Electronic warfare a new career field
January 27, 2011
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Unique training at Fort Sill has been focusing on the intangible. The subject material: electronic warfare. It's not something Soldiers can touch, taste or see, but it's ever present and an asset when respected.
"If you're listening to a radio, if you're talking on a cell phone, if you're using a GPS you're tied to the electromagnetic spectrum," said Maj. Gregory Griffin, 1st Armored Division Headquarters. "It's a very functional part of the battlefield. Everyone uses it. Everyone relies on it - adversaries as well as friendlies."
Formerly infantry, Griffin is currently going through the Electronic Warfare Officer's Qualification Course. He went through the six-week skill identifier course previously but, given the Army's recent decision to establish Electronic Warfare, 29-series, as a career field, Griffin jumped at the opportunity.
"I like the fact that it's new and there's a lot of possibilities. I finally get to do something that I truly enjoy," said Griffin.
Electronic warfare is not new to the theater of war. In fact, the Air Force and Navy have been players for a long time. Now, it's the Army's turn to hit the ground running, and the training is starting at the Fires Center of Excellence.
Fort Sill has been refining the courses for enlisted personnel, officers and warrant officers with one task: synchronize the airwaves.
"Imagine a helicopter is flying along and suddenly an F-16 flies by doing Mach 1.2 about 100 yards away from it. The helicopter is going to fall out of the sky because those two can't use the same air space-one is going to take over the other. Inside the electromagnetic spectrum it's the same thing," said Bill Sprayberry, Northrop Grumman program manager.
Sprayberry went on to explain how a piece of equipment uses a part of the electromagnetic spectrum. If another piece of equipment comes too close, one of them is going to be unusable. This understanding is vital to the front lines where Soldiers use equipment such as counter radio electronic warfare devices to shut down Improvised Explosive Devices.
Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, recognized the need for EW capability in 2006 when he placed Navy electronic warfare officers with ground combat units in Iraq to manage the complicated electromagnetic spectrum.
"We learned the hard way in 2006 how to leverage EW skill sets from the joint community to counter the emerging remote-controlled IED threats," Chiarelli said.
America's enemies are now using the electromagnetic spectrum against Soldiers. By creating an electronic warfare career field, the Army is better capable of mitigating that threat, Chiarelli said.
The big question for future electronic warfare officers is how to get the systems integrated without destroying someone else's capability. The instructors likened the EW integrator's role to that of a field artillery fire support coordinator, who draws together fire, such as cannons, rockets, mortars, close air support and Naval gunfire.
"It's easy to get people to walk in a formation. They can see each other. But to coordinate something that no one can see, feel, touch or taste is more difficult, so we try to make them respect the threat that comes with not properly coordinating," said Jeffery Cassidy, Electronic Warfare Specialist Course instructor seminar leader.
Besides focusing on how radio waves flow, they also learn how to fight as a piece to the puzzle. Since no battle is fought by the Army alone, the Soldiers learn the capabilities of the other services and how to use them as well.
"These Soldiers are on the staff to coordinate, integrate and synchronize all these systems from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines and give them to the commander as an asset," said Cassidy.
The different classes are synchronized so whether Soldiers are enlisted, officers or warrant officers, they will have the same capability downrange only working on different parts of the operation. The officer course focuses on strategy while the enlisted training focuses on tactical to operational levels; the warrant officers bridge the gap between the two.
Fort Sill is also currently working on developing senior leader electronic warfare courses for the future in an effort to sustain a field that is vital to today's operation.