Category Archives: Tactical Concepts

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Maritime Cryptology at the Crossroads

After more than a decade of land war and a desire to rebalance to Asia, America’s Navy finds itself smaller, and in many ways weaker in certain respects. One area that should be of great concern is the current practice and future of maritime cryptology.

Cryptology at sea was proven decisive during World War II, beginning with the battle at Midway and the breaking of the Japanese naval code “JN25.”[i] Equally important was the allied program that cracked the German Enigma machines, “Ultra,” especially those used by the German Navy. Winston Churchill famously remarked to King George VI that, “It was thanks to Ultra that we won the war.”[ii]

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(A selection of seven Enigma machines and paraphernalia exhibited at the USA’s National Cryptologic Museum. From left to right, the models are: 1) Commercial Enigma; 2) Enigma T; 3) Enigma G; 4) Unidentified; 5) Luftwaffe (Air Force) Enigma; 6) Heer (Army) Enigma; 7) Kriegsmarine (Naval) Enigma—M4.)[iii]
Throughout the ensuring Cold War until the fall of the Berlin Wall, naval cryptology played a vital role in meeting national and tactical intelligence requirements. America gained deep insight and understanding of Soviet and Warsaw Pact allied naval operations and was able to obtain priceless strategic intelligence through collection missions operated by the U.S. Navy. The end of the Cold War, ensuing strategic drift and drawdown was shattered by the terrorist attack of 9/11, yet even in the midst of a worldwide “Global War on Terror,” the pressure remained to cut the naval force. Today, the Navy is at its smallest point since World War I. For the Navy to conduct its maritime cryptology mission, it must have presence in the littorals, especially in key strategic areas of the Western Pacific, Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf and the Mediterranean and elsewhere. A smaller Navy with fewer platforms means the Navy is not always where it needs to be and when it needs to be there.

The hope was that through force shaping, automation and remote operations, maritime cryptology could continue to thrive in an ever more complex electromagnetic (EM) environment. Adversarial communications have become far more challenging to detect, exploit and prosecute. The Radio Frequency (RF) environment of today is incredibly complex, with tactical, strategic and data communication links operating in all areas of the spectrum and often at frequencies with a very low probability to intercept. Modern encryption techniques have evolved from mechanical electronics to the use of quantum mechanics.[iv]

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The effects of force shaping, automation and remote operations are beginning to take their toll on the tradecraft of maritime cryptology. Today’s junior Sailors and officers have had their training time cut in order to meet growing operational demands on a shrinking Navy. To be successful in the art of cryptology – and it is a practiced art – one must have a deep understanding of the fundamentals of radio signal transmission as well as more than a passing familiarity with the collection equipment. A junior cryptologic technician and junior officer should be able to draw a basic transmitter-receiver diagram and trace the origin of a signal from its original state, such as voice or data, through the transmitter, across a medium and into the collection gear and the operator’s ears. Foundational knowledge required that the basic operator have a working knowledge of the equipment and be able to perform diagnostic and troubleshooting tasks in the event of a malfunction. Finally, operators and junior officers must understand the process of signal intelligence reporting to the tactical unit at sea (indications and warning intelligence) as well as to the national signal intelligence system.

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At the same time, emerging cyberspace communication networks place entirely new pressures on maritime cryptology. Modern communication, command, control and information sharing are a “network of networks,” an “Internet of things” that require new skill sets and new acquisition and exploitation technologies. Yet the complexity of data systems and volume of data being passed is growing exponentially, outpacing our acquisition and procurement capability. The Navy has tried to mitigate this by relying on commercial off-the-shelf technology (COTS) but this entails its own set of problems. COTS technology must be compatible with legacy systems – some more than twenty years old and built on architecture and code from the late 1980s and early 1990s – and it relies on bandwidth levels that are not always available and reliable. We often find out the hard way that equipment which works well in the sterile lab environment is not up to the task of performing reliably at sea under arduous conditions.

Maritime cryptology is at a cross roads. We must return to the fundamentals of signal intelligence at the same time we are trying to realize the potential of cyberspace operations at sea. This will require a renewed commitment to recruitment and training, and for many middle grade and senior enlisted cryptologic technicians and officers, it means new formal training. Right now, senior enlisted and officers are being asked to take leadership roles in an emerging cyberspace operations field for which they are receiving inadequate or no formal training. We must reconsider recruitment of new junior Sailors and officers who have the background skills, education and knowledge and provide them a career path that emphasizes cryptologic expertise across the spectrum, from “traditional” signals intelligence to modern wireless exploitation. This career path must be grounded in recognizing that maritime cryptology is more art than science, and to become proficient and experienced, one must practice.

The author would like to thank CDR Kevin Ernest who kindly provided his thoughts on the challenges of modern maritime cryptology.

LT Robert “Jake” Bebber is an information warfare officer assigned to the staff of U.S. Cyber Command. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent those of the Department of Defense, the Department of the Navy or U.S. Cyber Command. He welcomes your comments at jbebber@gmail.com.

[i] http://www.navy.mil/midway/how.html

[ii] http://www.history.co.uk/study-topics/history-of-ww2/code-breaking

[iii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enigma_machine#cite_note-9

[iv] http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2012/11/20/quantum-cryptography-at-the-end-of-your-road/

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Attrition, Maneuver, and Air Sea Battle

Since the development of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Air Sea Battle concept (ASB) became public knowledge, discussion of its merits has proliferated faster than you can say “multi-axis saturation attack by advanced precision-guided munitions.” (That’s still reasonably fast, I promise.) Many analysts have debated ASB’s implications for alliance politics, U.S. strategy, force structure, and crisis stability, among other topics. Several have proposed well-reasoned alternative concepts intended to address ASB’s limitations. Few, however, have asked whether or not ASB is likely to work at the operational level of war.

One tool available for addressing this question is military and naval theory. Though prominent in the debate surrounding doctrinal changes that led to AirLand Battle in the 1980s, theory has recently taken a back seat in discussion of Air Sea Battle. [1] Placing ASB in context in the realm of military thought enables us to examine the concept’s underlying logic. Theory isolates the key mechanisms of victory or defeat out of the mass of detail to be found in the history of warfare. In doing so, it provides a guide for how—not what—to think when developing operational concepts for application to specific present and future scenarios.

Good theory, grounded in history, is a point of reference. Where an operational concept or its key assumptions deviate from theory, developers should look to specific technological and tactical circumstances of the case to determine whether these deviations are appropriate. This permits informed decisions about departures made from what naval historian Julian S. Corbett termed the “beaten track” of successful precedent.

For example, any operational concept predicated on “dominant battlespace knowledge,” rather than Clausewitzian fog and friction, would receive special scrutiny from a theoretical perspective. Similarly, theory would cast doubt on concepts like Effects-Based Operations, which assume—contrary to historical evidencethat political will can be directly targeted by kinetic effects. In both cases, the validity of the concept would depend not whether it agreed with theory but on whether the unprecedented capabilities or causal relationships the concept required could be realized.

Two paradigms in military theory are attrition and maneuver. Like the wave and particle models of electromagnetic radiation, the applicability of each to a given situation depends on context. The context for ASB is the (re-)appearance of the anti-access/ area-denial (A2/AD) network (nee reconnaissance-strike complex) composed of a variety of weapons and sensors distributed over a wide geographic area, and linked together for mutual support. Specifically, ASB is intended to serve as a general guide to how a strike campaign against such an A2/AD network would be best conducted in order to secure U.S. maritime forces freedom to operate in the context of war.

Published accounts of ASB suggest the concept is all about attrition. That’s a good thing. This line of thinking emphasizes things that matter in maritime wars: minimizing operational risk and ensuring favorable combat-loss exchange ratios.

Open-source assessments of the capability of potential adversaries suggest that high-risk approaches associated with maneuver theory would be prohibitively costly. That ASB eschews this type of risk is grounds for confidence in the path the concept’s development is taking.

Attrition vs. Maneuver

Maneuver theory sees victory as the result of destroying the enemy’s cohesion. In this view, making decisions faster than the enemy allows friendly forces to seize and hold the initiative. Maneuver theory posits enemy dispositions composed of distinguishable strong and weak points. Separated from one another by time and space, these represent potentialnon-cooperative centers of gravity.” Exploiting these weaknesses depends on “reconnaissance pull,” or the direction of attacks by organic reconnaissance assets, rather than higher command. Rapid, unpredictable attacks against enemy vulnerabilities produces psychological and organizational collapse, preventing effective cooperation between segments of the enemy force. [2] 

In contrast, attrition theory prescribes victory through the cumulative destruction of the enemy’s material strength. For attritionists, battle can further at least one of two ends—physically destroying the enemy’s fighting power, and breaking his will to resist. This school of thought emphasizes that one’s own military strength and political will are also at risk in battle. This produces a tactical focus, or a search for methods to maximize the adversary’s losses while minimizing one’s own.

Where maneuver looks to dispersion of forces to confuse and disorient the enemy, attrition tends to favor concentration for effectiveness. This view is reflected in the logic of the Lanchester Square Law: the more firepower massed against the enemy, the faster and cheaper the victory. 

At the heart of ASB is the “Networked, Integrated, Attack-In-Depth” to “Disrupt, Destroy, and Defeat” (NIA-D3) enemy A2/AD networks. NIA-D3 aims to win the “salvo competition” by attacking both the sensor and shooter components of A2/AD networks, reducing their effectiveness. On land, NIA-D3 targets integrated air defense systems (IADS), theater ballistic missile sites, command and control nodes, and long-range sensors. At sea, anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare efforts would destroy cruise missile-armed surface ships and submarines. In the air, tactical aircraft—initially operating from distant bases and aircraft carriers at standoff distance—would attack long-range airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms as well as enemy fighters and bombers.

What all these provisions have in common is a focus on maximizing tactical advantage in every battle, and ensuring U.S. forces take much less punishment than they deal out over an extended period of time. Although CSBA’s report identifies certain high-value targets—especially over-the-horizon targeting radar sites and command centers—neither the DoD or CSBA accounts of ASB envision causing the systemic collapse of a robust A2/AD network. ASB envisions the defeat of enemy A2/AD networks through cumulative erosion of their capabilities, not causing their sudden collapse by attacking their cohesion. 

Theory Meets Reality

Maneuver theory appears a poor guide to addressing A2/AD challenges. There are two reasons a maneuver-style campaign would be a poor choice. First, reconnaissance-strike complexes do not share the same vulnerabilities as adversaries organized along the lines of 20th-century conventional forces. Second, the decentralized command and control system required by maneuver theory would be unable to cope with the scale and interconnectedness of an advanced A2/AD network.

Central to maneuver theory is the proposition that rapid attacks against isolated points of weakness can disorient the enemy, causing the fragmentation and systemic breakdown of the ability to resist or counterattack. This assumption appears inapplicable to a sophisticated reconnaissance-strike complex like that visualized in open-source accounts of ASB.

The imperative of decision speed requires the decentralization of command authority through “mission-type” or “objective” orders. Maneuver advocates admit that this “inherently results in diffuse operations.” [3]

First, the inherent and self-imposed ISR limits of maneuver forces will require them to accept greater losses in searching for appropriate targets. Second, capable adversaries will concentrate defenses around key A2/AD network nodes. Third, the nature of a theater-sized reconnaissance-strike complex—a network characterized by the mutual support and redundancy of many components–suggests that its wholesale collapse would be difficult to achieve.

Decentralized control is integral to maneuver concepts, which require tactical commanders to discover enemy weaknesses by reconnaissance pull. The limited view provided by tactical ISR, however, will be insufficient for attacks on dispersed reconnaissance-strike complexes. Tactical ISR platforms would soon become priority targets for a capable adversary defending itself against a maneuver-style operation. Only higher echelons seem likely to have the resources to form and support the comprehensive “picture” of a theater-sized battlespace. Given the complexity and dispersal of integrated air defense systems (IADS), among other high-value military targets, such a picture seems necessary for adequate battle damage assessment.

In searching for weakness, a maneuver-inspired operational concept would run into strength. As amply demonstrated in the course of Operations ALLIED FORCE and DESERT STORM, IADS components and missile launchers can exploit terrain, mobility, and controlled emissions, making such searches time-consuming. [4] To minimize the risk advanced surface-to-air and anti-ship cruise missiles pose to the tactical aircraft and surface combatants that shoulder much of the strike mission, the time available for future Scud Hunts will be necessarily reduced.

Against continental adversaries with the ability to exploit buried fiber-optic communications, generating “non-cooperative centers of gravity” seems a tall order. It seems likely that capable adversaries will guard key nodes in reconnaissance-strike complexes—long-range sensors and C2 sites—reducing the possibility that surprise could compensate for dispersion in securing a favorable outcome in a given engagement.

Battle networks are designed for mutual support between their component systems. One example is the typical integrated air defense system (IADS). In such systems, the vulnerabilities of long-range tracking radar to low-altitude threats are mitigated by short-range radar and anti-air artillery systems placed to guard against such approaches. 

So if ASB is an attrition concept, and an attrition mindset is the right one to deal with A2/AD challenges, is ASB in keeping with the precedent of previously successful attrition campaigns? While no definitive answer is possible, there are reasons for confidence on this score. Successful attrition campaigns of the past, such as U.S. Army GEN Matthew Ridgway’s “limited objective attacks” in the Korean War, have consistently maintained a focus on minimizing losses as the best way to deliver the maximum damage over time.[5]  

In naval warfare, purely tactical advantages—tactical surprise and the concentration of firepower— have produced favorable loss-exchange ratios. [6] The cumulative destruction of Imperial Japan’s fleet played a central role in inducing that country’s surrender. It did so through the effects of defeat on Japan’s national leadership as well as indirectly through permitting the capture of the Marianas as forward air bases for a strategic bombing campaign. [7]

For generations of military leaders and analysts reared on tales of World War I’s Western Front and U.S. Army GEN William Westmoreland’s search-and-destroy operations in Vietnam, “attrition” may be something of a dirty word. Yet it appears an attrition mindset—that appearing in ASB—is the right one for tackling advanced A2/AD networks.

Critics argue that ASB is not a useful concept because it emphasizes the erosion of the enemy’s conventional forces and largely ignores questions of escalation and political will. [8]

Yet—unfashionable though it might be to say—killing people and breaking stuff can pay political dividends. The increased cost and length of time required to acquire major platforms and weapons systems suggests their importance as a source of strategic leverage has also grown. If potential adversaries cannot fight a conventional conflict without confronting the likelihood of losing, rather than gaining, military strength relative to the United States and its allies, a potential threat to stability will recede. ASB may yet play a role in bringing about this favorable scenario.

ENS Adam Humayun is a graduate of The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and has completed coursework at Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program. The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not represent those of the U.S. Navy, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

[1] Edward N. Luttwak, “The Operational Level of War,” International Security vol. 5 no. 3 (Winter 1980-1981): 61-79; Edward N. Luttwak, “Attrition, Relational Maneuver, and the Military Balance,” International Security vol. 8 no. 2 (Autumn 1983): 176-179; John J. Mearsheimer, “Maneuver, Mobile Defense, and the NATO Central Front,” International Security vol. 6 no. 3 (Winter 1981-1982): 104-122.

[2] William S. Lind, Maneuver Warfare Handbook (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1985 (5-6). See also Boyd’s Patterns of Conflict presentation (hyperlinked in paragraph).

[3] Robert R. Leonhard, “Maneuver Warfare and the U.S. Army,” in Richard D. Hooker, ed. Maneuver Warfare: An Anthology (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1993), 42-56 (45).

[4] Arend G. Westra, “Radar Versus Stealth: Passive Radar and the Future of U.S. Military Power,” Joint Force Quarterly no. 55 (October 2009): 136-143; Benjamin S. Lambeth, “Reflections on the Balkan Air Wars,” Air Power History, Spring 2010: 31-43.

[5] Carter Malkasian, “Towards a Better Understanding of Attrition: The Korean and Vietnam Wars,” Journal of Military History vol. 68 no. 3: 911-942 (918-928, 939).

[6] Wayne P. Hughes, Jr. Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2000) 40-44, 193-202.

[7] Robert A. Pape, “Why Japan Surrendered,” International Security vol. 18 no. 2 (Fall 1993): 154-201.

[8] See among others Thomas P.M. Barnett, “Big-War Thinking in a Small-War Era: The Rise of the Air-Sea Battle Concept,” China Security vol. 6 no. 3 (8-9).

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Sea Control 32 – Naval Escorts (East Atlantic)

seacontrolemblemAlex Clarke hosts Sea Control’s East Atlantic Edition from Phoenix Think Tank. He discusses Naval Escorts with CDR Paul Fisher (RN, Ret) and CIMSEC associate editor Chris Stockdale.

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 32 – Naval Escorts (East Atlantic)

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070426-N-0000X-001PACIFIC OCEAN (April 26, 2007) - A Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) is launched from the Aegis-class guided missile cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG 70), during a joint Missile Defense Agency, U.S. Navy ballistic missile flight test. Approximately three minutes later, the SM-3 intercepted a unitary (non-separating) ballistic missile threat target, launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Barking Sands, Kauai, Hawaii. Within moments of this launch, the USS Lake Erie also launched a Standard Missile-2 (SM-2) against a hostile air target in order to defend herself. The test was the eighth intercept, in 10 program flight tests. The test was designed to show the capability of the ship and its crew to conduct ballistic missile defense and at the same time defend herself. This test also marks the 27th successful hit-to-kill intercept in tests since 2001. U.S. Navy photo (RELEASED)

Surface Warfare: Lynchpin of Naval Integrated Air/Missile Defense

“Events of October 1962 indicated, as they had all through history, that control of the sea means security. Control of the seas can mean peace. Control of the seas can mean victory. The United States must control the seas if it is to protect your security….”

- President John F. Kennedy, 6 June 1963, on board USS Kitty Hawk.

Introduction- Our Changing World

As America begins its drawdown in Afghanistan and embarks upon the Asia- Pacific rebalance, the U.S. Navy urgently needs to assess its approach to Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) and integrate emerging IAMD capabilities that will enable the fleet to successfully contend with our new reality.  This discussion addresses the high and unforgiving end of the operational spectrum and calls for renewed emphasis on innovation and proficiency in IAMD.  Substantial enhancements in the operational concepts and offensive warfighting capabilities of near peer competitors significantly shift the operational environment. In light of emerging capabilities and in order to maintain combat advantage, especially in the areas of tactical thought and doctrine development, we will accrue great benefits with a re-immersion into the art and science of IAMD.

What Has Changed?  Back to the Future

The operational environment and technology that drove the need for innovation and proficiency in air warfare during the Cold War belong to a fleeting past  only a few active duty Sailors can recall.  Yet, the emerging challenges we face today mirror those faced not only a generation ago, when advances in warfighting technology demanded both technical and tactical innovation. Once again, we must master sophisticated threats and tactics in the aerospace domain.

The blue-water operational environment of the Cold War, relatively uncluttered by land mass reflections, dense commercial air traffic, and threats from non-state actors, envisioned a battle thick with hostile aircraft, surface combatants, and submarines launching saturation cruise missile attacks.  Especially in the 1980s, AW tactics evolved rapidly to keep pace with advances in both air threats and fleet air defense capabilities.  A well-organized spectrum of training, from classrooms ashore to advanced fleet exercises with allies, maintained tactical proficiency and often included proficiency firings of all AAW capable weapon systems.  While generally confined to the carrier battle group, some excursions ventured into multi-battle group combined operations.  Manual tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) perfected by frequent drill and regular live fire exercises achieved high degrees of proficiency and integration.

 A syndicate of naval officers renowned for their expertise in air defense came of age with the proliferation of ‘G’ (guided missile) ships and reached the pinnacle of their influence in the early days of the AEGIS program.  Commanding a cruiser designated as the Battle Group ‘Alpha Whiskey’ marked the brass ring of a Surface Warfare career.

The demise of the Soviet Union began a period without a credible naval competitor and the following thirteen years of fleet operations primarily focused on support for strike, counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism.  The Fleet’s warfighting emphasis migrated from the primary sea-control missions of the Cold War to contemporary operations in the littorals and resulted in a drift away from a fleet-wide emphasis on air defense.   Anti-piracy, maritime interdiction, strike, and other operations in support of land operations prevailed.  Absent pressing credible threats, few ships distinguished themselves in this particular warfare area.

With our focus elsewhere, technology enabled the development of increasingly sophisticated threats and countermeasures.  Today’s cruise missile threats are stealthy, extremely fast, and can be employed at great ranges, using multiple independent seekers and dramatic terminal maneuvers.  The full range of ballistic missiles display similar capabilities, in addition to being longer range, widely dispersed, and capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction.  Mobile launchers that quickly relocate and change launch axis, and theater ballistic missiles that dispense decoys and obscurants allow more capable adversaries to present daunting threats. In essence, ballistic missiles have become an asymmetric air force.

Finally, small, slow and numerous reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicles, intrusive cyber capabilities, and space based surveillance now threaten presumed net-centric advantages. We seldom contemplate the major or total loss of supporting information networks.  In most A2AD scenarios, these threats will impede the freedom of access and action of commercial shipping, naval forces, and defended assets ashore and hold them at risk of damage.

In response, we have fielded an impressive array of material solutions.  The AEGIS Weapon System remains the world’s preeminent air defense system and is evolving to include advanced IAMD capabilities.  Today our navy has thirty cruisers and destroyers capable of conducting Ballistic Missile Defense with additional ships undergoing installation and certification.  Additionally, if properly employed with the right tactics, Navy Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA), the next variant of the Standard Missile family (SM-6), the E-2D with Cooperative Engagement Capability and 5th generation F-35 fighter aircraft will be IAMD game changers.

The emergence of these quantum leap capabilities compels us to re-evaluate how we train, maintain, command, control, and employ these forces.  Efficient and effective command and control (C2) of IAMD forces ensures that we employ these new capabilities to their maximum effectiveness, which requires moving beyond the C2 approach under which we currently operate.

Fighting multiple engagements in today’s fight is likely.  We will achieve success by developing innovative C2 based on rigorous experimentation by the Aviation and Surface Warfare communities using both high fidelity simulation and fleet wargames.  The initial NIFC-CA CONOPS is currently under stakeholder review and will require testing and refinement as we deliver the tactics, techniques and procedures needed to exploit our new IAMD capabilities.  In this process, we need to apply the focus, rigor, and innovation, which enabled us to master AAW in the 1980s.

Starting at the Beginning: Warfighting Expertise

The complexity of this mission boggles the mind, spanning the warfighting spectrum from strategic defense against intercontinental ballistic missiles to defeating small, slow, drones with nothing more than a camera and a radio transmitter as their main battery.

We already possess formidable IAMD capabilities and even more potent ones are on the way.  In order to exploit these systems, there must be a relevant operational vision, a concept of operations, and updated tactics, techniques and procedures and a cadre of experts who understand the employment of joint and combined IAMD capabilities against current and emerging threats.   All of these begin with the operational idea of gaining and maintaining air superiority in the vicinity of defended assets at sea and ashore.

The inherent mobility, persistence and responsiveness of naval forces to conduct IAMD have never been more relevant.  More than ever, naval officers must think in terms of surface forces as the nucleus of IAMD forces in both developing and mature Theaters.  They must also view naval IAMD in the context of joint and combined operations.

The effort required to formulate the tactics to employ emerging capabilities is already underway in a series of wargames sponsored by Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command.  Operationally experienced SWOs and aviators are collaborating to develop innovative tactics for these advanced weapons systems.  We require pioneering naval officers to master 21st century warfighting technology, discard outdated ideas, and generate, sometimes from scratch, the tactics, techniques and procedures essential for effective employment of new weapons systems.  

A philosophy of mission command lies at the heart of this innovation.  Mission command’s three elements of trust, understanding and commander’s intent are perfectly suited to high end IAMD.  The principle understanding demands not only the “I know my wingman so well, I know what he will do next” but also, “I know this system of systems so well, I know what it will not do next.”  Highly structured and static command and control fails to optimize the new systems’ agility and full design potential.

Air Warfare has for the past 20 years been a highly scripted undertaking, yet, the modern IAMD operational environment is ill-suited to scripted solutions, and the nature of the IAMD mission demands trust in and understanding of the capabilities of the other participants in the IAMD Fight.  This will come as the result of an increased emphasis on experimentation, wargaming and integration.

Because complex new IAMD systems rely on precise technical and operational integration and a high degree of proficiency and teamwork, it is becoming increasingly apparent that we must dedicate periods of integrated IAMD training as a crucial part of deployment work-ups.  Commanders, strike leaders, pilots, TAO’s and crews from ships and air wings outfitted with these new IAMD systems must fully integrate.

Many naval officers have strong opinions, often negative, about the relevance of operational doctrine.  Doctrine presents fundamental principles that guide the employment of forces in coordinated and integrated actions toward a common objective.  It promotes a common perspective from which to plan, train, and conduct military operations and represents what is taught, believed and advocated as what works best.  It provides distilled insights and wisdom gained from employing the military instruments of national power in operations to achieve national objectives. [1]

Over the last 15 years, the lack of a pressing air threat and the reduction of commands dedicated to doctrine hindered the normal doctrine update cycle.  During this same period, the advent of ballistic missile defense, the rapid deployments of U.S. and adversary capabilities, and the introduction of IAMD as an operational concept, rendered much of the existing doctrine obsolete.  While the Navy Air and Missile Defense Command (NAMDC) and the Surface Tactics Development Group have taken steps toward improving the situation, the Navy is at a disadvantage in trying to formally articulate its IAMD equities in joint and combined arenas.  This sophistication of IAMD in this new age and the revolutionary capabilities described in the next section demand updated doctrine.

We must do better.

In a significant and profound step, the Surface Warfare community launched a commitment to develop expertise in IAMD.  NAMDC established a 19-week course that will deliver subject matter experts to the Fleet.  The IAMD Weapons Tactics Instructor (WTI) course focuses on the advanced IAMD training for individuals with the goal of improving unit level and strike group proficiency in IAMD.  Candidates will be challenged, as they become experts in the latest capabilities, TTP’s, training strategies and threats.  As the IAMD WTIs begin to reach the Fleet, their influence will extend well beyond the lifelines and impact both Fleet and Joint Operations.

Our Center for Surface Combat Systems and Afloat Training Groups developed Advanced Warfare Training (AWT) for all AEGIS ships.  AWT consists of multi-week classroom and hands on system training with individual watchstander and team training in a scenario environment.  This is a critical step in AEGIS baseline training, ensuring shipboard competency and improved performance executing the IAMD mission.

Capability to Defeat the Threat

AEGIS Wholeness – Sustaining the World’s Best Weapon System

The AEGIS Weapons System (AWS) remains the finest and most advanced IAMD system ever put to sea.  In 2011, the Navy initiated AEGIS Wholeness, a no-holds-barred approach to improving AEGIS Readiness.  Many facets comprised this effort: Interoperability, Technical Support, Logistics, Type Commander sponsored SPY radar maintenance program, replacement of high failure SPY parts, and a revival of the SM-2 Fleet Firing Program. Impressive gains realized over the past two years include, increasing operational availability of deployed ships to over 96%.  There is simply no substitute for continuous attention to the details of AWS material readiness.  The effectiveness of the AWS strongly depends on how conscientious Captains and crews are about its material readiness.

Navy BMD – From Pioneering Capability to Primary Mission

Over the past decade, Navy Ballistic Missile Defense grew from a pioneering vision to a National Defense mission.   Given the proliferation of ballistic missile described above, BMD garners the highest priority maritime missions of Combatant Commanders and as a result, AEGIS BMD ships have the highest optempo in the fleet.  BMD is an inherently joint mission and AEGIS BMD ships (and soon, AEGIS Ashore) frequently integrate into the Ballistic Missile Defense System, a globally distributed and highly integrated combat system with elements from all the services and Functional and Geographic Combatant Commanders.  As complex as BMD technology already is, radar and missiles continue to grow in sophistication.  Mastery of the BMD mission requires sequential assignments at sea and ashore.  Additionally, BMD Specialty Career Path officers are a start, but we must increase our cadre of BMD experienced Sailors at sea.

Revolution at Sea: No Kidding, Truly Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD)

Our newest AEGIS Baseline 9 represents our first true IAMD AEGIS Combat System computer program.  Unlike previous BMD computer programs which had either AAW or BMD, both functionalities in Baseline 9 now reside in a single Combat Systems computer program.  This combat system program is being tested in USS JOHN PAUL JONES (DDG 53).  One of the key features of this baseline is the Multi-Mission Signal Processor (MMSP), which allows operators to dynamically allocate radar resources in response to specific threats.

The most notable feature of Baseline 9 is the ability to conduct “integrated fires.”  Integrated fires can occur between ships and between aircraft, but the most complex variant is NIFC-CA.  NIFC-CA employs ships and aircraft to consummate missile engagements beyond the radar horizon.  This execution is operational rocket science. Those who master it will be identified as the best and brightest.

What we must change – Culture and Focus

The U.S. Navy is developing and putting to sea revolutionary IAMD capabilities with the potential to be credible deterrents to war and if necessary, decisive factors in battle.  However, in order to exploit these incredible advantages, Surface Warriors must embrace the art and science of IAMD.  As sophisticated as they may be, these sophisticated weapons will require the sharpest operational minds using the best new tactics flowing from the crucibles of experimentation in stressing virtual warfare simulation and realistic fleet exercises.

Developing a career long vocation as an IAMD expert must not be viewed as professionally stifling.  Like other specialties, the IAMD mission is so incredibly broad, deep and complex, that it takes a significant amount of education, training, and experience for any officer to master.  This is a professional commitment to which young officers must commit and senior officers must foster.  The Weapons Tactics Instructor program initiated by NAMDC is a step in the right direction.

While individual training provided ashore and within the lifelines Advanced Warfare Training are first important steps, we must redesign and revitalize our IAMD training for the Air and Missile Defense Commander (AMDC) and supporting elements within the Strike Group.  This includes building block courses prior to the Warfare Commander’s Conference for the IAMD team.  Putting NIFC-CA, SM-6, AEGIS Baseline 9, CEC, E-2D and F-35 to sea demands that we assemble Strike Group Staffs, ship crews and Air Wing personnel for significant, dedicated planning and integration periods to develop the mutual trust and the deep understanding of system capabilities and commander’s intent essential to successful operations.

These efforts, though significant, are not enough.  We must start to live and breathe Integrated Air and Missile Defense.  IAMD must become the first, the last and the many in between thoughts of the Surface Warrior’s professional day.

 

CAPT Jim Kilby is the Deputy for Ballistic Missile Defense, AEGIS Combat Systems and Destroyers in the Surface Warfare Directorate (N96).  He commanded USS RUSSELL (DDG 59) and USS MONTEREY (CG 61).  In MONTEREY, he deployed as the first ship to support the European Phased Adaptive Approach for Ballistic Missile Defense.



[1] Joint Electronic Library – http//www.dtic.mil/doctrine/new_pubs/jpintpub.htm

 

droneaspi

A New Kind of Drone War: UCAV vs UCLASS

This article was originally posted by with our partners at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI’s) The Strategist.

The Australian government recently approved the acquisition of a fleet of US Navy Triton surveillance drones to patrol our oceans. Australia has mostly used Israeli drones to date, such as the Herons in Afghanistan. So as we dip our toes into the American UAV market, it’s worth taking note of a recent development that might be threatening US primacy in this area.

While the Predator and Reaper laid the groundwork for the use of armed drones in warfare, a question remains about the survivability of the technology against modern air defences. Developing a stealthy long-range drone with a decent weapons payload that could go beyond missions in Yemen and Pakistan appeared to be the next order of business for the US, especially in the future Asia-Pacific theatre. Projects like the demonstrator X-47B unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) have shown promise in achieving those missions. But for now the US Navy has decided to go for an unmanned carrier-launched surveillance and strike (UCLASS) system that won’t have the stealth or payload to penetrate air defences.

The UCLASS system will be designed to provide Navy carriers with long-range surveillance and strike capabilities to target terrorists in much the same way as the Air Force’s drones are currently doing from bases around the world. The capacity to carry out those missions without relying on foreign bases is driving this decision, along with lower costs. But the UCLASS system will only operate over states that have limited air defences (because of UCLASS vulnerability) or have provided the US permission to conduct strikes. Al-Qaeda affiliates are on the rise in Syria, where the Assad regime is both hostile toward the US and has the capability to deny drones. This raises the question of how many states will fit this category.

Consequently, at a program cost of US$3.7 billion, the UCLASS won’t provide the degree of innovation the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (PDF) advocated. This would be money better spent on more research and development (R&D) into a UCAV, which could potentially have greater impact in the future strategic environment. Moreover, the UCLASS would be mostly redundant in Asia, the most strategically important future region for the US. UCAVs, on the other hand, could have an impact in, for example, a future conflict with China. According to Mark Gunzinger and Bryan Clark at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), a UCAV with a range of 2,000kms, broadband stealth, a payload to rival the manned F-35C combat aircraft, and a capacity for aerial refuelling, is achievable. Developing a UCAV that’s survivable is no mean feat, but the US has a good start in terms of support systems and personnel established over the past few decades.

UCAVs would be capable of rapid deployment from carriers, which could stay out of the range of anti-access threats. A persistent surveillance capability that could also strike vital command and control and air defence sites if required could open the way for follow-on operations by manned aircraft. A UCAV would form a valuable part of the US deep strike suite, a key feature of AirSea Battle (PDF). And while losing platforms is never good, drastically reducing risk to personnel is a major incentive, especially early on in a conflict.

China’s an active player in drone development, and the PLA’s R&D investments are another good reason for the US to think carefully about holding off on UCAV development. China’s Sharp Sword UCAV, which was flight-tested in 2013, shows the PLA’s commitment to creating a mix of manned and unmanned combat aircraft. The growing Chinese defence budget (with a reported increase of a 12% this year) could lead to rapid advances in this area.

Funding the UCAV is the big question considering the cuts to the US defence budget; its price-tag would be heftier than the UCLASS. Proponents of the UCAV such as CSBA and the Center for New American Security (CNAS) (PDF), argue that the money could come from decommissioning two (or possibly more) carrier groups. Budget pressures have already seen cuts and deferrals to the carrier force and it would be a big step to cut two more. What’s important in these perspectives, however, is that the UCAV’s stand-off capacity and flexibility could make each carrier more effective. As Michael O’Hanlon pointed out on The Strategist last month, capability should be the metric of adequacy, not dollars or hull numbers.

The UCLASS could be redundant by the time it enters service in 2020, even in the targeted killing missions it’s designed to carry-out. A UCAV, on the other hand, would stretch the envelope in relation to advanced technologies, which would contribute to sustaining US strategic advantage. It would enhance a carrier group’s capability to respond to anti-access threats and it could also be versatile enough to respond to terror threats globally. Unmanned systems show no signs of fading into the background, and even in a tight fiscal environment represent a potentially high payoff for R&D funds.

Rosalyn Turner is an intern at ASPI.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a… plane named for a bird.

Landing Gear is for Pansies

The following is part of Dead Ends Week at CIMSEC, where we pick apart past experiments and initiatives in the hopes of learning something from those that just didn’t quite pan out. See the rest of the posts here

Despite (or possibly, because of) Washington Naval Treaty cutbacks in the 20s and the Depression-induced budget troubles in the 30s, the U.S. Navy experienced quite a period of experimentation during the interwar decades. Without a doubt, the most glamorous example was the airship program, which featured yet another ship called Shenandoah, and culminated in the rigid airships USS Akron and USS Macon (ZRS-4 and ZRS-5).

Imagine riding this up to Fleet Week.
Imagine riding this up to Fleet Week.

But we are not here to talk about those, strictly speaking – we’re here to discuss their parasites. Parasite aircraft, that is. Akron and Macon were flying aircraft carriers, each carrying three or four scout aircraft to serve as the long-range eyes of the fleet below.

The Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk originated in a 1930 Navy requirement for a small carrier-based fighter. It ended up not performing too well in that role, but was retained in service as the only aircraft small enough to fit through the hanger doors of Akron, then under construction.

Here’s the dead end – the truly daring, truly paradigm-shifting dead end. How many planes have you ridden in that possessed some form of landing gear? I trust that it was every single one. So what do you do with a plane that takes off and “lands” via a hook above the fuselage? If you’re the Navy in the 1930s, you ditch the landing gear. No fixed gear, no retractable gear – simply no wheels at all. The Goodyear company would have been very fearful at the lost business, if they weren’t also the ones building the giant ships carrying the tire-less biplanes. All in all, probably a good deal for them.

Hooking into the trapeze aboard the Macon… the parallel parking of the skies.
Hooking into the trapeze aboard the Macon… the parallel parking of the skies.

But aircraft that never kissed ground were not long for this Earth. The Navy’s lighter-than-air fleet followed the general trend of rigid airships, in which they died violent deaths. Akron went down in a storm in the Atlantic (killing Rear Admiral William A. Moffett) in 1933, and Macon went down in the Pacific while operating out of Moffett Field just two years later. Sparrowhawks lost their niche and paradigms were brought back to normal.

Still, it is worth pondering the lesson of the Sparrowhawk. It took something that every single aircraft must have in some form or another, and just did away with it when the need disappeared. It didn’t end up working out – but it deserves to be admired.

Matt McLaughlin is a Navy Reserve lieutenant who doesn’t usually discuss parasites as frankly as he does here. His opinions do not represent the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense or his employer.

Picture 3

‘Drones’ for Peace

Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAs), commonly referred to as ‘drones’, have been the subject of much discussion surrounding potential operations in Syria, primarily in the context of enforcing a ‘no-fly’ zone or enforcement role similar to their role in Libya and modeled after operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen.  This paper examines the prospects of the use of RPAs in Syria, finding RPAs as currently operated today counterproductive to potential political aims in Syria in an enforcement capacity.  Smaller RPAs, operating in a number of other roles, could however play a critical role in overcoming the humanitarian conflict in Syria, from monitoring key sites designated by the International Community and allowed by the Syrian Government and opposition forces, to providing humanitarian aid, to overwatch of convoy movements to include the removal of chemical weapons.  The stigma of RPAs, given their use in other conflicts, must be overcome to allow them to be evaluated and used as a tool for monitoring and aid among other roles, not just as offensive weapons of war.

Following NATO operations in Libya, a number of analysts in the United States spoke of the prospect of applying the ‘Libya Model’ to Syria. In August of 2011, a Washington Post article on the Syria conflict began with the passage “[t]he success of Libya’s rebels in toppling their dictator is prompting calls within the Syrian opposition for armed rebellion and NATO intervention (Sly, 2011).”  That same day, the New York Times ran an article outlining the prospects of such a model being applied elsewhere, noting President Obama’s March 2011 speech outlining principles for humanitarian intervention. In February 2012, Anne Marie Slaughter outlined a strategy for intervention consisting of the creation of ‘no-kill zones’ near the Turkish, Lebanese, and Jordanian borders, the arming of opposition forces to create the zone, and for Turkey and Arab allies to enforce the zones “through the use of remotely piloted helicopters, either for delivery of cargo and weapons — as America has used them in Afghanistan — or to attack Syrian air defenses and mortars in order to protect the no-kill zones (Slaughter, 2012).”

Today, as problems with enforcement of the chemical weapons agreement have bogged down and as the Obama Administration has signaled that the al Nusra Front appears increasingly to be a direct threat to the U.S. (Rohde, 2014), speculation is rising once more that a military option may be back on the table for Syria.  While any military option would be fraught with a number of obstacles to planning, execution, and justification, the semi-regular talk of RPAs as a key instrument in many of these options is especially problematic.  This stems in part from a limited popular understanding of the roles and capabilities of RPAs, and also a lack of imagination by policymakers for other ways in which RPAs could be a positive good, both for warzones like Syria and for other humanitarian crises globally.  A move away from the mythology of the ‘drone’ and toward an appreciation for the spectrum of potential roles unique to RPAs over manned aircraft is vital to understanding how the ‘drone’ will likely play a far greater role as an instrument in peacetime.

Understanding Classes of RPAs

Conflation of the capabilities of strategic RPAs and the proliferation of tactical RPAs clouds RPA discussion.  Just as strategic bombers such as the B-2 represent only one class of aircraft, Predator and Reaper represent only one limited application of RPAs.  Understanding the array of RPAs and differentiating capabilities and limitations of systems is necessary to overcome the stigma of the RPA as a tool of war or assassination, and appreciating its potential uses in humanitarian crises. I divide RPAs as platforms between tactical and strategic RPAs based on their connectivity to their operator, which differentiates those that are reliant on global communications and intelligence infrastructure and are capable of long range, extended duration operations, and those that are more simple locally controlled line-of-sight RPAs.[1]

The strategic requirements and organizational capacity of states and organizations dictate which types of RPAs they will pursue, while the rate and nature of diffusion can be predicted by applying Michael Horowitz’s Adoption-Capacity Theory (Horowitz, 2011).  This theory projects the rate of diffusion of a military innovation by evaluating its costs to implement versus its organizational capacity to adopt the change.  Costs are a factor of the dual-use civilian-military applications of the innovation and the per-unit cost of the asset.  Organizational capacity, meanwhile, is a function of the organization’s age, willingness to experiment, and critical task focus.  The division of RPAs into two categories as previously defined allows us to evaluate both the diffusion of RPA platforms, as well as the potential uses of those platforms given the array of potential users.

Tactical RPAs are likely to rapidly diffuse and see the most independent innovation in terms of their potential usage due to their low cost and the potential for numerous applications beyond the military sphere.  In the U.S., a strong community of RPA enthusiasts already exists that is experimenting with a variety of commercial, recreational, and government applications for smaller RPAs.  Amazon.com received attention earlier this year for their 30-minute RPA delivery plan,[2] but other initiatives are at work to allow citizens to use RPAs to monitor crops, take overhead images for commercial purposes, and to assist in search and rescue for as low as $740 for a single system (Kelly, 2014).  Such small RPAs already play a role in assisting in Search and Rescue missions providing both search and improved communications capability in isolated or hazardous environments (such as fires), and for delivery of small cargo such as heart defibrillators and medicine among other positive uses for such RPAs (Newman, 2013).

Figure 1: Reaper Manning[3]

Picture 1

Strategic RPAs require higher costs both to procure and to operate, which applies both to the unit and to the larger global intelligence and communications system involved in operating the asset.   This results in higher operational costs relative to those of similar piloted airframes if a manned alternative exists.  In examining relative costs, Table 1 shows the problem with conflating the costs of RPAs purchased online with the capabilities of strategic RPAs.  The Global Hawk and U-2 represent the closest to a direct comparison of capabilities,[4] while Table 1 shows the flight-hour cost are roughly comparable.  Given the reachback and precision engagement requirements, the military-only applications of these airframes, and the resulting high per-unit costs these RPAs will be very slow to diffuse and innovation within the class of RPAs will likely be slow and incremental.

Table 1: U-2/RQ-4 Cost Comparison

  Procurement Cost Flight-Hour Cost
U-2 Classified/no longer in production $31,000[5]
Global Hawk (2010) $46.4-80 million $40,600[6]
Global Hawk (2013) $46.4-80 million $18,900

Due to their high costs and the significant infrastructure requirements required to build and operate strategic RPAs, innovation occurs with these RPAs slowly and deliberately, with new innovations regularly referred to as ‘using only proven technology.’[7] This trend can be seen within the U.S. RPA force.  Figure 2 shows the growth of U.S. RPAs, to include target drones, tactical, and strategic reconnaissance RPAs since the 1930s.  Tactical RPAs have adopted across a wider variety of missions and from multiple platforms, as their lower cost and limited operational capacity requirements has enabled both private sector and tactical operations innovations to allow a number of platforms to supplement existing operations.  Strategic RPAs, on the other hand, have slowly evolved from wither the Predator or Reaper families, with the RQ-170 representing likely the baseline of future RPAs merged with the advancing Predator family under the Avenger.

Figure 2: U.S. Military RPA Development

Picture 2

Given this classification of RPAs we are better positioned to evaluate the prospects for RPAs in both peacetime environments and in humanitarian crisis situations.  Traditionally, RPAs in general are categorized as being ideally suited for missions that are ‘dull, dirty, or dangerous.’[8]  However, given the high cost of strategic RPAs, low cost of tactical RPAs, and the capabilities and vulnerability associated with each class of RPA, strategic RPAs are best suited for those missions which can be categorized as ‘dull,’ with tactical RPAs better suited for those which are ‘dirty’ or ‘dangerous.’  ‘Dull’ missions require the lack of a threat and are enhanced by the persistent nature associated with the dwell time of strategic RPAs.  The high cost of strategic RPAs precludes them in many cases from being used in dangerous environments unless deemed absolutely necessary given the risk of loss.  Tactical RPAs, however, are relatively expendable given their low per-unit cost, while in many cases the shorter dwell times associated with these aircraft as well as the shorter range limited by line-of-sight control makes them less optimal for ‘dull’ missions.  They can, however, be fielded by a wide range of actors who are free to innovate a wider variety of uses for the airframes.

Strategic RPAs as Peace Enforcers versus Tactical RPAs as Peace Keepers

Most discussion of RPAs in Syria see RPAs employed in a ‘Peace Enforcement’ mission.  Peace Enforcement is defined by U.S. military doctrine as “[a]pplication of military force, or the threat of its use, normally pursuant to international authorization, to compel compliance with resolutions or sanctions designed to maintain or restore peace and order (Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2012, p. I8).“  This is different from ‘Peacekeeping,’ which U.S. doctrine defines as operations “undertaken with the consent of all major parties to a dispute, designed to monitor and facilitate implementation of an agreement (cease fire, truce, or other such agreement) and support diplomatic efforts to reach a long-term political settlement (Ibid).”

The RPA appears advantageous as it is seen by some as less of a violation of sovereignty than manned aircraft or a ground force.  This is likely due to perceptions of U.S. operations where the U.S. has been accused of violating sovereignty with no recourse or justification.[9]  The realities of RPAs are more complicated however, and the likelihood of tacit Pakistani approval of operations as outlined by David Ignatius in 2008 (Ignatius, 2008) and more recently by the International Crisis Group (Drones: Myths And Reality In Pakistan, 2013) undercuts the likelihood of sovereignty actually being violated and which should in turn serve as a warning to future operations.  If Turkey were concerned that manned flights would constitute a violation of Syrian territory, there should be no reason to believe that Syria would be less justified based on a similar violation by an RPA.

The low speeds, lack of defenses, and mission requirements of extended loiter over a fixed area as Predator and Reaper are generally employed would make them easy targets for a state with an active air defense system and the will to employ it.  Syria maintains a significant, though likely ill-maintained Integrated Air Defense System (IADS) capable of engaging a variety of targets.  The June 2012 shoot-down of a Turkish RF-4 which violated Syrian airspace briefly illustrates Syria’s general willingness to shoot down aircraft in defense of its territory (Times of Israel Staff, 2012). Slaughter attempted to reframe this by saying all forms of intervention must be purely defensive, “only to stop attacks by the Syrian military or to clear out government forces that dare to attack the no-kill zones (Slaughter, 2012).”  However, it is hard to see how any military operation designed to limit the Syrian government’s sovereignty anywhere within Syrian territory would be viewed by Syria, Russia, China, or Iran as anything but an offensive move.  RPAs, seeking to enforce a no-kill zone from inside Syrian airspace against the will of the Syrian government would find themselves highly vulnerable to Syria’s air defense network, necessitating a large-scale air campaign to destroy most of the Syrian Air Force before RPA operations could commence.  Due to the likely lack of UN approval for an operation, the threat posed by the Syrian IADS system and the necessity to secure airspace in advance of operations, and the implications of the loss of even a few strategic RPAs in Syria, RPAs as a tool for enforcement of either a no-fly or no-kill zone in Syria should be viewed as a non-starter.

An incremental approach aimed at limited purely humanitarian aims should be the objective for planners interested in stopping the humanitarian crisis as modest interim agreements to limit fighting, protect civilians, and achieve other objectives such as eliminating chemical weapons appear to be feasible near-term objectives.  In early 2014 a 72-hr truce was reached to evacuate civilians from the city of Homs, a limited ceasefire that was extended as peace talks faltered (Agence France-Presse, 2014).  Similar evacuations have been thwarted by violence in the surrounding areas, while the removal of chemical weapons from storage depots in Syria were similarly delayed by such threats in addition to accusations of stalling on the part of the regime.  In each of these cases, tactical RPAs similar to those used for search and rescue in the U.S. could have been used to supplement the operations in order to increase transparency of operations and assist in the delivery of vital humanitarian supplies of food, medicine, and other aid items to besieged communities and hard to access locations.

Here, the aforementioned distinction between peace enforcing operations and peace keeping operations is critical, and in a sense the vulnerabilities of RPAs that were a vice for strategic RPAs can be a virtue for tactical RPAs.  Unarmed RPAs could only be used with the consent of parties to the conflict and thus would need to be approved as part of a concept of operations with the approval for the intervention, be it removal of chemical weapons or humanitarian relief, and with it a reduced threat environment.  The primary goal of a mission like convoy support would be to increase transparency both of the relief operation and the emergence of threats to the operation, which in part should serve as a deterrent to the emergence of threats.  However, given the relatively low cost of tactical RPAs, were deterrence to fail resulting in RPAs being lost the economic cost would be relatively small while the likelihood that sensors aboard the RPA could identify the origin of the threat would in turn lead to greater clarity in assignment of blame for the attack and with it the potential to shape future negotiations to the violators detriment.  The small size of tactical RPA payloads, limited range, and local control of operations would also allow for increased transparency to parties to the conflict for inspections of payloads to ensure no contraband is shipped in violation of agreements.

For many of these operations, lessons can be learned from military applications of RPAs in conflicts like Iraq, but narrowly tailored to a neutral role.  In 2006, the U.S. Army developed Task Force ODIN as a specialty team to detect and neutralize threats to convoys in Iraq.  In its early years, this consisted primarily of coordinating ISR operations with convoys to secure route clearance, but over time evolved to a broader mission to identify and track insurgent networks to defeat cells before they could even emplace bombs (Glass, 2009).  While the latter mission would involve direct intervention to proactively eliminate threats as part of a military campaign, lessons learned from early operations to clear routes and monitor activities in the areas of convoy movements could be tailored to meet the needs of international teams performing missions in Syria.  For humanitarian relief, the lessons learned from search and rescue missions in the U.S. could provide a first step for developing concepts of operations to employ RPAs in those environments.

Figure 4: Sample simplified CONOP for humanitarian RPA operations

Picture 3 Picture 4

In the case of a future humanitarian operation to provide support for a besieged city like Homs, tactical RPAs could be used in the initial phases of the operation to provide overwatch in order to reduce violence.  A ceasefire limited to an area such as a stadium would allow peacekeeping forces to set up a base of operations, to include an RPA ground station and launch/recovery zone, sufficient to enable several orbits of RPAs with both electro-optical and infrared sensors.  These RPAs would allow for intelligence preparation of the operating environment to increase visibility of levels of destruction, identification of areas where people have taken shelter, and in addition could deter violence through increased visibility of ongoing operations.  The RPAs themselves could be vulnerable to man portable surface-to-air missiles (MANPADs), but given the relative cost of the RPAs versus the information that could be gleamed from a shoot-down of an RPA by a MANPAD may justify the cost by both aiding to identify those who would violate a ceasefire agreement and by increasing visibility of the types of arms being brought into Syria and the levels of violence associated with the conflict.  Figure 4 shows what a sample CONOP might look like, with multiple RPA orbits over selected areas of the city to be evacuated with additional orbits providing route pre-clearance for convoys of vehicles moving displaced persons to the port city of Tartus.

Conclusion

Discussion of RPAs and the Syria conflict is heavily clouded by the images of Predator and Reaper as weapons of war, both by those who would like to see greater U.S. involvement in the conflict that may see them as a virtue, or by those who fear involvement and worry about escalation.  The limited image of ‘drones’ has become a hindrance to their effective employment in humanitarian crises, a stigma which must be overcome to allow for their effective use in crisis situations.  Smaller RPAs, flown by neutral operators, with the consent of parties to the conflict or impacted by the crisis, can play a major role in humanitarian relief, from search and rescue to increasing transparency.

One major challenge to this point has been the stigma of ‘drones’ combined with the expertise residing largely in the military community or with military and government contractors.  Many countries are uncomfortable with the U.S. flying ‘drones’ over their territory due to this stigma, even in crisis situations.    Non-government organizations may similarly be unwilling to use RPAs for fear of being associated with military equipment which might negatively impact their mission.  Understanding the nature and characteristics of the tool is vital to understanding their potential for both good and ill in humanitarian crises.  Overall, given the stakes involved in the humanitarian crisis and the demands of the international community to ‘do something,’ the potential of unarmed tactical RPAs to be a force for peace in Syria in cooperation with limited  international peacekeeping efforts appears to be a risk worth taking.

Michael P. Kreuzer is a PhD Candidate in International Security Studies at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and a Graduate Student Associate at the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination at Princeton University.  His forthcoming dissertation examines the military utility and likely patterns of diffusions for remotely piloted aircraft, and their impact on future international relations.  He is an Air Force veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and holds a BS in History from the United States Air Force Academy, an MPA from the University of Alaska Anchorage, and an MSI from American Military University. 

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[1] This terminology is problematic for some airpower scholars as the airpower notion of ‘Effects Based Operations” defines all platforms as fundamentally tactical which in turn can have strategic effects based on the exploitation of the mission, but for my basic purposes it suffices as stressing that some RPAs will be limited to a narrow radius for operations in an environment where their operators are vulnerable (tactical RPAs) vice those that are the focus of air campaigns through a global operating system (strategic RPAs).  The terminology here defines the character of the airframe vice the nature of the mission it performs.

[2] This claim is likely unrealistic and meant to garner headlines.  Although Amazon is reportedly also working to patent a system that can predict customer orders in advance, for a small RPA which flies at under 100 mph Amazon would have pre-position warehouses with most of their inventory on hand roughly every 30 miles or at least within 30 miles of every major market in order to make such a system a reality even before processing and loading.  At that point Amazon may as well allow in-person pickup which begins to look more like a catalog store.

[3] Figure derived from an unclassified Air Force slide provided to author by Lt Gen David Deptula (USAF, Ret).

[4] Even this comparison is imperfect as the U-2 has defense mechanisms, can fly faster, and carry a greater payload.

[5] Information from DailyTech report (Hatamoto, 2011).

[6] See Shalal-Esa (2013) for Global Hawk flight-hour costs.

[7] Discussing the development of the U.S. Air Force’s next generation bomber and the prospects for an unmanned variant, Lt. Gen. Charles Davis emphasized the need for developing the manned capable aircraft first.  “Very rarely should we be out maturing new technologies in new platforms…Once we are certain that a technology is at a usable level, then our acquisition programs can do the hard work of integrating. We have a hard enough time integrating engines, air frames, sensors; we should not be inventing things that have not been developed (Osborn, 2013).”

[8] Likely noted first in Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadmap 2005–2030 (Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadmap 2005–2030, 2005), accessible online at http://www.fas.org/irp/program/collect/uav_roadmap2005.pdf.   Singer and others readily use this phrase when describing the utilization of RPAs.

[9] Prominent examples include the report Living Under Drones (Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan) and UN Investigator Ben Emmerson’s report from March 2013 (Abbot, 2013).