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

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

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.”

  • Ed L

    The Navy needs hulls to test systems on. Vessels like the follow on version of the USS Fort Lauderdale (LPD-28) class ships the LSD/XR or something like that. With a welldeck to launch small boats and even launch small flying drones etc from. Plus plenty of deckroom for VLS, Gun mounts. etc.and a stable platform to boot.

    • old guy

      Those vintage designs may fill some needs but fall far short when it comes to modernization. For example, wet wells are vital for handling conventional displacement and planing craft, but are inefficient with hovercraft like LCAC, which is what we will use for the ship-to-shore transfer. Instead, a ramp up to a flat loading deck and then down would allow efficient, continuous flow, instead. Such a support ship was designed in NAVSEA in conjunction with the AALC (now LCAC) program in 1978.

      • Frank Langham

        See ESD

        • old guy


  • Frank Langham

    Sounds “right” …. Efficient, autonomous reflex …. I would posit that more up–armed P-8 aircraft and more MQ-4C Tritons plus “ready spare” satellites should top our wish-list, as well as airborne missile trucks …
    Look-Down/Shoot-Down is key. … Surface sensors are cobbled by endemic limitations and cannot be repositioned as quickly.

  • old guy

    How many $$$$$$$$ will be wasted before everyone realizes that the rail gun is a useless, foolish waste. The concept, started by my group in 1977 was applicable for a catapult, which was brilliantly developed by Lakehurst, where we transferred the project to, but had too many, insurmountable deficiencies as a weapon. There is nothing it can do that can’t be done better and cheaper by other methods; most available now.

    • M Yates

      I think its obvious that technological advances in the last 50 years are proving you wrong. The concept apparently was developed well before the technology was available, but its catching up. Now is not the time to throw in the towel on the Rail Gun.

      • old guy

        I spent most of my professional life in advanced concept development. The objective is always utility, advantage, efficiency and operability versus cost. Linear motors (rail transport and accelerators) are the perfect solution for A/C carrier catapults, as I stated. They eliminated the need for large volume of high pressure steam, available in old ships, but unnecessary on nuclear powered ships. BUT they require a large amount of electricity, not available in older ships, but easily supplied in modern carriers. If any one is really interested in NOVEL practical, projectile systems, I will describe The ETC (Electro-Thermal-Chemical gun), which was developed in NAVSEA, in conjunction with the DOE folks.

        • dotlane

          Tell us another story, grandpa.

          • old guy

            Sure, if you can be intelligent and unbiased enough to absorb it. My guys also developed a SWATH (Small Waterline Area Twin Hull) ship. We built a 600 ton prototype and operated it for years out of the Navy lab at Kaneohe bay, Hawaii. It is what the LCS should be. Low wake, radar cross section and laser bounce. It was called, “KAIMOLINO” The Japanese, in a trade swap got the specs and built a 3000 ton oceanographic ship called “Kaiyo”. The Monterey Bay aquarium also built one, as did the the Raddison Co. as a cruise ship, Named DIAMOND. The main advantages of this design is its extreme stability, comparable to a conventional ship several times its size and its flat usable deck, which allowed us to operate helos off it. Good story, HUH?

          • old guy

            Hey, smarty, why no response?

    • RobM1981

      Ultimately, if it can be developed to what is believed to be its potential, a Railgun can be an awesome PDS. Beyond that, however, I’m largely in alignment with you. Ballistic weapons are typically “to the horizon” when moving targets are involved. Because the trajectory would be largely flat, and the projectile’s travel time would be very short, the Railgun would be fantastic at slamming LOS targets.

      The trouble is, who believes a surface engagement would involve major combatants getting that close? For minor combatants, like swarm attacks, it would be great – but overkill, don’t you think? And, again, that’s only if they can get the thing to really work, and provide a reasonably high rate of fire. Hardly an easy task.

      For OTH engagements a weapon with this velocity is problematic. The shell’s ballistic trajectory isn’t going to come back to earth for quite some distance. Between LOS and that distance lies an annulus wherein targets cannot be engaged without guiding the shell. And if you’re going to guide the shell, just use an SSM.

      There is also the reality that at the range where the shell is finally coming back to earth, you now have a classic targeting problem – no different than any other gun engagement, today. “Will the target still be there when the shell arrives? Will the wind redirect the shell?” Etc.

      • old guy

        You bring up, correctly, the complex nature of “MIX”. If this was a slowly evolving technical society like, say, 75 years ago, a thorough study gives you a solid baseline. the unmanned engineering society, 30 years ago, never predicted the rapidity of the advancement , technically, functionally, operationally and applicability All were tremendously under appreciated or predicted. Speaking to some of the “Old Timers” it is common to hear,’ Would you ever believe………
        Soon, here we are facing a 200+ year old threat, SWARM TACTICS and a brand new one, UNMANNED whatever. Go figure.

    • Duane

      Until we have the principal remaining unresolved technical issue taken care of – i.e., the durability of the rail itself after multiple high velocity fires – we don’t know the ultimate performance of the system. As far as power goes, that’s easy – just install a powerful generator, either self-contained modular system, or built into the vessel’s overall powerplant. This is mitigated quite a bit by large power storage modules that can allow multiple shots without overtaxing the power plant .. a new breakthrough in power density for such modules (relatively small – only a quarter size standard shipping container) doubling the capacity was just announced by one supplier this week.

      All of our newest classes of ships are being up-powered on their electrical power plants, precisely to support rail guns as well as EMALs on big deck carriers. It’s not a big deal to upsize the electrical plant as long as you plan for that requirement in designing the hull and main powerplant.

      The planned upside features of railguns are rather obvious:

      1) Cheap rapid fire hyper velocity projectiles (no cases or charges required) useful against ships, aircraft and missiles. $25K per large bore (i.e., 155mm) projectile vs. three quarters of a million for the LRLAP for the DDG-1000 before that program was cancelled. Smaller bore projectiles for shorter-range fires will be proportionally cheaper.

      2) Much more compact munitions storage, allowing far larger magazines both in the vessel and ready at the mounts.

      3) Safety – if a ship is no longer carrying large stores of explosive propellants or, if the railgun rounds are purely kinetic, then no explosive warheads stored aboard either, the danger of igniting the ship’s own magazines is much reduced. It wasn’t a mere 500 pound bomb that blew up the USS Arizona and killed 1,100 of her men .. it was her own magazines that did the dirty work.

      Remember, in the 1980s when President Ronald Reagan proposed his ABM system, it was roundly derided by critics and anti-defense nuts as “star wars”. But 30 years later, missile defense is a well developed capability using a variety of munitions and systems … there’s no more silly talk of “star wars”. Rail guns likewise require substantial sums of R&D funding and time to prove out. I expect they will.

      • old guy

        Good dissertation, which I counter with:
        1. ETC guns do NOT have explosive propellants
        2. ETC guns can use current barrels.
        3. ETC guns require 1/3 the power,
        4. ETC guns require NO new loading techniques.
        5. The ETC principle was proven in the single and rapid fire modes.
        6. In a directed program we could have it fully operational in less than 5 years.

        • Duane

          ETC is developmental, just as are railguns. Neither has been put to use in an actual deployable weapon system. The Navy seems much more focused on rail guns, in part because the external power requirement, either real time generated or stored in a capacitive discharge system is not a big burden for surface ships. The Army is more focused on ETC because the size of an external power source is much more of a factor for a mobile gun as might be used in a tank or mobile anti-tank gun system.

          Also, ETCs have not been used to date to create hypersonic projectiles for extremely long range or for intercepts of incoming hypersonic BMs, but rather to marginally increase the velocity of existing supersonic projectiles so as to deliver better performance in penetrating heavy tank armor.

          • old guy

            We fired 6 rounds in 10 seconds from a 20mm ETC. in 1980.
            I did not know that the Army picked up ETC. If you have more on it, I would appreciate the info.
            As I said before, we did an intensive study as to usage of the concepts, including satellite launch and surveillance UAVs and the ONLY thing that looked promising for rail accelerator was the A/C catapult, for which it was perfect. This is why we transferred it to Lakehurst.
            It is a waste of $$$$ like the MHD submarine propulsion program, pushed by the lobbyists for Textron, and Congress. After 30 million wasted $ i got it closed out

          • old guy

            We made a 57 MM Mach 10 single shot. Check out my MHD story to indicate that I know of what I speak

  • M Yates

    One thing I haven’t seen any writing on is how to prevent an unmanned ship from being boarded and stolen as China did recently with an unmanned vessel. If we start sending out Sea Hunter vessels to gather intelligence in the the South China Sea, I fully expect China to grab one – or all of them since they claim that sea as territory. What’s going to stop them? Even if they try to use unmanned vessels as sensors and magazines with a Battle Group, what’s to stop an adversary from boarding one before the conflict has started? Would that be what starts the conflict? This needs to be worked out during the development process and not left to be an ad hock add on after the first one disappears. Relying on the Law of the Sea to prevent one being stolen is a bad idea.

    • Kevin G

      The Chinese fished a underwater “glider”, a step or two up from a buoy, out of the water before the mothership arrived to pick it up.
      Sea Hunter and its ilk have the ability to maneuver. But! You are absolutely correct, what is the response to actions against them, what are the ROE around unmanned US vessels?
      Repelling boarders? Take a page from almost every “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” script and electrify the hulls.

    • Frank Langham

      A stern, multi-lingual, verbal warning, followed by lethal bursts of multi-frequency RF radiation, such as microwave, x-ray, gamma, etc. … Use super capacitors and induction coils …. The phased array radar feed could be diverted to ambient coils. … A remote CIDS, such as Phalanx or a remote 30mm auto-cannon could be employed against any attempt to tow or grapple the USV. A last resort could be an autonomous scuttle charge , which might destroy any proximate contacts. And … Hey … I can think of a few reasons to ALLOW an enemy to capture a USV/USSV .

    • Catdog

      “Initiate self distruct sequence, 10-09-08…”

    • Duane

      China didn’t board and steal a “vessel” – they collected and stole a submersible sensor.

      As others point out in response, it’s not difficult to design in an anti-boarder/anti-theft system in any number of configurations.

  • The Plague

    “We have lots of cruise missiles we can use and we have lots of VLS cells on the combatants” – in fact they don’t. Neither cruise missiles, nor SAMs. And a bunch of those are still the same old stuff since the end-of-cold-war days.
    The Navy’s under-investment in missiles is horrible, much worse than its under-investment in aircraft. And it bothers me even more, that the flag-rank Pentagon leadership seems hell-bent on yet more malinvestment into wet-dreaming pseudo-scientific bull$h!t, the military versions of Google’s self-driving Rube Goldberg car, garbage that can be known today that it will never work, and perfectly willing to trust the fleet’s fate to an amortized ammunition stock. Because the “network” and its “AI-gremlins” will just magically win the battle with “cyber-voodoo”.

    The best friends of Putin and the Chinese communists are in the Pentagon. The high priests of the nonsensical and the unworkable. The snake-oil salesmen of the Bolsheviks in Silicon Valley.

    • dotlane

      And what defense contractor do you represent, cupcake? Because anyone whining about the “snake-oil salesmen of the Bolsheviks in Silicon Valley” is definitely selling something.

      • Duane

        Putin’s trolls are trying “reverse psychology” by gaslighting impressionable dolts, trying to convince them that up is down, black is white, and the “real friends of Putin” work in the Pentagon.

        I dunno, I’ve noticed a sharp downturn in the facile attempt to at least feign a tiny bit of plausibility in Putin’s paid trolling of late … probably because he’s paying them in Vodka rather than in worthless rubles.

  • Richard Mosier

    Reference the OPNAV N81B statements:
    “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.”

    “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.”

    Countering enemy C4ISR translates into operations to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision-making of adversaries and potential adversaries, e.g. Information Operations as defined by the SECDEF, adopted by the JCS, and incorporated by Navy in NWP 3-13, NWP 3-56, and in OPNAVINST 3430.26 Subject: Information Operations. Per this OPNAVINST, the (DCNO) for Information [Operations] Warfare (N2N6) is the OPNAV lead for Information Operations and as such is the resource sponsor for all Navy IO programs.

    Assuming the highest payoff is in countering enemy C4ISR, the Navy needs to take a hard look at its’ organization for manning, structuring, training, and equipping the fleet with trained and experienced Information Operations Warfare Commanders, and information related capabilities that are effective in countering the surveillance and targeting denying the enemy the first salvo.

  • RobM1981

    Very good article discussing a great many important issues. I believe the targeting statement is extremely relevant today – getting your ordnance on target, first, is critical.

    OTOH, there are several excellent comments, below, that question some of the approaches being considered. I largely agree with Old Guy re: the usefulness of a Railgun. As a PDS, great. Otherwise, c’mon… what are we doing?

    I believe the comment on unmanned vessels being targets for piracy is spot-on. Are you willing to ignite a conflict when someone steals your drone? Is not an unmanned vessel fair-game by today’s rules?

    The logic behind all unmanned vehicles has always included “and, if destroyed or captured, we don’t lose a valuable human resource. We don’t end up with POW’s and such.”

    True enough. Then again, we do end up with our adversary stealing or destroying our technology.

    Are we willing to start a war over that?

    Again, a good discussion.

  • Ed L

    Knowledge of Science today has advance a lot since 1916. And another 50 to 100 years it will advance even further. You know we could ask those civilizations that disappear 10’s of thousands of years ago. But all existence has been removed by Mother Nature.

  • old guy

    Sometimes, when I listen to the blather that comes out of the Hill, I think we should try to develop an “Unmanned Congress.”