A Moving Experience: Evolving Theoretical Frameworks for Electromagnetic Manoeuvre
Abstract: Those who control the spectrum control the battle. Militaries can no longer prevail on the battlefield unless they achieve superiority and supremacy in the electromagnetic spectrum because of the ever-growing reliance armed forces place on the spectrum. This is because the spectrum is used extensively to enhance situational awareness, for command and control and for battle management. The principle of Electromagnetic Manoeuvre, henceforth known as spectrum manoeuvre, could help forces prevail in this most intangible of environments. Electromagnetic Maneovure should be performed for the achievement of 4S; Spectrum Superiority and Spectrum Supremacy.
Bottom-line-up-front: The indispensable role that the electromagnetic spectrum plays in today’s and will play in tomorrow’s operations means that it cannot be ignored. Forces must learn to manoeuvre in the spectrum as they do on the oceans, on land, in the air and space. Failure to master manoeuvre in the spectrum can risk the success of manoeuvre in the physical domains.
Problem statement: How to apply the principle of manoeuvre warfare to operations in the electromagnetic spectrum?
So what? In a nutshell, everyone involved in defence needs to become ‘spectrum minded’ and be congnisant of the need to manoeuvre successfully in the electromagnetic environment. While it is unnecessary for everyone to know the detailed science underpinning electronic warfare, it is vital that everyone from politicians to warfighters understand electromagnetic maneovure and the 4S paradigm.
Manoeuvre warfare rests on an elegantly simple principle. As summarised by Professor Christopher Bellamy at its most basic level it encompasses “the movement of forces on the ground into advantageous positions which facilitate the destruction of the enemy, or may of themselves induce the enemy to surrender.” Prof. Bellamy adds that while the physical movement of forces is the essence of manoeuvre, manoeuvre warfare includes concepts like surprise, deception, pace and agility.
At the strategic, operational and tactical levels manoeuvre is not only about destroying materiel, but rests on destroying the enemy’s will to fight. In his 1991 monograph for the US Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Major G. Stephen Lauer of the US Marine Corps posited that “the cause of victory in battle is the disruption of an enemy force through manoeuvre to interrupt his decision cycle and his perception of reality.” This article will explain why the spectrum is intrinsic to military operations and its characteristics. It will explain the relevance of manoeuvre warfare theory to spectrum operations, the importance of movement, agility and pace, the role of attrition and the importance of protection.
The Spectrum and its Characteristics
What is the electromagnetic spectrum? It is the global electromagnetic environment inhabited by civilian and military systems which depend on this spectrum to fulfil their primary purpose. A cell phone needs the spectrum to send and receive voice and data traffic, a radar needs the spectrum to transmit and receive a pulse of radio frequency energy to detect and track a target. Like the atmosphere, the spectrum surrounds the Earth. Unlike the atmosphere, it also exists in the universe. The spectrum is unpunctuated by topography or coastlines like the maritime domains. Whether the electromagnetic spectrum can be considered a domain of warfare is a moot point vigorously debated in the electronic warfare (EW) community and beyond.
What is undisputable is that forces paying insufficient attention to the spectrum will at best fail to harness its full potential and at worst have their efforts in the land, sea, air and space domains stymied, if not rendered futile, by the spectrum activities of an adversary.
Why is the spectrum important and why must land, sea, air and space forces be able to manoeuvre within it? Armed forces use the electromagnetic spectrum for sensing, notably with radar, and for radio and Satellite Communications (SATCOM). Sensing enhances situational awareness. Radio and SATCOM carry that situational awareness along with command and control data around the battlespace. For all intents and purposes, sensors are the eyes and ears of a force, with radio and SATCOM being the nervous system. Disrupt one or all of these and the force’s ability to fight is badly degraded, if not destroyed completely. Almost every base, platform, subsystem, weapon, sensor or soldier depends in some way upon the electromagnetic spectrum. It is all but impossible for forces to fight without using the spectrum. The force failing to exploit the spectrum to the full does so at its peril, but how can it fight and prevail in this environment? Perhaps the principle of electromagnetic manoeuvre has the answer.
Manoeuvre and the Electromagnetic Spectrum
In an ideal world manoeuvre warfare would harness tactics and operational art to defeat an enemy without a shot being fired. This is unlikely. Instead, manoeuvre warfare aims to defeat the enemy in the most efficient and economical way possible limiting expense in blood and treasure. This can be achieved physically and metaphorically by ensuring one’s own forces are in a more advantageous position than one’s adversary. Manoeuvre warfare is characterised by pre-emption, dislocation and disruption. Pre-emption focuses on defeating or neutralising the enemy prior to the fight, dislocation rests on making enemy strength irrelevant while disruption emphasises defeating the enemy by attacking their Centres of Gravity (COG). This nod to the wisdom of the strategist Carl von Clausewitz reminds us of the Prussian’s prizing of the Schwerpunkt (main emphasis), those ‘COGs in the machine’ vital to the effective functioning of the red force against which all effort should be directed in the hope that their destruction will cause red force strength to be badly degraded if not destroyed altogether.
Manoeuvre warfare is characterised by pre-emption, dislocation and disruption.
Pre-emption, dislocation and disruption are facilitated by movement, arguably the key tenet of manoeuvre warfare alongside time. The pre-eminence of movement in manoeuvre warfare is married to the imperative of pace; the need to perform decision making and actions at a faster pace than one’s adversary. This is vital to maintaining the initiative to force one’s adversary onto the back foot. As Leonhard argues, the point of manoeuvre warfare is not so much to attack the enemy’s mass as its mind. Spectrum manoeuvre takes these principles and applies them to the electromagnetic spectrum, and the exploitation of that spectrum by an adversary. The goal is to initially achieve Spectrum Superiority and then Spectrum Supremacy (S4). S4 borrows from the air superiority and air supremacy dictums of airpower theorists. Paraphrasing the definitions for each taken from the US Department of Defence’s Dictionary of Military Terms spectrum superiority is the degree of dominance in the electromagnetic battle that permits one force to conduct electromagnetic operations at a given time and place without prohibitive interferences by the opposing force. Spectrum supremacy takes this a step further and is the degree of spectrum superiority wherein the opposing force is capable of effective interference in blue force electromagnetic operations.
Movement is paramount to manoeuvre warfare. In the electromagnetic context, this corresponds to the ability of electronic attack systems to use frequency agility to keep the red force off balance. A jammer designed to target hostile communications at the tactical level must be able to attack the frequencies used by red force. At the same time it must be able to rapidly change to new frequencies as the red force detects the jamming and moves their communications or radar transmissions onto frequencies less affected by it. Even better, electronic attack systems should jam a multitude of frequencies simultaneously, including those the enemy is using and the ones they are expected to use, ensuring that this course of action is closed to them before it is even attempted.
The electronic warfare campaign of the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command during the Second World War gives us an instructive example. In December 1942 Bomber Command began jamming Luftwaffe (German Air Force) High Frequency (HF) ground-to-air/air-to-ground radio used for fighter control. It was hoped that this would degrade Luftwaffe command and control and situational awareness during Bomber Command operations over Germany and occupied Europe. Air Vice Marshal Edward Addison, the RAF’s deputy director of signals, warned that the Luftwaffe was likely to move their air-to-ground/ground-to-air HF communications into higher wavebands to outflank the HF jamming. Addison urged the development of Very High Frequency radio jammers for precisely this eventuality which, as he anticipated, eventually occurred. Addison’s actions highlighted the importance of not only reacting to the enemy’s spectrum behaviour but anticipating, and pre-empting, what it might do next.
Equally, movement can be applied to change the enemy’s behaviour in the spectrum. Perhaps the red force is using waveforms or a portion of the spectrum the blue force cannot exploit. Kinetic or non-kinetic means could then be used to force them to change their behaviour in such a way that blue force EW practitioners can then exploit to their advantage. For example, destroying the nodes in a fibre optic communications network connecting an integrated air defence system (IADS) could force air defenders to revert to conventional radio communications. These could then be exploited for intelligence or targeted using conventional or discreet jamming. Vice versa, jamming the IADS’ conventional radio communications could force the air defenders to use fixed fibre optic networks. The nodes of these networks could then be attacked kinetically depriving the IADS of communications.
Maintaining a robust Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) capability is intrinsic to movement and pre-emption. Anticipating red force spectrum behaviour will be informed by the SIGINT collection effort. This will have built a pattern-of-life analysis of how the red force uses the spectrum and importantly, how it adapts when experiencing an electronic attack. To this end, SIGINT experts must be able to quickly determine, locate and characterise Radio Frequency emissions of interest.
This is imperative for sorting red forces emitters from non-combatant and blue force emitters. Once those red force emitters are characterised, they must be prioritised. It is no good providing details of scores of red force radios and radars to electronic attack teams if only ten percent of these need to be engaged to support the commander’s intent.
This identification and prioritisation challenge will only increase in the future. The electromagnetic spectrum is becoming ever-more congested. For instance, the size of the global smartphone market is expected to grow at a rate of over seven percent annually between 2020 and 2025, according to figures released in 2020. As of 2020, there were 10.7 billion cellular subscriptions globally. This is expected to rise to 17.1 billion by 2030.
It requires little stretch of the imagination to comprehend just how saturated the radio portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, inhabited by military and civilian telecommunications and radar, will become as wireless devices proliferate in the spectrum.
For SIGINT practitioners this will be the electromagnetic equivalent of trying to perform urban combat in the heart of a densely populated city on the last shopping day before Christmas and creates an additional imperative concerning electromagnetic collateral damage.
Electromagnetic manoeuvre may have to be performed during operations occurring in urban or densely populated areas. Denying or significantly degrading the spectrum for civilians is unlikely to win a blue force many friends if this causes significant loss of internet or cell phone coverage. This could cause complications if the blue force is seeking to also win the hearts and minds of the local population. The process could be further complicated if these same outages hamper friendly psychological operations. At the same time EW practitioners will need to ensure that parts of the spectrum are not being covertly used to aid red force operations. Much as precision airpower has become a hallmark of US and allied combat operations since Operation Desert Storm in 1991 when Iraq was evicted from Kuwait, so the need for precision spectrum manoeuvre will grow in importance.
Agility and Pace
Agility, alongside pace, discussed in more detail below are closely aligned with movement and are similarly prized in spectrum manoeuvre. For instance, can the attacking force discover and exploit lightly defended parts of the red force’s communications networks to deliver conventional or discreet jamming, or a cyberattack which could use this path as an entry point to attack more heavily defended parts of the network?
Agility not only serves to keep red forces electromagnetically on the defensive during electronic attack but can also be used to channel red forces into a particular part of the spectrum, by blocking off other parts from its use. This channelling may make it easier for blue force to bring a heavier weight of electronic attack. This is akin to the manoeuvre force channelling opposing forces into a valley or choke point where it can be attacked more easily. Like movement, agility rests on exploiting gaps and weaknesses in red force spectrum use and electronic counter-countermeasure coverage which can be exploited for electronic attack. As Martinsen, Pace and Fisher argue “we don’t attempt to break modern encryption algorithms if we can more easily recover a key by targeting enemy encryption algorithms or protocol implementation flaws.”
Agility and movement are complemented by pace. Pace does not only refer to physical speed, ensuring that a surface-to-air missile is faster than the aircraft it is to intercept, for example, it also refers to the speed of decision making. The famed OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) Loop of the fighter pilot and military theorist Colonel John Boyd encompassed his belief that whoever navigated the OODA Loop of decision making the quickest would prevail over their adversary. This is because the participant navigating the loop in the most rapid fashion seizes the initiative. Their adversary is then forced to react to events which are already changing, meaning that they have lost the initiative.
Forcing an adversary to react to an ever-increasing, ever-accelerating sequence of events could mean that their ability to make decisions is quite simply overwhelmed.
This can be fostered by the blue force doing the unexpected and is closely aligned with the use of surprise and deception. During the Second World War, the German High Command had planned for an Allied invasion of Europe through the Channel, where a mere 18 nautical miles/nm (33.5 kilometres/km) separates the United Kingdom from France. Instead, the allies chose a longer route from the south coast of England to the Normandy coast in western France; a distance of almost 155nm (287km). This enabled the allies to successfully get a foothold on the continent, and the German High Command were arguably playing catch-up from the morning of 6th June until the Normandy Breakout in late July.
Pace is underlined by innovation. Being able to do things quicker than one’s adversary in a way that they do not expect is enhanced by the adoption of new technologies in the electromagnetic environment. As the second decade of the 21st Century unfolds, armed forces are fortunate in being able to exploit technological research being performed in the civilian sector at breakneck speed. This offers key advantages as the private sector absorbs much of the Research and Development (R&D) ‘heavy lifting’ saving the defence sector precious R&D dollars at a time when defence spending is likely to be under threat from the global economic slowdown triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) offers great promise for electronic warfare, particularly as the spectrum becomes ever-more congested and the signal of interest ever-more concealed. Algorithms can ‘learn’ the characteristics of the spectrum in a specific locale or theatre of operations, detect anomalies betraying red force electromagnetic intentions, or discern vulnerabilities that can be exploited. AI and ML will probably be able to perform these tasks at much higher speeds than the human brain, playing an important role in navigating the OODA loop at speed.
AI and ML may detect spectrum vulnerabilities which can be exploited, while being employed to manage and execute electromagnetic operations. Manoeuvre warfare can sometimes be compared to the path of water seeking the route of least resistance as it meanders down a hillside. AI and ML can help identify critical vulnerabilities and exploit them when they appear. However, one must sound a note of caution. AI and ML is only as good as the data it receives on which it must base its decision making. It would be naïve to think that the advent of AI and ML in supporting spectrum manoeuvre can downplay the human EW practitioner's importance. Algorithms still require data from experts versed in understanding what the machines need to know and to ensure that the algorithms support spectrum manoeuvre in the correct fashion. This is imperative as AI and ML applications may see a quicker uptake in the EW sphere than in the kinetic domain. Martinsen et al argue that “looking forward, it seems that society will initially be less opposed to placing non-kinetic rather than kinetic weapons under intelligence machine control.” They go onto argue that “it is highly likely that the first actual AI versus AI warfare engagement will occur not in the skies, but rather in the (electromagnetic environment).”
The advent of so-called ‘5G’ fifth-generation wireless communications which promise increases in the number of subscribers and the amount of data which can be handled by individual cellular networks compared to current protocols provides an additional means of communication which can be exploited for military communications. Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) will see unprecedented levels of networking for fixed and deployed sites, weapons, sensors, platforms and personnel to achieve ever-deepening levels of integration across all forces in all domains of warfare. Technologies like 5G will help ensure that traditional communications networks are not overly taxed by the huge appetite for data that this connectivity will generate. Likewise, technologies associated with 5G like Millimetric Wave (MMW) communications, which use frequencies of 30 megahertz and above for high bandwidth point-to-point communications could help absorb some of this burden. In the sensor domain, technologies like passive radar provide additional means of target detection and tracking complementing existing sensors.
Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) will see unprecedented levels of networking for fixed and deployed sites, weapons, sensors, platforms and personnel to achieve ever-deepening levels of integration across all forces in all domains of warfare.
What is important is that these technologies offer redundancy in the form of additional sensors and communications. They also give opposing forces more things to worry about. 5G and MMW networks on the battlefield together with avantgarde sensing techniques present opposing forces with more capabilities that they will have to engage kinetically and electronically if they are to be able to exploit spectrum manoeuvre and reach S4. This raises an additional point regarding technological innovation and security. Spectrum manoeuvre is about overmatch in terms of how quickly a force manoeuvres in the spectrum with superior capabilities.
The controversy in the West regarding supplies of 5G communications equipment by the Chinese firm Huawei has shown that capabilities like 5G can be seen in a strategic context. Similarly, preventing AI and ML expertise from falling into the hands of one’s adversary is vital. Harnessing commercially developed technologies for military applications in the electromagnetic spectrum depends on ensuring that adversaries do not have access to similar technologies. This creates a dilemma. Technology firms depend on commercial transactions to invest dollars into R&D. How do we ensure that these companies can continue innovating in ways that could benefit the military without supplying such innovations to adversaries in ways that do not affect their balance sheets?
This also raises questions regarding cyber security in the commercial technology sector. Countries will continue to try to steal technological innovation to benefit their own economic development and defence innovation. Ultimately, preserving spectrum overmatch is as much about ensuring that the cyber security of a coder’s computer in Palo Alto, California is up to scratch as it is about ensuring that the best electronic warfare equipment is available to friendly forces.
Attrition and Manoeuvre
At first blush, the manoeuvrist approach is the antithesis of attrition warfare where each side slugs it out until the least exhausted and most intact prevails. This is not the case. The purpose of manoeuvre is to inflict attrition on one’s enemy to the extent that they throw in the towel, or are destroyed outright.
It is simplistic to say that manoeuvre and attrition are antagonistic. They may well complement each other. In the electromagnetic environment, attrition can be likened to taking an unsubtle, blanket approach to the enemy’s use of the spectrum. Examples could include the use of barrage noise jamming against a wide swathe of frequencies. The intention could be to shut down the red force’s use of the spectrum for communications and radar. This may have a collateral effect on one’s own electromagnetic systems stopping the blue force from using the spectrum as much as the red force.
Nuclear warfare provides a good example on how attritional electronic warfare could be employed. Nuclear weapons can produce an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) over a large area when they are detonated. The huge quantities of electromagnetic energy accompanying the blast can enter electronic systems that have not been shielded from the EMP damaging or destroying them. During the Cold War there was speculation among some strategists that the initial nuclear salvoes exchanged between NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) and Warsaw Pact forces could have witnessed scores of nuclear weapons being detonated high in the atmosphere above Europe, the Soviet Union and North America to cause massive disruption to electronic systems, particularly radar and communications. The intention would be to restrict each sides’ ability to detect the initial nuclear strikes and coordinating a response. Part of the plot of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s hard-hitting 1984 nuclear war drama documentary Threads includes an initial nuclear explosion of a Soviet warhead above the UK to disrupt communications across the country.
Much of this article has focused on spectrum manoeuvre from the attacker’s perspective for manoeuvre to be successful in achieving S4 forces ensure that their own use of the spectrum is not vulnerable to similar attacks. A military truism is that ‘the enemy has a vote’. This is as relevant in the spectrum as it is on land, in the oceans, in the air or in space. It is arguably pointless devising a scheme of spectrum manoeuvre with requisite dash and élan if one’s own sensors and networks are vulnerable.
Established electronic counter-countermeasure techniques like frequency agility and encryption play an important part. Nonetheless, it is the responsibility of everyone to think about their use of the spectrum and how this could compromise operations. For example, dismounted forces can dig in and conceal themselves, but as events in Ukraine have demonstrated, a soldier replying to a text message or leaving their smartphone switched on has been sufficient for Russian SIGINT experts to locate Ukrainian forces and engage these with devastating artillery barrages. Communications networks must be safeguarded with no single point of failure, and with overlapping redundancy. The spectrum must be continually monitored for hostile activity and ultimately no electromagnetic centre of gravity should be present that an opposing Schwerpunkt could have a decisive effect against.
Communications networks must be safeguarded with no single point of failure, and with overlapping redundancy.
“Victory in future battles is to be sought, not in the physical destruction of the enemy, but in the disruption of his cohesion to act” argues Lauer. Spectrum manoeuvre plays a key role in this vision. An adversary makes decisions (outputs) based upon information (inputs). On the battlefield, these inputs are derived in part from sensors like radar. They are conveyed to the commander via communications. Likewise, a commander’s intent is conveyed back using similar channels. Disrupt the inputs and the outputs become confused, tardy or even irrelevant. Manoeuvring at a faster pace in the spectrum than one’s adversaries will be a prerequisite for victory.
As Martinsen et al note “electromagnetic manoeuvre warfare is therefore as much a contest between OODA loops as it is a fight over the spectrum." Yet the war of tomorrow will see strongly contested battles for the spectrum. Forces will have to prize the achievement and retention of S4 through spectrum manoeuvre. At the same they will have to be concede that they may not be able to retain spectrum superiority for the duration of the conflict, and that control of the spectrum may ebb and flow between opposing forces. When one loses spectrum superiority or spectrum supremacy it will be imperative that electromagnetic forces can rapidly regroup and seize the initiative once again. The British Army’s redoubtable Field Marshal Bernhard Law Montgomery stated that “if we lose the war in the air, we lose the war and lose it quickly.” Montgomery’s strategic observation was correct during the Second World War, but his observation is just as relevant regarding the importance of the spectrum in today’s and tomorrow’s conflicts.
When one loses spectrum superiority or spectrum supremacy it will be imperative that electromagnetic forces can rapidly regroup and seize the initiative once again.
Thomas Withington is a writer and analyst specialising in electronic warfare, radar and military communications. His work has been published extensively in specialist and non-specialist publications alike. He also works as a consultant on these subjects for several public and private sector organisations around the world and is a regular commentator on defence subjects for the mass media. The views contained in this article are the author’s alone.
 Chris Bellamy, “Manoeuvre Warfare,” in The Oxford Companion to Military History, ed. Richard Holmes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 541.
 George Stephen Lauer, “Maneuver Warfare Theory: Creating a Tactically Unbalanced Fleet Marine Force,” (Fort Leavenworth Kansas: US Army School of Advanced Military Studies, 1991), 18.
 Eric Famanas and Mickey Patterson, “Spectrum Dominance – Supporting EMSO for the Future Force,” last modified December 04, 2020, @https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03eeDkN6bzg&feature=youtu.be&utm_campaign=Winter+Webinars+20%2F21&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=102263313&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-9NkfOCleHrXySKlZcjBRFoJGq2j3gTVNk_ZuJZtIwaFUAYihgJekd9mciFuz98Wu64lyEjPYAHPEcffj8O8UgqBJapnw&utm_content=102263313&utm_source=hs_email consulted 9/12/20.
 Bellamy, 541.
 Robert Leonhard, The Art of Manoeuvre: Manoeuvre Warfare Theory in Air-Land Battle (New York: Ballantine Books, 1991), 79-81.
 Ibid, 80.
 US Department of Defence, US Department of Defence Dictionary of Military Terms (Washington DC: US Department of Defence, 2001), 23.
 Jason Schuette, “Part II - Sending Trons Downrange: Projecting Manoeuvre Warfare in the Electromagnetic Spectrum,” Defence iQ, modified December 29, 2010, @https://www.defenceiq.com/air-forces-military-aircraft/articles/part-ii-sending-trons-downrange-projecting-manoeu?ty-ur consulted 18/12/20.
 Thomas J. Withington, “Bomber Command’s Electronic Warfare Policy and Suppression of Enemy Air Defence Posture during the Second World War” (PhD dis., University of Birmingham, 2018), 140.
 Thor Martinsen, Philip Pace andEdward Fisher, “Manoeuvre Warfare in the Electromagnetic Spectrum,” Journal of Electronic Defence, Vol. 37, No.10, (Alexandria, VA: Association of Old Crows, October 2017), 33.
 ‘The Global Smartphone Market is expected to grow from USD 179,972.89 Million in 2018 to USD 290,098.28 Million by the end of 2025 at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 7.05%’, 6/5/20 @https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-global-smartphone-market-is-expected-to-grow-from-usd-179-972-89-million-in-2018-to-usd-290-098-28-million-by-the-end-of-2025-at-a-compound-annual-growth-rate-cagr-of-7-05-301054105.html consulted 8/1/21.
 International Telecommunications Union, “Report ITU-R M.2370 – IMT Traffic Estimated for the Years 2020 to 2030,” (Geneva: International Telecommunications Union, 2015), 12.
 Martinsen, et al, 32.
 Ibid, 33.
 Ibid, 42.
 Ibid, 34.
 Lauer, 18.
 Martinsen et al, 42.
 Famanas and Patteron, “Spectrum Dominance – Supporting EMSO for the Future Force,” last modified December 04, 2020, @https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03eeDkN6bzg&feature=youtu.be&utm_campaign=Winter+Webinars+20%2F21&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=102263313&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-9NkfOCleHrXySKlZcjBRFoJGq2j3gTVNk_ZuJZtIwaFUAYihgJekd9mciFuz98Wu64lyEjPYAHPEcffj8O8UgqBJapnw&utm_content=102263313&utm_source=hs_email consulted 9/12/20.