Breaking Defense has an article describing a new Navy plan to dominate the electromagnetic spectrum, an area the Navy admits has been neglected and is badly lagging (1). That sounds fine. The problem is that the plan sounds suspiciously like the initial description of the LCS or JSF: enormous in scope, breathtaking in capability, and dependent on magical, non-existent technology. Of course, we know what happened to those programs when reality stepped in.
The Navy has castigated critics of those programs for Monday morning quarterbacking (for those of you who may not be familiar with the expression, it means criticizing in hindsight) despite the fact that those program’s problems were all thoroughly discussed before the programs even started. Well, here’s yet another program that has obvious problems before the program has even started. No need to wait for hindsight.
Consider the following gems taken from the article and see if they don’t sound very much like the hype surrounding the LCS and JSF when those programs were beginning.
"The Navy is crafting a battle plan to retake control of the electromagnetic spectrum, which the Pentagon’s chief of research says we’ve lost."
"What’s really needed is a whole new concept of electronic warfare ..."
Sure, sure. No sense building on existing concepts in a rational, measured approach that could actually achieve something useful for a reasonable amount of money.
"... the Growler becomes the cornerstone of a network encompassing the entire force ..."
“Network encompassing the entire force”? Remember the LCS rapidly deployable sensor nets – that never happened? Remember the LCS being a node in a battle force network – although it turned out that the LCS couldn’t actually survive in a hostile area?
"Coordinated by a yet-to-be-developed “electromagnetic battle management” system, all of these individual platforms will collect data on enemy signals to inform the network while dialing up and down their own emissions to deceive or jam the adversary. The Navy calls this “electromagnetic maneuver warfare.”"
“Battle management system”? We can’t currently handle electromagnetic management of individual platforms but we’re going to develop an all-encompassing, master battle management system?
“Electromagnetic maneuver warfare”??? I think I just wet myself from excitement!
"... need to do it in deliberately unpredictable ways. “I may not transmit in the same frequency, the same power level; I may not use the same modulation,” Gamberg said. “I may jump out of the RF [radio frequency] spectrum and go into EO [electro-optical, e.g. visible light].”
Jumping in and out of spectrums and transmitting data using visible light (I assume they aren’t talking about blinker lights!)? Sounds like the same kind of non-existent technology we saw in the LCS module PowerPoint presentations.
"... we are interweaving electronic warfare into every platform."
"... the EA-18G will be essential to break the electronic links of the “kill chain” connecting enemy sensors to commanders and weapons."
"We need machines talking to each other [with] picosecond level timing ..."
Picosecond timing? Outstanding! I can’t see that kind of timing being susceptible to enemy disruption (that’s sarcasm, by the way).
The article did contain one piece of genuinely interesting information. I’ve been wondering why the Navy is looking at acquiring more Growlers and here’s the answer.
"The new concept of operations relies heavily on passive detection."
"... Growlers will probably fly in trios, with one plane mostly in passive mode."
People have speculated that the Navy was looking at acquiring Growlers to keep Hornet production lines open as a hedge against more F-35 delays and that always struck me as unlikely. At least now we know what the additional Growlers would be for. Whether the concept makes tactical sense, I have no idea. I’m also unaware that the Growler has any special passive sensing capability that would enable and justify this approach. We’ll have to wait and see.
|Growler - Maneuver Warfare|
Back to the point, ComNavOps is all for improving our operations in the electromagnetic spectrum but not as another magical, all-encompassing, do everything, fantasy program that will cost billions of dollars and take decades of development. Haven’t we learned our lesson? We need to take the program and break the effort into manageable chunks that actually produce usable products in a sequenced fashion.
I know it’s not your habit but, c’mon Navy, learn a lesson! No one will think less of you for exhibiting a small amount of intelligence.
(1) Breaking Defense, “Navy Forges New EW Strategy: Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare”, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. and Colin Clark,