Army vows to reinvigorate electronic warfare by combining it with cyber, intelligence functions

Acknowledging years of frustrations, the Army says 2018 is the "year of delivery" for its electronic warfare force, which is about to be subsumed into its cyber...

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The Army says it is taking several steps to integrate what until recently has been thought of as distinct military disciplines: electronic warfare, military intelligence, signals and cyber. The observable results over the coming year, officials said, will be more common equipment, changes to the way the Army trains and educates its soldiers and a new infusion of electronic warfare capabilities into its brigades.

In the personnel arena, the Army is changing the way it develops its electronic warfare specialists, an area of expertise it’s been growing since 2011, when it made EW a military occupational specialty, an attempt to revive an area of expertise it largely abandoned during the preceding decade, while it was preoccupied with counterinsurgency battles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Starting in October next year, the “29 series” career field for EW will be merged with the Army’s 17 series within its new cyber branch and trained at the Army Cyber School at Fort Gordon, Georgia. In advance of that, the Army plans to start sending out mobile training teams for its EW workforce beginning next month.

“All of this is about integration: integrating requirements, integrating capabilities, integrating formations so that literally you can have a combined arms effect inside cyberspace,” Maj. Gen. John Morrison, the commander of the Army Cyber Center of Excellence, told attendees at a conference organized by the Association of the U.S. Army on Wednesday. “You need all of these things to come together if you’re really going to deliver the effects that you need.”

The Army has also chosen an “integrated” approach to fielding new equipment to its electronic warfare specialists, who it has freely acknowledged have been ill-served by the gear available to them in recent years.

On Tuesday, DoD’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council signed off on a new program, the Terrestrial Layer Intelligence System (TLIS), which officials say will combine the Army’s needs for ground-based electronic attack and military intelligence into a single platform. The system is set for initial prototyping during 2018. Morrison said it came about only after the Army’s EW and intelligence communities decided that they needed to collaborate.

“We were very stovepiped and fragmented: we had our intel brothers and sisters developing their own requirements document, we were sitting at Fort Gordon in happy bliss developing our electronic warfare requirements document, but when we stepped back and took a look at it, we were getting ready to do a disservice on two levels,” he said. “Forget the fact that we were going to try and buy two separate systems, we were also getting ready to buy capabilities for our operational formations that did not bring an integrated effect and an integrated capability to the person that matters most, and that’s the maneuver commander. It was an unnatural act for the Army to bring two disparate centers of excellence together to come up with one integrated requirement, but I’m very pleased with how the Army reacted to it.”

In another change, the requirement the Army settled on described what it wants the system to accomplish on the battlefield, not the precise specifications of the technology it wants to deploy. Industry should expect more RFPs along those lines than it’s become accustomed to from the Army’s cyber, intelligence and electronic warfare communities, Morrison said.

“At least for the foreseeable future, you’re not going to see requirements documents that are very technical in nature, saying, ‘We want to be able to do this, this and this,'” he said. “What you’re going to see are operationally based requirements, and we’re going to set them in such a manner that we can do iterative development. We’ve got to have that inherent flexibility so we can iterate ourselves, because our adversaries are not following the [Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System] and locking in a program of record for the next 20 years. Neither can we.”

And officials insist that approach, including quick, small procurements that do not require high-level approval from the multiple layers in the traditional acquisition system, will become the norm, not the exception.

In view of what they consider to be unfavorable gaps in capability between the U.S. and potential adversaries in the electronic warfare and cyber domains, officials want to introduce new technologies to combat formations as quickly as possible, prototype them, keep what works, and move on.

“This process, the journey we’ve been on is enduring — this is not just a quick reaction capability,” said Maj. Gen. Patricia Frost, the top cyber adviser within the Department of the Army’s headquarters. “We understand there’s some frustration in the field because we’ve asked them to have some tactical patience, but this is going to be a tremendous year of delivery. We are going to deliver prototypes to the field, and we’re not going to wait six-to-10 years to build the perfect set of kit. We’re going to look at prototyping and a risk reduction, risk mitigation methodology. We need to be working with what our operators are telling us about how the threat is evolving in the different theaters that we’re operating in if we are going to take some leaps in capability development, which is why that prototyping is so important.

And the end-users of the equipment the Army is providing will be working in redesigned force structures.

Also in 2018, the service plans to start piloting new “detachments” of soldiers as part of its plan to build cyber and electromagnetic activities (CEMA) capabilities into traditional combat formations at the level of an Army corps and below. Officials say the detachments will fuse together everything the Army considers to fall within the CEMA umbrella, including the cyber, EW and signal disciplines, so that they’re presented to military commanders as a single, coherent set of capabilities.

Another force design update still under consideration will begin to systematically insert electronic warfare personnel and equipment into the Army’s brigade combat teams. That component of the plan would use existing manpower those brigades have already allocated toward military intelligence functions.

Brig. Gen. Neil Hersey, the commandant of the Army’s cyber school, said the combination of military intelligence and electronic warfare functions will require some yet-to-be-determined updates to the service’s training protocols.

“We’ve got to be able to adequately educate and train across multiple communities to be able to operate as both a supporting and supported force, and that will change based on the phase of the operation that we’re in,” he said. “It’s immediately applicable to those who deal with the human component of the adversary, and that includes intelligence information operations, military deception, PSYOPS and cyber operations. But the foundational baseline really must permeate all the appropriate schoolhouses, so a lot of that will also be rolled into training at the military intelligence school and others as we go forward.”

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