Western militaries are caught up in a technology craze: networks, unmanned, remote, cyber, open architecture, data sharing, software, integration.
The belief, I guess, is that floods of data, data sharing, networking, etc. will allow us to know where every enemy asset is and then we can use the wonders of our distributed, light, mobile, flexible, adaptable forces to destroy the enemy.
Of course, all the Aegis radar, navigational radars, EO/IR sensors, satellite monitoring, aerial surveillance, and “big picture” data sharing in the fleet hasn’t prevented us from completely losing track of where giant, slow moving cargo/tanker ships are and colliding with them or running aground so one can’t help but question the very foundation of the entire technology push.
’s Royal Navy is now getting in on the technology
craze, as described by First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff Adm. Sir
Philip Jones and reported by USNI News website (1). Here are some snippets from the First Sea
Lord’s vision. UK
“autonomous systems operating in squads”
“artificial intelligence-assisted decision making”
“power of data”
“lightweight deployable IT system”
“vertical lift unmanned air system “
“…bandwidth acceleration technology, which slashed the time for chest x-rays to pass through a handheld SATCOM terminal from half an hour to under five minutes.”
“drones that dissolve on demand”
“algae electric propulsion systems”
What do all those technologies have in common? With the possible exception of the vague, buzzword-ish “novel weaponry”, whatever that might mean, none go “BOOM”. None produce a bigger explosion. None make the RN more lethal. None increase the combat resilience of the RN. None allow the RN to take more hits and keep fighting. None increase the number of ships, aircraft, or personnel in the fleet.
They’re mostly technology for the sake of technology.
And all depend on the enemy cooperating by allowing us to send and receive data and to network systems without hindrance. Think about it. We’re putting all our eggs in the data basket. A basket which is easily upset by enemy electronic warfare, cyber warfare, jamming, etc. Would you buy a rifle that only works if the enemy doesn’t jam it? Of course not! And yet, that’s exactly what we’re doing with the whole data and networking movement.
and China are steadily producing bigger, heavier, better armed
and armored tanks, more artillery, more cruise and ballistic missiles, bigger
mortars, and better cluster munitions. Russia
Consider a few more detailed statements from the First Sea Lord.
“…integration of all weapon systems, engineering sensors and off-board logistics in the future, we have specified that the new Type 31e general purpose frigate should be designed with open architecture from the outset.”
Open architecture sounds appealing, doesn’t it? It allows us to easily upgrade, incorporate third party and commercial software, and make it so that many, many people and companies can support our efforts. Of course, all that openness also means that the systems are vulnerable to hacking and cyber attack! Recall the
software attack on U.S. ’s centrifuges? Iran
Here’s another interesting statement from the First Sea Lord.
“We proved, for example, that a drug smuggler is no longer a bobbing needle in an oceanic haystack but has an identifiable algorithmic fingerprint. In the engineering world, we can predict, and therefore prevent, component failures.”
It’s a dubious leap from finding a drug smuggler to predicting and preventing component failures. A relevant example is the U.S. LCS which has mammoth amounts of automated monitoring of its machinery intended to predict component failures, minimize maintenance down times, reduce the number of people needed for maintenance, and save untold amounts of maintenance money. Of course, the reality is that the maintenance aspect of the LCS has been an abysmal failure. Every LCS has suffered major engineering breakdowns, most ships having suffered multiple failures – all unforeseen, maintenance down times have almost exceeded operation times, and maintenance personnel requirements and maintenance costs have far exceeded expectations. Of course, perhaps the RN will be the organization to make this all work.
Another good example is the state of the art (I use that phrase laughingly) ALIS comprehensive and predictive maintenance software that runs the F-35. Far from streamlining maintenance, reducing costs, and predicting component failures, the F-35’s ALIS program has been an abject failure with aircraft unable to get off the ground without substantial workarounds to the software interlocks. Aircraft have caught fire with no prediction whatsoever! Of course, perhaps the RN will be the organization to make this all work.
The First Sea Lord goes on.
“As modern warfare becomes ever faster, and ever more data driven, our greatest asset will be the ability to cut through the deluge of information to think and act decisively.”
No, your greatest asset will be large enough munitions inventories to keep fighting for more than a week (recall the 2011 Libyan affair when the European militaries ran out of certain munitions after just a few weeks – and that was hardly an all out war!) and sufficient numbers of aircraft, ships, and tanks to absorb the inevitable attrition losses and cover the necessary territory and missions.
“…technologies that senior officers hope will keep the RN “at the forefront of capability in the decades to come”.
What’s the point of being at the forefront of irrelevant technology if you haven’t got the firepower and numbers to actually win a war of attrition which is what a war with
, Russia , NKorea, or China will be. We
may not want a war of attrition but those countries will most certainly make it
so. Remember, the enemy gets a vote and
when it comes to attrition, if the enemy is willing to engage in attrition
warfare you won’t have much choice but to follow. A human wave attack doesn’t care about your
data sharing. Iran
Now, how does the First Sea Lord propose paying for all these irrelevant technological advances?
“This requires big decisions with far reaching consequences. Are we, for instance, prepared to remove existing platforms from service in order to create the financial and manpower headroom to introduce new systems …”
His solution is to drop existing platforms and further decrease numbers in an already numerically challenged military! Let me repeat – the enemy is not going to give you a choice about attrition warfare. In fact, given the steadily decreasing size of Western militaries, our potential enemies may well see attrition warfare as a major advantage for them.
Decreasing numbers to pay for highly questionable technologies that do little or nothing to increase firepower and lethality is foolish.
Now, I’ve been focused on the Royal Navy and the First Sea Lord’s comments but this post is really about the U.S. Navy which is doing all these same things. The First Sea Lord’s comments simply provided a handy platform to work from.
The technology path we’re on is insane. We’re ceding firepower and numbers to the enemy in the desperate hope that data will make up for it.
Let’s be objective. Recon is incredibly important to a military and plays a huge role in who wins and data is a form of recon. I’m not arguing against data. I’m arguing against abandoning the pursuit of firepower in favor of data. Data should complement firepower not replace it. Let me repeat – because it’s vitally important – the US Navy, for all its myriad sensors, Aegis radar, electro-optical sensors, infrared sensors, satellite imagery, aerial surveillance, drones, data sharing, and networks, couldn’t see giant, slow moving, cargo/tanker ships as they collided with our warships and couldn’t keep track of their own locations to prevent running aground – and this happened during peacetime with absolutely no electronic countermeasures or stealth on the part of the commercial vessels. Come a peer war, do we really think we’ll be able to track stealthy ships and aircraft that are intentionally “hiding” and using electronic countermeasures, cyber attacks, hacking, jamming, decoys, etc.? Well, despite all evidence to the contrary, this is exactly what we’re betting our future military capability on.
Someday, after a monumental military disaster, people will look back and wonder why no one saw it coming. Well, they did. This is the warning!
(1)USNI News website, “DSEI: First Sea Lord Jones Plots High-Tech Future for U.K. Royal Navy”, Jon Rosamond,