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Interview: Rear Adm. Mike Manazir on Weaving the Navy’s New Kill Webs

An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the Sidewinders of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 86 makes an arrested landing on the flight deck the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) on Sept. 14, 2016

An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the Sidewinders of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 86 makes an arrested landing on the flight deck the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) on Sept. 14, 2016

THE PENTAGON – The U.S. military can no longer count on dominating any domain of warfare against near peer enemies and instead must aim for “local and temporal domain superiority”– making efforts to tie together weapons and sensors in a cross-domain web more important than ever, the Navy’s deputy chief of naval operations for warfare systems (OPNAV N9) told USNI News.

Rear Adm. Mike Manazir said in a Sept. 26 interview that the Navy has many effective kill chains – a sensor that provides targeting data to a platform that can then launch a weapon against a target – in the air, ground, surface and undersea domains. The service has even made progress netting together some of these kill chains within a single domain, bringing together airplanes that rely on different communications waveforms and were not built to be interoperable, such as a recent effort to bring the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and its unique Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) communications into the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) architecture.

Now, these kill chains need to be strung together to create a cross-domain kill web, enabling any plane or any ship to pull information from whatever sensor happens to have relevant data, regardless of domain.

Rear Adm. Michael C. Manazir. US Navy Photo

Rear Adm. Michael C. Manazir. US Navy Photo

“if I have a multi-domain approach to an anti-access/area-denial problem, and I know that my undersea domain is the one with the lowest warfighting risk – in other words, they can get in the closest – how do I then take that information and move it into the domain with the highest warfighting risk, which would be the air domain?” Manazir said.
“If I can share information across a distributed fleet, and I can distribute the fleet such that I can maximize my kinetic and non-kinetic effects, I can get into the A2/AD environment, optimizing my risk, establish local and temporal domain superiority, whatever domain that is, and I can operate in there for a bit and I can move. And so the benefit of naval forces is we can move, and we can move at 30 knots theoretically. … But this idea of a distributed fleet counts on the ability to connect, counts on the ability to share information, counts on the fact that I can use my fleet to establish in any of those domains local and temporal superiority and then move out, with the understanding that I will never be able to dominate anymore against Russian threats and against Chinese threats. Things like air dominance is just not a term that has any usefulness anymore; we don’t dominate. And so you have to create superiority in whatever domain that you are in from the time it takes for you to achieve that effect, and then you go somewhere else, you redeploy.”

Manazir, and the Navy’s requirements community, have to change their thinking to make that vision a reality. The rear admiral, who until May served as the director of air warfare (OPNAV N98), said his previous job was platform-centric. Now, “I had started evolving my thinking from the fact that the next fight is not going to be platform-centric, it’s going to be capability-centric.”

Extract form a PEO IWS presentation on networked warfare. NAVSEA Photo

Extract form a PEO IWS presentation on networked warfare. NAVSEA Photo

The Navy has many of the platforms it will need for a future fight – a Super Hornet/F-35 combo, increasingly capable baselines of the Aegis Combat System, a Flight III destroyer, more advanced blocks of Virginia-class attack submarines, and so on – that together represent significant capability. They just can’t all talk to each other in real time, with target-quality accuracy. For Manazir, the basic approach for tying these systems all together needs improvement.

“Instead of having a system of systems approach, where you’re doing the engineering to connect the systems, you have a system of services approach where an airplane might say, hey I need a sensor out there that can tell me where this target is, and you use sensors out there – whether it’s Aegis or another, F-18, F-35 – you could have an app-based approach and then the operator could say, hey, I get good data from this F-18, select, there it is, and be able to do it.”

This preference for a systems of services approach has acquisition implications. For instance, to get an F-35 talking to a ship, the Navy wouldn’t put a proprietary MADL radio receiver on all the ships. Instead, a software solution could help translate MADL and any other waveform into something the ship could understand. Manazir likened it to an American taking electrical devices to Europe; the American doesn’t need a new outlet installed in the wall to accommodate the differently-shaped electrical plugs, but rather needs a universal adapter as a “cross-domain solution” to connect the American plug to the European outlet.

F-35C Lightning IIs, attached to the Grim Reapers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101, and an F/A-18E/F Super Hornets attached to the Naval Aviation Warfighter Development Center (NAWDC) fly over Naval Air Station Fallon's (NASF) Range Training Complex on Sept. 3, 2015. US Navy photo.

F-35C Lightning IIs, attached to the Grim Reapers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101, and an F/A-18E/F Super Hornets attached to the Naval Aviation Warfighter Development Center (NAWDC) fly over Naval Air Station Fallon’s (NASF) Range Training Complex on Sept. 3, 2015. US Navy photo.

“We view the next fight as one in which you need to be able to be agile in the electromagnetic spectrum and be able to move information, and so in order to succeed in that fight, all platforms and weapons systems have to be able to communicate,” he said.

One challenge is the sheer engineering of this – the “cross-domain solutions” that would help navigate all the sensors, platforms and weapons using different communications waveforms, as well as physical challenges of moving information from above the sea to under the sea, or from space to the surface, for example.

A combined formation of aircraft from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5 and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9 pass above the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) on June 18, 2016. US Navy Photo

A combined formation of aircraft from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5 and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9 pass above the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) on June 18, 2016. US Navy Photo

Once successful in that, the second challenge is creating trust in a system where operators are pulling information – and information that could lead to them shooting at a target, with lethal consequences – without knowing where that information comes from.

“That’s what I’m looking for, the ability to just take all of these inputs and say I don’t even care where it comes from,” Manazir said.
“I don’t care if it comes from [satellites], I don’t care if it comes from a guy with a telescope on a ridge somewhere and he beams it up into something that says ‘hey this is a bad guy and here’s where it is and here’s a picture of him.’”

Getting to that point will require software solutions – a lot of algorithms that can sort through massive amounts of data from all manner of sources and present the operator with an actionable view of the battlespace and clear decisions to be made, Manazir said.

Capt. Jeffrey Wolstenholme, commodore of Task Force Sixty Four (CTF 64) and Cmdr. Michael Merrill, 6th Fleet deputy director for integrated missile defense, monitor Hebrides Range activity in the combat information center during the Maritime Theater Missile Defense (MTMD) Forum's at Sea Demonstration (ASD-15) aboard the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71). US Navy photo.

Capt. Jeffrey Wolstenholme, commodore of Task Force Sixty Four (CTF 64) and Cmdr. Michael Merrill, 6th Fleet deputy director for integrated missile defense, monitor Hebrides Range activity in the combat information center during the Maritime Theater Missile Defense (MTMD) Forum’s at Sea Demonstration (ASD-15) aboard the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71). US Navy photo.

“Theoretically the human can sit … and he or she is presented with red colored targets, amber maybe unknowns, and blue friendlies, they can say, okay, I see the battlespace, I can deliver an effect,” he said. A human will still need to make the ultimate decision, of course, but he said this machine system could help make sense of every sensor’s view of the Strait of Malacca, for example, and pinpoint which vessels could be threats, allowing a human to apply logic and rules of engagement and make decisions. If this can happen quickly enough, Manazir said the Navy will have achieved “decision superiority.”

Referring to the OODA loop decision-making cycle of observing, orienting, deciding and acting, Manazir said the ultimate goal of sharing so much information between platforms and having machines determine information’s relevancy is to “gain knowledge of the battlespace so that if the machines are doing … OO and they just present to you a space, you can decide and act. And if you do it right, you can keep the adversary in the OO phase most of the time, and he’s over there orienting and reorienting and reorienting and reorienting, and he can’t act so you shoot.”

  • Earl Tower

    Basically the concept is just using an updated modern combined arms, adding in Spatial and cyber forces and electronic warfare aspects. And just as combined arms traditionally bring new capacity, it also brings a new weakness to your forces because it creates complexity. I hope the Navy is not just planning how to use this new complexity they have to generate new capacity, but also examine closely just how a strategic rival is going to attack that complexity at its weak links.

  • JohnByron

    The man has zero understanding of submarine warfare.

  • Curtis Conway

    “I had started evolving my thinking from the fact that the next fight is not going to be platform-centric, it’s going to be capability-centric.” How about capacity-centric (appropriate waveform/data throughput then enough weapons? The arsenal ship/aircraft idea continues to rear its head.

  • airider

    The answer is simple, the implementation will be hard based on prior decisions … quit buying stuff that doesn’t speak a common language. It’s the obvious cornerstone of interoperability, but we are constantly ignoring it because somebody wants to tag the current stuff as “old” and they claim we need to be focusing on the “new”.

    Got a news flash for ya….None of the “new” stuff is “new” in this area. Just re-branded and tweaked versions of the “old”….but they’re tweaked just enough to not be inter-operable with the “old”….*sigh*

    • CharleyA

      Right. The waveforms and protocols need to be “open-source” / government owned, i.e. not proprietary. The also have to be intra-service, software defined, and adaptable to constantly changing hardware. If we could only beat this maxim into senior leadership….

  • Hugh

    Some months ago did an approaching Russian fighter with an electronic pod actually shut down all the electronics sensors on a USN destroyer? If so……..

    • Hugh, you’re referring to a claim made by a Russian blog that was published shortly after the guided missile destroyer Donald Cook operating in the Black Sea was buzzed by a Russian fighter in 2014. The blog claimed the fighter had a capability that “turned off” the ship’s Aegis combat system. At the time, USNI News researched the claim and couldn’t find any proof that there was any truth to the assertion and I believe it’s fundamentally not true.

  • The Plague

    “I can use my fleet to establish in any of those domains local and temporal superiority and then move out, with the understanding that I will never be able to dominate anymore against Russian threats and against Chinese threats. Things like air dominance is just not a term that has any usefulness anymore; we don’t dominate.” – Just when I thought the Navy couldn’t sink any lower, it did. Perhaps the very next thing we see coming out of the Navy will be formalized ConOps not to even inconvenience the enemy, not even temporarily.

  • b2

    A lot of buzzwords and acronyms. Bottom line is more networked/connected weapons “platforms” will gain you more lethality and quicker (kill chain); however, it is just “perfume for the you know what” if you haven’t got enough of, or the right weapons platforms. The USN can’t be in two places at once. We don’t have enough attack aircraft with the range/persistence, enough CVNs/SSNs to accomplish what he says or any real worldwide air ASW capability that we relinquished in the 1990s. I won’tt bring up our small boy ship building programs…

    Mr. Manazir has been part of the consensus acquisition process since early last decade that has selected the platforms we don’t have enough of today . Using Boyd’s OODA loop is clever but Boyd himself would say we need more real, tangible stuff- IE fighters that can fight and attack planes that can travel without tanking every hour…

    • Marjus Plaku

      yeah they recently announce that they would include some sort of pre AOR deployment exercise/simulation/training for outbound units before they reach their stations. wow, imagine that, brilliant. so all these times we’ve just taken things for granted and counted on peace and the units being sent to a particular region had not even exercise together in a realistic high end war scenario/confrontation.