WASHINGTON (Jan. 11, 2016) -- Electronic warfare issues are gaining steam on Capitol Hill here.
Recently the electronic warfare, or EW, division chiefs from each military service were invited to brief congressional staffers about the emerging global threats from nations that have advanced ew capabilities as well as what the individual services are doing to maintain control of the electromagnetic spectrum, or EMS.
In 2000, members of Congress founded a bi-partisan working group specifically dedicated to EW issues, known as the congressional EW working group, or EWWG. This group however has focused on House members and therefore this briefing was meant to bring congressional staff from both the House and Senate together to have the opportunity to listen to service chiefs discuss the important role that EW systems will play in future conflicts.
Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois directed his legislative staff handling military issues to organize this briefing.
Col. Jeffrey Church, Army EW division chief, represented the Army, and Col. Hans Palaoro, Air Force EW division chief, also participated. Cmdr. Ryan Mapeso represented the Navy as well as Capt. John Bailey and the U.S. Marine Corps had two colonels representing EW: Col. Gregory Breazile and Col. William Lieblein.
EW capabilities of adversaries have increasingly popped up in news stories throughout the globe, from the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria to the advancements in China. Senior leaders across the Department of Defense recognize the importance of investing in electronic warfare capabilities for the U.S. Army. Congress is taking note of this need to place EW at the forefront of future priorities.
"We have invested billions of dollars into our technology," said Church. "Our adversaries have invested time and money to defeat those technologies."
The message was clear from all the service EW chiefs, U.S. adversaries continue to advance their EW capabilities and the United States must make it a priority to maintain a clear advantage across the EMS. Church repeatedly highlighted, during his portion of the brief, the key to maintaining an advantage in the spectrum was to train in a contested environment, especially because nations like Russia are currently training in that environment.
"Russians train, maintain and fight in a contested EMS," said Church. "They demonstrate that to us in places like Ukraine where they integrate EW into their operations before, during and after their mission."
The Army is in the early stages of planning an EW training exercise next summer at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California.
"We want to put on a demonstration at the NTC," said Church. "The intent is to bring a lot of these EW capabilities to the NTC and provide them to the opposing force, and then let the unit that is in that rotation experience what it would be like to fight in a contested EMS."
Church also mentioned he would ideally like to have the Secretary of the Army and other senior Army leaders attend the exercise at NTC to observe the effects EW can have on both the training field and during deployments.
Training however, is just one piece of the puzzle Church emphasized to the Congressional staffers. While the Navy, Air Force and Marines have EW systems that are programs of record, the Army is still in the building phase for EW after largely getting out of EW when the peace dividend began at the conclusion of the Cold War. Providing materiel solutions to the warfighter is the additional piece, as division chief Church has made this his No. 1 priority.
"I can show you Army EW Soldiers' equipment wall lockers right now and they are empty," said Church. "We do a lot of requesting and rely on our other services to provide electronic support. We have relied on the Air Force, Navy and Marines."
Many of the questions from the Congressional staff were about how the services work together when it comes to solving EW issues. Church highlighted that the Army and Marines hold quarterly synergy meetings with one another since the Army and Marines share similar concerns, both being ground forces.
The EW Executive Committee, EW EXCOM, was formed in March at the DOD level to provide an opportunity for senior leaders across DOD to meet several times a year to discuss synergy among the services for solving EW problems. Church also mentioned that the participants at the brief all participate in the EW capability teams EWCT which filters into the EW EXCOM, providing additional information to the EW EXCOM.
All of the service chiefs acknowledged that a changing threat environment of course changes future priorities for the services. EW can be tricky to understand because it is not something that is visible to the eye when it succeeds.
"Most of our Army commanders grew up like I did; we stand on one hill and watch things blow up on the other hill and if things blew up you knew that you won," said Church. "The EMS is different, commanders cannot see things blowing up in the EMS so they question if it is really there. An EW demonstration at the NTC will show them that EW is really there and that the EMS is a maneuver space where they must be prepared to fight and win."