Back to Business With Electronic Warfare

September 25, 2012
By George I. Seffers
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By 2015, U.S. Army officials hope to begin fielding elements of a new electronic warfare system designed to significantly improve operational effectiveness in the electromagnetic spectrum. The system is expected to better address electronic warfare in an era of remotely detonated explosives, but it is only one element in the service's plans to overhaul the full spectrum of electronic warfare capabilities.

Prior to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army had largely scaled back its own electronic warfare (EW) capabilities and had grown to depend on joint EW systems--primarily airborne systems, explains Col. Charles "Jim" Ekvall, USA, Army Electronic Warfare Division chief. "The Army, in some ways, got out of the electronic warfare business from a pure ground perspective. Our dependence on the joint community was how we did business for several years," Col. Ekvall says.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, however, the service discovered that those joint capabilities were not necessarily the best way to counter remotely detonated IEDs or the enemy's on-the-ground command and control efforts. "What the joint force brought to the maneuver commander were things designed to do something different than what we were asking them to do. The joint force would bring in aircraft designed to suppress air defense radar. Those aircraft do a tremendous job, but that doesn't mean they're suitable for the small, handheld device that detonates an IED or for systems that the enemy uses to conduct command and control. And on top of that, as good as those airborne systems are, they're not all-weather, and they're not in a high enough quantity that the ground maneuver commander is going to to able to access them at all times," Col. Ekvall explains.

To counter the threat, the Army began fielding systems as quickly as possible. "We began to throw things over the fence to the maneuver commander that would provide him a measure of protection and therefore, give him an advantage inside the electromagnetic spectrum," Col. Ekvall says. While the effort was largely successful, it also created problems. Systems designed to jam IED detonators, for example, would also interfere with air traffic control at air fields or with radio communications on the ground. "Commanders had to make some pretty difficult choices--to communicate or to turn off communications and jam enemy IEDs," Col Ekvall adds.

Now, the service is developing the Integrated Electronic Warfare System (IEWS), which consists of three main parts: the Electronic Warfare Planning and Management Tool (EWPMT), the Multi-Function Electronic Warfare (MFEW) system and the Defense Electronic Attack (DEA) family of systems. The planning and management tool is a suite of software tools and applications that enhance the ability to coordinate and synchronize EW throughout the operations process. It will allow the warfighters to plan, coordinate, manage and deconflict distributed, networked EW assets and activities within their area of operations. The colonel reveals that the EWPMT system will likely enter the engineering and manufacturing development phase before the end of the current fiscal year.

Meanwhile, the MFEW system will provide brigade combat teams an offensive electronic attack and EW support capability. It will consist of ground vehicle, dismounted, fixed site and airborne variants to deliver scalable, non-lethal effects.

The DEA program is a family of systems. It will provide force protection to ground forces operating in convoys, dismounted units and fixed locations in support of brigade combat team operations.

The overall IEWS family of systems will be networked to allow remote operation, dynamic tasking and reprogramming electronic warfare support to intelligence. It also will empower the brigade combat team commander to shape the electromagnetic spectrum. It most likely will be evaluated and tested through the service's Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) exercises. "The NIE will, at some point, incorporate electronic warfare. I don't know how else you could field something like this without taking it to the NIE," Col. Ekvall says.

The IEWS is only one part of the Army's effort to fully return to the business of electronic warfare. The service also has created an EW military occupational specialty for soldiers, has established an EW career path for warrant officers, developed an EW functional area for officers and has stepped up efforts to train soldiers in EW operations. The service is in the final stages of building an EW schoolhouse at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the colonel reports. "All of these things are going on simultaneously," he says.

The IEWS, of course, contends with many other requirements in tough budgetary times. "All this will hinge on the budget that is currently in the process of being approved. I don't know where it will come out in the funding stream," Col. Ekvall says. "We're just going to have to see, because you can't do any of this stuff if you don't have the money."


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