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  • An electronic warfare specialist trains on the Versatile Radio Observation and Direction system at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Credit: Staff Sgt. Armando R. Limon, USA, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division
     An electronic warfare specialist trains on the Versatile Radio Observation and Direction system at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Credit: Staff Sgt. Armando R. Limon, USA, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division

Army Mounts IW Comeback

The Cyber Edge
May 1, 2018
By George I. Seffers
E-mail About the Author

Technology matters, but how it’s used wins wars.

After years of lagging behind competitors in the battle for electromagnetic spectrum dominance, the U.S. Army may be catching up with reinforcement from technology researchers. But it may be the application of technology rather than the systems themselves that truly gives the Army an edge.

Service leaders say they lost focus on electronic warfare and information warfare capabilities while preoccupied with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where cutting-edge technologies were not a necessity. Now, they contend, the next war likely will be against a foe capable of formidable offense and defense in the electromagnetic domain.

The service has refocused its efforts in recent years and last year launched a massive modernization campaign. The Army shifted $1 billion in planned science and technology funding to better support modernization priorities, including a more robust, resilient and mobile network that also is less easily detected and targeted. (See box, page 24.)

That shift in funding required some hard choices for the Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) and CERDEC’s Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate (I2WD), recalls Gary Blohm, who leads the I2WD. “The big thing we focused our moved dollars on was strengthening the network, making our network able to work through a contested environment, through electronic warfare attacks—making our waveforms more robust, making us harder to see,” Blohm says.

Those efforts are paying off, he suggests. “Because we started making this pivot, we’re certainly postured better. I think we’re doing pretty well,” the director says.

Blohm cites several surviving programs that ultimately could make a difference for future warfighters. The Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar (VADER), for example, provides synthetic aperture radar and ground-moving target indicator data to detect, localize and track vehicles and dismounted troops.

VADER started as a collaborative effort between the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, according to a DARPA webpage, and the radar was initially built by Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems. “It really provides our ground commanders some real-time ground-moving target indicator data. It synthesizes data so that it’s more understandable,” Blohm reports. “One thing you find with a lot of our technologies is that they produce a lot of data, so it’s important for us to simplify that and make it actionable data.”

To ensure data clarity, the I2WD also is “actively working a lot of software programs in our tech base to make sure that we don’t double count vehicles and double count people,” he adds. Sometimes multiple sensors detect the same targets, and “you don’t know if it’s one person or three.”

Blohm recalls visiting Fort Gordon, Georgia, home to the U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence, and meeting a noncommissioned officer who didn’t know that the I2WD leader was associated with VADER. “He was glowing about it. That gave me a lot of satisfaction,” Blohm says.

He also touts VROD (Versatile Radio Observation and Direction) and VMAX (VROD Modular Adaptive Transmit). The combined system, which is backpack-portable, allows a soldier to detect, record, direction-find and jam a spectrum of radio frequencies. Blohm describes it as an electronic warfare capability that “allows the commanders to survey the environment and get electromagnetic situational awareness and increase that awareness and protection.”

The Army also is moving toward open technology standards to help ensure commonality across systems and to reduce their size, weight and power. The service has defined an open architecture of standards known as CMOSS, or command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR)/electronic warfare modular open suite of standards.

Essentially, the architecture allows warfighters to plug in computer cards for different capabilities, such as cyber, electronic warfare, signals intelligence or position, navigation and timing. “It gives you flexibility. Depending on how many slots you have, you can shift capabilities if you want in the field, but you can also configure it for your mission,” Blohm says. “This will also make us much more ready now and in the future.”

He adds that CMOSS will reduce the sustainment costs and the logistics trail. “If you’re in the field, it’s easy to carry a spare card or two. If something does go wrong, you can replace a card,” Blohm offers.

“When we try to integrate capabilities onto a vehicle, real estate on that vehicle is at a premium, and every time we have a new solution, someone comes with a new box,” he adds. “It allows us to have more competition and allows industry to come in with the special capabilities, their secret sauce, and plug it into our platform. Then, if somebody comes in with a better mousetrap, we can put that in at a later date.”

Blohm reports that the architecture recently was successfully demonstrated in conjunction with the Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center using a Stryker vehicle.

Some companies are on board with CMOSS and are starting to build cards on their own “without my dollars,” he states.

Curtiss-Wright is one company that voices support for CMOSS on its website, where it touts the architecture’s benefits. “The widespread adoption of CMOSS by system integrators in the U.S. as well as Five Eyes and other NATO nations will help move the implementation of C4ISR capabilities away from the use of costly and complex ‘stovepiped’ separate ‘boxes’ on individual platforms,” officials said in a news release.

CMOSS is sometimes referred to as software and hardware convergence, and Blohm emphasizes the importance of converging capabilities. “We don’t look at cyber as a separate thing from electronic warfare and signals intelligence. We’re looking at combining those things,” he says. “If you look at the technologies—the basic founding building blocks—you have antenna apertures, you have amplifiers, you have receivers, you have processing.”

The same integration phenomenon is happening for the general public, he points out. A cellphone, for example, includes a camera, email and multiple apps.

The Army’s cyber electromagnetic activities (CEMA) concept is another example. It integrates cyberspace, electronic warfare, intelligence and information activities. The Army is experimenting with CEMA teams capable of deploying to support units across the service, including brigade combat teams.

CERDEC’s Cyber Blitz exercises are the premier experiments for the CEMA concept. They help operationalize innovative technology development and investments in alignment with Army priorities and field critical technologies for the service more quickly. Additionally, Cyber Blitz drives interoperability, and collaboration informs decisions across the training and doctrine, research and development, and acquisition communities. “Doing experimentation with soldiers is invaluable to us as technologists,” Blohm says. “Sometimes in the lab, things make all the sense in the world, and then you see how soldiers touch it, how they interpret that information,” he says.

Ultimately, technology itself cannot win the next war. “Thinking of new and unique ways to apply these technologies is going to be the differentiator. The best technology doesn’t always win. It’s the best application of the technology that is key,” Blohm concludes.

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Share Your Thoughts:

As presented here, “IW” is utterly misleading. Not to mention as recently as Dec 2017, DoD considers ‘IW’ to be ‘irregular warfare’ . Information warfare is the use and management of info and commo technology for competitive advantage over an opponent. Here it seems the Army only considers the latter aspect of managing digital info, and that's entirely alarming. The Russians understand the broader info warfare concept and employ it regularly. Why is it so hard for the Army and DoD to understand it? Technology alone won't give the U.S. a competitive edge in info warfare, but that isn’t stopping us from thinking so.

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