Less SigInt, More EW

by Maj Rodney L. Dearth

Electronic warfare is an important, but possibly neglected, component of the Marine radio battalions’ mission. This author points out that Marines need to focus more attention on this aspect of maneuver warfare.

Backed by proper intelligence information and employed in conceit with destructive fire weapons, electronic countermeasures (ECM) can be extremely useful on the battlefield. This fact is nothing new, and a variety of conceptual approaches to combining electronic warfare (EW) with other battlefield activities has existed for some time. Strategies such as command and control communications countermeasures (C^sup 3^CM) and, more recently, command and control warfare (C^sup 2^W) are attempts to devise a systematic approach to the employment of intelligence, fires, and EW, on the modem battlefield.

C^sup 2^W (and previously, C^sup 3^CM) represents a holistic approach to concepts that the Marine Corps, as an institution, wholeheartedly supports. Unfortunately, our support is mostly rhetorical because we have not built the capability in our operating forces to conduct C^sup 2^W in all its dimensions.

This failure is most pervasive and readily seen on the ground side where the Corps’ signals intelligence/electronic warfare (SigInt/EW) units have traditionally placed very little emphasis on one of C^sup 2^Ws principal componentsEW. The reasons for our superficial approach to EW are varied but have historical precedent in the origin of the Corps’ SigInt/EW capability.

SigInt/EW units in today’s Marine Corps harken back to their forebears of World War II-the radio intelligence platoons of the division signal companies, which supported our amphibious forces in the Pacific theater.

Establishment of the platoons was authorized by the Navy Department in March 1943. They were given the signals intelligence mission of conducting communications intercept and radio direction finding against Japanese military and naval units, as well as the electronic warfare mission of own force communication security monitoring.

Key to the Navy Department’s authorization to establish these units was the stipulation that the platoons would be under the functional control of the Navy Communications Intelligence Organization. Why mandate this particular stipulation? Because inherent to functional control was the requirement for the platoons to forward collected information that “… could not be utilized by Marine forces in the field,” directly to Fleet Radio Unit Pacific (a Navy unit commonly referred to as FRUPac). Additionally, Navy communications intelligence (ComInt) activities like FRUPac could direct the platoons to perform strategic or operational level Comlnt on a secondary basis.

While this degree of control by the Navy over the radio intelligence platoons is significant because of the precedent it set, perhaps of even greater relevence to today’s problems was the fact that these early SigInt/EW Marines received their skill training through Navy owned and operated schools.

What should be apparent from this brief historical discussion was the early emphasis on signals gathering, particularly for operational and strategic intelligence purposes, as opposed to any emphasis at all on tactical electronic warfare. Although all aspects of EW were understood and employed during World War II, especially jamming, our Marine forebears and the Navy obviously did not consider it an important mission for the radio intelligence platoons. The greater significance of this apparent decision to ignore EW, as well as the effects resulting from the comprehensive relationship established between the Navy and the radio intelligence platoons, was the initiation of a long-term, Navy-oriented emphasis on SigInt in the Corps.

The platoons were disbanded shortly after the Pacific campaigns, and the Marine Corps had no SigInt/EW capability until the early 1960s when we again established a radio intelligence unit, this time at the company level.

As in World War II, the radio companies were oriented on communications intercept for higher command intelligence purposes. The Marines again received their skill training under the auspices of Navy cryptologic schools, and a close relationship with the Navy’s cryptologic hierarchy was maintained.

The eventual expansion of the radio companies into the battalions we have today changed nothing with respect to their mission orientation or training. All through the Vietnam War, SigInt/EW Marines concentrated on providing intelligence information derived from communications intercept and radio direction finding. In other words, they conducted Sigint, not EW.

By the early 1970s, the Corps was starting to give some thought to the various aspects of EW. To this end, the radio battalions even acquired dedicated communications jamming equipment. Nevertheless, the principal emphasis continued to be on tactical signals intelligence operations. One Marine Corps SigInt/EW professional declared in the late 1970s, “. . . ECM is the least important aspect of the Corps’ signals warfare posture.” He summed up his position on the matter by stating, “The Marine Corps has not radiated one electron in anger against the enemy (but we have copied and exploited many).”

These comments came in the wake of an August 1978 article by MGenJohn H. Miller (at the time Commanding General, Marine Corps Development Command) in the Marine Corps Gazette that claimed Marine Corps EW must be developed to stand abreast of the Corps’ other supporting arms. Obviously, the first author’s comments reflected an attitude which was inimical to Gen Miller’s desires, as well as the desires of the Corps as a whole. Today, this attitude of resistance may have abated somewhat, but if one examines the relationship of Marine Corps EW (particularly ECM) to its actual employment and use in training, it would seem that the thrust of our tactical SigInt/EW units is still intelligence collection.

Another reason for the emphasis on SigInt is that the radio battalions have enjoyed a great deal of success at it during the past two decades. The battalions’ good reputations have been built, for practical purposes, exclusively on their ability to successfully exploit the communications of our adversaries for intelligence purposes. Such successes have earned them accolades from commanders at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels. For example, within the past decade both battalions have been recipients of a prestigious award given by the National Security Agency, and one has been awarded the Navy Meritorious Unit Citation. Also, at least one of the battalions has been “mentioned in dispatches” by tactical commanders who have enjoyed its support during realworld operations.

Under these circumstances, and with that kind of positive reinforcement, it is little wonder that the radio battalions are oriented towards tactical SigInt. They have obviously developed the proper operating formula for their intelligence role. However, these successes have had a negative effect with regards to our ground EW capability because they reinforced the prevailing attitude of the Corps’ SigInt leadership regarding the supremacy of intelligence collection versus EW. With this in mind, we need also to keep in perspective the environment that permitted the battalions’ achievements.

Throughout the last two decades, most of the situations involving Marine forces supported by our own SigInt/EW units could best be described as operations other than war. The SigInt targets were the communications systems of relatively unsophisticated foreign military, paramilitary, police, and guerrilla organizations. Successfully solving the SigInt problems presented by these targets was the principal concern of the radio battalions. At the same time, the battalions fended off inquiries regarding ECM employment against real-world targets. This comment is based on my personal experiences while deployed with Landing Force Sixth Fleet during 1983-1984. The cumulative effect of these events was, as I mentioned earlier, to simply reinforce the orientation of the radio battalions as tactical SigInt units.

Even during the late 1980s, the senior leadership in the Marine Corps SigInt/EW community still argued emphatically that the radio battalion was primarily a tactical SigInt unit. While serving on the staff of the commanding general, Fleet Marine Force Atlantic, I was taken to task several times by senior officers in the SigInt community who regarded my promotion of ground EW as contrary to the interests of the radio battalions. In 1988, during the course of a working group convened to rewrite Marine Corps SigInt/EW doctrine, one of the field’s most senior officers vehemently argued that “electronic warfare” doctrine did not even exist in the Marine Corps. He was totally unaware of an existing operational handbook (OH) on the subject that had been in use for 2 years. While it can be argued that an operational handbook does not necessarily constitute doctrine because it is not directive, the fact that a senior SigInt/EW officer did not even know the Corps had published an OH on EW is indicative of how tenaciously our SigInt orientation was protected.

Unfortunately for the Marine Corps, the tactical and operational commanders of the past two decades were mostly ignorant of the ongoing doctrinal arguments in the SigInt/EW community. They were, however, increasingly demanding the kind of ground EW support they had been led to believe the radio battalions could provide. These demands and the growing emphasis on EW in the joint arena, combined with the Commandant’s emphasis on maneuver warfare, did lead to acquisitions of new ground EW equipment, notably the Mobile Electronic Warfare Support System (MEWSS) which, unfortunately, has proven to be an unreliable system not capable of performing all aspects of the mission it was intended for. Increased emphasis on EW also prompted experiments with helicopterborne ECM. Yet, despite this limited progression, what was needed most has never been developed-a viable tactical doctrine.

The principal Marine Corps reference for EW matters is FMFM 7-12, Electronic Warfare. The current version of this manual was published in May of 1991. It is far and away the best the Marine Corps has produced with respect to electronic warfare doctrine, but it still leaves a great deal to be desired regarding the actual mechanics of tactical EW.

One of the most significant shortfalls of this doctrine is the failure to discuss coordination of EW with fire support, which is a key feature of the C^sup 2^W strategy. While this aspect of warfighting has long since been addressed in the EW doctrine of the other Services, particularly the Army, it receives no mention in our own. This is undoubtedly a reflection of the “SigInt only” attitude which still infuses the Corps’ SigInt/EW community. As an example, despite my own successful, albeit ad hoc, employment of ground radio direction finding (RDF) as a method of targeting artillery fires, there is still a great reluctance among the SigInt/EW leadership to use RDF in this combined arms approach.

We have been official proponents of the C^sup 3^CM strategy for many years and, as mentioned earlier, this strategy (and now C^sup 2^W) calls for a true combined arms approach involving several activities including jamming, protection, and destructive fires. Why then, doesn’t Marine Corps tactical doctrine reflect this issue? It is because of the institutional hold SigInt has on the Corps’ ground SigInt/EW units.

FMFM 7-12 is an improvement over previous doctrinal publications of its type, but it still fails to address the grass-roots-level procedures for ground tactical EW that are lacking in the Marine Corps. There is nothing in the manual that tells the personnel in our SigInt/EW community exactly how to do things such as establish a direction finding baseline to support landing operations, or how to site jammers for optimal effectiveness against the target and to allow for EW team survival. In my conversations with many ground EW officers, I have found few who can explain certain basic EW employment principles that all should know automatically. The situation is worse among our sergeants and corporals. The Corps could go a long way towards rectifying this problem by developing some good, basic, tactical doctrine (i.e., techniques and procedures) aimed at the SigInt/EW operator.

Notwithstanding our ground electronic warfare ills, the Corps can still make good use of its present EW capabilities in the context of maneuver warfare. First, however, the warfighter must recognize that maneuver warfare does not simply mean how often and how quickly we can move our forces around on the battlefield. To quote our doctrine, “. . . successful maneuver depends on the ability to identify and exploit enemy weakness, not simply on the expenditure of superior might.”

The identification and exploitation of enemy electronic weaknesses is the raison d’etre of electronic warfare, but not when warfighters most often attempt to use EW simply as an additional means to “pile on.” Let me illustrate with a personal example from my own experience.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to provide EW support to a MAGTF involved in a NATO exercise in Northern Europe. At one point, I was tasked to provide direct communications jamming support to a mechanized raid against the opposition forces (opfor) rear area. When I briefed the raid commander on my unit’s capability, I pointed out that the tactical considerations for jamming operations to support his raid were not favorable (the terrain was heavily compartmented). I also mentioned that I did not yet know the opfor electronic order of battle and had been unable to identify any of his communications frequencies. Furthermore, I had only one linguist in my unit capable of intercepting in the target language. Finally, I did not have locating data on any opfor communications emitters in the forward areas, much less in the rear area. I explained that these factors coupled with my relatively low powered jamming equipment made the mission he was proposing a waste of the MAGTF’s assets.

The commander acknowledged my operational constraints but declared that he had been taught raids were supposed to have EW support, so the one he was about to lead would have it. His response to my lack of data on the opfor was to “. . . jam all the freqs!”

Jamming all the frequencies was a technical impossibility, but even if it hadn’t been, to have done so would still have been a significant waste of a limited asset. Not only did that raid commander demonstrate a poor comprehension of maneuver warfare by trying to employ one aspect of superior might where it had no possibility for success, he also demonstrated that he didn’t understand that ECM is best used like a sniper rifle, not an area weapon.

This was just one of many examples of the all too common improper employment of EW I have seen over the years, and it could have been avoided if the commander had been a bit better informed about the maneuver warfare principles vis a vis EW.

Maneuver warfare is concerned principally with the effect our actions have on the enemy relative to the advantages created for us. In the example cited above, I doubt seriously if the jamming had any effect at all on the opfor because it was an unfocused application of force. EW, like any other Marine Corps asset, must be employed in a context which attempts to elicit a specific response from the enemy, such as jamming his covered nets to force him to communicate in the clear. More important, it must be used in concert with other assets to achieve an overall response, which is ultimately “. . . to shatter the enemy’s cohesion.” This is the core of our maneuver warfare doctrine, and we need to keep it in mind at all times, particularly when we employ our limited EW assets.

In the previous example, the proper employment of EW might have involved monitoring the opfor rear area communications to identify the circuit or net used by security forces, and to identify command nets to forces deployed forward. If at all possible, the emitters should have been geo-located (by RDF) so that upon commencement of the raid, transmitting sites could be hit by destructive fire weapons. At the same time the receivers of the security forces could have been jammed to prevent those units from hearing and responding to emergency calls.

One of the first and most important things we have to do is to review our SigInt/EW doctrine with an eye towards the 21st century. This means we must put old concepts and heretofore sacred SigInt dogma behind us. As EW operators, we need to truly get on board with the combined arms aspect of warfighting. The threat is growing too sophisticated to rely totally on our tactical SigInt abilities. To repeat a previous example, instead of resisting the idea of radio direction finding as a targeting method, we need to start pushing it to the warfighters (and to ourselves). It has worked in the past, and it can work in the future. If we have technical limitations, then we should be pounding our research and development (R&D) folks to solve them.

If we don’t adopt this approach to our development of EW doctrine and willingly employ it in support of the warfighters, the warfighters will forsake EW completely. We have to remember that they are the folks who decide how the money, billets, and other assets are allocated. If we don’t give them what they want, they won’t give us the things we need. Believe me, they want and expect ground EW as a combined arms asset.

Concurrent with our doctrinal development, we need to energetically develop the tactics to support command and control warfare. It’s a good strategy, just like C^sup 3^CM was, and we shouldn’t let it lie unused. At the same time, we need to make sure the rest of the Corps’ operators are on board with it. Above all else, the tactics we develop should ensure that we can provide EW support in the C^sup 2^W context to all types of battlefield operations.

For our own SigInt/EW operators we need to develop realistic tactics, techniques, and procedures that tell them exactly how to do their jobs at the nuts-and-bolts level. We’ve never had a SigInt/EW FMFM that was useful to anyone below an 0-5 staff level, and it’s time we produced one. If we expect our young Marines to provide EW support, let’s give them a roadmap to get there.

Military occupational specialty (MOS) training for both officers and enlisted in the SigInt/EW specialties needs to be changed to emphasize the tactical aspects of our business. As I mentioned earlier, Marine SigInt/EW training hasbeen tied to the Navy since 1943. Right now, Marine lieutenants entering the 2600 field receive their principal MOS training via the Navy’s Cryptologic Division Officer Course. This school is designed to prepare Navy officers to perform a cryptologic mission on board surface ships, primarily combatants such as carriers and cruisers. It’s a good school, for the Navy, but it doesn’t adequately prepare a young Marine officer for duty with the radio battalion.

The bread-and-butter operators of our enlisted community, the linguists, are in much the same boat. While they receive their MOS training on an Air Force base, the material they are presented is organized, developed, and taught primarily under the auspices of the Navy. Granted, we have Marine instructors in some of the classrooms, and we have input to the courseware development, but the fact remains that the material is strongly Navy oriented.

Mitigating against this situation was a recent Marine Corps initiative to provide schoolhouse training on one of our tactical systems to Marines undergoing crypto analytical instruction at the same school our linguists attend. However, the bottom line is that the meat-and-potatoes SigInt/EW operators get their critical, tactical MOS skills via on-the-job training. This is unsatisfactory. We should be teaching our intercept operators their tactical skills at school, not in the FMF just before they deploy.

Another pressing deficiency we need to correct is in the area of equipment. To cite just one example, the radio battalions have been employing 1970’s technology receivers for years as their frontline intercept equipment. These receivers are not only old and prone to breakage, but they lack the capability found in even relatively low-tech receivers available to the general public at retail. Sadly, I am personally aware of instances where MOS 2600 Marines have purchased their own receivers from sources such as Radio Shack just so they would have at least one radio of modern, albeit limited, capability while on deployment.

This deficiency was recognized by a recent intelligence mission area analysis, just as it has been recognized in past analyses. The answer is the same this year as it has been in the past-new systems are in the development cycle. Unfortunately, initial operating capability for the most desperately needed equipment is still a ways off. Instead of waiting, we need to adopt a QRC (quick reaction capability) approach and purchase some state-of-the-art, off-the-shelf equipment to tide our Marines over. The cost would be minimal compared to what the Marine Corps spends to field a system through the R&D process. As for supportability, it too would cost little and radio battalion maintenance technicians are more than capable of handling the most sophisticated repairs. If they aren’t, then we can get them contract supported training just as we have for other systems in the past.

The SigInt/EW community cannot pretend to be able to provide the kind of EW support the rest of the Marine Corps expects unless we start correcting the deficiencies in these areas. There will be some inertia to overcome in making the needed changes, but the right leadership, properly applied, will get the job done. The following general principles must be kept in mind as the problems are worked:

* We must consistently assign our best and brightest SigInt/EW operators and thinkers to the Marine Corps’ doctrine branch. We need to take the front-runners who are fresh from operational tours in the FMF, put them in place, and task them with developing a new, responsive, and dynamic doctrine that emphasizes EW as a combined arm. To get this type of doctrine, we should employ developers from not only the SigInt/EW community, but also from the combat arms MOSs.

* The SigInt/EW tactics we employ must be coordinated with, and complement, the tactics being developed and used by the Marine Corps’ other operational elements. They must be realistically and routinely tested, at the radio battalion level and objectively evaluated through appropriate means.

* SigInt/EW training for Marines needs to achieve a healthy balance between Marine Corps unique requirements and Navy cryptology. We never signed up with the Navy ’til death do us part, and while a divorce probably isn’t necessary, a good evaluation of our mutually supporting relationship might be. We need to seek out the schools and instruction that can prepare our young officers and enlisted Marines for duty in the radio battalions.

* We desperately need to bring a new approach to EW equipment acquisition. The SigInt/EW community has wasted millions of R&D dollars developing and acquiring systems that do not serve our needs and are technically inadequate from day one. Before we spend even one more dollar on research and development, we should decide exactly what tactics we are going to use to support the Fleet Marine Force, write those tactics into doctrine, and then buy the equipment to support it. In the meantime, let’s get some useful QRC equipment into the hands of the operators so they can continue to work.

In closing, I would like to offer this final comment: It would be unfair to the hundreds of Marines in the SigInt/EW business who put their hopes and faith in leaders to improve things to let this discussion end on a sour note. Consequently, I would remind all who read this that the radio battalions are still the premier tactical intelligence organizations in the Marine Corps. Their hard work and diligent efforts have been directly responsible for saving the lives of many Marines. In evaluating the arguments and issues I’ve presented, don’t forget this important fact.