The US Army could receive backpack-based electronic warfare/cyber attack systems in the coming years.
The Check the Manual article in the September edition of Armada’s Electronic Warfare Newsletter discussed changes being made to the US’ Joint Electronic Warfare Doctrine.
US Joint Publication 3-85 – Joint Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations or ‘JEMSO’ as the doctrinal publication is known highlights the convergence of electronic attack and cyber warfare. This concerns electronic attack as the conduit through which malicious code is introduced into hostile command and control networks. This code can be used to disrupt, degrade or destroy these networks, or to covertly retrieve intelligence for exploitation by friendly forces.
US Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) already has tools which it uses for the execution and battle management of cyber attacks. These are exemplified by Northrop Grumman’s Unified Platform which equips USCYBERCOM. Few details have been released regarding the Unified Protector’s attributes. However, it is reasonable to assume that the system is used for cyber warfare at the operational and/or strategic levels.
Cyber attack tools are moving into the tactical domain. The US Army’s forthcoming Terrestrial Layered System (TLS) is a vehicle-based electronic attack system equipping the army’s Brigade Combat Teams. The TLS capabilities will include cyber warfare and conventional electronic attack.
While the TLS is a vehicle-borne capability plans are afoot to outfit dismounted troops with a backpack system to perform cyber and electronic attack. L3Harris is leading this effort via the Tactical Cyber Equipment (TCE) programme. The TCE is a backpack with “swappable capability cards” to support EW or cyber operations Mark Adams, L3Harris’ vice president and general manager of wireless solutions, told Armada.
The TCE is intended to be used at the Forward Edge of the Battle Area (FEBA), Mr. Adams continues. L3Harris was awarded the contract to develop the TCE this May. Initiative deliveries are expected in the summer of 2021. Mr. Adams says that along with supporting dismounted combat the TCE could be used in mounted and fixed guises as the mission requires. He says that the open architecture approach used in the TCE allows it to be upgraded with new hardware and software as new capabilities become available.
The roll-out of the TCE will ensure that cyber and EW can be moved as close to the FEBA as possible. This will help to avoid overtasking assets like the TLS and forthcoming Lockheed Martin Multi-Function EW Air Large (MFEW-AL) pod-based EW system equipping the US Army’s General Atomics MQ-1C Grey Eagle uninhabited air vehicles. The MFEW-AL is also intended for use at operational/tactical levels.
The US Army currently uses the VROD (Versatile Radio Observation and Direction) and VMAX (VROD Modular Adaptive Transmit) backpack EW systems. These are employed for communications intelligence collection (VROD) and for limited electronic attack (VMAX) across wavebands of 300 megahertz to three gigahertz. Around 200 VMAXs and 100 VRODs are thought to be in service with the US Army.
The TCE may be a step change vis-à-vis these legacy systems potentially offering more sophisticated jamming waveforms and a cyber warfare element in a package that can be easily configured by the user. The TCE will be tied into the Raytheon EW Planning and Management Tool (EWPMT) electronic warfare battle management system deployed at the BCT headquarters and its laptop-based Raven Claw counterpart for mounted and dismounted units.
TCE-equipped units will be able to rapidly share the electromagnetic and cyber situation with other EW cadres which can visualise the situation in real time using the EWPMT/Raven Claw. Similarly, the TCE will give commanders the flexibility to deploy the TCE in situations where it may be unsuitable or impractical to deploy larger EW assets like the TLS and MFEW-AL.