By Marina Malenic
An official from the Pentagon office that oversees U.S. electronic warfare capabilities this week criticized the Defense Department’s large-scale effort to counter roadside bombs and said the office has compiled a list of deep vulnerabilities in the military’s weapon platforms for presentation to the Joint Requirements Oversight Commission this summer.
“If we don’t fix this problem, we have virtually no chance of success on the modern battlefield,” Ronald Hahn, the deputy director of the Pentagon’s Joint Electronic Warfare Center, said on April 1.
A capabilities-based assessment just completed by the center discovered 34 electronic warfare capability gaps across the department. All but one of those–leadership deficiencies–are classified, Hahn said. He was speaking at an electronic warfare conference in Washington.
Electronic warfare (EW) refers to any action involving the use of the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) or directed energy to control the EMS or to attack one’s enemy. The purpose of EW is to deny an advantage on the EMS and ensure unimpeded access to the EMS portion of the information environment to friendly forces. EW can be applied from air, sea, land and space by manned and unmanned systems.
“We assume spectrum control everywhere, but when you actually look at where we put it in the budget, the funding is very little,” Hahn said. “We are trying to get this, ultimately, up to the president because we do not understand this across the Department of Defense at senior levels.”
In Iraq and Afghanistan, enemy forces have used simple electronic devices to detonate roadside bombs and other explosives.
“We got a wake-up call in Iraq with garage door openers and key fobs,” Hahn said.
In response to that threat, the Pentagon established the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) in 2005 to discover and develop technologies and tactics that protect soldiers from improvised explosive devices. IEDs are said to have accounted for as many as 70 percent of all combat casualties in Iraq at the height of the insurgency and are a rapidly increasing threat in Afghanistan. Some $16 billion has gone toward funding JIEDDO since its inception, with much of that money spent to field jamming devices (Defense Daily, Dec. 12, 2008).
However, Hahn said those expenditures are unsustainable and, in fact, play into the enemy’s hands.
“A lot of people tout JIEDDO as a huge success story,” he said. “I would call it a monumental failure” because it is a “strategy we cannot win with and is sending the wrong message to senior leadership, both in the Department of Defense and the U.S. government.”
“This is billions spent to counter a particular threat that [the enemy] spent tens of thousands of dollars on,” he added.
Hahn said the U.S. military needs to improve its training in a complex EM environment. Currently, the Army runs a facility in Ft. Huachuca, AZ, dedicated to electronic warfare, while another facility at Nellis AFB, NV, is severely restricted by Federal Aviation Administration standards on what types of jamming and other EW exercises it can conduct.
As for spending billions more on JIEDDO and on unprotected platforms, Hahn says the United States cannot afford it.
“Look what’s happening today. Look at the usage rate we’re going through with airframes that are being used to do things they weren’t designed to do. It is a cost-imposing strategy that our adversary has put on us,” he said. “This is not a blueprint for success in the future. We’ve got to figure out a better way to do things because we can’t afford to be reactive and spend billions to an adversary’s tens of thousands of dollars. It’s just not smart, and it’s just not possible.”
Hahn also noted that the technology needed to attack the United States on the EMS is cheap, and it is proliferating–not just among “near-peer competitors” like Russia and China. “This is a global problem that will manifest itself in Sudan, in Somalia, all over the Horn of Africa in an irregular warfare environment,” he said. “Because this technology is moving. I can build GPS jammers for nothing.”
The answer, according to Hahn, is to put more emphasis on synchronizing existing platforms and on training personnel, and less on expensive hardware.
“I’d rather have a few less airplanes, but airplanes that are survivable,” Hahn said.
“It doesn’t matter how much information I collect with a satellite or an [unmanned aerial vehicle] if it can’t get to its intended target,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m on a legacy platform or on an F-22, if I’m out there and I suddenly can’t communicate with anyone and my radar doesn’t work and my weapon pods don’t work…and I can’t find my way back to the ship, how effective a weapon platform am I?”
Instead, the United States must respond more thoughtfully to the tactics of its enemies.
“Our adversary is not trying to build a better F-22 or F-35,” said Hahn. “They know they can’t win that game, so they’re not even going to try it. They’re going to degrade the advantages of those systems by preventing information from getting from the platform to the weapon system. That’s where they’re investing their money.”
The Joint Electronic Warfare Center will present its findings, including classified details on EW vulnerabilities throughout the department, to the JROC this summer.
“I’m hoping that we make a persuasive enough argument that we wake up and we avoid what is in my mind going to be a Desert One for spectrum,” he said, referring to the failure of a military operation to rescue 52 hostages from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1980. “Right now, we don’t train to this at all.”