Panel: Navy Must Invest In Counter-C4ISR, Unmanned Boats, Railgun To Prepare For Future Fight

March 9, 2017 12:30 PM
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency tests its Sea Hunter unmanned vehicle — the technology demonstration vessel it designed, developed and built through its anti-submarine warfare continuous trail unmanned vessel program, or ACTUV — in Portland, Ore., prior to an April 7 commissioning ceremony. DARPA photo.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — If the Navy wants to pursue the key tenets of three recently completed Future Fleet Architecture studies – a distributed and networked fleet that relies on unmanned vehicles and electromagnetic warfare tools to survive and win in a highly contested environment – it will need to quickly invest in technologies that allow U.S. forces to complete a targeting faster and stop the enemy from doing so at all, lead participants from the three studies told lawmakers.

During a House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, ranking member Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) asked the panelists – representing the studies conducted by a Navy team, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and the MITRE Corporation – what the first investments ought to be to achieve the teams’ visions of a future Navy fleet.

Charles Werchado, the deputy director of the Navy’s Assessment Division (OPNAV N81B), told the subcommittee that countering the adversary’s Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) would be the most important step to take now.

“Naval weapons have gotten so long-range, so precise and so lethal that, in hundreds of studies that (N81 runs) here at the Navy, what really comes out strongly is that it’s the battle of the first salvo. Naval forces, by their nature, are mobile, and therefore they have to be targeted to be hit. And so whichever side completes that targeting kill chain first and fires first almost always wins,” he said.
“So I would make my investments in counter-C4ISR – where is our decoy ship, where is our electronic warfare to create false targets? Let’s make us hard to find, while we make ourselves more capable of finding them. I think if we make investments in counter-C4ISR, they’re going to be higher-payoff first.”

Additionally, he said, he wouldn’t advocate the first dollars for offensive firepower going towards more ships or weapons but rather towards boosting the Navy’s own targeting chain.

“We have lots of cruise missiles we can use and we have lots of [Vertical Launching System] cells on the combatants, but we need to be able to complete the targeting chain effectively,” Werchado said.

Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at CSBA, piggybacked Werchado’s comments and said his priority would be “to invest in the unmanned vehicles that are going to be the things that carry around these payloads of counter-C4ISR systems.”

“Buying new Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (XLUUVs); buying new large unmanned surface vehicles, the Common USV; and also the Extra Large USV, which is a variant of the DARPA Sea Hunter program. Those would be the platforms that carry around some of these sensor packages and some of the jammers and decoys that we need to deploy in order to keep platforms inside these highly contested environments,” Clark said.

Looking out a bit farther, though, he said the Navy is not equipped today to properly net these unmanned vehicles together with manned ships, and that investments in networks and a battle management system would be key to operating the way CSBA outlined in its Future Fleet Architecture story.

“In the mid-term, the key will be to facilitate the Navy being able to create the kind of network infrastructure it’s going to need for these unmanned vehicles with the sensors and the counter-sensors to be able to talk to each other and also talk back to their manned platforms that are controlling them,” Clark said.
“So investments in some of the new line-of-sight datalinks, improvements to Link 16 that are currently making their way into the program of record, those are going to be essential in order for us to make our forces able to talk to each other in an environment where it’s going to be highly contested, lots of jamming, loss of GPS is likely.”

When Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) asked what the challenges would be to making these early investments, Clark noted that an element of autonomy would be needed to sort through all the information these unmanned vehicles would generate during a quick-paced battle.

“You can have great datalinks to be able to communicate with all your unmanned vehicles that are off sensing the environment and have all these weapons, but the problem is that the speed of conflict is going to happen so quickly that I need something autonomous to be able to look at a threat, decide what it is, decide what the best weapon is to address it, and then (figure out) where that weapon is and be able to send it from that platform to address the threat,” Clark explained.
“Having the battle management to be able to coordinate all that information coming in and then be able to make a decision as to what to do about it autonomously is a key capability,” he said. The Navy isn’t there yet, he said, but sufficiently addressing this autonomous battle management problem could allow the service to reduce the number of manned ships it needs.

One of two electromagnetic railgun prototypes on display aboard joint high speed vessel USS Millinocket (JHSV 3) in port at Naval Base San Diego on July 8, 2014. US Navy photo.

Sunoy Banerjee, the Naval Research Development Test & Evaluation portfolio manager for MITRE, told the subcommittee that his first investments would go to the electromagnetic railgun and its associated Hyper Velocity Projectile, as well as a missile defense system that loops in the railgun to defeat incoming cruise missiles. He said this trio would allow the U.S. Navy to survive an opening salvo with limited damage and strike back against the adversary – particularly if the development of HVP included the addition of a seeker head.

Whereas the Navy and CSBA noted the benefits of beginning to ramp up acquisition of current ship classes with hot production lines, Banerjee said a near-term priority ought to be building a new type of ship that can integrate the railgun and provide sufficient power for continuous railgun firing instead of having to stop and recharge the weapon with a capacitor. He suggested that leveraging other navies’ ship designs could help the U.S. Navy begin building a railgun-friendly combatant faster.

To Conaway’s question about “the long pole in the tent,” Werchado warned that the HVP would be fielded much sooner than the railgun, which is posing technological challenges to the Navy and its contractors, both in supplying enough power and in building a gun barrel that can withstand the physics of magnets sliding down metal rails at high speed to launch the projectile.

“Right now there’s over 100 barrels in the fleet that can fire HVP, and (Naval Surface Warfare Center) Dahlgren’s working together with the Army and coming along well in the testing,” Werchado said.
“That one could be fielded very quickly. Railgun is going to be a lot longer. We have to solve a lot of problems – barrel wear, repetitive rate, you mentioned the recharge. I think the low-hanging fruit is to get HVP out as fast as we can, it does really well against cruise missiles.”

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is the former deputy editor for USNI News.

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