Army examining what electronic warfare means in the future, ‘tranching’ capabilities to units

The Army has determined who will be the functional mangers for electronic warfare.
Staff Sgt. Kristoffer Perez, Cyber Electromagnetic Activities section, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, points toward a nearby objective during the final day of training with his section’s new equipment at Fort Riley, Kansas. (Photo by Sgt. Michael C. Roach, 19th Public Affairs Detachment)

This is part two of a three-part series examining how the Army is approaching electronic warfare and applying its “transforming in contact” concept — which uses deployments and troop rotations to test new equipment — to EW. You can find part one here.

PHILADELPHIA — Following a set of studies and examinations, over the last two months the Army has been reassessing electronic warfare and what it means for different units and organizations across the force.

Following the conclusion of the Cold War, the Army divested much of its EW capability, leaving it without a program-of-record jammer or defensive equipment. Now, the service is building up that arsenal to also include systems for managing the spectrum, understanding signature management and decoys to obfuscate units’ locations.

Over the last year or so, the Army has been undertaking a series of examinations to include a 120-day study — which looked at the department’s investments in cyber capabilities, to include electronic warfare, and was spurred by the principal cyber adviser — and a capability portfolio review of electronic warfare to identify gaps and investment needs, which was spurred on by the undersecretary.


“One of the things that we spent the last two months doing is really wrapping our hands around at the Army level what does EW mean and what do we want it to mean for the Army,” Alex Miller, chief technology officer for the chief of staff, said in an interview at the Army’s Technical Exchange Meeting in Philadelphia this week. “That means, so you see what’s in the [program executive office for intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors] portfolio, but it’s also who else might be doing things in terms of joint programs, who might be doing things in terms of [Army Cyber Command], which is not in the IEW&S portfolio or any of the non-kinetic fires, which would not be in the portfolio. It really was just, hey, how do we bring this all together?”

As part of this process, the Army recently conducted a tabletop exercise at Aberdeen Proving Ground bringing in representatives from a variety of organizations across the service to include I Corps, III Corps, XVIII Airborne Corps and several divisions, among others, to each describe how they wage electronic warfare.

“We don’t have all the answers, but what did come out of that engagement was the Army now has a new perspective on who’s going to run EW,” Miller said, adding that a very classified study was conducted by Georgia Tech Research Institute after the 120-day study.

Following that and the tabletop, it was determined that a broad board of directors across the Army will be the functional managers of electronic warfare. They include:

— The deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, G2, for the signals intelligence and NSA-related items.


— The deputy chief of staff, G6, for the network portion.

— The deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and training, G3/5/7, to pull it together into operations, where it will ultimately be employed.

Miller speculated that the Combined Arms Center will be involved for concepts of operations that don’t fit cleanly into one warfighting function; the Space and Missile Defense Command and Army Cyber Command will have their roles; and then the program executive office will play its part related to acquiring, fielding and training capabilities.

This broad swath of organizations must be involved given how cross-cutting electromagnetic warfare is, much more so than any other discipline.

The three main disciplines of electromagnetic warfare include electronic attack, or the art of jamming systems; electronic support, which deals with sensing the environment; and electronic protection, which has historically involved the defense of radars, communications systems and systems related to position, navigation and timing.


Within those areas, there are additional overlaps, such as the relationship between signals intelligence — which is held at higher classification and authorities — and electronic sensing, all of which makes electronic warfare holistically more crosscutting.

“There’s a couple of things that will crosscut every echelon and every warfighting function. EW is one of them. Drones is another one. AI is another one,” Miller said. “What we are trying to avoid is say that one warfighting function owns it when we know that it is going to be across everyone. And the SIGINT/electronic support conversation, which is top of mind because during the C2 fix discussions, we had … [talks about] what’s the lowest classification you can get to, how do you do sensitive but unclassified?”

Transforming in contact

Determining these responsibilities for the future of electronic warfare is important for organizing, but it also helps the service with its emerging concept of transforming in contact, where the department plans to use deployments and troop rotations to test new equipment — mainly commercial off-the-shelf gear — to allow units to be more responsive on a dynamic battlefield.

Chief of Staff Gen. Randy George has said there are three areas where the Army needs to be faster and more adaptable when it comes to delivering equipment to forces, due to how dynamic the threat environment is and the cat-and-mouse aspect of countering moves by adversaries: unmanned aerial systems, counter-UAS and electronic warfare.


For EW, what transforming in contact means, among other things, is determining how to update new signals found on the battlefield.

“How do we update for new signals that we want to sense? How do we share those data? How do we reprogram our sensors on the fly? We see that as a gap,” Miller said.

He added that the Army has had conversations on where that data should go, noting that it won’t necessarily be the dedicated coding/reprogramming military specialties.

The Army is undertaking an electronic warfare data pilot to help answer these questions and, most importantly, get the data right because if it doesn’t adhere to standards, the whole enterprise won’t work.

“When you’re looking at just the last 20 years, the focus on [counterinsurgency] and the atrophy and the reestablish and rebirth that we’ve had to go through here, one of the things that we’re working with the Cyber [Center of Excellence] and the folks down in [Fort] Eisenhower is essentially a data pilot, to really get the architecture down and understand how that kind of ecosystem of EW capabilities needs to work,” Brig. Gen. Wayne “Ed” Barker, program executive officer for intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors, said in an interview at the Technical Exchange Meeting. “The foundational element of that is understanding the data, the data flows and how things are going to need to move.”


The Army is also looking at introducing more flexibility with its systems and a new “tranching” of capabilities to units.

“The other part of flexibility is process flexibility. That means if I find a better piece of kit, I should be able to get it,” Miller said. “What we talk about for transform in contact is we talk about tranching. Where we used to go into full-rate production [and] you buy that thing literally until the program’s done or sustainment, now we’re talking about hey, maybe we buy in tranches where the first three brigades get like version one and then the company, because we expect companies to be good OEMs and equipment manufacturers, says ‘Hey, version 1.2 is available,’ and we go ‘Hey, the next three brigades get 1.2.’”

By tranching capabilities, this means priority units can receive the newest gear while backfilling other units with older — but still compatible — systems.

Additionally, under this paradigm, if a vendor is failing to meet expectations the Army can move on through more flexible contracting vehicles.

“If the kit’s not cutting it, the good thing is in this scenario from a tranche standpoint, we’ve only signed up for X, the initial tranche. We would have to set up the contracts to be in forms of exercisable options as an example for whatever that next tranche. If they’re not meeting the bill, then we don’t exercise those options and we’re going to next best of breed, just as an example of a way to tackle that,” Barker said.


The Army is trying to simplify these systems so they don’t need a ton of training before using them, seeking to avoid so-called fly-by-night deployments.

“If I give you 2.0, here’s how you use it and here’s what’s different, as opposed to I need you to go to 40 hours of new equipment training,” Miller said. “A lot of Manpacks, actually just pretty simple to use — and I see that being a person who picked them up and used them at Fort Eisenhower, as opposed to some of our older stuff, which you actually needed like a spectrum analyzer and you need to be able to tune it yourself … it was all about getting kit out faster.”

Part three of this series will focus on how the Army is tailoring equipment to theaters and evaluating how it approaches requirements.

Mark Pomerleau

Written by Mark Pomerleau

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for DefenseScoop, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

Latest Podcasts