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Electronic warfare troops eye cyberspace

Jan. 30, 2013 - 07:45AM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 30, 2013 - 07:45AM  |  
The Electronic Warfare crested-collar insignia were pinned on graduates of the specialist course for the first time in December. The crest's lightning bolt, key and shield symbolize electronic attack, support and protection, respectively.
The Electronic Warfare crested-collar insignia were pinned on graduates of the specialist course for the first time in December. The crest's lightning bolt, key and shield symbolize electronic attack, support and protection, respectively. ()
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The Army's new and growing electronic warfare cadre is preparing to conduct "hand-in-glove" operations with the Army's cyberspace operators, officials said.

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The Army's new and growing electronic warfare cadre is preparing to conduct "hand-in-glove" operations with the Army's cyberspace operators, officials said.

A ground commander in the not-so-distant future would have the ability to simultaneously infiltrate an enemy's computer network and then jam the enemy's radio communications, keeping friendly communication active.

"Both of those operations would work hand-in-glove with each other to enable the commander to take that objective on the battlefield, using both cyberspace and electronic warfare, working together," said Col. Gary R. Hisle Jr., the director of the Electronic Warfare Proponent Office at the Combined Arms Center.

As the Army grows the 3-year-old EW career field, the 29 series, to roughly 3,000 officers, enlisted troops and warrant officers, there are plans to incorporate cyber operations into their officer and warrant training at Fort Sill, Okla.

Starting in February, the Functional Area 29 officer qualification course will include "a very robust block" of cyberspace operations training, said Lt. Col. Steven Oatman, Army Electronic Warfare School director.

The 40-hour block contains content about computer network attack, defense and exploitation, as well as deconfliction and how to incorporate all of the above into a ground commander's plan.

"It's synchronizing both pieces together as that of a key player on a [command] staff," Oatman said. "Every FA 29 who leaves the school from now on will leave with a baseline that allows them to plan, synchronize and integrate not only EW but cyberspace operations, as well."

There remains a distinction between EW officers as planners, integrators and cyber operators, Oatman noted. FA 29 officers will not be conducting on-network operations, which fall under Army Cyber Command and U.S. Cyber Command, but will work closely with those who do.

"We have to understand the capabilities we're employing to best support the commander's plan," Oatman said.

The Army also is looking at how it might one day use EW to infiltrate closed-loop computer networks, meaning networks that do not otherwise have access to the Internet, Oatman said, though he was reluctant to discuss details.

"We have to be careful classification-wise, but that is something the electronic warfare community is looking at, and so is the cyber community," he said. "We are looking at a dual-use capability to allow a cyberspace operation to gain access to something via an electronic warfare capability in play."

Beyond jamming radio-controlled roadside bombs in Afghanistan, the Army also is looking at advanced EW applications for the Asia-Pacific region, Hisle said.

"It's attack, support and protecting our systems against adversaries, especially in the Pacific Rim, that have better technology, advanced weapons systems that we have to interdict or protect against," Hisle said.

The Army isn't there yet. It is still building the cadre, and some of the hardware is still on the drawing board. That hardware, a system of systems called the Integrated Electronic Warfare System, is expected to field its first increment in 2017.

Although EW is relatively new, commanders have begun to understand its potential power as EW scenarios have appeared in brigade-level training and EW personnel have appeared in formations, Oatman said.

"We're starting to see battalion commanders, brigade commanders who ... saw and experienced the benefit of electronic warfare capability during this 10-plus-year conflict," Oatman said.

Hisle added the Army has dedicated the resources and is on the right track to dominate the electromagnetic spectrum when faced with a "near-peer adversary."

EW provides a ground commander with nonlethal options when using munitions that could lead to unwanted collateral damage against structures, Oatman said. For instance, a commander may want to take out a power plant in a battle and not blow it to pieces.

"We can do things against electrical grids and radio stations, those types of things that don't require it to be rebuilt," Oatman said. "Once we've gained control of that area, [we can] put that stuff back in operation again."

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