ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — A shifting landscape of national security hazards coupled with constant technological advancement is pushing U.S. Army electronic warfare and situational awareness officials to focus on future flexibility.
“We have got to be able to have systems or capabilities that can adapt,” Mark Kitz, the Army’s program executive officer for intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors, said Aug. 30 during a media roundtable at the Open Innovation Lab.
The changing nature of theaters and threats means massive buys of rigid equipment can be risky, a factor that influences where money is spent and what research is conducted.
“Just think, the areas you’re going to operate in are going to look very different in spectrum and what you can do, whether it’s in Africa, if it’s in SOUTHCOM,” Kitz said, referencing U.S. Southern Command, which has an area of responsibility covering more than two-dozen countries. “Wherever you may be, it’s going to be just a very different environment. So we don’t want to buy the same thing to operate in all these different environments, right?”
“And that’s where I get to: I don’t think we’re going to get into the business of buying thousands of something,” he said. “I think we’re going to get into the business of buying years of something and evolving it over time.”
PEO IEW&S tests and fields a variety of defense kit, including electronic jammers, missile warning systems and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance payloads for aircraft. A prime example of the adaptive approach, according to Kitz, exists in his shop’s navigation and timing enclave, known as PM PNT.
In the last three or four years, he said, “we’ve gone through three different versions of our dismounted gear. So we’re able to quickly pivot to the next technology and not necessarily go down long-term production of the same solution when the technology is iterating and the threat is iterating.”
The Army is reinvigorating its networks, sensors, EW arsenal and related tools following decades of counterterrorism operations — a period when troops engaged with forces sporting less-advanced gear and communications were less at risk.
The U.S. is now preparing for potential fights against China and Russia, two world powers that spend significantly on military science and technology. The targeting of networks and other battlefield systems seen in the Russia-Ukraine war is only adding to the sense of urgency.
“Jamming and spoofing are a real threat out there,” Maj. Matthew Szarzynski, an assistant project manager at PEO IEW&S, said. “As the threat kind of evolves, we need to kind of match that threat.”
Ukraine’s minister of defense, Oleksii Reznikov, in July described his embattled country as both a testing ground and a fount of information. U.S. defense officials say they are gleaning from the conflict key information about Russian weapons, tactics and capacity.
Kitz, too, is taking notes.
“The threat is going to continually change,” he said. “And that’s one of the things I think we’re really learning in the Ukraine. Even six months ago, the environment looked very different than it looks now.”
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.