Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

Enter the SCAGTF: Combined Distributed Maritime Ops

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 “…The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” –Sun Tzu, The Art of War 

Six Phases of Warfare
Source: JP 3-0

In modern parlance, winning without fighting is accomplished in Phases 0 and 1 of a campaign.  China is seeking to achieve a Phase 0-1 victory in the Pacific through its acquisition / deployment of Anti-Access Area Denial (A2AD) weaponry and economic / military coercion of its peripheral neighbors. When the two are coupled, US operational and diplomatic freedom of maneuver becomes severely constrained, and decisive counter-strategy is required.

Historically, the US has attempted to counter each of China’s weapon systems / diplomatic moves individually without attacking its overall strategy.  When new Chinese weapons systems are deployed, new American countermeasures are fielded.  When China builds new islands where disputed sandbars and reefs once existed, the US flies freedom of navigation sorties overhead.  When individual South East Asian countries are coerced by China to abandon multilateral UNCLOS negotiations and sign bilateral agreements, the US reaffirms support of multilateralism.  The American strategy demonstrates


resolve and intent, but does little to shape the environment, and deter the near peer competitorIt plays like a precipitated withdraw and ceding of the South China Sea to China—a stunning admission that there is seemingly little that the US can do when faced with the Chinese dominated political-economic landscape on one hand and a potential naval – air war of attrition on the other. 

The potential Chinese A2AD environment is particularly daunting for the US Pacific Fleet.  Chinese forces could elect to deploy their anti-surface / land attack ballistic and cruise missiles to keep American carriers outside of the 9-Dash Line; disable reconnaissance satellites; jam communications necessary for secure / centralized command & control; threaten to overwhelm remaining forces with vast numbers of aircraft while using the majority of their ships and submarines to counter the US asymmetric advantage in undersea warfare. By asymmetrically threatening American Navy “kill chains”, and especially by holding its naval center of gravity—the CVNs—at risk, the Chinese can effectively turn the American critical strength into a critical vulnerability.  The US cannot afford to lose even one CVN and thus when confronted with the threat of a paralyzing strike against its Pacific CVNs followed by an attrition war, it is prudent to assume that the US would not risk the losses and would exit the battlespace. A potential de-facto Chinese victory in Phases 0-2 could thus be achieved without a decisive Mahanian sea battle–just a credible threat.

Solution sets to countering Chinese A2AD Phase O-2 victory are under development from multiple sources—US  Naval Surface Forces (Distributed Lethality); Marine Corps Combat Development Command (Distributed STOVL [F-35B] Operations); US Marine Corps Advanced Studies Program (Engagement Pull).  All have one thing in common: strategic distribution of mobile offensive power to hold China’s freedom of maneuver in the South China Sea at risk, and inhibit their sea control over key sea lines of communication (SLOC). These solution sets represent a significant evolution in the strategic thought surrounding the US pivot to the Pacific:  attacking China’s strategy vs countering its individual asymmetric capabilities.

In Distributed Maritime Operations: Back to the Future, Dr. Benjamin Jensen states that

“…integrating land and naval forces as a ‘fleet in being’ denying adversary sea control is at the core of the emerging distributed maritime operations paradigm.” 

The defining of the pieces parts and the organizational construct of this paradigm is at the heart of the matter.  General Al Gray, USMC (ret) and Lt. General George Flynn, USMC (ret) recently presented at the Potomac Institute their thoughts on Sea Control and Power Projection within the context of The Single Naval Battle.  In their vision, the forces would include:

To this list I would add tactical level cyber capabilities.

Forces engaged in these missions will likely operate in near proximity to each other and in joint / combined operations, as the American, Australian, New Zealand and British sea, air and land forces of Guadalcanal did.  They will be required to pose sufficient threat to Chinese forces without significant reinforcement due to anticipated Chinese A2AD.  The inter-complexity of their likely combined Sea, Cyber, Air, Ground operations dictates that their task force command and control should not be ad-hoc, but must be defined well in advance to allow for the emergence, experimentation and exercising of command knowledge, skills, abilities and tactics / doctrine. US and allied lack of exercising joint/ combined, multi-domain operations prior to Guadalcanal led to tactics and command and control (C2) doctrine being written in blood.  This lack of foresight should not be repeated.

A SCAGTF construct allows for the US to shape the environment with its allies, deter the [Chinese], and if necessary to seize the initiative, buying time for the massing of forces to dominate the battlespace.  The SCAGTF is one way to integrate the great ideas of our best strategists on distributed maritime operations into a single, flexible organizational structure that is capable of mobile, simultaneous combined / joint multi-domain operations in all phases of warfare.  Such a force could aid the US in reversing its Pacific fortunes, in reinforcing multilateral peace and security for the region, and ultimately in realizing Sun Tzu’s bloodless victory.

Nicolas di Leonardo is a graduate student of the US Naval War College.  The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the War College or the United States Navy.

Surviving the Fabled Thousand Missile Strike (Part Five)

Surviving the Fabled Thousand Missile Strike

CARN class jpeg


Sketch by Jan Musil. Hand drawn on quarter-inch graph paper. Each square equals twenty by twenty feet.

This article, the fifth of the series, examines how fitting lots of drones, of all types, and large numbers of railguns, aboard a CVLN and either one or two CARNs, can allow the U.S. Navy to confidently ride out the fabled thousand missile strike from the mainland of Eurasia. To do so let’s walk through a possible exercise involving Red, a Eurasian mainland power and Blue, essentially a typical Western Pacific carrier strike group.

Red’s motivation might be ensuring that Blue cannot interfere with, or arrange for reinforcements to reverse, an offshore invasion. An alternative, somewhat more likely though, is that Red is intent on challenging one of Blue’s friends or allies and finds that it cannot achieve its objectives without removing Blue’s powerful naval forces from the area. When threats and warnings do not result in a satisfactory result, Red’s leader authorizes a massive missile strike on Blue’s carrier strike group at sea. This missile strike will be an attempted TOT (time-on-target) strike where all the missiles launched, regardless of distance to the carrier strike group or their speed, i.e. a combination of subsonic and hypersonic missiles, will arrive within a five minute window at the target location. The strike will primarily consist of land-based missiles, but some of Red’s numerous submarines will attempt to participate as well, for the purposes of this exercise it is assumed 29 missiles launched from three different submarines will arrive on target within the five minute TOT time period. Red’s commander has elected to hold his meaningful, though not massive, long-range aircraft striking power in reserve, hovering in a threatening position but not immediately participating. Thus a total of 1,029 missiles are launched.

This exercise assumes that Red can coordinate the command and control challenges involved in such a large undertaking. It also assumes that Red possesses adequate space based surveillance capabilities that real time targeting information down to the nearest kilometer, or better, is available on a timely basis to the relevant land, air and submarine commanders.

It should be emphasized here the importance of the compressed TOT portion of Red’s attack plan. Any incoming missiles, whether land or sub launched will be far easier for Blue to defend against if straggling in before or after the massed attack. This advantage of Blue’s is magnified by the presence of the railguns with their enormous magazine size and the ability to fire every five seconds.

It is assumed that Blue’s carrier strike group consists of:



1 CG (Ticonderoga class)


4 DDG (Arleigh Burke)

4 FF (the new ASW frigate under development)

2 squadrons of F-18s

6 EA-18G Growlers

1 squadron of F35s

1 squadron of strike drones

15+ ISR drones

4 E-2D Hawkeyes

2 S-3 Vikings

6 refueling drones

15+ Fire Scouts

10+ Seahawks

75+ buoys with UUVs or a dipping sonar installed and a radar/infrared lure

Blue’s carrier strike group commander has taken full advantage of the ASW capabilities provided by all the Fire Scouts and buoys, spreading the strike group out over a thirty mile radius in a preplanned dispersal strategy. The commander has also been successful at maneuvering the strike group into a position where there are no Red submarines within at least 30 miles, and it is believed (or hoped) by Blue’s commander that the strike group is at least 50 miles from the nearest Red submarine.

Blue also possesses space based surveillance capabilities and is able to provide Blue’s carrier strike group a twenty minute warning of the incoming attack. Blue’s commander selects one of his preplanned spatial deployment plans, concentrating the majority of his surface assets in a compact zone with the CARN taking position and turning its broadside closest to the incoming missile strike, three of the four DDGs some distance behind it, then the CG and two of the frigates, then the CVLN and finally the CVN. One frigate is so far off on the periphery on ASW duty that it will fire chaff rounds repeatedly during the attack and hope the handful of aircraft overhead and many radar lures dropped in its vicinity will allow it to emerge unscathed. On the opposite side of the strike group one DDG and the fourth frigate will do the same, though with the added protection of the DDGs AAW missiles.

This dispersion plan means a large portion of the area where the strike group is located is simply empty ocean. The intent is to use the strike groups EEW and radar lures to effect and make thorough use of the fact that even a subsonic missile cannot maneuver quickly enough to search out targets if presented with enough empty ocean upon their initial arrival at the selected target location.

Blue’s commander has also chosen a specific plan for utilizing his air assets in a layered defense, intent on maximizing the effectiveness of the various weapon systems embarked. Let us follow the resolution of the attack, starting with the outermost layer, and work our way inwards as the strike progresses.

Cap Layer

2 E-2D Hawkeyes and 12 F-18 Super Hornets

Blue’s strike group commander has assigned these air assets to anti-aircraft duty, approximately 250 miles from the strike group’s location. Since Red’s long-range bombers are known to be airborne, but apparently are not immediately participating, the decision is taken for these Super Hornets to hold their fire, confident that the rest of the strike group can deal with the incoming missiles, and continue to guard against any enemy aircraft that might intrude later.

Shot Down/Eliminated/Missed/Decoyed This Layer: Zero

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: Zero           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

ISR Drones Layer

8 ISR Drones

These eight drones are individually scattered in an arc 150 miles out from the strike group’s location. They are there to provide accurate targeting information, primarily for the SM-2 and railgun equipped surface ships of the strike group. In particular the presence of this arc ensures timely targeting information so the railguns can effectively engage at their maximum range of 65 miles.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: Zero 

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: Zero           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

Railgun Layer

13 railguns (12 on the CARN and 1 on the CVLN)

With the targeting information provided initially by the ISR drones and later by the various aircraft and AAW radars of the strike group the railguns will steadily engage at their maximum rate of every five seconds. Since it is unlikely that any particular missile, even subsonic ones, will not close the remaining 65 miles to the strike group before a second shot can be taken this exercise assumes each railgun will only fire once at any given missile.

Each railgun can fire every seconds, 60 seconds/5 = 12 shots a minute. Therefore over a five minute time period each railgun will get off 5 x 12 = 60 carefully aimed shots. 13 railguns x 60 equals 780 opportunities to hit an incoming missile.

This exercise will assume a 50% success rate for the railguns. Therefore 390 incoming missiles are eliminated.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 390  

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 390           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

SM Family Missile Layer

420 surface ship launched SM-2 missiles and 2 E-2D Hawkeyes operating approximately fifty miles out from the strike group’s location.

The CG (100) and four DDGs (80 each) in the strike group are assumed to have 420 SM-2 missiles available to fire in their collective VLS cells.

This exercise will assume a 70% success rate for the missiles. Higher success rates can easily be argued for, though there will be some unavoidable overlap with the railguns resulting in double targeting by some missiles. 420 x .70 = 294. Therefore 294 incoming missiles are eliminated.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 294  

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 684           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

Air Wing Layer

12 F-35s, 12 Strike Drones, 12 F-18 Super Hornets, 6 EA18-G Growlers, and 2 S-3 Vikings carrying 4 air-to-air missiles each = 176 AAW missiles

Blue’s air commander has elected to concentrate the bulk of his air assets close to the strike group. This allows the air commander to attempt to concentrate this groups AAW missiles in defense of the three zones occupied by the surface ships below. This allows more of the incoming missiles that have survived to this point but appear to be targeted on empty ocean to be ignored.

This exercise will assume a 70% success rate for the AAW missiles. Again, higher success rates can easily be argued for, though given the tight time constraints on pilots decision making some double targeting will be unavoidable. 176 x .70 = 123.2 rounded down to 123. Therefore 123 incoming missiles are eliminated.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 123   

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 807           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

Eliminated Due to Malfunction Layer

If everything always worked perfectly the world would be a much happier place. But things inevitably go awry and the incoming missiles are not immune to this problem. This exercise assumes a standard 5% malfunction rate. 1,029 x .05 = 51.45, rounded down to 51.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 51     

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 858           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

Missed Due to Dispersal Layer

The high rate of speed of the incoming missiles will sharply limit their ability to effectively search for a target if they happen to encounter one of the areas of empty ocean Blue’s commander has contrived. This exercise assumes, rather arbitrarily, a 5% missed rate, but empty ocean will certainly greet some of Red’s missiles. 1,029 x .05 = 51.45, rounded down to 51.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 51     

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 909           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

Decoyed Layer

The strike groups EEW capabilities, including the Growlers, all the strike group helicopters, Fire Scouts and over 75 buoys with various types of lures aboard can be utilized to great effect. This exercise assumes, rather arbitrarily, a 5% decoyed rate. It is tempting to select a higher rate, but to be conservative the 5% rate is used. 1,029 x .05 = 51.45, rounded down to 51.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 51     

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 960           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

Internal Rolling-In-Frame Layer

The CARN has six rolling-in-frame close defense missile launchers installed on each side of the ship. As Red’s surviving missiles reach the LOS horizon, these missiles engage those missiles targeted on the primary layered group of surface ships, which includes the crucial CVN.

This exercise will assume a 70% success rate for these missiles. 48 x .7 = 33.6, rounded down to 33. Therefore 33 incoming missiles are eliminated.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 33    

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 993           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

Last Ditch Layer

At this point the last 36 missiles of the original 1,029 are assumed to acquire surface targets and close on them. At this point the targeted ships individual CIW and close range missile defense provide a last ditch defense layer.

To be consistent, this exercise will assume a 70% success rate for the CIW and close range defense missiles. 29 x .7 = 20.3, rounded down to 20. Therefore 20 incoming missiles are eliminated.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 20    

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 1,013           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

The hits the remaining 26 missiles inflict will do varying amounts of damage, with the highest variability being the size of the target. One hit can easily destroy one of the ASW frigates. Depending on where the hit occurs, damage to a DDG or the CG will merely damage some portion of its functionality but the combination of the damage and the resulting fires could easily incapacitate the ships fighting ability for quite some time. A hit or two on the CARN with its extensive armor are likely to incapacitate some of its weapon systems but not seriously impair the ships ability to fight. Obviously the more hits, the greater the collective damage. The CVLN and CVN, hopefully spared the worst by their placement at the far back of the layered spatial deployment chosen by Blue’s strike group commander, should be able to continue to function at close to normal capabilities, with the obvious proviso that any fires started do not prove difficult to bring under control.

So at the conclusion of the first round of the exercise, Red has achieved some significant, but not decisive damage with its massive 1,000 missile strike. So what does the Red Commander do next? If that is the sum of his assets, committing his modest long-range aircraft to anything other than continued harassing missions does not seem prudent. Blue’s obstructing carrier strike group has more or less survived and Red must now consider alternative means of achieving its objectives.

Unless Red, assumed to be a major East Asian land power, has utilized its substantial economic capability to construct a second wave of long-range missiles.

Red Force Commander

If so, then Red force commander, after a rapid but thorough review of the results of the first strike provided by his space-based reconnaissance assets decides to proceed with a pre-planned second strike. This time all of his available air assets will participate in the attack and Red Force commander does his best to coordinate another five minute time-on-target attack by hundreds of land based missiles and orders a much larger number of submarines to participate. Hopefully many of them will be able to evade Blue Forces SSNs and contribute at least some missiles from a multitude of different directions.

The intent here is to take advantage of the fact Blue Force will not have time to reload his ship borne missile tubes and in the intervening 30 minutes to an hour, only a few aircraft will have time to re-arm with AAW missiles. This will leave only the magazines of the railgun equipped ships with a significant amount of ammunition available for use.


At this point we will take leave of the exercise for with the results so far we are capable of making several conclusions.

1- Adding the various types of drones now available as well as the railgun, IN QUANTITY, to the fleet combined with appropriate doctrine adjustments, and flexible and carefully thought through battle plans means the fabled 1,000 missile strike can be survived by a typical carrier strike group.

2- This is particularly true of what most non-East Asian powers across the Eurasian landmass are likely to be able to field over the next few decades.

3- Adding a second CARN to the Western Pacific carrier strike group might well be a wise additional investment.

4- Several of the layers discussed above were deliberately provided with conservative success rates. The railgun itself may very well be able to operate, even at 65 miles, at much higher success rates. The ability to utilize our EEW and decoying assets could also provide significantly better results than estimated, as could the effects of dispersal.

5- Installing one or two railguns aboard the new CVNs as they are built looks to be an excellent idea. Consideration should also be given to installing one or two during refits, or during the refueling process, of our existing carrier assets.

In the next article we will discuss just why Congress and the American taxpayers should pay for all these additional UAVs, UUVs, Fire Scouts, buoys, railguns and the necessary ships to deploy them at sea.                                                                           

Jan Musil is a Vietnam era Navy veteran, disenchanted ex-corporate middle manager and long time entrepreneur currently working as an author of science fiction novels. He is also a long-standing student of navies in general, post-1930 ship construction thinking, design hopes versus actual results and fleet composition debates of the twentieth century.

CIMSEC content is and always will be free; consider a voluntary monthly donation to offset our operational costs. As always, it is your support and patronage that have allowed us to build this community – and we are incredibly grateful.

Piracy 2.0 : The Net-Centric Evolution

Network-Centric Warfare derives its power from the strong networking of a well-informed but geographically dispersed force. – VADM Arthur Cebrowski, Proceedings 1998

Almost twenty years ago the pages of Proceedings carried an article by RDML Cebrowski that introduced the concept of network-centric, or net-centric, warfare.[1] The concept transformed the manner in which the United States (U.S.) Navy operates and fights. The principles that defined net-centric warfare remain relevant as they support Navy’s current pillars of Information Dominance: Battlespace Awareness, Assured Command and Control (C2), and Integrated Fires. The success of net-centric warfare has not gone unnoticed. Navies around the world are working to develop their own net-centric solutions. As a result, the U.S. Navy should not be surprised when enterprising individuals around the world similarly take note and make the evolutionary leap from traditional piracy to net-centric piracy.

While piracy has been a scourge for the duration of human history, the technological advances of the 21st century provide potential pirates transformational means, methods and opportunities. While the world has yet to witness a case of net-centric piracy, the two scenarios below present possible piracy events leveraging today’s technology.

Basic Net-centric Piracy

Sixty-two nautical miles south east of Singapore – 17JUL15 1154C: An Indonesian pirate opens his laptop and logs onto the internet via satellite phone. His homepage is a commercial Automated Identification System (AIS) website providing real-time track data from coastal and satellite receivers.[2] The laptop, satellite phone and website subscription were all funded by his investors.[3] As he scans his homepage, he looks for AIS contacts that meet his desired vessel profile for cargo type, transportation firm, flag, and speed of advance. Today there are two AIS tracks of interest matching his profile and likely to pass through his preferred zone of operation, MV OCEAN HORIZONS and MW ORIENTAL DAWN. He then checks weather conditions and determining that they are favorable, he sends individual texts messages containing coordinate and track data for the AIS tracks of interest. The text recipients are two fishing boat captains, one located in Belawan, Indonesia and the other in Dungun, Malaysia.

Indonesian Pirates
From: The Maritime Executive – Indonesian Pirates

Forty-six nautical miles east of Belwan, Indonesia – 17JUL15 1646C: MV ORIENTAL DAWN passes a non-descript fishing boat 46 nautical miles off the coast of Indonesia. Unbeknownst to the crew of the MV ORIENTAL DAWN, this fishing boat is captained by the pirate’s associate from Belawan. The fishing boat’s captain discretely observes the passing vessel through a pair of high-powered binoculars. Seeing barbed wire along the railings and an individual on the ship’s deck that does not appear to be a member of the crew, the fishing boat captain utilizes a satellite phone to call and report his observations to his Indonesian pirate contact. Based on this information the Indonesian pirate determines that MV ORIENTAL DAWN is not a suitable target.

One-hundred seventeen nautical miles east of Singapore – 17JUL15 1707C: The Indonesian pirate receives a call. This time it is the fishing boat captain from Dungun. The captain reports that the MV OCEAN HORIZONS is loaded down creating a smaller freeboard and there does not appear to be any additional security measures present. Given this assessment, the Indonesian pirate decides that MV OCEAN HORIZONS is a target of opportunity. He immediately has the crew of his ship alter course.

Thirty-seven nautical miles east of Pekan, Malaysia – 18JUL15 0412C: The Indonesian pirate launches two high-speed skiffs from his ship, both carrying multiple armed personnel. The Indonesian pirate mothership remains over the horizon, but in radio contact while the skiffs conduct the remainder of the intercept.

Sixty-two nautical miles east of Pekan, Malaysia – 18JUL15 0642C: The armed personnel from the skiffs board MV OCEAN HORIZONS and catch the crew off guard. Once in control of the ship, they contact the Indonesian pirate via radio and report their success. The Indonesian pirate immediately opens his laptop and reports his success to his investors. He also lists the ship’s cargo for auction on a dark website and sends a ransom demand to the employer of the MV OCEAN HORIZON crew.

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Sophisticated Net-centric Piracy     

Moscow, Russia – 17JUL15 0126D: After a series of all-nighters over the last week, a Russian hacker has gained access to a crewmember’s computer onboard the MV PACIFIC TREADER.[4] Using this access he maps the shipboard network. Discovering a diagnostic and maintenance laptop used for the ship’s automation and control system on the network, he quickly exploits the laptop’s outdated and unpatched operating system to install a tool on the automation and control system.[5] The tool enables a remote user to either trigger or disable a continual reboot condition. Once installed, the hacker posts the access information for the tool’s front end user interface in a private dark web chatroom.

Prague, Czech Republic – 16JUL15 2348A: Sitting in his Prague apartment, a pirate receives a message on his cellphone via a private dark web chatroom. The message is from one of several hackers he contracted to gain access to control or navigation systems onboard vessels operated by the TRANS-PACIFIC SHIPPING LINE. With the posted access information, he logs onto his laptop and tests his access into the MV PACIFIC TREADER automation and control system. After successfully establishing a connection he closes out of the tool and electronically transfers half of a contracted payment due to his hired hacker. Next using a commercial AIS website providing real-time track data from coastal and satellite receivers, he determines that MV PACIFIC TREADER is likely headed into port in Hong Kong.[6] Posting a message in a different private dark web chatroom, the pirate provides the identifying information for MV PACIFIC TREADER.

Hong Kong, China – 19JUL15 0306H: On a rooftop in Hong Kong, a young college student pulls an aerial drone out of her backpack. She bought it online and it is reportedly one of the quietest drones on the market. She also pulls three box-shaped objects out of her backpack. Hooking one of the objects to the drone, she launches it and flies it across Hong Kong harbor in the direction of a ship she identified during the day as the MV PACIFIC TREADER. Using the cover of darkness she lands the drone on the top of the pilot house and releases the object. Repeating this process twice more, she places the box shaped objects on other inconspicuous locations on the ship. After bagging up her drone, she posts a message to a dark web chatroom simply stating that her task is complete. Almost immediately afterwards she receives a notification that a deposit was made into her online bank account.

Prague, Czech Republic – 25JUL15 1732A: After eating a home-cooked meal, the pirate sits down at his laptop and checks the position of MV PACIFIC TREADER via the commercial AIS website he subscribes to. Observing that the MV PACIFIC TREADER is relatively isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, he opens the remote tool that provides him access to the ship’s automation and control system. He sends a text message and then clicks to activate the tool.

Two-thousand ninety-three nautical miles north east of Hong Kong – 26JUL15 0332K: Onboard MV PACIFIC TREADER an explosion engulfs the bow of the ships sending flames into the dark air. Immediately, the ship’s engines roll to a stop as the navigation and ship’s control system computers go into a reboot cycle. The lone watchstander on the bridge is paralyzed to inaction by the surprise and violence of the events unfolding around him. The Master immediately comes to the bridge, completely confused by the events occurring onboard his ship.

Prague, Czech Republic – 25JUL15 1736A: The pirate confirms via his remote tool that the ship’s automation and control system is in a continuous reboot cycle, then he re-checks the commercial AIS website and confirms that MV PACIFIC TREADER is dead in the water. He immediately sends an email to the TRANS-PACIFIC SHIPPING LINE demanding a ransom, stating MV PACIFIC TREADER will remain dead in the water and more explosive devices will be activated until he is paid.

New means – Same motive

These scenarios illustrate how the evolution of technology and the increased connectivity of systems and people potentially enable a fundamental shift in the nature of piracy. Despite the change in means and geographic distribution of actors, net-centric and traditional piracy both utilize physical force or violence, or the threat thereof, by a non-state actor to seize or detain a vessel operating on the high seas. The key enabler of net-centric piracy is the Internet.

Piracy Hot Spots

The Internet is the net-centric pirate’s “high-performance information grid that provides a backplane for computing and communications.”[7] Admiral Cebrowski argued that this information grid was the entry fee for those seeking net-centric capabilities.[8] What Admiral Cebrowski did not know was how rapidly the Internet would evolve and enable near-instantaneous global communications at relatively low costs, allowing anyone who desires access to a high-performance information grid.

As the net-centric pirate’s high-performance information grid, the Internet serves as a command and control network as well as the means for disseminating intelligence information, such as vessel location or the presence of physical security measures. The intelligence that is disseminated may also have resulted from collections performed via the Internet. One collection means is to leverage the vast area of private and commercial data sources available for public consumption, again at little or no cost, such as shipping schedules and AIS data. A second means of collection uses the Internet to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) via cyber techniques; however, only the most sophisticated net-centric pirates will possess this capability. Similarly, highly sophisticated net-centric pirates may be able to achieve global weapons reach by producing physical effects via cyber means over the Internet, eliminating the need for the pirate to be physically present in order to seize or detain a vessel.

Somali Pirates
From: OCEANUSLive – Somali Pirates

The attractiveness of net-centric piracy is the low barrier to entry, both in risk and cost. Since the Internet is the key enabler of net-centric piracy, its low cost and ease of use vastly expand the potential pirate population. The anonymity of the Internet also allows potential net-centric pirates to meet, organize, coordinate and transfer monetary funds with a great degree of anonymity. As a result, the risks of arrest or capture are significantly reduced, especially since a net-centric pirate may not be able to identify any of their co-conspirators. Similarly, the ability of net-centric piracy to enable remote intelligence gathering or even produce physical effects via cyber techniques removes a significant element of physical risk associated with traditional piracy. The monetary gain from the successful capture of a vessel compared to the low cost and risk currently associated with net-centric piracy make it an attractive criminal enterprise.

Countering Net-centric Piracy

The United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) Article 101 defines piracy as:

  1. any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:
    • on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
    • against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;
  2. any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;
  3. any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (1) or (2).[9]

Under this internationally recognized legal definition of piracy, net-centric piracy clearly results in violence against or detention of vessels on the high seas for private ends. It is also clear from this definition that any activities associated with facilitating a piracy event, such as intelligence collection or compromising a vessel’s computerized control systems, are also considered piracy under international law. International law also states that “All States shall cooperate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of piracy on the high seas or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any State.”[10] As a result, the international community must resolve how it will counter net-centric piracy, where pirates need not operate on the high seas and may be located thousands of miles from the target vessel.

The challenge facing the international community from net-centric piracy is compounded by immaturity of international cyber law. Currently the authorities and responsibilities of international organizations, governments and law enforcement agencies with regards to the use of the Internet to commit piracy are undetermined. This challenge is further complicated by the fact that the Internet is a manmade domain where all potions are essentially within the territory of one state or another. As a result, disrupting net-centric piracy operations will require a significant degree of international coordination and information sharing. Extensive international cooperation will also be required to identify, locate, and apprehend individuals involved in net-centric piracy.

From: Encyclopedia Britannica – Pirates utilize a range of weapons and technology

While an occurrence of net-centric piracy has yet to occur, the opportunity and capabilities required for such an event exist today. The U.S. Navy should not be caught off guard. Instead, the Navy should take the following actions:

  • Raise awareness within the international maritime community regarding the risks and realities of net-centric piracy
  • Provide best practice and limited cybersecurity threat information to transnational maritime shipping companies
  • Work with partner Navies to develop means and methods for disrupting net-centric piracy, including developing an appropriate framework for information sharing and coordination
  • Work with Coast Guard, law enforcement and international partners to develop a cooperative construct for identifying, locating and apprehending net-centric pirates
  • Engage with the State Department to advance international dialog on net-centric piracy, including the need for consensus on international law and processes for prosecution of net-centric pirates

An enduring lesson of human history is that opportunity for profit, regardless of difficulty or brevity, will be exploited by someone somewhere. Net-centric piracy represents an opportunity to generate revenue without requiring the physical risks of traditional piracy. The anonymity and distributed nature of the cyber domain also creates new counter-piracy challenges. Add to this the low cost and availability of unmanned system components coupled with the low barrier of entry for cyber, and the question becomes not whether net-centric piracy will occur but when. With a global interest in maintaining the international maritime order and ensuring the uninterrupted flow of commerce on the high seas, the U.S. Navy must be ready to meet the challenges of net-centric piracy.

[1] VADM Arthur K. Cebrowski and John H. Garstka, “Network-Centric Warfare – Its Origin and Future,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Volume 124/1/1,139 (January 1998).


[3] “Somali Piracy: More sophisticated than you thought,” The Economist (November 2nd, 2013),

[4] Jeremy Wagstaff, “All at sea: global shipping fleet exposed to hacking threat,” Reuters (April 23rd, 2014),

[5] Mate J. Csorba, Nicolai Husteli and Stig O. Johnsen, “Securing Your Control Systems,” U.S. Coast Guard Journal of Safety & Security at Sea: Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council, Volume 71 Number 4 (Winter 2014-2015).


[7] VADM Arthur K. Cebrowski and John H. Garstka, “Network-Centric Warfare – Its Origin and Future,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Volume 124/1/1,139 (January 1998).

[8] Ibid.

[9] United Nations, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (New York: United Nations, Article 101, 1994).

[10] United Nations, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (New York: United Nations, Article 100, 1994).

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Navy, Department of Defense or Government.

LCDR Brian Evans is a U.S. Navy Information Dominance Warfare Officer, a member of the Information Professional community, and a former Submarine Officer. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and holds advanced degrees from Johns Hopkins University, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Naval War College.

Is There a Class of Armored Cruisers in the U.S. Navy’s Future? (Part Four)

Is There a Class of Armored Cruisers in the U.S. Navy’s Future?


CARN class jpeg

Sketch by Jan Musil. Hand drawn on quarter-inch graph paper. Each square equals twenty by twenty feet.

This article, the fourth of the series, presents a suggestion on how to incorporate the new railgun technology into the fleet in an efficient and effective manner. Railguns, when used as a complement to the various UAVs, UUVs and Fire Scouts discussed earlier will provide the fleet with a potent AAW weapon.

Interestingly enough, the most important piece of information concerning the new railgun is a number. A single round of ammunition costs $10,000. Eighteen inches of railroad tie shaped steel (which costs less than $200) fitted with the wonders of modern microelectronics provides a startling contrast with the $1M+ cost of the missiles the Navy currently uses against incoming aircraft and missiles. A contrast that is even more in the Navy’s favor since any future opponent will be spending comparable sums for their attack missiles and substantially more for hypersonic cruise missiles.

There are no explosives purchased with the $10,000. This means hundreds of rounds of railroad ties and microelectronics can be safely stored in a ship’s magazine. This is a substantial advantage compared to the VLS missiles in current use by navies around the globe, most of which require specialized loading facilities to reload their missile tubes. In contrast, a railgun-equipped ship can take a much larger ammunition load to sea with it, and reload the magazine at sea if necessary.

The next relevant parameter of the new railgun is its range. At 65 miles this is far less than many long-range missiles, though still quite useful against incoming aircraft and missiles. Note that with an ISR drone or Hawkeye providing over-the-horizon targeting information, a surface ship equipped with a railgun can shoot down incoming aircraft such as the Russian Bear (Tu-95) reconnaissance aircraft before the intruder can lock in on the firing ship. The same is true for any attacking aircraft carrying long-range strike missiles.

This highlights the importance to both sides of providing accurate targeting information first. It also means, strategically, at its heart the railgun in the 21st century maritime environment is a defensive weapon: well positioned to provide defensive fire against incoming attacks, but with an offensive punch limited to sixty-five miles.

That said, with the ability to fire every five seconds the railgun can be very effective, particularly when utilized in quantity when escorting carrier strike groups or when placed between a hostile shore and an ARG.

So far we have noted the positive distinguishing capabilities of the railgun but there are three significant difficulties that come with fielding the weapon. Foremost is the enormous amount of electrical power discharged by the gun when firing. This means any ship equipped with a railgun needs substantial electric power generating capabilities, something certainly beyond the abilities of the DDGs and CCGs currently in the fleet.

Secondly, using these vast amounts of electricity means a large capacitor needs to be located on the deck below the railgun. Large does mean large in this application. No little white pieces of ceramic plugged into a circuit board will do here. The necessary equipment is physically massive and in need of protection from the elements. They will be taking up a substantial amount of space just below the main deck where the railgun has to be mounted, probably one per gun.

The third problem is that all the energy dissipated in launching a round generates heat. Lots and lots of it. Most, but not all, of the energy used to launch the eighteen inches of steel will be recovered back into the ships capacitor, but enough will be lost that the launching rails flexing as the railgun is fired simply must be exposed to the elements so the heat will dissipate in the air. No sailors or flammables nearby please.

The inevitable follow up conclusion means a railgun equipped ship is going to be impossible to hide from opponent’s infrared sensors. Regardless of how stealthy versus radar the ship is, all of that heat is going to stand out like the sun itself to incoming aircraft and missiles equipped with infrared targeting systems, which means it is almost a certainty the firing ship is going to get hit if subjected to a seriously prosecuted attack.


This ship is not going to be able to hide in a cloud of chaff, it will be heading into the incoming missile strike, placing its full broadside in a position to fire and it will be considered a high priority target.

Unlike almost all naval ships built across the globe since the end of WW2, this class needs to be built with the assumption that incoming missiles will hit it, the plural is intentional, and be able to survive the multiple collections of missile slag and burning fuel and the occasional warhead detonation. Just as we built the 44 gun class of frigates back in the 1780s to be thick hulled in order to survive the gunnery practices of the time, armored up the ironclads of the Civil War and multiple classes of ships intended for the main battle line of the last half of the 19th Century and first half of the 20th Century, we need to built this class to ‘take a licking and keep on ticking’.

Topside armor should cover most of the ship, but the prime purpose of this armor will be to shed missile slag, i.e. what is left of the incoming missile after being intercepted and its fuel. The impact of the metal missile parts is not the prime danger to be protected against here. It is the fuel, and the accompanying fires after impact that is the true danger. So the topside armor needs to keep the slag and fuel on the outside of the ship, hopefully allowing gravity to carry much of the burning fuel to the gunnels and overboard; in the process vastly easing the firefighting teams job in putting out any fires that have started.

Additional armor, probably using a combination of layered materials and empty space, is appropriate for selected topside compartments that need to be protected against a successful missile warhead detonation. Whether it is sailors or equipment that is being protected, only some compartments will need beefed up exterior armor.

After that the CARN (cruiser gun armor, nuclear powered) will need to adapt the principles of the ‘armored citadel’ concepts developed a century ago for battleships to the needs of securing the two, possibly three, nuclear reactors aboard and their associated pumps and other equipment. Whether this is best done with one internal armor layer or two will keep the engineers debating for quite a while as the CARN is designed.

CARN Equipment

So what should the new 25k+ ton armored cruiser have aboard? Nuclear propulsion is an unavoidable necessity given the enormous amounts of power each railgun requires; every five seconds when engaged. Since the primary use of the CARN will be to accompany the fleet’s carriers to provide defensive AAW capabilities, this is actually an advantage for both strategic and tactical reasons. Depending on the amount of power twelve railguns firing broadsides will require, two or three of the standardized nuclear plants being installed in the new carriers should work just fine.

Lots of armor and nuclear power are unavoidable. The following basic list of desired equipment should provide the reader with a good idea of what the CARN should go to sea with.

12 railguns mounted in six dual mounts. In the attached sketch A and B mounts are placed forward of the bridge while C, D, E and F mounts are located starting roughly amidships and extend back to the helicopter deck. Dual mounts are suggested since the large size of the capacitors that need to be located directly below each railgun will in practice utilize the full 120 feet of beam provided. Obviously if the capacitors are even larger than this, then single mounts will have to be employed. Let’s hope not as doubling up makes for a much more efficient ship class.

36 VLS tubes capable of a varying load out of ASW, SM-2, SM-6 and long-range strike missiles as the mission at hand calls for.

4 CIWS with one located in the bow, a pair port and starboard amidships and one aft, just behind F mount.

12 rolling missile launchers for close in defense. It will be no secret the CARN is in the task force so a substantial number of the incoming missiles will be using infrared targeting, either in place of, or as a supplement to radar. So adding half dozen rolling missile packs to port and another half a dozen to starboard will provide plenty of localized missile defenses for both the CARN and the task force as whole.

2 ISR drones if VTOL capable. None if VTOL capability is not available

2 Seahawk helicopters

This suggested list very deliberately reduces the VLS and ASW capabilities aboard to a bare minimum. Good ship design concentrates on the primary mission the class needs to accomplish. In the case of the CARN that is absolutely, positively AAW.

In the next article we will examine how adding UAVs, UUVs, Fire Scouts, buoys and railguns in quantity to the fleet can substantially enhance the Navy’s ability to survive in the increasingly hostile A2AD world of the 21st Century.

Jan Musil is a Vietnam era Navy veteran, disenchanted ex-corporate middle manager and long time entrepreneur currently working as an author of science fiction novels. He is also a long-standing student of navies in general, post-1930 ship construction thinking, design hopes versus actual results and fleet composition debates of the twentieth century.

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