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Gaining an Enduring Advantage in the EMS

18 Nov 2020
The American military is particularly affected by an increasingly contested and congested electromagnetic spectrum (EMS). U.S. forces deploy the most advanced networks of sensors and precision-guided munitions, relying on them for almost all operations. Adversaries like China and Russia have exploited this dependence during the last decade by developing and fielding a comprehensive array of electronic warfare (EW) systems to contest the spectrum. Numerous assessments argue that the U.S. military is unprepared for competition or conflict in the EMS.

Despite defense funding for EMS operations growing steadily since 2015, shortfalls arose because additional dollars were not spent implementing a coherent strategy and instead used to upgrade legacy systems and fill various capability gaps. At the current pace, regaining EMS superiority against Chinese and Russian forces will take one or two decades – assuming America's adversaries do not continue to improve. DoD cannot continue attempting to gain EMS superiority by incrementally filling capability gaps. This approach is too unfocused, will take too long to reach fruition, is potentially unaffordable, and cedes the initiative to America's great power competitors.

Instead of perpetuating the current move-countermove competition by attempting to fill every EMS capability gap, DoD can adopt a new approach EMS operations that focuses on the asymme¬tries between U.S and opposing militaries. The paper uses a Net Assessment methodology to assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of the U.S., China and Russia. It then uses that assessment to recommend a new EMS strategy designed to undermine enemy strengths and exploit adversary vulnerabilities.

The paper argues that DoD should move in a new direction and focus EW and EMSO capability development on implementing concepts for maneuver warfare that create adaptability for U.S. forces and complexity for adversaries. The assessment lays out a different approach to regaining an advantage in the electromagnetic spectrum, with a focus on new operational concepts, force packages and capability mix. The paper also addresses the implications of this new strategy on acquisition and capability development, the evolving C3 competition and the debate of whether the spectrum is a warfighting domain.