Exploiting Electronic Warfare

July 1, 1981
Over the past two or three years, we have discussed at great length a new philosophy of electromagnetic combat with great potential: command control and communications counter-measures (C3CM). We have called it signals warfare, radio electronic combat, command and control warfare, and so on. Whatever we name it, we are on the threshold of a major change in the way we conduct modern warfare.

The electromagnetic environment is emerging as a medium of warfare on a par with ground, sea, and air. Through the eighteenth century, military forces were basically organized around ground armies. In the nineteenth century, naval forces became prominent. In the twentieth century, air forces became prominent. And, in the twenty-first century, electronic forces will be prominent. Effective control of the electromagnetic environment requires that we learn how to apply the principle of concentration of force to the frequency domain, time domain, and the geographic domain. This alone triples the complexity of battle management in the electromagnetic environment.

The term C3CM is a hybrid, derived by crossing strains of electronic warfare, destructive weapons, deception, and intelligence. C3CM means the integrated use of jamming, deception, and physical destruction to degrade and destroy the enemy’s command and control while protecting our own. To date, the Air Force has really only worked C3CM concepts with the intent to degrade enemy command and control systems associated with air defense. The objective has been to increase the survivability of strike aircraft during ingress and egress. This is certainly a very useful and worthwhile objective, but we have yet to fully embrace the more powerful role of C3CM to attack the total enemy command and control structure. The entire command and control structure of the enemy can, in fact, be dismembered, individual systems reduced to isolated islands, uncoordinated, and ineffective. With his command and control in disarray, the enemy will become as helpless and uncoordinated as a blind, deaf, mute giant. Modern military forces have a serious vulnerability, directly traceable to their dependence on electronic technology.

Central Nervous System

Warfare today is a complex undertaking consisting of a centrally planned sequence of time-critical actions that smashes together firepower with such force and speed that it dwarfs the concept of a blitzkrieg. The command and Control structure is the network used to orchestrate this coordinated combined offensive. It is the central nervous system of a military force. In developing a strategy or plan for attacking the central nervous system, several points become apparent. First, the command and control structure is a massive network of nodes and links and cannot be easily blanketed with C3CM resources. Analysis will show, however, that the relative importance of certain nodes and links is much greater than others. This kind of in-depth analysis requires a comprehensive data base on the enemy command and control structure. A fully developed C3CM data base is our most urgent requirement.

There are differing schools of thought on how to target this massive network of nodes and links. One group favors the creation of a priority list of targets against which a systematic attack can be preplanned. Others feel that C3 targets cannot be placed in priority order in advance. Neither school of thought is 100 percent correct. There are nodes in the C3 structure where information from several sources merges and critical commands are disseminated. These command centers, usually in the higher echelons of the C3 structure, are of such strategic importance that they can be set in priorities and preplanned for attack. But lower down in the C3 network, the criticality of the tactical links and nodes is more fluid and cannot be prioritized in advance. They can be preselected as candidate C3 targets, but their actual criticality depends on how the battle unfolds.

A Full-Court Press

Critics and skeptics of C3CM often say there is no doctrine to provide an authoritative base on which we can develop C3CM systems and concepts. I don’t think that’s a valid criticism. Doctrine normally lags behind technological advancement and innovative thought. Doctrine does not precede technology or experience; it formally documents it. Military doctrine is predominantly the outgrowth of combat experience and tends, unfortunately, to stagnate during periods of peace. In fact, it tends to lead us into the pitfall of always fighting yesterday’s war. Distillates of actual experience evolve into fundamental principles which become universally accepted and eventually labeled “doctrine.” The doctrinal process is a long one—we need to get it started for C3CM. We need to take advantage of new technologies, and we need to remove self-imposed barriers to new thought and ideas. We need some iconoclasts to break down the icons of traditionalism.

Because of the variety, density, and complexity of today’s threat environment, we can no longer rely solely on electronic self-protection techniques to times. It is time to recognize the limits of times. It is time to recognize the limits of self-protection, concentrate on a broader-based solution, and thoroughly investigate integrated lethal and disruptive methods to attack systematically the overall enemy command and control system. From an Air Force point of view, disrupting the enemy air defense system is a high priority objective. We must gain access to the flight regimes needed to conduct the Air Force missions. This has prompted us to center our investigation on the application of C3CM as a tool for suppressing the enemy air defense (SEAD). But over and above disrupting the enemy air defense system, a comprehensive C3CM attack on the enemy command and control structure will accomplish even greater military objectives. It is possible to eliminate the enemy’s ability to maneuver his forces, provide resupply, orchestrate the sequence of combat tasks and, in general, conduct warfare.

An integrated, coherent strategy to dismember the enemy’s command and control structure is needed. Simply stated:

  • Jam those targets that are jammable.
  • Insert deception where it will confuse.
  • Destroy critical targets susceptible to destruction.

Inherent in this strategy is an in-depth knowledge of the enemy’s command and control structure—where we must examine fundamental target systems to include electrical power generators, transmission lines, transformers, radar and radio transmitters, antenna systems, nodes and links of the entire C3 structure, and where we must document the utility and criticality of individual targets to the enemy’s ability to control his forces. And, finally, we must determine the susceptibility of each target to C3CM attack—whether it be jam, deceive, or destroy. We need a well balanced mix of countermeasures: self-protection, area effect ECM, and lethal weapons.

To deal the enemy command and control structures a truly devastating blow, we need to expand the variety and capability of Our C3CM arsenal—let me brainstorm a few examples:

  • Expendable and loitering jammers;
  • Ground-based jammers;
  • Electromagnetic pulse capable of destroying solid-state components;
  • Lasers capable of cutting transmission lines and destroying antennas;
  • Deception techniques and capabilities—both intrusive and manipulative.

We have barely scratched the surface of this latter approach to C3CM. There are many links that are particularly susceptible to deception. The impact is insidious on the operator. Once deception has been experienced by the operator, uncertainty and loss of confidence sets in and remains long after the incident.

More emphasis needs to be placed on such dedicated lethal systems as:

  • Antiradiation missiles with improved seeker heads to home on power generators, transformers, radios, and radars;
  • Mini-drones.

We should not exclude long-range systems such as ballistic missiles and cruise missiles as candidate vehicles for deep delivery of C3CM weapons. Space platforms may not be too far in the future to consider. Weaponry for C3CM will not be cheap, but the military benefits to be gained by denying the enemy a reliable command and control system are worth the investment. The stakes in the C3CM game are high, and we will need a full deck to play and win.

Ten Commandments for C3CM

Let me suggest ten fundamental principles for C3CM. These are principles derived from limited experience and minimal assets used in Red Flag, Bold Eagle. Northern Wedding, Team Spirit, and Global Shield exercises, but I believe they are valid and a useful beginning:

One—Modern military forces depend on electronic devices for command control and communication.

Two—Electronic devices are susceptible to jamming, deception, destruction, and exploitation.

Three—The principles of surprise, mass, and concentration of force apply to C3CM.

Four—A balance of lethal and disruptive options is required to conduct C3CM effectively.

Five—Execution of C3CM is time sensitive—seconds count. Sensor data for planning must be available in hours; sensor data for execution must be available in seconds.

Six—Overall battle objectives dictate specific C3CM targets and operations.

Seven—Communications between C3CM elements must be jam resistant and secure.

Eight—Good defensive C3CM measures are essential for successful offensive C3CM.

Nine—Intelligence analysts can provide essential quality control for deception activities.

Ten—Once channels of command and control are cut, military forces of modern warfare go into a state of disarray and confusion.

C3CM must be integrated into the same command and control system as all other tactical operations. A key element to effective C3CM is identifying critical targets in time to allow effective application of lethal and disruptive assets. This requires that we speed up the interface between intelligence collection and the tactical command and control system. We need to streamline the flow of special data which meets the very-near-real-time (VNRT) information requirements of C3CM execution.

Most of this data exists today. It is a matter of screening it and passing it on in time for the operational commander to apply effective countermeasures. By very-near-real-time I mean that the time lapse between acquisition and display is fifteen seconds or less. The data processing required is not an elaborate battle management system, but a small, fast processing unit with its input and output scoped specifically to satisfy the C3CM task (an acupuncture approach to relieve a specific need). It is not technically feasible nor particularly brilliant strategy to attack the target-rich electromagnetic spectrum with blanket barrage, brute force, or dumb jamming. The results would be comparable to a duck hunter who shoots at the flock rather than sighting at a single duck.

Double-Edged Sword

The offensive side of C3CM is important. But perhaps more important and just as difficult to implement is the defensive side. C3CM is a double-edged sword—what we can do to the enemy’s command and control, he can also do to ours. As far as our ability to defend against an opposing C3CM attack—we have been our own worst enemy. We have made it too easy. But we are changing that. Change we must if we are going to survive and fight in the electromagnetic environment of the future. We must provide the training, the tools, and the techniques to operate a command and control system in a hostile C3CM environment. Technological improvements are on the way that will make our command and control significantly more survivable. To name just a few:

  • Spread spectrum;
  • Fast frequency hopping;
  • Adaptive HF;
  • Error coding;
  • Hardened or mobile command control facilities;
  • Redundant comm links;
  • Dispersed command and control nodes.

These are state-of-the-art capabilities that can be fielded today. There are other powerful concepts that eventually can also increase the security of our command and control systems—fiber optics, laser communications, and millimeter wave communications. But before that happens, before we see the large investment required for programs such as JTIDS, SEEK TALK, NEW LOOK, redundant command control links, and hardened mobile and dispersed command and control facilities—there will have to be a broad awakening to the sobering reality of the devastating impact that a coordinated C3CM attack would have on our own war-making ability. Funding lags behind our vulnerabilities.

Joint Nature of C3CM

C3CM operations must be joint in nature. The preceding paragraphs were written from an Air Force point of view, but it must be clear that in no way is C3CM a single service undertaking. What goes on in the electromagnetic environment is each service’s concern and each service’s responsibility. C3CM must be a joint venture, fully coordinated and executed by all three services. However, a joint concept calls for integrated battle management of C3CM operations.

The need is twofold. First, it is required to eliminate fratricide of our own command and control. Electrons don’t recognize or respect service roles and missions or geographical boundaries. Secondly, we must optimize the use of our C3CM assets. Critical C3CM targets identified by sensors operated by one service may be countered optimally by another service’s weapon system. We need lateral coordination and nomination of C3 targets within our tactical command and control facilities.

There are real challenges ahead. A new era is beginning, a new medium of warfare emerging. We need creative, innovative thinking to get us out of the “penetration aid” and “defense suppression” era and into “the counter command arid control” era. Right now we are where Billy Mitchell was with airpower sixty years ago. But, if we are to proceed, we must overcome the inertia of the past. We must not only be prepared to accept change, we must make it happen.

Maj. Gen. Doyle E. Larson commands USAF’s Electronic Security Command at Kelly AFB, Tex., and the collocated Joint Electronic Warfare Center. His USAF service since joining in 1951 includes Russian language training, pilot and radar observer qualifications, and a series of increasingly responsible tours in communications intelligence, communications security, and similar matters. He has served as director for intelligence, US Pacific Command, and DCS/Intelligence, Strategic Air Command. He is a graduate of Hardin-Simmons University, Abilene, Tex. (bachelor’s degree), and Auburn University (master’s).