As ComNavOps has perused the reports about various weapon systems, one common aspect has stood out and that is the Navy’s heavy betting (all in?) on networks, data links, sophisticated communications over long ranges, common tactical pictures, mid-course guidance, and, in general, all forms of electronic networking. In short, the Navy’s vision of warfare is a completely networked battle force where every asset is a node and all nodes know everything that any node knows. The corollary to this is that any weapon or system can control any other weapon or system. This leads to seemingly idiotic statements of conceptual capability such as submarines guiding AAW missiles launched from some other platform.
What are examples of the Navy’s obsession with network warfare? Well, you’ll recall the recent post discussing electromagnetic maneuver warfare in which the Navy would develop a fleet wide electromagnetic battle management network? Or, how about the LCS which was supposed to have utilized a rapidly deployable sensor net? Or, how about the oft-repeated descriptions of the LCS as nodes in a battle management network? Or, the entire Co-operative Engagement Capability (CEC)? Or, the brilliant NLOS munitions that were supposed to have dynamically networked themselves to allocate targeting in real time? I won’t bother citing any more examples as the media is full of stories of various Navy weapons and systems being described as networks or components of networks.
The implied requirement in this approach is that the Navy must have totally uncontested command of the entire electromagnetic spectrum.
This brings the discussion to the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM). LRASM is currently in development under a DARPA research contract. The contract concludes in 2016 at which time the Navy is expected to provide funding for production. The LRASM is expected to be ready for use by B-1 bombers in 2018 and F/A-18E/F's in 2019. A VLS-compatible ship launched version is also under development. Developmental and initial production contracts have been, and are expected to continue to be, sole-sourced to Lockheed Martin (LM).
As a reminder, the basis for the LRASM is the JASSM-ER which is currently in production and approved for use by the Air Force's B-1 bomber. The missile will use multiple RF and EO sensors for target location, missile navigation, and terminal guidance. The business end of the missile is a "1000 lb penetrating blast/fragmentation warhead". Missile range is stated as 500 nm.
As a point of reference, Military and Aerospace Electronics website has an excellent article summarizing the history and status of the LRASM (1). Beware, though, and note that the article is full of glowing statements of success, all from a LM VP. Here’s a quick example,
"... JASSM offers what some people have called 'eye-watering' stealth capabilities ..."
Anyway, back to the point of this post … One aspect of the LRASM program stands out as related to subject of this post and that is the completely different approach that this weapon takes toward networks and communications. Consider the following snippets describing the features of the LRASM.
"... mission effective in satellite-enabled, satellite-constrained, and satellite-denied environments ..."
"... network enabled, but not network dependant ..."
"... navigation and control with GPS denial ..."
The common theme is that they all recognize that communications, whether for networking, data links, or guidance may well be disrupted and that the missile needs to be able to operate in an electromagnetically contested environment. This is exactly the opposite of most current and envisioned Navy programs. It’s also the realistic view of war against a peer. The Navy has Growlers and shipboard ECM capability designed to disrupt enemy communications, guidance, and networking. Do we really think the enemy won’t apply similar measures against us? An enemy will shoot down GPS satellites, disrupt GPS signals, disrupt communications, jam frequencies, initiate cyber attacks, and so on, just as we will. To design weapons and systems that are dependent on electromagnetic dominance is folly. Fortunately, in this case, someone has recognized reality and is designing a weapon that can deal with electromagnetic disruption.
|LRASM - Network Independent|
Networking is one of those ideas that is appealing on paper but generally results in an overly complicated and, as a result, unworkable system in real life.
Complexity = Unreliability
It’s as simple as that. Whether it’s an Aegis system that is degraded fleetwide because it’s too complex to maintain, a Ship Self Defense System that is unworkable after years of development, or an LCS whose every module has failed due to overly complex and unachievable technology, complexity leads to failure.
Now, am I saying that the Navy should abandon the LRASM because it’s complex? No. There’s nothing wrong with pursuing complexity as a research effort – just don’t do it as the cornerstone of a badly needed production program. As I stated earlier, field the LRASM as an incremental program that delivers usable products along the way (unlike the F-35).
So, why is the Navy taking a realistic approach to the LRASM in the sense of not basing it on unrealistic, fantasy networks while pursuing exactly those types of networks for so many other programs? I don’t know. That’s the contradiction demonstrated by this program.
(1) Military and Aerospace Electronics, "Back into the blue: LRASM honed for extended reach, precision punch",