Dear Mr. Enemy,
We would like to thank you for your cooperation in our recent defeat of your military forces. We appreciate you allowing our various platforms to perform their functions unhindered and unopposed. We look forward to working with you in the future to conduct additional unopposed military operations.
Navy United States
The Navy’s fascination with unmanned platforms and remote, autonomous vehicles is leading the Navy into a new realm of warfighting doctrine and tactics. Unfortunately, these new paradigms all depend on our enemies cooperating with us by allowing these new platforms to perform their operations unimpeded. Consider these statements from a recent Proceedings article (1).
“The Large-Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (LDUUV) will provide the autonomous capability to deploy and manage a variety of sensors and payloads across multiple mission areas.”
“The Navy Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLAS) system will provide persistent sea-based ISR with precision-strike capabilities.”
“Triton UAS [ed.: MQ-4C Unmanned Aircraft System] on-station persistence sustains the maritime common operational picture, …”
“Fire Scout [ed.: MQ-8] provides day and night real-time ISR, target acquisition, voice-communications relay, and battlefield-management capabilities to the tactical commander.”
What characteristic do these platforms and plans have in common besides unbounded optimism? Answer: They’re not very survivable. They’re not particularly stealthy, they’re not very fast, they’re not very maneuverable, and they have no self-defense capability. In short, they’re easily detected and once detected they’re simple target drones for the enemy to destroy at their leisure.
Here a quote from a different article in the same issue of Proceedings (2).
“When the Growler employs NGJ [ed.: Next Generation Jammer], this non-kinetic weapon will deliver electromagnetic energy that will ensure U.S. air dominance against complex , integrated air defenses, and assure freedom of maneuver in A2/AD environments.”
Wow! Good to know that the A2/AD challenge has been totally solved. We will have assured freedom of movement in the A2/AD zone from nothing more than a jamming device – and I thought that would be problematic. Can you imagine how disappointed and depressed the Chinese must be after reading this – assuming they have a subscription to Proceedings?
This statement and the ones above it show the same absolute certainty that we will be allowed to operate freely and unimpeded by enemy actions. Apparently, these easy to detect and easy to destroy platforms will get a free pass from the enemy and be allowed to conduct their operations unhindered. Silly me. I thought the enemy got a vote in combat. I would have guessed that the enemy would routinely target these platforms to deny their benefits. I would have guessed that the enemy would employ their own electronic warfare to sever our communications links, disrupt data flow, alter their own signatures, and identify ours. I guess I was wrong.
Hey, I get that these articles were written as marketing brochures, essentially, though that makes me wonder what kind of standard Proceedings is applying to article submissions these days. The problem is that we’re staking our future combat direction on these highly suspect platforms and capabilities which are based on idealized wishful thinking more than rigorous analysis. These capabilities are just like GPS – a highly useful tool that we’ve become too dependent on and whose loss or denial in combat will cripple us. We’ve become so used to the peacetime, unimpeded use of UAVs that we’ve come to believe they’ll perform the same way in combat against a peer.
Read any Navy-authored article and it reads like a buzzword bingo assembly of slogans, buzzwords, and catchphrases totally devoid of any recognition of the realities of combat. As literary eye-candy they’re fine, though useless. As an actual assessment of our anticipated capabilities they’re not only works of utter fiction but indicative of a mentality that has no concept of the realities of combat and makes no allowance for enemy actions and capabilities.
We are building doctrine and tactics based on capabilities that sound great on paper and probably work fairly well during peacetime exercises or against third world adversaries but will fail miserably against a peer enemy. Come on, turn the situation around. Would we allow UAVs to leisurely fly above us and send data back to the enemy? Of course not. They’re easy targets. We’d shoot them down in short order. Would we allow enemy jamming efforts to grant their forces assured maneuver in our home waters? Of course not. We’d employ electronic countermeasures to deny their efforts and we’d make every effort to shoot down their jamming aircraft. Seriously, do we think a peer enemy is going to do any less to us?
The current approach of the military to combat as an exercise in synergistic, leveraged, networked, data flow is nothing more than mental masturbation. I’m sorry, that’s a bit crude but it’s the most accurate description I can come up with.
There’s nothing wrong with pursuing these technologies as adjuncts to our main combat efforts but when this path becomes the main path, we’ve seriously lost our way and forgotten what combat is and what role the enemy plays.
(1) USNI Proceedings, “Know the Environment, Know the Enemy, Know the Target”, RAdm. Jonathan White, USN and RAdm. Sean Filipowski, USN, July 2014, p.30
(2) USNI Proceedings, “Integrated Fires”, Margaret Palmieri, July 2014, p.36