Saturday, October 3, 2015

Good On The Army - ECM

ComNavOps has long preached the impact of electronic warfare.  All of our weapon systems are highly susceptible to electronic warfare countermeasures (ECM).  This is bad but even worse is the Navy’s head-in-the-sand view of the problem.  The Navy is not testing its systems against realistic and extensive ECM to see what our weaknesses are and fix them.  We are not developing tactics for working in an electromagnetically challenged environment.  In short, we’re sitting around fat, dumb, and happy, secure in the misguided belief that our systems are somehow immune to ECM and all will function perfectly in combat.

Well, at least the Army has begun to get the picture and is now initiating a series of weapon tests against realistic (I hope!) ECM, as reported by Breaking Defense website (1).  In the first,

“… the US Army conducted an unprecedented wargame this spring to test its new air and missile defense network against advanced electronic warfare techniques. “

“The exercise tested an early version of the Integrated Air & Missile Defense Battle Command System, which links together sensors, launchers, and command posts. The idea is that a battery no longer has to rely on its own radar but can get targeting data from any radar in the system — even if the two weren’t originally designed to work together, for example a Patriot launcher and a THAAD AN/TPY-2 radar.”

That’s a great start.  Test the weapon system you’re betting your future on in a realistic ECM environment before you have to pay in blood to find out the hard way.

There is an ominous note, here.

“The original inspiration for IBCS [Integrated Battle Command System] was simple efficiency. It will replace a half-dozen different command and control systems for air and missile defense, and it will allow the Army to mix-and-match elements from different weapons systems as needed. But the Army also realized that IBCS could help defeat radar jamming. If one battery’s radar is jammed, spoofed, or hacked, IBCS allows it to stay in the fight using data from radars that are in different locations and/or on different frequencies. Better yet, IBCS will combine data from different radars into a single “composite track” of a given target, allowing radars with an accurate picture to correct radars that are being spoofed.”

Does this sound a lot like the F-35 which supposedly ties together every sensor on the aircraft in a single composite picture? Of course, that’s not working.  Further, remember the descriptions of the F-35 being a collating center for every sensor in the theatre, tying disparate systems and platforms together and directing their functions, allocating their weapons, and rerouting weapons in flight?  Sounds awfully similar, doesn’t it?

It’s not just the F-35, either.  Remember, the promise that the LCS fleet would be nodes that would establish a vast sensor network comprised of every sensor in theatre?  How’d that work out?

This also sounds a lot like the Navy’s Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) or its repackaged cousin, Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air (NIFC-CA).

On the plus side, if it can be made to work, who wouldn’t want a sensor system that ties together every system into one vast battle network?  On the other hand, one of the problems with such a system is that if the data from every sensor and function is concentrated into one central physical location, it becomes a single point of total failure.  Destroy the master control center and you’ve incapacitated an entire theatre of weapons and sensors.  Of course, one could create many duplicates of the central control system that would take over in the event of the destruction of the master but then the gain in efficiency is lost.  In combat, distribution of assets and capabilities equates to survivability.  We figured this out long ago but have steadily forgotten it.

There’s also an inherent contradiction at work, here.  The Army is testing their systems against realistic ECM because they’re rightly afraid that the systems won’t work as advertised.  In the same breath, however, they’re stating that their new system will flawlessly assemble data and commands from many separate systems, ignoring that the transmission of that data and commands is susceptible to the very same ECM that they’re testing against.  Unless the systems are tied together with hard lines (fiber optics), the data transmission signals are susceptible to the same ECM that the Army is afraid will affect the individual systems.

The overdependence on networks and data, and the inherent assumption that they are somehow invulnerable to ECM, is a military wide phenomenon although the Navy, in particular, seems especially fond of, and susceptible to, it.  The Navy’s dream is to tie every weapon and sensor in the world together.  Of course, if that network is disrupted you’ve lost everything – and that ignores the fantastic lack of success we’ve had doing this, so far.

So, we see again the tendency of the military to take a good idea and try to jam it well past the point of technological feasibility.  Oh well, at least the Army is going to be doing some realistic testing and that’s a vast improvement over the Navy.

The article points out the leap in ECM capability that has come from modern electronics.

“Traditional analog jamming can be effective, but it’s pretty obvious, Thurgood said: It just blasts out interference in selected wavelengths in a given area. But the Russians, Chinese, and others are using advanced digital jamming which attacks specific frequencies and can spoof the radar. Essentially, they record an incoming radar pulse and play it back in distorted form, confusing the radar receiver.”

The exercises also point out our own ECM shortcomings.

“The Army’s own electronic warfare arsenal is painfully thin, with offensive jammers not set to enter service until 2023.”

We’ve previously discussed that the Navy’s offensive and defensive ECM is being hugely, and unwisely, shortchanged at the altar of new ship construction.  The Navy needs to realize that all the shiny new ships in the world will be of no use if they can’t fight and survive in an ECM environment.

The time to figure all this out is now.

“That’s a problem the Army wants to figure out in wargames before it ever faces it in real life.”

Well, they got that much right!  Good luck to them and hopefully the Navy will take note.


  1. We'll have to wait and see.

    I do not imagine the USN is likely to have realistic tests any time soon.

    Actually, off topic, but this is a good read:

  2. hopefully they'll go with a stand alone capability backed up by the networks other sensors. I advantage I don't see mention in this article is that a multiple frequency and location radar system like this has a much better chance versus stealthy aircraft, potential operating in a bi-static mode (where the receiver is located in a different location than the receiver).

    Randall Rapp