DOD could declare the spectrum a domain of warfare

As a sign of the electromagnetic spectrum's growing importance, the department is considering naming it as the sixth operational domain.

The Defense Department’s recent emphasis on the importance of the electromagnetic spectrum could be coming to a head, as the department is considering recognizing the spectrum as a sixth domain of operations, in addition to land, air, sea, space and cyberspace, which officially was declared a domain in 2011. 

In a statement to Breaking Defense, DOD CIO Terry Halvorsen said, “the Department will investigate all requirements and ramifications of its enactment, to include the potential recognition of the EMS as a domain.”

Several, if not all, operations currently rely on the electromagnetic spectrum, which is why the military is placing greater importance on electronic warfare. Countries such as China and Russia have been honing advanced capabilities, such as the ability to jam GPS and other signals, within this sphere. The United States, meanwhile, has largely neglected EW, spending the last 14 years focused on the mostly uncontested spectrum environments in the Middle East, as several military officials have recently noted.  

In March of 2014, DOD released a directive to update its EW policy while setting goals for acquisition, development, validation and oversight. The directive called for the integration of EW into the full range of military operations, in all domains and in joint exercises, as well as the procurement of new EW systems.    

The military recently has been bolstering its EW and broader electromagnetic spectrum capabilities through contracts and industry events. The Navy in July awarded a $155 million contract for electronic warfare systems upgrades aboard ships and in October awarded a $91.7 million deal for the next phase of work under the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program. The Air Force recently conducted radar tests as part of the Combat Shield exercise – the service’s response to the “Spectrum Interference Resolution Program” that mandates major commands have independent EW system evaluation programs – and issued a solicitation for an electronic warfare test kit in to test and simulate certain EW prototypes that will involve evaluating certain waveforms and record jammer responses. The Marine Corps recently awarded a contract for a portable, backpack-able electronic warfare system for blocking improvised explosive detonation signals as well as conducting offensive operations against enemy communications.

The Navy also is upgrading its electronic attack aircraft, the EA-18G Growler, a variant of the F/A 18 Super Hornet. The Growler is an advanced airborne electronic attack platform, with electronic warfare capabilities such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data rely to other aircraft, electronic attack systems weapons with tactical versatility, suppression of enemy air defenses, stand-off and escort jamming and non-traditional electronic attack and self-protect.

Members of Congress are also taking the EW issue seriously. In preparation for the formation of an electronic warfare caucus on the Hill – initiated by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) – congressional staffers recently visited the Army’s Communication Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center for insight into the Army’s EW efforts, according to an Army release.

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