The Navy’s new EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft during sea trials.
NATIONAL PRESS CLUB: “We have lost the electromagnetic spectrum,” said
We’ve heard senior
“We have got to, in my opinion, regain some dominance in the electromagnetic spectrum, or at least parity, so things that we buy continue to operate as we intended them to,” Shaffer said. For example, the Pentagon’s biggest program ever, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, has much-touted information technology built-in, but, he told reporters cryptically after his public remarks, “if we don’t really pay attention to the EM spectrum, it is not a good news story for the F-35.”
So what the hell happened? “There is no single answer,” Shaffer said when I asked him at the annual Common Defense (ComDef) conference here. Part of the problem is that the US government has sold off many of radio frequencies it used to own, “for good economic reasons,” he told the audience.
But by far the bigger factor is the global shift from analog to digital technologies, with a proliferation of high-powered, low-cost, commercially available equipment driven by Moore’s Law. The kind of electronic eavesdropping and jamming that used to require a nation-state’s resources are now available to small countries and even guerrillas (as well as to innovators inside the
What Shaffer didn’t say is that the US military neglected electronic warfare for at least the decade after the
Nor has the military take full advantage of new sensor and communications technology. “We have stayed largely in our standard radar and communication bands,” such as X-band radar, Shaffer said, “while the rest of the world has moved to higher and lower frequency….They’ve gone to broader bandwidth and more agile systems.”
As a result, we have cases where Iraqi insurgents could watch video feeds from Predator drones because no one bothered to encrypt the signal. While the guerrillas seem not to have made much of the jittery, out-of-context images, a more sophisticated opponent could have mined them for intelligence, jammed the link between the drones and their human operators, or even hacked into the US network.
A leading independent expert on future warfare agreed with this grim picture.
“Shaffer is absolutely correct,” said
GPS is arguably the most glaring single vulnerability. While civilians worldwide have come to take the Global Positioning System for granted as part of daily life, the
“I’d love to give GPS to the
So, as the civilian world relies ever more on networks and mobile devices, the military is now wrestling with how to keep fighting if the enemy pulls the plug.
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