Friday, January 2, 2015

Thanks for Cooperating, Mr. Enemy

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.

The United States Navy

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


  1. Just think how invincible our navy will be when we start launching drones with a couple short range hellfires, from an LCS armed with short range hellfires, and passing this info from ship to ship as we engage an opponent armed only, long range supersonic cruise missles, long range anti-air and the abilty to intercept all that networked data so that they know everything we do?

    Yea, your're right ComNavOps, they DO expect them to just let us do what we want. A common problem in every war is that we expect every conflict to be like whatever the last war was. Many assumed after WWI that battleships and trench warfare were going to be problems...and faced carrier combat and maneuver warfare in WW2. We expected COIN warfare after Vietnam and got Desert Storm. Now we have reversed that and expect nothing but COIN warfare after 10 years in Iraq/Afganistan. So we have drones that are effective against a terrorist networks and lightly armed patrol boats being treated like frigates. And the one weapon meant to be used against a serious opponent, the F-35, is woefully inadequate and overpriced because we really don't expect to actually use it anytime soon.
    There is still the bright spot of our sub fleet, but the time is ticking on our boomers and the Chinese are catching up there as well.

    God help us when the ability to intercept that wonderful shared data is turned against us. I guess no one teaches at Annapolis about what happened to Germany and Japan when we broke codes in WW2. And the Axis didn't transmit nearly the amount of info we plan on doing with our proposed networks. And what happens to those drones if an Anti-satellite weapon takes down the GPS system? Drones, smart weapons, and even simple navigation go bye-bye.

    1. milspecmusings, just to be fair, the US military did envision a drastically different WWII versus WWI. For example, prior to the war, they were developing carrier tactics and building all sorts of new aircraft, ships, armored vehicles, etc. If you aren't familiar with them, you might want to read about the pre-war carrier war games. Some of the exercises are eeriely similar to what actually happened, including the attack on Pearl Harbor. Certainly, there were some holdover ideas that wound up discredited. Interestingly, the Pacific campaign was thoroughly wargamed prior to the outbreak of hostilities and little that occured was a surprise to Navy leadership. Similarly, the Army/AF leaders prior to Desert Storm envisioned and executed a completely different style of warfare from Viet Nam where those leaders served as low ranking officers and lived and learned the lessons that became the model for Desert Storm.

      I do, however, take your point that we seem to be preparing for a future of police actions based on our last couple decades - not a good trend!

      You raise an excellent point about data security and the impact on war ops. The Chinese are clearly practicing cyberwarfare on a daily basis. I hope we are doing the same - of course, I don't expect us to admit it anymore than we admitted some of the Cold War submarine activities until well after in ended.

      Very nice comment!

    2. I admit to a bit of hyperbole when discussing past mind sets. There are always those who can see the future like Billy Mitchell did (and was attacked for doing so) , and those who can't --- there were still plenty of battleship over air power advocates in 1940, less so in 1942. (Although I do think a battleship with smart rounds might be overdue for the present era!).
      It's the "COIN Mafia" that I worry about. Our policy used to be that the US could fight a 2 front war, then we changed to a sort of "1 1/2" front notion, and now I guess we are down to a single front at a time. Appearently now we are not only trying for one front at a time but it is against an unconventional warfare foe.

      You talked about your concerns about drone in A2/AD. I fear that a Tom Clancy-ish scenario where a technosavvy opponent can disable the drones or worse feed then false information. Imagine false ISR images--cameras are all digital now--or false radar data but since it is coming from our trusted drones...well its a little scary.

    3. The data links are fairly secure, and i really doubt someone will manage to hack them.

      My concern is just jamming them.

    4. USMC, I agree that jamming is a major potential weakness. However, I also note how many times Microsoft and other major software players have stated that their software is fairly secure and hacking would be unlikely. History has shown that someone can always hack software.

      The data links consist of both hardware (transmit/receive) and software (signal processing) and both are vulnerable. An enemy doesn't have to take over our programming and turn our weapons against us - that's a far-fetched scenario - they merely have to momentarily disrupt our data and control signals to render our weapons and control systems ineffective. China has an entire military organization dedicated to that type of effort and they are clearly practicing in the real world on a daily basis.

    5. The difference is how everything is connected. Amazon is always connected to the internet, same with Lockheed Martin.

      Link-16 is not. I just do not see someone hacking the system and connecting seeing useful information flowing back. At worst they would do a denial of service attack. But jamming is a distinct possibility.

    6. USMC, I've read reports about research aimed at injecting signals and programming into inactive electronic devices. It seems to be quite feasible. I suspect "connection" is less of a barrier than it once was.

  2. Nothing really new here.

    It wouldn't be the first time the military was sucker..uh, lulled into thinking technology will solve the basic problems that unadulterated human warfare brings to bear. Look at the gun-less F-4 Phantom, the nearly CV-less Falklands campaign, SDI....etc. The examples are endless and will continue to be relearned every time unadulterated human warfare is leveraged. Sorry, but the civilians and FOGO's who get elected and promoted to lead the services are clueless about the technology that will make a difference on the battlefield. Physics will still govern and limit our ability to wage war. All technology has done recently is make it slightly more accurate (assuming everything works perfectly). The leadership continues to buy solutions assuming the fallacy of everything always working properly when they should be demanding solutions that still allow our servicemen to fight even when everything goes to sh!t. To quote Feynman: "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled."

    Let's just hope the U.S. hasn't swung too far in the techno-realm, that it can't course correct in time.

    1. "... they should be demanding solutions that still allow our servicemen to fight even when everything goes to sh!t."

      Anon, you bring up a great, great point. We need technology that is engineered to work when everything else goes wrong. This ties in with the KISS philosophy.

      Outstanding comment!

    2. Amen.

      I think, IMHO, we have two main issues:

      A) Congress uses the defense budget as a political football. Hence you have things like the F-35. Congresscritters don't want the jet because its going to improve our warfighting capability. They want it because its a huge project that will generate tons of revenue for their districts for a long time.

      B) The military leadership itself seems... I hate to say it, but almost corrupt. Yes, we have 'the biggest battlefleet'. But IIRC Spain could make an argument that they had a bigger battlefleet in the Spanish American war. So what. The capabilities of your battlefleet matter. And it seems our military leadership is ignoring true capability (Good AShM's. real MW, keeping our current capabilities up through maintanance, not creating a gold plated baroque fleet... etc.) in favor of just kow towing to what Congress wants (see A) and keeping defense industries happy (how many high level officers go into defense after retirement?)

      We run the very real risk in the terrible twenties of having not enough ships, and huge, frightening capability gaps. AMRAAM will be behind the curve by then. Our ASW capability won't be up to snuff. Our aircraft will be a mix of the older (Super Hornets) and the Baroque and not worth the money (F-35C).

  3. Interesting article.

    I’m not sure we have yet given up anything for many of these drones have we? (Except some budget obviously)

    If any or all of these ISTAR assets simply ceased to exist, we still have the all the “old” capabilities.

    You have quoted quite a variety of drones there and each would need to be used in differing ways.

    For many though, fire scout and scan eagle types, I think we are considering them to be expendable. And an acceptable loss to target high value assets without revealing your position. A job that would need to be done ( and can still be done ) by other means right now, but in a much more dollar and risk intensive way.

    I would add that for other TRITON type assets, in conjunction with CEC and network centric warfare, the asset is not necessarily undefended, any more than an AWACs or Hawkeye is now. Although I do realise the latter have defensive aid suites, those will not keep you alive long without some active defensive action.


  4. the question is this , with more and more reliance upon remotely operated vehicles, how suspectible is their control signals to enemy jamming ? also with GPS , how susceptible it is against GPS jammers ? and what's the probability of any peer enemy taking out US satellites / eyes in the event of shooting war ?

    with that much degradation in sensor capability , how trained is US naval personell in a degraded sensor / heavy jamming situation ?

    not saying anything but just common sense, prepare for the worst and hope for the best , isnt that what the ancients said ?


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