US Navy Elevates Electronic Warfare and Underlying Electromagnetic Spectrum to “Warfighting Battle Space”

A recently approved directive by the U.S. Navy has formally elevated electronic warfare and the underlying electromagnetic spectrum to the status of a “warfighting battle space” equivalent to its sea, air, land, space, and cyber operations. It acknowledges the growing significance of what has also become known as “spectrum warfare,” defined as the merger of conventional tools like electronic warfare with cyber operations.

The directive instructs all Navy branches, including the Marine Corps, to adopt an “enterprise approach” to the service’s electromagnetic spectrum operations – including the procurement of electronic systems, subsystems, devices, and other gear that use spectrum.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is sponsoring a Spectrum Collaboration Challenge in an attempt to solve the problem of utilizing the finite amount of radio spectrum available in the most efficient way possible, using machine intelligence. It is hoped that autonomous management by transmitting devices will solve the problem by training machines to listen for open frequencies and only sending their own signals when a window opens up.

New modulation recognition techniques for identifying signal origins and types are being tested to seek better methods for sending and receiving information like real-time intelligence data over the least crowded spectral bands.

“Classically, we’ve described the spectrum strictly by occupancy: There are signals present or not. As the spectrum becomes increasingly filled, we now need more information,” said Paul Tilghman of DARPA’s Microsystems Technology Office. “Modulation recognition is that first step towards getting beyond just describing ‘presence’ or ‘absence’ [and] actually describing what is present.”

“As the number of military and civilian wireless devices continues to grow exponentially, the need for full access to the increasingly crowded electromagnetic spectrum has never been greater,” DARPA noted. “To overcome the issues of spectrum scarcity, the [spectrum challenge] aims to redefine conventional, rigid spectrum management paradigms in favor of more efficient and fluid machine-driven approaches.”