Electronic Warfare and Cyber – Uncomfortable Cousins?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Joel Harding


Today I received a question in a private forum on Electronic Warfare (EW). I will grossly paraphrase the question here.

‘Why isn’t there more visibility in the Cyber world about Electronic Warfare?’

Here is my response.  When I refer to EW or cyber I am referring to people in the field, practitioners, researchers, leaders and policy makers.  Oh, and I’ve never mentioned that there is no bellybutton for EW, have I?   There was a center but there is no place at OSD or the Joint Staff.


Why don’t more cyber folks think in terms of EW?

Bad question.  Even worse answer. I apologize in advance for ticking off anyone in the EW world.

1. Because most cyber professionals don’t remotely relate to EW.  Again, EW is its own worst enemy, they only teach their own.  Give cyber a reason to care and they will come.

2.  Because EW has terminology which doesn’t even vaguely resemble anything in cyber.   The fact that both use electronic carrier waves doesn’t mean much to most cyber bubbas.

3.  Because the only time EW and Cyber overlap is during times of conflict/war or the buildup to war.  Cyber is about determining attribution and it is always ongoing and kinetics are seldom used in response.  In EW, attribution is almost always obvious and you’d better have a weaponized kinetic platform nearby because there most certainly will a kinetic response (if possible).

4.  Because most EW folks haven’t a clue about the nuances of cyber and when they suddenly start talking about cyber it’s glaringly obvious.  Anytime I hear or see a conversation using the term Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS) it’s an EW bubba (person) seemingly attempting to prove his/her worth and/or knowledge.  Then I look at the cornered cyber bubba and they’re looking for the nearest exit, like a cornered animal.  Only during a buildup to a conflict and during a conflict will you see the cyber bubba willingly seek out an EW bubba. Well…  if a cyber bubba is a forward thinker, perhaps, but even in the cyber world they tend to fall back on what is easy.


Here is an easy demonstration of how EW and cyber can improve how things are done, and darn quickly, too.  Have a Combatant Commander host an exercise held in a constrained environment.   Allow EW and offensive cyber to be used by both sides, freely.   Takeaway the EMS and each ship in the Navy and every plane will be flying solo.  Cyber will cease outside local networks.  Command and control will simply be impossible.

Okay, let me inject some reality now.  There is not a military in the world, not even the United States, that can completely “control” (notice the quotes) the Electromagnetic Spectrum.  It is practically impossible to completely jam an enemy force.  We can make it fairly difficult and frustrating and that is how we should train our forces.  Many of us have seen the classified briefs of how our potential enemies have aligned their capabilities with our systems.  What they don’t mention in many of these briefs is the radiated range of that jammer.  The laws of physics limit how far a jamming signal can carry, power, distance, weather, humidity, curvature of the earth, and so on. Those factors limit how severely your systems will be affected by jamming.

I know the Chinese recently held a military exercise under constrained conditions, they even advertised it ex post facto.   Why don’t we?  I would see that as the perfect opportunity to increase the cross-pollination, knowledge and appreciation between EW and cyber.

Cross-posted from To Inform is to Influence

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