Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Bare Minimum

In a recent post, we noted that the Army seems to be beginning to understand what a future war will entail (see, “Army Gets It”).  In particular, the Army seemed to recognize that, in combat, communications and networks would be significantly degraded and that equipment design should focus on the bare minimum rather than the ultimate possible.  This is an incredibly important point and I give the Army full credit for recognizing it (we’ll see whether they act on it, or not!).

As described by Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, head of the Army’s network Cross-Functional Team in a Breaking Defense article,

“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] (1)

This is worth restating …  We need to design for the bare minimum acceptable performance and design it in such a way as to ensure that minimum level is met regardless of circumstances.  We need a bare minimum baseline level of performance that the enemy cannot hinder.

Yes, we can also design in greater performance and, if circumstances permit (the enemy’s countermeasures aren’t present or aren’t as effective as anticipated), then we can enjoy the enhanced performance.  The point is that we can’t train to, and become dependent on, a higher level of performance.  We need to train to the bare minimum.

Hand in hand with designing to the bare minimum acceptable performance, we need to test our designs to the maximum extent possible.  ComNavOps has harped on this and will continue to do so.  The typical scripted, simplistic tests that currently pass for operational testing have to be dropped in favor of the most difficult tests we can devise because that’s the level of difficulty we’ll face in combat.

We need to make every effort to break our own designs so that we can learn how to build them so that the bare minimum acceptable performance is available no matter the circumstances.

That networked cooperative engagement type of capability sounds great on paper but will it function in combat?  Let’s get our best electronic warfare aircraft to plan and execute an attack on a Navy surface group.  Let’s give them access to every spec and secret of our networking so that they can take advantage of weaknesses.  You can bet China has all our specs and secrets and will do exactly that.  Let’s see if the group can establish and maintain a coherent tactical picture and a functional network in the face of that kind of attack.  If not – and I doubt they can – then we need to define the bare minimum acceptable performance and ensure that it is so secure that nothing can disrupt 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. Any communications, navigation, intelligence, or guidance system dependent on geostationary satellites can be expected to cease working in a war with a serious power. So there goes GPS, GCCS, any munition with satellite guidance, etc.

    Polar satellites can be used provided there are sufficient warstocks and launch capacity to continuously launch satellites during war. The Soviet US-A program is a good example. That said, it's a lot cheaper to destroy satellites than to launch them. Thus there must be more investment in non-space reconaissance systems.

    Solar drone blimps with nuclear "batteries" could be a basic platform for use in uncontested airspace. High performance drones in contested airspace. Small submarine drones for underwater reconnaissance. And get actual people on the ground into important ports around the world before the shooting starts.

    Close to enemy shorelines any electronic system based on emitting radio energy will be degraded, possibly completely. The enemy can put a lot more energy on land into jamming than you can in a ship. Confronting superior enemy naval forces likely means the same thing. There goes your radar and radio.

    In short sailors need the same skills their forebears all the way back to the time of Suppiluliuma. Knowing how to navigate and communicate without the aid of electronics are requirements, not optional.

    There are some technological solutions of course. The FB-111 (strategic bombing variant of the F-111) had an "astrocompass" manufactured by the Litton corporation. These should be installed in our ships and, space permitting, aircraft.

    The Loran network could also be revived. It would of course be useless near enemy shorelines (they'll shut them down), but elsewhere it would remain highly useful. Of course if the astrocompass works well, no need to waste money on this.

    Short-range communications without radio are simple enough. Use laser or infrared light. Drones could increase the useful range of communication as well.

    1. You won't need a astrocompass, they are compact advanced inertial navigational systems out there,

      You wanna get off GPS invest in inertial nav

    2. Better INS is definitely part of the solution, but the errors still compound over time. We need an easy, reliable way to update INS. That's what the astrotracker was for. Prior to the widespread use of GPS, aircraft typically used navigational signals (problematic in wartime) or radar returns off known geographic landmarks to correct for INS drift. The problems was always navigating over the open sea and featureless deserts. Thus the astrotracker.

      There’s a pretty good summary here:

      Against a peer opponent, we'd need widespread use of AESA or other forms of highly directional datalinks. It might make the protocols more onerous, but probably isn't a deal breaker for many applications.

      For the future grunt, I expect the easiest solution will be to give each squad a few smartphones equipped with google earth. When they’re near a feature that they can identify via a google earth satellite image, they just update their position based on that feature’s location in the google earth database. It would probably be worth integrating a laser target designator so that you can shoot a laser at a landmark to get a range and bearing from which you can determine your location with good accuracy. You’re still screwed in deserts and thick forests though, but it’d probably be good enough for most places where we’ll be fighting.

    3. "For the future grunt, I expect the easiest solution will be to give each squad a few smartphones equipped with google earth. ... You’re still screwed in deserts ..."

      I don't use Google Earth. Does it depend on satellite connections? If so, that will be problematic in peer combat.

      I read a fascinating book about a Marine LAV unit in Desert Storm that was assigned to a featureless desert area. At first, they were lost as they had not yet been issued GPS navigation. However, they very quickly learned (relearned?) how to do accurate dead reckoning navigation (chart, stopwatch, speed, and bearing) and quickly became adept at desert navigation to the point that they matched GPS units. I wish I could recall the name of the book. The point is that we once knew all this stuff but we have forgotten it for so long that we think only new technology can solve the problem.

    4. "I don't use Google Earth. Does it depend on satellite connections?"

      No, it's really just a 3D radar model of the Earth with satellite images and latitude and longitude overlaid. Today it's a web-based service, but at least initially you could download the model and image library to your computer.

      The lat and longs can be accurate to within a small handful of meters in well-mapped, high-resolution regions but the accuracy is not consistent because the accuracy of the radar measurements and the image resolution also isn't the same everywhere. There is also always the classic issue of trying to project a 2D image onto a 3D model.

      In a military context, I assume we'd try to push updated geospatial data and imagery of the theater of operations as often as possible to provide the most accurate coordinates possible and account for battle damage and what not. Could be an excellent use of the X-37!

    5. 21st century INS systems are sufficiently accurate for 99.9% of navigation needs.


    6. Okay, so given modern INS capability and GPS vulnerabilities, why do you think we've become so heavily dependent on GPS and why are we having such a hard time weaning ourselves off it?

    7. To me it's quite simple follow the path of least resistance just like electricity and water do

    8. The Android Team Awareness Kit (ATAK) has the functionality I described above. Note, for example, the bottom right-hand corner of the screenshot at 5:37 below.

    9. At the 5:37 mark there's a guy talking in front of on overhead ground image. In the bottom right corner is a black box with some red text that I can't quite make out on my screen. What did it say? Was it coordinates or something? I missed whatever it/you was trying to demonstrate. Help me out!

    10. That red text says "NO GPS" "Please tap here to set you location manually." It appears that you can just zoom in on the google map/earth image an drop a pin at the location you think you're at.

      Those ATAK phones are multiplying like rabits across DOD.

  2. I was talking to some guys I'm a forum about the possibility of the Russian or Chinese using some type of super virus to ground the wonderful F35 but I would like to expand that to to include all the fancy gadgets what do you all think of the possibility of that happening

  3. ComNavOps just reported the Chinese have hacked into the top secret sub and missile program it's in the Washington Times and defense news if they can do what stops them from grounding the other tech. Dependent systems like the f35?


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