SrA. Jonathon Buck checks the functionality of a component on an AN/ALQ-184 electronic countermeasure pod Feb. 28, 2014, at Osan AB, South Korea. Air Force photo by SrA. Siuta B. Ika.
As the Air Force begins to put the lessons it learned from a yearlong study of electromagnetic spectrum dominance into practice, an Air University-led team’s second annual summit this month promises to continue shaping how the government sees the emerging domain.
Up to 300 participants from across and outside of the government are expected to attend this year’s Electromagnetic Defense Task Force gathering April 29-May 1, Maj. David Stuckenberg, one of the authors of the task force’s inaugural report, told Air Force Magazine. They will also run a wargame shaped in part by Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff USAF Gen. Paul Selva.
“A number of challenges were identified in the first EDTF report … and so we are continuing to do assessments on how to close the door to certain vulnerabilities,” Stuckenberg said. “We’re looking at various strategies for … mitigation of areas that are maybe not yet identified. We’re looking at how to continue developing expertise and also what kinds of areas that we need to potentially test.”
According to the November 2018 Air University report, the US needs a Manhattan Project-like effort to protect nuclear power sources, installation command posts, and critical equipment; improve training and management; be the leader in 5G technologies and networks; and understand the physical and biological effects of electromagnetic pulses and related attacks.
Stuckenberg wrote the report with former CIA Director James Woolsey and Col. Doug DeMaio, vice commander of Air University’s LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education, following the first summit last August.
Last summer’s gathering focused on electromagnetic pulses, geomagnetic disturbances, lasers and optics, directed energy, high-power microwaves, and spectrum management, which experts believe could all disrupt a nation’s economy, infrastructure, population, military, and flow of information.
While electromagnetic threats have existed for decades, the report says they are more pressing today because technology has evolved and adversaries have learned more about how to wield them.
“[Electromagnetic spectrum] threats may present as hostile, and often unattributably, gray zone activities, … which often fall below the threshold for war,” the report said.
Air Force major commands have little knowledge of electromagnetic phemonena, often mistaking them for cyber problems, Stuckenberg said. Airmen need to get up to speed on what electromagnetic incidents look like—a finding supported by the 2018 electronic warfare Enterprise Capability Collaboration Team study—so Air Education and Training Command is changing the curriculum to reflect that.
“We’re adding it into the continuum of learning, which is a new learning platform that essentially … goes with an airman throughout his career,” Stuckenberg said. “It’s also being deliberately developed [in] both classified and unclassified courses, and we also have a lot of existing courseware that we’re actually consolidating.”
The task force, also known as Project Spartacus, and the ECCT were conducted in parallel last year and confirmed each other’s findings. Stuckenberg said the task force is expected to move under a spectrum-related directorate in the Air Staff, noting that he’d like it to remain affiliated with Air University because it connects servicemembers to a valuable outside academic and scientific pool.
EW can’t be another area where the government is stymied by stovepipes, he added.
“We’re in the process right now, again, of unifying all these efforts, merging them, if you will, into one stream of expertise, one stream of knowledge, and building an educational base for the Air Force so we can be ready,” he said. “There aren’t really any new threats to speak of that make this a critical imperative, but … they’re more significant today than they were during the Cold War because the amount of reliance that mankind has on technologies has grown.”
Last month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that, among other directions, told the Defense Secretary to strengthen nuclear nonproliferation and deterrence efforts to shrink the likelihood of an EMP attack. It includes EMPs in planning scenarios, work with others to be able to warn about EMPs and characterize their effects on military systems, and defend against them when detected.
DOD must also update the President every two years on infrastructure resilience against EMPs.
Meanwhile, the Air Force is embarking on changes to better address the electromagnetic spectrum, including creating an Air Staff position to oversee and advocate for EMS, consolidate related activities into a new organization, pursue holistic and distributed EW capabilities as a portfolio, and view the spectrum as ripe for combat.