Following an online conference and the release of the force design updates for 2030, the US Marine Corps have detailed plans for a $1 billion development program over the next five years aimed at improving electromagnetic (EM) systems and electronic warfare (EW) capabilities. The Corp is looking to develop platform-agnostic systems, that can be deployed on multiple airborne or ground platforms. The intention is to connect their electronic warfare and electromagnetic spectrum management tools across multiple domains and platforms, in order to be more responsive and less reliant on a few specific systems specifically built for EW missions.

What is Electronic Warfare?

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Electronic warfare (EW) refers to any military action that makes use of the electromagnetic spectrum, directed energy, or cyber capabilities to attack or impede enemy operations. EW is applied from the air, sea and land, by both manned and unmanned systems, to target humans, communications, navigation systems and other assets. Electronic warfare consists of three major subdivisions: electronic attack (EA), electronic protection (EP), and electronic warfare support (ES). The nature of EW means that when one party has control over the EM spectrum in a particular area, their adversaries do not, denying them the use of effective communications or accurate navigation. These are amongst the key capabilities needed to operate effectively, and so are vital for mission success. Threats today are evolving at an unprecedented rate resulting in new types of attacks. Recognizing and defeating such threats, long before they can be seen, whilst assuming control of the EM spectrum, is the crux of EW. It is this goal that can provide armed forces with a critical edge in combat.

As the vast majority of military equipment falls within the electromagnetic environment, be it computer networks, sensors, radios or radars, the development of advanced EM technologies has become an essential component for countries looking to gain an advantage in the EW field. Understandably, the adoption of these technologies is varied across the globe, dependent on a country’s defense budget and priorities.  Russia is reportedly dominating the EW realm,it has become integral in its approach to modern warfare. Learning from experience of the Russo-Georgian war in 2008, Vladimir Putin pledged that at least 70% of all Russian EW equipment would be modernized by 2020, whilst simultaneously forming an entire division dedicated to EW operations. Today, Russian dominance is largely thanks to its operational experience in Ukraine and Syria, where Russian forces are commonly using unmanned aerial and ground systems to jam satellite and radio communications.

Since the turn of the Cold-War, Western militaries have been mostly engaged in low-intensity asymmetric warfare, which requires a significantly different force posture than is needed to counter a peer or near-peer adversary. Aspects such as air dominance have been taken for granted, and capabilities such as EW have been allowed to stagnate.

Spurred on by Russia’s capability, the US has acknowledged its limitations and is acting to improve its existing EW armory. In October 2020, the Pentagon released a strategy for the military use of the electromagnetic spectrum, and now the Marine Corps have signaled their intention to develop their own EW capabilities. The U.S. is now entering a new age of investment after a lengthy hiatus from near-peer competition and bridging the perceived EW capability gap will be of paramount importance.