One of the never ending surprises about this blog is the response levels to the various posts. From the start, I’ve been consistently surprised about which topics/posts generate active responses and which don’t. Some that I think will generate big responses do nothing and others that I view almost as throwaways generate a large response. Yes, there are a few topics that are almost guaranteed to generate a large response, such as the LCS which everyone hates and seems to want to say it in print or the F-35 which again, is controversial. Beyond that, though, I’ve given up trying to predict responses.
That said, I’m really surprised by the lack of response to the recent post, “The Bare Minimum” (see, “The Bare Minimum”). Rereading it, it may be that I failed to adequately convey the concept and its ramifications. The concept impacts the very foundation of our entire naval combat operational plan!
To refresh, the Navy has a vision of an immense regional, if not world wide, network of interconnected sensors, platforms, and weapons. In this concept, every asset will have an exquisitely complete picture of both friendly and enemy positions, unit types, and strengths. This exquisite knowledge will allow us to apply overwhelming firepower against each enemy asset in turn with the enemy not only helpless to prevent it but totally unaware of how it was happening and where it was coming from. To further compound the enemy’s confusion, weapons will be directed and guided by platforms other than the firing platform, with the weapons sometimes being handed off from one guiding platform to another in a complex chain of control that leaves the enemy completely baffled about where the weapons are coming from.
Distributed lethality is a subset of this concept with individually weak, largely helpless, and sensor-limited units suddenly becoming deadly purveyors of firepower roaming enemy waters and airspace with impunity and lethality.
The Navy’s various networked anti-air systems such as Cooperative Engagement Capability and its more recent descendant, Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air (NIFC-CA), are also subsystems of this overarching, omniscient network.
To return to the premise of the “bare minimum” post, the concept is that rather than design for ultimate, best, most perfect user experience which is predicated on perfect communications, flawless networks, unlimited bandwidth, and seamless integration of disparate systems and software, we should, instead, be designing for the absolute minimum required capability.
In war, nothing works the way you think it will. Confusion reigns. Networks fail spontaneously. Signals are garbled. Communications are erratic and sporadic. And this is before factoring in enemy activities like broad spectrum jamming, false signal injection, satellite destruction, cyber attacks, and the like.
In other words, if our systems are set up to work only with the most perfect network and data flow the world has ever seen or envisioned and our personnel are trained only to work with this level of system performance, what will happen when the system fails hideously and our personnel are completely lost and have never experienced a significantly degraded system? The answer is obvious and short – they’ll be lost and they won’t know what to do.
We’ve seen this play out repeatedly in recent history. The
Ticonderoga class Port Royal’s GPS system failed and no one knew
what to do – so, the ship ran aground.
The McCain and Fitzgerald had various system failures and no one knew what to do – so, the ships collided with large commercial vessels.
MidEast based Riverine boats had various
system failures and no one knew what to do – so, the Iranians seized the boats
And so on.
And these are all during peacetime.
We need to design to a level that provides the bare minimum acceptable performance regardless of the situation or efforts by Murphy, nature, or the enemy to disrupt our systems.
We need to train our personnel to be effective with the bare minimum sensor data and networking (often none).
In other words, we need to stop designing for the ultimate, mythical, fantasy level of combat and start designing for the realistic, bare minimum and then make sure that the system is capable of delivering that bare minimum level no matter what the enemy does. Instead of designing a system that depends on the instantaneous, unhindered flow of a gazillion goopabytes of data per nanosecond but that will fail if a single bit is disrupted, we need to design a system that only needs one byte of data to get through, has a quadzillion error checks, has built in system redundancies, and is robust enough to laugh at any natural or enemy disruptions – a system that can be 100% counted on no matter what.
Sure, we can design in extra capabilities and, if nature, Murphy, and the enemy is cooperating and the system is performing better than anticipated then, hey, all the better. But, and this is the big but, we need a bare minimum standard that we are trained to fight well with and can always count on. Instead of designing ever more complex, convoluted systems let’s start working on systems that are so rugged and robust that no natural or enemy action can disrupt them.
Let’s ditch the entire Third Offset Strategy and start working on a communication system that allows the F-35 to actually talk to someone other than another F-35 (you didn’t know about that problem, did you?).
Let’s ditch NIFC-CA and start working on basic AAW doctrine that every ship/Captain knows and can and will execute without needing to communicate (that’s kind of what doctrine is!) and let’s drill and train to that standard until it becomes automatic.
Let’s forget about complex chains of hand-offs of weapon guidance and just get weapons that reliably launch and guide without any dependence on GPS.
Let’s drop GPS navigation systems on ships and regain our proficiency with inertial navigation, dead reckoning, celestial fixes, charts, bearings, and compasses.
Let’s drop the LCS multi-power source, cross-connecting, complex gear system that has failed on almost every ship and go back to one power source and direct coupling of power and propulsor.
We need to stop designing exquisite ships and start designing rock solid ships.
And so on.
The very core of our envisioned warfighting capability is based on an unachievable degree of performance. It’s based on wishful thinking and that’s a recipe for disaster as has been repeatedly demonstrated.
How many more groundings, collisions, and disasters do we need to admit that our dreams of perfect, integrated, omniscient systems are just that – dreams?
We need to return to systems that cannot break because in war, everything breaks.
You can have a Soviet AK-47 assault rifle that works under any conditions or level of mistreatment but, possibly, suffers a bit in accuracy or you can have an exquisitely accurate, technologically advanced, high performance US M16 assault rifle that failed on every other shot in
The concept of “Bare Minimum” is, or should be, central to our approach to warfighting.