Army EW and Downsizing

For the last three years, Army Electronic Warfare Officers have been selected for promotion from Captain to Major at a lower rate than any other branch or functional area. The vast majority of the few who do get promoted have received a “most qualified” rating in their basic branch as a Company Commander before transferring into Electronic Warfare. With this in mind one would think that the EW leadership would require company command to be accessed into EW. But that is not the case, which leads to an inordinate amount of EW officers being forced out under the “up or out” promotion system.

The centralized selection boards for enlisted members haven’t fared much better on the senior NCO front, with a distinct lack of promotions to the Master Sergeant and Sergeant Major ranks for the 29E MOS. I guess if those positions never get filled then the Army will find them easier to cut in the downsizing?

Either way, the Cyber field has managed to swallow up Army EW, and already the cuts to MTOE authorizations are underway across the Army. EW will remain “tactical” and never to be appreciated at echelons above Corps, and Cyber will remain “strategic” and only grudgingly give up “tiger teams” to support Corps level operations.

What this means is that the gains in EW proficiency paid in blood during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are being squandered. The best of the enlisted side are getting out either through retirement or dropping SF, CA, or PSYOP packets, or just finding civilian employment. Taking a TS clearance out of the Army does open up a number of job fields otherwise closed.

Now it isn’t all doom and gloom. The senior EW Officer in the Army has finally pushed a software solution to plan EW missions and analyze effects to a force that has been planning missions and analyzing effects without a software tool going on a decade. Of course now they can explain what the effect would look like, if only they had a system in place that could provide a jamming effect of some sort. But the jammer is supposed to come, in the form of a pod on a UAV in 2023. Never mind that the vast majority of UAVs pushed by the OSCE monitors in Ukraine have proven to be totally vulnerable to Russian jamming.

Currently, 813 soldiers make up the Army’s EW mission, for which just over 1,000 positions have been authorized. And other Army units are guarding against Church’s attempts to peel away soldiers from their ranks to join his. The staffing squeeze is only expected to get worse as the overall Army contracts: At its peak during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army had about 570,000 soldiers; it is on pace to be down to 450,000 by the end of 2017. That number could slide even further, to 420,000 over the next several years, if Washington deadlocks over a long-term budget deal in the coming months. 

The already small Army EW personnel roster is shrinking, the equipment needed to be relevant against a Chinese or Russian ground force is vaporware, and Cyber has no plan on doing anything but cutting EW expertise at the tactical level to create more “cyber warriors” at echelons above reality.

So no matter how good the Abrams M1A2 SEPV3 ends up being, or the next iteration of upgrades to the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, it will be worthless if an American Commander who has been spoiled by an entire career of having communications gear actually work instead of being cut by the enemy whenever the enemy feels like it. No matter how good your troops and equipment are, if the flow of accurate information and intelligence is stopped the enemy has effectively dominated your OODA loop.

The US Military is not ready for a peer fight, and without external reforms and guidance it may take the same decade to reform itself after Vietnam until Goldwater-Nichols forced joint interoperability. The question remains, do we have a decade?

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