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CyberwarfareU.S. Army releases first field manual for war in the electromagnetic spectrum

Published 6 March 2014

Sergei Gorshkov, former Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union, once remarked that “the next war will be won by the side that best exploits the electromagnetic spectrum.” The U.S. Army agrees, releasing its first field manualfor Cyber Electromagnetic Activities (CEMA). The Pentagon defines cyber electromagnetic activities as activities leveraged to seize, retain, and exploit an advantage over adversaries and enemies in both cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum, while simultaneously denying and degrading adversary and enemy the use of such capabilities, and protecting the mission command system.

The U.S. Army recently released its first field manual for Cyber Electromagnetic Activities (CEMA). The Pentagon defines cyber electromagnetic activities as activities leveraged to seize, retain, and exploit an advantage over adversaries and enemies in both cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum, while simultaneously denying and degrading adversary and enemy the use of such capabilities, and protecting the mission command system.

Defense One reports that the manual reflects the Army’s belief that dominance in electromagnetic capabilities is as important as its cyber-capabilities. In its 2013 Electromagnetic Spectrum Strategy report, the Pentagon notes that its operations in air, on land, on and under the sea, in space, and in cyberspace are fundamentally dependent on its use and control of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Electromagnetic spectrum (ES) covers all electromagnetic radiation, including infrared, radar, television, and radio waves. The Army’s field manual details its electronic warfare operations, which include disabling enemy communications and destroying enemy equipment with large bursts of electromagnetic radiation.

The manual does not detail how to conduct specific attacks, but it does offer soldiers examples of what electromagnetic warfare looks like in terms of protocol, terminology, and command and control. The Field Manual also offers detailed descriptions of the Army’s cyber-operations chain of command, functions of cyberspace operations, battle protocols, and the multinational and legal considerations for various cyber-actions.

Access to the electromagnetic spectrum is needed to operate several Army operations, from flying a drone to using radar to landing a plane. Some experts question the Army’s grouping of cyber operations with electromagnetic spectrum warfare. “While there are strong similarities, cyber operations have a broader range of capacities than the traditional electronic warfare strategic role, and can support a wider range of operations. Similarly, the counter-electronic warfare capacity has a more limited scope than the huge needs to defend our military infrastructure from cyber exploitation and disruption,” said Allan Friedman, co-author of the book Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know, told Defense One.

Retired Lt. Gen. Robert Elder, a George Mason University research professor and former Air Force cyber officer, does not agree with Friedman’s position, saying that “the new (field manual) makes it clear that conducting these activities independently may detract from their efficient employment,” he said. “This provides a useful mechanism for the traditional and (cyber electromagnetic activities) communities to effectively communicate with one another.”

The Army’s renewed focus on electromagnetic spectrum dominance comes at a time when the technology is widely available on the lower end of the market, driven by consumer demand for better wireless broadband networks, but the high level use of electromagnetic technology could be compromised by terrorists and adversaries.

Sergei Gorshkov, former Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union, once remarked, “the next war will be won by the side that best exploits the electromagnetic spectrum.” The U.S. Army agrees.