Sunday, October 19, 2014

Network Contradiction?

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

Of course, the result of loss of communications is that the weapon or system must function autonomously.  For an unmanned system, be it missile or UAV, that’s quite a software challenge.  The risk in LRASM development is that the entire program may be delayed for inordinate amounts of time trying to prefect the required degree of autonomy.  It might be advisable to field fully functional increments of the missile that contain more sophisticated autonomy over time rather than try to achieve the final product all at once.  For example, a fully functional anti-ship missile with 500 nm range would be a welcome addition to the fleet right now, even without autonomous capability.  I don’t know the status of the programming effort or the developmental plans for autonomy so I can’t comment about whether it’s being developed wisely or not.  We’ll have to keep an eye on this aspect of the LRASM.

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", 2-Oct-2014,


  1. I really like the idea of a staged go live of the LRASM. I really think we need this thing in the fleet. Its not perfect, but it looks at least decent and you could get a long range missile out to the fleet.

    As for the AI, don't worry about it on Blocks I, then slowly improve it. Have an 'I lost my connectivity so I'll dive into the sea' in Block I, then Block Ia has an 'I lost my connectivity so after flying X amount of miles I'll hit the first available target of the type they loaded into me or dive into the sea if I can't find it...'

    You get the usefulness and might learn something about the missile along the way that helps.

    An air launched LRASM extends the carrier's reach. A VLS LRASM gives a stick back to the surface fleet and a longer reach for the subs.

    I wish we had a Brahmos type, but I'll take what we can get.

  2. Off topic here, NCO take a look at this pic :

    Why is a SLAM shooter carrying a refuleing pod ? Is this some new mission mix , first refuel then shoot , or what ??

    1. Storm, I have no idea what's going on with that photo. Training mission maybe? It seems a very unlikely combat load.

  3. Probably a training flight, not uncommon to configure like this ... Unlikely to have a true combat load like this, but then again, "gas in the air" is worth its weight in gold when it comes to Carrier Aviation.


  4. As for most developmental programs, we are our own worst enemy ... We have all heard the saying "better is the enemy of good enough".

    Also, acquisition regulations tend to discourage "spiral" developments. Firm requirements tend to drive the development, and incremental is much more preferred. Difference between incremental and spiral is an incremental improvement is a planned, pre-determined improvement, where spiral is development on the fly, we'll figure it out later. As you can imagine, on the fly is frowned upon and "shiny objects" (read, better the enemy ...) tend to drag us down a path that if delivered, will solve world peace.

    I like the modest approach, put a reasonable solution in place, and leave room (and money) for incremental improvement; just not the mindset or the norm these days.


  5. Whatever is the problem with networking?

    I was at NSA with the JTRS research was first being done and that would solve all of the communications issues by 2000. Well in 1997 the Army PMO stood up, and in 2005 it was made a JPEO, and in 2011 the program was cancelled.

    So why are we worried about relying on network switching, routing, etc. when the node to node radio waveforms can't be made to work?

    Anyway those stealhy susperstructures (made of Balsa wood) have plenty of room for antennas for all of different types of communications links right? We will never need to go EMCON will we?

    Don't worry the new Battlestar Galactica virus theme is just a movie trick!

    1. I would not be so sure, imagine if there was a back door entry built into every piece of Lockheed Martin software, your enemy obtained the passwords, and we did not know until we found ourselves in a fight. Hard to think of a weapon platform or system that doesn't have a Lockheed system in it somewhere.

      We would clearly be at a serious disadvantage.

      That said, if your enemy has totally infiltrated and taken control of your entire defense industrial base, like what was the case in this show, you are obviously in very serious trouble. Although it is hard to imagine that level of infiltration in reality.


    2. Having seen firsthand the pitiful state of Information Assurance enforcement in the Navy I have to disagree. The IA certification requirements are consistently ignored when the CO or PM wants his system to go live.

      Combined with this is the fact that the basic network and device protocols and software modules, that enable the internet of things, were NEVER designed with Security as a requirement. Hence you read about jsut 2 examples, day one vulnerabiliites in software becuase there was no good code review, or the Wireless USB protocol allowing takeover.

      Unfortunately we have built our infrastructure on a little understood pile of quicksand. People were so busy just getting things to work that there was not time nor incentive to make them secure.

    3. Anon, given your experience and conclusion that Navy network security is poor, do you have any thoughts as to why the Navy is so obsessed with incorporating networks into weapon systems?

    4. Timely news flash this morning at:

      I think the motivation for networking is very simple and straightforward. When Networking works it produces mouth watering eye candy. That makes it easy to justify the $Bs spent on these systems and the post service industry careers that the approvers get.

      However, no one says what happens when it doesn't work? Certainly no one tests these systems in an environment where things are degraded.

      As for why the Navy ignores enforcement of the current IA rules, it is even simpler, I can do my short term immediate job better and look good. It is the long term versus short term perspective. If I use a simple before it is IA certified I can do whatever. And as long as my seniors don't measure the TOTAL performance, I get promoted.

      If you look at all of the hype of military hardware, and tactics, as they transition from peacetime to wartime you see that there is a HUGE period of adjustment as we shake out those things that do not work in the wartime environment. I only hope we have time to do that in the coming wars.

  6. My thoughts,

    It depends on whether you are talking about a system which can function independently but is enhanced when it is part of a greater system, or one which is so totally dependent on that connectivity that it ceases to function if that system is deprived of that connectivity.

    So long as it is an add on, a positive when the data link is available, and the system is still capable of independent operation if required, and we know at some point it will, we should be OK.


  7. Mark ... Most weapons have primary modes of operation and then, gracefully degrade from there. Designing one to be "totally" independent, but enhanced if better info is available is not commonplace or normally the decision matrix put in place. Weapons are almost always developed with the best solution in mind, and then, operating modes that allow them to still function and be effective without the "best" info available.

    For example, a LASER JDAM operates on the assumption that the weapon will be launched toward a target based on a geographical location. GPS/INS info will guide the launch aircraft to that point and then at release, the weapons will then establish a profile towards the point of impact. If a LASER designator is available, that info will be used in the final portion of guidance to more accurately guide the weapon to impact. That is the sequence of events planned for, not ad hoc if better info becomes available, i.e. a specific LASER code needs to be identified so the weapon can recognize the signal. But, if the LASER signal is not received, the weapon will still guide based on GPS/INS data; ergo, a bit of a degraded mode when using the full functionality of the LASER option.

    In summary, most all weapons operate on the premise that the primary mode will be available and various degrees of degradation can be tolerated in order to successfully engage targets of interest.


    1. AJF

      You are of course correct that almost all weapon systems are designed around the best possible solution.

      An example an SM-6 or an Amraam when fired will follow a firing solution preset before being fired and will then turn on their active guidance based on where the target is expected to be.

      The data link enables us to update the preset firing solution in flight if the preset firing solution is no longer the optimal solution.

      If the data link is jammed, it will still follow its original firing solution and still has a chance of locating the target. Not ideal, yes I agree our system was designed to be at its best in a networked environment, yes our system has been degraded, but my point is it is still functional.

      I get what you are saying about the decision matrix, but a lot of these systems are legacy weapon systems which are receiving networked capabilities as part of their latest round of upgrades. Totally new weapon systems are rare these days after all. In was in this context that I was talking about when I said an "add on". I hope that makes sense.


    2. Mark ... Thanks for the reply. Good discussion, although I think we have drifted off the original topic.

      Anything that improves a weapons targeting solution is goodness, hitting small RCS and/or moving targets is a tough business. So, if D/L is available and provides better info, absolutely use it. Point I am trying to make is that "adding" D/L functionality to a legacy weapon is not a trivial task, nor a cheap one.

      Regarding your A/A missile example, there is an initial fire control solution that is sent to the missile at launch and then via D/L or acting as a semi-active missile, the weapon is continuously updated enroute. Unless that D/L or "host" radar signal is lost, technically there is no reason for the active seeker to engage, although, an active seeker will most certainly refine a solution and is processing info at a much closer range and with negligible latency.

      General doctrine is not a D/L launch, but in the networked world, this is changing ... What D/L really brings to the fight is many new and different launch and control options; all good, but very complex.


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