Keep Talking, We’re Listening: Multinational EW Operations at JMRC
During a recent training rotation at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) in Hohenfels, Germany, I had the privilege and pleasure of leading the Observer/Coach-Trainer (O/C-T) team assigned to the Czech Electronic Warfare (EW) Company under the 7th Czech Brigade's Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Battalion. The Czech 7th Brigade was the Multinational Brigade headquarters unit providing mission command for US, UK, and Czech Battalions. Units from Canada, Hungary, and Serbia provided additional forces and capabilities. The unique aspect of this rotation was the organic EW Company which enhanced situational awareness and targeting capabilities for the BDE. This can serve as a useful template for US Army EW systems acquisitions to enhance future BCT capabilities.
ALLIED SPIRIT II was a Decisive Action Training Environment (DATE) exercise. The threat forces (OPFOR) included conventional, special purpose forces, irregular (militia) forces, insurgents, and criminal organizations. Civil considerations were extensive with internally displaced persons (IDPs), government corruption, fomenting insurgency, crumbling infrastructure and civil services. This allowed the decisive action doctrine of “Offense, Defense, Stability” to be fully trained with the assigned mission of restoring the international border and stabilizing fictitious area of Agjabadi province, Atropia. It is in this challenging and time constrained training environment that the Czech 7th Brigade led the coalition to good success.
In the multinational brigade the EW Company was responsible for; signals intercept, detection, geo-locations, and radio network analysis. The EW Company task organization consisted of 40 personnel, a RUP-FM-M1 (Pasivní Průzkumný System or Passive Reconnaissance System, Frequency Modulation, Mobile) system with two nodes, an MPRS2 (Mobilní Průzkumně Rušící Systém or Mobile Reconnaissance Jamming System) mobile unit, and MRTP3 (Malý RadioTechnický Pátrač or The Seeker Small Radio) signals analysis unit. In comparison EW personnel assigned to a US BCT have no organic Electronic Support (ES) systems and serve as advisors and integrators. Organic SIGINT assets assigned to the Military Intelligence Company such as the PROPHET or WOLFHOUND can provide ES if tasked to do so. My experience operating a ground based EA/ES platform in Afghanistan allowed SIGINT and EW to work together to maximize effects without ES being a distraction to the SIGINT mission. An equipment operator can only listen to one detection at a time, and the SIGINT mission is to understand the message. ES operations monitor all of the spectrum possible looking for frequency, modulation, and effective emitted power. As an analogy ES cares where crowds of people are talking, and SIGINT cares what people are talking about in crowds.
The EW company provided fixed site electronic support using three systems; RUP-FM-M, MPRS, and MRTP. The RUP-FM-M system can remotely link detection shelters employed on the ground or on the back of a vehicle. An antenna mast system must be employed and staked down with guy wires. The MPRS is a mobile system in an IVECO 4x4 vehicle which provides line of bearing to the strongest signal source within the frequency range of the equipment (tactical FM radios) and can provide jamming effects. The MRTP is a fixed site system that gives a line of bearing to a detected emission. The Company was divided into two locations connected by radio data link. A RUP-FM-M was on each site with the MRTP at the main site, and MPRS at the second site.
This combination of dedicated EW equipment and personnel allowed the EW Company to monitor the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) from 20 megahertz (long range analog radio) up to 18 gigahertz (digital satellite and RADAR signals). Due to the restrictions of German law and equipment the EW Company focused on unencrypted analog radio and RADAR signals during the exercise. The EW Coy has both the knowledge and equipment necessary to detect digital transmissions whether encrypted or not. The demodulation and decryption of digital traffic falls in the SIGINT realm and was not a training objective for the EW Company. The necessary ingredients for successful Electronic Support operations came together during the exercise. Ranging from functional detection equipment, through trained operators, to the ability to quickly communicate information from detections to decision makers. The bigger challenge lay in the human dimension, ensuring that “staff stovepipe” or compartmentalization did not stop the information flow from detector to decision maker. On the first day of force on force training the EW Company detected the OPFOR IL-220 fire finding radar. The IL-220 was priority target number one for both Brigade and the “NATO Rapid Deployment Corps, Hohenfels” (NRDCH). However, the azimuth detected was not used to refine the IL-220 targeting effort. The failure to prosecute that target further illustrates the importance of staff synchronization and Mission Command in the multinational brigade.
As an O/C-T I evaluated the Company’s ability to perform their assigned mission. The training scenario stressed commanders and staffs with a large amount of information to process in little time. When EW detections were reported their role in the targeting cycle was complete. The decision to confirm or deny information gathered through a detection falls on the commander. If a detection represents a lower priority than other operations the choice to take no action is valid. The EW Company clearly enhanced the MN BDE commander’s ability to visualize the battlefield and maintain situational awareness of events. Enabling the commander to make informed decisions that maximize the effectiveness of the MN BDE operations was the EW Company’s job, making decisions is always the commander’s responsibility. A detection system capable of looking at a large portion of the spectrum makes it easy to “drown in a sea of data.” This highlights the need to incorporate enablers early into the planning process. Fully developed PIR and targeting products will avoid “paralysis by analysis.” Having a robust Liaison Officer (LNO) system in place ensures the right people know at the right time to make informed decisions.
The Czech EW Company's classified detections as “immediate” or “routine” in nature. This ensured a manageable vertical flow of information. Immediate detections were reported to higher headquarters as soon as there was enough information to spur a decision by the commander. The priority information requirements (PIR) set the standard for classifying a detection as immediate. Routine detections were summarized into a multiple hour report sent to the Electronic Warfare Coordination Cell (EWCC). The EWCC input routine detections into a database for further analysis. This approach ensured immediate information passed to the Battle Captain quickly. The NATO SIGINT Electronic Warfare Operations Cell or “SEWOC” doctrine places the EW cell into the Intelligence section instead of under Fires. The Czech EWCC in the BN TOC followed NATO doctrine and was located in the Intelligence section. This proved more responsive at informing the commander of ES detections than US units who place the EW cell into the Fires or Effects sections. This difference also came with the price that the Czech BDE requested and used jamming sparingly where US units are much more aggressive in the use of Electronic Attack. U.S units should become familiar with the SEWOC doctrine to enhance interoperability with NATO allies.
During lulls in operations the EWCC could query the database by time, frequency, or location. The ability to data mine proved useful in supporting longer term lines of effort such as mapping different communications networks used by various groups in the exercise. Maintaining an ES detection database is a TTP that maximizes automation to analyze long term trends and ensures information is not lost. Database operations should be considered a best practice for units conducting ES operations.
The OPFOR at JMRC provide a world class training experience. They are products of a technology dependent culture. Readily available communication devices create a target rich environment for EW operators on the modern battlefield. Soldiers and civilians alike are used to electronic devices on their person interacting with the spectrum at all times. This constantly connected generation creates both cyber and EW vulnerabilities for exploitation. A lesson learned is that it will take very serious training to instill the need for strict radio discipline to a generation accustomed to being constantly connected.
Peer and near peer adversaries have invested heavily into EW capabilities for ground maneuver forces. This investment provides an opportunity to gain an asymmetric advantages over forces dependent on wireless communication. Electronic warfare capabilities are viewed as an ability to nullify American combat power. Some recent examples demonstrating asymmetric advantages include the capture of an RQ-170 stealth drone in Iran4 using a combination of jamming and GPS spoofing as well as recovered ground station receivers in Iraq that insurgents used to receive Predator video feeds5. To use Russia as an example of a peer nation with extensive EW capabilities I offer the following statement:
The Russians have continued to move forward with their EW modernization. They have demonstrated the ability to completely shut down everything the Ukrainians are using in terms of communications. OSCE has reported that the drones they use for monitoring are being interfered with. Again, this is not something you can craft in your basement. There is imagery, public pictures of Russian systems in Crimea that are absolute state of the art.
-LTG Ben Hodges, USAREUR Commander6
Electronic Warfare works both ways. A cunning opponent can adopt measures to mislead a BLUFOR commander to chase false leads or adopt multiple redundant networks to create the impression of a larger force. These two simple examples illustrate why Electronic Support information is not directly targetable, and must be confirmed/denied by another asset such as UAV, scout, or other sensing system. However ES information is rapidly available for real time queuing of assets across the multinational brigade. The absence of filtering through intelligence sanitization processes and made EW the most responsive detector in the ISR Battalion during ALLIED SPIRIT II.
Dedicated ground based electronic support assets require the multinational Brigade staff rapidly process detections to gain an information advantage. The lack of familiarity with a “new” asset was the largest limitation to the effectiveness of EW supporting information driven operations during ALLIED SPIRIT II. This limitation was overcome but highlights the need to have the right persons and institutional knowledge base in place to synthesize information from all ISR assets to drive operations. The targeting cycle; decide, detect, deliver, assess (D3A) must be a robust staff process to take full advantage of EW detections. The relationships and communication among the staff elements is the key to maximize efficient use of ISR assets. Efficient use of ISR allows the commander to leverage the advantages of superior situational awareness.
The use of Liaison Officers (LNO) is a best practice for all enablers. LNOs can provide subject matter expertise to commanders and staff who are not familiar with new capabilities. The EW Company employed this with their higher headquarters through the EWCC. The ISR BN S2 used the information gained from the EW Company to request a jamming effect on OPFOR communications during a deliberate attack. An EW LNO was not embedded with the brigade headquarters so the same level of success was not replicated across the entire multinational brigade.
The use of LNOs can be counterintuitive. Giving up competent individuals leaves the organic unit lessened but the overall capabilities of the multinational brigade enhanced. Headquarters units without habitual relationships to subordinate units, even from the same military, should embrace a robust LNO capability to provide redundant communications and subject matter experts on unit capabilities to commanders and staffs. Since the US Army EW community is small, it will hurt to give up a high performing NCO, Warrant Officer, or Officer to serve as an LNO to an allied EW unit or HQ. The gains in information sharing, shortened learning curve, and overall multinational Brigade effectiveness is the payoff from high quality LNOs.
The takeaway from this exercise extends beyond the tactical employment of electronic warfare assets in a multinational environment. Each nation brings unique capabilities to the team and learning how to maximize the effectiveness of these capabilities requires consistent training among the different militaries. It is my experience that multinational maneuver elements adapt quickly to the tactical situation which is due to familiarity with combat arms formations and capabilities across nations. However, the use of enablers such as EW require additional training and education across the force for effective employment as they cannot be intuitively understood by a combat slant with a few caveats. Given the EW capabilities of potential adversaries it is imperative to continue training the force on how to quickly integrate allied EW assets into the multinational brigade. Furthermore, the US military can learn a lot from ALLIED SPIRIT II when configuring our own BCTs in the future with respect to what assets are organic and which are not to enable future formations to successfully execute operations.
1: RUP-FM-M: http://forum.valka.cz/topic/view/79205#290943
2: MPRS: http://forum.valka.cz/topic/view/124214#423240
3: MRTP: http://forum.valka.cz/topic/view/88165#327016
4: US Iranian RQ-170 incident https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran%E2%80%93U.S._RQ-170_incident
5: Iraqi intercept of Predator feeds: http://edition.cnn.com/2009/US/12/17/drone.video.hacked/index.html
6: Interview with LTG Hodges: http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/policy-budget/leaders/interviews/2015/03/27/lt-gen-ben-hodges/70573420/