Getting with the Programmes

The US Army is in the midst of modernising its EW posture to ensure that it can prevail over near-peer and peer adversaries in future conflicts.

The US Army is performing a major enhancement of its EW capabilities. We talk to Colonel Kevin E. Finch, the US Army’s project manager for electronic warfare and cyber, about the challenges ahead.

Col. Finch is a busy man. He is responsible for the force’s leading initiatives which will overhaul the US Army’s EW posture as it faces so-called ‘near-peer’ rivals such as Russia and the People’s Republic of China in the years ahead.

Strategic resurgence of Russia

Much as it did during the Cold War the army must think about how it will perform EW in support of the manoeuvre force in high-tempo air-land battle at the operational and tactical levels against a similarly equipped and trained adversary. Since the strategic resurgence of Russia last decade, best exemplified by Moscow’s deployment of forces to support its involvement in the Ukraine and Syrian civil wars from 2014 and 2015 respectively, some critics have questioned whether the US Army would be capable of meeting the Electronic Warfare (EW) challenge now posed by the Russian Army.

The force has deployed significant EW platforms and capabilities in support of both these deployments including systems such as the IRL257 Krasukha-C4 jammer which transmits across an 8.5 gigahertz/GHz to 18GHz waveband and is designed to jam airborne X-band (8.5GHz to 10.68GHz) and Ku-band (13.4GHz to 14GHz/15.7GHz to 17.7GHz) radars.

US Army EW systems

The US Army, the critics charge, is still focused on using EW to prevent attacks by Radio Frequency (RF) controlled Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Col. Finch disputes this arguing that the force “did not have the wrong systems, we had the right systems for the threat we faced at the time.” He says that the range of capabilities the force is now fielding underlines that the army is “getting our systems optimised for near peer adversaries.”

EW Innovations

Col. Finch believes that this change in the army’s EW focus and the interregnum when it was largely focused on the IED threat paradoxically benefits the force: “We have an entire generation of soldiers and leaders who have not had EW units in their formation. This gives us a blank canvass regarding how we are going to provide EW to the force. This means that there are no preconceived notions on how to do this.”

An added benefit is that EW materiel can be placed in the hands of the soldier who may then contrive tasks for which the equipment was not originally envisaged, but for which it has a valuable application: “I’m encouraged to see how soldiers take the equipment, use it and innovation with it,” Col. Finch observes.

US Army EW projects

Col. Finch and his colleagues have their hands full with three flagship army EW projects:

  • Terrestrial Layered System (TLS).
  • Multi-Function EW-Air Large (MFEW-AL).
  • EW Planning and Management Tool (EWPMT).

Terrestrial Layered System (TLS)

The Terrestrial Layered System (TLS) is an overarching electronic and cyber warfare ensemble which will be fielded with the army’s Brigade Combat Teams (BCT).

It is built around wheeled vehicles equipped to perform cyber and electronic attack in support of the manoeuvre force. Col. Finch envisages up to three systems equipping each BCT and the commander deciding how best to deploy those assets in support of their intent.

Multi-Function EW-Air Large (MFEW-AL)

The TLS will be joined by Lockheed Martin’s Multi-Function EW-Air Large (MFEW-AL) which is a pod-based EW system equipping the force’s General Atomics MQ-1C Grey Eagle unmanned aerial vehicles.

“This will provide electronic and communications intelligence to the commander,” Col. Finch articulates: “The system is designed to see communications emitters on the ground, and radars such as counter-battery systems. It will give the BCT commander a whole new way of visualising their electromagnetic environment.”

EW Planning and Management Tool (EWPMT)

At the command and control level, the BCTs are receiving Raytheon’s EW Planning and Management Tool (EWPMT). This enables the BCT commander to plan and manage EW and cyber efforts, and to visualise electromagnetic threats. The EWPMT forms a vital part of the army’s EW posture as Col. Finch emphasises that the electromagnetic spectrum is the only warfighting domain you cannot see, touch or taste. The EWPMT is examined in more detail in Armada Analysis’ recent ‘Cool Tools’ article.

Capability drops

Col Finch expects to start MFEW-AL pod flight testing by the end of January. A contract for the TLS could be awarded by April while the EWPMT is being rolled out through a series of ‘Capability Drops’.

The latest, Capability Drop-3, covers the integration of additional army sensors not already connected to the EWPMT architecture, and adds some other enhancements based on soldier feedback. The advent of the TLS and MFEW-AL could result in the phasing out of some existing capabilities acquired in recent years to ensure that there was no excessive shortfall in army EW acumen.

Phasing out or replacing systems

For example a decision will be made on the future of the General Dynamics Tactical Electronic Warfare System, a combined electronic support and electronic attack system mounted on a General Dynamics M-1126 series eight-wheel drive armoured fighting vehicle: “The army will decide whether to de-field them, or cascade them to someone else. That plan is still under discussion.”

To this end, the TLS will replace both the TEWS and the General Dynamics AN/MLQ-44A Prophet vehicular signals intelligence system. This was originally designed to support counter insurgency operations but has since been re-rolled to support conventional warfare.

US Army optimizing systems

“These new systems are the army’s first step back into EW,” Col. Finch remarks: “We have to get our systems optimised for near-peer threats. We can do conventional RF (Radio Frequency) EW, but now with systems like the TLS we can also do cyber. That is definitely something we have to be cognisant of as we move through the 21st Century.”

by Dr. Thomas Withington