In past wars, the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) wasn't as complex as it is today—either because combat operations took place in undeveloped areas or because the Internet of Things (IoT) and wireless technology were not commonplace.
But things have changed. Any area of operations is now a spectrum swamp, where civilian, military, and enemy signals are mixed together. Commanders who are able to operate seamlessly and exploit the spectrum will be the ones with a competitive edge.
Importance of the spectrum in today’s military environment
The EMS forms what some analysts call “the invisible battlefield,” the foundation of all modern communications, navigation, sensing, and even offensive and defensive electronic warfare (EW) technology.
As EMS has grown in prominence in today’s military environment, so have the functions military leaders have to monitor, manage, and control—either to coordinate operations or neutralize hostile activity. These functions can be categorized into four levels, each of which operates with its own authorities and resources:
- Spectrum management
- Electronic warfare
- Signal intelligence (SIGINT)
In turn, each function has its own set of tools and techniques that leaders need to have at their disposal to completely control the electromagnetic environment (EME) around them and gain the upper hand against adversaries looking to use this new “invisible” weapon against them.
Fortunately, spectrum-monitoring equipment has made operating in and dominating across these four functions easier and faster. How can military leaders use spectrum monitoring to control the EMS in each of their domains? How can leading platforms provide flexibility and agility? And how can the right spectrum-monitoring equipment facilitate data-driven decision-making?
How spectrum-monitoring equipment allows for control of the electromagnetic spectrum
Modern spectrum-monitoring equipment gives military leaders the flexibility to deploy sensors and software when and where they need them.
Whether throughout an established installation, at a temporary forward-operating base, or deployed with an operational unit, radio frequency-sensing and EMS-sensing nodes can continuously monitor, evaluate, and track signals. Together, the sensing nodes form individual, controlled area-sensing networks that protect critical infrastructure or smaller collections of devices for mission-specific applications.
In either scenario, as radio frequency (RF) and EMS signals enter the managed area, the nodes will detect and send that information to a centralized tracking and mapping application in real-time. This provides the comprehensive data—down to a meter in accuracy—leaders need to make data-driven decisions. For mobile operations, more compact versions of the same sensing technology can be used to evaluate a detachment’s own RF and EMS profile to minimize detection.
The four functions required for complete battlefield spectrum dominance
Military commanders must constantly evaluate inputs and outputs across the four domains throughout their area of responsibility (AOR), balancing their authorities, resources, and the risks woven into each to effectively own their EME. Because commanders constantly receive information and data, spectrum monitoring can be thought of as a linear or funnel-like model, where inputs move from one level to the next, as operationally required.
1. The communications function
For military leaders, communicating securely and effectively across all channels, including voice, video, and data transmission, is paramount to their command's success.
At this broadest level, military commanders must ensure that their forces can communicate securely and reliably, regardless of the threat. They must be sure all communication channels are available and can be used effectively in diverse environments. As a result, commands coordinate the movement of troops, share intelligence and ensure that commanders at all levels have a clear picture of the battlefield.
With the ever-evolving nature of warfare and the dramatic rise in civilian use of RF for commercial and emergency purposes, the need for protected and secure communication channels in the broadest RF domain remains critical.
2. The spectrum management function
Beyond communications, military leaders are also responsible for monitoring and controlling the spectrum in their AOR to mitigate interference. Leaders and their spectrum managers assign frequencies for various military operations and detect and mitigate any interference that may arise.
As part of this responsibility, military leaders must be aware of and precisely locate sources of interference, accurately identify them, and coordinate with relevant parties to resolve any conflicts. This includes coordinating with other military units, Cyber and Electromagnetic Activities (CEMA) cells, civilian organizations, and even other countries to ensure that communication channels are available and reliable.
With advancements in spectrum-management technology, automated and real-time monitoring systems are critical tools to identify and resolve interference and establish threshold-driven alerts. As a result, military leaders and their teams have the real-time and historical data they need at their fingertips for more comprehensive analytics and more efficient data-driven decision-making.
3. The electronic warfare function
If an anomaly or interference is deemed hostile, military leaders are also responsible for employing EW capabilities to mitigate the threat.
In this scenario, EW is used as a defensive and offensive measure to protect friendly communications and systems from the adversary's electronic interference or exploitation. Military leaders must oversee EW operational planning and use the data collected from their ongoing spectrum monitoring to seek additional authorities to gather intelligence and hunt down the source of the interference. In most cases, spectrum monitoring information can be quickly shared with allies and partners, better enabling allied, coalition, and joint activities.
Whether military leaders choose to pursue electronic protection, electronic surveillance, or electronic attack, commands need accurate, high-fidelity data to carry out effective operations on the electronic battlefield. Ultimately, effective spectrum monitoring and the power to enable quick responses to anomalies or interference are critical for maintaining the advantage in the EW domain and taking appropriate and accurate actions.
4. The SIGINT function
Whether captured as part of spectrum monitoring, an element of an EW campaign, or a separate operational task, military commanders must have the tools to intercept, decode, decrypt, and analyze electronic signals. They must be able to do this nearby or via deep signal capture to gather intelligence about an adversary's communication capabilities and intentions.
Because of the inherent risk, high resource cost, and required operational authority, military leaders must demonstrate their ability to gain critical insights into an adversary's communications networks and use that data to inform tactical and strategic decision-making.
Having access to spectrum-monitoring equipment is essential to support military leaders through each step of their SIGINT mission. Knowing who is operating what in the spectrum provides a critical baseline as SIGINT plans develop. Here spectrum monitoring acts as “the binoculars” and SIGINT as “the microscope.”
Dominate the entire spectrum
One thing always rings true whether on land, in the air, or on the sea: Military leaders who leverage all of their spectrum tools and authorities across the four functions have a decisive advantage.
To achieve this awareness and dominate all four functions, coordination across the operational functions spanning the RF spectrum is crucial. Having the right EMS and RF signal detection and spectrum-monitoring equipment is critical to giving units the real-time information, geographical location, and signal data they need to make more informed decisions faster.
With the ability to operate autonomously, run around the clock, and be mounted anywhere, using creating awareness through a deployed network of spectrum monitoring RF receivers, commanders benefit by obtaining more data at all levels, more powerful signal processing, and, ultimately, a faster decision cycle.