New high-level council will guide DoD’s ‘neglected’ electronic warfare programs

A s part of its “third offset” strategy — DoD’s near-and- long term effort to widen a narrowing technology gap between it and other potentially-belligerent militaries — the department says it needs a big focus on electronic warfare.

To that end, Bob Work, the deputy secretary of Defense, signed a memo last Tuesday creating a new electronic warfare programs council. It will be co-chaired by Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, logistics and technology, and Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Its charge will be to examine all of the military services’ scattered investments in electronic warfare — an area DoD leaders think got short-shrift while the military’s been busy with low-tech adversaries — help coordinate their efforts and guide future programs.

“EW has often been regarded as just a combat enabler. Our adversaries don’t think so,” Work told the annual McAleese-Credit Suisse defense conference in Washington. “They believe it is an important part of their offensive and defensive arsenal. For relatively small investments in EW, you get an extremely high potential payoff, and our competitors are trying to win in that competition. We still have a lead, I think, but that lead is diminishing rapidly.”

The idea for a new council came from the Defense Science Board, which Kendall tasked to take a look at the department’s electronic warfare a year and half ago. The report the board produced has not been made public, but Kendall said the panel found major deficiencies.

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“The study pointed to a number of shortfalls,” he said. “It laid out the fact that we have been neglecting electronic warfare for some time because we haven’t been focused on that kind of a threat. It’s one of the items on my list where the trends are not good, and we’re going to try to reverse that. We need to have some departmentwide focus, look for synergies, make sure we’re making the right technology investments and make sure we have the right projects in the pipeline, to the extent we can afford them. I suspect we’ll use the new council as a way to tee up budget issues so that they get the visibility they need.”

The military services have maintained various degrees of focus on electronic warfare since the last main EW threat, the Soviet Union, collapsed. The Air Force and Navy have made it a priority in some programs, but the Army freely acknowledges it let its EW know-how significantly dwindle in the post- Soviet era. It has lately been reconstituting its electronic warfare capability, including by building new career fields and promulgating new doctrine that fuses together EW and cyber warfare under the collective banner of “cyber-electromagnetic activities.”

This post is part of Jared Serbu’s Inside the DoD Reporter’s Notebook feature. Read more from this edition of Jared’s Notebook.

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