Thursday, May 29, 2014

Soft Kill CEC

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. 


  1. I can’t believe we ( the British ) aren’t going ahead with UK CEC.
    It was a tiny outlay for an amazing force multiplier, EVEN more so interfacing with USN obviously.
    Hopefully this is just a pause and a retrofit will be forthcoming very soon as our finances seem to be straightening out rather well now.
    From what I can see CEC is as much about piecing together a good “track” from many radar sources and predicting an intercept and streaming that data to that launch platform \ weapon as if it came from the local platform itself. Its often represented as about firing off another ships weapons ( which always sounded a little dodgy to me ) which in a sense it is, but I’m not sure that really does it justice.
    It’s a natural progression from our current network centric warfare systems, and hence represents a relatively small outlay as RN and USN ships already stream huge amounts of data back and forth about all sorts. It’s just a matter of tying it together to extrapolate these AAW tracks.
    Soft Kill system are really a last line of defence type moment, right along there with your Phalanx, knowing a missile is coming 10 minutes before it arrives with a mega accurate track extrapolation isn’t really going to help much ( a bit, see CENTURION turret for type 26 ) but probably only a bit. As you will be sitting around for 9 minutes 30 seconds doing nowt until you press the chaff button.
    No reason not to leverage all the R&D for current CEC to get that extra 10% ( but not at 150% the original cost hey ! )

    P.S. Atlantic conveyor wasn’t being directly escorted at the time. It was attempting to deliver its goods. But was, yes, under the general protection of the area frigates. Such unfortunate timing.

    1. Beno, you seem to be downplaying the soft kill option a bit. Maybe I'm misreading your intent? Bear in mind the historical data that shows around 80% effectiveness for soft kill and 20% for hard.

      I've never heard that USN and RN can share tactical data. It would seem logical and you suggest that it does happen. Outstanding!

      The potential weakness in any networked, CEC approach is, of course, the communications. If an enemy could disrupt the data flow, even briefly, it could negate the CEC advantages. We assume we'll have unhindered data flow just as we assume we'll have perfect comms, flawless GPS, etc. I suspect we're going to be unpleasantly surprised if we fight a peer like China. I wish the USN would exercise with heavy jamming and no GPS (how will many of our weapons guide without GPS?) to learn how to fight in a more realistic environment.

    2. OK quite a few bits there ;
      1) Absolutely not, soft kill is the proven option. My point was the advantages of CEC in over the horizon engagement targeting won’t give the same level of benefit as they do to longer range missile engagement. Just as over the horizon targeting doesn’t help Phalanx because its engagement range is well within the sphere of the local platform.
      2) I have no special knowledge about current RN and USN data sharing except that we all use Link 16 soon to be 22 and share some of the same platforms e.g. Apache, so I think it’s likely.
      My comment was meant to say that UK CEC was intended to interface with US CEC to allow combines fleets cooperative engagement. You must have seen those Type 45’s hanging around those Nimitz lately right ? ;)
      3) Yes comms jamming, Very good point. I don’t know but I’m assuming like the F35 AESA we are likely to start using AESA radars to start point to point “unjammable” comms, I notice we are fitting T26 with a new AESA radar the ARTISAN, its major feature over the T45’s is its “unjammability” rather strange in a AESA radar that is essentially undetectable anyway ?
      Hacking worries me more than jamming :S
      Allot of our comms goes straight up to SkyNet the amusingly names British comms satellite network. ( Predates Terminator btw , but it’s fun we kept it anyway ). Whether this helps or not I’m not sure ?
      4) GPS, wow you hit the nail on the head there ! We are swapping fast to GPS AND Inertial guidance combined. Found a great new term this week QUANTUM ACCELEROMETER, one of our nuke subs is apparently due to set sail this week on tests ??? supposedly 1000 time more accurate ? we shall see.

      5) I’d like to note that if the local platform is having radar troubles then CEC soft kill becomes an absolute winner.

      Also manoeuvring in an anti ship missile situation is ( I understand ) a major factor. Being able to know how to position your ship 3 minutes ahead of time could be a big factor. Then once again CEC may be advantageous, although the current network centric systems probably allow this now.

      In summary I totally agree, put all units capabilities on line, why not make everything fight as one in all aspects. I think they are just starting with the areas of maximum gain.


    3. Beno, great note about the quantum accelerometer. I hadn't heard of that. Thanks for the link. I don't follow RN news that closely so drop a comment sometime if you hear any more about how the accelerometer is doing.

      As you noted, OTH sensing in a SK-CEC scenario would allow pre-positioning of ships for optimum advantage. We can currently do this but not as an integrated response. Each ship will position itself as best it can within the confines of its position and responsibility but that doesn't necessarily produce an optimal group response. It would be much better if a single SK-CEC management system directed the entire group.

      Also, remember that the soft kill side of things includes electronic warfare and not just short range decoys. We can probably apply electronic measures (jamming, false signals, etc.) from quite some distance.

      SkyNet?! Yikes! Seriously, though, that sounds like the same satellite dependency the USN has fallen prey to. We assume our satellites will be there in a major war when most analysts seem to think that satellites will be the first thing to be destroyed. How will we communicate then? In addition, there won't be any GPS.

    4. Ooooooooo Good one EW, your right hadnt thought of that !

      Big area.

      Not my absolute BEST area.

      Now got an amusing image where CEC concludes the best way to deal with an incomming missle is to jam itself. hehehehe

      ill have to go away and ponder that one over the weekend :)

      Thanks for the continuing great posts. Always interesting to swat up on USN.



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