The Electromagnetic Spectrum and its Uses in Warfare

Since the creation of the two-manner radio through the early 1900s, militaries have been interested in the electromagnetic spectrum (“the spectrum”). The proliferation of spectrum-established structures in all armed domains—air, land, sea and cyberspace— Department of Defense (DOD) concepts, along with net-centric war and multidomain conflict, will increase its relevance in the military. Note- This article serves as a summary of a previously published report by the Congressional Research Service on the military use of the electromagnetic spectrum. Access the original report here-

What Is the Spectrum?

The electromagnetic spectrum is a sequence of frequencies starting from radio waves and microwaves, to X Rays, and gamma rays, often presented as an image almost every science textbook contains.

As the wavelength of the radiation shortens, the frequency —how fast waves follow each other— increases, and consequently, they possess greater energy. Different elements of the spectrum serve distinct navy purposes. Keep in mind that each frequency has numerous applications other than the ones mentioned, however here, we’ll be emphasizing on how they may be used by the military.

Radio transmissions have particularly low information rates, withinside the very low frequency variety. However, they're capable of touring lengthy distances and penetrating strong items like homes and trees, and are regularly used for communications equipment. Microwaves have better throughput—information add and download rates—than radio waves and consequently are capable of transmitting greater information, however are greater restrained in variety and may be disrupted as they pass through objects. Hence, microwaves are regularly used for radars and satellite tv for pc communications.

Infrared waves may be used for intelligence and concentrated with information due to the fact they're intently related to warmness sources. Infrared radiation is a large part of what the sun emits that keeps the earth at a stable temperature. X Rays are robotically used for plane protection to pick out cracks in airframes. Finally, gamma rays are excessive-energy radiation and assist pick out ability nuclear events.

The following dialogue specializes in the DOD’s use of the radio wave, microwave, and infrared components of the spectrum.

Applications of the Spectrum

The navy makes use of the whole spectrum to help intelligence and navy operations. These packages vary from the usage of very low frequency radio waves to speak with submarines underwater, to microwaves as a continuous data link among planes, and to lasers in the infrared and ultraviolet ends of the spectrum to dazzle satellite tv for pc sensors and wreck drones. Nearly each contemporary-day gun system—airplanes, satellites, tanks, ships, and radios— relies upon the spectrum to function. These packages may be mixed to offer an universal navy capability, along with command and manage or digital war. The following dialogue offers some examples of spectrum packages


Military commanders have emerged as accustomed to speaking with their forces near-instantaneously. Communication consists of a number of alternatives from low bandwidth options, moving small strings of text, to excessive information-extensive packages and complete motion video teleconferencing. Radio frequencies are the number one mechanism to transmit this information. These structures can be positioned terrestrially (both with floor forces or on ships), withinside the air, or in area (i.e., on satellites).

In general, communications structures use radio and microwave frequencies; however, rising communications technology uses lasers in place of radio waves. Radios use distinct frequencies relying on the variety and quantity of information they're required to transmit. Ground-based radios are normally used for quick work, restrained through the road of sight. These quick communications span no greater than 50 miles. In general, militaries use satellites to speak over longer distances.

Situational Awareness

Another feature of the spectrum is the usage of radio or microwave frequencies to expand a photo of the conflict area through presenting the area of pleasant and enemy forces. The usual technology is radar (Radio Detection and Ranging), however lately mild detection and ranging (LIDAR) structures are additionally used. Both technologies ship out a sign that is then contemplated again to sensors to decide the distance, speed, and often the altitude of an object. Radars function on distinct radio and microwave frequencies. Lower-band frequencies offer a larger photo of the conflict area, although, because of the high radar return rate (how many radio signals return to the radar), those structures aren't capable of offering target quality pictures

Higher-band frequencies offer target quality pictures, but lack the identical powerful variety. Radar and LIDAR structures are generally related to air defense, navy aviation, artillery, and area structures. Signals intelligence (SIGINT) structures frequently collect spectrum emissions. These passive structures—structures that do now no longer emit their personal sign—can concentrate on radio and radar frequencies or study warmth signatures of personnel,missiles, planes, artillery, and vehicles.

Other Applications

Militaries use the spectrum to goal and probably assault adversaries. Missiles in general, and anti-air munitions in particular, use both infrared or radar for terminal guidance (i.e., guiding a missile as soon as it's been launched) to targets. Electronic jammers are used to disclaim an adversary's entry to the spectrum. These jammers are frequently used with radio and microwave frequencies (and on occasion paired together), stopping communications (each terrestrially and area-primarily based totally) in addition to radar coverage. Militaries have additionally all started the usage of lasers to disable intelligence collection sensors, wreck small unmanned aerial structures (aka “drones”), and speak with satellites.

Types of Spectrum Operations

Numerous navy operations use the spectrum. One kind is command and management. Command and management (C2) makes use of all of those packages to expand a not unusual place operating photo and speak the commander’s orders. C2 is resourced in line with a unit’s length and task focus, from some radios and computer systems for platoon- and company-level operations to specialised satellites and plane for joint operations along with nuclear C2.

Aircraft just like the E-8C Joint STARS, use communications structures and radars to expand a photo of the battlespace to direct forces to their maximum powerful positions for countering enemy forces. Electronic war makes use of the spectrum to advantage and maintain the navy's entry to the spectrum. SIGINT talents allow navy forces to apprehend wherein adversary forces are positioned in addition to what frequencies they use for communications and radars. This intelligence, called digital help through the navy, is then used to expand an operational plan to jam (i.e., assault an adversary’s use of the spectrum) radio frequencies.

Militaries can expand strategies to defend themselves from assaults the usage of SIGINT talents on their personal forces. Low observable gun structures manage the spectrum to lessen their electromagnetic signature—along with radar return, radio emission, or even warmness. This may be achieved through decreasing radar signature, growing slim radio beams to lessen the possibility of detection, or decreasing spectrum emissions entirely. A few examples of those design strategies encompass the Zumwalt-elegance destroyer, the B-2 Spirit and the F-35 Lightning II, the AN/APG-eighty one actively electronically scanned array radar.