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Work Elevates Electronic Warfare, Eye On Missile Defense

Posted by Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. on


Robert Work

Robert Work

UPDATED: Kendall & Kaminski Comments On EW Spending, New EW Council

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon is creating a new high-level council to direct all Pentagon electronic warfare programs, Deputy Secretary Robert Work said this morning. The Pentagon’s top weapons buyer and the Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will lead the group, which will make permanent a top-level focus on a long-undervalued aspect of modern warfare. The unanswered question, of course, remains Jerry McGuire’s: Show me the money.

Why the new focus on electronic warfare? Because the war of electrons may decide the outcome of the war of missiles. After decades of US technological dominance, when we could bombard enemies with relative impunity, “now competitors have caught up in this regime and they’re going to fire mass guided missile salvoes at us,” Work said at the annual Newseum conference hosted by Credit Suisse and McAleese & Associates.

That’s a large part of the reason Work and the Pentagon launched its third Offset Strategy last year. The first offset strategy of the ’50s relied on our nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union; the second offset of the 1970s relied on smart weapons, stealth, and networks, which are the advantages we’ve relied on since. Now adversaries from China to Hezbollah are increasingly getting their hands on precision guided munitions, however, and we might be on the receiving end.

Work, understandably, would like to stop that. “So the first aspect of the third offset strategy is to win a guided munitions salvo competition,” he said — that is, to survive the enemy’s precision-guided barrage while crippling him with your own.

Being able to win the missile and electrons war is a matter not just of warfighting but of (non-nuclear) deterrence, “If you cannot do that and you cannot convince your adversary that you will dominate in that confrontation, then they may feel emboldened to pull the trigger,” Work emphasized.

Some 40 years ago, Work went on, the US developed a demonstration system called “Assault Breaker,” which paved the way for long-range smart-weapon strikes and put the fear of God — or rather US technology — into the Soviet general staff. Today, “we need a ‘Raid Breaker,'” he said. “We need a demonstration called Raid Breaker which can demonstrate to us that if someone throws a salvo of a hundred guided munitions [at us], we’ll be able to ride it out.”

100 incoming missiles would overwhelm existing missile defense systems, which rely on stopping enemy missiles with anti-missile missiles — expensive, specialized weapons available in sharply limited numbers. So for Raid Breaker, Work said, “it doesn’t have to be a kinetic solution. Hell, I don’t really want a kinetic solution [i.e. shooting a missile with a missile]. It’s got to be something else.”

When people talk about alternative means of missile defense, they tend to turn to lasers and electromagnetic rail guns. Both technologies now in advanced testing, both got plus-ups in the president’s 2016 budget request, and both got a nod in Work’s remarks this morning. But he spent far more time on a lower-profile alternative to physical destruction: electronic warfare.

“EW is often regarded as a combat enabler,” Work said: Electronic jamming and deception are traditionally see as adjuncts to physical weaponry rather as weapons in their own right. “Our adversaries don’t think so,” he said. “They believe it is an important part of their offensive and defensive arsenal, and it’s going to be at the forefront of any initial guided munitions salvo exchange.” If you can blind, deceive, or burn out the enemy’s sensors, it doesn’t matter how many missiles he launches or how smart they are. They will miss.

“For relatively small investments, you get an extremely high potential payoff,” Work said, “and our competitors are trying to win in the EW competition….Now, we still have a lead — I think — [but] that lead is diminishing rapidly.”

To preserve that lead, “today I’m signing a memo which establishes an Electronic Warfare Programs Council which starts to take a look at of all our investments across the department and make strategic recommendations to the Secretary and I on how we change that portfolio,” Work said. “That’s going to be co-chaired by Frank Kendall“– the undersecretary for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics — “and Adm. [James Sandy] Winnefeld” — vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The recommendation to create the council came from a Defense Science Board study that Kendall commissioned in 2012.

“It’s a way to bring the department together,” Kendall said this morning at the Newseum conference. “”We need to have some department-wide focus. We need to look for synergies” between services.

That doesn’t mean there should be a single service (say, the Navy) designated as the executive agent for the entire military, Kendall said: “I don’t think that’s the right approach. There is a possibility for joint programs, [but] each service is going to have to do some things that are unique and some things that are shared.”

Nor will the new council try to manage the services’ programs day-to-day. Instead, he said, the council will conduct “periodic reviews” that feed into the budget process, much like similar bodies he co-chairs on cyber and nuclear command-and-control.

“The department had been .. neglecting electronic warfare for some time,” Kendall said. “We hadn’t been really focused on that kind of threat.” As a result, area where both short-term and long-term trends are eroding US advantage.

Meanwhile, tightening budgets are slowing American modernization, even on the Pentagon’s top-priority EW program, the Next-Generation Jammer. “When we did next-gen jammer… we deferred some of the capabilities we had intended,” Kendall said. “I’d love to accelerate that [again].”

The Defense Science Board study had also recommended investing at least an additional $2 billion a year in electronic warfare. However, Kendall told reporters on his way out of the Newseum that there wouldn’t be any significant new EW spending for a while. “We’ve got to make the case for it,” he said, adding that the new council might help.

The creation of the council shows how high-level officials from Work and Kendall on down are paying attention to electronic warfare in a way they haven’t since the end of the Cold War, Paul Kaminski told me. A former holder of Kendall’s job and one of the fathers of stealth, Kaminski helped author the Defense Science Board study and has briefed the classified details to receptive audiences in the Defense Department.

“Around the Pentagon, there’s a much greater recognition of the need for electronic warfare,” Kaminski said. “I think the Navy leadership‘s recognized that need for a while but it’s [now] developing in the other military departments as well.”

The Navy largely retained its Cold War expertise in electronic warfare in its EA-6B Prowler community, now being replaced by EA-18G Growlers with Next Generation Jammers. The Air Force retired its jamming aircraft in the 1990s but is increasingly aware of the danger Russian and Chinese-made EW systems could pose to its aircraft and their ability to communicate, Kaminiski said. Meanwhile the Army is at “square one” trying to rebuild its EW expertise and arsenal.

“There’s been some progress,” said Kaminsi, but electronic warfare is still short roughly $2 billion. “There were not substantial funds added [for EW] in this budget year,” he noted. “Right now the jury is out [on] how much of this really takes” in the 2017 budget, which will be the council’s first opportunity to make a difference. “We just have to see what happens in the allocation of funds,” he said.

Of course, the final funding levels are up to Congress, which so far remains deadlocked on how to eliminate the the Budget Control Act spending caps, popularly (if inaccurately) known as sequestration. Work in particular spent much of his speech denouncing the looming cuts.

“Right now the biggest obstacle in our way will be sequestration,” Work said. “Sequester is going to keep us from doing what we need to do to implement this third offset strategy in a timely manner.”

Work EW Council Memo – EW EXCOM – 2015-03-17 by BreakingDefense

Colin contributed to this article.

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