FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. – For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the Army is updating its manual for the electronic battlefield — a move aimed at protecting soldiers against roadside bombs and other nontraditional warfare used by increasingly sophisticated insurgents.
The new doctrine, produced at Fort Leavenworth and set for release Thursday, provides what many Army leaders say is a much-needed recognition of an evolving enemy.
Highlighting that new era is the improvised explosive device, the remote-controlled bomb that has become the premier killer in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The war in Iraq began to make us understand that there are a lot of targets that we should be going after in the offensive or defensive mode to protect ourselves," said Col. Laurie Buckhout, chief of the Army's electronic warfare division in Washington, D.C.
The 112-page manual, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press before its release at the Association of the United States Army meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., doesn't offer specifics on new equipment or gadgetry but lays out in broad terms the Army's fear that without new equipment and training, U.S. forces may be at a deadly disadvantage.
The AP reported Tuesday that President Barack Obama is expected to announce the majority of U.S. forces will leave Iraq in 19 months, but those staying behind and additional forces going to Afghanistan this year will still face these threats.
"These new technologies are part of an electronic warfare revolution by military forces. Just as friendly forces leverage the electromagnetic spectrum, so do capable enemies ... to threaten friendly force operations," the manual states.
"This reliance requires Army forces to dominate the electromagnetic spectrum with the same authority that they dominate traditional land warfare operations."
The manual is the latest step in a larger reassessment by the Army and Defense Department of technology's role in the conflicts and concerns that U.S. forces must become more nimble in their fight against insurgents.
The doctrine calls on the Army to develop and deploy directed-energy weapons such as high-powered microwaves, lasers, infrared beams, as well as wireless networks and other devices to confuse enemy communication.
Among the first tangible changes: The Army plans to train 1,500 soldiers and officers in electronic warfare at Fort Sill, Okla., by September 2010, giving the military its largest electronic warfare cadre.
The cost to implement the doctrine is unclear. Army officials say funding for development and training will likely come from internal budget shifts, though they don't rule out asking Congress for money down the road.
The Army has let its electronic warfare capabilities lapse since the early 1990s, when nascent insurgencies were less sophisticated and less deadly.
Roadside bombs weren't seen as a top threat when U.S.-led forces invaded Iraq in 2003. But insurgents, resigned to losing head-on fights with American troops, increased their use of the devices and changed the dynamics of the war.
IEDs are assembled from a variety of explosives, such as plastics or mortar shells, then detonated with a radio signal. In many cases, an IED explodes beneath a vehicle when the bomb is literally called by an insurgent.
These days, Army patrols are frequently joined by specially trained Air Force and Navy members whose electronic expertise helps sniff out IEDs, which have killed more than 1,700 U.S. troops since the war began.
But the Air Force and Navy want their people back and have been urging the Army to develop its own capabilities.
Buckhout said using Air Force or Navy systems — such as aircraft that send jamming signals to thwart an IED from 30,000 feet — is like going after "a mosquito with a sledgehammer."
"You may get the mosquito, but you're going to cause a lot of other effects with that sledgehammer" such as inadvertently jamming police radios or other friendly devices, she said.
Produced at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, the manual outlines how commanders will use electronics to gather intelligence, detect the enemy and protect soldiers, equipment and property.
"We had this capability since we had radios but let it lapse," said Lt. Col. Fred Harper, capabilities manager for the Army's computer network and electronic warfare activities. "We didn't have (an enemy) that had the capabilities. That whole environment has changed."
Lt. Col. Chip Bircher, who is joining the staff of U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus, said the key in future combat will be operating in and among dense populations.
The new doctrine directs the Army, which has put a premium on fighting insurgents in Iraq's most populous cities, to use technology that can distinguish enemy threats from common technologies such as radios or cell phones used by local civilians or friendly forces.
The ease with which IEDs are built has a sparked urgency for the Army's new effort. Also, developing the doctrine and training soldiers positions the Army to adapt to changing technologies and streamline its approach by reducing reliance on other branches, officials say.
"The Navy can't afford to send people to do this mission. The Army has to pick it up," Harper said, comparing the current arrangement of using other branches to "borrowing from Peter to pay Paul."
Barry Watts, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, said the Army is smart to develop its own electronic warfare capabilities but questions how fast the service can get up to speed, "Especially when they have been out of it for a long time."
Harper said the enemy is exploiting new technologies and the military must keep pace.
"I just can't ever imagine this going away," he said. "It's the new must-have capability because we bring a lot to the fight."