The EMS Threat

Frank V. Vernuccio, Jr., J.D.

The U.S. General Accounting Office has released a study on a comparatively new and crucial area of defense: the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS.)  The EMS is essential for facilitating control in defense on air, land, sea, space, and cyber domains. the natural range of frequencies that  support various warfighting functions such as communications, navigation, and weapons usage.

The pervasiveness of the EMS across almost all warfighting operations means that maintaining or achieving EMS superiority against an adversary  is critical to battlefield success.  The Pentagon stresses that the EMS is essential for facilitating control within the operational environment and impacts all domains—air, land, sea, space  and cyber of military operations.

According to DOD,  America needs to control the spectrum to support warfighting functions or it risks  losing control of the battlespace. Other military capabilities require the use of the electromagnetic spectrum. These include such things such as  intelligence on adversary transmissions,  information operations,  and  command and control communications.

Troubling studies by the Pentagon and others reveal that China and Russia are highly aware of the importance of EMS.  Both have taken steps to improve their ability to threaten America’s ability to use and control this key area. China and Russia have invested decades in developing related capabilities.

China in particular has made control of the EMS spectrum a key goal. The Report notes that “A 2018 RAND study  further characterized China’s strategic military approach as one that  emphasizes ‘comprehensive dominance’ in traditional domains (air, land,  and sea) as well as space, cyber, psychological warfare, and the electromagnetic spectrum. The study notes that dominance across  domains is framed by a Chinese military theory that victory is predicated on  successfully waging ‘system destruction warfare’ to paralyze or destroy  an enemy’s systems. The theory further contends that integrated  combat forces should be used in system versus system operations that  feature information dominance, precision strikes, and joint operations,  according to the RAND study. “America’s adversaries are more diligent in seeking EMS dominance.


“China is taking  steps to enhance its capabilities to use the EMS through strategic,  organizational, and training advances. Meanwhile, Russian electromagnetic warfare forces, described by the Defense Intelligence Agency as ‘world class,’ have demonstrated their effectiveness through successful real-world applications against U.S. and foreign militaries.”

To the rulers in Beijing, EMS dominance is real, practical, and current. The Report found that China’s words and actions indicate they have moved beyond the  theoretical to the practical.

“In a 2019 report to Congress, DOD noted that  Chairman Xi Jinping has articulated a strategic vision to create a force  that dominates all networks, uses information operations to control a  conflict in its early stages, and that enables China’s ability to perform in  the electromagnetic spectrum as part of joint military operations.

 “The DOD report also recognized China’s strategic vision by noting that China emphasizes EW dominance by suppressing, degrading, disrupting, or  deceiving enemy electronic equipment. This includes targeting adversary  systems that operate in radio, radar, microwave, infrared, and optical  frequency ranges, as well as computer and information systems.”

China has taken specific steps toward the realization of their EMS strategic vision.

What’s at stake? The Pentagon warns that Without control of the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS)—the natural range of frequencies that  support various warfighting functions such as communications, navigation, and weapons usage—DOD risks losing control of the  battlefield. DOD conducts specific EMS operations (EMSO)—such as  electromagnetic warfare (EW)—but also relies on the EMS for many other  uses even as these operations have placed increasingly complex  demands on the spectrum. The U.S. military’s operations in all domains— air, land, sea, space, and cyber—depend on the ability to use and control  the EMS. However, technological advances could result in EMS dependent capabilities being among the first to be targeted in a conflict.

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Government.

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