In 2020, the Department of Defense released its Electromagnetic Spectrum Superiority Strategy. According to the Hon. Dana Deasy (former Department of Defense Chief Information Officer):
“This strategy will help set the conditions needed to ensure our warfighters have freedom of action within the electromagnetic spectrum to successfully conduct operations and training in congested, contested and constrained multi-domain environments across the globe.”
Developing a strategy is a substantial initial step; however, turning strategy into actions at the tactical level is always complex. While many nations are still seeking to enhance and expand their electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) capabilities in an inherently complex operational environment, the United States is standing on the precipice of implementing its complete strategy. One method of operationalizing the strategy is to source and procure multi-mission, multi-user spectrum sensors used across the EMS enterprise and joint force. These sensors can break down acquisition silos and integrate rapidly into larger C2 networks for full spectrum dominance, achieving strategic goals today.
Why the need for EMS superiority?
As the EMS is essential to modern warfare, EMS superiority is also critical to maintaining a military and economic edge. It enables the uninterrupted use of communications, navigation, intelligence gathering, and weapons systems. When a military has EMS superiority, it manages, observes, defends, and attacks with less chance of suffering casualties or setbacks.
For example, in a modern conflict, an enemy could use electronic jamming or cyberattacks to disrupt or disable US military systems that rely on EMS. Without electromagnetic superiority, military forces could be hampered or even rendered ineffective, making it difficult to carry out critical operations or defend against enemy attacks.
“America’s next war will be won or lost first in the Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS). It is the invisible, essential, and physical foundation of every battlefield—it unifies all the warfighting domains: land, air, sea, space, and cyberspace.”
W.R. Alan Dayton in ‘Winning the Invisible Fight’
What is currently impeding operationalization?
Regardless of the pressing need for investment in technology, the US military and fellow NATO members are dangerously close to losing the EMS superiority race. Over the past twenty years, competitor states have prioritized electronic warfare (EW). Conversely, NATO military thinking has often focused on low-intensity conflict rather than a strategic approach to security and warfare. This thinking led to EMS superiority dropping in the prominence it deserves—despite initiatives such as the ‘2020 Electromagnetic Spectrum Superiority Strategy’. What’s more, EMS systems and operations are highly technical and were stovepiped for so long that they remained hidden by larger procurement programs, such as warships, bombers, and armored vehicles.
In addition to spectrum superiority only occupying second place, four additional reasons have prevented full spectrum dominance.
- The acquisition process takes too long. For example, the Rand Corporation claims that US military procurement takes a ‘significant’ amount of time. And in 2017, the US Army said some acquisitions could take up to fifteen years. Bureaucratic inefficiencies, changing requirements, and funding uncertainties have disastrous effects on the front line as life-saving programs fall into the “valley of death.”
- Within EW acquisition, the focus is often on purchasing niche, single-mission equipment, which can only be used in very specific scenarios.
- Due to the high sensitives surrounding spectrum operations, commanders are normally risk-averse in deploying RF sensors, even when they have the authority to do so. In turn, this hampers efforts to secure EMS superiority.
- There are not enough highly-trained personnel at the tactical and operational levels to execute the strategy. This includes spectrum managers, electronic warfare, and signals intelligence specialists.
Rapid operationalization starts with spectrum management
While not a silver bullet, a major key to operationalizing the strategy lies in spectrum management, involving a one-sensor solution that functions in multiple missions with multiple users through remote access and easy placement.
While this type of solution is low-risk, it is a highly capable pillar of the EMS—the foundation upon which advanced electronic warfare and signals intelligence operations are built. Additionally, a spectrum management solution has a wide application when deployed in theater. This is because the process involves protecting friendly signals from interference or jamming—an inherent function of communications, and something that commanders can deploy with low risk.
Spectrum management solutions (hardware and software) allow users to monitor and analyze the EMS in real-time, providing critical information about the frequency usage of both friendly and enemy forces. The systems can detect, identify, and locate potential jamming, which can be passed up the chain of command in an interference report to Joint Electromagnetic Warfare Operations (JEMSO) and Cyber and Electromagnetic Activities (CEMA) warfare. Discerning jamming from friendly interference is a critical decision point for staffs and takes up about 70% of EMS missions during normal operations across the theater.
While desirable, specific EW and SIGINT equipment takes longer to procure and is only brought out in specific missions. Conversely, spectrum management solutions are rugged, easily deployable, and much cheaper than niche electronic warfare equipment. They can be purchased quickly and rapidly deployed on the battlefield—preventing the literal and metaphorical valley of death.
For equipment that has already been deployed, in a crisis, commanders only need to change the authority level and switch on spectrum management sensors for an EW/SIGINT mission. A simple administrative change is faster than deploying niche EW equipment near the frontlines—where spectrum management sensors are already protecting forward positions.
“In today’s modern battlefield, the joint force has to achieve electromagnetic spectrum superiority. We have gotten used to a process designed for permissive environments that are intended to minimize programmatic and technical risk at the expense of operational risk. One of my big functions inside the EMSSS I-Plan is to bring the operational risk component back into the department processes.”
Navy Admiral Charles Richard, Commander, US Strategic Command in DoD Press Release
Spectrum monitoring feeds EW/SIGINT activities
On a tactical level, spectrum monitoring solutions are crucial for operators as they allow enemy communication signals to be detected and located. Moreover, spectrum monitoring solutions take spectrum management out of the office and into the field, helping operators ensure reliable communication and avoid disruption to critical operations. They set the theater and feed follow-on EW and SIGINT missions.
Operators’ insight, including high-quality spectrum information, such as jamming reports, helps give JEMSO and CEMA military commanders situational awareness. With the ability to pinpoint jamming and interference, commanders can make informed decisions about how to adjust communication plans. And with persistent real-time information about the electromagnetic spectrum, they can monitor it before a crisis and during combat operations.
Six ways spectrum monitoring solutions help supercharge EMS superiority strategy
- Spectrum monitoring solutions use unclassified sensors, meaning the data can be shared within NATO and civilian spectrum regulators if necessary. However, pushing that data into higher classification levels is more straightforward when required—as trying to declassify unclassified data collected first in classified networks is far more complex.
- Spectrum monitoring solutions gather a vast amount of data, which means they can be used for multiple missions and by multiple users. This means EW/SIGINT commanders can enter the theater with a federated sensor network. However, the same sensors can still conduct spectrum management missions while EW geolocations run. While JEMSO links EMS operatives at the operational level, spectrum monitoring multi-mission sensors can link EMS activities at the tactical level.
- Spectrum monitoring solutions address personnel shortages as automated systems can run 24/7. They are not beholden to the older requirement of manpack or handheld sensors, which are limited by human endurance and skill.
- Spectrum monitoring solutions are easy to deploy. They can be attached to existing infrastructure, drones, expeditionary towers, vehicles, etc.
- Spectrum monitoring solutions can feed data to the Electromagnetic Battle Management System (EMBM), Electronic Warfare Planning and Management Tool EWPMT, and other EMS C2 systems—giving commanders a 24/7 remote view across the theater.
- Spectrum monitoring is used inside and outside the military, facilitating better civil-military relations within the EMS. Sharing malign spectrum activities such as jamming or interference increases trust with host nations and visiting military units, and between allied militaries operating together.
The Russo-Ukrainian War has pushed the issue of spectrum warfare back to the front line. And, with its 2020 Electromagnetic Spectrum Superiority Strategy, the US is leading the way. However, fully operationalizing strategies with suitable solutions is challenging. Single-sensor, multi-mission, multi-user spectrum monitoring solutions can rapidly support the military in achieving spectrum superiority. These solutions are deployable and agile; they provide automated spectrum management, EW, and SIGINT capabilities. Moreover, they unite EMS stakeholders at the tactical level while facilitating complete spectrum understanding at the operational and strategic levels.