U.S. Army researchers pursue tactical edge in electronic warfare
In the age of technology, the U.S. Army’s ability to dominate the electromagnetic spectrum can significantly influence the outcome of future conflicts on the battlefield.
The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory designated several research programs as essential for future Soldier capabilities. Of these major flagship programs, the Foundational Research for Electronic Warfare in Multi-Domain Operations, or FREEDOM, Essential Research Program recognizes the value of electronic warfare competencies as a necessary requirement for success in large-scale combat and multi-domain operations.
During World War II, jamming missions conducted by Allied forces successfully disrupted German command and control systems and navigation capabilities. When adversaries used radio-controlled improvised explosive devices to attack ground forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. Army defended its Soldiers with newly developed tools that jammed radio-activated triggers.
“The overall goal of the program is to drive a revolutionary change in the way that the Army uses electronic warfare from a single exquisite platform to a distributed, disaggregated and heterogeneous set of offensive and defensive capabilities,” said Dr. Matthew Higgins, FREEDOM program manager. “We are looking to demonstrate research prototypes that prevent the adversary’s ability to actively or passively find, classify and geo-locate U.S. forces.” According to Higgins, Army researchers in the program examine a wide spectrum of complex issues, such as the need to optimize secure communication among allied forces and the development of techniques to evaluate the effectiveness of electronic attack techniques.
Researchers in the FREEDOM program also plan to unify electronic warfare with cyber technology, which typically remains separated in operations, research and system development. The program aims to provide both basic and applied research to enable tactical dominance in an Army initiative called cyber electromagnetic activities, or CEMA. These efforts include the elimination of adversary threat capabilities, the surveillance of electromagnetic and cyberspace environments and the enhancement of mobility within the battlefield and cyberspace.
“Adversaries are contesting all domains, the electromagnetic spectrum, and the information environment,” Higgins said. “Future challenges require integrating electronic warfare and cyber technologies and activities as well as a shift for electronic warfare to a more surgical offensive posture against more advanced adversarial systems.”
In general, the FREEDOM Essential Research Program focuses on three core research areas:
• Adaptive/Cognitive: Developing the ability to effectively outpace adversary decision and technical options.
• Distributed/Coordinated: Achieving spatially and temporally diverse responsiveness to dense and complex threat environments.
• Preemptive/Proactive: Preventing or disrupting the adversary’s ability to find, fix, track, target and engage our forces.
“In the long term, we are looking at multi-function RF capabilities from distributed platforms with research focused on adaptive filters, wide-band amplifiers and adaptive manufacturing-enabled antenna technology,” Higgins said. “The Soldier will have the freedom to maneuver on the battlefield and to dynamically access the congested and contested electromagnetic spectrum.” In order to achieve this goal, researchers leveraged the work from various collaborative research alliances, such as the Cyber CRA, the Internet of Battlefield Things CRA and the Distributed and Collaborative Intelligent Systems and Technology CRA.
The team also established partnerships with other government organizations, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Air Force Research Laboratory, as well as with several universities, including the University of Notre Dame, Northeastern University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Higgins explained that all these efforts serve to provide Soldiers with technologies that push the Army closer toward electromagnetic spectrum dominance. This research will ultimately help protect Soldiers from electronic warfare attacks by adversaries and create windows of opportunity for multi-domain operations. “Electronic warfare is increasingly vital to Army preparations to defeat any potential threat,” Higgins said. “The Army’s focus on large-scale combat operations highlights the need for a robust ground electronic warfare force to support multi-domain operations and enable the Army to fight and win in a complex world.”