Monday, June 22, 2015

Testing Reality

USNI News website reports that the Navy and Raytheon conducted a test of an over-the-horizon engagement of a supersonic target by an SM-6 missile (1).  No test details were released and there’s apparently nothing special about the test.  Navy tests are highly scripted and every effort is made to ensure test success.  The interesting part is the hype surrounding the data sharing using remote sensors linked through the Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air (NIFC-CA) system.  Even this is nothing particularly noteworthy.  This is just an outgrowth of the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC).

However, consider these comments.

“ ‘This weapon multiplies the amount of defended space the U.S. Navy can protect,’ Mike Campisi, Raytheon’s Standard Missile-6 senior program director, said in a company statement.

“ ‘The ships can now use data from remote sensors to support the engagement of targets. Sailors can now launch at threats much sooner than ever before.’ ”

So what’s the problem?  The ability to incorporate off board sensor data to allow engagements far beyond the horizon is a good thing, isn’t it?  Well, yes, it is.  If the enemy obligingly allows us to spread our sensor platforms all over the battlespace without hindrance and allows us to communicate between the various sensor platforms and the launch platforms without interference, jamming, ECM, or other electronic disruptions then we’ll be in great shape. 

On the other hand, if the enemy opts to shoot down our slow, marginally stealthy UAVs, BAMS, and defenseless E-2 Hawkeyes and sink our far ranging (almost didn’t get that one out without laughing) LCS network nodes or blanket our communications with electronic noise, jamming, and all manner of ECM and cyber disruption, then I can’t help but wonder how well our NIFC-CA dream will work.

The logical reality is that our sensor platforms won’t be able to penetrate very far in the direction of a likely enemy attack and their data relays will be severely degraded.  Thus, the peacetime promise of AAW intercepts occurring hundreds of miles away, cued by a vast network of sensors, will likely remain an unfulfilled promise.  Our engagement window will not be hundreds of miles away but will be not too far beyond the horizon.

The larger issue, here, is the constant focus by the Navy on highly unlikely scenarios in which advanced technology is allowed to operate unhindered by enemy action.  We’re becoming dependent on unrealistic scenarios that can’t and won’t be realized in actual combat.

Instead of conducting the test they did, the Navy and Raytheon would have been better served conducting the test in the face of an “enemy” that could find and eliminate the off board sensor platforms and apply the full spectrum of electronic countermeasures.  Let that be the test scenario and see what works.  I think we would quickly realize that we’re wasting our time on a lot of fantasy projects.

Now, the wasted time and money is bad but what’s worse is that we’re “growing” a generation of soldiers and sailors who believe that this technology is going to work just as they’ve seen it used in these unrealistic, scripted tests.  Our future combat leaders are learning tactics that are not based on reality.  We need to drastically increase the realism in our testing.

Consider this simple test.  Had we conducted it under realistic conditions, as I’ve described, we would probably conclude that we need to drastically alter our sensor platform approach (maybe many, many more smaller and shorter ranged UAVs flooding an area?), significantly enhance our electronic resistance and communications security, and, the big one, perhaps realize that long range intercepts may not be a realistic expectation and that medium to short range intercepts are what we should be concentrating on.

The Navy desperately needs to begin injecting realism into their tests and stop obsessing over fantasy technology that won’t work in the face of enemy actions.  We need to start designing against the worst case instead of the ridiculously optimistic best case.

(1)USNI News, “Navy, Raytheon Test Standard Missile-6 Against Supersonic Over-the-Horizon Threat”, Megan Eckstein, June 17, 2015


  1. " what’s worse is that we’re “growing” a generation of soldiers and sailors who believe that this technology is going to work just as they’ve seen it used in these unrealistic, scripted tests. "

    To be fair, CNO, a buddy of mine served on a Flight I Burke for a few years as an EW guy.

    In my conversations with him, he had no illusions as to their ability to pluck Shipwrecks and Sunburns from they sky; and the education he was given on the matter seemed pretty truthful (and somewhat grim). He felt they could do some real damage with a Burke (They had Harpoons too) but he also felt in any real dustup they'd lose a fair amount of ships.

    Now, this is all at least 6 years old, and an ad hoc experience, but I thought it worth mentioning.

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  3. Equally, an unknown is the state of the other navies at this point. China's naval and more importantly, quality of people, etc. Same with Russia's.

    I think though that it would be unwise as many Americans seem to have done to always assume a US qualitative advantage.

    The performance of for example insurgents against the US Army and Marine Corps, despite their lack of military training has been quite eye-raising. The USS Cole Attack, as well, and as exercises like Millennium Challenge 2002.

  4. A Tiffany Missile for a Tiffany Navy? Like the SM-3, never to be afforded in numbers sufficient to be useful - certainly not by those Allies with Mk41 VLS cells and shallow pockets.

    Agree, CNO, that this event doesn't seem like a huge leap forward. SM-6 as a positive if hugely belated addition? Yes. Seriously, putting an AMRAAM seeker in the nose of an SM-2 Block IV took how long? NIFC-CA as anything more than CEC with some new nodes and effectors? No. Same paradigm? Yes.

    It was absurd to limit engagement rate and geometry to mechanically steered FCRs, if unavoidable until AESAs made them redundant with things like APAR and CEAMOUNT matched to SARH missiles like ESSM and SM-2 (and now, an ARH missile). Or SAMPSON and PAAMS.

    Still, SM-6 may offer some useful benefits. As a counter to the enemy's air-breathing ASST effort, breaking the horizon barrier and somewhat mitigating the fact there is no actual fighter A/C in the CVW - just short-legged strike-fighters.*

    ...If you can target the SM-6 ERAM effectively. Which is I think what you were saying. The web is anemic since each element is so expensive.

    Our collective focus on platforms over payloads leaves precious little in the kitty for anything other than the Tiffany platforms we're addicted to. For example, the JSF when it 'enters service' will be carrying heavy iron little different to the legacy munitions on legacy A/C. The AMRAAM from a subsonic launch will be outclassed in kinematics and probably in seeker tech. Most of the currently useful munitions for actual missions are forward firing - things like Hellfire, Brimstone, and now APKWS - plus foreign equivalents. Weapons that allow larger shot counts against real targets. Somewhere around 2022-ish the JSF might release SDB-II's gliding down at 300kts towards targets that will already be defended by competent point-defence SAM/AAA/APS systems.

    ...If they fit. If there is money left for payloads once JSF rapes the procurement budget.

    Since the enemy has a vote, they are likely to focus on countering the handful of arrows and leave the 'stealth' archer to their long slow transit to and from homeplate.

    Divert a few Billion a year to actually field effective payloads (for starters JCM/JAGM/whatever it is called now) rather than buying more prototype JSFs. Divert a few Billion more to fill the magazines and bunkers with SLCM/ALCMs.

    No, Tomahawk isn't perfect but you can buy and fire off 100-200 per JSF you don't buy, and you can overwhelm an enemy in a way gravity bombs never will, not from a CVW. Ending production now would be insane. Ending it while waiting for the next promised Tiffany missile, LRASM (& LACM derivative so as to have 'commonality' and therefore 'save money') is equally insane.

    * = Left unstated is the undersea detection component. Given how few SSNs there will be in a given area - and the patent neglect ASW has received for so long - a CSG looks rather naked (and noisy) from beneath the waves.

    1. Actually you can buy more than that, because each F35 costs many, many millions to maintain and operate every year, over a lifetime of say 40 years (which is absurd but not unrealistic given how long current platforms have been in service for), that adds up....

    2. Tiffany? The very nature of naval combat is high-tech and expensive; it’s been that way since before Salamis. The screams of anguish have been repeated over the past 200 years whether it be the authorization and acquisition of wooden frigates, ironclads, battleships, carriers, or ballistic missile submarines. None of your argument is new – you can read 1795 criticism declaring the building of the USS Constitution an act of budgetary treason and a jobs program for listless shipwrights in Boston. A 1973 Life magazine article pillories the F-14 as grossly over budget, deadly to its crew, and the wrong fighter for the Navy – the D model ended up costing as much as a Raptor (in adjusted dollars). Change the weapon, change the acronym and you can have a pretty easy job as a defense writer criticizing the program of the day.

      I tend to think that having the capability to detect, track, and engage a target that is well outside the shooter’s observation range, or in orbit, for that matter, is a good addition to the fleet. Testing under known conditions, and only then introducing variables is good scientific method.

      Please quantify “short legged”. You can research the individual NATOPS Flight Manuals for A-6E, F-14D, and F/A-18E/F. You will find that the Super Hornet matches up nicely with the meaningful specs of the legacy aircraft. F-35C carries more internal fuel than the Tomcat with two external tanks. If you think the Naval Aviation has neglected ASW, then you haven’t seen the MH-60R, and you’ve missed the P-8 – both communities with new equipment and innovative JO’s and enlisted. AAW/BMD, ASW, SEAD, BFM, ACM are hard; we have experts and engineers working on, teaching, and training to those problems every day.

      As a Naval Officer, I’ve spent a year at CGSC Leavenworth learning the Army way, and two years on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan combined trying to keep Soldiers alive. Despite that experience, I am humble enough to know that I don’t know how to fight a BCT in combat, and I probably shouldn’t advise the Army that they don’t need the $30B JLTV program because it’s just a Tiffany solution for what could be done with upgraded M151s or civilian Jeep JKUs.

      Forgive me if I choose not to defer naval procurement decisions to landpower advocates. The Army has an abysmal track record over the last decade with winners like FCS ($18B) and Comanche ($8B). The majority of defense and defense related dollars since 2001 have been directed in support of GWOT/OCO – according to the Congressional Research Service over $800B and $600B for the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts respectively – you know, the latest in a string of ground wars in Asia that the organization tasked with fighting and winning America’s ground wars has failed to achieve victory. CRS reports it costs $3.9 million per year to deploy a Soldier to Iraq or Afghanistan, with a 1/3 T3R that’s literally a pretty poor bang for the buck.

      V/R TA

    3. Excellent points. And I'll admit as a civilian there are alot of things I likely don't see/don't get.

      Still, while I understand your point, especially about the cost of things; the Navy has always been a service with a high materiel overhead and that, for the most part, has to fight with what it has on hand. (You might be able to spool up and build a tank in a few months. You can't do that with a Frigate). I think there are some valid concerns:

      With the legs of the aircraft... from what I've read the F-18 is much shorter legged than the rafale. It might compare well with the legacy aircraft, and the F-35C might do better, but both are still shorter than some international competitors. Normally I'd say 'so what'. But with the proliferation of some really nasty ascm's and asbm's I think that the longer the range we can get out of our air wings the better. I'd still like to see something like a fleet interceptor for the Navy. The backfire like threat hasn't gone away. The missiles have gotten better though.

      With the testing, you bring up a good point about good base tests. But has the Aegis/Standard/CIWS combo really been tested against swarm attacks or missiles that can fly as fast or move as well as something like Brahmos? I don't know, but I haven't ready anything that sounds like it.

      I also wonder about our capacity. What is our mission with these ships? Is it to potentially escort a CVBG close enough to a peer to launch an attack? If so, it seems like we face a real problem: A peer enemy could launch a swarm attack on a CVBG. Assuming everything works really well, we shrug off the attack with reasonable attrition... but then what? Our anti air ships magazines are really depleted; and our opponent just has a ton more missiles. We can't reload the Burkes or Tico's at sea... so then what? It seems we either leave a carrier now vulnerable to anti missile attack; or we leave so we can reload. Which would essentially be a mission kill.

      anyway, as I said, I may be way off. Just my $0.02. Thank you for your input.

  5. Sadly, this all makes sense in terms of the social and business pressures of the procurement world. These fantasy scenarios are aimed at politicians, and the US system doesn't teach politicians realism. This specific one allows existing hardware to do something that looks spectacular, and is thus worth lots of money for the contractors. But it's done by communications and software, not new hardware. It's thus cheaper to build, and more profitable. The Navy leadership knows that its primary job is to keep pumping money to the contractors, so it is happy with this.

  6. Amphibs are transports, but the problem is our Navy assigns them to surface warfare officers who insist on building them as billion dollar hybrid surface combatants that deploy and cruise around. As a result, we have half as many with half the lift the could have. The crew sizes are as big as the troops they carry!