JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- An enemy soldier stood by his truck, communicating with his higher headquarters via radio. He was about to receive some critical information that would allow him to maneuver the members of his group against U.S.-friendly forces, but something unexpected happened.
Suddenly, there was nothing but garbled sounds and static coming through his receiver. He had lost his ability to communicate with other members of his unit, let alone his headquarters -- a severe handicap in battle.
This was just one hypothetical scenario demonstrating how electronic warfare can be used in the modern battlefield. But how does the U.S. Army define electronic warfare; how does it implement it; and what does the future hold?
"Our main mission is to dominate the electromagnetic spectrum," said Sgt. 1st Class Louis Daniels, Electronic Warfare Sergeant Noncommissioned Officer-in-charge for 1-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team. "We allow friendly use of the EMS and deny the enemy's use of the EMS."
Electronic warfare has been around for a while in some form or another, said Chief Warrant Officer Vincent Cimino, Electronic Warfare Technician for 1-2 SBCT. Any kind of manipulation of the electromagnetic spectrum to attack the enemy is considered electronic warfare. As soon as electronic transmission was invented, someone found out they were able to overpower someone else's transmission with a more powerful one.
Defending against systems that are using the electromagnetic spectrum to target friendly forces could involved anything that uses the electromagnetic spectrum to propagate enemy communication, such as radio waves, cell phone, Wi-Fi; and also includes any kind of counter-fire radar system, Daniels said. The electronic warfare personnel want to deny those capabilities to the enemy.
"At the brigade level, we are kind of like an electronic warfare liaison," said Daniels. "We know the capabilities that are out there in our joint services and, through a process of requesting and integration with staff at the brigade level, we also know what capabilities are available within a theater of operations. When our brigade is doing a mission, we know what (electronic warfare) assets are available that can be used to help our guys on the ground."
It is a relatively new military occupational specialty, according to Daniels. The Army is still getting their heads back around electronic warfare since it has not been heavily used in a while. Ever since the Global War on Terrorism era, the U.S. hasn't really confronted an enemy who was capable of using the electromagnetic spectrum or any of the other systems to target the military.
"As we get away from counter insurgency or COIN and move into the hybrid threat scenarios or near-peer scenarios, we must start to assume that our near-peer will have the same capabilities, if not more," Cimino said. "Some of them already do."
"It is harder for a lot of people to see electronic warfare works," said Daniels. "For most, they may think, 'what's the big deal? OK you guys are jamming a signal.' The problem is going to be when the Army gets into these near-peer fights with enemy's that have the equipment and training to produce and fight against these (electronic warfare) effects."
"The enemy has equipment right now," said Col. Jeffery Church, the electronic warfare division chief at the Pentagon. "They can step out and we see demonstrations of that quite frequently."
In the future, electronic warfare will be more crucial as an asset to the Army, said Cimino. It is important now that the U.S. Army begin closing capability gaps and start fielding ground offensive electronic warfare equipment.
"I equate it to the when the Army made the very painful transition from a horse run Army to an internal combustion engine," Church said. "Everybody thought that, in this Army, everybody loved their horse and thought the cavalry ruled everything, but we made the transition and look, we have a much better Army today. If we were still relying on the horse, we would be much less effective than we are now."
If fielded with more equipment, the electronic warfare technicians could do so much more for the commanders they are supporting, said Cimino. There is an untapped capability here that needs tapping.
"This has to be organic, at brigade level," said Daniels. "We need something at the tactical level to deploy against the enemy. Soldiers need to train to do this. It does not have to be from scratch. Our sister services have this stuff in their arsenals already. We would not have to re-engineer these things, but this process must start now."