Proceedings has an interesting article about combat in the “Information Age”, as the authors put it (1). The article is an odd combination of the authors “getting it” and “missing it”. Let’s take a closer look and see what they have to say that we might learn from.
First, it should be noted that the authors are two active duty Lieutenant Commanders, one a Surface Warfare Officer selected for command and the other an Intelligence officer. As such, they ought to represent a doorway into current naval thought and for this reason, if no other, their writing is worthy of consideration.
The authors discuss the recognition that weapons are becoming more lethal and that, as a result, there is a need to try to cut the kill chain further upstream. They state that the implication of this is the need to manage our electromagnetic (EM) signatures “as never before”. Of course, EM silence (EMCON) was the default state of naval units during the Cold War so the “as never before” statement rings a bit hollow and, to be fair, the authors point that out. As they put it,
“In practice this means, among other things, controlling our EM signature while conducting any type of operations, with EM silence as our default posture.”
Again, this warrants a huge, “Duh!”, but at least they’re saying it. They go on to say,
“While we became fairly proficient at emissions control during the Cold War, the lack of a meaningful blue-water threat since the fall of the
Soviet Union and our
vast accumulation of new EM systems have allowed us to forget. Today, naval vessels and aircraft operate by
default with multiple active radar, identification, datalink, and communication
systems radiating. Rarely are we forced
to operate in a silent (or reduced) mode for any sort of extended period or while
conducting complex operations.”
And there it is. The authors summed up the entire EM issue. We knew it. We forgot it. We don’t practice it. You’ve heard me say this on a regular basis and now you’re hearing active duty, ranking officers saying it.
Could we even operate in an EMCON mode if we had to? The authors, and ComNavOps, do not believe so.
“Similarly, in air defense, we so infrequently practice single-ship or group-restricted radiation operations in tactical scenarios that it is questionable whether we are proficient enough to use them in wartime.”
The lack of realistic training – another pet peeve of ComNavOps.
The authors bring up another great point concerning the global, universally networked, all-seeing, infinitely datalinked, battle management system that the Navy is so enamored with and that is the awareness of what’s happening at the tactical level. Allowing, for the moment, that this kind of mythical network can even work (it can’t), the authors point out a tactical level awareness problem.
“Much of the disruption effort will be executed by joint forces or at the operational level, so how will tactical-level Navy decision-makers know what is going on and how or when to exploit success? For example, if the Air Force disables a sector of the adversary’s passive electronic-surveillance network, how will the officer commanding a surface action group 1,000 miles away know he is now in an advantageous position where his ship’s radars can be energized to locate and destroy an enemy platform in his vicinity?”
An excellent question and it again points to the need for realistic training so that these types of unforeseen problems can be identified and worked out. Some might casually employ the hand wave and confidently assert that all levels of operation will seamlessly and flawlessly communicate to each other. They might, or they might not, as suggested by the authors.
“We pay a lot of lip service to seamless joint integration, but it is specious to believe communications between operational and tactical-level commanders in a joint environment are either as fast or as thorough as required.”
Again, these are active duty, ranking officers saying this!
The flip side of the EM coin is also noted. The enemy will be doing their best to control the EM spectrum and we must anticipate the loss or, at best, intermittent use of our comms, networks, and datalinks. The implication is that we will be faced with fighting with a lack of higher level command and control – the opposite of what we have now where the movements and actions of individual soldiers can be monitored and ordered from the White House. As the authors point out,
“In the Navy we are fortunate to be the heirs to a strong tradition of command-by-negation, distributed execution, and autonomous decision-making. However, with the increase in volume of communications our ability to fight complicated scenarios with minimal or intermittent communications has almost certainly weakened. We can regain it only with realistic and challenging training at all levels from fleet to unit and individual watchstander.”
Again, straight from the annals of this blog!
Well, so much for the “get it” portion. Unfortunately, the authors still generally believe that the modern battlefield will be electronic, networked, datalinked, and comm’ed though, to their credit, not to the degree or with the effortlessness that the Navy thinks. They fail to grasp the reality that modern combat against a peer will see all the magic devices on both sides come up well short due to a combination of countermeasures and the 100% certainty of weapons and systems being vastly overrated. As a result, the combatants will quickly fall back on simpler, brute force weapons and systems with the resulting combat being closer to WWII than Star Wars. Complexity is great for wargaming and public relations but when combat starts, simplicity will quickly become king.
We need to begin developing weapons and systems that can function without external inputs and we need to begin training for a state of degraded and lost external inputs.
(1) USNI Proceedings, “The Face of
in the Information Age”, Crooks & Robertaccio,
July 2015 Battle