Friday, April 20, 2018

Army Gets It Again

In a past post, ComNavOps stated that the Army seems to be beginning to understand what a future war will entail (see, “Army Gets It”).  That recognition is belated, to be sure, and still incomplete but at least aspects of reality are starting to be recognized by the Army.  Here’s the latest demonstration of the Army’s slowly dawning recognition via a Breaking Defense website article about combat communications as put forth by Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, head of the Army’s network Cross-Functional Team (1).

“Instead of video, the screens will show minimalist messages and abstract icons on digital maps, updated by telegraphic bursts of data designed to avoid detection. Instead of constant micromanagement, there’ll be a taut silence broken by terse litanies of codewords, soldiers getting on and off the radio before the enemy can trace the transmission. Instead of direct uplinks to bulky, vulnerable satellites high in geostationary orbit, signals will bounce from low-orbiting mini-satellites to relay drones to ground antennas, following dozens of possible paths, too many for the enemy to block them all. Instead of specialist soldiers and contractor field service reps laboriously configuring and reconfiguring the network, artificially intelligent software will adapt autonomously to avoid jamming, hacking, and interference.”  [emphasis added]

The full featured, video-intensive, real time documentation of military operations that our leadership has come to assume as normal will be impossible.  Electronic countermeasures, jamming, signal disruption, equipment destruction, cyber attacks, etc. will ensure that we’ll have sporadic communications, at best.  The article sums it up nicely.

“Instead of optimizing the network to provide the best user experience in normal circumstances — the current standard — you optimize it to provide acceptable performance in extreme circumstances.” [article’s emphasis]

This demonstrates that the Army has at least a glimmer of understanding about a future peer war and is beginning, just beginning, to prepare for it. 

Gallagher noted,

“in a high-intensity, fast-moving fight against a great power adversary, he said, the network will be under attack, so you have to prioritize to ensure that at least three essentials get through:

  • secure voice, so troops can talk to each other, because typing a text message under fire isn’t always practical, and nothing tells you whether a subordinate is confident or cracking up like his tone of voice;

  • Position Location Information (PLI) that’s not reliant on the Global Positioning System, so you know where your people are even when GPS is jammed; and

  • telegraphic updates on each unit’s status and enemies spotted so you can populate your digital map with what the Army calls a Common Operational Picture.”

All of this is fascinating and worth a tip of the hat to the Army but what does it have to do with the Navy since this is, after all, a Navy blog?  Well, it should be obvious – the Navy will face the same attacks on its communications and networks and, therefore, should be working towards the same goals as the Army.

The really disturbing aspect to this is that far from working towards minimal, but assured, communications in recognition of the reality of peer combat, the Navy is actually increasing its dependence on highly suspect and even more complex and “bulky” communications such as Distributed Lethality, Co-operative Engagement Capability, Third Offset Strategy, unmanned vehicles, Navy Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air (NIFC-CA), etc.

Did you note the use of the term “bulky”?  This means that communications and data are becoming ever more demanding of increased bandwidth, signal strength, and signal duration.  It takes a LOT of bandwidth and time to transmit video as opposed to a couple of word text transmission.  Enemy electronic countermeasures are going to ensure that our communications and network data transmissions are interrupted, degraded, and sporadic.  This is the antithesis of the path the Navy is on.

Here’s an example.  The LCS was designed to self-monitor its machinery, instrumentation, and condition and transmit all that data back to a shore station so that the shore support group could anticipate maintenance and repair needs and have the proper personnel and parts waiting when the LCS arrived back in port for its all too frequent maintenance visits.  However, during the first two Singapore public relations deployments the reality was that the LCS lacked the communications bandwidth and fidelity to transmit the monitoring data and the entire system broke down and this was during peacetime when communications were unchallenged!  How much worse will the situation be during war when communications are contested?

Those high resolution videos of terrorists from overhead UAVs that we’ve all grown so accustomed to on the news are simply not going to be possible in a peer war - of course, neither will UAV survival over the battlefield so the inability to transmit video won’t really be that big an issue, I guess!.

The point is that the Navy needs to take a lesson from the Army and begin reducing its reliance on communications and networks rather than increasing it.  We also need to greatly increase the robustness of our communications but that, in turn, depends on reducing the demands, complexity, and bandwidth requirements.  In other words, we need to train to fight silently and isolated.  If we find that our communications and networks perform better than we anticipated, all the better but we must not count on it.


(1)Breaking Defense website, “Can’t Stop The Signal: Army Strips Down Network To Survive Major War”, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., 26-Mar-2018,


  1. The Army isn't driving this. Industry is, especially with the sitcom and satnav systems, many of which have important ground stations in Russia.

    1. Sorry, I don't get your point at all. Try again?

    2. GPS doesnt have important ground stations in Russia, just locally owned ones that might add services improve reliability for the region.

  2. The changing landscape.

    Recent BreakingDefense article April 18 on the Chinese 'experimental' satellite SJ-17 launched with its most powerful rocket that just happens to have rendezvoused with three different Chinese satellites in totally different areas of space and parks within a couple of hundred meters, the last satellite being dead and parked in a graveyard orbit.

    Should be noted lasers effective in space as there is no atmosphere to degrade the beam, would not expect any large gps, comms and reconnaissance satellites to survive a hit by laser at close range.

    To be noted that US deploys the secret X-37B manoeuvrable orbital test vehicle whose location is classified and the DARPA Robotic 'Servicing' satellite is also manoeuvrable.

    Air Force still plans to place $10 Billion contract for additional 22 GPS III satellites.

  3. "secure voice, so troops can talk to each other,"
    Harris radios did that 10 years ago, I know because we used them in exercises.

    "Position Location Information (PLI) that’s not reliant on the Global Positioning System"

    Very easily doable, you just have to addapt some kind of inertial nav systems from aviation tech.

  4. I know this article isn't specifically about the LCS, but
    I had a thought about how to use them.

    Use them for emergency vessels in the US. Every time a hurricane hits Puerto Rico, Florida etc- Send out a LCS loaded with several RHB's, drones and supplies and medical staff..

    It's perfect for it- it's designed to go into littoral areas- flooded land is pretty littoral. It's got a huge flight deck- set up extra tents, communication centres etc. Use two fire scouts, or dozens of smaller drones- to locate people, drop off some supplies- it can be done eg there's an Aussie drone used by lifesavers which lifesavers use to find the drowning victim, and then the drone ejects an inflatable into the water for the drowning person to hold onto while the lifeguards reach them.

    All the LCS are current dockside on continental USA. Excellent- keep them there. In between disasters, do a little coast guard work.

    And if they come across looters while the LCS slowly drifts through the flooded streets....well well! Finally, something the 57 and 30mm guns can be used for!


  5. While we are at war with jihadis the Russians have been investing in electronic warfare as evidenced by live implementation in Ukraine. A throwback article that illustrates this is below.

    "...if you see a carrier in plain sight, the only problem to solve is how to radio reliably the reports and targeting data against the US electronic countermeasures. Ironically, since the time lag of Soviet military communication systems compared to the NATO ones is quite clear, the old Morse wireless telegraph used by the Soviet ships was the long-established way to solve that problem...While obsolete, strictly speaking, and very limited in information flow, Morse wireless communication was long the most serviceable for the Soviet Navy, owing to its simplicity and reliability."

    1. "While we are at war with jihadis the Russians have been investing in electronic warfare"

      Your observation is quite astute. We allowed ourselves to be lulled into complacency by a couple of decades of third world terrorist operations instead of continuing to prepare for high end combat. We are only now just beginning to reverse that trend.


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