Service Secretaries Say New Weapon Systems Must be More Interoperable Among Branches

February 8, 2019 6:33 PM
Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 1st Class Natalia Fraser signals to an AH-64A Apache helicopter assigned to the Hellenic 1st Army Aviation Division on the flight deck of amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD-24) on Jan. 7, 2019. US Navy Photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Remaining ahead of adversary capabilities means investing now in multi-domain and interoperable weapons systems, says the military department secretaries.

The Fiscal Year 2020 budget request, due for release within the next few weeks, is expected to provide only modest funding increase keeping pace with maintaining the cost of current military programs and operations. Against this financial backdrop, the Navy, Army and Air Force are working together to maximize lethality and agility while saving cost to taxpayers, the three service branch secretaries said during a panel discussion Friday morning at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“We’re looking at how the Navy fights and how the Navy fights with the Army and the Air Force,” Richard V. Spencer, secretary of the Navy, said during the discussion.

Currently, the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is an example of a new system Spencer said is designed to cooperate with all branches. The fighters are now flown in operations by the Air Force and Marine Corps, with the Navy soon to incorporate its carrier-based variants into the air wing. The F-35 can gather and relay targeting information to sea or ground forces, or it can receive such targeting data to launch its weapons.

“Any sensor, any shooter that’s where we want to get to” Heather Wilson, secretary of the Air Force said. “So it is it’s linking up in near real time, space, air, manned, unmanned, ground and sea, so when we attack the problem everyone knows about it. The fires are directed to be able to overwhelm the enemy before they even know what’s going on.”

As for future systems, the three mentioned current work developing hypersonic weapons as an example of multi-domain interoperability.

“The Army and the Navy had come up with a shell they were able to get to hypersonic speed, 5 times the speed of sound, and maneuver it,” Wilson said. “Ours didn’t work, but what we had were rocket engines that were better than the ones they have developed.”

A range of hyper velocity projectiles from different weapon systems. BAE Systems Image

Wilson explained that now being developed is a Navy-funded, Army-tested shell weapon with an Air Force rocket motor. The Air Force will be able to drop it from a plane, the Army will launch it from land, and the Navy can fire it from the sea.

“By working together, we stripped five years out of the proving time for hypersonic weapons,” Wilson said.

Now is the time to develop new weapons, said Mark Esper, secretary of the Army said. The military doesn’t have a choice since adversaries such as China and Russia are already modernizing. For example, both nations are also pursuing hypersonic weapons systems.

“If we’re not able to make that shift from legacy to the future, we will lose that next war,” Esper said.

Ben Werner

Ben Werner

Ben Werner is a staff writer for USNI News. He has worked as a freelance writer in Busan, South Korea, and as a staff writer covering education and publicly traded companies for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., Savannah Morning News in Savannah, Ga., and Baltimore Business Journal. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from New York University.

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