The Democratization of Electronic Warfare

What keeps the head of DARPA up at night? The “democratization of technology,” is what Ken Gabriel, the agency’s deputy director told lawmakers last week.

He’s not just talking about hackers who can quickly develop cyber weapons capable of penetrating the Pentagons networks or terrorists using smart-phones, twitter and google earth to plot attacks and avoid government forces, he was also referring to the fact that even relatively poor nations or terrorist groups can buy 90-percent of the electronics needed to make advanced electronic warfare gear on the open commercial market. This EW gear can prove highly effective at helping to keep U.S. forces at bay, according to Gabriel. The best part, is that due to the technology explosion of the last 10-20 years, new EW systems are coming on-line at a dramatically increased pace — nearly seven times faster than in previous decades, according to Gabriel. This means that the Pentagon is going to have to  hustle that much harder to stay ahead of such capabilities.

“In anti-access and area denial, the global electronics industry, unintentionally and without malice, has created vulnerabilities,” said Gabriel during a Feb. 29  House Armed Services  emerging threats subcommittee hearing. “Computing, imaging and communications capabilities, that as recently as fifteen years ago were the exclusive domain of military systems, are now in the hands of hundreds of millions of people around the world. We don’t argue against the benefits such capabilities have brought, indeed many of the commercial advances have roots in DARPA programs of decades past. But these vulnerabilities are not abstract threats. Electronic warfare, EW, was once the province of a few peer adversaries. Today, it is possible to purchase commercial off the shelf components, COTS, for more than 90 percent of the electronics in an EW system. Nearly a dozen countries are now producing EW systems at an ever increasing pace. From a new system every ten years decades ago, to one every one and a half years today.”

Meanwhile, DARPA is hustling to increase the Pentagon’s cyber firepower, according to Gabriel. Remember, like EW is becoming, cyber is an arena where relatively small players can quickly develop weapons with serious punch. To counter this, the Pentagon needs to develop cyber weaponry that is “matched to our kinetic” weapons, according to Gabriel.

In cybersecurity, there has been much focus on increasing our defensive capabilities, but we require capabilities in both defense and offense across the full spectrum of conflict,” said Gabriel. “Modern warfare demands the effective use of cyber and kinetic means. That requires DoD cyber capabilities matched to our kinetic options.”

To this end, DARPA has “launched several programs designed to create cyber capabilities with the diversity, dynamic range and tempo [to keep pace with] DoD operations,” added Gabriel.




  • itfunk

    Typical Kevin Coleman marketing spiel - start off talking about EW with an authority figure and then seamlessly segway into unrelated cyberwar nonsense.

    • blight_

      Kevin Coleman’s “Carthage must be destroyed” is “cyberwarfare is upon us”.

      Gotta work it in somewhere.

    • Guest

      Agreed. Just link or host the interview with Gabriel. Literally no value added from commentary. EW and Cyber remain two domains with limited overlap, despite rumblings about rolling EW up under Information Operations.

  • Anon

    I would think, and hope, that the pentagon invest a considerable amount of time/energy/resources into developing much better dumb weaponry. To paraphrase Scotty from Star Trek… the more complex the technology, the easier it is to gunk it up.

    • Nadnerbus

      yup. Even when your GPS sats are gone, an A-10 can still dump a few hundred rounds of 30mm on a target using coms with troops on the ground and the Mk1 eyeball. Whiz bang is great, but you have to be able to fall back if necessary.

      • chaos0xomega

        Sadly I think the Pentagon is more interested in preserving its complex technology than investing in robust technology.

    • STemplar

      There are still very accurate stand alone methods for weapons delivery. Cruise missiles were obscenely accurate before GPS by using inertial guidance and radar and barometers to guide themselves.

    • Mess

      “The more you take over the plumbing, The easier it is to stop up the drain”

  • Pat

    THUMBS UP!!!

  • MGC

    i wonder how well those microwaves work against the gau-8’s 30mm DU rounds spewing towards your MBT or IFV?

    • blight_

      If the microwaves are on a sufficiently powerful projector with LOS, then they may well outrange the GAU-8. They won’t outrange the HARMs though…

  • Musson1

    I think the US is not deploying EMP weapons for fear that they would be reverse engineered and used against our troops.

    I believe we have the technology to deploy squad level weapons that would fry all the communications in a single building or vehicle.

    • chaos0xomega

      Based on what?

      • Musson1

        I have read reports indicating that Darpa has desinged an EMP grenade. Fire it against the side of a tank or building and it triggers - releasing an EMP burst.…

    • Jeff

      We have and we do. EMP weapons aren’t as small as you think and they just don’t effect as large an area as people are often lead to believe. Unless you’re talking the EMP side effects of a nuclear bomb, EMP weapons would be about bomb sized to take out a city block. The principle is simple: explode a charge capacitor fast enough and the electricity is dispersed and the main limitation is going to be the size of those capacitors.

    • blight_

      Do the insurgents we fight have enough tech to justify the deployment of EMP weapons?

      We kept VT a secret until ’44, for example…

  • chaos0xomega

    How hard would it be to just develop all military electronics and network infrastructure based on a unique architecture? I mean, its not going to save us from an EMP, but it will make it more difficult, if not impossible, for hackers to gain access to the systems… it seems silly that we’re trying to develop new safeguards when the solution is to simply utilize a unique operating system with a unique network architecture, etc. If the hackers don’t know how the system works they wont be able to access it.

    • Jeff

      There would be a lot of added cost in having specialists in a unique architecture and it’d be that much more difficult to benefit from the innovations of the commercial market.

    • CobaltShiva

      We used to have military-unique hardware, software, and communications protocols. We couldn’t afford to sustain them, and it was pretty much impossible to upgrade their capacity in any meaningful fashion.