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Japan, South Korea, U.S. boost electronic warfare capabilities to safeguard regional security

Felix Kim

Electronic warfare (EW) — military activity conducted in the electromagnetic spectrum — is a growing priority for Indo-Pacific armed forces. Japan, South Korea and the United States are enhancing their EW capabilities in the air, at sea and on land in the face of regional threats posed by North Korea, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Russia.

“Considering the broad application of electronic technology and growing interconnection for various military platforms in all domains — land, maritime, air and even space — the importance of EW cannot be overlooked,” Dr. Kim Jae Yeop, a senior researcher at the Sungkyun Institute for Global Strategy at South Korea’s Sungkyunkwan University, told FORUM.

EW capabilities typically include electronic reconnaissance, surveillance and protection, but also the use of the electromagnetic spectrum to detect, analyze and disrupt enemy communication and radar signals. With the rising threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) from North Korea, Kim said, “the need for EW activities on the Korean Peninsula to timely detect and track Pyongyang’s WMD activities is getting higher.”

In April 2023, Seoul approved a $1.41 billion plan to develop EW-equipped aircraft from 2024-32 as part of the country’s EW response system, South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) announced. With the ability to disrupt an enemy’s air defenses, as well as its command and communications systems, the new aircraft will enhance joint operating capabilities and the survivability of air assets. They will also gather and evaluate threat signals.

DAPA’s Naval Electronic Warfare-II program, which runs through 2036, will upgrade EW systems on Republic of Korea Navy vessels to make more extensive use of artificial intelligence to provide enhanced “digital direction detection” and “smart jamming” capabilities.

Tokyo, meanwhile, plans in 2023 to complete a chain of EW units at Japan Ground Self-Defense Force bases in the nation’s southwest, according to the Defense of Japan white paper. “Japan has established a system that can neutralize an opponent’s use of the electromagnetic spectrum to gain an advantage in various types of operations in case of contingency,” the 2022 document stated.

Tokyo sees threats to its outlying territories posed by the PRC and Russia as rationale for enhancing its EW capabilities.

Japan also has an air-based EW unit under the Japan Air Self-Defense Force that can gather intelligence and jam aircraft, as well as EW capabilities provided by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, which operates four Lockheed EP-3C Orion aircraft to collect electronic intelligence.

The U.S., a treaty ally to Japan and South Korea, plans to bolster its EW capabilities, an urgent priority in the Indo-Pacific, Adm. John Aquilino, Commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM), told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee in April 2023.

USINDOPACOM is seeking EW upgrades for Army and Navy assets under the U.S. Department of Defense’s Pacific Deterrence Initiative for fiscal year 2023. (Pictured: A U.S. Navy E/A-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft launches from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz during routine operations in the Philippine Sea in May 2023.)

“We need to be able to operate in contested space,” Aquilino said. “We need persistent battlespace awareness of all things going on, and we need to be able to close our kill chains with the weapons and the networks that allow that to happen. The electromagnetic spectrum is critical to that.”

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.



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