U.S. Army signal support operations specialists assess their proficiency using a multiband networking manpack radio at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, June 9, 2023.

U.S. Army signal support operations specialists assess their proficiency using a multiband networking manpack radio at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, June 9, 2023. U.S. Army / Capt. Katherine Alegado

Preparing for electronic warfare is the Army’s top cyber priority in 2024

Troops could have a backpack capability in the next six months—as long as Congress passes a budget.

Some Army units could get backpacks of new electronic warfare capabilities—plus specialized guidance on how to use them for training—if Congress passes a full budget for this year. 

A recently completed 120-day study that evaluated the service’s cyber and electronic warfare resources and capabilities identified an urgent need to field an electromagnetic warfare pack capability that can help locate adversary positions, and help the Army learn more about its own formations.  

“We can use that system to geolocate interesting targets. We can use that system to perform jamming on targets of interest of the adversary. As an example, we can jam their voice communications from a battlefield perspective,” Maj. Gen. Paul Stanton, commander of the Army Cyber Center of Excellence told Defense One as part of its State of Defense series. “But—very importantly—we can also turn that system back onto ourselves and determine what we look like in the electromagnetic spectrum. Because we know that our adversaries have us under constant observation.” 

The EW backpacks are carried by two soldiers—one to view the spectrum, another to find operationally relevant signals to help commanders. But they also provide a unique training and education opportunity for commanders to see how formations look from an electromagnetic signature perspective. Commanders are often first exposed to the electromagnetic spectrum at the training center, which is “way too late,” Stanton said. 

“Until you've been jammed, you don't know that you're being jammed. And so how do our maneuver formations react to the fact that they're fighting in a contested environment?” Stanton said. “We have to let commanders know what they look like in their own backyard, when they're doing home station training, so that it changes their understanding and employment of capabilities that emanate, that radiate energy. And then lastly, we also can turn that Manpack system back on to ourselves in an opposing force context, to force our formations to fight through a contested electromagnetic spectrum.”

The Army wants to push out these EW packs to bases in the next six months—they’re the Cyber Center of Excellence’s top priority to integrate EMS into combat training. 

“So, pending decisions on passing our budget, the funding will be available to deliver the Manpack to our EW formations in every brigade combat team, with fielding starting in this fiscal year,” Stanton said.  

The center is also working on a EW training strategy to help commanders and soldiers use the capabilities at their own bases. 

“There are a handful of places right now where we own enough of the electromagnetic spectrum where we can train it” without disrupting neighboring entities like hospitals, schools, and aircraft, Stanton said. 

“Each home station has to develop a package of ‘what does it mean’ to turn on the capabilities in our own localized training area. So we're developing the criteria that each home station has to work through. But we're doing that in parallel with the timelines for fielding,” he said. 

“The intent is that as the Manpack system is delivered to a formation, that the homework has been done, such that the soldiers can go into their own localized training area at Fort Campbell, at Fort Liberty, at Fort Drum—at all of our installations—and turn the capability on. And then that way, by the time they get to our training centers, they already have repetitions and sets and training to make them that much more proficient.”