The Navy has developed, and continues to refine, its Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) for use in anti-air warfare. Briefly, CEC allows data sharing among individual ships which allows a group-centric engagement capability. The shooting platform does not necessarily have to be the platform holding sensor contact on the target. Thus, the entire group becomes a single AAW entity. I’m not sure how far along that path the Navy has progressed. Remote missile launch has been demonstrated but whether the software control has progressed to the point of allowing a group to function as a truly integrated single unit is an open question. Just as Aegis, in full auto mode, makes its own assessment of threats and allocates the best weapons to counter them, so too could a group be controlled to make best use of the individual unit’s inventories and capabilities, at least in theory.
We’ve discussed that soft kill anti-air defense methods have a significantly better proven track record of success than hard kill methods (see, "AAW - Hard or Soft Kill?"). We’ve also noted that soft kill system upgrades and improvements are significantly cheaper than the pursuit of ever newer and more capable missiles and launch systems. As we’ve pointed out, the Navy needs a balance between the two approaches. Unfortunately, the Navy’s historical focus has been on the hard kill approach to the detriment of soft kill technology.
Thankfully, the Navy has begun to focus a bit of attention on upgrades to the venerable SLQ-32 ECM/ESM system. That’s fine but it’s still just a bit-wise approach. What’s needed is the soft kill equivalent of the CEC system – a soft kill cooperative engagement capability (SK-CEC) that treats the entire group as a single entity and assigns defensive actions based on the group’s capabilities which are, in turn, determined by the individual ship’s inventories, capabilities, detection thresholds, positions, priorities, etc.
Current soft kill efforts are conducted by individual ships acting in their own defense or, possibly, on behalf of a nearby ship. The problem with this is that an action that might benefit one ship might endanger another. The Royal Navy witnessed this in the
Falklands when an escort’s decoys saved the escort but had the unintended effect of redirecting the attacking missiles to the very ship the escort was trying to protect. SK-CEC would, theoretically allow the group to act as a single entity with defensive actions taken in consideration of the overall welfare of the group and with consideration for the group’s defensive priorities (which individual ship(s) have the highest protection priority).
|Soft Kill CED - The Next Step?|
Of course, the ultimate development in cooperative engagement would be to unite CEC and SK-CEC to create a single hard and soft kill defensive system.
The core of CEC or SK-CEC systems is the software. As we’ve seen with the JSF and other advanced programs, this type of advanced and complex software development is challenging, to say the least. On the plus side, the software can be developed without need of significant hardware until it’s reasonably advanced and ready for real world testing. We don’t have to actually build ships in order to develop the system. Development would not be cheap but it would not require insane amounts of money like the JSF or Ford programs.
We seem to have a foreseeable block of time without undue commitments (unless we plunge into another nation building exercise!). Now is the time to work on an SK-CEC system in conjunction with SLQ-32 and other soft kill technology improvements.
Let’s speculate a bit further … Given the rabbit hole of escalating costs for hard kill systems in the face of ever more deadly, fast, powerful, and capable anti-ship missiles, one could imagine that a preferred approach might be to drop area anti-air hard kill efforts and focus, instead, on a combination of soft kill and point defense hard kill. Consider the benefits to the offensive capability of the fleet if such an approach were taken. Burkes would become instantly more powerful offensively since the bulk of their VLS cells could be devoted to Tomahawks! Now, for those of you who are already foaming at the mouth and twitching at your keyboards, I’m not yet advocating that this is the correct approach. Honestly, I don’t know enough about the detailed performance of the various hard and soft kill components to make an accurate and objective assessment of the proposition – and neither do you. I’m simply taking the hard versus soft kill issue to a logical conclusion. Whether it’s a good conclusion, I can’t judge but it’s certainly worth thinking about given that our present approach is becoming unsustainably expensive and technologically too challenging. Let’s face it, hitting a super/hyper-sonic, maneuvering, ECM-capable anti-ship missile with another missile is incredibly difficult currently and may soon become impossible on a practical basis.
The Navy already recognizes the difficulties, bordering on impossibilities, of successfully engaging anti-ship missiles with the current Aegis/CEC system - it’s why the Navy has moved the amphibious assault point from the horizon to 50+ nm offshore. The situation is only going to get worse as regards hard kill defense so now is the time to concentrate on soft kill methods. The money that we’re going to begin pouring into Burke Flt IIIs might be better spent on soft kill methods. We need to refocus on soft kill approaches and begin working towards an SK-CEC system.