In the late 1930s, a palpable sense of anxiety gripped the state security corridors of both Britain and America. Whispers circulated about a formidable Nazi radio beam purportedly capable of incinerating vehicle ignition systems – Diligent scrutiny by British scientists ensued, leading to the unequivocal dismissal of this notion. The technology of the 1930s rendered such a concept implausible, given the modest power of radio transmitters and the sturdy yet rudimentary vehicle electronics prevalent during that era.
This narrative underwent a transformative shift with the emergence of the atomic bomb and subsequent nuclear testing. The detonation of this nuclear capability set off a formidable cascade of gamma-ray photons, initiating the expulsion of electrons from air molecules through a process known as Compton scattering. This gave rise to the notion of electromagnetic pulse (EMP), a seismic surge of radio waves distinguished by its breathtakingly instant rise time and far-reaching impact. According to Britannica, EMP was first noticed in the United States in the 1950s when electronic equipment failed because of induced currents and voltages during some nuclear tests. In 1960 the potential vulnerability of U.S. military equipment and weapons systems to EMP was officially recognized.
In the aftermath of a nuclear conflagration within Earth’s confines, the EMP energy primarily resides in the very high frequency (VHF) and ultra-high frequency (UHF) domains. Nevertheless, even at lower frequencies, a resplendent radio flash manifests itself, observable across vast distances. In the immediate proximity of the blast, the radio frequency energy wields the power to induce currents of sufficient potency to wreak havoc on most unprotected electronic devices. The aftermath of a blast beyond Earth’s protective cocoon is postulated to be even more cataclysmic, with the potential to inflict electronic devastation across expansive territories. A one-megaton explosion hovering 250 miles above the North Sea could potentially incapacitate electronic infrastructure across Northern Europe. As a result, meticulous shielding and Faraday practices become the vanguard to fortify critical military systems against this purported capability.
The peak of Western consternation regarding EMP arrived when the Soviet Union delved into non-nuclear EMP weapons during the mid-80s. This era witnessed the United States deploying “neutron bombs,” and the Soviets, in response, brandishing the spectre of a “socialist bomb.” This ideological weapon was crafted to decimate property, particularly electronics – while sparing human life – loomed large on the geopolitical chessboard.
The transition from the era of valves to transistors and integrated circuits, culminating at the end of World War II, ushered in a period of heightened susceptibility for commercial electronic apparatuses to the onslaught of high-powered radars. The advent of the cavity magnetron gave rise to radars potent enough to dismantle unprotected electronic circuitry within the close confines of several hundred yards. As technology continued its progressive miniaturization, the Soviets purportedly fashioned high-energy RF (HERF) devices, concocted from capacitors, magnetohydrodynamic generators, and kindred components, for deployment on the battlefield.
In the mid-1990s, an ominous cloud of apprehension enveloped the global landscape, as concerns mounted that terrorists might lay their hands on these formidable capabilities, courtesy of the now-defunct Soviet Union. Endeavours to implore commerce and industry to invest in electromagnetic shielding encountered scepticism and were often summarily dismissed as hyperbole. The specifics of Soviet HERF bombs remained ensconced in classified vaults, yet the tenets of physics hinted at constraints tied to the effective antenna size, shaping the boundaries of EMP effects, intimating that the efficacy of EMP is circumscribed by the dielectric strength of air and the cross-section of the antenna. While nuclear EMP flaunts an effective antenna size spanning hundreds of meters to several thousand kilometres, the “ordinary” EMP/HERF is constrained to a more modest antenna size of a few meters. NATO strategists, nevertheless, stood firm in their assertion that military command and control (C2) systems already fortified against nuclear EMP should stand resolute against the looming spectre of EMP threats.
Amid the looming spectre of potential threats, scepticism persists regarding the potency of EMP weapons, especially when compared against more conventional modes of wreaking havoc. The disquieting notion lingers that a solitary nuclear detonation strategically positioned 250 miles above the heartland of the United States could unleash economic havoc of colossal proportions while inflicting minimal direct harm to individuals. This ominous prospect raises the spectre of a potent blackmail tool wielded by nations such as Iran and North Korea, harbouring nuclear aspirations but endowed with less sophisticated infrastructures.
In the theatre of information warfare, a poignant observation surfaces – a massive assault on electronic communications poses a graver peril to technologically reliant nations, exemplified by the United States, in comparison to nations like North Korea or China, which exhibit lesser dependence on such systems. The intricate interplay among Directed Energy Weapons (DEW), EMP, and the potential for economic turmoil underscores the multi-dimensional challenges inherent in shielding modern societies against the ceaseless evolution of threats.
In the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, a mysterious world unfolds as Electronic Warfare (EW) takes centre stage. Imagine a scenario where high-tech systems clash, and strategies unfold like a complex dance – this is the electronic battleground, where the recent discovery of the powerful Krasukha-4 system has added intrigue to an already intense situation.
At first, the Krasukha-4 seemed too mighty for Russia’s initial assault on Kyiv, but now it’s making a strategic comeback. EW brigades, taking advantage of Russia’s control in the Donbas region, are using the Krasukha-4 to target Ukrainian drones and disrupt their communication links. This clever interference throws a spanner in the works for Ukrainian forces, making it harder for them to pinpoint Russian artillery positions.
To add some context, the Russian army got creative before the invasion, breaking down its larger manoeuvre brigades into smaller Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs). Each BTG, now operating in southern and eastern Ukraine, has a slice of the original brigade’s EW company, using shorter-range electronic attack systems.
Ukraine isn’t just sitting back. Thanks to counter-drone systems from the United States, Ukrainian troops have taken down hundreds of Russian drones by muddling GPS signals. They’ve also been using U.S. supplied EW systems and training to disrupt Russian communications.
So, what is the key to Ukraine’s success so far? The big and powerful Russian EW systems, like the Leer-3 or Krasukha-4, are easy to find. Ukrainian troops, armed with U.S. supplied gear, have been able to detect signals from these systems and launch counterattacks against them.
But there is a catch. In this electronic cat-and-mouse game, Russia is gaining an upper hand – Why? Because their initial plan of swiftly taking Kyiv didn’t work out, they shifted gears to a slow and steady war in Ukraine’s south. Now, with a more defined battlefront, Russian EW units can jam Ukrainian hardware when they’re separated by clear lines.
Winning the airwaves doesn’t mean winning the war. Russia might be on top in the EW game for now, but the situation could flip if Kyiv’s troops, with some help from their allies in the West, regain control of the skies. Imagine disrupting the very systems that keep Russia’s war machine rolling – it could change the whole game.
Too Late? The move to counter Russia and China
The late General Douglas MacArthur said, “The history of failure in war can almost always be summed up in two words: ‘Too late.’ Too late in comprehending the deadly purpose of a potential enemy. Too late in realizing the mortal danger. Too late in preparedness. Too late in uniting all possible forces for resistance.”
Quoted in July 2023, the Secretary of the United States Air Force (USAF), Frank Kendall, stated “Over the last two years in my position as secretary of the Air Force, I have begun each of my eight Congressional budget posture hearings with a reference to Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s warning that almost all military failures can be summed up in the words “too late”.”
Gen. MacArthur, of course, spoke from a position of being a Military leader well within range of ongoing enemy attacks. That perspective is too often absent in debates over weapons system development, which tend to be Washington-centric and politicized among Congressional, Pentagon, and industry participants.
Mr. Kendall led United States Forces Japan, Gen. MacArthur’s legacy headquarters and command, where the constant focus was being ready to respond to Chinese threats. His focus was China’s military build-up and on North Korea’s provocative activities.
He candidly spoke of congressional and defense industry leadership occasionally visiting pacific command headquarters at Yokota Air Base, West of Tokyo, in the 2002-2005 timeframe, but was dismayed that they rarely listened. Consequently, there was little to no ability to influence joint warfighting requirements, including the need for timely, responsive upgrades to the offensive capabilities of NATO combat air forces, to air base defense, C2 systems, satellite early warning, or targeting of Chinese and North Korean surface-to-surface launch capabilities. Most troubling was that they were never asked about the integration of EW. Like all joint warfighting commands, U.S. Forces Command in Japan had zero contractual authority for weapons systems and no acquisition budget.
During that period and the decades that followed, America’s national security leadership was actively engaged in another fight: trying to deter threats and promote stable, friendly governments in the Middle East. With attention focused elsewhere, the Chinese Communist Party was able to leverage economic growth and insights gained watching the U.S. military at work to accelerate its own military build-up. Kendal last year reported that the United States can no longer guarantee that America’s joint war fighters will be effective in combat operations across U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s area of operations, including protecting allies and partners in Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea.
While Congressional and Pentagon leaders emphasize support for American war fighters, the fact is that unified combatant commands and sub-unified commands like United States Forces Japan are today significantly limited in their ability and authority to influence joint warfighting requirements with their own threat-informed analysis.
The Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC), led by the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Adm. Christopher W. Grady, is dedicated to being the voice of the joint warfighter, but this organizational construct is neither optimized for speed nor efficiency. Our long-established Congressional, military, and defense industry cultures put too many cooks in the kitchen. Acquisition staff too frequently lack combat and operational theatre experience, and too often default to ‘NO’ when they should instead try to understand new ideas.
USAF Secretary Kendall has brought a lifetime of experience, as a Soldier and as a policy maker, to the USAF. His decades of experience, keen insight, and driven focus on operational effectiveness are making a real difference. By focusing strategically around seven core ‘Operational Imperatives’ and three ‘Cross-cutting Operational Enablers’, Kendall has rallied his Air and Space Forces leaders around the key requirements that will transform his department’s operational effectiveness. Mr. Kendall knows the most important customers for new capabilities are our military operators, including the Service Chiefs whose long experience in operational theatres informs their understanding. Forging close partnerships between operational customers and acquisition professionals is crucial. It’s no accident that he called these imperatives, which are all focused on acquiring new capabilities, “operational.” From the moment he took office, Kendall has repeatedly called for accelerating the delivery of “meaningful operational capability to the warfighter.”
When the Korean War began, communists in the North and their Russian and Chinese backers took advantage of American weakness – a small trip-wire force in South Korea, in particular – to force a war America never wanted. In Vietnam, a decade later, the United States was again drawn into a conflict for which we were unprepared. Having built a force to deter nuclear war, America was unprepared for the kind of fight Hanoi waged against our allies in the south. By the time we had the military capabilities to be decisive, the nation had lost its will to fight. As Gen. McArthur said, “Too late.”
Now we face new dangers. The instigators are familiar, even if the means, methods, and conditions are less so. We must listen to the commanders in the field. No one understands the threat better.
After Pearl Harbour, Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto was famously said to have feared that all Japan had achieved with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour was to “awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” Alas, that giant showed its resolve and shook the World – Yet since the fall of the Berlin wall, has been lying in its bed with eyes wide open, but tucked in so tightly with a blanket of bureaucracy and indecision that it simply can’t move. Pentagon leaders, Senate and House committee members, and the defense industry all must pay heed. They must do so before it once again is “too late.”
New U.S. Initiatives
After six years of committed effort, the Pentagon’s innovation initiatives still fall short of their objectives. Despite some notable successes, the Department of Defense is missing a crucial opportunity to fulfil its promise of providing transformative technologies to the U.S. Military. In recent years, various Defense Department offices and initiatives have emerged to engage with the commercial high-tech marketplace, including the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), SOFWERX, AFWERX, NavalX, and more.
Simultaneously, the defense science board continues its close collaboration with the academic community. However, these two communities, while sharing similarities, operate in parallel silos with distinct challenges and limitations. Breaking down these silos reveals that each contains the means to address the shortcomings of the other. Researchers can assist venture capitalists and start-ups in accessing cutting-edge science, while commercial innovators and Pentagon organizations designed to facilitate start-up-government transactions can expedite the transition of early-stage research into viable products. This collaborative approach aims for a swift acceleration in developing military capabilities, benefiting both the Warfighter, the Taxpayer, and the Consumer.
The Pentagon’s increased reliance on the private sector for defense-relevant technologies is not a recent development. Initiatives like In-Q-Tel, established by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1999, and the Army Venture Capital Corporation (AVCC) in 2002, have paved the way for engaging with innovative start-ups. However, the evolving landscape has led to the adoption of alternative models, such as the Defense Venture Catalyst Initiative (DeVinCI) and the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUX). Contrary to earlier approaches, recent Pentagon efforts include contracting methods, allowing prospective government customers to access pitched technologies. Recognizing the limitations of ‘tech tourism’, officials are moving innovation from the periphery of formal acquisition processes to the center, integrating edge-acquisition expertise into mainstream practices.
The less glamorous side of innovation involves creating contracting pathways for start-ups – behind-the-scenes work, including drafting contracts in advance, is crucial for achieving rapid, agile, and innovative outcomes. In the pursuit of innovation, the Department of Defense (DoD) is increasingly recognizing the role of scientific research. Like pitch competitions in the commercial sector, research symposia serve as forums for vetting new ideas within a community of experts. The collaboration between the research community and the high-tech market presents an opportunity to accelerate the development of scalable capabilities for both military and commercial applications. The DoD’s recent experiences emphasize several key lessons:
- First, awareness of advanced technology must be coupled with access to be effective.
- Second, the focus should shift from innovating at the edge to implementing recent changes into major defense acquisition programs.
- Third, the unglamorous work of navigating bureaucratic processes is essential for successful innovation.
Lastly, engaging the research community alongside venture capitalists and start-ups can optimize the application of cutting-edge science and accelerate the development timeline from discovery to product development, expediting the development of scalable capabilities for both military and commercial purposes.
What Comes Next?
Known to many, my commitment centers on addressing tangible needs and achieving feats once deemed unattainable due to technology availability, outside of Artemis Defense Technologies, I have been supporting a stealth venture that today stands at the threshold of engaging with the defense investment fraternity. This venture specializes in providing EW capabilities, featuring a revolutionary technology capable of emulating the debilitating effects of EMP impact in a small form factor and precise area and beamform. This capability has undergone scrutiny and received funding and validation from a government scientific defense organization, elevating its Technology Readiness Level (TRL).
In addition to this capability, the venture has produced the required early software development that enables uncrewed navigation capabilities that require swarmed uncrewed assets to stay on task to near centimetre accuracy in electronic congestion situations that impact real time kinematic (RTK) and Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS).
The significance of novel EW capabilities cannot be overstated, as they hold the potential to reshape the landscape of defense technology and significantly enhance the operational capabilities of the U.S. Military across Air, Land, and Sea domains.
National security imperatives demand a swift transition from ground-breaking research to operational deployment. The true strategic importance of our technology lies not only in its innovation and our focus to enable this with commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) parts, but also in its potential to provide a decisive edge on the ever-growing threats to our cities and on the battlefield.
The synergy between the research community, venture capitalists, and defense organizations is pivotal in accelerating the development timeline from discovery to operational deployment.
The call for funding is not just a call for this venture but a call for those who wish to assist in delivering technological superiority on the global stage. Never again should we be forced to utter “Too late”.
The time to act is now.