Digital Arsenal: Army Inches Forward on Electronic Warfare

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August 27, 2019 | Originally published by Date Line: August 27 on

The Army wants to jam, spoof, and hack enemy electronics with such subtlety the target doesn’t even realize what’s going wrong. That takes both high-tech equipment and highly trained personnel to use it.

But the Army largely disbanded its electronic warfare (EW) corps after the Cold War, and the rebuilding takes time.  The service is moving step by step, through a series of urgent expedients, field experiments, and “proto-prototypes,” toward its ultimate goal:  combining electronic warfare, cyber warfare, and signals intelligence into a new form of digital warfare, a key part of the future combat concept called Multi-Domain Operations.

The Army’s official acquisition Program Of Record (POR) here is TLIS:  the Terrestrial Layer Intelligence System. That name reflects TLIS’s origin in signals intelligence, originally as a replacement for the existing tactical SIGINT system, Prophet. But then the Army decided TLIS should absorb the ground-based version of its Multi-Function Electronic Warfare system. (A drone-mounted EW pod, MFEW-Air, continues as a separate program.)

That alarmed traditional EW officers, who saw a hostile takeover of their already tight budget by the more prestigious and better-funded SIGINT corps. But there’s a logic behind it. Signals intelligence and electronic warfare have always required a similar set of sensors to detect and analyze enemy transmissions. (In fact, the Russian army combines SIGINT and EW in the same units.) What’s more, as technology evolves, it becomes more flexible:  Instead of having to build a specific analog system for each mission, the same digitally controlled transmitter/receiver module can be used to eavesdrop, communicate, or attack, depending on the software.