Home » Aviation » Navy Expanding NIFC-CA To Include Anti-Surface Weapons, F-35 Sensors

Navy Expanding NIFC-CA To Include Anti-Surface Weapons, F-35 Sensors

The guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones (DDG-53) fired the anti-surface Standard Missile-6 Block I in January 2016, proving out the new weapon and its ability to integrate into the NIFC-CA architecture. US Navy photo.

The guided-missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones (DDG-53) fired the anti-surface Standard Missile-6 Block I in January 2016, proving out the new weapon and its ability to integrate into the NIFC-CA architecture. US Navy photo.

Navy engineers are working to bring new aircraft sensors and new weapons into the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) architecture, with near-term goals of bringing in the F-35’s radio frequency (RF) sensor and the anti-surface variant of the Standard Missile-6.

In a January test, the Navy proved that the new SM-6 Block I anti-surface missile worked, but it also proved that NIFC-CA – which, as its name implies, was engineered to go after fast-moving air threats – could be adjusted to counter surface threats too.

Whereas a normal NIFC-CA anti-air engagement might use an E-2D Advanced Hawkeye as the sensor that finds a target and then use the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) as the link to bring targeting data to the ship that ultimately fires a weapon, the anti-surface technology demonstration required some modifications. A different sensor was needed to identify surface targets, and that sensor could not use CEC, meaning the whole engagement relied instead on Link-16, Anant Patel, major program manager for future combat systems in the Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems, told USNI News in an interview this month.

Patel did not name the sensor used in the demonstration, but the Navy’s P-8A Poseidon, which is equipped with Link-16, or eventually the unmanned MQ-4C Triton would be ideally suited for the job. Patel said NIFC-CA is sensor-agnostic, as long as the sensor meets quality of service standards. But finding weapons that can hit large but slow-moving targets has its challenges.

“When things go slower, it’s easier” to track them, he said.
“But it has its own complexity also. Some of our weapons are not designed to look for slow targets, so we have to do some analysis and make sure we capture that. Also, if you look at SM-6, it’s more an anti-air weapon, so the capability’s designed to counter fast-moving targets, and then to go against this slow-moving target we had to make sure we can meet that requirement.”

Some minor modifications were made to the Aegis Combat System Baseline 9 to accept the data from the new sensor, but Patel said the culmination of this work – a test in January at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii – was a successful hit against a surface target, the decommissioned frigate Reuben James (FFG-57). This success is an early step in fielding a bigger All Domain Offensive Surface Warfare Capability.

An image from a PEO IWS PowerPoint presentation.

An image from a PEO IWS PowerPoint presentation.

Another challenge in bringing new weapons into NIFC-CA is that now Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) and PEO IWS will have to coordinate with Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and its PEO for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons – NAVSEA owns NIFC-CA and SM-6 but NAVAIR owns the rest of the anti-surface weapons in the inventory.

Patel said NAVSEA and NAVAIR have been in talks for about two months on how to work together.

“From our perspective, they just have the aircraft but we have the entire combat systems, Aegis and SSDS (Ship Self-Defense System), so how do we integrate all that into overall Navy?” he said.
“And then you look at what threat sets you’re going after, they have different requirements and we have separate requirements, so basically understanding each other, what are the requirements, what the capabilities are, where are we today, what are our plans for the future, and then how do we consolidate?”

Essentially, NAVAIR has its own kill chain for employing anti-surface weapons and NAVSEA has its own kill chain for employing anti-air weapons, and the two are trying to merge into a single kill web that shares common sensors, links and weapons.

Patel said that by this fall the two organizations should have a path forward for how to collaborate in engineering, testing and fielding this kill web idea. As new weapons are developed in the future, it should be easier to design them with this collaborative kill web in mind.

Patel said the Navy is also expanding NIFC-CA by introducing more sensors, specifically the F-35. NIFC-CA today primarily relies on the E-2D, which are limited in number. The F-35 will be fielded in great numbers by countries around the world, so the Navy is eager to prove out the NIFC-CA/F-35 combo.

The Navy will conduct a live-fire test in September at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, where an F-35 will detect an over-the-horizon threat with its RF sensor and send data back to the USS Desert Ship (LLS-1) land-based ship simulator, which will then launch an SM-6 to intercept the threat.

“It’s no different than E-2D,” Patel said – except that the sensor will be new to NIFC-CA, as will the Mid Air Data Link (MADL) that was developed for F-35s to communicate with one another. The test will assess the Navy’s ability to take unrelated technologies and successfully close the fire control loop.

Patel added that the F-35 brings significant capability to the fleet, but his office is only funded to look at the RF sensor for now. Many of its other sensors could be integrated into NIFC-CA if additional funds were appropriated.

  • r3mu511

    That image from NAVSEA on the surface strike scenario appears to use a profile of a PLAN Type 052C/D frigate as it’s target, lol.

    On a more serious note, it appears that MADL will be added to NIFC-CA to finally allow the F-35 to participate in CEC networks w/o compromising it’s LO/VLO capab by having to use a non-highly directional, wide-sidelobe, wide-beamwidth xmission like Link-16.

  • Curtis Conway

    I can remember when this concept was called “Forward Pass”, and was a gleam in the DoD’s eyes. Now we have the F-35 Quarterbacks coming out in quantity, and the DDG-51 Offensive Line is capable and in force.

    • Marauder 2048

      Yep. SM-6 was designed to support “Forward Pass” but the (admittedly vague) description above sounds more like Engage on Remote.

      • r3mu511

        yup, you’re right on that one, it’s CEC engage-on-remote since the F-35 is providing the fire control quality track data for the launching platform to launch an SM-6 and perform midcourse command guidance updates using the F-35 fire control track, until the SM-6 acquires the target for terminal homing using it’s ARH seeker…

        CEC forward-pass would be if the launching platform fired an SM-6, perform midcourse command guidance updates to bring the SM-6 near the F-35, at w/c point the F-35 would take over midcourse guidance updating to bring the SM-6 to a point where it can acquire the target (i.e. target w/in homing basket of ARH seeker of SM-6)…

        these CEC techniques were actually tested w/ JHU APL in the mid-90s, and trace their roots to the BGAAWC program w/c preceded CEC…

    • Andrew Lore

      I just hope the have taken into consideration the emp threat?

  • and in a few years time, this system might be copied and defeated

    • SpudmanWP

      How do you defeat a system where you cannot intercept/degrade the link (both MADL and SATCOM)?

      Can you defeat the missile, sure…
      Can you defeat the F-35’s ability to track you, good luck with that.

      Do you think that the USN will sit on it’s hands and not upgrade it’s missiles as threats evolve, hardly.

      • F-35 are easy to kill, Hard Kill counter ISR hyper cruise AAM as in the AA-13 ARROW, JL-1/DF-21 ASAT, hard kill vs sat. The USN is philosophically bankrupt. The carriers are weak and vulnerable to be attacked in 360 degrees. The USN has to many fronts to cover and not enough carriers and depth to take casualties. Surface fleet is weak and vulnerable to hypersonic ASCM. USMC AA shipping is a floating graveyard and disaster waiting to happen.

        • Marauder 2048

          Your post truly represents the triumph of buzzwords over the reader’s patience. Congrats!

  • @USS_Fallujah

    This fits in with a broader multi-service operational concept based on “Hiding the Archer”, where in the ISR and Magazine are separated (in essence making every ship/plane an Arsenal), allowing a lone scout to put many fold more ordinance on target than possible with onboard weapons and allowing those assets to stay safely out of the defender’s detection envelope, increasing survivability and lethality without increase platform cost. The key issue then is maintaining the ISR advantage, both by keeping the scout either hidden (stealth) or outside the enemy’s engagement range (E-2D) and successfully keeping your arsenal or home base assets hidden (cyber, space warfare for satellites, EMCON, etc.)

    • ISR Hard Kill will neutralize this. The kill chain is overly complex and the F-35 is not survivable, cannot maneuver.

  • Taxpayer71

    It is encouraging that NAVSEA and NAVAIR are working together to field a single kill web that shares common sensors, links and weapons.

    One might expect SPAWAR to be involved as well, for example: (1) integrating air, surface, land, and space information warfare systems; (2) fostering solutions that will be effective for a force in which some elements are operating in EMCON; and,
    integrating the air, surface, and land-based situational awareness and targeting capabilities that constitute the cornerstone of this all domain offensive capability.

  • Doesn’t anyone think we should work on the Sea Sparrow Essm in light of the missile’s inability to down a Yemen Houthi silkworm attack on the USS Mason?
    Aren’t we jumping the gun somewhat? What about protecting the CBG and CVN. That is the main mission of all DDG and Cruisers no?