, we are devoting substantial energies into next generation solutions for the Army and for all fighting forces – developing advanced jamming capabilities, open architecture and business models, and a COTS-based software suite providing spectrum management, modeling and simulation, data analysis and visualization for EW planning and management.

In the electronic attack arena, Exelis is providing critical capabilities to deny and disrupt an enemy’s ability to communicate and perform surveillance or air defense. For JCREW I1B1, we are building on our experience with the single-function counter-IED system and are developing a multifunction system that has data exchange capability and can perform over-the-air networked monitor, control and reprogramming functions – making it possible to mitigate IED threats more strategically and efficiently. For the U.S. Navy’s Next Generation Jammer technology upgrade, we are using groundbreaking technologies, including leading-edge antenna arrays and digital signal distribution systems that can generate and direct jamming signals to multiple targets at the same time – resulting in the ability to control the airspace more efficiently and effectively than ever before.

Along with adapting technology, industry has been shifting its structure to align with customers’ evolving needs. For example, to address the need for multifunction capabilities and networked solutions, we combined our Communications and Force Protection Systems businesses and divided one of our business areas to create a standalone Airborne Electronic Attack business. We will continue to make strategic changes and collaborate inside and outside of our company to ensure we have the right solutions to give U.S. and allied forces the advantage.

The need to modernize our security approach presents a unique shift from a culture of traditional warfare to one of detection, deflection, disruption and overpowering dominance of the electromagnetic spectrum. We must seize these opportunities now to ensure we never engage in fair fights with our enemies.

ITT Exelis Electronic Systems. He has retired. The author of the piece, for the record, is now Rich Sorelle, the company’s acting president.

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