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Electronic Warfare Offers New Jobs for Tech-savvy Professionals

Jamie Findlater, Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 12, 2009 –

A new career field makes room for 1,600 full-time electronic warfare professionals for the active-duty Army, the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard, a senior officer said yesterday during a Defense Department Bloggers Roundtable conference call.

The “29-series” electronic warfare specialty became an official career path Jan. 26, said Col. Laurie G. Moe Buckhout, chief of the electronic warfare division in Army Operations, Readiness and Mobilization.

“There's been a sea change, a huge paradigm shift in the understanding of electronic warfare,” she said. “For decades, it's been run from the air, and now that you have an asymmetric ground battle -- not the Cold War anymore -- people are beginning to understand that there are a plethora of targets in any square kilometer on the ground, … and we have to protect ourselves and be able to attack from a ground point of view.”

Creation of the career field gives the Army the largest professional electronic warfare cadre of all of the services, and arguably one of the largest among the NATO countries, Buckhout said.

The new positions will be distributed throughout the force, from the four-star-command level down to battalions, and most electronic warfare practitioners will be in brigade combat teams, she added.

“A brigade combat team will have an enlisted, warrant, and officer at each team who is in charge of the nonkinetics within the targeting cell,” Buckout explained. “[The Army’s Training and Doctrine Command] spent a couple of years analyzing this beast inside and out, and the final analysis was we simply have to have electronic warfare officers, and the Army has to bite the bullet in force structure to build them in.”

An electronic warfare noncommissioned officer can rise to be a sergeant major, a warrant officer can rise to be the W-4 or W-5 rank, and a commissioned officer can rise to be a lieutenant colonel or colonel, Buckhout said.

A number of pilot courses are running at Fort Sill, Okla., to train soldiers in the field of electronic warfare. One officer pilot course has been completed, another is under way, and warrant and enlisted courses are planned for April, the colonel said.

“We're getting a whole lot of volunteers from the field every day,” she said. “NCOs, officers and warrants all want to play in this, because they see it as certainly the way ahead to go from kinetics to non kinetics.”

The young officers and enlisted soldiers looking to join the career field see it as a way to expand into whole new technologies, Buckhout told the bloggers.

The colonel cited the words of President Barack Obama in explaining the new direction. "We must adapt and make tradeoffs among systems originally designed for the Cold War and those required for current and future challenges,” she said, quoting Obama. “We need greater investment in advanced technology, … like unmanned aerial vehicles and electronic warfare capabilities.”

The Army’s new electronic warfare career field puts those words to work, Buckhout said. “Like the new commander in chief said,” she told the bloggers, “this is a way to get out of old-style Cold War business and to get into something new. That is right in line with the Army way ahead, our mantra is change.”

For two years, Fort Sill has been running a skill-identifier course to train interested servicemembers, some of whom are Navy and Air Force members who have been filling necessary electronic warfare slots for the Army.

“They have trained a couple of thousand joint personnel, and in fact, all of the Navy and Air Force guys who go over to theater to fill in as Army [electronic warfare officers] go through those courses, because they do such a good job and bring them up to speed on ground [electronic warfare].”

Ground electronic warfare is different, she said, because of the need to find very specific target areas.

“The Air Force and the Navy have for a long time been flying high-altitude, airborne electronic attack capabilities … that have a huge footprint on the ground,” Buckhout explained. Many of these capabilities were designed to suppress enemy air defense, protecting strategic assets, bombers and long-range strike capabilities from ground-to-air missiles and other ground-to-air threats.

“If we want to go after a target on the ground,… or if we want to stop an [improvised explosive device] from blowing up,… [for the] Air Force or the Navy airborne platforms, it’s like trying to hit a mosquito with a sledgehammer.”

The Army needs to “apply surgical on-the-ground assets to complement the capability of emitters and collectors to target enemy communications,” she added.

In future years, Buckhout explained, the career field will continue to grow.

“The field first started with IEDs as the focal point, but we quickly learned that they were just the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “We are seeing electronic attacks [on communications]. We're seeing directed energy capabilities. We're seeing laser capabilities. We have something called active denial systems that puts out a directed energy pulse that is harmless, but not something you want to get in front of.

“There's a whole lot of technology in the area. Again, it's not something that most folks are reading about in the Washington Post…, but it's actually very accessible. It's at high-technology levels that can be quickly used by the services.”

For more information, soldiers can contact Army Lt. Col. Frederick Harper at the Computer-Network Operations-Electronic Warfare Proponent at 913-684-8538 or frederick-harper@us.army.mil, or Army Lt. Col. James Looney, Fires Center of Excellence director of training and doctrine, at 580-442-2832 or james.looney@us.army.mil.

(Jamie Findlater works in the Defense Media Activity’s new media directorate.)

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