Army Starts Electronic Warfare Troops

They worked on Droids in Star Wars, so why not an al-Qaeda communications center? "They" are electro-magnetic grenades -- not something you'll find in the typical armory but apparently something that could soon be in the hands of GIs.

They worked on Droids in Star Wars, so why not an al-Qaeda communications center?

“They” are electro-magnetic grenades — not something you’ll find in the typical armory but apparently something that could soon be in the hands of GIs.

“EMP grenade technology is out there, but I’ve never had my hands on one,” said Col. Laurie Buckhout, chief of the newly formed Electronic Warfare Division, Army Operations, Readiness and Mobilization, during a bloggers roundtable Tuesday from the Pentagon.

A Web search for “Electro Magnetic Pulse grenade” turns up a number of hits, many related so Star Wars and gaming sites. One Star Wars-oriented site notes EMPs also are known as Electrostatic Charge Detonators and were an anti-droid weapon used during the Clone Wars.

The EMP grenade was one of several sci-fi type weapons that the military has been developing and, in some cases, fielding. Buckhout also mentioned lasers for taking out missiles and the so-called Active Denial System, which uses microwaves which heat a person’s skin to uncomfortable levels.

The purpose of the roundtable to was discuss the Army’s new Electronic Warfare career field, a 29-series MOS that will include officers, warrant officers and enlisted personnel. The career field grew out of the Army’s need for an expert force able to counter radio-controlled IEDs, though the troops making up the new specialty will be doing more than that, according to the Army; they’ll also be the go-to people for commanders wanting to know how they can exploit the electromagnetic spectrum tactically across their operations.

The Army has wanted an organic EW corps for some time. Personnel responsible for EW in Iraq and Afghanistan are mostly drawn from the Navy and Air Force, according to Buckhout. Using portable jammers, they can dominate the radio spectrum defeat any signal coming from a cell phone or other device used to trigger a roadside bomb.

But there’s a problem: the jammers may also interfere with legitimate radio signals. These can include U.S. troops’ own systems, radio-controlled links to robots used by IED demolition teams and emergency communications systems.

Thus, the Army’s drive to come up with signal-jammers that can be slewed into specific emitters. Large systems, such as those employed by aircraft, can do the job, Buckhout said, but it’s “like using a sledgehammer to kill a mosquito.”

It kills the mosquito, she said, but it does a lot of damage, too.

“The Army needs to have its own … on-the-ground assets to complement our abilities,” she said, “to get the enemy first or stop them from getting us on the ground.”

“Electronic warfare is going to be fought on the ground, not just in the air, and you have to have an attack from the ground point of view.”

The new Army career field will number 1,619 Soldiers in all, and they will come from the active-duty, reserve and National Guard, she said. It will give the Army the largest professional ED cadre of any branch of the U.S. or NATO militaries, she said.

The Soldiers will operate at the battalion, Brigade Combat Team, and division levels, as well as joint billets, she said, enabling the troops to have a full career path available to them.

The equipment they will develop and use, meanwhile, will be tailored for Soldiers. Weapons or systems won’t be heavy or single-purpose, but will allow for electronic attack at different levels. The target may be a small building or a village, she said, and so a small jammer could be used, or EMP grenades.

EW training is being held at Fort Sill, Okla., home of the Army’s artillery school. Buckhout said that’s because EW is seen as something to be targeted and fired, and that’s what they do at Sill.

She said the first EW Soldier should be fielded by the end of Fiscal 2010 and that all authorized positions should be filled by sometime in Fiscal 2011.

About the Author

Bryant Jordan
Bryant Jordan is an associate editor and White House correspondent for Military.com. Bryant covers all corners of the military arena, is an expert on "Don't Ask Don't Tell" issues, religious proselytizing and other ongoing military policy issues. He has covered Air Force support missions during the Kosovo War and in 2006 the aero-medical evacuation mission out of Balad Air Base, Iraq. A journalist since 1979, Jordan also covered stories in Lebanon, Gaza and Morocco. During the Vietnam War he was assigned to 15th Admin. Co., 1st Cavalry Division, Bien Hoa Army Base. Before joining Military.com Jordan was a staff writer and deputy news editor for Military Times newspapers in Springfield, Va.