For many years, the Army was content to leave electronic warfare in the hands of other branches of the military, but as the Army's technology has grown increasingly sophisticated, so has its own organic electronic warfare needs.
That growing demand for trained electronic warfare personnel is now playing out in the Wisconsin Army National Guard, where a small, but growing number of Soldiers are joining formations around the state.
Just a few years ago, the state had no electronic warfare-trained Soldiers. The state now has three and hopes that that number balloons in the coming years. According to Capt. Michael Torre, Wisconsin's lone qualified electronic warfare officer, the positions began appearing on unit manning rosters more than three years ago. But due to the limited availability of school seats, funding, and the length of the qualification courses, the first trained personnel did not arrive to their units until last year.
The electronic warfare positions are spread across the Wisconsin Army Guard's brigades and select battalions, and the total number of positions is expected to grow by as much as 45 percent in the coming years, according to Torre.
Qualified Soldiers are in high demand, as evidenced by Torre's selection for an active duty tour with Army Central Command at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, where he will spend the rest of the year, and perhaps longer, helping units serving in the Middle East acquire the proper electronic warfare capabilities.
He, Sgt. 1st Class William Stuart and Staff Sgt. Bryan Gaulke met and trained together for the first time as an electronic warfare community at a military intelligence summit this past February to share best practices and determine their way forward as a military occupational specialty (MOS) in the state.
Torre feels that with such a small number of Soldiers in the MOS and as the lone officer, it is incumbent upon him to provide leadership, guidance and direction to the growing community of trained Soldiers within the field and to help articulate to commanders the important role electronic warfare plays on the battlefield.
Torre recounted an incident from his 2006-07 deployment to Iraq when a jamming device on his Humvee spared his vehicle from an improvised explosive device attack. Unfortunately, a civilian contractor's vehicle travelling behind his convoy was not equipped with the same technology and a radio-controlled IED ultimately destroyed the vehicle and killed one of its passengers.
At that time, the Army was reliant more on the Navy and Air Force for electronic warfare. The naval electronic warfare officer attached to Torre's battalion during that deployment confirmed that whoever tried to detonate that IED was unsuccessful on the first attempt – likely when the unit's convoy was passing.
Torre, whose 18-year Army career has been entirely in field artillery assignments, jumped at the chance to be on the cutting edge of one of the Army's emerging capabilities.
Army electronic warfare will only grow in significance, he said, because units are increasingly reliant on computer-based, digital and electronic systems in the field.
"I've been in the military for almost 18 years, and at the time I shifted over it was about 16 years, and I wanted to do something new," he said. "I've been artillery my whole career, so I was looking for something new and challenging and for extra opportunities."
It will take time for Soldiers to matriculate into the positions. The Army's electronic warfare course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, is nine weeks for noncommissioned officers, 13 weeks for officers and 14 weeks for warrant officers, and the classes are only offered a few times each year. In the Wisconsin Army National Guard, there is one officer position, one warrant officer position and the enlisted positions range from sergeant to master sergeant. To even be considered for the MOS, Soldiers must be at minimum a specialist having already completed the Army's Warrior Leader Course, or be a noncommissioned officer.
Eventually, Torre hopes there will be enough trained Soldiers in the units that can shift to new ones and learn different electronic warfare roles within the organization.
"Because the way transportation worries about electronic warfare is completely different than the way an infantry ground unit needs to worry about it," he said. "For the artillery, they have all the radar systems you need to worry about. Aviation units need to worry about their aircraft and everything up in the sky."
The new positions compliment the military's cyber warfare capabilities as well, but the two disciplines have different overall responsibilities, according to Torre. Cyber traditionally is a responsibility that falls to a unit's signal section. Electronic warfare Soldiers plan and integrate with the signal, intelligence and fires sections, and they are responsible for electronic attack, electronic protect, and electronic warfare support operations. Their responsibilities in a combat environment might involve targeting a cell phone tower or radar station and determining whether to use lethal or non-lethal force on that target. Non-lethal force might involve jamming the signal, while lethal force would involve coordination with a fires section and destroying that tower or radar station completely.
But electronic warfare personnel are also responsible for ensuring that friendly computer-based systems and other communications equipment like radar and antennas are protected from jamming by adversaries, which ensures that units can communicate when needed.
One of Torre's first tasks at his new position will be to ensure Army units operating in the Middle East have the equipment to do just that.
"So that will be my first challenge," he said. "Determining what systems we can get them to help enhance their missions and help protect them from any threats that are out there."
The same will be true for the Wisconsin Army National Guard as electronic warfare becomes increasingly integrated into existing formations.