Electronic Warfare Is the Teeth-Clenching Defense of the Last Mile
Often overlooked, EW is more important then ever.
It is not easy to find a lot of current material on electronic warfare (EW), but I have always believed it can be reduced to two basic elements.
First, the military force must own the EW frequency spectrum upon which both it and its adversary operate while maintaining the capability to operate freely in it. Alan Shaffer, who was the Defense Department research and engineering chief, a year ago told an audience at the Press Club, “We have lost the electromagnetic spectrum. That’s a huge deal when you think about fielding advanced systems that can be countered by a very, very cheap digital jammer.”
Second, the force must have the EW systems, EW professionals and proven operational concepts capable of denying foes the effectiveness of their own capabilities while it keeps its own.
Last year, a concept called electronic maneuver warfare (EMW) was being discussed. This year appeared something called electromagnetic maneuver warfare (EMMW?). I believe they are one and the same, but it never hurts when kicking the ball down the road to come up with a new acronym.
Col. Alan D. Campen, USAF (Ret.), in his 1992 AFCEA book, “The First Information War: The Story of Communications, Computers, and Intelligence Systems in the Persian Gulf War,” highlighted the criticality of information during operation Desert Storm in disrupting not only threat weapon systems but also the air defense capabilities of the Iraqis. The primary player in this disruption was electronic warfare.
When information—cyber—has gaps or is ineffective, then the last mile between inbound missiles and enemy electronic attack (EA) brings concern. An inbound missile a mile away traveling at Mach speed—or, a shotgun of them appearing spread over the horizon 60-nautical miles out—is out of cyber territory; it is too late. The closer that destructive power is to the target, the less cyber response capability friendly forces have.
And, for most part, it is too late for human-only intervention. When that missile is visible, you have reached a “teeth-clenching” one-syllable moment such as “OMG” or “WTF.” It is definitely too late to think of other, more traditional acronyms. It becomes the critical seconds when automated own-force close-in weapons systems such as Raytheon’s Phalanx, airborne Growlers and onboard EW—the old gray orphan in the closet of technologies—to fight independently, in tandem and/or with EW professionals to deny the adversary the kill.
On April 10, 2014, the USS Donald Cook (DDG-75) was steaming in international waters within the Black Sea when over the horizon at low altitude, trailing twisting contrails, coming toward the destroyer was an unarmed Russian SU-24. The SU-24 is an all-weather attack aircraft. The Russian fighter buzzed the Cook several times permitting the U.S. crew to film the event. At times the Russian fighter was close enough they could have asked the pilot for autographs.
Within hours afterwards, Russia broadcast that the SU-24 had used an EW capability known as Khibiny to completely disable the Aegis radar and weapons systems of the USS Cook. By April 14, the fabricated story was repudiated by the U.S. Navy and those who asked the right question of how the SU-24 knew Aegis was down. Khibiny does exist. It is an aircraft-mounted Russian EW system with a capability of jamming radar based weapons, thereby disrupting enemy anti-air missiles so they never reach the aircraft.
Video of the event showed clean wings, and because the Khibiny is capsule enclosed, it would have shown up on the recording. But even today the Russians insist their EW defeated Aegis. Operational deception lives and breathes in the propaganda hearts of the adversary.
Khibiny is an EW capability designed for that last mile. The fact is that most EW weapons are last mile systems. What really makes EW effective is when it is a mix of electronic protection , EA and electronic support.
I would enjoy hearing what you think about electronic warfare in today’s fast-paced technology world. Where do we stand with EW?
David E. Meadows, MBA, MS, is the author of The Sixth Fleet, Task Force America, Seawolf and Final Run.