• A soldier attaches long-range radio equipment to a Humvee. A GAO report warns that adversaries could take control of the electromagnetic spectrum in the battlespace if the Defense Department doesn't establish effective plans and oversight of its EMS efforts. Credit: U.S. Air Force photo
     A soldier attaches long-range radio equipment to a Humvee. A GAO report warns that adversaries could take control of the electromagnetic spectrum in the battlespace if the Defense Department doesn't establish effective plans and oversight of its EMS efforts. Credit: U.S. Air Force photo

Defense Department Needs Tighter Control Over Battlefield Spectrum

December 16, 2020
By Robert K. Ackerman
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A GAO report recommends key actions to realize new strategy goals.


The U.S. Defense Department’s new electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) strategy will fall short of countering enemy EMS activities without specific organizational and process oversight, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The GAO is recommending greater oversight and specific metrics be built around designated leadership to ensure that the department’s own goals are met.

The GAO notes the department’s recognition that China and Russia are hard at work to deny the U.S. military’s ability to use and control the EMS. China’s effort focuses on strategic, organizational and training advances, while Russia already is wielding “world-class” EMS forces in operations against U.S. and foreign militaries. Operations in all domains could be imperiled if the use and control of the EMS is denied, the report notes.

The Defense Department issued strategies in 2013 and 2017, but these were not fully implemented because of a lack of assigned senior leadership, according to the GAO. The department’s new 2020 strategy faces the same risks of failure, and it has not taken “key actions” such as identifying processes and procedures to integrate EMS operations across the department and reforming departmentwide governance.

Key among the GAO recommendations is the development of an implementation plan as part of oversight processes. This would help position the department to achieve its EMS operations goals, according to the GAO report.

The five recommendations specifically offered by the GAO begin with the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff identifying the procedures and processes necessary for an integrated, defensewide strategy that includes planning and budgeting. The second recommendation is that this vice chairman proposes EMS governance, management, organizational and operational reforms.

The third recommendation is for the secretary of defense to assign clear responsibility to a senior official with authority and resources necessary to compel action for long-term implementation of the 2020 strategy. This would take place in time to oversee the execution of the strategy implementation plan.

The fourth recommendation is that this designated senior official issues an actionable implementation plan within 180 days of the issuance of the 2020 strategy. And, the fifth recommendation is that the secretary ensure that the senior official creates oversight processes for the implementation.

The GAO states that the Defense Department has concurred with the first two recommendations and partially concurred with the last three. The department stated it does not yet have specifics on implementation, pending review by the secretary of defense.

The report iterates that its findings and recommendations are based on unclassified documents. Defense Department subject matter experts interviewed for this report verified that the additional information that could be provided by classified material would not significantly change the report’s findings or recommendations, the GAO stated.

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