WASHINGTON — The Department of Defense is in danger of failing to meet its goals to dominate the electromagnetic spectrum battle space due to poor oversight and lack of leaders assigned to implement its recently updated strategy, the government’s watchdog asserts.

Without some changes, the Pentagon’s ability to ensure superiority in the electromagnetic spectrum and fend off adversaries’ capabilities could fall short, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office concluded in a new report, required by lawmakers as part of last year’s defense policy bill.

The EMS has gained significantly more attention and focus in recent years. Sophisticated adversaries have deemed it a critical reliance for U.S. forces and have sought high-tech methods to deny it, meaning they try to jam or spoof communications.

Top nation states, including China and Russia, have demonstrated significant prowess within the electromagnetic spectrum, rivaling the DoD in some respects, while U.S. forces divested much of their related systems and expertise following the conclusion of the Cold War.

The Pentagon issued a much-anticipated strategy in October for ensuring superiority within the spectrum that consolidates and supersedes multiple previous strategies. However, GAO raised questions regarding the report’s impact.

“[T]he department risks not achieving the new strategy’s goals because it has not taken key actions — such as identifying processes and procedures to integrate EMS operations (EMSO) across the department, reforming governance structures and clearly assigning leadership for strategy implementation,” it said. “Also, it has not developed oversight processes, such as an implementation plan, that would help ensure accountability and implementation of the 2020 strategy goals. Doing so would help position the department to achieve its EMSO goals.”

The department is still working on an implementation plan, which officials say should be finalized around March 2021.

The department have five teams working on five goals detailed in the strategy, drawing on expertise around the agency to identify tasks to complete, said Brig. Gen. Darrin Leleux, deputy director of the EMSO cross-functional team, in a November webcast with C4SIRNET.

“We’re trying to connect different activities that are going on around the department,” he said. “One of the big values that is in this effort is identifying gaps, as well as connecting the capabilities that are activities that are happening around the department that can contribute to EMS superiority.”

GAO issued five recommendations for the agency:

  • The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as the senior designated official of the EMSO cross-functional team, identifies procedures and processes to provide integrated defensewide strategy, planning and budgeting for joint EMSO.
  • The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff proposes spectrum governance, management, organizational and operational reforms to the secretary.
  • The secretary of defense assigns clear responsibility to a senior official with authorities and resources to compel action for the long-term implementation of the 2020 Pentagon strategy in time to oversee the implementation plan.
  • The official for long-term implementation issues an actionable implementation plan within 180 days of the Pentagon strategy.
  • That same official creates oversight processes to facilitate DoD’s strategy implementation.

DoD agreed with two recommendations fully but only partially concurred with the other three, GAO said. The three it partially concurred on were all related to assigning clear responsibility to a senior official. While agreeing with the intent of the recommendations, DoD said it could not provide specifics on implementation until the secretary of defense reviewed potential recommendations for organizational reform under consideration.

Additionally, DoD didn’t identify timeframes for developing organizational reforms.

“Given the department’s challenges in implementing previous EMS-related strategies, we believe that DoD needs to maintain focus on actions necessary to implement the 2020 strategy,” GAO said. “If the department finalizes and carries out organizational reform efforts that they are considering and continues to make progress toward the intent of our recommendations, DoD will be better positioned for success in the long term.”

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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