U.S. Army cyber warfare experts are rediscovering electronic warfare (EW) for ground operations, as centralized command authorities combine cyber and EW operations into a new discipline known as spectrum.
The Pentagon defines Electronic Warfare (EW) as military action involving the use of electromagnetic energy and directed energy to control the electromagnetic spectrum or attack the enemy. EW consists of three divisions: electronic attack, electronic protection, and electronic support. EW is employed to create decisive, stand-alone effects or support military operations by generating various levels of control, detection, denial, deception, disruption, degradation, exploitation, protection, and destruction.
While its early history is debated, the first known use of an EW capability — the interception of wireless communications — occurred in 1904, during the Russo-Japanese War.
EW sometimes is considered to be interchangeable with cyber warfare, which involves the actions by a nation-state or transnational organization to attack and attempt to damage another nation’s computers or information networks using such methods as computer viruses or denial-of-service attacks.
The U.S. Army is the first American armed force to combine the two, merging EW units and specialists scattered throughout service organizations with its Cyber Command — a 21st Century creation within all military branches and, most recently, recognized as a fifth domain of war (along with air, ground, sea, and space) with the creation of the U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) as the nation’s 10th Unified Combatant Command.
While those elevated cyber to a level never applied to EW, they did not answer the question of where EW and cyber warfare begin, end, and overlap.
As of October 2018, Army leaders sought to resolve that by migrating their EW workforce to the cyber branch. They are going through a series of mobile training teams on how to do planning in the cyber domain as part of the Army’s new effort to insert cyber and electromagnetic activities cells organically within brigade combat teams to provide EW/cyber warfare domain planning to commanders.
“The way that we’re transforming our electronic warfare professionals is they will become cyber operators,” says Maj. Gen. John Morrison, commander of the Cyber Center of Excellence. “They will be the face inside our brigade combat teams and our maneuver formations for cyber operational planning. They’re complimentary. You cannot look at EW professionals and cyber operators in isolation.” Morrison made his comments in May 2018 at the AFCEA Defensive Cyber Operations Symposium in Baltimore.
This new approach and related technologies and warfighter training mark a significant change in the operations of ground maneuver forces that also is likely to see effects on U.S. Marine Corps and Special Operations concepts of operations (CONOPs) and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs).