The Navy is looked to expand the web of connections currently linking its ships, planes and weapons to include submarines, smaller ships and unmanned systems to create a warfighting network that would be challenging for an adversary to bring down, the Navy’s surface warfare director (OPNAV N96) said.
Rear Adm. Ronald Boxall said that the Navy is comfortable with its Aegis Combat System and the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) construct built around it, but that the service would have to expand this idea to keep up with global threats.
“Unfortunately we’ve had a little bit of a glass ceiling at the ship level, and until we get to the system level and get that across all platforms, that’s the challenge,” he said of Aegis, while speaking at the American Society of Naval Engineer’s annual Combat System Symposium.
“We’ve got to continue what I think we have been the lead on in surface warfare: connecting sensors to those firing platforms. But again, that’s got to proliferate, and that’s got to proliferate amongst all the platforms that we have and all the different networks that we have.”
The ultimate goal, Boxall said, is to create a fleet where “more platforms – again, many of those being armed, hopefully – will create a network of armed nodes that the adversary has to deal with the entire system: not just that ship, not just that strike group or not just that submarine. That’s the future we’re getting into.”
This means bringing in submarines, small ships like the Littoral Combat Ship or even the Mk VI patrol boat, and unmanned boats, along with new aircraft and sensors. NIFC-CA traditionally connects a ship with the Aegis Combat System, an E-2D Advanced Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft and weapons like the Standard Missile (SM) family of weapons.
Boxall told USNI News after his presentation that the addition of the over-the-horizon missile to the LCS is exciting because it helps extend the reach of the LCS ships individually and helps them take a more aggressive offensive posture, but it also fits in with this idea of a more netted Navy.
With the addition of over-the-horizon firing, “now you have that capability on a small ship, we’ve got to be able to make sure we can command and control and stay with it, so the network becomes part of that. So a sensor which can support that ship and that weapon needs to be good enough to keep that network robust, and so if we lose one sensor we have a way to back it up,” he said. One way to add redundancy and increase the robustness of this capability is to net the LCS, its MH-60R helicopter as the sensor, and the missile itself into other naval networks.
“Right now LCS is not a NIFC-CA-capable platform, but the concept that we use for NIFC-CA could be, whether we look at future unmanned air or even using existing helicopters that we have,” Boxall said.
“We have helicopters that are on LCS right now – our most capable MH-60R helicopter, and that’s got a very good over the horizon capability. So do we complement that, or is that the long-term answer?”
Additionally, Boxall said in his speech that the LCS’s upcoming anti-submarine warfare mission package, with its highly capable variable-depth sonar and multi-function towed array acoustic receiver, could be a great asset for submarines and aircraft like the P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance plane to leverage if they could all pass information between platforms run by different program offices, paid for by different resource sponsors and employed by different commanders.
Boxall stressed that the Navy is moving towards a cross-domain warfare approach that would remove some stovepipes that separate these platforms, with the idea that a netted Navy is a stronger Navy against any adversary that would seek to disrupt one node in the network.
During his speech he said that budget constraints mean the Navy needs to determine what jobs can be done by smaller and less expensive ships, and which jobs are reserved for larger and more high-end ships, and conduct these missions in the most cost-effective manner possible.
“I know that I get better the more nodes that I have out there,” he said, and making the case for the largest fleet possible will require being able to state “what things can I have done at the lowest level and what can I have done at the highest level. What do I need bigger ships to do and what do I need smaller unmanned organic things to do?”
“On the low end, I just talked about MDUSV (the Sea Hunter medium displacement unmanned surface vehicle), that type of vessel – maybe it’s Mk IVs, maybe it’s LCS. What we’re doing with different sized platforms, I want them to be as small as they can be but do everything they need to do,” he continued, adding that the surface warfare community is even looking at making some small boats unmanned to further reduce their cost.
“We do some things at the high level, things that carry weapons, that will have big radars, that will ensure we can keep up with the threats of the future.”
Boxall said during his speech that the increasing range of potential adversaries’ weapons have forced the U.S. Navy into a more defensive posture, and the efforts to field longer-range missiles and create this netted Navy are an effort to regain an offensive posture.
NIFC-CA continues to grow more capable, achieving its longest-range intercept ever this year with the guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG-59) firing an SM-6. On the SM-6, Boxall said “I’m happy to report that as of this moment, right now, we have got dual-capable SM-6 in theater capable of operating today, in less than two years from inception,” as an anti-air and anti-ship weapon. The Tomahawk land-attack missile will also get an anti-ship capability as the missiles are refurbished and upgraded.
Overall, “it gives us two types of missiles in one cell. So as you get out there and you have VLS (Vertical Launching System) capability out there, we can put SM-6 with dual capability, surface-to-air and surface-to-surface, and same with Tomahawk, land attack and also anti-ship. That type of synergy, that dual-tasking is a force multiplier for us,” Boxall said.