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IN THE NEWS: William G. Conley, Deputy Director of Electronic Warfare, Discusses Future Advancements in EW

William G. Conley

Convergence and divergence–from the lab to the battlefield, the automation of testing and development systems is dramatically improving the long-sighted vision of where and how modern warfare is conducted. The convergence of electronic warfare and cyber capabilities present a bevy of opportunities across multiple spectra, namely the electromagnetic spectrum. Are we diverting or straying too far from the path of where we should be with 21st century cyber technology?

To comment on the emergence of technologies (i.e. automation, microdrones, integrated photonics) in enhancing effectiveness and military application on-and-off the battlefield, William G. Conley, deputy director of electronic warfare for the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, recently contributed his insight on what the future of EW looks like.

“It is a phenomenal look at what we are capable of doing in the electromagnetic spectrum when we choose to approach the problem a little bit differently,” Conley said in a statement.

According to recent studies on the overlap and application of EW and cyber by the Georgia Tech Research Institute, the integration and implementation of technologies like improved photonics can allow for potentially-extensive reductions in size, weight and power needs for soldiers in-theatre.

Conley explains that most usable electromagnetic spectrum for radio frequency communications falls below 110 gigahertz (GHz).
“We are on the verge of being able to directly process all 110 of those gigahertz in a way that a decade ago, candidly, we couldn’t even dream of doing,” he says.

He draws comparisons between the emergence of capabilities like this to the human condition, namely that of eyes and ocular sense.
“We can see anything in front of our face with our eyeballs. In the electromagnetic spectrum, we used to have to pick where we were going to look,” Conley said. “As these technologies come into fruition and we start integrating them into our systems, it means we will be able to start looking everywhere at all times. That, from an electronic warfare standpoint, is going to be a substantial and critically important change for us as we go into the future.”

Enhanced vision of the electromagnetic spectrum can provide us with the color and shape of the enemy psyche.
“That ability to sense and understand the environment around you via the electromagnetic spectrum will allow us to understand an adversary’s intent in our operational environment,” Conley added. “If we understand his intent, we can decide what actions we want to take that are desirable for us and undesirable for them.”

At an Air Force Association event, Conley mentioned that the U.S. has failed to keep up as adversaries have made great strides in electronic warfare capabilities. Apparently we need to step up our game.

“Domain superiority–be it land, air or sea, space or cyberspace–is effectively predicated upon the ability to have superiority or control in the electromagnetic spectrum,” he said. “We have to balance what is the necessary or needed capability and what is the kind of security risk of what we are able to go do.”

Leveraging the DoD’s resources and making the most of what is available in the commercial sector is proving to be a difficult task. Difficult–but not impossible.

“At this point, we will be outpaced by the rate of innovation which occurs in the commerical world,” he said poignantly. “[That] means we have to be very deliberate in how and where we choose to be innovative with our defense-unique dollars, to make sure we’re not being redundant.”

Those in the industry who share Conley’s mentality will wholeheartedly agree that there are certainly challenges to planning and realizing the future of EW, as it reacts to the twists and turns of military advancements in today’s rapidly-changing political climate.

“Right now, we’re working through the implementation plan–it is a delicate dance,” he said. “Finding a balance between making the plan proscriptive enough to provide actionable guidance without stifling innovation is the true challenge.”

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William Conley is the deputy director, Electronic Warfare (EW) within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. In this role, he advises department leadership on electronic warfare capabilities. He also is the executive secretary for the Electronic Warfare Executive Committee. Conley previously was a program manager at DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, in the Strategic Technology Office. At DARPA, he executed a variety of advances in distributed EW capabilities to improve electronic attack capabilities. He oversaw a variety of EW studies and led interdisciplinary strategy development. As a Navy engineer, Dr. Conley co-founded the Laboratory for Spectrum Technology Advanced Research at the Naval Surface Warfare Center – Crane Division. Dr. Conley earned a B.A. in Mathematics-Physics from Whitman College and a B.S. and Ph.D. from Purdue University, both in Mechanical Engineering.

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