WASHINGTON — The establishment of an Army Cyber Directorate, the Rapid Capabilities Office and a nearly completed strategy are ushering in a more productive era in electronic warfare capability development, according to Col. Jeffrey Church, the chief of strategy and policy in the cyber directorate.
The Army relies on the electromagnetic spectrum for everything from the individual soldier's communications to precise weapons targeting and situational awareness, but the Army's development and acquisition efforts for electronic warfare capability has been stagnant while other countries like Russia have mastered the use of the electromagnetic spectrum in conflict.
"We are talking about getting things into our POM [program objective memorandum] POM, we are talking about getting things funded, not using OCO [overseas contingency operations funds]," Church said Tuesday at the Association of Old Crows symposium in Washington, DC.
The biggest indicator that the Army is getting serious about EW is its creation of the cyber directorate with a full-time general – Brig. Gen. Patricia Frost – which is no longer a part-time job for the operations directorate, Church said.
The directorate is staffed with about 30 people and will likely grow as the Army works through a manpower study. Thus far the study is finding the office should be about twice the size, he added.
The establishment of the Rapid Capabilities Office late this summer will also help speed up electronic-warfare development and equipping efforts within the Army. When the office was established, Army Secretary Eric Fanning said one of the top priorities was to get better EW capability particularly due to the threats Russia poses in the spectrum.
And the RCO is under the command of Church’s former boss when he was the chief of Army electronic warfare, Maj. Gen. Walter Piatt.
The Army’s previous fielding plan for EW capability was too slow, according to Church. He told Defense News in an interview in March that bringing the Multi-Function Electronic Warfare (MFEW) capability, which will provide the ability to detect signals and jam them, wouldn’t reach initial operational capability until 2023.
The idea with the RCO "is we can’t wait for the normal requirements and acquisition process to get the Army where it needs to be," Church said. "We need a capability and capacity to do electronic warfare and electromagnetic spectrum operations before 2023 plus or minus a year or two. How can we take the things that exist today and get them into our inventory and get them supported."
The RCO is already making progress with EW capability, Church told a few reporters following a panel discussion. While he couldn’t detail the efforts, he said, "we are working some projects; the RCO is looking at a list of materiel solutions that will much more rapidly bring the Army into the capability to conduct electronic warfare sooner."
Additionally, Frost when taking command of the cyber directorate, immediately ordered the production of an electronic warfare strategy. "We have crafted that and that draft strategy is out for Army-wide review," Church said. The document is roughly 40 pages and not only addresses EW but also how it is integrated with intelligence, space, information and cyber operations.
"We wanted to show how EW and the EMS tie across all the other domains and everything that the Army does and why it’s important," he said.
Army Chief Gen. Mark Milley is expected to sign the strategy in January, Church noted. "That is challenging, that is moving fast for the Army, especially considering we aggressively started working on this back in September."
There is still much to contemplate as the Army moves forward with its first step in establishing an EW capability with the initial fielding of its Electronic Warfare Planning and Management Tool to units at Fort Bliss, Texas.
At the center of what has yet to be decided is the contentious debate of whether the electromagnetic spectrum should be considered a domain, according to Church. EMS is already officially considered a maneuver space, but naming it as a domain has larger implications.
"That creates some challenges because domains require resources," he said. "They all have soldiers and equipment and services against them. … So if we come up with a domain called the EMS does that mean I need an EMS service?"
Church said more research needs to be done before a determination is made, but added that operating in the electromagnetic spectrum will only increase and "even if it isn’t a domain, we need to sort of treat it as if it were and we need to allocate resources against that spectrum."
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.