By Patrick Tucker

WASHINGTON - The U.S. military is “still falling behind” its potential adversaries in electronic warfare, one former three-star special operator said last week at SOF Week conference in Tampa, Florida—and he wasn’t the only one.

“The gap between where the United States should be and where we are, in my judgment, continues to expand not everywhere, but in far too many places,” said Mike Nagata, a retired Army lieutenant general who led special operations in the Middle East and is now a senior vice president for CACI International.

If the Pentagon is to regain its advantage in a warfare domain that is only growing in importance, Nagata said, it needs to get more creative in its use of radio technologies, particularly space-based communications.

Nagata is hardly the first to sound the alarm. In 2022, the National Defense Strategy Commission said that the United States is “losing its advantages in electronic warfare, hindering the nation’s ability to conduct military operations against capable adversaries.”

That sentiment was reinforced by two recently retired special-operations personnel who work in electronic warfare. One reason that Russia is so far ahead, they said, is simply that Moscow chooses to ignore international law against jamming civilian telecommunications. But the Kremlin has also consistently invested and experimented in electromagnetic innovation in decades when U.S. EW efforts were focused on gathering intelligence in the relatively permissive environments of wars in the Middle East.

The war in Ukraine is revealing just how good modern Russian EW gear is—against American weapons. Russian jamming has decreased the “efficiency rate” of GPS-guided Excalibur 155mm artillery from 70 percent to 6 percent, Daniel Patt, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told lawmakers this month. Drones, small-diameter bombs, and some communications systems have proven similarly vulnerable.

At SOF Week, U.S. special operators walked the floors in search of answers. Officials with U.S. Special Operations Command’s Tactical Information Systems told industry representatives they want help for two key programs. The first, the Satellite Deployable Node program, helps connect troops on the battlefield to space-based datalinks.

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