Electronic Warfare Spending on the Rise
Photo: BAE Systems
The Defense Department plans to boost investment in electronic warfare capabilities as it gears up for great power competition.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told National Defense that EW is the No. 1 functional area where investments need to be made in the coming years.
“Being in a position to achieve superiority in the electromagnetic spectrum is absolutely critical,” he said.
Using unclassified sources, the Congressional Research Service estimates that the department is seeking $10.2 billion for these types of capabilities in fiscal year 2020.
“Based on statements by several senior defense officials and the conclusions of the National Defense Strategy Commission, it could be expected that DoD is likely to substantially increase funding for EW programs,” military capabilities analyst John Hoehn wrote in a recent CRS report titled, “U.S. Military Electronic Warfare Investment Funding: Background and Issues for Congress.”
The Pentagon wants to increase EW research, development, test and evaluation funding and procurement funding by 9.7 percent and 7.1 percent, respectively, in 2020 relative to the previous year’s request, the report said. The Trump administration aims to boost EW spending by $1.48 billion in 2021 (a 16.3 percent increase), $1.53 billion in 2022 (a 16.9 percent increase) and $1.41 billion in 2023 (a 14.8 percent increase), it added.
In total, the Defense Department plans to spend $27.8 billion on procurement and $25.8 billion on RDT&E over the course of the future years defense program, according to the report.
Congress has demonstrated strong interest in electronic warfare projects, Hoehn noted. For fiscal year 2019, lawmakers provided nearly $700 million more for electronic warfare projects than the administration requested.
Meanwhile, adversaries have been investing heavily in their own EW capabilities, analyst say, and the United States can’t risk falling behind.
“If you take a look at what China and Russia … are doing in terms of their warfighting strategy, they emphasize being able to operate effectively in the EMS — the electromagnetic spectrum,” said Mark Gunzinger, a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. That includes being able to deny an enemy’s ability to control the spectrum.
It is a domain where wars can be won or lost, he said.
“If you think about how we maneuver, if you will, in the EMS, it’s more than just communications,” he said. “It’s active and passive sensing, it’s the ability to create cyber effects through the EMS. So it’s integral to just about everything our military does. And if they are denied that — or their ability to maneuver in the EMS is degraded — it could have significant implications to the way we prosecute military operations.”
Electronic warfare capabilities — such as jamming and spoofing — can be used against enemy airborne, sea-based, land-based, space-based and cyber capabilities and weapon systems, he noted. They can also undermine an opponent’s ability to locate and attack targets and assess the effects of their operations.
The U.S. military must take steps to ensure that it can “win the battle for the airwaves,” he said.
“It’s going to require new investments in electronic warfare capabilities as well as development of new operating concepts,” he said. “It’s more than just a matter of [buying] things, but thinking through how we should operate in the EMS as part of multi-domain operations as well as the technologies we should invest in.”
New offensive and defensive capabilities that could be useful include directed energy weapons such as high power microwaves that are capable of destroying electronic components, and new unmanned systems with EW weapons, he said.
The stealthy F-35 joint strike fighter can also perform EW missions, he noted. “That is a very capable electronic-attack aircraft. And you couple that with … new operating concepts, and that is a real step ahead in electronic warfare capabilities.”
Gunzinger said the Pentagon didn’t spend enough on EW technology after the end of the Cold War, but that trend is changing.
“We see that already,” he said. “I think there will be investments in major new weapons systems [because] the ability to operate in the EMS is going to be integral to every military unit we field in the future.”