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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
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.
“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.”