Army doubling electronic warfare with massive drone fleet
The US Army is prototyping drones and soldier devices armed with new cyberwar and electronic attack technology as an essential element of a massive, service-wide push to double its EW force and integrate EW and cyber.
"We are standing up a cyber-electromagnetic activity staff, doubling the force, doubling the amount of training and increasing our tactical ability," Brig. Gen Jennifer Buckner, head of Army Cyber Command, said recently at the Association of the United States Army Annual Symposium.
The plan is multi-faceted, consisting of simultaneous efforts to provide an EW platoon in every Military-Intelligence company and connect integrated EW and cyber-warfare technologies with existing SIGINT (signals intelligence) ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) technology, such as small drones.
One senior Army official stressed the operational importance of further combining EW and cyber.
"You have to have globally integrated joint operations, because cyberspace is pervasive. I believe cyber is a subset of the electromagnetic spectrum," he told Warrior.
Warrior talked to the Army's Program Manager for Electronic Warfare, Col. Kevin Finch, who said the service plans to start building and testing prototypes of new EW-Cyber equipped drones and attack technology by 2019 — following an extensive analysis.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Dustin D. Biven)
"The idea is to leverage the technology we are using today and put cyber and SIGINT on the same platforms," Finch told Warrior in an interview.
Merging cyber, EW and SIGINT brings a new generation of warfare advantages by, among other things, enabling forces armed with EW weapons to produce a narrower, much more targeted signal.
This changes the equation, as most current EW weapons emit a larger single across the desired area and use so much power that it overwhelms an enemy receiver, Jerry Parker, EW developer with CACI, told Warrior in an interview.
This phenomenon creates several extremely significant tactical implications; by emitting a broad signal with large amounts of power, attackers using EW typically give up their own combat positions, as larger signals are usually noticed by enemy forces.
"When you light up the spectrum, you become a target," Parker explained.
Of equal significance, emitting a large signal can also knock out signals for one's own force, in some respects.
"The traditional way is if you are transmitting 901 MegaHertz, you put out a ton of power and wipe out everything in the spectrum, to include Blue Forces (friendly forces)," Parker said.
The emerging method, Parker said, is to establish a much more "surgical" way of using EW-cyber attacks, which do not emit a large, area-wide signal.
This can be done by using narrower, more targeting signals emitted from a drone or small device which is able to locate enemy communication networks, radar, radios, and other key targets.
"You look at where an adversarial radio is and pinpoint that one. You use a specific frequency and use a lot of different techniques to analyze the enemy signal, analyze the protocol and narrow a target," Parker explained. "If you can keep an enemy from communicating, it adds an element of disarray to the battle space where we can achieve overmatch," Parker said.
Sgt. Jason E. Gerst, a Virginia Beach, Va., native, now a squad leader with 2nd Platoon, A Company, 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 170th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, launches the RQ-11B Raven unmanned aerial vehicle during Raven training.
CACI is now equipping a small drone with this technology, as part of an effort to support the Army's initiative.
As cyber and EW become increasingly integrated, with software-defined radios, new jamming techniques and smaller form factors, Army developers can pursue more targeted methods of attack, as enemy cyber and EW threats become increasingly sophisticated.
"We spend a lot of time on the sensing part of the spectrum. We analyze what is out there and ID what various threat signals are. We look at its modulation scheme and protocol and then build techniques to destroy it," Parker added.
Developers explain that EW innovations are drawing from some existing systems which emerged during the last 15-years of counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. EW technology evolved considerably in recent years as the Army learned new jamming techniques, expanded frequencies and found new applications. The vehicle-mounted DUKE and soldier mobile THOR EW systems were successful jamming IED signals in Iraq and Afghanistan, often averting a potentially deadly explosion.
Here is how Brig. Gen. Buckner explained this massive Army push for new combined cyber, EW weapons, and technology.
"We are focused on growth and acceleration — bringing cyber to the tactical edge. The Chief of Staff of the Army recognizes the operational imperative to do that," Buckner said.
This article originally appeared on Warrior Maven. Follow @warriormaven1 on Twitter.