United States Use Of Electromagnetic Spectrum Is Contested
by C. Todd Lopez, DOD News
June 5, 2020
That the U.S. military is no longer the only ... or even the
dominant ... user of air, land, sea, space and cyberspace is not
disputed. In every domain where the U.S. military once went
unchallenged, newcomers hope to usurp its long-held dominance. Less
well-known are new challengers in the electromagnetic spectrum, the
deputy director for the Defense Department's Electromagnetic
Spectrum Operations Cross Functional Team said.
force is critically dependent on [the electromagnetic spectrum]
across our joint functions and our domains, yet often it is viewed
as a commodity. It's viewed as a utility, and it is assumed that it
can be accessed at will," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Lance Landrum,
who spoke as part of a forum today with the Association of Old
Crows. Landrum also serves as the deputy director for requirements
and capability development in the Joint Staff's force structure,
resource and assessment directorate.
A soldier conducts a radio check with the tactical operations center during Exercise Saber Junction 2019 in Hohenfels Training Area, Germany, September 22, 2019. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Henry Villarama)
The electromagnetic spectrum, or EMS, includes the array of
frequencies used by communications equipment such as radios, GPS,
cell phones and remotely controlled devices, for instance. While the
United States has assumed in the past that it was alone or nearly
alone while operating in this area, this is no longer the case. Both
commercial interests and adversary militaries are now actively using
the EMS for their own interests.
"For decades, the United
States has enjoyed uncontested or dominant superiority in every
operating domain," Landrum said. "We generally could deploy our
forces when we wanted, assemble them where we wanted and operate how
we wanted. Today, every day, every domain is contested."
American adversaries have been fielding systems and platforms to
challenge U.S. traditional areas of advantage such as precision
guidance, timing, low observable technology, space-based
communications and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance
systems, the general said.
Additional advances in technology,
he noted, have led to an increase in commercial and military
EMS-enabled capabilities over the last few decades.
A soldier programs a radio for communications operations during the 2018 Iron Ram competition at Kuwait Naval Base, Kuwait, January 5, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Thomas X. Crough)
"The spectrum has become increasingly complex. More players are
accessing and leveraging sections of bandwidth, making it
congested," he said. "And the spectrum is still constrained by the
physics and the reality of that space."
To deal with the
complexities of new challenges in the EMS, Landrum said the
Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations Cross Functional Team and the
DOD chief information officer have been drafting a new EMS
He said he believes that strategy can
be signed by July and then work can start immediately to implement
it. That implementation will be overseen by the vice chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"The vice chairman will address the
changes necessary in governance, manpower, training, readiness and
capabilities to achieve the strategy's vision, which is freedom of
action across the electromagnetic spectrum," Landrum said.
address capability gaps in the EMS, Landrum said the team is
analyzing past and present investments in EMSO capabilities, and is
also providing guidance to inform future DOD investment strategies
in EMSO capabilities.
An A6B-Prowler with the VAQ133 Electronic Attack Squadron speeds down the runway during takeoff at Al Asad Airfield, Iraq, April 29, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Linda Miller)
Landrum said that first priority is challenged, in part, by
defining what constitutes an EMSO system.
"A lot of
EMS-related capabilities are integrated into other items," he said.
"And while some are very clear ... things like jammers, electronic
countermeasure systems and things like that ... others are more
nuanced. For instance, is investment in a new tactical radio an EMSO
investment, or is it a sub-element of the radio, such as software
that encrypts the communications or allows for dynamic spectrum
In terms of informing future investment in EMSO
capabilities, the strategy is a comprehensive approach to acquire
EMS capabilities suitable for great power competition, Landrum said.
"The DOD EMSO investment strategy seeks to achieve this
objective by providing specific top-down recommendations related to
concept-driven, threat-informed, EMSO capability development,
addressing and prioritizing gaps across the requirements,
acquisition, budgeting and operations processes in the department,"
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