Forging New Armor For An Electronic Age

Forging New Armor For An Electronic Age
October 27th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Forging New Armor For An Electronic Age

Forging New Armor For An Electronic Age
Kansas City Star
October 27, 2008
Pg. 1

Fort Leavenworth leads Army push to craft a much-needed strategy to improve battlefield communications.
By Scott Canon, The Kansas City Star
Legend has it that Pheidippides dashed mile after mountainous mile from Marathon to Athens to announce the Persians’ defeat, then promptly dropped dead.
The Greek soldier could have taken an easier route — and perhaps spared himself the deadly strain. Instead, he opted for the steeper path to dodge the enemy and increase the chances that his message, one of victory, would get through.
In some ways, 21st-century commanders are in the same fix as Pheidippides’ field marshals 1,900 years ago. They need to pass messages — now in a world crowded with electronics and electronic snooping — to and from their troops. Like the ancient Greeks, they go out of their way to avoid enemy intercepts.
“We need to be able to talk to each other,” said Lt. Col. Fred Harper, one of the officers working on the Army’s electronic warfare issues at Fort Leavenworth. “We need to be able to protect our information from an adversary. … It can get complicated.”
Even as the consumer market in communications gadgets exploded, the U.S. Army largely let its electronic warfare muscles atrophy. It had become so weak, in fact, that Army commanders in Iraq were forced to bring in Navy specialists to make their radios work and to counteract insurgents using garage-door openers and cell phones to trigger roadside bombs.
Now the Army is on the verge of a new electronic warfare doctrine — drafted at Fort Leavenworth and awaiting approval from base commander Gen. William Caldwell — recognizing that the Army needs to squeeze its operations into an electromagnetic spectrum crowded with all manner of civilian communications.
That doctrine will be carried out by a new cadre of specialists, perhaps more than 1,500 strong, working in Army units at every level. Those electronic warriors would make sure that troops can radio each other without fear of eavesdropping and that U.S. ground forces can shut down, or listen in on, the chatter of the enemy.
Perhaps most pointedly, they also would work to shut down the remote-control explosives favored by insurgents.
Analysts say that the Army’s update is long overdue and that electronic warfare is an ever-trickier business made all the more critical by a digital age in which data can gush in torrents from one wireless, pocket-size device to the next.
Technology has come a long way from Pheidippides’ sandals. Some historians point to the Civil War as the first conflict — by way of the telegraph — when communications could outrun a man on horseback. That profoundly altered the way a commander could shift troops and materials.
Generals learned just as quickly that severed communications — it was common to cut telegraph lines — could bungle the works.
Radio came later and couldn’t be cut short so easily. In time, though, people figured out how to intercept transmissions and even jam signals.
Ever since, militaries have engaged in a sort of radio arms race — figuring out ways to scramble and secure their own conversations, to listen to what the enemy is saying, and to erect virtual shields that befuddle an enemy’s radar or thwart its ability to send messages.
The U.S. Army long had been keen to triumph in the electromagnetic spectrum. During the Cold War, it invested heavily in the hardware and the know-how to stay on top. When the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union broke into pieces, the threat seemed to evaporate, and the Army let its electronic warfare capability go to seed.
“We kind of ran out of peer competitors,” said Lt. Col. John “Chip” Bircher, deputy director for future electronic warfare at the Army’s Combined Arms Center. “Then we had a capability gap.”
In fact, the Army has not updated its electronic warfare doctrine since 1986 — a day when portable telephones were the size of work boots and traveled with a large bag.
Battleground airwaves today verily buzz with signals of all sorts — from push-to-talk radios to information bounced off satellites to microwave transmissions to cell phones.
So when Army forces barreled across the desert of Iraq in 2003, they often found that convoys had trouble getting radios on the same frequencies. When radios did work, transmissions often bled into the frequencies of other units, creating a chaotic cacophony.
Then as the insurgency gained strength in the early stages of the U.S. occupation, American forces often found themselves unable to shut down the remote controls for homemade bombs that the military refers to as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. So Army generals called on the U.S. Navy and Air Force to loan out electronic warfare troops to improve radio communications and find ways to jam bomb triggers.
“While we have been successful in jamming certain efforts in the electromagnetic field, we have been unsuccessful in others,” said Lisa Browne, a spokeswoman for the Joint IED Defeat Organization.
The stopgap solution was to reach out to two service branches that had continued to emphasize the importance of electronic warfare. That increased the Army’s capability, most importantly in countering roadside explosives, but it’s been a jury-rig.
Yet Army command structure often doesn’t come naturally to Navy and Air Force officers, whose training has focused on aerial combat.
The bomb problem “has made this critical to the Army,” said Dan Kuehl, who teaches electronic warfare issues at the National Defense University and consults with the Pentagon. “Before that, it just wasn’t a priority in a time when there’s never been enough resources to go around.”
Even a fast-track approval of the new doctrine and a commitment to field a large contingent of electronic warfare officers easily could take two years to get up to speed.
Part of the reason the Army lost interest in electronic warfare was because it has generally played the game in a more blunt way, said John Pike of
“The Army hasn’t traditionally had much it needed to jam,” Pike said. “They find a signal, and they just want to blow up the source.”
Tim Lomperis, a former Army intelligence officer who teaches international security at St. Louis University, said the Army is less obsessed with technology than the Air Force and Navy. Even recently, it has looked for human intelligence — Lomperis calls it “gumshoe work” — to identify threats, rather than simply overwhelm them with technology.
“The solution isn’t always just to jam cell phones,” he said. “Sometimes it’s getting information from people on the ground.”
Today’s battlefield, where civilians and troops and insurgents mingle in often confusing ways, requires more subtlety.
The Army needs to route traffic across crowded airwaves. Jamming signals could cut off innocent cell phone conversations, for example, and perhaps leave police, firefighters and ambulance crews unable to communicate. Much of the technical difficulty comes in searching for the sweet spots to keep the right frequencies open for so many users while still jamming a signal that could set off a bomb.
“We’re building a country back up,” said Col. Wayne Parks, the Army’s director of electronic warfare and computer networks operations at Fort Leavenworth. “You’ve got cell phones and garage doors and data passing back and forth between businesses. … We don’t want to jam all of that.”

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