Technology, Threats Accelerate Army Focus on Ground Electronic Warfare
By John Ohab
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 6, 2009 Portable electronic devices such as iPods and cell phones have provided U.S. adversaries in Iraq and Afghanistan with lethal capabilities, the Army’s chief of electronic warfare said this week.
“They may be living in rough terrain and may not have all the comforts that we do, but they have the same access to technology,” said Col. Laurie Moe Buckhout, chief of the Army’s Electronic Warfare Division in the Operations, Readiness and Mobilization Directorate. She explained the Army’s efforts to increase ground electronic warfare capabilities during a March 4 “Armed with Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military” audio webcast on Pentagon Web Radio.
In 2006, Buckhout stood up the Army’s Electronic Warfare Division with the goal of reducing the number of casualties caused by improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It was really the IED fight that raised our attention on it, because we had remote-controlled, radio-controlled IEDs killing soldiers and Marines,” Buckhout said. “[We] had to do something about it.”
The Army’s first step was training soldiers to maintain and operate the Counter Remote Control Improvised Explosive Device Electronic Warfare, or CREW, systems. These systems disrupt communication between an insurgent’s transmitter and the detonating device, effectively creating a protective radio frequency bubble around a vehicle or a soldier on foot. Buckhout reported that CREW systems have saved thousands of lives.
“You've seen the casualty rate and the IED rate just go down in huge numbers as a result,” she said. “That's kind of the tip of the iceberg on what we're doing.”
In combating future threats, the Army’s electronic warfare requirements will extend beyond counter-IED measures alone, she explained. Soldiers often face the challenges of complex urban terrain, including hills, trees, buildings, and radio signals, all of which cause electromagnetic interference. In Iraq, for instance, the ground environment includes other U.S. military forces, coalition forces, Iraqi police, civilians, and emergency response networks. In the air, U.S., coalition, and commercial aircraft use their own geo-positioning, targeting, and navigation capabilities.
Buckhout explained the importance of precisely tailored electronic warfare capabilities that can neutralize threats and protect soldiers without disrupting land and air operations.
“It makes us sort of unique in that we have to operate inside that environment, but we have to do it without knocking out our own communications, without knocking out the communications of the people we're there to protect, and without knocking out emergency response networks,” she said.
The Army leverages the electronic warfare expertise of the Air Force, Navy, and Marines, training more than 2,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines to function as experts in electronic warfare and CREW technologies. In addition, they’ve trained more than 55,000 soldiers on the employment of CREW devices. The Army recently approved a new force structure of more than 1,600 electronic warfare specialists that includes enlisted soldiers and warrant and commissioned officers, providing the Army with the largest electronic warfare capability in the U.S. military.
“This shows, really the commitment of senior leaders to this mission, and it shows that we're ushering in a new era of technology,” Buckhout said.
The services are conducting a requirements analysis of all electronic warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as efforts globally. In April, officials expect to release a list of solutions to counter the global threat and expand future electronic warfare capabilities.
“Afghanistan and Iraq are microcosms of what could be going on globally,” Buckhout said. “We need to prepare ourselves not just for that, but for what may be happening in the years ahead.”
(John Ohab holds a doctorate in neuroscience and works for the Defense Media Activity’s Emerging Media directorate.)