USNI News website reports that the Navy and Raytheon conducted a test of an over-the-horizon engagement of a supersonic target by an SM-6 missile (1). No test details were released and there’s apparently nothing special about the test. Navy tests are highly scripted and every effort is made to ensure test success. The interesting part is the hype surrounding the data sharing using remote sensors linked through the Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air (NIFC-CA) system. Even this is nothing particularly noteworthy. This is just an outgrowth of the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC).
However, consider these comments.
“ ‘This weapon multiplies the amount of defended space the U.S. Navy can protect,’ Mike Campisi, Raytheon’s Standard Missile-6 senior program director, said in a company statement.
“ ‘The ships can now use data from remote sensors to support the engagement of targets. Sailors can now launch at threats much sooner than ever before.’ ”
So what’s the problem? The ability to incorporate off board sensor data to allow engagements far beyond the horizon is a good thing, isn’t it? Well, yes, it is. If the enemy obligingly allows us to spread our sensor platforms all over the battlespace without hindrance and allows us to communicate between the various sensor platforms and the launch platforms without interference, jamming, ECM, or other electronic disruptions then we’ll be in great shape.
On the other hand, if the enemy opts to shoot down our slow, marginally stealthy UAVs, BAMS, and defenseless E-2 Hawkeyes and sink our far ranging (almost didn’t get that one out without laughing) LCS network nodes or blanket our communications with electronic noise, jamming, and all manner of ECM and cyber disruption, then I can’t help but wonder how well our NIFC-CA dream will work.
The logical reality is that our sensor platforms won’t be able to penetrate very far in the direction of a likely enemy attack and their data relays will be severely degraded. Thus, the peacetime promise of AAW intercepts occurring hundreds of miles away, cued by a vast network of sensors, will likely remain an unfulfilled promise. Our engagement window will not be hundreds of miles away but will be not too far beyond the horizon.
The larger issue, here, is the constant focus by the Navy on highly unlikely scenarios in which advanced technology is allowed to operate unhindered by enemy action. We’re becoming dependent on unrealistic scenarios that can’t and won’t be realized in actual combat.
Instead of conducting the test they did, the Navy and Raytheon would have been better served conducting the test in the face of an “enemy” that could find and eliminate the off board sensor platforms and apply the full spectrum of electronic countermeasures. Let that be the test scenario and see what works. I think we would quickly realize that we’re wasting our time on a lot of fantasy projects.
Now, the wasted time and money is bad but what’s worse is that we’re “growing” a generation of soldiers and sailors who believe that this technology is going to work just as they’ve seen it used in these unrealistic, scripted tests. Our future combat leaders are learning tactics that are not based on reality. We need to drastically increase the realism in our testing.
Consider this simple test. Had we conducted it under realistic conditions, as I’ve described, we would probably conclude that we need to drastically alter our sensor platform approach (maybe many, many more smaller and shorter ranged UAVs flooding an area?), significantly enhance our electronic resistance and communications security, and, the big one, perhaps realize that long range intercepts may not be a realistic expectation and that medium to short range intercepts are what we should be concentrating on.
The Navy desperately needs to begin injecting realism into their tests and stop obsessing over fantasy technology that won’t work in the face of enemy actions. We need to start designing against the worst case instead of the ridiculously optimistic best case.
(1)USNI News, “Navy, Raytheon Test Standard Missile-6 Against Supersonic Over-the-Horizon Threat”, ,