Throughout the last 16 years of counterinsurgency-focused warfare against a technologically inferior enemy, the U.S. armed services divested a multitude of their electronic warfare capabilities from previous decades. However, with rising global challenges — the so-called no-fail missions or the four plus one: Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and violent extremism — near-peer capabilities in electronic warfare sometimes outmatch those of the U.S. military.
As such, the Marine Corps is beginning to stand up electronic warfare support teams that the service will “push down to our lowest level of formation that we provide to combat forces,” according to the Marine Corps‘ director of intelligence.
“What they’re going to do is be able to employ those fires: electronic fires, whether they be information operations or they be cyber operations, electronic warfare, and the like,” Brig. Gen. Dimitri Henry said during an August speech at the DoDIIS Worldwide 2017 Conference.
According to a written response sent to C4ISRNET from the Marine Corps’ Intelligence Department, the decision to stand up these teams stems from Commandant Gen. Robert Neller’s decision to reshape the force for the future operating environment.
Having a robust EW capability is a key component to fighting and winning in this future environment.
“This importance was not underestimated by the Marines and became a key reason that the Marine Operating Concept designed EW support down to the ground maneuver forces. The Electronic Warfare Support Team (EWST) represents that capability that an Infantry Battalion will have as direct support for its operations,” the service said.
Details regarding these teams are scarce due in part to the fact they are still being shaped by a relatively new component of the Marines: the deputy commandant for information.
The role came out of the Marine Corps Information Warfare Task Force in 2015. The establishment of the DCI came in early 2017, according to a Marine Corps spokesman.
The EWSTs will begin filling out radio battalion tables of organization in fiscal 2018 with concepts of employment currently being developed by the Irregular Warfare Integration Division at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command while also being supported by technical subject matter experts from Headquarters Marine Corps.
The Army, for its part, is also looking at new ways to employ EW forces, both in terms of capability and forces.
To that end, the Marine Corps said both services are working together to find common ground in training, equipping and exercising forces for both cyber and EW, as the two often converge. “Obviously, all of this is new ground for the services and each stands to benefit from identifying problems and sharing lessons learned,” the Marine Corps said.
The Marines are still working on a concept for employment of the EWSTs. The service acknowledges this is not an easy task, as it requires coordination on multiple fronts such as intelligence, cyber, fires, and air and infantry.
Additionally, issues of fratricide and signal deconfliction must be worked out as to not interfere with friendly forces.
The Marine Corps and the Army are both working on EW planning and management tool kits to help commanders better understand this environment. The Marines are working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on the RadioMap effort, which is a software-based geographic information system framework allowing for customizable plugins using heat maps of the radio frequency picture and regions where devices might be emitting.
Furthermore, there are authorities and permissions that have to be worked through, the service said. In some cases, EW can be considered under the signals intelligence umbrella, complicating employment in the field by soldiers and Marines given the higher classification levels.
“There are authorities and permissions that have to be approved, and policy established to ensure the Marine Corps is in compliance with all the laws and regulations that control Cyber, EW, and SIGINT operations,” the Marine Corps said. “We have an obligation to ensure that the Marines have the right capability to fight and win our future battles, but we also have a responsibility to be operating lawfully as we fight.”
Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.