You undoubtedly recall the recent discussion about anti-ship cruise missile characteristics and how they impacted likely defensive engagement scenarios (see, "Cruise Missile Characteristics Related To Detection And Engagement Range")? The conclusion was that intercept engagements were likely to occur much closer to the ship (radar horizon) than the Navy believes and that what is needed is an optimized medium/short range radar paired with ESSM. Some people struggled to understand how demanding the engagement scenario would be due to the short engagement window, the need to immediately flood the skies with ESSM missiles, and the resultant need to be able to deal with the immense amount of targets, both incoming, outgoing, and engagement debris. Well, here’s some bits of information from the recent DOT&E 2017 Annual Report that illustrate and support the conclusions from the post.
“Investigate means to mitigate the chances of an ESSM pre-detonating on debris before approaching its intended target.” (p. 213)
This is exactly what I described. With a very short engagement window, we won’t be able to leisurely fire off one or two ESSM and then wait for the radar picture to clear to see what the result was. We’re going to have to launch many missiles and the radars are going to have to be able to function in a debris-filled sky.
“Correct the SSDS scheduling function to preclude interference with the RAM infrared guidance stemming from prior intercepts and warhead detonations.” (p. 213)
Again, this is the ability to distinguish valid targets from debris in a chaotic sky.
“Investigate and correct the combat system time synchronization problem that prevented the launch of a full salvo of ESSMs.” (p. 213)
This acknowledges the need to be able to launch many missiles as nearly instantaneously as possible.
“Improve SSDS MK 2 integration with the MK 9 Track Illuminators to better support ESSM engagements.” (p. 212)
This demonstrates that it’s not enough to just have a radar that is capable of the required resolution. We need to be able to take that resolution and actually distinguish valid targets among large debris fields and outgoing missiles and do a much better job of integrating the radar with the combat fire control software.
As I stated in the post, an engagement that begins at the radar horizon will be over in 120 seconds for even a relatively slow 600 mph, high subsonic, incoming missile. A 1200 mph, supersonic, incoming missile will have an engagement window of just 60 seconds. Actually, that’s not true. Those engagement windows are vastly overstated. We can’t engage when the incoming missile is one second from impact. The engagement window closes when the either the minimum safe arming distance of the defensive missile is reached or the defensive sequence can’t react in the flight time remaining for the incoming missile. Thus, the engagement window is more likely from the radar horizon to about 10 miles (I’m purely speculating about these values). Thus, the engagement window for ESSM against the 600 mph incoming missile is just 60 seconds and the 1200 mph engagement window is just 30 seconds.
Of course, the engagement windows assume that the threat is instantaneously identified and the defensive reaction also occurs instantaneously. If there is any hesitation, like waiting for human command and control, the engagement window essentially is non-existent. This mandates a purely automatic defensive mode. This, in turn, raises some questions.
- Have we developed fleet doctrine to safely operate our ships and aircraft in the vicinity of ships whose defensive systems are in full auto mode?
- Can our full auto systems reliably distinguish incoming targets from our own decoys, flares, and countermeasures? CIWS had this problem in the past.
- Can our systems operate in full auto mode without hazarding our own ships to friendly fire? The corollary to this is, do we know how to position and operate our ships so as not to interfere with our own defensive fires? With engagement windows of 60 seconds or less, there won’t be time to reposition ships.
- Do we know how to coordinate our countermeasures with our defensive sensors so as not to inadvertently confuse our own defensive fires? Is it more effective to use countermeasures and risk disrupting our own active defenses or is it more effective to forego countermeasures in favor of a cleaner radar picture?
To summarize this post and its predecessor, there is every reason to expect that anti-ship cruise missile defensive engagements are generally going to start at the radar horizon (say, 20 miles or so) and will have a correspondingly very short window of opportunity. The traditional shoot-shoot-look engagement sequence is not going to be feasible or effective. We need to modify and upgrade our systems for the medium/short range, short time frame engagement scenario. We need radars, both ship and missile, that can discriminate targets amid a debris filled sky and we need the ability to salvo lots of missiles in an incredibly short time frame. To the best of my knowledge, we currently have little or none of this capability, as indicated by DOT&E test results and recommendations. We also need a comprehensive set of operational and tactical procedures to enable full auto defensive modes.
Now is the time we should be testing and developing these capabilities, not when actual combat occurs. We need to largely pull back from the many peacetime, worthless missions (partnership, show the flag, forward presence, deterrence, anti-piracy, etc.) and concentrate on bringing our ships and crews up to combat readiness and developing the capabilities we’ll need to fight the next war.