The US Army is overhauling the electronic warfare assets supporting its Brigade Combat Teams. What new systems is it receiving, and when might these enter service?
The Brigade Combat Team (BCT) is the US Army’s standard deployable manoeuvre unit. The army uses infantry and armoured BCTs, and Stryker BCTs, the latter built around General Dynamics’ M-1126 Stryker series of eight-wheel drive armoured fighting vehicles.
Each BCT has a Military Intelligence (MI) company. This is where the brigade’s Electronic Warfare (EW) assets reside. How the BCTs are deployed on the battlefield “depends on the threat and mission they are executing,” Colonel Kevin Finch, the US Army’s project manager for EW and cyber in the force’s intelligence, EW and sensors programme executive office told Armada: “The commander can push these forward or hold them back as the mission dictates.”
The army is overhauling the BCT’s EW assets. New platforms and capabilities will not only enhance how the BCT manoeuvres in the electromagnetic spectrum, but also underpin the convergence of EW and cyber effects.
Four major capabilities are being rolled out across the BCTs; the Terrestrial Layered System Brigade Combat Team (TLS-BCT), Multi-Function EW – Air Large (MFEW-AL), the Tactical Cyber Equipment (TCE) and the Electronic Warfare Planning and Management Tool (EWPMT). Raven Claw is a laptop-based version of the EWPMT developed for dismounted troops and mobile EW assets.
The TLS and MFEW-AL will collect Communications and Electronic Intelligence (COMINT/ELINT). Unlike the MFEW-AL, the TLS will perform cyber and electronic attacks. The TCE is a mounted/dismounted capability for cyber warfare and the EWPMT/Raven Claw performs cyber and electronic warfare battle management and damage assessment.
The TLS-BCT replaces two BCT EW capabilities; the existing Tactical Electronic Warfare System (TEWS) based on an M-1126 Stryker platform and the TEW-Light (TEW-L) housed onboard General Dynamics Flyer-72 four-wheel drive vehicles. TLS-BCT also replaces the General Dynamics AN/MLQ-44A Prophet Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) gathering vehicle.
Col. Finch says that the AN/MLQ-44A will leave active duty BCTs but will not be put out to pasture. Instead they will be “cascaded down” to the US National Guard. Likewise, TEWS/TEW-L units will be moved out of the BCTs but into other National Guard or Reserve BCT formations which may currently lack organic EW.
The TEWS and TEW-L are quick reaction capabilities replacing the Sabre Fury electronic attack system. The Sabre Fury is based on SRC’s AN/VLQ-12(V)4/5 Counter Radio-Controlled EW system. Sabre Fury was intended to quickly provide the US Army with a mobile SIGINT/electronic attack capability for forward-deployed army units like the 2nd Cavalry Regiment based in Vilseck, southwest Germany. The system also equips the US Army’s Electronic Warfare Tactical Vehicle (EWTV), itself a modified version of the International M-1224 MaxPro Mine Resistant Ambush Protected platform. The EWTVs were primarily developed for training and electronic warfare research and development.
While the TEWS can perform electronic support gathering signals across an estimated waveband of 30 megahertz/MHz to six gigahertz/GHz alongside electronic attack, the TEW-L is configured solely for electronic support. The TEWS/TEWS-L ensemble are both highly mobile and designed to be employed near the Forward Edge of the Battle Area (FEBA).
There, EW practitioners can use the intelligence to plan cyber, electronic or kinetic attacks against targets like hostile communications nodes or radars. Meanwhile, the TEWS can perform a similar task at the tactical/operational level. Col. Finch says that the software running the TEWS/TEW-L forms the baseline of that which will run the TLS-BCT.
This should ease the transition of the TLS into BCT service and enable interoperability between BCTs using the legacy TEWS/TEW-L and those that have received the TLS-BCT.
Col. Finch says that TEWS typically equips Stryker and armoured BCTs with the TEW-L furnishing infantry BCTs.
The forthcoming TLS-BCT will follow a similar pattern, he says. Stryker BCTs will receive the TLS-BCT equipment mounted on a M-1133 Medical Evacuation variant of the Stryker double-V hull design. The M-1133 has the requisite electrical systems to power the TLS-BCT architecture. Armoured BCTs will receive the TLS-BCT mounted on the BAE Systems Armoured Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV). The AMPV is replacing the FMC/BAE Systems M-113 armoured personnel carriers in US Army service. The first production AMPVs began rolling off the production line in September. Infantry BCTs will receive the TLS-BCT on another platform which has yet to be decided, Col. Finch continues.
The US Army is also to receive a TLS variant for deployment at the operational level known as the TLS-EAB (Echelon Above Brigade). The TLS-EAB may be housed on two Oshkosh FMTV tactical vehicles: One will have a SIGINT and jamming payload. This will most likely to detect and locate hostile radio and radar emissions on frequencies of three megahertz to 18GHz and above. The jamming element will probably perform conventional and discrete jamming against these threats, and deliver cyberattacks into hostile Command and Control (C2) systems.
The second Oshkosh FMTV is expected to carry an electronic protection system to help safeguard friendly communications, C2 networks, platforms and sensors against hostile EW and cyberattack. This will be done via jamming and cyberattack, although this vehicle will not have any SIGINT capability.
Like its counterparts, the TLS-EAB will be linked to the EWPMT using cables, conventional radio and satellite communications.
BCT SIGINT collection will be assisted by the MFEW-AL. This is a pod-based signals intelligence system expected to cover a 30MHz to 40GHz waveband and will equip the force’s General Atomics MQ-1C Grey Eagle Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).
Given the service ceiling of the MQ-1C, it should be able to collect SIGINT at the theatre level, typically across ranges of over 200 nautical miles/nm (370 kilometres/km). In addition to collecting COMINT on hostile communications, the MFEW-AL will collect ELINT on hostile emitters like weapons locating and ground surveillance radars. Col. Finch is looking forward to fielding the MFEW-AL: “We have never had this capability in the force before.”
The MFEW-AL will enter service over the next two years. It could be augmented in the future by the MFEW Air Small (MFEW-AS). This is destined to equip US Army Class-3 UAVs. The US Department of Defence classifies these aircraft as having a maximum ceiling of 18,000 feet (5,486 metres) and a maximum take-off weight of under 1,320 pounds (600 kilograms). Potential platforms for the MFEW-AS include the army’s AAI RQ-7B Shadow tactical UAV and its successor.
In contrast to the operational/tactical SIGINT collected by the MFEW-AL, the MFEW-AS could be more applicable to the tactical level, providing electronic support at ranges of under 150nm (278km). In March, the US Army stated that the MFEW-AS could enter service in circa 2030.
A third airborne SIGINT capacity to equip US Army helicopters, dubbed the MFEW-Air Rotary, has been mooted. This is expected to enhance rotorcraft self-protection but may have a secondary role collecting operational/tactical level SIGINT. A tentative fielding date of 2026 has been suggested for the MFEW-Air Rotary, although few additional details have been published.
Backpack EW Systems
Dismounted troops use VROD (Versatile Radio Observation and Direction) and VMAX (VROD Modular Adaptive Transmit) backpack EW systems. VROD collects COMINT while VMAX performs limited electronic attack on wavebands of 300MHz to three gigahertz. The army is thought to deploy 200 VMAXs and 100 VRODs.
These are to be enhanced with L3Harris’ Tactical Cyber Equipment. TCE will be used to perform cyberattacks at the tactical level complementing the TLS’ employment of cyber effects at the tactical/operational levels. Usefully, the TCE can be deployed in situations where it may be unsuitable or impractical to deploy larger EW integrated assets or the MFEW-AL.
The TCE could start delivery in 2021. TLS vehicles equipping the BCTs may enter US Army service from 2022, followed by the TLS-EAB from 2024. The MFEW-AL could reach the BCTs from 2025, followed by the MFEW-Air Rotary in 2026 and the MFEW-AS in circa 2030.
All these capabilities represent a streamlining of the disparate EW capabilities in BCT service today with state-of-the-art platforms fusing cyber warfare with traditional EW tasks. Deploying these at the operational and tactical levels with the BCTs will ensure that electromagnetic manoeuvre can be fused closely with conventional manoeuvre from the forward edge of the battle upwards.