Joint Publication 3-85 (US DOD) – The US DOD’s new Joint Publication 3-86 - Joint Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations sets the tone for how the US armed forces will perform such efforts in the future.

The US armed forces have a new doctrine for joint electronic warfare highlighting the importance of electromagnetic manoeuvre and reflecting recent events.

The signal was lost in the noise of global Covid-19 discourse, debate and discussion, but this May, the US Department of Defence (DOD) released the latest version of its joint electronic warfare doctrine. Entitled US Joint Publication 3-85 – Joint Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations the document replaces the previous US DOD publications Electronic Warfare and Joint Electromagnetic Spectrum Management Operations in the Electromagnetic Operational Environment.

Much water has flown under the bridge since both these documents were published in 2012. Since then, the strategic, operational and tactical electromagnetic (EM) environments have been challenged by Russia’s use of electronic warfare to support her deployments to the Syrian and Ukrainian theatres from 2015 and 2014 respectively. Meanwhile, potential US and allied adversaries such as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People’s Republic of China continue to pour investment and effort into enhancing their military communications, command and control, situational awareness and electronic warfare capabilities.

Perhaps fittingly, Joint Publicaton 3-85 opens with a quote from Admiral Sergei G. Gorshkov, admiral of the fleet of the Soviet Union. Adm. Gorshkov said in 1973 that “the next war will be won by the side that best exploits the electromagnetic spectrum.” Given that the US and her allies now faces their most serious electromagnetic threats from Russian and Chinese electronic warfare the quotation is as relevant today as it was almost 40 years ago.

Electromagnetic Manoeuvre

The publication defines the electromagnetic spectrum as a manoeuvre space. It stresses that freedom of manoeuvre is essential for US and allied multinational operations. Joint Electromagnetic Support Operations (JEMSO) are at the crux of ensuring this freedom of electromagnetic manoeuvre to ensure electromagnetic superiority. In turn it defines EM superiority is “the degree of control in the (Electromagnetic Spectrum/EMS) that permits the conduct of operations at a given time and place without prohibitive interference, while affecting an enemy’s ability to do the same.” One way that manoeuvre is achieved, says the document, is the exploitation of frequency, transmission power and modulation. Exploiting these dimensions mirrors how an aircraft or missile three dimensions and ships, vehicles and personnel through two.

GNSS and SATCOM Jamming

Reflecting the realities of Russian electronic warfare in Syria and Ukraine, the publication highlights the importance of protecting GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite Signals) from interference. The Russian Army’s Protek R-330Zh Zhitel electronic attack apparatus has shown its competence in jamming GNSS signals during Russia’s deployment to Syria. Likewise Russian EW developments to electronically attack Satellite Communications (SATCOM) using similar equipment falls within the publication’s purview. It argues that “all space operations rely on the EMS for (command and control), sensing and information distribution.” Thus, there is a priority to protect satellite uplinks, downlinks and crosslinks against electronic attack, while locating and engaging SATCOM jammers kinetically or electronically. Equally important is the need to kinetically or electronically attack hostile position, navigation and timing capabilities when required.


Importantly, the document notes that cyber operations will be enabled by JEMSO. Ergo electronic attack becomes the syringe through which the poison of a cyber operation is delivered into the enemy’s nervous system. This nervous system are formed from the IP (Internet Protocol) networks carrying command and control, and situational awareness data around the battlefield: “The increasing prevalence of wireless networks in the operational environment creates opportunities when JEMSO and CO capabilities are used synergistically,” the document notes.

When used properly, military doctrine is a guide not a master, and while quite rightly not prescribing a highly rigid set of requirements for JEMSO, Joint Publication 3-85 provides a useful framework within which electronic warfare can be executed. Crucially, it provides the EW professional the latitude to act creatively and imaginatively in the prosecution of electromagnetic manoeuvre while codifying the effect that electronic warfare should have in support of kinetic forces and in its own right.

by Dr. Thomas Withington