Navy Committed Netted Sensors and Weapons to Support Future Fights

November 21, 2019 3:53 PM
The sun sets behind the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) on June 3, 2019. US Navy Photo

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy is making integration of ships, planes, sensors and weapons a priority going forward and is in the requirements-writing stage of development an integrated combat system, two requirements officers said today.

Rear Adm. Gene Black, the director of surface warfare on the chief of naval operations’ staff (OPNAV N96), said at the American Society of Naval Engineers’ annual Combat Systems Symposium that today’s ability to pass information from sensors to operators at sea to fleet commanders ashore is not happening “at the speed of warfare.”

Black noted that Commander of Naval Air Forces Vice Adm. De Wolfe Miller told him and other aviation flag officers during his last tour – as the commander of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group – that the weapon they fight with is the system of systems throughout the Navy.

“It’s every ship, it’s every radar, it’s every airplane, it’s every weapon. And if we don’t optimize every one of them, the margin of victory is so slim right now we risk defeat. That’s how I approached strike group command, and that’s how I am approaching push I’m making on my team to develop the requirements for an integrated combat system,” he said.
“We have to have the ability for that operator, when he looks at that track, to have confidence – whether it’s coming from an unmanned vehicle 200 miles away – that it’s the same thing they’re seeing on a cruiser, the same thing they’re seeing in TSCC (Top Secret Control Channels), the same thing that’s displayed in the Maritime Ops Center.”

All those leaders, from the cruiser to the strike group to the fleet commander, should also have a level of awareness that extends to what sensor is doing the tracking and therefore what its limitations might be; and what weapon is most appropriate to go after the threat, so it’s effective but not wasting a costly high-end weapon to defeat a less-capable target.

While leaders at sea might have access to this information, those at the Maritime Operations Center (MOC) ashore see a lag in getting those details, Black said. He wants everyone at all levels to have access to the same information in real time “so we can make good, sensible decisions and husband our weapons wisely against the threat. Or not react at all, if that’s the most prudent case, depending on the mission.”

“We should be able to, with this level of technology, what I’m seeing in my carrier should be available in the MOC in real time so that when I tell a fleet commander, ‘these are my intentions and I’m engaging here,’ he or she can look at it and go, absolutely, and I’m moving this or that or whatever the case may be to support you,” Black later added.
“We deserve better information to the decision-maker. The information is there, somewhere; we’re just not getting it in the right hands at the right speed.”

Black said the Navy is writing the requirement for an integrated combat system that would give a common operating picture to leaders at sea and ashore, as well as integrate in information from different kinds of sensors and use that to support both hard-kill and soft-kill responses from the Navy. He said he’s working with the Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems, the deputy chief of naval operations for warfare systems (OPNAV N9) and the deputy chief of naval operations for information warfare (OPNAV N2/N6), and though the problem won’t be solved during his tour as N96, he said he’s hoping to make some good progress linking sensors and other sources of intelligence and data, lethal and nonlethal countermeasures and a range of levels of command.

Bigger picture, Director for Warfare Integration (OPNAV N9I) Rear Adm. Dan Fillion said at the same event that the Navy is striving to integrate the whole force to support distributed maritime operations and conflict in a near-peer environment.

A run-through of “what we need to win” during his presentation includes the amphibious force, the submarine force, mine warfare and mine countermeasures communities, combat logistics and more. While much effort has been put into creating and strengthening the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) structure for the carrier strike group force, other communities in the Navy have been left out of previous efforts.

For example, former Director of Expeditionary Warfare (OPNAV N95) Maj. Gen. David Coffman drafted an Amphibious Warship Evolution Plan last year that would focus on command and control (C2) and communications upgrades to amphibs to help bring them – and the Marine units with F-35B Joint Strike Fighters – into the Navy network. Though other Navy leaders spoke of the need to make these upgrades when asked about the plan, they acknowledged the challenge of squeezing it into the budget amid competing priorities, and the budget request for this current year did not reflect the plan’s priorities.

Though the specifics of what investments will be made in these other communities are still unclear, Fillion made his commitment clear.

“We are going to do things differently, we are going to do things in a completely netted environment. … We have the weaponry to go a lot farther than we’re able to do because of the sensors,” he said. Earlier in his speech, he noted that Chinese anti-ship missiles DF-26 and DF-21 can extend from mainland China out to the second- and first-island chains, respectively. While U.S. forces will need to be comfortable operating within these weapons engagement zones, the distance of U.S. weapons will also be important in this environment, and limiting the weapons due to limitations of the sensors won’t serve the forces well.

Overall, Fillion said his four priorities are long-range targeting, which will require these netted sensors; a universal common operating picture, in a nod to the work Black is doing; combat logistics; and mining.

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is the former deputy editor for USNI News.

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