Saturday, November 24, 2012

Weapons Don't Matter!

Firepower without a targeting solution is useless.  That’s obvious but what does it really mean for today’s Navy?

The caveman sighted his target over the end of his spear or club.  This eventually progressed to sighting over the barrel of a gun and, essentially, held until WWII.  WWII, with the advent of aircraft carriers and radar target acquisition allowed attacks on unseen enemies.  This inflection point also allowed for a new phenomenon:  the ability to strike an enemy and remain undetected.  Sure, the possibility existed previously that a sniper, for example, could fire on an enemy while remaining undetected but even in that case the enemy had an equal chance of detecting the sniper (if he could see you, you could see him) and could return blind fire in the general direction of the sniper with some degree of success (suppression, if nothing else).  Somewhat similarly, the submarine was the sniper of the ocean. 

With the advent of radar, especially aircraft mounted radar, it was possible to target and strike an enemy without him knowing where the firing (launch) platforms were.  The development of long range missiles further enhanced this possibility.  A strike could arrive seemingly out of nowhere leaving the enemy with no target upon which to return fire.

While reconnaissance (or intelligence or surveillance or scouting or whatever word you want to use) has historically always been vital, it has taken on an even greater level of importance in the modern radar/missile age.  In fact, given the lethality of modern cruise and ballistic missiles, the old adage about firing effectively first becomes even more critical and the only way to fire first is to have superior reconnaissance ability.  Thus, modern naval warfare is all about recon – the ability to find the enemy and the ability to prevent him from finding you.

Once upon a time, “finding” (or detection) implied the ability to strike.  If the pilot of a WWII dive bomber could find the enemy, he could strike because his weapons were short ranged (the bomb carried on his plane) and the enemy’s position (the targeting solution) could not change significantly before the strike could occur.  However, with long range missiles the time lag between finding the enemy and striking becomes great enough that finding no longer guarantees a targeting solution.

BAMS - More Important Than Weapons


Consider the situation of a carrier group in an A2/AD scenario.  The group is detected at a range of 1000 miles from the launching location, a land based intermediate range ballistic missile, in this case..  Allowing for a bit of command and control delays and an effective speed of, say, Mach 3 (a Mach 5 missile slowly arcs upward  so that the actual distance traveled is greater than the linear distance and the apparent speed is less than the missile’s max), we might imagine the missile arriving anywhere from an hour, optimistically, to several hours or more, realistically.  During that time the carrier, moving at 30 kts, let’s say, would have covered 30 – 200+ miles giving a possible target area (to allow for course changes in the interim) of 2800 sq miles – 125,000+ sq miles – hardly a firing solution!  Remember that the detection window of radars or other sensors carried onboard attacking missiles is extremely small compared to the possible area. 

In these kinds of scenarios it’s not enough to simply detect the enemy.  Detection will have to be maintained until the strike arrives, assuming the strike is capable of mid-course guidance and assuming that the enemy isn’t obliging enough to maintain a constant course and speed.

The modern, long distance battle will be less a question of weapons and more a question of detection and targeting.  The side that “wins” the targeting battle will probably win the actual battle.

What does this mean for the Navy today?  It means that significant resources should be applied to longer range, more effective scouting platforms and methods, in addition to better weapons.  Along this line, the Navy is developing the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) UAV among other efforts. 

While there is little definitive public information about the Navy’s long range detection and targeting capabilities, I don’t believe we currently have the ability to effectively perform this function.  At the moment, that’s not a severe issue because we don’t have long range anti-surface weapons, anyway.  Even with BAMS, I don’t see this being an effective capability in a wartime environment.  BAMS is not particularly stealthy, as far as I know, in either its physical presence or its radiating signature.  In other words, in peacetime it will be effective but in war it will be easily targeted and destroyed or forced so far outside its desired operating area for survival that it will be ineffective.  While it may provide some measure of detection, I don’t think it will be able to generate firing solutions.

Of course, there are other means of targeting such as satellite, submarine, and extreme long range passive detection.  I have no idea whether those are capable of going beyond dectection and achieving firing solutions under wartime conditions.

Suffice it to say that targeting is going to be the challenge for future naval combat.


As an extension of this discussion, one can easily imagine the role that counter-targeting should play in modern combat.  This is more than just stealth – it can include speed, location changes, decoys, deception, etc. and incorporates tactics as well as equipment.  Being detected by the enemy is not necessarily a fatal failing if the enemy can be prevented from achieving a valid firing solution.  I leave it to the reader to ponder this aspect in greater depth.

7 comments:

  1. http://www.navweaps.com/index_tech/tech-031.htm

    Found that recently, highly, illuminating, I felt.

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    1. Yes, and it illustrates why the Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile threat is vastly over exaggerated in Western media.

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  2. Finding and hitting a ship hundreds of miles away is extremely challenging. Even in WWII

    The battle of Midway is a classic in 20th Century naval warfare regarding intelligence and targeting. Even with good SigInt the USN carriers almost missed the IJN force. Lieutenant Commander Wade McClusky made a decision that had it been wrong could have changed the whole battle. The IJN’s disregard for long-range reconnaissance to find and fix the location of the USN ships was another.

    More recently, in the 1970’s the Navy wanted to maximize the potential of the anti-ship version of the Tomahawk under a program called Outlaw Shark. The idea was to pass to the launch platform the best information the entire fleet had on an enemy vessel right before launch.

    The USSR was so concerned about CVBGs that they launched nuclear powered Radar Ocean Reconnaissance Satellites or RORSATs, to try to keep track of them.

    BAMS is good enough for the short term. Most of the world’s oceans can be handled by the P-8/BAMS team. Missions like ASW or anti-piracy don’t need a stealth design. If there are concerns about enemy AAW then something stealthier will be needed, like a the Avenger UAV.

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    1. Hi WGM
      I must admmit that was something that always confused me.
      Why not just keep a satellite tracking a CVBG at all times?

      I suppose there is some level of cloud cover and satellites cant move to follow, even so, once found by any asset, a satellite should be able to maintain tracking for some time

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    2. Geostationary sats are high altitude and ones that are low enough to ID ships pass too quickly. You would need a massive network of sats that would keep all parts of the oceans in view 24/7 (or close enough so that they cannot be avoided).

      Sats that are in orbit have their tracks know and CBG commanders can avoid them is needed.

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    3. Spudman is correct. The RORSATs were low orbiting and attempted to use radar to find CVBGs. Carrier commanders would use tricks like being in one direction when they knew a RORSAT was about to pass over the horizon to trick the Soviets as to the true heading. That is if the satellite worked; one epic fail had a RORSAT scatter radioactive material across northern Canada.

      In the 1980's the USAF F-15 could launch a ASAT (anti-satellite missile). The missile was only capable of hitting low-orbiting satellites, like the photographic ones the Soviets used, and the RORSAT.

      Some think the USA-193 shootdown four years ago by the USS LAke Erie was a demonstartion of another low-orbit ASAT capability. In case the Chinese want to start RORSAT up again.

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  3. I removed a comment from Anon (John) which was a request for contact info and contained personal information of his. This was done to protect his privacy.

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