With the new National Defense Strategy, the Corps is amid a structural and equipment overhaul of its forces in preparation for a fight with more sophisticated adversaries, that means grunts are taking on new tasks, like exploiting the electromagnetic spectrum.
It’s not a job they are accustomed to, but as the Corps faces down rising enemies like Russia and China, whose forces are equipped with sophisticated sensors and electronic attack capability, Marine grunts will need to know how to exploit the electromagnetic spectrum.
In March, the Corps kicked of an experimental urban exercise known as Urban ANTX held aboard Camp Pendleton, California where Marines with 3rd Battalion, 4th Regiment, were given “a lot of EMS [electromagnetic spectrum] and electronic attack capability,” Lt. Gen. Robert S. Walsh, the commanding general of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, told audience members at defense discussion held at Center for Strategic and International Studies on Monday.
The grunts were able to absorb the capability well, Walsh said, even “maneuvering in the electromagnetic spectrum.”
“This is normally something that even back in the Cold War when we had a lot of electronic attack capability, it would have been to a specific unit that conducted that mission for them,” Walsh said.
Indeed, the Corps already has a unit that provides tactical electronic warfare in support of infantry operations and that unit is a radio battalion.
The three radio battalions in the Corps support Marines with electronic warfare and signals intelligence and the unit hosts a series of job fields like linguists, signals intelligence and some cyber folks.
The radio battalions are not disappearing but grunts are taking on some basic electronic warfare capabilities like packing sensors or carrying jammers that will aid them in navigating through the complex information terrain that lies ahead in a future conflict.
Even small militias and terrorist groups have learned how to arm commercial drones or exploit the information environment to further their causes.
Grunts will need tools to be able to locate these drones and disable them. Or be able to protect themselves from electronic attacks from enemy forces.
According to Walsh, grunts with 3/4 seemed to naturally be take to the new role and technology.
“They used it incredibly different than I could have imagined,” Walsh said.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.