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A new approach to electronic warfare in Australia: Implications for the Australian Army - MAJGEN Toohey

29 August 2017
MAJGEN Kathryn Toohey, AM, CSC

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Major General Kathryn Toohey, AM, CSC

Head Land Capability


A new approach, and attitude, to electronic warfare in Australia: Implications for the Australian Army

Address to the Sir Richard Williams Foundation Electronic Warfare Seminar

National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, ACT

2.15 pm Wednesday 23 August 2017


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2,352 words  (24-25 minutes)


Distinguished Guests, Fellow Speakers, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Good afternoon.

I acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we are meeting this afternoon, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to their elders, both past and present.

Thank you to the Williams Foundation for the invitation to address this seminar. It is a credit to the Foundation that, in a relatively short period of time, it has created a reputation for its contribution to the ongoing and vital conversation about defence and security issues.  I speak for my peers in the Army’s senior Leadership Group when I say we are always stimulated by our engagements with the Foundation.

In my role as Head Land Capability I am responsible for Army modernisation to support Army achieving its mission of preparing Land Forces for war in order to defend Australia and its national interests. That is, from ‘concepts’ for the acquisition of new capabilities, through to the disposal of obsolescent capability at the end of its useful service life – and every stage of capability management and sustainment in between. In the vital area of electronic warfare (EW) my professional interests and responsibilities are becoming increasingly engaged.

A lot of that engagement is to do with the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of EW capability acquisition. And that is understandable when we consider the detailed processes of Defence’s Capability Life Cycle; and the extensive array of EW or EW related projects we are dealing with (and these number in the dozens).

The ‘what’ and the ‘how’ are important. Especially for Project Managers and Program Officers - as I continually remind my team! But I think what we must always keep sight of, and the thing which necessarily will drive the Australian Army’s approach to the issue of EW, is the ‘why’.


It is an accepted truism that the character of warfare constantly changes as technological developments and tactical innovation are applied in the eternal quest for a war-winning advantage. Yet an enduring aspect of the character of warfare has been the perennial quest to attack, disrupt, degrade or deny the adversary’s command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) functions; while protecting and securing those of the friendly force.

Sun Tzu was alive to this in the Sixth Century BC. He devoted a chapter of The Art of War (Chapter 13) to the importance of developing and maintaining a spy network, whilst simultaneously defending against your enemy’s spies, in order to ‘play’ in the C3I space.

Some ideas don’t change much in 25 centuries later.  Consider the First World War – arguably the first ‘modern’ industrial war. We see disruption of C3I still in play. While radio communications were still in their infancy, we can see in the use of artillery barrages to sever physical communications lines; and smoke and gas to hinder command and control, the forerunners to the effects that modern electronic attack seeks to achieve on contemporary C3I.

But what of ‘modern’ electronic attack in the Australian Army?

The Australian Army’s last high-powered force level jammer was introduced into service in 1984. The picture on the slide comes from The Signalman magazine from 1985 and shows one of the four EK-33 VHF Jammers that were operated by 72 Electronic Warfare Squadron (Pictured). The jammers were supplied by AEG-Telefunken, at a cost of two million dollars each. The article in the magazine explains that the EK-33 was for mobility reasons: truck mounted! Perhaps not enhancing its mobility, it also towed a trailer mounted dual- power 15 KVA generator. These jammers had less than one quarter the power output of the Growler capability and obviously but a fraction of its mobility.

Fast forward to today. We know that there are very few, if any, situations whereby the ADF can win in either contemporary or future conflict without mastery of the electro-magnetic spectrum. The ability to ‘seize and hold’ electronic ‘ground’, for at least a period of time – the ‘right’ period of time – is almost certainly a critical requirement for the success of any military operation.

The use of the electromagnetic spectrum as a ‘warfighting domain’ is no longer a ‘future concept’: for either the Army or the ADF Joint Force. The electromagnetic spectrum is now a domain where fully fledged ‘warfighting manoeuvre’ is required against an array of actual or potential adversaries. We seek to disrupt an adversary’s use of the electromagnetic spectrum and maintain and protect our own

So the question remains how might Growler be useful to Army?

First and foremost, history and our recent experience shows that air superiority is a key enabler for land force manoeuvre and success. The ability of the Growler to deny and disrupt adversary air defence systems, enabling freedom of action for our own airpower is extremely important to Army.

The modern battlespace is becoming increasingly congested, with a commensurate increase in the risk of collateral damage. This is especially true in urban environments, as recent operations in Iraq have demonstrated.  The availability of ‘non-kinetic’ attack options is increasingly important for commanders at all levels – from the tactical to the strategic – because the use of kinetic options requires heightened precision and confidence in an adversary’s location. Electronic attack provides a useful non-kinetic option, where the element of precision is only required in the electromagnetic spectrum.  This means electronic attack can commence before the necessary precision is available to strike by other means.

Each layer of electronic attack, tactical through operational, must balance power, proximity, and persistence; as these directly relate to effectiveness, signature and survivability. The higher the power, the greater the effect – but also greater is the likelihood you will be found through increased signature. My Air Force friend, Air Commodore Rob Chipman, made this point very well in his address this morning. This feature of electronic attack shares similarities in this regard with kinetic offensive support systems.

If we take this analogy further, and consider the many layers that make up offensive joint fires, it becomes easy to see how the airborne electronic attack capabilities of the Growler could integrate with our concepts of Joint Land Combat. Just as mortars, artillery, naval gunfire, and close air support combine; so to will land based, maritime and air force level EW systems combine to produce desired effects in the battlespace.

The Growler provides a high power, medium proximity and limited persistence effect. In contrast, many land based systems can provide low power, close proximity and a persistent effect.  A key for the ADF will be to resolve how we as a Joint Force manage these complementary capabilities to contest and target the EMS in a controlled and effective manner across the spectrum of operations. Whether in a precision strike, supporting a Special Forces mission, amphibious landing or conventional land battle; these systems will need to be orchestrated and synchronized. It is only through this they will achieve the necessary mutually supporting effects to provide a competitive advantage on the battlefield.

But – once again – Growler is, ultimately, just another ‘means’. A fantastic one, and one that I am glad we have. But it is the operationalisation and integration of Growler into our Joint Force that will provide the ultimate capability advantage.  Here I note the words of offered by DGIW, Brigadier Steve Beaumont, shortly before lunch today:

This integration does not just happen, and by definition it cannot just within a single service….without this joint, integrating component, we will never realise the full potential of our capabilities, and the Nation’s investment in them.

The integration I refer to starts with concepts, support systems and initial introduction into service – these are hard to ‘retrofit’ to a capability that is already in service. There is nothing particularly new about this observation. Once I again I refer to The Signalman magazine from 1984, and a quote from the then Director of the Army Signals Corps:

The management of equipment in service is not good and this seems to stem from poor introduction into service. Whilst we as the equipment user or operator may lay blame elsewhere, it is time that we accepted the responsibility to ensure that the support system works effectively.

The quote highlights the responsibility to ensure that our enabling support system works effectively. A key milestone with any of our joint EW capabilities must be that our systems are validated as fit for purpose through rigorous operational test and evaluation. And that subsequently, the capability is integrated into service with the key enablers appropriately resourced. Once again, all points that I know Steve Beaumont and his team are acutely aware of, but something that I think should rightly occupy the time of many of us here in the room today.

There are four other areas of concern to our Joint EW ambition that I wish to touch on in my remarks this afternoon. They are: spectrum management, Electronic Warfare Operational Support processes (EWOS), EW battle management and network architecture.

Regarding spectrum management. The battlespace is becoming more congested. The proliferation of wireless networked technologies that operate in the radio frequency bands of the electromagnetic spectrum has created the need to manage the spectrum as a finite resource.  Our challenge here is providing the management tools to allow Commander’s the ability to maintain awareness, fight, and protect systems in the EMS. This will ensure effective communications, Electronic Support and Electronic Attack deconfliction, and that the right spectrum effect is applied at the right time and space. Highlighting the difficulty we face, the Army is yet to develop a spectrum management capability within the deployable part of our field army.

With respect to EW operational support, the land force’s capability is immature.  An Immature land electronic warfare operational support system will make it difficult to ensure Growler is efficiently programmed with the necessary data to deal with relevant, land based non-Air Defence threats. For the Growler capability to effectively support Joint Land Combat this programming has to extend to countering a plethora of ground based receivers. The obvious question is how will we manage this increased demand for programming?

I believe that EW ‘Battle Management’ is another area requiring greater attention.

Spectrum visualization, frequency assignment and deconfliction are early steps to realise Integrated Joint Electronic Warfare effects. Therefore, an integrated Joint Electronic Warfare and spectrum battle management capability is a key requirement. This system must be capable of orchestration and synchronisation of electromagnetic effects across the spectrum, in time and space. And, most importantly, integrated with both the Joint Fires network and the Joint Common Operating Picture. I am not asking for much, am I??

The fourth, and final, issue I will touch on is network architecture.  The Chief of Army and I have spoken previously about the fact that the Army must be able to operate in a congested, disconnected environment. We need to build a resilient network and have the ability to defend it. This requirement is at the heart of the Land Combat System.

There is a high probability, a certainty really, that anything electronic will come under cyber or EW attack. There are many historic and recent examples that demonstrate this. It is imperative for us to have resilient systems and be able to defend our networks from attack. The Army and ADF network is large, and is growing larger meaning this task will be challenging - the only thing proportionate to the challenge is the necessity.

The current C3 architecture used by the ADF still has room to mature. The concept of reach back to a strategic data store may, in the future, present a vulnerability if our adversaries continue to develop their disruption capabilities. Effort must be allocated to analyse what is required of our C3 network, and then resilience and integration designed into the network from the top down. This will require consideration of trade-offs between the centralisation and distribution of functions. The development of the ADF’s Electronic Attack capabilities is likely to aid in developing the framework to assess these trade-offs.


The Australian Army must retain a capability advantage for joint land combat. Indeed, it is on the ground, where people, societies and cultures live, where states rise and fall, and decisions about victory or defeat are made that the Army delivers its unique contribution to Australia’s defence. An inherent and vital part of the Army’s capability advantage must be an assured, mature and resilient electronic warfare capability.

Historically, electronic warfare has meant different things to the different services. The Navy and Air Force have had a focus on platform protection, while Army has arguably made limited progress beyond electronic support and ad hoc electronic protection. The Army is well aware that implications of ‘more of the same’ are stark.

In developing the Army’s future electronic warfare capability we cannot, and will not, lose sight of the fact that the battle of the electro-magnetic spectrum is one where joint (and combined) equities and capabilities are engaged. We are all stronger and safer when our capabilities are nested and layered within common concepts, cooperation and practical approaches.

There is no doubt the acquisition of the Growler is an important addition to the ADF’s capability. At times it will provide decisive effects to the joint land force in the conduct of operations. Ultimately though, it is. A platform that is about the ‘how’ and ‘what’ - another means to be used within the ADF. To that end it will be part of the layered approach to the conduct of warfighting manoeuvre within the electromagnetic spectrum.

Ultimately, we will realise the full opportunity offered by Growler – and all of the other nascent ADF electronic warfare capabilities - when we truly have a joint, top-down ISREW architecture and supporting operational concepts. Army is committed to working with the Centre and the other Services to contribute to the development of this crucial contemporary warfighting capability.


Thank you.


Last updated
29 August 2017
Army: Courage. Initiative. Respect. Teamwork.
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