Technology Investment Implications in DOD’s New Electromagnetic Strategy

Published: November 04, 2020

Federal Market AnalysisArtificial Intelligence/Machine LearningBig DataCloud ComputingDEFENSEInformation TechnologySatellite Communications

The Department of Defense published a new strategy.

Key Takeaways

  • The new DOD Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS) strategy updates earlier guidance to provide better alignment between EMS management and National Defense Strategy objectives.
  • DOD will invest heavily in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Big Data Analytics to achieve success in the EMS domain.
  • Defense customers will leverage cloud-based capabilities.
  • DOD will continue using Other Transaction Agreements (OTAs) to procure commercial capabilities it can adapt to military needs.

Last week, the Department of Defense (DOD) released a new Electromagnetic Spectrum Superiority Strategy. Updating the department’s 2013 Electromagnetic Spectrum Strategy and its 2017 Electronic Warfare Strategy, the new guidance aligns the military’s use of electromagnetic spectrum with the goals of the 2018 National Defense Strategy. While typically such a strategy document might not generate much intelligence about potential defense technology investment, the recent update contains some relevant information.

The first thing to know about the strategy is that Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS) is not simply unseen waves in the air. It is the series of frequencies that the military uses to deliver capabilities wirelessly and via satellite communications. Understanding this is critical because the new strategy deals with far more than just managing communication frequencies. It defines how the DOD plans to use EMS as a warfighting enabler, meaning there are wider ramifications for the other technologies being used by the department.

For example, the DOD uses EMS to deploy both defensive and offensive capabilities. Defensive capabilities are required because the electromagnetic spectrum is a highly-contested warfighting domain. Offensive capabilities provide the U.S. with the systems it needs to carry out operations in the EMS. Given the complications of conducting Electronic Warfare (EW) in the EMS, including the need for speed, the DOD must incorporate autonomous and cognitive defensive cyber capabilities that rely on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning. Offensive capabilities, meanwhile, “need to detect, identify, locate and replicate complex emitters/signals of interest rapidly to build situational awareness and enable targeting for both kinetic and non-kinetic fires.” Visualization tools based on advanced analytics provide the foundation for situational awareness so, as the strategy makes clear, the “DOD should invest in autonomous/semi-autonomous systems that use AI/machine learning and access cloud-based tools.”

The mention of cloud platforms is important for several reasons. First, it is further evidence that the DOD is going “all-in” on cloud because of its potential as a warfighting platform. Second, some of the scenarios discussed in the strategy involve the use of cloud at the tactical edge. This is the holy grail of multi-domain operations, which is the DOD’s new conceptual framework for using electronic, cyber, and kinetic weapons systems in unison. Third, it signals that cloud-based electronic warfare capabilities are not only needed, they are desired. Vendors selling standalone capabilities that do not function in cloud environments should pay heed here because they may be at a competitive disadvantage. As for the cloud environment all capabilities should be fundamentally engineered to use, think the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI).

Lastly, the strategy outlines some of the challenges the DOD faces when it comes to EMS. Foremost among these is leveraging commercial technologies to the farthest extent possible. Most commercial capabilities are not built for military use, meaning the DOD must get creative when finding ways to make them apply. Industry should expect the solution employed by the DOD will involve awarding Other Transaction Agreements (OTAs) for commercial capabilities that it can prototype.