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CHIPS Articles: Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations

Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations
An Approach to the Universal Maneuver Domain
By Jesse Bourque - October-December 2014
"We're using the Electromagnetic Spectrum as a domain and as a means, and we understand and grasp it. We have to figure out how we can beat things electronically first. Why do we spend all this money kinetically if we can jam, spoof or do otherwise?" – Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Greenert in October 2013.

A wise young naval officer recently commented that warfighters fight in two domains: the one aligned to their service, and the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS). The bold simplicity of that statement belies the profoundness of its implications. Beyond our individual activities, the sheer scope of the EMS opportunity space is massive and vastly larger than the sliver required for naval IT activities, comprising a profound opportunity to know and dominate future operating environments.

Imposition of structure is a key to controlling the electromagnetic spectrum, but only half of the equation; operational compliance enforcement — electronic warfare — provides the other half. As an indicator of scope, consider that airborne electronic attack (AEA) is the most visible aspect of “spectrum warfare.” But even AEA is only a subset, of the offensive portion, of the radio frequency portion, of the electronic warfare portion, of the infinite electromagnetic spectrum opportunity. For a truer picture of the EMS opportunity space, we should briefly consider the emerging dynamics of opportunity, innovation, value, chaos and control.

Although the sum of all radiant electromagnetic energy comprises the most ancient physical domain, it has only been in the last five years that the Defense Department has truly acknowledged its powerful influence on operations. That condition will only increase across our force, the forces of our allies, and ironically, those of our adversaries. As this lone physical equity shared by every competitor grows in global demand, the corresponding electromagnetic spectrum discussion must evolve from a threat focus to one recognizing EMS as a new maneuver dominance opportunity. That line of thinking rests on the following thesis: Since every military capability, action or plan is enabled or influenced by the radiant analog energy of the electromagnetic spectrum, then the EMS can and should be harnessed to shape, control, or deny any adversary capabilities, actions, or plans of significance, be they EMS-dependent equities or not.

As fantastic as those objectives may appear, processes to compete for EM energy, spectrum management, and capabilities for fighting with EM energy and electronic warfare, are combining to meet these objectives as Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations (EMSO). For the future force to operate meaningfully in the air, land and maritime domains — and at all in space or cyberspace — EMSO will leverage emerging technologies to: (a) assure access to the EMS while denying adversaries the same; (b) ensure our freedom of maneuver throughout the EMS domain; and (c) disrupt, deny, or destroy adversary capabilities within reach of EM energy.

Using policy-based management tools; adaptive architectures; protection and hardening against electromagnetic effects; traditional jamming; directed energy and lasers; high-power microwave applications; and even electromagnetic pulse (EMP) weapons, EMSO will provide critical electromagnetic spectrum control for achieving tactical to strategic warfighting objectives.

Recent activities in policy, strategy and doctrine development are increasing attention and include the new DoD EMS Strategy, the Joint Concept for EMS Operations, the deployed Joint electromagnetic spectrum operations cell concept of operations (CONOPS), and establishment of an EMS operations technical architecture based upon the DoD Architectural Framework, and numerous related efforts.

Although the relative expense of EMSO capabilities has historically discouraged their investment, that aversion rests on the unsupported belief that deliberate investment in EMSO is somehow more expensive than the penalties for not doing so. This fallacy sacrifices a sustainable focus on investment in favor of a near-term focus on expenditure. It is also contradicted by every substantive analysis produced over the last decade, authoritatively depicting costs that begin at an order of magnitude greater in forfeited materiel, manpower and mission effectiveness. Tens of billions of capability dollars are at risk; therefore, we can no longer afford not to invest.

To dominate in future environments we must also indoctrinate our forces to appreciate the difference between compliance and chaos models of spectrum. The broad inclusion of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies into warfighting capabilities appears a no-brainer, enabling rapid and inexpensive technology solutions. However, they are so because they are intended for use in compliance-based environments requiring voluntary adherence to known behaviors in order to capture those efficiencies.

When COTS technologies are subjected to the chaos of deliberate attack in the electromagnetic spectrum or cyberspace, their efficiencies can be negated by their intrinsic ease of compromise. Federal Communications Commission -compliant spectrum systems and IP-compatible cyberspace technologies assure every user — and exploiter — of precisely the frequency ranges, modulations and protocols the equipment is required to exhibit; the element of surprise is forfeited. No other approach yields more profound advantage to adversaries, whether nation-state technology peers or decentralized insurgents. Pursuing unchecked efficiencies has placed the mission at risk.

Although kinetic (mass-based), influence (ideas-based), or cyberspace (code-based) activitiescan support the objectives of electromagnetic spectrum control, we must focus on and resource energy-based electronic warfare and spectrum management activities as its full-time guarantors. Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations as this functional “control group” provides electromagnetic spectrum control for the “user group” of EMS-reliant capabilities including: command and control (C2), communications, cyberspace operations, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), space operations, and related activities. This compels mention of the well-worn term “convergence,” which is occurring although not as some may expect. The relationship between fighting with code (cyberspace operations) and fighting with energy (EW) is a matter of integration or combined arms. Convergence is actually occurring between those with undistracted interest in the EMS: those who organize it — spectrum management — and those who use it to know, control, and neutralize adversary capability — electronic warfare.

While changes in the electronic warfare community may be more visible, convergence to EMSO will affect the spectrum management community even more profoundly. For the future force to be sufficiently affordable, adaptable, and decisive to meet the range of future global challenges, EMSO must be adopted among the operations and management communities in both function and organization. In this new reality, spectrum management will not remain as it is now; it will evolve to assume its necessary role as a fundamental component of front line operations.

Jesse Bourque is a Spectrum Operations Senior Analyst in the office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy/Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict (OUSD Policy, ASD(SO/LIC).

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