YUMA PROVING GROUND, Ariz.—Against the stillness and quiet of the desolate Yuma desert, an invisible battle raged in the brutal summer heat. However, instead of bullets and bombs, these combatants harnessed the power of electromagnetic waves to disrupt their opponent.
The U.S. Army Rapid Equipping Force, along with the Georgia Tech Research Institute, conducted an electronic warfare test exercise here, June 19-24, to assess the capabilities of multiple systems against a series of communication and data threats.
“As technology accelerates, the Army must continue to innovate faster than current and potential adversaries across multiple domains—including the electromagnetic spectrum,” said Lt. Col. Scott Schumacher, a REF solutions team chief. “This is why the REF exists. We seek to provide the latest technology to the Warfighter as new threats emerge downrange.”
Dubbed Desert Burnoff, the event was one of the first test exercises in recent years by the U.S. Army to evaluate the offensive capabilities of multiple electronic warfare platforms, according to Schumacher. The test accessed each vendor’s ability to detect, identify, geolocate and disrupt targeted systems. While 15 industry and military organizations submitted applications, the REF selected six vendors that met preferred specifications.
Established in 2002 at the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, the REF provides innovative material solutions outside the standard U.S. Army supply chain to meet the urgent requirements of deployed U.S. Army units. As of 2015, the REF became an enduring program under U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.
Since 2015, the REF has received an increase in electronic warfare equipment requests originating from several U.S. Army service component commands. In response, the REF has equipped deployed units with multiple electronic warfare systems.
Along with the recent uptick in submitted requirements, interest in electronic warfare capabilities has increased with the U.S. Army’s emphasis to develop capabilities exploiting potential vulnerabilities across multiple sectors of warfare. The emerging Multi-Domain Battle Concept calls for U.S. Army elements to fight across multiple domains and contested areas, including the electromagnetic spectrum. According to the concept, this synchronization of capabilities across joint and multinational forces will create windows of domain superiority and preserve joint forces’ freedom of movement.
Additionally, the Rapid Capabilities Office has recently equipped electronic warfare systems to various locations. The U.S. Army established the office last year to expedite the provisioning and fielding of critical equipment to meet the needs of Combatant Commanders. The main differences between the REF and ARCO, however, are timeframe and scale. The REF limits its actions to equipping a specific deployed unit within 180 days or less in response to an urgent requirement, whereas the ARCO focuses its activities to fielding equipment in one-to-five years in response to strategic and operational U.S. Army requirements.
This “rapid” timeframe requires the REF to be familiarized with emerging technology in relation to its many lines of effort, which include counter unmanned aircraft systems; small-unit intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems; nonlethal capabilities and equipment supporting subterranean operations.
“The REF is always looking for the latest, cutting-edge, overmatch materiel solutions to support Soldiers deployed overseas,” said Maj. Keith Muehling, a REF acquisition officer. “While we first look in the government supply pipeline to meet a requirement, we often depend on our industry partners to provide innovative solutions.”
The REF periodically plans tests like Desert Burnoff to access various government and commercial off-the-shelf equipment. The results from Desert Burnoff will inform future REF equipping decisions and other military agencies conducting similar research.