The drawdown of forces in Afghanistan, together with re-assessment of global strategic threats facing the United States conducted by President Obama’s administration, resulted in, among other things, the ‘Pivot to the Pacific.’
This has been described by the Congressional Research Service as a rebalancing of forces focused on that region “to ensure that international law and norms be respected, that commerce and freedom of navigation are not impeded, that emerging powers build trust with their neighbors, and that disagreements are resolved peacefully without threats or coercion.” In other words, it’s a counter move to China’s increasingly robust territorial claims, particularly in the South and East China Seas.
Since then, there has been an increase in the U.S. Army’s interest in maritime deployment with a potential for littoral operations. In fact, the second unit equipped with Boeing’s latest Apache, the AH-64E Guardian, has been conducting seaborne deployments over the past year.
One significant side effect of the change of operational focus from asymmetric warfare faced in Iraq and Afghanistan, to one where there is a return to a Forward Line of Own Troops (FLOT) concept, is that the potential advisories are likely to have substantial and defined electronic warfare capability.
“The U.S. Army has looked at electronic warfare with a different perspective to other services,” commented Andrew Dunn, VP of business development, Integrated Electronic Warfare Systems for Exelis during a discussion we had post-AUSA in October. He said that the Army’s rotorcraft survivability had focused mainly on defeating man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), such as IR-based, shoulder-launched missiles, as well as the more basic rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and small arms.
Accordingly, there has been a surge in industrial science and technology projects aimed at detecting and countering hostile fire, while countering the bigger radio frequency (RF) threats, such as those employed by mobile air defense systems, was largely put on the “back burner,” in procurement terms. In fact, he notes that “the U.S. Army’s [aviation] roadmap doesn’t show an RF jammer [requirement] until 2025-30.”
However, this has left the Apache’s foreign military sales (FMS) customers, some of whom have already expressed an immediate requirement for RF countermeasures, without the capability. Dunn said that Exelis had addressed the issue with a refresh of the ALQ-136, which would allow it to operate in littoral areas where the RF threat may be ship borne.
With countries such as China and Russia possessing robust Anti-Access / Area Denial (commonly now known as A2AD) capability, and with the corresponding potential to allow that technology to be made available, if only in part, to some of America’s potential future advisories, he argues that there needs to be a rapid rethink of priority in electronic warfare protection for Army aviation’s rotorcraft fleet under the new concept of operations (CONOPS).
Not dissimilar to this issue was a story in mid-November that was being reported by the UK’s BBC in Ukraine that unmanned aerial systems being used by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor force levels and movements had been the subject of “military grade jamming” and were having to be reconfigured and protected. On the same day, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt tweeted on his official page: “We have information that Russian air defense system was operating near separatist convoy in Donetsk- suggests Russian forces were protecting.” Food for thought or what?