Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Center of Gravity

Although ComNavOps abhors the use of buzzwords and phrases such as synergy or center of gravity (CoG), some of them nevertheless convey an accurate image.  A center of gravity is just what it implies:  a major concentration of capability.  In the case of the military arena, a CoG is a concentration of a critical warfighting capability.  We attempt to identify the enemy’s CoGs and attack them but do we examine our own CoGs?  What are our CoGs and how might an enemy attack them?  China is undoubtedly devoting a great deal of time and effort to exactly this task and we would do well to anticipate their actions and have ready responses.

So, what Navy CoG do we want to examine today?  Well, I’m willing to bet that the Navy’s most important, least recognized, and, potentially, most vulnerable CoG is its vast system of networks.  By “network”, I mean all the weapons and systems that generate, collect, transmit, use, and manipulate data.  This would include GPS signals, Link XX, SATCOM, UAV comm links, weapon guidance signals, straightforward communication channels, and every other data transmitting or receiving device the Navy has. 

Consider that the Navy uses data transmissions of one sort or another to guide nearly every weapon it has.  How many weapons are GPS dependent, for example?  How many weapons use mid-course guidance signals?  We’re actively pursuing in-flight reprogramming of cruise missiles (though the benefit of that is highly debatable).

Consider the wondrous F-35 which will be a combination of E-2 Hawkeye, P-8, F/A-18G ECM, J-STARS, and fire control for every aircraft and weapon within a million mile radius.  Setting aside my mockery of it, its performance is predicated on seamless and flawless data flow (the Navy having all but admitted that it won’t be used as a frontline combat aircraft but, rather, as an enabler of other aircraft).

Consider the Navy’s next generation Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), the Navy Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air (NIFC-CA) which will tie every sensor and shooter system together in an impenetrable defensive network, according to the brochures.  This is nothing but data flow and data sharing on an immense scale.

I submit that data flow is the heart of the Navy.  It is the Navy’s CoG. 

And it’s vulnerable.

China knows this.  Do you think they aren’t working on disrupting our data flow?  Jamming?  False signals?  Data overwrites via signal injection?  Physical destruction of nodes?  Dozens of other electronic and cyber disruptive possibilities I haven’t even begun to think of?  We’ve seen them conduct their own anti-satellite missile tests so there go our GPS signals.  They’re continually practicing cyber warfare (hacking) on a daily and massive scale – and quite successfully, too, from what information is released publicly.

We need to look closely at our own COGs and their vulnerabilities and begin strengthening them. 

We need to develop better methods of data transmission, improve the security our data and comm lines, develop better methods of authenticating our data, and develop better means of handshaking our data to ensure that complete packets are received.  This is way outside my area of expertise.  I can see the problem and I know the general direction we need to go but the specifics are way beyond me.  The Navy, however, needs to work on this.

In addition to strengthening our networks, we need to train to operate in electronically degraded environments.  Conducting set-piece training exercises that utilize the full range of networking and data flow is worthless because none of that will happen in a real conflict.  Instead, we need to conduct every training exercise in the face of the best ECM and counter-data effort we can generate.  This will accomplish two things:  it will show us how to operate in a real world scenario and it will vigorously exercise our ECM and counter-data capabilities.  We’ll get two levels of training for the price of one, so to speak.

Finally, and related to the training issue, we need to think the unthinkable.  We need to consider designing less brilliant weapons.  Conceptually, which is more useful:  a gravity bomb that is unaffected by any jamming or cyber disruption or a GPS guided weapon that won’t do anything if it has no GPS signal?  We are so enamored of our technology and networking that we’ve forgotten that simplicity reigns once combat begins.

Both sides have CoGs and we need to recognize our own and anticipate their weaknesses so that when the enemy attacks we’ll be prepared.


  1. J-series weapons still work without GPS. They revert to INS-only mode. Their accuracy is reduced without GPS (~100ft CEP vs 10ft).

    There have been various programs designed improve this, both in terms of jam-resistant GPS receivers as well as seekers (e.g. Laser JDAM, HART/DAMASK).

    1. That's nice. A baby step but nice. And, of course, the weapons still have to be delivered to their launch point and the delivery platform has to navigate in GPS obstructed, electromagnetically contested environment. And the orders and planning need to get to the base/carrier through an electromagnetically contested, jammed, cyber-hacked environment. And the strike aircraft need to be controlled by an AWACs/Hawkeye/F-35 in an electromagnetically contested environment. And the targets have to be located and identified in a radar jammed environment. We've already seen what happens to Navy ships when they lose their GPS (Port Royal grounding).

      So, giving weapons a backup guidance system is good but represents only a small part of the much larger issue.

      Regarding optical and laser guided weapons, do we really think the Chinese won't have counters for those (obscurants, non-reflective coatings, etc.)? That doesn't mean we shouldn't pursue those weapons but it means we shouldn't consider the job done just because we have them. We made that mistake with GPS and are now scrambling to provide alternate modes of guidance.

    2. Yep. Just commenting on that one specific aspect of your post. There are many other links in the chain.

      Having a variety of communications, navigation and guidance methods is important. It provides redundancy. As is designing anti-jam and encryption capabilities into existing systems.

      I'm less worried about the Chinese jamming the GPS on JDAMs and aircraft than I am of them destroying GPS satellites themselves. The physics works against them with jamming.

      Are they going to keep bridges and other infrastructure throughout the country constantly obscured, or painted with non-reflective coatings? ;) Perhaps the smog in Beijing is really an anti-PGM haze.

  2. Link 16 & 22 already have some pretty hefty encryption with all the features you describe.

    Would help if we didn't buy our communications and computer chips from china with hardwired "backdoors" in them tho.

    All hacking doesn't have to be super high tech crypto analytics !!!!


  3. Back in 1988 at NPS, we designed an experiment to evaluate an operational objective for a battle group (meet up with a Amphib group to escort them to a landing zone). In this we gave each cell varying degrees of information from perfect to only their organic assets. It was fascinating to see the results.

    All of that was done with 3x5 cards and a clock, but nowadays you could easily run computer based wargames to see, measure (and MOST importantly train folks) on the value of information or infrastructure (like GPS). Doing this once a month on each ship would be a fantastic way to get people to think outside the box or be ready for if/when something breaks.

    Seems like an important project, but the Navy isn't doing it as far as I know.

  4. The chip thing really worries me. I'm guessing we do alot of our own code, but the loss of chip manufacturing is a real problem. At the very least, with the amount of $$ we spend on defense contracts, and the amount of electronics that defense uses, it would seem that we could reopen an old Silicon Valley chip factory.

    1. Intel has it's chip plants, some of them still here, but that's it.

      There's a reason why the Midwest is called the Rust Belt. So too is here in Ontario. Manufacturing is stagnant. It's a very serious problem.

      I fear that it has been sacrificed for short-term profits - as has the US middle class.

    2. Sadly yes. I think that's an old story. We seem to determine success on a quarterly basis and look over much at the bottom line. Businesses have to make a profit, of course, but (at least back in the day) the Japanese, for example, seemed to be more willing to endure short term losses in favor of long term gain.

      The Chinese success story by itself should give us an inkling of the success and need for manufacturing, but we don't seem to get it.

      And I worry about the future of our skilled trades and tooling ability. All the bright ideas in the world in terms of naval ships and planes won't do us much good if our skilled trades fade to nothing.

    3. If we want chip manufacturing back here the Government is going to have to offset the environmental and labor regulation costs that drove this industry offshore.

      Either that or we have to wait until the Chinese (and the other developing countries) poison themselves so badly that there are only 500 million of them (they are well on their way).

      So if is important to National Defense then let's let a contract to have chip manufacturers operate here.

    4. It is not that easy I am afraid.

    5. These are the sorts of things that take decades of experience to do well. Plus huge capital costs.

      Intel for example is the leader, but their fabs tend to be expensive. Plus they don't have experience with the kind of volume we're talking about. They make high margin products. The volume leaders are Samsung and TSMC. Micron is a big player in Nand and Dram, but not the top dog right now.

      You need massive volume and capital costs too sustain this type of industry. Costs that the East Asian governments are willing to subsidise and the US in its "free market" ideological blindness is not.

      Same thing could be said about cars, machine tools, and other important manufacturing abilities. These are accumulated skills that take years to build up. That is what the US has lost when outsourcing.

    6. I disagree completely, I am in the Semiconductor test business now and there are plenty of US companies that do the not only the upfront design work but do the initial prototype fab work to check it out. Also as you pointed out there are still several large production fab houses in the US. There is plenty of experience here if we offset the costs I have mentioned.

      Likewise, the majority of cars sold in the US are built in the US so again the expertise is here.

    7. You would have to build billions of dollars worth of fabs here in North America.

      Yes America does do some (and I emphasize the "some") the design work, but would they be able to ramp up the volume to completely replace the likes of Samsung, TSMC, SK Hynix, Toshiba, and whoever else owns a fab? Because in the scenarios that are being described here, those may not be available.

      Chips are an international thing. They don't just need to do the design work - they need to do everything here (tools like steppers, all of the parts, and have the capacity to replace any disruptions). That's much harder than it sounds.

      So too are car parts (and I speak as a former employee of GM). The cars may be assembled here, but not all of the parts. If a few critical parts are not, then what are you going to do when the supply chain is disrupted?

      It's not just war we are talking about. The 2011 earthquake in Japan did a lot to disrupt many of the electronics goods that came from Japan and that was in northeastern Japan (an area that is viewed as a backwater). What would have happened if the earthquake had been between Tokyo and Osaka in the crowded area?

    8. Well for the cost of one Ford Carrier you can have 2 state of the art Fabs with capacity to provide all "Defense" grade chips. These fabs would NOT be fore consumer goods, those the market can drive to wherever. But approved chip designs could be sent to these facilities and run in a GOCO fashion by say INTEL, or some other chip manufacturer.

      If we want the security, we have to spend some bucks, but it is not that many.

  5. I suspect the US will learn things the hard way.

    Some technologies I doubt:
    - BVR - friendly fire is a huge problem
    - Various lasers, rail guns and similar "leap" projects (Should be research)
    - Excessive scripted exercises vs the more "Free from" exercises
    - Expensive, ineffective weapons like the F-35, LCS
    - Assuming ideal conditions (as you've noted)

    The other of course is that the enemy gets a vote too - and they do study weak points. The reason why the Islamic Fundamentalists have been able to create a strategic stalemate is basically they understand the US weak points and use them.

  6. "BVR - friendly fire is a huge problem"

    Have their ever been any tests on this by our military? Like, have three drones: An F-4 (Target) an F-16 (With IFF) and a 737 flying close to one another then shoot at the target.

    I read on the F-35 boards from the supporters of the program that most of the kills in the past few decades have all been BVR, but they don't go too much into the details.

    1. There have been real cases of friendly fire with BVR.

    2. Jim,

      See below,


    3. Smitty, I've read that report and the historical/conclusions section is absolute garbage. The future trends portion is interesting but flawed due to the failed conclusions from the historical section. Here's a few examples of problems with the report.

      1. The bulk of the 1980’s BVR kills was due to Iran-Iraq conflict – pilots not exactly renowned for their concern about friendly or civilian kills and yet this data is used to draw conclusions about BVR trends despite the fact that the US would never operate that way.

      2. Vast majority of 1990s era kills were due to Desert Storm which was not aerial combat but was just a live fire exercise. Those "kills" demonstrate nothing about modern aerial combat because they weren't combat.

      3. Report notes the disappearance of rear-aspect-only missile kills as evidence of the trend towards BVR. In reality, it only proves that the missile became obsolete. Rear aspect kills still occurred but with an all-aspect missile. Highly misleading.

      4. The range of the kills were not disclosed or factored into the analysis. For instance, if a pilot used an AIM-7 or -120 fired in visual range it is counted as a BVR missile kill even though the reality is that it was a VR engagement. This happened frequently in Vietnam. I don't know about Desert Storm instances but I assume some occurred.

      A few other report related thoughts:

      Is it really a BVR kill if the target is identified by EO (camera)? I think not. It's just amplified eyes (VID).

      The main failing of the report is the absence of any analysis of the kills that did not occur (admittedly a very difficult thing to do!). Desert Storm contained hundreds of passed over kills due to BVR friendly fire concerns. So, the trend of kills may show an increase in BVR but the trend of engagements shows a trend of increasing "fails" due to ID fears. One could almost argue that the trend is away from BVR when the "failed" kills is factored in.

      Thus, the author's conclusions are significantly flawed. Unfortunately, he then uses the flawed conclusions to construct his future warfare concepts.

    4. CNO said, "Is it really a BVR kill if the target is identified by EO (camera)? I think not. It's just amplified eyes (VID)."

      From the report, "
      Detection and Identification

      In twenty-seven of thirty-three engagements against fixed wing aircraft (82%), AWACS provided target information and identification before U.S. fighters detected enemy aircraft.

      On average AWACS detected and identified enemy aircraft while they were still over 70 nm from U.S. fighters.

      In the four engagements where ACM occurred, U.S. pilots first detected enemy aircraft at 5 nm or more on radar.

      BVR Engagements

      On average, U.S. pilots detected enemy aircraft on their own radars at 42 nm and launched missiles at 10 nm.

      It is noteworthy that half of the BVR engagements occurred during the first three days of the conflict while the Iraqi Air Force was still attempting to maintain defensive patrols and before Iraqi fighter aircraft began to escape to Iran. What is striking about this is that the sheer numbers suggest the probability of coalition fratricide was quite high, yet none occurred. For example, on the first day of the air campaign, coalition aircraft flew more than 1,300 combat missions into Iraqi airspace, whereas the Iraqi Air Force flew just over one hundred fighter sorties. Four days later, the coalition flew almost eight hundred combat sorties over Iraq,
      whereas the Iraqi Air Force flew just twenty-five combat sorties. This disparity in the relative number of friendly and enemy aircraft operating over Iraq shows why simply relying on friendly IFF for target identification in BVR engagements is unadvisable. For example, if we assume coalition IFF systems have a 95 percent chance of functioning properly throughout a combat mission, then we could have expected about seventy-five IFF failures on the first day of Desert Storm and about forty on day four. These numbers are close to the number of Iraqi fighter sorties flown on those days. So, odds are about even that a target that fails to respond correctly to an IFF query is a friendly aircraft. This same numerical disparity in friendly and enemy aircraft existed over North Vietnam and was one of the primary reasons for the reluctance of U.S. aircrew to initiate BVR attacks and the rarity of BVR kills in that conflict.
      By 1991 U.S. forces had much greater confidence in their ability to correctly identify enemy aircraft at BVR range, even in an environment where most aircraft, and many aircraft without
      proper IFF responses, were likely friendly. There were several factors that made this possible.


      Watching Iraqi aircraft takeoff allowed E-3 crews to immediately identify them as hostile, while the E-3’s comprehensive communications suite and large mission crews, between thirteen
      and nineteen air weapon controllers and other specialists, allowed them to communicate this information and provide dedicated support to multiple coalition fighter crews simultaneously
      via ultra-high frequency (UHF) voice radio links. Coalition ROE allowed combat pilots to engage any aircraft declared hostile by an E-3 crew without the need for further identification.

    5. Smitty, thanks for the reprint but I've already read the report. You seem to think I'm arguing against BVR or claiming that BVR doesn't exist. I'm totally in favor of it - who wouldn't prefer BVR kills? We have the capability and it works.

      My contention - I'll repeat it so you understand it - is that BVR will not be nearly the factor we think unless we amend our historical insistence on VID. Read any book or report on Desert Storm and you'll be struck by the number of BVR kill opportunities we passed up. We really handcuffed ourselves. Of course, given the almost total absence of aerial resistance, there was no reason not to pass up any BVR kill that wasn't 122% certain ID. The historic portion of my point is that we always seem to have a reason not to fully commit to BVR combat. Examples, range from ground combat where we withhold artillery and mortar support due to slight uncertainty about friendly or civilian involvement to airborne combat (Desert Storm being the most recent) where we withheld numerous BVR shots due to very slight uncertainties.

      I'll repeat, unless we modify our historic reluctance to fully commit to BVR, our layered systems will be far less effective than they appear on paper. Any who would claim that we'll do BVR in the next conflict are just flat out ignoring our combat history, practices, and ROEs.

      Everything I'm saying is fact, not opinion, so what are you attempting to dispute?

    6. I'm disputing this so-called "historical insistence on VID". Read the last bold line in my previous post.

      E-3s never VID aircraft. The coalition flew ten times as many sorties on the first day of Desert Storm as the Iraqis, yet fighters (for the most part) did not need to VID air targets even though they were far more likely to encounter friendlies than enemies. E-3s, IFF and NCTR enabled us to reliably determine friend from foe and engage at BVR.

      Where do you get your data for this assertion? "Desert Storm contained hundreds of passed over kills due to BVR friendly fire concerns. "

    7. Oh good grief. You really think the US doesn't have a historical insistence on VID? We watched the entire Iraqi air force flee. Read any of the books on Desert Storm or Vietnam. They're packed with passed up shots due to uncertain ID. I'm done with this. It's not even a point of debate.

    8. I have read books on Desert Storm and Vietnam. Vietnam is not a useful case study for modern BVR air combat. (i.e. No AWACs, limited NCTR, IFF, networking, etc. )

      Uncertain IDs probably SHOULD be passed up if there are ten times as many BLUE aircraft in the sky as RED.

      Did the Iraqi aircraft flee because we didn't have VID on them? Or because we weren't prepared to stop them? Who would've thought they'd run to Iran.

      From here,


      On BVR ROE, Horner stated, "Long before the war started, we concluded we couldn't live with unrestricted BVR because of the Stealth at night, primarily. And we also concluded it wasn't required because the Iraqi's weren't going to pose that big a threat. We were going to take out their command and control and then we were going to shoot them down. So, the decision was one of practicality, not one of doctrine."

      The Iraqis just weren't a big enough threat to warrant unrestricted BVR.

  7. You forget one simple thing Comnavops

    Sometimes things go vice versa

    They jam you're comms you're jam theirs ( BTW every jammer is a HARM magnet )
    They hack you're networks you better make sure you've hacked theirs first.

    Now about GPS , if they really start knock out kinetically GPS or any other US satellites that would mean that this would be a very serious conflict near to an all out war , they would not risk to start a war in space over a proxi conflict .
    Because who knows what the US has .. what has been the X-37B doing in space for all this time for example, no one really knows.
    And thats just a overt US program.

    1. Of course we'll be doing the same things to the enemy. I'm not sure what your point is here.

      Again, not sure what your point is about GPS. We're talking about high end, all-out combat in which GPS systems on both sides will be knocked out very quickly.

      You had a point to make but it didn't come across. Try again?

  8. My point about GPS was this :
    "We’ve seen them conduct their own anti-satellite missile tests so there go our GPS signals. "

    Unless its WWIII no one would attack kinetically the other sides satellites.
    Of course during a smaller conflict they could be all sorts of attempts to jam and spoof and disrupt satellite signals to bring them out of orbit .
    But the side that chooses to shoot first at an opponents satellite will cross the Rubicon.

    My point was if you do the same things to the "enemy" and you're electronic gadets and gizmo's are better then there is nothing to worry about .

    1. I'm still not completely sure what your point is but I'll attempt a response anyway.

      We're discussing (or, at least, I am) high end combat - a war. Satellite systems will be targeted and eliminated very early in a conflict. Of course, lower end skirmishes might not go as far as unrestricted combat. That's obvious. Again, not sure exactly what you're saying beyond the obvious.

      As far as nothing to worry about if our stuff is better, that's kind of the point of the post. Currently, our network/data systems are very vulnerable and I don't see them as better. Hence, significant cause for worry.

      Further, the only way to know for sure if our stuff is better is actual combat and by then it's too late to change. Now is the time to self-evaluate and improve.

      "nothing to worry about" - That's a bit of an incredibly simplistic and optimistic thought! The Japanese and Germans at the start of WWII had generally better stuff and yet it turned out that they had plenty to worry about.

  9. "Currently, our network/data systems are very vulnerable and I don't see them as better" How do you know that ??

    What makes you think really important US electronic systems are not better then most of the Chinese Russian counterparts .

    I will give you an example in AESA fighter radars .

    The US has currently fielded FOUR mature operational types of them

    AN/APG-77 on F-22

    AN/APG-63(V)3 on some F-15Cs

    AN/APG-79 on latter F-18E/Fs

    AN/APG-80 on UAE F-16s but still a US radar

    Not mentioning AN/APG-81 on F-35, and RACR and SABR , AESA radars for upgrade of F-16s

    You know that is more AESA fighter radars Types combined then the rest of the world have on different fighter jets. ( not to mention that AESAs are very nice jammers them selfs )

    The above is just an argument that the US is pretty good at electronic gizmo's .

    The Chinese have yet to demonstrate a system witch is like Link-16 , the Russians are bragging but they don't have better .

    You're views are very pessimistic by the way :D

    1. "The Japanese and Germans at the start of WWII had generally better stuff and yet it turned out that they had plenty to worry about."

      Yeah but they did not have the vast pool of strategic resources the US and USSR had ;)

    2. China and Russia are large nations with lots of resources, so I'm not sure that's a great analogy here.

    3. "Currently, our network/data systems are very vulnerable and I don't see them as better" How do you know that ??

      Our military computer networks are being hacked on an almost daily basis - and that only accounts for what is being discussed publicly. I'm sure the reality is much worse.

      CNO Greenert has stated that our electromagnetic discipline has all but vanished meaning that our emissions (and hence entry portals to electronic systems) are extensive and vulnerable.

      Our comm systems use outdated software and protocols by today's standards.

      Our UAV comms have been proven susceptible to hacking.

      We've stood up entire cyber departments. That wouldn't happen if we thought our systems were protected.

      I can do this all night but you should be getting the idea. I don't make this stuff up. It's all from reports and incidents.

      The better question is what on earth would lead you to think our systems are even remotely secure?

    4. "You're views are very pessimistic by the way"

      Pessimistic or realistic?

      My record on assessments and predictions of Navy system and platform performance is immensely better than the Navy's. For example, I predicted an endless stream of problems with the LCS. Was I pessimistic or realistic? I predicted huge cost overruns with the Ford. Was I pessimistic or realistic? I've described huge problems with the Marine's amphibious assault doctrine and capabilities. Is that pessimistic or realistic?

      If you just want to hear how wonderful everything is, you might consider reading the Navy's official website. Hey, have you read about the amazing LCS MCM module? It's revolutionizing mine warfare as we know it!

    5. "The Japanese and Germans at the start of WWII had generally better stuff and yet it turned out that they had plenty to worry about."

      Yeah but they did not have the vast pool of strategic resources the US and USSR had ;)"

      That was kind of my point. Simply having an edge in one area does mean we have "nothing to worry about".

    6. Storm, you completely missed the point when you listed radars. I was not claiming that China or Russia have better radars (they might - who knows?) or better electronic devices. I said that our networks and data transmission systems were vulnerable to attack. Be sure to read the posts and comments carefully!

  10. "Our military computer networks are being hacked on an almost daily basis - and that only accounts for what is being discussed publicly."

    Yes because you happen to live in a democracy or something like it..
    How much do they tell on Chinese or Russian media if a really sensitive network of they're own has been hacked ?

    "Our UAV comms have been proven susceptible to hacking."

    Yes because the US happens to use a lot of UAVs over the last 15 years globally , neither China or Russia does so.
    The RQ-170 story has been discussed a lot, many people hav agreed that it was a stealth UAV for countries with air defenses similar to Iran, North Korea and so on.

    "We've stood up entire cyber departments. That wouldn't happen if we thought our systems were protected."

    Again the US is a democracy and big money in defense has to be accounted for..
    Somehow i am sure Russia and especially China have similar departments but they are not public...

    The AESA was just an example electronic gizmo's


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