Articles describing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that don't detonate aren't typically written. In fact, if an IED doesn't detonate, there really isn't much to write about anyway.
So then, how does the good word about the defeat of IEDs get out? The behind the scenes work of jamming and attacking signals within the electromagnetic spectrum is rarely told and, when it is told, often misunderstood. Electronic warfare (EW) Soldiers and the EW systems they operate, have saved countless lives during the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
The War on Terror brought about a renewed need for electronic warfare capabilities. Recognizing that there was indeed a capability gap the Army relied on the expertise of the Air Force and Navy EW professionals, while simultaneously laying the ground work for its own EW professionals. The Army now counts among its Soldiers EW officers (Functional Area 29), EW noncommissioned officers (Military Occupational Specialty 29E), EW warrant offers (290 Branch). There is even a new Army crest depicting the essential elements of EW.
The Army Fires Center of Excellence at Fort Sill Oklahoma is home to the EW school. Officers enroll in a thirteen-week functional area course; warrant officers take the fifteen-week EW Technician basic course and NCO's enroll in the electronic warfare specialist course, which is a nine-week MOS-producing course.
Aside from these three courses, Soldiers in various units have the opportunity to train in EW, even if they do not choose to pursue it for their career. Fort Sill conducts the Army Operational EW Course and Fort Huachuca trains Solders in the Counter Radio Controlled EW (CREW ) Master Gunner Course.
Staff Segeant Steed Dolan recently returned from Afghanistan and trained at Fort Sill prior to his deployment.
"I attended the 29E course in January 2010, at the time the course was taught by civilians. I don't know if the training material has changed but I do feel the material at that time was informative," said SSG Steed Dolan who was the battalion EW NCO Infantry, 4th Stryker Brigade, 2d Infantry Division.
Lieutenant Colonel Luke Charpentier, currently the commander of the Communications Electronic Attack, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (CEASAR) program took the Army Operational EW Course at Fort Sill in 2009.
"I found the training gave a good basis to understand EW and what it brings to the battlefield, the tools we use, and how it is used to meet the commander's intent," Charpentier said. "The class was new to the Army at the time so has evolved since then."
Courses at Fort Sill are evolving and although a lot of what is taught was very useful during deployments, both Dolan and Charpentier saw areas that could be improved upon for future EW courses.
"We needed a lot more information, CREW set up, trouble shooting, vehicle mounting et cetera.," said Charpentier.
The day-to-day duties of EW Soldiers positions are not often unknown, but the importance of controlling the electromagnetic spectrum continues to remain a priority for the Army. The EW courses provide the preparation needed for maneuvering within the spectrum. Soldiers perform exercises throughout the year to train for these various scenarios.
"I was lucky enough to attend a full-spectrum exercise in South Korea in 2011, where I was assigned as the 2nd Infantry Division EW officer " said Dolan. "While there I was able to work hand in hand with the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) and other organizations."
During his deployment to Afghanistan, Dolan was located at Forward Operating Base Shoja where there was only one 29E per battalion. Dolan was responsible for running the EW operation in twelve-hour shifts.
"I maintained the EW running estimate, developed electronic attack targets, conducted low level voice intercept, conducted real-time targeting and electronic attack for our's and adjacent battle space." said Dolan.
While deployed Dolan primarily worked with GATOR Version 2, DUKE Electronic Attack and CREW. Immediately upon arrival Dolan set out a way to make the GATORs more effective for the battalion.
"My GATOR was located a little away from my tactical operations center (TOC), but because the distance made the system completely ineffective, I rounded up the required components to build my own fiber-optic network so I could remotely control this system in the TOC," said Dolan. "I was the first to build such a network in Operations Enduring Freedom (OEF), and my configuration quickly became the standard in theater."
Charpentier primarily has experience using CREW Vehicle Receiver Jammer (CVRJ) and DUKE Versions 2 and 3 while deployed to Iraq.
"We worked also with CVRJ in a stand alone mode for Entry Control Point (ECP) protection," said Charpentier. "We worked closely with JICCS, the Joint Navy EW program, and the brigades in threat analysis and techniques to avoid casualties."
The re-emerging need for EW systems during combat operations during in Afghanistan and Iraq have brought renewed interest to the overall growth and funding for EW.
Colonel Jim Ekvall, Chief of the HQDA Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3/5/7's Electronic Warfare Division at the Pentagon promotes the long-term need for the EW career field within the Army.
"Soldiers who have taken EW courses and deployed and utilized those skills are a huge asset to our Army," said Ekvall. "EW should remain a top priority even given the current fiscal environment. EW will continue to save Soldiers lives and is an important part to the future of warfare."
As priorities for the Department of Defense change with the war in Afghanistan coming to a close, both Charpentier and Dolan make the case for the continued importance for the Army's electronic warfare program.
"Electronic warfare is like free insurance," said Charpentier. "It cost nearly nothing to have it (to the command), yet if you need it you will be very glad you have it."