The science fiction classic, Dune, set in a far distant future with weapons of unimaginable power, hypothesized a personal force field so effective that it forced a return to primitive knives and swords for combat (yeah, I’m glossing over a lot of stuff in the book but it serves to make the point). ComNavOps has previously suggested that future naval combat with all its vast networks, omni-present sensors, data sharing, long range missiles, etc., will all too often devolve into WWII style gun battles. Battles for which neither we nor our enemies are well prepared given that modern ships lack large caliber guns and armor. To say that readers have been skeptical of this belief is to put it mildly. That’s okay. My purpose is to offer data and conclusions that are logical regardless of whether readers agree with them. I’ll let my record of predictions stand for itself.
So, is ComNavOps alone in the belief that future warfare will devolve into more basic, primitive modes despite all our wonder-tech? Well, the Army, at least, seems to be coming around to my way of thinking.
The Army desperately wants to regain relevance in the face of the Pacific Pivot’s seeming lack of use for ground forces (
, however, is making the Army relevant at a furious pace!). One way to do that is to be able to provide
long range, land based strike and anti-air weaponry. Breaking Defense website offers an article on
this Army vision (1). Russia
“The crucial element of this vision isn’t any specific missile, McMaster said, but the joint network that connects the different services so they can assist each other.”
“The goal is a network so flexible and all-encompassing that, for example, a
or allied aircraft can spot an enemy ship, then pass the
targeting information to a land-based missile battery to sink it.” US
However, as we’ve often pointed out, belief that our networks, distributed sensors, and data sharing will function flawlessly and seamlessly in an electromagnetically contested environment is foolish, at best. As Breaking Defense says,
“In such a conflict, of course, the invisible war of electrons to deceive sensors, jam transmissions and to hack computers is at least as important as the physical battle. You can’t count on your network always working against a sophisticated adversary …”
Even upper levels of the civilian military leadership seem to be grasping at least a little of this.
“So our networks must be designed to degrade gracefully, Work [Deputy Secretary of Defense, Robert Work] said, and our minds must be able to cope with losing them. Local commanders must be ready to fight in the dark on their own initiative, guided by a common understanding of the mission and a deep trust in their comrades. “You can configure your network in different ways,” he said, “but you have to be ready for the network to kind of disassemble, and then people to operate on a local level.”
So, DepSecDef Work recognizes that our networks are vulnerable and we must be prepared to revert to basic, close up combat. Of course, that leads one to question why we’re basing our entire Third Offset Strategy on exactly that belief in flawlessly functioning networks, data sharing, unmanned vehicles, and autonomous weapons but, I digress ... The point is that the Army and senior military leadership can see the possibility (I call it a certainty) that combat will devolve to local levels, divorced from the grand, all-seeing, all-controlling network of co-ordinated, precision fires that we like to believe we will have.
Are we ready for such devolved combat?
“Right now, we’re not ready for such scenarios, McMaster [Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster] made clear. ‘We’ve developed systems that are exquisite and could be prone to catastrophic failures’ instead of degrading gracefully, he said. The fragility and complexity of existing networks is such, he added to rueful laughter, that some of them don’t need an enemy to break them. They just go down in day-to-day operations without facing hostile action of any kind.”
And yet we’re basing out entire Third Offset Strategy on these networks??? But, I digress …
Is that the limit of the devolution of combat? No …
“ ‘Many existing systems also broadcast continually in all directions at high power, he [McMaster] said. Against a sophisticated enemy, that’s basically putting up big flashing neon arrows labeled “WE ARE HERE.” We need to relearn techniques for concealment, camouflage, and deception — in the visual, infra-red, and radio frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum — that our adversaries have been refining for years.
McMaster warned that, ‘our enemies have become more and more elusive, and we’ve become almost transparent.’ “
So, we need to relearn the age old basic techniques of warfare like concealment, camouflage, and deception.
So, our networks are vulnerable? I’d like further proof, please. OK …
“Inspired in large part by Russian successes against Ukraine, McMaster said, ‘we’re doing a vulnerability assessment on our force. What are we vulnerable to? — (and) topping that list is cyber and electronic warfare.’
That vulnerability means you can never be sure your sensors won’t be blinded or your intelligence deceived — which means, in turn, that your long-range precision-guided weapons will sometimes go to precisely the wrong place. Then you need to send in the ground troops to ‘develop situational awareness in close contact with the enemy [and] the population,’ McMaster said. Even with the most advanced long-range technology, he said, at some point, ‘you’ll probably have a close fight.’ “
So, the Army sees a vulnerability in our dependence on networks, intricate sensors, data sharing, and so forth? Isn’t that what ComNavOps has been preaching for years?
You caught the part about, “… at some point, ‘you’ll probably have a close fight’”? For all our standoff, precision fires, Gen. McMaster believes we’ll wind up having close up battles? Shades of WWII !!!
Having established that the Army believes it likely that we’ll lose our grand networks when combat starts – so why are we basing our Third Offset Strategy on networks? – we can pretty reasonably extrapolate that the Navy will also lose their networks, data sharing, co-operative engagement, distributed sensors, etc. which means that the Navy will find itself fighting much like our WWII fathers did: mostly blind with only short range sensing and awareness. Opposing naval forces will literally stumble upon each other at shockingly close range (remember to factor in IFF issues when your situational awareness only extends to the horizon). Missiles will be spoofed by ECM. Missile guidance signals will be disrupted. In short order, the opposing forces will be within gun range and the result will be a WWII-style naval gun battle. That’s a battle that the US Navy is ill-equipped to wage.
|The Future Of Naval Warfare?|
There’s nothing wrong with having missiles and networks and data sharing and co-operative engagement. Hey, it may work some of the time! However, we should be prepared for the inevitable high tech failure and have a basic, low end combat capability to back it up. We need to re-equip our ships with larger caliber guns, heavy torpedoes, and armor. We need to be able to wage a gun battle and win.
The Army agrees with me. Now, I just need to get the Navy on board.
(1) Breaking Defense website, “What Lessons Do China’s Island Bases Offer The US Army?, Sydney Freedberg Jr.,