ComNavOps has been known to be occasionally (?!) critical of Navy leadership and with more than ample reason. However, ComNavOps also prides himself on being fair and objective. If Navy leadership can produce instances of wisdom, ComNavOps will gladly point it out and offer praise. In fact, an example of just such a piece of wisdom has made an appearance in the latest issue of Proceedings (1).
The author discusses the impact of Long Range Precision Strike Systems (LRPS) on future conflict and force structure in addition to some general trends in future warfare. He recognizes that the key to LRPS effectiveness is targeting but fails to fully develop the implications of that factor. For example, it’s not necessary to employ AAW kinetic kill weapons if the enemy’s targeting capability can be disrupted – a potentially easier task. Nonetheless, most of the article offers some excellent observations, predictions, and conclusions. I’ll touch on some of the more interesting points.
As cyber and electronic offensive capabilities increase, it will become important to be able to operate under strict EMCON conditions. Unfortunately, the Navy has largely abandoned this practice and only sporadically requires electromagnetic shielding on new equipment.
Unmanned systems offer the potential for significant destructive capability. However, more and more of the control over that capability is being given over to autonomous systems. The author notes that the US is sensitive to the moral and ethical issues surrounding autonomous control of killing machines but makes the insightful observation that other nations may be less constrained which could create a disadvantage for the US.
The author states that given the technological challenges and costs involved, lasers and rail guns are unlikely to have a significant impact on naval warfare in the next 15 years.
The increasing capability of LRPS weapons dictates a shift in focus from active defense to active deception and countermeasures – an issue we’ve previously discussed (see, "AAW - Hard or Soft Kill").
The author brings up a major issue by recognizing that our command and control which is dependent on extensive networking, unfettered communications, and copious data flow will be seriously compromised by both enemy cyber activity and electronic warfare coupled with the need for strict EMCON. He states that systems must be limited to the lowest possible power levels to avoid electromagnetic emissions. We’ve discussed this in a previous post (see, "EMCON - What's That?"). You’re probably asking yourself why, then, has the Navy embarked on the EMALS method of launching aircraft? EMALS is, of course, a large number of immensely powerful motors which are totally unshielded and create an unintentional electromagnetic beacon broadcasting the carrier’s location to all. He goes on to conclude that the hindered command and control of the future battlefield will necessitate a return to more autonomous control by the on-scene commander – a return to the past, as it were.
He also notes that the long range of enemy strike systems will threaten logistic bases far to the rear of the conflict. Our assumption of unhindered flow of supplies to the front will be challenged and our assumption of secure and unthreatened Air Force basing will become invalid. Coupled with this, the author suggests that our current inventories of weapons will be inadequate for sustained combat which he suggests will be more likely although he does not develop his rationale for that statement. I happen to agree with his belief and wish he would have offered his rationale for comparison. Though he does not cite examples, every conflict in history has seen profligate munitions use well beyond any pre-conflict estimate. The Royal Navy’s expenditure of huge amounts of ASW munitions during the
Falklands conflict for absolutely no return is a good example. The author notes that the side with greater “arsenal depth” (inventory size) may have a decisive advantage. We have become so enamored with our precision strikes that we have lost all sense of the inefficient and wasteful use of munitions that a real war will engender.
After much discussion, the author goes on to list some general characteristics of desirable future forces. These are worth repeating verbatim.
- Platforms employing standoff ordnance that penetrate high-end defenses
- Platforms with an emphasis on offensive firepower to prevail at sea
- Mobile and low-observable platforms and logistics, readily dispersed, and heavily protected or hidden by decoys, obscurants, RF jammers, and signature control
- Forces minimally reliant on RF networks to be employed against high-end opponents using pre-planned responses and low-data-rate, secure, and sporadic communications
He also list general characteristics of less desirable forces.
- Those dependent on fixed bases
- Platforms within enemy missile ranges tha have large signatures and are thus readily targetable
- Systems dependent upon long-distance, high-data-rate RF networks
- Platforms that must penetrate high-end defenses to deliver ordnance
- Platforms whose primary means of survival rests on active defense (i.e. shooting missiles with missiles)
Consider some of these characteristics, both desirable and undesirable.
The recognition that survivability will be tied to a full spectrum of “stealth” rather than just platform shaping/coating is a key point and suggests that our recent focus on JSF and Zumwalt platform stealth, as examples, may be less than optimal.
The recognition that our current dependence on unhindered GPS, communications, data sharing, UAV control, etc. may be seriously compromised suggests that a massive rethink of these issues is in order.
The recognition of the vulnerability of fixed bases both combat (airfields and harbors) and logistical, far from the front, should warn us about the difficulties inherent in prosecuting a Chinese conflict given the extreme scarcity of basing anywhere near the area.
The recognition that active AAW defenses may be a path of diminishing returns is astute.
To be sure, the author misses on a few points. For example, he dismisses the value of armor and fails to recognize that the true value of armor is the damage mitigation it offers in preventing cheap kills rather than the ability to totally shrug off an impact by a major munition. Nonetheless, the bulk of the article is quite impressive.
What’s fascinating to me is that these thoughts seem to represent a fairly radical departure from the Navy’s trends of recent years and that they presumably have a degree of official acceptance given that the author’s article had to have been approved at the highest levels. The Navy is not exactly known for its encouragement of dissenting thought so this must be reasonably “official”. ComNavOps will be on the lookout for more evidence of this line of thinking from official Navy sources and evidence that this thinking is guiding naval procurement.
Naval Institute Proceedings, “Sea Power in the Precision-Missile Age”, U.S.
RAdm. Walter Carter Jr., USN, May 2014, P 30.