Home » Aviation » NIFC-CA Advances Could Allow The Navy To Use Cheaper ‘Dumb’ Weapons


NIFC-CA Advances Could Allow The Navy To Use Cheaper ‘Dumb’ Weapons

Petty Officer 3rd Class Ashley Wilson, from Macon, Mo., pushes a GBU31 bomb onto an aircraft elevator aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69). US Navy Photo

Petty Officer 3rd Class Ashley Wilson, from Macon, Mo., pushes a GBU31 bomb onto an aircraft elevator aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69). US Navy Photo

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – An expanded fire control network could help the Navy leverage lower-cost “dumb” weapons instead of sophisticated missiles that can help find their own targets, several officials said today.

The Navy Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) architecture is currently changing itself – as engineers find ways to bring in new airplanes, new data links and new weapons to work with the Aegis Combat System – but at a certain point a strong enough NIFC-CA network could allow the Navy to begin changing what weapons it buys, they said during a panel presentation at the WEST 2017 conference.

Though there are many challenges associated with integrated new systems into NIFC-CA, director for integration and interoperability at the warfare integration directorate (OPNAV N9I) Cmdr. David Snee said that if the ability to see over the horizon and share information quickly and accurately were to be achieved, “then I have a world where I could have a very sophisticated high-tech weapon, or not.”

“Right now we’re in a world where if I can’t see beyond the horizon then I need to build in that sort of sensing and high-tech effort into the weapon itself,” said Snee, who also serves as the deputy for the Chief of Naval Operations’ Task Force Netted Navy.
“But in a world where I can see beyond the horizon and I can target, then I don’t need to spend a billion dollars on a weapon that doesn’t need to have all that information; I just need to be able to give the data to the weapon at the appropriate time.”

The Navy has long acknowledged it is on the wrong side of the cost curve for many engagements, where a relatively inexpensive target from an adversary would force the Navy to respond with a very expensive smart weapon. Under the scenario Snee described, the weapon would need a guidance system and the ability to receive targeting data from a ship or aircraft, but not the sensors to seek out a target on its own.

Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems (PEO IWS) principal assistant program manager for Aegis development Cmdr. Andrew Thomson added, “it should be noted that every time you fire a weapon, it goes and blows up somewhere. So that’s always going to be a huge sunk cost. If you put the smarts and the sensors and the networks on the back end, those things tend to come back and are reusable and repurpose-able and everything else. But if you shoot a missile, it goes away and it’s going to blow up somewhere.”

Thomson warned not to underestimate the challenges of engineering this type of network: for every new sensor or weapon the Navy wants to add in, it takes a lengthy process of testing and measuring and testing some more to understand “what is the sensor, what’s the quality of the data that it’s giving me, what are its biases, how quickly can I get that information, what is the latency associated with it. Then, does that meet what the weapon can do, or do I need to change anything to make it work? That just takes a little bit of time and they have to do it incrementally with each” new addition to NIFC-CA.

Still, he said, if the Navy could expand NIFC-CA to be long-range enough and reliable enough, it could keep the “smarts” in the aircraft and ships in the network and save money on the actual munitions.

During the panel discussion, PEO IWS major program manager for future combat systems Anant Patel said the Navy had had success integrating the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, F-35B Joint Strike Fighter and the Army’s Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) into NIFC-CA and that PEO IWS would look to integrate the F-35C, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler in the future.

As NIFC-CA inevitably grows and evolves, Snee said the Navy wants to see it grow in a way that supports fighting in other domains.

“The last part of NIFC-CA is counter air, so it’s very limited in that domain,” he said.
“I think back in the [Pentagon] we’re broadening that aperture to look at naval integrated fires in all the domains. And so kind of addressing the problem from that aspect is what we’re doing going forward. This is the first chapter of [NIFC-CA]. … One of the things we’re really tackling back in D.C. is really to come up with an integration campaign plan for the Navy of how we’re going to stitch this together” and use the NIFC-CA concept to eventually go after surface or subsurface threats, for example.

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Categories: Aviation, News & Analysis, Submarine Forces, Surface Forces, U.S. Navy
Megan Eckstein

About Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is a staff writer for USNI News. She previously covered Congress for Defense Daily and the U.S. surface navy and U.S. amphibious operations as an associate editor for Inside the Navy.

  • Curtis Conway

    An Small Diameter Bomb package for a Mk 82, appropriately proportioned, makes sense.

    • Michael D. Woods

      It’s been a long time for me, but wasn’t the Mk 82 the old 500lb iron bomb? If I remember, an A-6 could carry 28+ of them and even an A-4 could carry as many as 24 along with a centerline fuel tank.

      • Curtis Conway

        The Mk 82/83/84 family of bombs (500/1,000/2,000 lbs) are our primary programmed explosive package of a given weight, footprint, and pre-planned explosive potential weapon for employment by any US/NATO aircraft from a wing stores station or bomb bay. Appropriate communications via umbilical is possible for smart weapons packages. A program of record should be created that uses this common explosive package in a fashion like the APKWS, where we place a programmed thrust rocket motor (from ATK) on the back of the bomb, add a folded wing package to the dispenser mount brackets, and a guidance package of the appropriate type for the appropriate target and employment method. The winged package can have additional wing stores mounts on top, add range and guidance, and it will just hang lower under the wing of the aircraft, probably limiting some of the aircraft that can employ this configuration due to clearance requirements and moment arms created by this mass hanging on/under the wing. Launch from a truck or other launching vehicle would be possible, like a helo.

        We have been burning these bombs up relatively quickly in the recent past, and huge orders are being scheduled. It is less expensive to put the Primary High Explosive package in a thinner shell, and precisely place it on target for a more devastating effect. If fragmentation is desired additional shell elements can be slid on the exterior for the desired effect. All current safety devices can be incorporated into the new bomb without all the extra weight. This will save fuel and wear and tear on the delivery vehicles, and facilitate automated construction. Every service could use this common explosive package for a predictable damage requirement.

      • E1 Kabong

        An A-4 could carry maybe 18 Mk.82’s, max.
        The main landing gear doors prevented the carriage of a sixth bomb on a MER.

        The Mk. 8x series are still around but have been updated for PGM/JDAM use.
        Mk.82’s are now replaced by similar looking but more accurately toleranced BLU-111/B’s.

      • Secundius

        You’re Right! The Mk.82 was a 500-pdr., the Mk.83 ~1,000-pdr. and the Mk.84 ~2,000-pdr…

  • awbilinski

    Seeing beyond the horizon implies airborne or satellite coverage. Last I heard, those systems are neither cheap nor immune from countermeasures. I applaud the idea of “mixed munitions”, but I fear cost cutting is going to have to be found in the procurement process, manufacturing and the discipline to not buy every new whiz bang the arms industry (or the pentagon) come up with.

  • The Plague

    In other words, the Navy is inventing pretexts for not buying sophisticated munitions. It’ll all be taken care of by the “Network”. I’m telling ya, the network-infested top brass in the services are actively planning to lose the next big war by drowning the US military in a sea of unworkable network technology. They are premeditated losers.

    • old guy

      We shall pass by and command, “On the roll of the ship…….”

  • @USS_Fallujah

    The EW component of this is incredibly interesting. If instead of needing to jam the sensors on the munition you needed to attack either the source center (which may be impossible if you aren’t relying on radar, but can optical or IR tracks provide sufficient target clarity at range to provide sufficient guidance?), or the network itself. NIFC-CA works great as a defensive network because you can have a high degree of confidence you’ll have full network reliability over your own assets (jamming the network of the E-2D, F-35C and Aegis radars of the escorts is dubious at best, if your jammer can even survive to get close enough to be of any assistance), but when you start looking at a strike capability tied to NIFC-CA you immediately have to worry that your data network is going to compromised over enemy forces.

  • Duane

    The headline is misleading. “Dumb” bombs – which are unguided, air dropped munitions- aren’t involved, just less smart munitions that rely on external target data to feed into their guidance systems.

    The problem with this concept is it relies totally on datalink, with no redundancy. It is fine to use external data via datalink to continuously update the weapon to provide greater precision on maneuvering targets, but it all falls apart if the datalink goes down even momentarily.

    Besides, the so called cost curve is actually tremendously improved by modern smart weapons. One very well directed munition is far more effective than multiple copies of a dumb weapon that is lucky to hit the target at all, let alone zero in on its vitals (such as its powerplant or its bridge or CIC).

    Similarly very smart weaps like the NSM are valuable for their ability to “bob and weave” in the terminal phase to avoid enemy defensive fire. How many less-smart missiles – which cannot provide such capability – would it take to equal one very effective hit on target by a NSM?

    The smarter the weaps, the more effective and the fewer it takes to take an enemy out of the fight. The networked system is great, but don’t think of it as defense on the cheap, but as a way to make smart weapons even smarter and more resiliant.

    • @USS_Fallujah

      Why would taking the seeker head out to the missile affect it’s ability to “bob and weave”, in fact it might be even more survivable as the platform providing the target track could theoretically, also track the outbound interceptors to time evasive maneuvers for maximum affect, as opposed to a fire-and-forget missile which (unless they start putting EW packages in them) can’t detect such a threat.

      • Duane

        You can’t maneuver radically to avoid incoming defensive fire (as the NSM does) if you can’t sense locally the incoming fire itself – we’re talking here of the ability to “dodge bullets” fired by, say, 30mm cannon or other typical CIWS fire …. which is very different from tracking a maneuvering surface ship, obviously being a much larger and slower target. There is no remote sensing that is distantly located that could possibly have the resolution to do that, and even if you could, the datalink is not a continuous signal … it is digitalized discrete packets of info that are sent out and received in micro-bursts of data packages. If the munition did emit a continuous 2-way signal emission, that would provide a source for opposing fire to lock onto.

        • @USS_Fallujah

          If the missile has it’s own seeker head vs getting targeting data from a link it’s going to be emitting anyway, so detection from the link it’s an issue. Also, continuous data transfer isn’t required for evasive maneuver, the missile can be programmed to take evasive action on direction from the “controller”, who in this case would be reacting to the launch of an interceptor, not a CIWS system like a 30mm (you’d have a preprogrammed terminal maneuver, which most ASCMs have now to hopefully evade that threat). Finally, given the complete off-boarding of the sensor suite to the archer instead of the arrow, you would need something close to a continuous stream to ensure sufficient accuracy (at least if we’re talking about a moving ship, something more static like a bunker, radar or launch site could be handled bursts & internal GPS).

          • Duane

            I am pretty sure it is impossible to have remote (hundreds of miles away) sensors being capable of guiding a NSM to avoid incoming defensive fire. It would not be a serious proposal, technologically.

            And besides the NSM does have its very smart seeker already .. no reason to disable it in order to get a much less effective real time remote sensor.

            Your argument is not serious. The NSM is real, and will need virtually all of our future ASMs to have similar capabilitiy, because our opponents are not going to just sit there and take incoming missiles without firing back at them. We have capable CIWS and it is not reasonable to expect that the Chinese and Russians will neglect to field their own versions.

          • @USS_Fallujah

            So you’re saying that the entire article is bunk?

          • Duane

            The entire article IS bunk, which I elaborated on above. Networking doesn’t turn dumb weaps into smart weaps. It only helps make smart weapons marginally more resilient.

          • tteng

            This is how I will sell this idea,

            It is not against ships (F-18 do not drop bombs on warships). This is probably not even against peer-level ground targets (F-18 first has to go thru the like of S-400/500 or its equivalent). This is for against bottom tier low value target such as pickup truck with MGs, jihadist w/ MANPAD, or workable danger-danger-close CAS, and whatnot (since we are and will be fighting 2 bit jihadist until kingdom come).

          • Duane

            Actually, it’s a lot easier to track warships and feed that data from a network to smart (not dumb) munitions than it is to target jihadi’s in pickup trucks out in the middle of the desert somewhere. The sensors have to be more or less immediately overhead, or relatively close by to sense such small land targets without obscuration by terrain features, whereas large ships can be detected and tracked on featureless oceans from hundreds of miles out by aircraft radars.

            And yes, F-18s and F-35s DO drop bombs on and launch anti-ship missiles at ships, but only smart weapons, everything from the JDAM (joint direct attack munition), JSM (joint strike missile), the Harpoon asm, and eventually (still under development) the NSM (naval strike missile), LRASM (long range anti-ship missile) and SDB-II (with tri mode seekers able to target moving targets).

          • tteng

            Well, this article was about cheaper alternative of making precise munition out of dumb bombs. F-18s (or F-35) do not drop modified (un/under powered glide) dumb bombs on modern warship due to payload’s limited range (unnecessarily endangering plane to ship’s long range SAM defense) and/or bomb’s inability to dodge CIWS defense.

            On low intensity war, a long endurance medium/high altitude drone (with search/target optics, visual to IF spectrum) can guide the F-18 to toss, and then the bomb itself to target. And it is only because we already have these legacy weapons/platforms/and wars on hand: F-18, drone, dumb bombs, ME, that we can optimize for a particular role/usage.

            From wiki, a JDAM cost $25K, a dumb MK84 $3K. So, if the unit can be had for $10K, then the Navy can either buy it, or use that to drive down pricing for future JDAM acquisition.

          • Duane

            That’s exactly why this article is bunk. A dumb bomb cannot do anything but fall. Networking a dumb bomb is like giving your dog a smart phone.

            You can only network smart weapons. The minimally smart weapon is a JDAM, which is a conversion package for a dumb bomb. It adds a sensor and flight control surfaces to guide the bomb in to its target, typically being laser guided. Other more sophisticated sensors such as IR or radar or all three combined (as in an SDB II).

            Networking and networked sensors are useful, for sure, but they cannot make a dumb bomb smart. They can only enhance the targeting data used by an already smart munition.

          • tteng

            The traditional feedback control has a single loop of follErr (Cmd pos- actual pos) going to the computer (control filter) which then sends command to actuator (motor/fin) which alters item’s actual position to minimize follErr. Usually the loop (and associated electronics/flight mechanism) are in a single body, because that’s the straightforward and originally/technically easiest solution, though may not be the cheapest as technology progressed.

            I can see how this single loop can reconfigure to a dual loop control system, where two actual positions (target and bomb) are tracked by offsite sensors/controller, and the delta of these two positions then becomes flight control command, send to bomb via datalink, to minimize position delta.

            I believe the bomb will still have datalink receiver & flight mechanism, but not the target sensor and control computer.

            The network part, I’m guessing, could be a hub-spoke, with a single control/sensor platform (with multithread control app) as hub and branching out with a bomb at each end of the spoke.

          • Duane

            I am totally on board with the networked battle data management approach. This is massively important, because what it does is allows our forward deployed sensors – be they on E-2s, drones, F-35Cs, or shipboard-based (such as AEGIS) – to collect data, analyze it, and distribute it to all relevant weaps platforms within radio datalink contact. In other words, virtually anything that can launch a missile or a guided glide bomb, along with the munitions they carry, can obtain real time target data. For instance, even small Navy patrol boat carrying only a Hellfire missile – can literally be comandeered into the battle management system and using the remote data – though it may have no sensors of its own on board the patrol – send a munition downrange to a target. Ditto with any small combatant, be it an LCS or the soon-to- be Frigate variant, even though it lacks the equivalent of an AEGIS radar, can be given the target data and send much bigger missiles, like the Harpoon or NSM or LRASM downrange to take out even very large cruiser or destroyer class targets.

            It’s a terrific capability that will give us a generational head start over our opponents.

            Not because it’s somehow cheap, but because it becomes a massive force multiplier.

          • tteng

            Feet on the ground, and stretch for the star.

            I work in the tech field, though not EE/CS majored, I have pulled my hair out writing interface drivers to both forward and backward compatible firmware of different mods. Also, every week or so I have to cycle power on my laptop PC, and android phone, to resolve memory leak issue. (At least that is how I get around the problem after our IT folks got tired of me). You see, nothing bad happens if I power off/on my electronics, and we accept such incidents (proportional to)in technology advance on personal electronics. However, I would tolerate less so if it is my car (pull over and reboot), and definitely not if it is the plane I flew on. And here we are talking about a see-all-connect-all-do-all-seamless-all-domain-24/7 warring capability. That is the star you’re describing.

            By all means we should go for it, but temper it with the reality of grounded footing (that, if it can work big, it can also proportionally fail big in the most in-opportuned time)

          • Duane

            Sure, of course, networks can go down. What I describe, however, is an add-on, not the base of, our growing military superiority through increasingly smarter weapons, both platforms and munitions. That’s why I said above that the entire premise of the article on which we are commenting is absolute bunk. You cannot take a network and use it to make dumb munitions smart. You can only take smart munitions, and their platforms, and make them more resilient by provide more and better remote sensing and targeting data. But if the network goes down, the still-smart munitions still have to keep working.

            The word for this is redundancy … never rely solely on a single-point failure system. I’m an engineer, and that is the mantra of design engineering – do not design in single-point failures unless there is no other option, in which case you provide redundant systems rather than redundant components.

    • airider

      An additional challenge with this is that the further away the sensors get, the lower the resolution from the sensor. Terminal homing sensors on the weapon alleviate this problem and can make it a “fire and forget” scenario especially if the area “gets hot”. Also, being further away, it takes more time for the information to get transmitted to and from the weapon due to target movement or any attempt to perform “avoidance maneuvers” as required.

      Based on all of this, the use of NIFC (drop the CA folks, this has evolved past that) to accomplish attacking these types of targets can evolve into the realm of Networked Enabled Weapons (i.e. Link-16, J-11 messages). Also, If the target is very austere, why not engage it with our cheapest weapons…guns on the ships or aircraft.

  • Michael D. Woods

    As an old retired naval aviator, I do worry about all this stuff. If an enemy creates an electro-magnetic storm, will any of it work? Can we still drop iron bombs? And even if we have them, are the pilots trained to do it? And what will happen when we go to unmanned vehicles without pilots–will the links to the ground controllers survive?

    • old guy

      Good points, but much depends on frequency control. It is almost impossible to jam the entire spectrum. My statement above also pertains. You can’t jam a fiber optic link.

  • Secundius

    “Carpet Bombing”?/!

  • old guy

    Wouldn’t it have been great if we had smart weapons to clear out the caves on Iwo Jima, both economical and life saving. What idiocy.

    • Secundius

      Only problem being Nobody Knew with Any Degree of Certainty Where the Caves were and How Many there were. Until Someone (“Hapless” US Marine) Accidentally “Stumbled” across one…

      • Duane

        FLIR sensors on aircraft and munitions would have pinpointed many if not most of those caves and hidey-holes. A human body shows up vividly against the jungle vegetation, and every round sent downrange would further pinpoint their location.

        Unfortunately, we had no such technology in those days.

        Which is part of the reason why we experienced, and the American public tolerated, much higher casualty levels in WW Two than we would experience, and the public would tolerate, today.

        We lost more casualties in the final months of the island hopping campaign in the Pacific than we lost in more than three years of fighting in the European Theater of Operations. We lost more than three times as many dead soldiers – 20,520 dead, plus another 55,000 wounded, and 26,000 psychiatric cases – in just one battle over less than 3 months at Okinawa than in all the wars in the GWOT over the last 16 years.

        • Secundius

          The First Infrared Detection System was Patented in the US in 1901. And Theodore Case had a Application for Infrared Photo-Detection Devise as early as 1917. But it was Considered at the time a “Novelty” and WASN’T Seriously Funded. The Germans DID and Built the First Infrared Rifle Scope in 1943, with a Detection Range of about 600-meters…

          • Duane

            Yes … the first large scale deployment of FLIR to our forces was the targeting system for the F-111 bomber. It really proved its value in Operation Desert Storm, when the F-111s adopted a strategy of night-time tank hunting, where the warm tanks really stood out against the cool desert stands at night, despite their camoflage netting and such.

          • old guy

            I can remember sitting in a Congressional staffers office at 2000 hrs watching someone emitting a very FLIR visible stream into the reflecting pool.

      • old guy

        Not so. We had both maps and spotters who located cave entrances, When I had SEA 003 we developed both JSOW (stand off) and JDAM (direct attack) missiles. Using fiber optic line we could pretty well hit within a 2′ radius, at will.

        • Secundius

          Correct me if I’m wrong! But wasn’t there a 3-day Bombardment of Iwo Jima before the Marine Landing that Virtually Did Nothing? With the Possible Exception of “Soil Relocation”. And what do JDAM’s have to do with a 1945 Battle?

          • old guy

            We were just conjecturing, what if. We have them now. “dumb weapons” may have a place, in large area clearing, but “smart” ones are superior for limited area, or highly protected, targets..

          • Secundius

            Would would think with American Companies like RCA, Motorola, General Electric and Westinghouse. That the US “Couldn’t” produce Weapon Systems like the Ruhrstahl “Fritz X” RC Glide Bomb or the Henschel Flugzeug-Werks Hs.293 RC Air-to-Surface/Anti-Shipping Missile…

          • old guy

            Command guided fiber optic weapons are about 1 1/2 times the cost of unguided bombs. All you have to do is keep your aiming device on the target. “Dumb” bombs can be converted easily.

          • Secundius

            A “Tizard Mission”?/!

    • Duane

      Actually, smart sensors with smart guided munitions would likely have significantly reduced the butcher’s bill – ours, anyway – on Iwo and Okinawa.