Monday, October 23, 2017

Communications Vulnerability

Long time readers know that ComNavOps has frequently pointed out that the major underpinning of the entire Third Offset Strategy, which is networking and unmanned vehicles, is based on the foundation of unhindered communications.  You can’t operate a network, data links, or control unmanned vehicles if you can’t assure your communications.  I’ve also pointed out that the assumption of unhindered communications is very suspect.  Against a peer, communications will be jammed, spoofed, disrupted, hacked, etc.  This calls into question the very foundation of the Third Offset Strategy and the military’s entire warfighting concept.

With that backdrop, USNI News website reports that the Russians have established a Murmansk BN mobile, truck-based communications eavesdropping and jamming system in Crimea aimed at our destroyers in the Black Sea (1).

Personally, I welcome Russian jamming attempts.  Maybe we’ll learn what vulnerabilities we have and, more importantly, maybe we’ll learn how to conduct operations without transmitting (EMCON), as we routinely did during the Cold War.

Far more interesting and disturbing is this quote from the article.

“What’s it going to do to Aegis? Probably nothing. But maintaining data links could be an issue,” Carlson [Retired Navy captain and naval analyst Chris Carlson] said.” [emphasis added]

This is exactly what I’ve been talking about.  All of our fancy cooperative engagement capabilities, our fantasized regional networking, the entire F-35 combat concept of sharing data, our universal shared tactical picture, our weapon guidance, and the entire distributed lethality concept are all based on unhindered data links.  What happens when a peer figures out how to disrupt or degrade our communications?

Murmansk BN System

We’ve created an immense potential vulnerability and Russian and China can see it and have the capability to take advantage of it.  We desperately need to start conducting realistic tests and find out whether our entire combat concept is based on a fatal weakness or whether we can operate in the face of peer level electronic warfare and communications disruption.  We need to find out before we go to war, not after.

Note: The point of this post is not to debate the effectiveness of the Murmansk BN system. The point is to note the need for robust and realistic testing of our datalink communications which forms the foundation of our entire future military capability.


(1)USNI News, “U.S. Official: Russia Installed System in Crimea to Snoop on U.S. Destroyers, Jam Communications”, Sam LaGrone, 1-May-2017,


  1. OFFTOPIC: Have you heard about that :

    RAND came up with some alternate carrier options

    Each Variant Affects Force Sortie Generation
    A CVN 8X, a descoped Ford-class carrier, offers similar warfighting capability to that of the Ford-class carrier.
    A CVN LX offers an integrated, current air wing with capabilities near current levels but with less organic mission endurance for weapons and aviation fuel.
    The CV LX, which is a version of the LHA 6 platforms, might be a low-risk, alternative pathway for the Navy to reduce carrier costs if such a variant were procured in greater numbers than the current carrier shipbuilding plan.
    The smallest concept variant reviewed, the CV EX, does not provide either a significant capacity or an integrated air wing.

    1. The report is a waste of time. It was contracted simply to meet a Congressional requirement and utterly failed to meet the spirit of the requirement. It is filled with conceptual and technical shortcomings. For example, sortie generation rate (SGR) is a major criteria of the report and the findings are that other options have lower SGRs than the Ford standard. However, the report fails to note that the Ford cannot meet the Ford standard!

      I can go on but it's not worth the effort. If there's something of particular interest about the report that you want to discuss, let me know.

  2. Well i tough you'll find it interesting.
    Ontopic then
    Soviet Russian ground electronic listening systems have a long history, what should be more worrisome to planers are the active jamming systems, Ausairpower have a good systematized writeup

    But the most worrisome can be thepassive ELS/triangulation systems like the Czech VERA or Ukrainian Kolchuga.

    "What happens when a peer figures out how to disrupt or degrade our communications?"

    I'll guess that they just go it old F-117 style attack tactics - basically do not emit anything at all, fly on a preprogrammed flight pattern and hit valuable stationary targets on the first days.

    Also, there are low observable UCAV systems in development, i guess they're gonna be used first against the most dangerous SAM sites.

    1. "I'll guess that they just go it old F-117 style attack tactics"

      You're missing the point. The point is that we're in the process of building an entire future military capability on the foundation of unhindered datalinks and comms and we're doing at the expense of numbers (quantity has a quality all its own) and firepower (we're abandoning heavy armored vehicles, main battle tanks, artillery, cluster munitions, etc.) in the belief that our lack of numbers and firepower will be compensated for by data. If that fails, we have no numbers or firepower to fall back on. That's an enormous gamble to take with our national security.

      Consider what you just said about F-117 style. The F-35 is completely predicated on comms and datalinks. Without those, the F-35 is a mediocre aircraft, at best.

      Or, consider the Navy's distributed lethality concept. Without extensive comms and datalinks, all those unarmed, defenseless distributed ships that have a few Harpoons bolted on become just isolated, unaware, floating targets that can't defend themselves.

      Or, consider the Army/Marine's investment in, and move towards, light infantry joyriding around the battlefield on open, unprotected jeeps. The (idiotic) idea is that our datalinks and networks will, somehow, enable those soldiers to win. If the datalinks and networks won't work, those soldiers are just a bunch of uncoordinated guys running around with rifles (no firepower) and no protection (no armored vehicles).

      And so on.

      We're on an insane path given the inherent vulnerability of comms to disruption, jamming, spoofing, and hacking.

  3. The "Third Offset Strategy" dependent on communication, that means satellites with never enough bandwidth due to the increasing demands placed on them. As you say you loose the satellites and warfighting ability collapses.

    Col. Costas the network is 'fragile' and 'vulnerable".

    Space is a contested and congested environment, comms depend on satellites, expensive, complicated and take time to build. Bandwidth is limited, no satellites no picture of situation for high command and no support for forces on ground, in a tough spot in a multi-domain battle.
    Col. Costas, Proj. Man. Defense Comms & Trans. Sys. Army PEO for EIS

  4. Well, lets not push things to the one extreme end or the other shall we.

    Point being, tactical data link/commsat networks and all the systems that rely on them are here to stay, and not only in the US but also in all the technologically advanced probable US opponents, so the question should be " is my data link more secure than yours".

    About that what you sad :
    "in the belief that our lack of numbers and firepower will be compensated for by data. If that fails, we have no numbers or firepower to fall back on. That's an enormous gamble to take with our national security."

    I think its only true for land systems a.k.a army stuff

    The US soldier's and SF operators have some of (if not) the best individual equipment in the world, from boots, clothes, weapons, comms, night/thermal sights, not to mention training.

    However Heavy Armour is decades behind
    They need to develop new light and medium tanks or a whole concept of vehicles like the Russian Kurganets , modern SPH is a must need, and start a development of a totally new MBT.

    But about
    " The F-35 is completely predicated on comms and datalinks. Without those, the F-35 is a mediocre aircraft, at best."

    No its not, and this reminds me of that raid where two B-2 bombers struck a ISIS site in Libya recently using around 100 guided bombs.
    Most people out there were asking : Why use a Stealth bomber for such a mission like this. Forgetting that despite being a "stealth bomber' the B-2 is also a formidable bomber on its own!
    its able to carry massive loads of ordnance and has huge gas tanks while being aerodynamically efficient.

    Same thing with the F-35A, as a bomb truck when stealth is not needed it carries more ordnance then F-16/18's .

    And about what you mention in the first place, the over dependence on networks, all new types of low observable UCAV's are being build with advanced autonomous modes witch do not require a man in the loop interface.
    They're gonna be send against the most threatening SAM sites, or areas of interest guarded by advanced SAM's.

    1. "Point being, tactical data link/commsat networks and all the systems that rely on them are here to stay"

      Yes, they are. I bet that in 1940, a host of battleship Admirals said the same thing. "Here to stay" is not the same thing as "right" or "wise" or "effective". The LCS is here to stay but does anyone really think it's a worthwhile combat asset?

      "all the technologically advanced probable US opponents, so the question should be " is my data link more secure than yours"."

      Wow, did you get that one wrong! I don't mean that in a mean way. Here's what's wrong with that statement. Yes, the Chinese and Russians are developing networks, datalinks, etc. HOWEVER, they are doing so as adjuncts to traditional combat power, NOT REPLACEMENTS FOR COMBAT POWER as we are. They are furiously developing bigger, heavier, better armed and armored tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, artillery, intermediate range ballistic missiles, supersonic cruise missiles, cluster munitions, etc. The next peer war isn't going to be a contest of data, it's going to be a contest on numbers and firepower AUGMENTED BY DATA. The side with most numbers and firepower will win (hint, that's not us!). All the data and networks in the world aren't going to stop a rolling artillery barrage or a human wave attack (human wave, yes - both Russia and China have used that tactic and will do so again). You could not be more wrong about the place of data and networks in a future war. While we're attempting to pin down the exact location of every enemy soldier and determine what they had to eat for breakfast, the enemy is simply going to bombard everything in their path without caring who/what is there. I know which side of that equation I'd rather be on!

      "I think its only true for land systems a.k.a army stuff"

      You know that the Navy is betting all in on cooperative engagement and technology at the expense of numbers, right? Our air wings have shrunk to almost half their size and our combat fleet is down to around 180 ships and still shrinking. The Navy has bought into this in a big way!

    2. "F-35A, as a bomb truck when stealth is not needed "

      In a peer war, the F-35 is never going to function as a bomb truck unless we've established total aerial supremacy which is extremely unlikely. The F-35 is touted as being a "force multiplier" by being able to see everything and datalink that information to all other assets - essentially directing an entire war. This is sheer fantasy thinking (the F-35 can't even communicate over its intended datalink to any other asset!) but that's the plan. Take away the datalinking and the F-35 is just another mediocre aircraft that is moderately stealthy, not very aerodynamically agile, and a poor air-to-air fighter. Most of this is by the AF's own admission (recall that the AF stated that the F-35 had to be paired with F-22's because it wasn't an effective air-to-air aircraft?).

    3. "autonomous modes"

      Seriously??? We can't even get the F-35's ALIS to let the aircraft get off the ground and you think we're going to have effective autonomous combat aircraft in the foreseeable future? That's some Easter Bunny type faith!

      The limit of our autonomy is waypoint following (Tomahawk) and that's fine. It's a very useful capability but the fantasy of autonomous combat aircraft is just that - a fantasy!

    4. I've stated that you're wrong about all this and tried to explain the right way to view it. To be fair, feel free to tell me I'm all wrong and explain why. I'll listen (though not agree!).

    5. The mentioned B-2 bombing mission against ISIS: Did those B-2's accomplish anything B-52's could not have done? In a peer conflict there may be a few specialized missions which the B-2 is needed, but let's not blow the budget on large numbers of expensive specialized assets.

      I've heard the argument that we equip our infantryman with thousands of dollars worth of equipment and the best training, whereas the Chinese infantryman only has a few hundred dollars worth of equipment. What this means is that the american must accomplish ten skilled kills of the enemy before one of the ten gets a lucky shot at him.

      Data networks can create a decisive edge in the battle, but it MUST be backed up with FIREPOWER in order to be effective. I agree with needing to continue improvements in armored vehicles. I am not impressed with the F-35, it's trying to do too many different things and not doing any one thing well.


  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. I completely missed your point on this. Try again?

  6. The means of radio communication that we roughly describe as Data Links have been around since the the hayday of the cold war, two of the most important aircraft types of witch both sides relied on for defence were heavily dependent on data links

    The F-14 and the MiG-31 respectively.

    And at that time you would expect nukes to fly around and the associated EMP with them, still you cannot accomplish this missions without data links. Soviet air defence was heavily dependent on radio data links.

    Nowdays "Smart munitions" have considerably evolved since then, and standoff ranges have dramatically increased, thats why you need fewer delivery platforms.
    So in a peer war, going against an enemies most important ground electronic systems will be of course on of the top priorities ( with what success however is up to debate ) .

    1. And about that F-35A again ;)
      Look up the specs the jet can carry more ordnance when using its external pylons than a F-16C.
      In max loadout it can lift six 2000lb bombs, even the Super Hornet does not have that capability, so yes if nothing else the F-35A is a good bomb truck.

    2. The F-35 will never operate as a bomb truck in non-stealthy mode in a peer war. That's simply not its role! We already have plenty of non-stealthy bomb trucks.

    3. yes but in the not so distant future the F-35 will be the mainstay of the USAF, so once those F-15/16s retire you have to use it as such if need be.

    4. And when that time comes, the F-35 will be even less special than it is now. In another 10-20 years, when the F-15/16's are all gone, the F-35 will be the bordering-on-obsolete aircraft compared to whatever the new, 17th generation (or wherever we're at then) wonder aircraft is.

      When you compare the military operational needs for an aircraft today, the F-35 comes up well short.

      The US military needs a very long range air superiority fighter to enable the deep penetration bomber flights and cruise missile strikes. We need a very long range air superiority fighter to clear the path for Navy strike groups. We need an advanced air superiority fighter with very long range and very large weapons load to engage the coming Russian and Chinese stealth fighters. We need a very long range air superiority fighter to establish local air supremacy to enable helos and bomb trucks to proved close air support to ground troops. The F-35 is poorly suited for any of this.

  7. "The mentioned B-2 bombing mission against ISIS: Did those B-2's accomplish anything B-52's could not have done? "

    @t MM13

    1. I note two things in that article:

      1. There was no particularly compelling reason put forth for using the B-2 over a B-1/52. The remote possibility of encountering an unfriendly aircraft (Russian?) seems to be the most plausible rationale but even that's pretty weak. There was also no reason for a manned bomber attack when cruise missiles could just as easily have done the job and with zero chance of casualties. Odd choice to use bombers.

      On a seemingly unrelated note (or is it?), the Air Force is pushing for its next generation bomber and questions are being asked about numbers, manned versus unmanned, validity of the misson versus cruise missiles, etc. In other words, the AF is desperate to prove to Congress that more bombers are needed. Could the use of B-2's have been a simple budget ploy to help sway Congress? It's just as plausible as any other reason!

      2. The mission was about as far from a peer warfare type mission as one could get. UAVs conducting pre-strike surveillance for days is an absurd fantasy in a peer war. B-2's loitering to "mop up" is an absolutely idiotic tactic in a peer war. There's nothing wrong with these things in a peacetime, live fire exercise, which is what this was, but that doesn't provide much relevant training for a peer war and doesn't develop or validate peer war tactics. Fight like you train, train like you fight - seems not to have been in force for this mission.

    2. Operation: Budget Worthy. "we are using them"


    3. Well, if you ask me i'd ask Boeing to design a B-52 replacement based on the most advanced technologies from the civilian airplanes like the B787.
      Nothing fancy, no nuclear mission requirements, just a bomb/missile truck with very good sensors and efficient civilian engines and a huge range.

    4. "design a B-52 replacement"

      For what purpose? A B-52 (current or replacement) would be non-survivable in a peer war, being neither fast nor stealthy. It could certainly fill a useful role in peacetime since we seem to drop plenty of peacetime bombs! I just don't see a peer war role for it, however.

    5. For the same purpose they would use the B-52 during the cold war and even today in a peer war = firing long rage cruise missiles from safe stand off ranges.

    6. A cruise missile jetliner was proposed back in the 1970’s—a 747 with 72 nuclear tipped ALCMs. USAF went went with stealth instead.
      It would still be viable for a nuclear deterrent aircraft so long we use better penetrating missiles. But not anywhere near a peer conventional battlefield. The plan for the B-747 would be to use its insane amount of missiles to first nuke air defenses from afar and basically nuke its way deeper into Russia. As an atomic bomber that is damn scary. Not so much in conventional. One or two nukes can take out an entire base. On conventional warhead can only take out one radar or one missile launcher. So you’d be spending 72 million in ammo (cruise missiles) shooting you entire load...72 mill a sortie (more like 200 million with nukes) is a bargain if only used for a single sortie you hope never to use.

    7. "For the same purpose they would use the B-52 during the cold war and even today in a peer war = firing long rage cruise missiles from safe stand off ranges."

      Okay, that's valid. Of course, China is developing very long range interceptors with very, very, very, long range air-to-air missiles specifically to take down high value targets like Hawkeyes, AWACS, electronic warfare, P-8s, etc. It's not much of a stretch to think they'd apply that aircraft/missile system to B-52-ish cruise missile trucks and given the B-52's utter lack of stealth, they'd be easy targets. Also, given the relatively few bases they operate from and the well known targets they would attack, it wouldn't be all that hard to predict the B-52's flight paths and their cruise missile launch points. What do you think?

    8. Well they'll be hard pressed to reach a airplane that launches stealthy cruise missiles 2000 miles away even when that plane is not stealthy itself.

      As far as
      "the few bases they operate from and the well known targets they would attack"
      that's why i mentioned making use of the most recent advances in civilian airplane technologies
      The B-52, as a - airframe/engine platform is of late 50ties tech.
      Now a simple civilian Boeing 787-9 has a range of 7500 nautical miles so using this technologies you could construct a modern conventional bomber witch could operate easily from US soil with minimum tanker support.

    9. "airplane that launches stealthy cruise missiles 2000 miles away"

      What air launched cruise missile does the US have that has a range of 2000 miles?

      And thats a older model, with todays technology they could easily develop a low observable 2500+ Nm range similar missile

    11. I had forgotten about the AGM-129. That aside, the current Air Force cruise missile is the JASSM with a range of 200 miles and the JASSM-ER with a range of 650 miles. Our cruise missile ranges are decreasing!


    How about the quantum communication? I know it is far from practical usage..but..Are we talking about evolutionary (i.e. electromagnetic) or revolutionary (quantum) changes?

    1. China is not exactly the most trustworthy source of information, especially when it involves their national security. I'm not even going to discuss this because it is at the level science fiction. We may as well discuss anti-gravity, force fields, wormholes, etc.

      I'll simply note that the history of military operations is also the history of communications and communications failures (that's what friendly fire is, after all).

  9. I know it's like 'voodoo' science for those of us Newtonian adherents. However, according to Einstein, it is there...anyway, the guy (in China) was actually a PhD student studying in Austria. His professor (from Vienna University) was his adviser, then a competitor, and last a cooperator.

  10. The only way UAV and USV are going to function reliable in a peer warfare environment is if they have enough autonomy to fall back on complex protocols that work. Also there will be a need to allow them to take both teleoperation instructions, and simple executing a complex command sequence, from multiple sources. Otherwise, the first serious EW environment they hit, they are worthless.

    UUVs are already going to have to have more autonomy due to their operating environment. We can get this to work, but the real key is damn good software engineers. The whole thing to make warbot and drone warfare work is a whole matrices of command & control options for every craft, along with the best encryption verification we can even conceive.

    The real challenge is how to keep all that software constantly updated and the most upgraded. We are already seeing how failed development timelines on the F35 software is hamstringing that whole project. Robotic warfare is going to take even more complex software to operate in a peer environment.

  11. Much of the support I’ve seen for F-35 et al on this thread seems to be because it is a done deal. That the Air Force is “all in” for example. Well all of Congress isn’t. In fact some of its most vocal supporters are looking at either not running or a contested re-election. McCain looks like he wants to take the F35, LCS, and other dismal programs down before he dies or retires.
    Blogs like this one an hundreds of others are mostly read by veterans of every branch. There are a lot of them, they vote, they give money to candidates and can bitch to Congress too. And unlike the present Pentagon leaders they want a functioning peer capable military. So the argument that the military wants them is flawed: they don’t buy them, Congress does.

    Saying that the F-35 can be a bomb truck is ludicrous for simple reasons: 1st, the range when all externally loaded is short, and takes away its teeny advantage in stealth leaving it open to long range missiles. 2nd) to maintain stealth it must also not radiate. So if we keep it to internal weapons (for stealth) not only is the payload meager but if they use their powerful radar or any active sensor they can be detected—as ConOps has been saying. Thus either they give up the emissions to be stealthy—but unable to find enemy aircraft at long range, or they radiate thus giving the enemy a vector by which they can focus assets using IR or mark 1 eyeball—assets that because they are cheaper they can lose a few of to take down an f35 we can’t afford to lose.

    And all this talk of quantum computing etc to keep systems from being hacked is good but they don’t need to hack the links. That’s a worst case scenario where we lose control. You simply have to jam the link. That can be with sophisticated noise or simply raw power. If it is a satellite link you take out the satellite—do we assume that the Russias—who the USAF buys rocket engines from—has no ASAT? Or the Chinese who have their own space station independent of the ISS are incapable of taking out one. If a peer enemy is using fighter jets that are maneuverable for a dogfight and have IR detection why wouldn’t they just jam every radio signal on the spectrum to push their advantage?


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