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Communications Electronic Warfare And The Digitised Battlefield

Australian Army officers Major Matt Haar (rear) and Major Shane Sarlin (front) try out the Sword sniper system during Army Innovation Day at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra on 12 October 2016.
Communications Electronic Warfare And The Digitised Battlefield by Michael Frater and Michael Ryan
1 October 2001
Michael Frater and Michael Ryan

Land commanders are increasingly dependent on information-age systems comprising communications and information systems, networks and sensors. While these systems have the potential to produce significant changes in the conduct and character of war, their reliance on the electromagnetic spectrum also has the potential to increase their vulnerability to interdiction by electronic-warfare systems. Of all the changes likely to occur as a result of the use of information-age systems, the evolution of today's disparate battlefield communications systems into a single battlefield network is perhaps the most significant. These networks will both support electronic warfare as well as provide its targets.

There have been many books and articles describing non-communications electronic warfare, which is electronic warfare in the context of electronic sensor systems, particularly radar. This paper addresses the effect of electronic warfare on the battlefield communications systems that support the command-and-control process, that is, battlefield communications networks. This aspect of electronic combat is called communications electronic warfare. Moreover, this paper focuses on the components and techniques employed at the tactical level of land warfare, that is, at division and below.

The paper begins by briefly describing the operational environment of the digitised battlefield. The concept of network-centric warfare is discussed as an example of a doctrine that is emerging in the United States to harness the power of the information revolution for application to land warfare. This doctrine is then examined in the context of the heavy reliance that networked forms of warfare have on the use of the electromagnetic spectrum. The information revolution not only provides an improved ability to command and control, but also brings with it a commensurate ability to disrupt the process.

The emergent concepts of information warfare, information operations and command-and-control warfare are then discussed to provide a framework within which to consider the role of electronic warfare on the digitised battlefield. A taxonomy is given for the doctrine of electronic warfare, comprising electronic support, electronic attack and electronic protection. These components are briefly discussed in the context of their targets—the communications systems that underpin the ability of a tactical commander to command and control.

Finally, the paper addresses the future directions of battlefield electronic-warfare systems as tactical communications continue to develop to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the information revolution. A key driver of future tactical electronic warfare will be the evolution of the target tactical communications systems towards a true battlefield network.

Communications electronic warfare has always played an important role in land warfare. With digitisation of the battlefield, the number of targets for electronic warfare will increase greatly, creating the potential for increased vulnerability of tactical communications and information systems. Greater investment is therefore required in offensive and defensive electronic warfare equipment, personnel and training.

Last updated
7 December 2017
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