In his speech to the Reagan Defense Forum, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter made it official. The prospect for conventional conflict with high-end adversaries was back on the radar screen. Looking to the Future Force, Secretary Carter articulated a commitment to “the development of innovative strategies and operational concepts so we can change how we deter, and if necessary, respond to geostrategic challenges. We must ensure we, and our partners, are postured to defeat threats from high-end opponents in a complex set of environments.”
The U.S. military is in a weak position to support the Secretary’s commitment. Over the past fourteen years, while the United States spent over $1 trillion and lost 6,866 lives in the fight against violent jihadists in the Middle East, it was shortchanging investments in capabilities and training to counter high-end opponents. At the same time, these adversaries were investing in an array of new capabilities some, such as stealth fighters and high-altitude drones, intended to close the technological gap with the United States and others, precision-guided ballistic missiles, anti-satellite weapons and electronic warfare systems for example, to support anti-access/area denial strategies.
Now the United States must play catchup. This means developing new strategies to stretch inadequate U.S. military capabilities across multiple continents while deploying from home stations in the United States. It also means devising innovative operational concepts and organizational schemas that both reflect the reality that U.S. forces may not own the skies or be able to assume total freedom in the use of IT and networks, on the one hand, and integrate an array of existing and new capabilities including kinetic weapons, directed energy, social media, space, electronic warfare and cyber, on the other hand.
A key area in this new competition will be in electronic warfare. High-end adversaries have invested heavily in systems to detect, locate, jam and even destroy U.S. and allied electronic systems. We have seen Russian-backed forces in Ukraine employing a combination of GPS and communications jamming, cyber operations and even kinetic strikes on command centers. At the same time, these adversaries are becoming increasingly dependent on advanced sensors, networks and electronic systems themselves. This means that these adversaries also will be vulnerable to operational concepts and new capabilities intended to deny them the ability to see, analyze, communicate and target our forces.
Enter the U.S. Navy’s Next Generation Jammer (NextGen Jammer), an airborne system which will be deployed on the F/A-18G Growler but provide advanced electronic warfare capabilities for the entire Joint Force. As the name makes clear, the purpose of the NextGen Jammer is to defeat hostile emitters of electronic signals such as radars and radios by filling the frequencies on which they operate with electronic “noise.” That mission requires rapid detection of signals, the precise identification of their operating frequencies and the generation of sufficient energy, properly tuned to prevent their use. The proliferation of transmitters and radios, many with the ability to “hop” or rapidly change their operating frequency, is a daunting task. The Navy’s existing jammer, first deployed in the Vietnam era, and despite repeated upgrades, is gradually being overwhelmed by all the options available to enemies. The NextGen Jammer employs cutting-edge technologies such as advanced sensors and threat detectors, solid state electronics and high-powered, agile beam-jamming techniques to deal effectively with conflict environments filled with friendly and hostile electronic signals. The NextGen Jammer has an open architecture that will allow for additional capabilities to be added as sensing and jamming technologies mature and threats evolve. Variants of the baseline system are expected to be deployed on other airborne platforms including unmanned aerial systems and the new F-35 fighter.
The developer of the NextGen Jammer, Raytheon, is on schedule to produce the first operational version of the system by the end of the decade. This is an amazing success story; Raytheon surprised the defense community by winning a program that had long been the franchise of another aerospace company. Within a few years, Raytheon’s Next Generation Jammer will be able to help Secretary Carter make good on his commitment to deter high-end adversaries.
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