Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

Regaining the High Ground at Sea: Transforming the U.S. Navy’s Carrier Air Wing

By Bryan Clark

Regaining the Maritime “High Ground”

Aircraft carriers have been the centerpiece of the U.S. Navy since they came to prominence during the Second World War. Their mobility and firepower were essential to winning the Pacific Campaign during that conflict, and carriers’ adaptability enabled them to remain the fleet’s primary means of power projection through the Cold War and in multiple smaller conflicts thereafter. Unless the Navy dramatically transforms its carrier air wings (CVW), however, the carrier’s preeminence will soon come to an end.

America’s carriers, often the target of adversaries, are once again under threat. China and Russia are investing in networks of sensors and weapons designed to deter U.S. and allied forces from intervening in their regions. As part of their efforts, these great power competitors, in addition to regional powers like Iran and North Korea, are fielding anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles, warships, and submarines to threaten U.S. carriers.

The Navy is developing ways to counter enemy kill chains from initial detection through engagement. Carrier strike groups (CSG) will need to maneuver, minimize their radiofrequency emissions, and limit flight operations to reduce the vulnerability of carriers to detection and targeting and maximize the capacity of their air defenses. But employing these capabilities and tactics could significantly constrain carriers’ sortie generation capacity.

To retain their ability to defeat aggression, CSGs will need to conduct wartime operations from areas where they can generate high-volume sorties and fires and their defenses can realistically defeat enemy attacks. This will likely place them about 1000 miles from concentrations of Russian or Chinese forces, or up to 500 miles from the missile batteries of regional powers. At these ranges, the Navy’ current and planned air defense capabilities will be sufficient for CSGs to protect themselves without having to rely extensively on countering enemy sensors.

Unfortunately, the Navy’s current and planned carrier air wings (CVW) lack the reach, survivability, and specialized capabilities to effectively protect U.S. forces at sea and ashore or attack the enemy from 1000 miles away. Carriers are an important, and in some scenarios essential, element of the National Defense Strategy’s “contact” and “blunt” forces that will counter enemy aggression because they are more heavily defended and less vulnerable than forward land bases. If CSGs cannot substantially contribute to degrading, delaying, or defeating aggression, the Navy should reconsider continuing its investment in carriers and their aircraft and shift those resources toward more effective approaches.

As arguably the ultimate modular military platform, carriers can address emerging threats and opportunities by changing the size and mix of aircraft they carry. Without the ability to evolve and support new missions, carriers and their CVWs would likely have gone the way of the battleship and left the fleet decades ago. Our new Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments study describes how the Navy could transform its CVWs during the next 20 years to address the challenges posed by great power militaries.

Changing Carrier Strategy and Tactics

Some analysts recommend that rather than invest in new aircraft and improved carrier defenses, the Navy should use missiles from surface combatants and submarines to defend naval forces and attack enemy targets. This approach, however, would be unsustainable and may not deter a committed aggressor.

Long-range surface-launched missiles are more expensive and less numerous than the glide, gravity, and powered weapons carried by aircraft. Moreover, once a ship or submarine expends its missiles, it will need to withdraw from the fight to safely reload, even if that reloading could be done at sea. Using large numbers of missile-carrying merchant vessels to sustain fires would not solve these problems, because large numbers of expensive standoff weapons would still be needed, as well as defenses for the vessels carrying them.

Instead of replacing carriers with missiles, the Navy should use them as complementary capabilities. Missile-centric platforms such as submarines and surface combatants are well-suited for the NDS’ contact forces, which will be the first to engage the enemy and need to generate large volumes of offensive and defensive fires on short notice. Carriers should be used mostly in the NDS’ blunt force, which will reinforce and support the contact force. Carriers take time to generate sorties, but can sustain fires as long as the carrier is resupplied, allowing contact force ships and submarines to withdraw and reload. Without the threat of sustained resistance from the blunt force, an aggressor like China could choose to fight through ship-launched missiles until ships and submarines need to reload.

Under this construct, CSGs will be employed in four main categories of operations, which are similar to how carriers were used in previous great power competitions and conflicts:

  • Day-to-day training, port calls, and exercises inside contested regions during peacetime to build alliances and demonstrate U.S resolve not to cede waters to adversary intimidation or coercion.
  • Smaller-scale operations at long range against highly defended targets of great power adversaries, such as strike and surface warfare (SUW) attacks of 200 weapons or less, electromagnetic warfare (EMW) or escort missions, and anti-submarine warfare (ASW);
  • Sustained operations at the periphery of great power confrontations, such as in the Philippine or South China Seas against China or in the Norwegian Sea against Russia; and
  • The full range of operations against regional powers such as Iran or North Korea that lack integrated, long-range surveillance, anti-air, and anti-ship capabilities.

Within these broad categories, CVWs will need perform the same missions they do today, but using new operational concepts that address ongoing and future enhancements to adversary threats and the geographic advantages enjoyed by great power and some regional adversaries.

The predominant challenge facing U.S. forces against China and Russia is the threat of long-range precision weapons, making air and missile defense an important enabling concept for CVWs. To survive against Chinese or Russian surface-, air-, and submarine-launched missiles, U.S. forces will need to complement air defenses on ships and air bases with actions to thin out missile salvos in flight and attack enemy missile-launching “archers” before they can launch their “arrows.”

This updated version of the Navy’s “Outer Air Battle” doctrine would place defensive counterair (DCA) combat air patrols (CAP) along the most likely threat axes at the ranges of future anti-ship and land-attack missiles, or about 800 to 1,000 miles. Outside the most likely threat sectors, distributed fires from surface combatants, ground-based air defenses, and DCA aircraft would engage enemy aircraft using targeting from intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting (ISR&T) CAPs. Shorter-range CAPs operating 100-200 miles from carriers and other defended targets would thin out cruise missile salvos, effectively adding capacity to ship and shore-based air defenses.

21st Century Outer Air Battle (CSBA graphic)

Because of their operating areas and the challenge of air- and sea-launched missiles, future CVW strike and SUW operations will need to occur 500–1,000 miles away from the CSG, depending on the adversary. Using standoff weapons such as the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) could allow carrier aircraft to launch strike and SUW attacks from closer to the carrier, but these weapons are expensive and in short supply. Instead, strike and SUW operations will need to occur from shorter standoff ranges, employing a combination of survivable aircraft, and offensive counterair (OCA) and EMW operations.

With the growing number and sophistication of Russian and Chinese submarines, the Navy has reinvigorated its efforts at anti-submarine warfare (ASW). Today’s ASW platforms such as the P-8A Poseidon are potentially too vulnerable to conduct ASW operations near a great power adversary’s territory. Others, like the MH-60R Seahawk helicopter, lack the range or endurance to conduct ASW operations beyond the 1,000-mile reach of enemy submarine-launched cruise missiles. To conduct ASW in contested areas, U.S. naval forces will need to rely increasingly on unmanned sensors to find and target submarines. CVW aircraft operating in ASW CAPs would then promptly engage possible submarines at ranges of up to 1,000 miles from the carrier or defended areas ashore.

U.S. adversaries are likely to protect valuable ports, airfields, and sensor and C2 facilities with their own DCA CAPs and air defense systems. To enable CVW or land-based attack aircraft to closely approach targets and use smaller short-range weapons, carrier-based escort aircraft could attack air defenses, help protect strike aircraft from CAPs, and launch expendable jammers and decoys to confuse aircraft and air defense radars and weapons.

Escort missions will require a combination of long-range fighters able to engage enemy DCA CAPs and attack aircraft with the payload capacity to carry missile- or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)-borne jammers, sensors, or decoys. An attack aircraft could also carry high-power standoff jammers such as the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) that will be carried by the E/A-18G Growler until it retires in the 2030s.

A Needed Transformation

The operational concepts needed to implement current and likely future defense strategies will require new aircraft and a different CVW configuration than in today’s fleet. CSBA’s proposed CVW would include:

Long-range Multi-mission Survivable Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV)

Air and missile defense, ISR&T, strike, SUW, ASW, and EMW missions are all evolving in a way that makes them best conducted by aircraft with longer range or endurance, higher survivability, and a payload on par with today’s Navy strike-fighters. An attack aircraft such as an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) could achieve an unrefueled range of up to 3,000 miles through a fuel-efficient airframe optimized for subsonic speeds. A UCAV could also achieve high levels of survivability by combining a radar-scattering shape with electronic warfare systems and self-defense weapons. And although being unmanned would not necessarily increase its range, a UCAV would be capable of longer endurance than manned strike-fighters provided aerial refueling is available.

UCAV-based Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) Aircraft

The Navy plans to continue using the E/A-18G as its AEA platform into the 2030s and beyond, but its reliance on standoff effects from outside the range of enemy air defenses is likely unsustainable in the face of improving passive sensors and the increasing range of surface-to-air missiles (SAM) and AAMs. A low-observable platform such as the proposed UCAV could be made into an stand-in AEA platform by incorporating subsystems of the E/A-18G into its mission bay and installing multiple active electronically scanned arrays (AESA) along its wings and fuselage. A UCAV-based AEA aircraft could also carry and deploy expendable EMW UAVs and missiles that would conduct ISR&T, jamming, decoy, and deception operations over target areas.

Unmanned Aerial Refueling Aircraft (MQ-25)

A dedicated carrier-based aerial refueling tanker could enable CVW aircraft to reach CAP stations 1,000 miles from the carrier and conduct long-range attacks against enemy ships and shore targets. The U.S. Navy is already pursuing the MQ-25 carrier-based tanker UAV for this reason and recently awarded design and construction contracts for the first MQ-25 demonstrators.

To fully exploit the potential of the MQ-25, the Navy should re-designate it as a multi-mission UAV. The initial version of the MQ-25 would remain focused on the aerial refueling mission to avoid delays in program development. The Navy could then develop modifications that would enable it also to conduct ISR, attack, and EMW missions in appropriate operational environments. Alternatively, the Navy could explore ways for the UCAV to also conduct the refueling mission once it is fielded.

Long-range Fighter (FA-XX)

Escort and OCA operations will require a long-range fighter to counter enemy DCA CAPs and enable land-based or CVW strike aircraft to closely approach targets and use smaller, short-range strike weapons. The range, sensor capability, and weapons capacity needed in a future long-range fighter could be provided with a modified version of an existing fighter or strike-fighter by shifting weapons payload to fuel capacity and incorporating additional fuel efficiency measures.

Planned Aircraft Retained in Proposed 2040 CVW

Between FY 2019 and FY 2023, the Navy plans to complete the procurement of MH-60R ASW and MH-60S logistics helicopters, E-2D AEW&C aircraft, and E/A-18G EW strike-fighters. The proposed 2040 CVW includes MH-60s and E-2Ds, which may require some life extension; both aircraft will, however, have reduced roles in 2040 compared to today due to their constrained range and survivability.

The proposed 2040 CVW would buy the first half of the F-35C program to supply one squadron per CVW, but the second squadron would be replaced with the FA-XX. Although not formally part of the CVW, the proposed 2040 CVW assumes the Navy’s ongoing plan to replace the C-2A logistics aircraft with the CMV-22 Osprey. The 2040 CVW also includes in its helicopter squadrons a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) Vertical Take-Off and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV) based on ongoing development efforts in the Navy and Marine Corps for an unmanned multi-mission aircraft, known as the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Expeditionary (or MUX).

Future CVW Composition

CSBA’s proposed 2040 CVW, shown below, includes the new and existing aircraft described above in a mix that improves the Navy’s CVW range, endurance, survivability, and payload capacity. Whereas the Navy’s planned CVW would center around 20 F-35C and 24 F-18 E/F or FA-XX strike-fighters, the proposed CVW is built around 18 UCAVs, ten FA-XX fighters, ten F-35C strike-fighters, and six UCAV-based AEA aircraft. Although the aggregate payload capacity of the proposed CVW is about the same as the Navy’s plan, the 2040 CVW could deliver its payload twice as far or remain on station much longer.

The proposed CVW also incorporates more specialized aircraft to address the growing capability of great power competitors. The long-range FA-XX fighter will be better able to counter enemy DCA aircraft, and the UCAV will be a more effective platform to support long-endurance CAP missions for air defense, ASW, SUW, and ISR&T than the Navy’s planned CVW of short-range strike-fighters. The CVW also includes more MQ-25 tankers to maximize the CVW’s reach and endurance.

CSBA’s Proposed 2040 CVW (CSBA Graphic)

Making the New CVW a Reality

There are several different combinations of programmatic changes that could be used to reach the proposed CVW by 2040. CSBA recommends the following actions, starting with the President’s Budget for FY 2020. Notably, the new procurement proposed by this study would not begin until after the FY 2020–2024 Future Year’s Defense Plan (FYDP), although some research and development funding would be repurposed within the FYDP.

  • Sustain procurement of F/A-18 E/Fs as planned through 2023. Although the future CVW requires half the strike-fighters of the Navy’s planned CVW, these aircraft will fill near- to mid-term capacity gaps. F/A-18 E/Fs still in service by 2040 can be used in place of UCAVs or F-35Cs if those aircraft are not yet fully fielded.
  • Sustain F-35C procurement as planned through the first half of production, ending in 2024, to support the proposed 2040 CVW’s squadron of ten F-35Cs.
  • Develop the FA-XX fighter during the 2020–2024 timeframe as a derivative of an existing aircraft, with production starting in 2025. Block III F/A-18 E/Fs and F-35Cs will be in production during the FY 2020–2024 FYDP, and either they or another in-production fighter or strike-fighter could be modified into an FA-XX. Although this approach will require some additional funding for non-recurring engineering between about 2020 and 2024, it will save billions of dollars compared to the Navy’s plan to develop a new fighter aircraft from scratch.
  • Develop a low-observable UCAV attack aircraft during the 2020–2024 timeframe, with production starting in 2025. Although the UCAV could be based on an existing design such as the X-47B, 1–2 years of development may be needed to create a missionized version.
  • Continue development of the MQ-25, transitioning the program to the UCAV-based refueling aircraft when sufficient attack UCAVs are fielded. Increase the overall procurement of MQ-25 and UCAV-based refueling aircraft to support twelve per CVW.
  • Retire E/A-18Gs as they reach the end of their service lives starting in the late 2020s, replacing their capability with NGJ-equipped UCAVs and UAV- and missile-expendable EMW payloads.
  • In concert with the U.S. Marine Corps, field a MALE rotary-wing UAV such as the Tactically Exploitable Reconnaissance Node (TERN), which can augment CVW helicopter squadrons and could take over some of their ASW operations by the mid-2030s.

The fixed-wing carrier aircraft inventory associated with these recommendations is shown below. Under this plan, research and development of the planned MQ-25, modified FA-XX, and new UCAV would occur during the 2020–2024 timeframe, with production of new aircraft starting in 2025. Today’s F/A-18 E/Fs and E/A-18Gs would begin retiring in the late 2020s, to be replaced by UCAVs. The overall inventory of CVW aircraft will decrease as unmanned aircraft replace manned platforms, because operators and maintainers of unmanned aircraft can practice using simulators that will be as realistic as actual UAVs, eliminating the need for unmanned aircraft in training squadrons or in fleet squadrons that are not deployed or preparing to deploy. The smaller number of aircraft and squadrons results in a cost savings for unmanned aircraft compared to manned aircraft.

Fixed-Wing CVW Aircraft Inventory to Build Proposed 2040 CVW. (CSBA graphic)

The approximate cost of the proposed 2040 CVW is shown below. Except for developmental spending associated with the proposed UCAV, proposed new development, procurement, and operations spending does not begin until FY 2024. The cost associated with the proposed 2040 CVW is less than the Navy would likely incur with its planned strike-fighter focused CVW. The continued reliance on manned strike-fighters results in a larger overall number of aircraft being required compared to the proposed CVW, primarily to train pilots and maintain their proficiency when not deployed. The higher aircraft inventory increases operations and maintenance (O&M) costs during the first decade of the period shown and raises procurement costs during the 2030s when today’s F/A-18 E/Fs are replaced with a new manned strike-fighter.

Total Cost of Proposed and strike-fighter Focused CVWs (CSBA Graphic)

A Clear Choice

The proposed 2040 CVW will be more expensive in the near-term than the Navy’s planned CVW, but the Navy will need to incur these additional costs if it is to prevent carrier aviation from becoming irrelevant to the most pressing defense challenges of the near future. The threats posed by great power competitors, and increasingly by regional powers such as Iran and North Korea, preclude relying on legacy capabilities to protect American allies and interests overseas.

Naval forces will be instrumental in deterring and defeating aggression by these adversaries, as described in the NDS. Carrier air wings provide the ability to sustain naval combat operations beyond the first few days, when ship and submarine missile inventories are depleted. Without a clear plan to improve the Navy’s CVWs, the United States may not be able to implement its defense strategy, and DoD leaders would need to reconsider if they want to continue the Navy’s investment in carrier aviation or shift resources to other, more effective, capabilities.

Bryan Clark is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. He was a career enlisted and officer submariner and held several positions in the Chief of Naval Operations staff, including Director of the CNO’s Commander’s Action Group.

Featured Image: South China Sea (Feb. 10, 2018) The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) transits the South China Sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Jasen Morenogarcia/Released)

The Deep Ocean: Seabed Warfare and the Defense of Undersea Infrastructure, Pt. 2

Read Part One here.

By Bill Glenney

Concepts from the CNO SSG

From 1998 to 2016, the CNO Strategic Studies Group (SSG) consistently recognized and accounted for the challenge of cross-domain maritime warfare, including the deep ocean. The Group generated several operational concepts that would give the Navy significant capabilities for the deep ocean part of the maritime battle.

Vehicles and Systems

Within the body of SSG concepts were reasonably detailed descriptions of a range of unmanned underwater vehicles, undersea sensors, and undersea weapons such as the towed payload modules, extra-large UUVs, logistics packages, and bottom-moored weapons. All would use the seabed and undersea for sensing, attacking, and sustaining in support of maritime forces.

One vehicle worth discussing is the armed UUV for single-sortie obstacle neutralization that would provide the Navy with the capability to counter armed UUVs, or conduct search for and clearance of fixed and mobile mines without the need for local air/surface superiority, or a manned support ship.1 It could plausibly do so at tactical sweep rates higher than today’s MCM forces. This can be achieved well before 2030, yet this capability is something neither the existing nor planned MCM forces can do.

The SSG XXXII concept can be achieved by integrating the following capabilities on the conceptualized extra-large UUV (XLUUV):

  • A synthetic aperture sonar – a capability the Navy had in 2013 
  • Automatic target-recognition software – a capability the Navy was developing
  • A 30 mm cannon that shoots super-cavitating rounds – a capability previously funded but not developed by the Navy

But, instead of focusing on the vehicles, there are two examples of operational-level concepts that exploit these vehicles and systems in recognition of the fact that the deep ocean is a critical yet misunderstood and underutilized part of maritime warfighting. 

Blitz MCM

In 1999, the SSG generated a concept called “Blitz MCM.”2 This work has stood the test of time technically and analytically, but has not been adopted by the Navy. And, while the SSG described it in terms of mine countermeasures, this same approach can be applied to deep ocean warfighting and the defense of undersea infrastructure.

At its most basic level, Blitz MCM resulted from the recognition that sensor performance in the undersea was not going to improve significantly from a tactical perspective over the period of 2000-2030. For clarity, yes, the accuracy of various undersea sensors has improved routinely, providing accuracy down to fractions of a meter and able to produce fairly detailed pictures of objects. But the effective range of these sensors has not and will not dramatically increase, still being measured in hundreds and maybe a thousand yards at best. These short ranges preclude their use as a single sensor when it comes to tactical maneuver in the maritime environment.

The SSG solution was to use large numbers of these individual sensors.

In order to enable the rapid maneuver by maritime forces, the force must be able to conduct in-stride mine reconnaissance and clearance of approach routes and intended areas of operations. In order to avoid lengthy operational pauses to search large areas and neutralize mines or armed UUVs or undersea explosives, Blitz MCM uses relatively autonomous UUVs that rely on sensing technology only moderately advanced beyond that available to the fleet 20 years ago. However, unlike today’s operations where small numbers of mine-hunting vehicles and aircraft are involved, Blitz MCM relies on the deployment of large numbers of unmanned vehicles out ahead of the force to rapidly work through the areas of interest to find, tag, or clear threats. Hundreds of small UUVs can work together as an intelligent swarm to clear thousands of square miles of ocean per day.

In some cases, based on the information provided by the vehicles, alternate approach routes or operating areas would be chosen, and the movements of closing units can be rapidly redirected accordingly. In other cases, the required paths will be cleared with a level of confidence that allows force elements to safely continue through to their intended operating areas.

As illustrated in figure 7, UUV-Ms use conformal, wide-band active/passive sonar arrays, magnetic sensors, electric field sensors, blue-green active/passive lasers, and trace chemical “sniffing” capabilities to detect mines. Onboard automatic target recognition capabilities are essential to the classification and identification effort. Acoustic and laser communications to near-surface relays or seabed fiber-optic gateways maintain connectivity.

Figure 7 – Mine Hunting and Clearance Operations (CNO SSG XIX Final Report)

Unmanned air vehicles are critical in their role as UUV carriers, especially when rapid deployment of UUVs is required across a large space. UCAV-Ms contribute to the effort with their mine-hunting lasers. They also serve as communications gateways from the “swimmer” UUVs to the network.

The UUV-Ms will generally operate in notional minehunting groups of several dozen to over a hundred vehicles. Teams of vehicles will swim in line abreast formations or in echelons with overlapping fields of sonar coverage. Normally they will swim at about 8-10 knots approximately 50 feet above the bottom. Following in trail would be additional UUVs assigned a “linebacker” function to approach closely and examine any suspicious objects detected. Tasking and team coordination will be conducted by the UUVs over acoustic or laser modems. Once a linebacker classifies and identifies a probable mine, its usual protocol will be to report the contact, standoff a short distance, and then send in a self-propelled mine clearing charge to destroy or neutralize the mine. Each UUV-M could carry approximately 16 of these micro-torpedoes. When one linebacker has exhausted its supply, it will automatically trade places with another UUV-M in the hunting team.

Rapid neutralization of mine threats is key to the clearance effort. Today, this dangerous task is often performed by human divers. 

Blitz MCM uses a “leapfrog laydown” of UUV-Ms, as illustrated in Figure 8. Analogous to the manner that sonobuoys are employed in an area for ASW coverage, the force would saturate an area of interest with UUV-Ms to maximize minehunting and clearance capabilities. Once dropped into the water, the UUV-Ms quickly form into echelons and begin their hunting efforts. Navigation and communication nodes will be dropped along with the Hunter UUV-Ms.

Figure 8 – Leapfrog Laydown of UUVs (CNO SSG XIX Final Report)

Large delivery rates will be possible with multiple sorties of UCAV-Ms each dropping two to four UUV-Ms on a single load and then rapidly returning with more. Upon completion of their missions, the Hunter UUV-Ms will be recovered by UCAVs or USVs and returned to the appropriate platforms for refueling, servicing, and re-deployment.

First order analysis indicates that with approximately 150 UUV-Ms in the water and a favorable oceanographic and bottom environment, reconnaissance and clearance rates of about 6,000 to 10,000 square miles per day (a 20-mile wide swath moving at 12-20 knots) should be achievable. This capability is several orders of magnitude over current MCM capabilities.

Naval Warfighting Bases

The SSG XXXII concept called Naval Warfighting Bases3 requires the Navy to think about sea power and undersea dominance in an entirely new way. And this new thinking goes against the grain of culture and training for most naval officers and is unconventional in two ways:

  • First, in Naval Warfighting Bases, forces ashore will have a direct and decisive role in establishing permanent undersea superiority in high interest areas
  • Second, “playing the away game” – the purview of forward deployed naval forces − is not sufficient to establish and sustain undersea dominance at home

As shown in Figure  9, afloat forces – CSGs, ESGs, SAGs, and submarines – do not have the capacity or the capabilities to establish permanent undersea dominance of the waters adjacent to the U.S. homeland and its territories (shown in yellow) and of key maritime choke points (shown with white circles), while simultaneously reacting to multiple crisis spots around the world (shown in red). The Navy must discard its current model of undersea dominance derived solely from mobile, forward deployed at-sea forces and replace it with one that is more inclusive − one that looks beyond just afloat forces. This new model must capitalize on the permanent access the Navy already has from shore-based installations at home and abroad (shown with yellow stars).

Figure 9 – Global Requirements for Undersea Superiority

Naval Warfighting Bases builds on detailed local understanding of the undersea, coupled with the projection of combat power from the land to control the sea; thereby providing permanent undersea dominance to defend undersea critical infrastructure near the homeland, protect major naval bases and ports of interest, and to control strategic chokepoints. Naval Warfighting Bases also provides the critical benefit of freeing up afloat Navy forces for missions only they can conduct.

At home, the U.S. Navy could establish something called an Undersea Defense Identification Zone, akin to the Air Defense Identification Zone, to detect and classify all deep sea contacts prior to their entry into the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ). By enhancing the capabilities of key coastal installations, the Navy will transform each into a Naval Warfighting Base. The base commander will be a warfighter with the responsibility, authority, and capability to establish and maintain permanent undersea superiority out to a nominal range of 300 nautical miles seaward from the base to include the majority of U.S. undersea and maritime critical infrastructure.

Figure 10 – Undersea Defense Identification Zones Provide Permanent Undersea Superiority

Base commanders will have the capability to detect and track large numbers of contacts as small as wave-glider sized UUVs. Each Naval Warfighting Base will have a detachment of forces to actively patrol its sector. Naval Warfighting Base commanders will be able to maintain continuous undersea understanding, enabling control of the deep ocean.

Naval Warfighting Base commanders will also have an integrated set of shore-based and mobile weapons systems with the capability to neutralize adversary undersea systems, such as UUVs, mines, and sensors. Naval Warfighting Base commanders will be capable of disabling or destroying all undersea threats in their sector, employing armed unmanned systems, and employing undersea warfare missiles fired from ashore.

An undersea warfare missile is a tactical concept that combines a missile and a torpedo, similar to modern ASROC missiles. The missile portion would provide the range and speed of response, while the torpedo portion would provide the undersea killing power. Broadly integrating undersea warfare missiles into a variety of platforms would provide a tremendous capability to cover larger areas without having to tap manned aviation or surface assets for weapon delivery. These missiles would provide responsive, high volume, and lethal capabilities. And they could be fired from land installations, submarines, surface combatants, and aircraft.

As practiced today, waterspace management (WSM) and prevention of mutual interference (PMI) result in a highly centralized authority, and extremely tight control and execution for undersea forces. This type of C2 would prevent undersea forces and Naval Warfighting Bases from becoming operational realities, and it would eliminate the warfighting capabilities from a balanced force of manned and unmanned systems. Undersea dominance is not possible without more deconflicted C2. The submarine force in particular must get over the fear of putting manned submarines in the same water as UUVs, and develop the related procedures and tactics to do so.

Defense of Undersea Infrastructure as a Navy Mission

As early as 2008 in their final report to the CNO, after having spent a second year of deep study on the convergence of sea power and cyber power, the SSG gave the CNO the immediately actionable step to:

take the lead in developing the nation’s deep seabed defense (emphasis in the original), given the absolute criticality of seabed infrastructure to cyberspace. Challenge maritime forces and the research establishment to identify actions and technologies that will extend maritime domain awareness to the ocean bottom, from the U.S. coastline to the outer continental shelf and beyond. Prepare now for a future in which U.S. commercial exploitation of the deep seabed – including the Arctic – is both commercially feasible and urgently required, making deep seabed defense a national necessity.”4

In 2008 and again in 2013, Navy leadership offered that there is no requirement for the U.S. Navy to defend undersea infrastructure except for some very specific, small area locations.5 In this context, the term requirement is as it relates to formally approved DON missions, functions, tasks, budgeting and acquisition, but not actual warfighting necessity.


The force must have the capabilities to sense, understand, and act in the deep ocean. The capabilities to do so are already available to anyone with a reasonable amount of money to buy them. Operationally speaking, hiding things on the seabed is fairly easy. On the other hand, finding things on the seabed is relatively difficult unless one is looking all the time, and has an accurate baseline from which to start the search and compare the results. The deep ocean presents an “area” challenge and a “point” challenge simultaneously, and both must be addressed by the maritime force. Understanding the deep ocean and fighting within it is also a matter of numbers and time – requiring lots of vehicles, sensors, and time.

The U. S. Navy is not currently in the game. With a variety of unmanned vehicles, sensors, and weapons coupled with Blitz MCM, Naval Warfighting Bases, and making undersea infrastructure defense a core U.S. Navy mission, the fleet can make the deep ocean – the entire undersea and seabed – a critical advantage in cross-domain warfighting at sea.

Professor William G. Glenney, IV, is a researcher in the Institute for Future Warfare Studies at the U. S. Naval War College.

The views presented here are personal and do not reflect official positions of the Naval War College, DON or DOD.


1. Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group XXXII Final Report, Own the Undersea (March 2014, Newport, RI), pp 4-6 to 4-9.

2. Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group XIX Final Report, Naval Power Forward (September 2000, Newport, RI), pp 6-8 to 6-12.

3. Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group XXXII Final Report, Own the Undersea (March 2014, Newport, RI), pp 2-15 to 2-20.

4. Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group XXVII Final Report Collaborate & Compel – Maritime Force Operations in the Interconnected Age (December 2008), pp 8-1 and 8-4.

5. Author’s personal notes from attendance at SSG XXVII briefings to the CNO on 19 July 2008 and SECNAV on 24 July 2008, and SSG XXXII briefing to the CNO on 25 July 2013.

Featured Image: Pioneer ROV (Blueye Robotics AS)

The Deep Ocean: Seabed Warfare and the Defense of Undersea Infrastructure, Pt. 1

By Bill Glenney


Given recent activities by the PLA(N) and the Russian Navy, the matters of seabed warfare and the defense of undersea infrastructure have emerged as topics of interest to the U. S. Navy.1,2 Part One of this paper presents several significant considerations, arguably contrary to common thinking, that highlight the challenges of bringing the deep sea and benthic realm into cross-domain warfighting in the maritime environment. Part Two presents three warfighting concepts drawn from the body of work done by the CNO Strategic Studies Group (SSG) that would give the Navy capabilities of value for the potential battlespace.

The Deep Ocean Environment

For clarity the term “deep ocean” will be used to cover the ocean bottom, beneath the ocean bottom to some unspecified depth, and the ocean water column deeper than about 3,000 feet.3 The deep ocean is where the U.S. Navy and the submarine force are not. Undersea infrastructures are in the deep ocean and on or under the seabed for various purposes.

How does the maritime fight on the ocean surface change when there must be a comparable fight for the deep ocean? In the maritime environment, it is long past time for the U.S. Navy to be mindful of and develop capabilities that account for effects in, from, and into the deep ocean, including effects on the ocean floor. Cross-domain warfighting demands this kind of completeness and specificity. As the Army had to learn about and embrace the air domain for its Air-Land battle in the 1980s, the Navy must do the same with the deep ocean for maritime warfare today and for the future.

However, the current frameworks of mine warfare, undersea warfare, and anti-submarine warfare as practiced by the Navy today are by no means sufficient to even deny the deep ocean to an adversary let alone control the deep ocean.  To “own” a domain, a force must have the capability to sense and understand what is in and what is happening in that domain. The force must also have the capability to act in a timely manner throughout that domain.

Today, the Navy and many nations around the world have radars and other sensors that can detect, track, and classify most of anything and everything that exists and happens in the atmosphere from the surface of the ocean and land up to an altitude of 90,000 feet altitude or higher, even into outer space. The Navy and many nations also have weapons – on the surface and on land, and in the air – that can act anywhere within the atmosphere. Some nations even have weapons that can act in the atmosphere from below the ocean surface. In short, with regard to the air domain, relevant maritime capabilities abound, including  fixed or mobile, unmanned or manned, precise or area. Naval forces can readily affect the air domain with capabilities that can cover the entire atmosphere.

But the same cannot be said for the deep ocean. Figure 1 below is based on information drawn from unclassified sources. Consider this depiction of the undersea in comparison with the air domain. Notice that there is a lot of light blue space – space where the Navy apparently does not have any capability to sense, understand, and act. The Navy’s capability to effect in, from, and into the deep ocean is at best extremely limited, but for the most part non-existent. Capabilities specifically relative to the seabed are even less, and with the Navy’s mine countermeasures capabilities also being very limited. What systems does the Navy have to detect unmanned underwater vehicles at very deep depths? What systems does the Navy have to surveil large ocean areas and the resident seabed infrastructure? What systems does the Navy have to act, defend, or attack, in the deep ocean?

Figure 1 – The Deep Ocean

Arguably, the Navy has built an approach to maritime warfighting that dismisses the deep ocean, and done so based on the assumption that dominating the top 3,000 feet of the waterspace is sufficient to dominating the entire waterspace – ocean floor to ocean surface. Undersea infrastructure is presumably safe and protected because the ceiling over it is locked up.

However, the force must have the capabilities to sense, understand, and act in the deep ocean.

While the assumption for dominating the deep ocean by dominating the ceiling may have been useful in the past, it clearly is no longer valid. In the past, it was very expensive to do anything in the deep ocean. The technology was not readily available, residing only in the hands of two or three nations or big oil companies. This no longer holds true. The cost of undersea technology for even the deepest known parts of the ocean has dropped dramatically, and also widely proliferated. If one has a couple hundred million dollars or maybe a billion dollars, they can sense, understand, and act in the deep ocean without any help from a nation or military. Unlike the U.S. government-funded search for the SS Titanic by Robert Ballard, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen independently found USS Indianapolis in over 15,000 feet of water in the Philippine Sea. The capabilities to sense, understand, and act in the deep ocean are available to anyone with a reasonable amount of money to buy them.

Figure 1 is misleading in one perspective. At the level of scale in figure 1, the ocean floor looks flat and smooth. If something is placed on the ocean bottom, such as a towed payload module, a logistics cache, sensors, or a weapon system, could it be easily found?

Figure 2 is a picture of survey results from the vicinity of the Diamantina Trench approximately 700 miles west of Perth, Australia in the Indian Ocean. The red line over the undersea mountain is about 17 miles in length. The water depth on the red line varies from 13,800 feet to 9,500 feet as shown on the right.4

Figure 2 – Diamantina Trench

Consider figure 3. The red line is just under three miles in length. The depth variation ranges from 12,100 feet to 11,900 feet.5 These figures provide examples of evidence that the abyssal is not featureless. The assumption of a flat and smooth ocean floor is simply wrong, and severely understates the challenge of sensing and acting in the deep sea.

Figure 3 – A Closer View in the Diamantina Trench

How hard would it be to find a standard-sized shipping container (8ft x 8ft x 20ft or even 40ft) on this floor? It could be incredibly difficult, requiring days or weeks or even months with many survey vehicles, especially if the area had not been previously surveyed. This is a lesson the U. S. Navy learned in the Cold War and has long since forgotten from its “Q routes” for port access. And it would be harder still if one were purposefully trying to hide whatever they placed on the ocean floor, such as in the pockmarks of figure 3.

Based on reported results from a two-year search for Malaysian Airlines flight MH-370, approximately 1.8 million square miles of the ocean floor were searched and mapped to a horizontal resolution on the order of 100 meters and vertical resolution of less than one meter.6 Yet, the plane remains unlocated.

Hiding things on the seabed is fairly easy, while finding things on the seabed is incredibly difficult. Unless one is looking all the time, and has an accurate baseline from which to start the search and compare the results, sensing in the deep sea is significant challenge. The next consideration is that of the matter of scale of the geographic area and what resides within it. This is what makes numbers matter.

Figure 4 provides a view of the Gulf of Mexico covering about 600,000 square miles in area and with waters as deep as 14,000 feet. There are about 3,500 platforms and rigs, and approximately 43,000 miles of pipeline spread across the Gulf.

Figure 4. – The Gulf of Mexico (National Geographic)

Of note, the global economy and worldwide demands for energy have caused the emergence of a strategic asymmetry exemplified by this figure. China gets most of its energy imports by surface shipping which is vulnerable to traditional anti-shipping campaigns. The U. S. gets much of its energy from undersea systems in the Gulf of Mexico. While immune from anti-shipping, this infrastructure is vulnerable to seabed attack. In late 2017, the Mexican government leased part of their Gulf of Mexico Exclusive Economic Zone seafloor to the Chinese for oil exploration.

Figure 5 provides a depiction of global undersea communication cables with some 300 cables and about 550,000 miles of cabling.

Figure 5 – Global Undersea Telecommunications Cables

Figure 6 provides a view of the South China Sea near Natuna Besar. This area is about 1.35 million square miles with waters as deep as 8,500 feet. Recall that in the two-year search for Malaysian Air flight MH 370 they surveyed only 1.8 million square miles, and did so in a militarily-benign environment. 

Figure 6 – The South China Sea

The deep ocean demands that a maritime force be capable of surveilling and acting in and over large geographic areas just like the ocean surface above it. Undersea infrastructure is already dispersed throughout those large areas. In addition, because the components of undersea infrastructure are finite in size, the deep ocean also demands that a maritime force be capable of surveilling and acting in discrete places. While it is arguable that defense in the deep ocean is a wide-area challenge and offense is a discrete challenge, the deep ocean demands that a maritime force be capable of doing both as part of the maritime battle. Therefore, the deep ocean presents an “area” challenge and a “point” challenge simultaneously, and both must be addressed by maritime forces.

In addition, the size of the area and the number of points of interest means that a dozen UUVs or a couple of nuclear submarines are not in any way sufficient to address the maritime warfighting challenge of defending the deep ocean and undersea infrastructure of this scale. Furthermore, the situation is exacerbated by systems and vehicles in the deep ocean above the seabed. The threat is not a few, large, manned platforms, but many small unmanned vehicles and weapons.

The historical demarcation among torpedoes, mines, and vehicles is no longer productive except maybe for purposes of international law and OPNAV programmatics. Operationally and tactically, the differentiation is arbitrary and a distraction from operational thinking. The Navy should be talking in terms of unmanned systems – some armed or weaponized, and some not; some mobile and some not; some intelligent and some not. Torpedoes can easily become mobile, armed UUVs with limited intelligence. Mines can also become mobile or fixed UUVs with very limited intelligence.

In the course of the author’s research and in research conducted by the CNO SSG, there were no situations or considerations where reclassifying mines and torpedoes as UUVs was problematic with regard to envisioning war at sea. Doing so eliminated a significant tactical and operational seam and opened up operational thinking. The systems for the detection and neutralization of UUVs are the same as those needed to detect and neutralize torpedoes and mines, and the same for surveilling or attacking undersea infrastructure.


Ultimately, understanding the deep ocean and warfare in the deep ocean is a matter of numbers and time – requiring plenty of sensors, and plenty of time. Part Two will present three warfighting concepts drawn from the body of work done by the CNO Strategic Studies Group (SSG) that would give the Navy capabilities for the deep sea battlespace.

Professor William G. Glenney, IV, is a researcher in the Institute for Future Warfare Studies at the U. S. Naval War College.

The views presented here are personal and do not reflect official positions of the Naval War College, DON or DOD.


1. This article is based on the author’s remarks given at the Naval Postgraduate School Warfare Innovation Continuum Workshop on 19 September 2018. All information and conclusions are based entirely on unclassified information.

2. See for example Rishi Sunak, MP, Undersea Cables:  Indispensable, Insecure, Policy Exchange (2017, London, UK);  Morgan Chalfant and Olivia Beavers, “Spotlight Falls on Russian Threat to Undersea Cables”, The Hill, 17 June 2018 accessed at;  Victor Abramowicz, “Moscow’s other navy”, The Interpreter, 21 June 2018 accessed at;  Stephen Chen, “Beijing plans an AI Atlantis for the South China Sea – without a human in sight”, South China Morning Post, 26 November 2018 accessed at;  and Asia Times Staff, “Taiwan undersea cables ‘priority targets’ by PLA in war”, Asia Times, 6 December 2017 accessed at

3. Based on unclassified sources, manned nuclear submarines can operate to water depth of 1,000-1,500 feet, manned diesel submarines somewhat shallower, and existing undersea weapons to depths approaching 3,000 feet.

4. Kim Picard, et. al., “Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 search data reveal geomorphology and seafloor processes in the remote southeast Indian Ocean,” Marine Geology 395 (2018) 301-319, pg 316.

5. Kim Picard, et. al., “Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 search data reveal geomorphology and seafloor processes in the remote southeast Indian Ocean,” Marine Geology 395 (2018) 301-319, pg 317.

6. Kim Picard, Walter Smith, Maggie Tran, Justy Siwabessy and Paul Kennedy, “Increased-resolution Bathymetry in the Southeast Indian Ocean”, Hydro International,, accessed 13 December 2017.

Featured Image: Deep Discoverer, a remotely operated vehicle, explores a cultural heritage site during Dive 02 of the Gulf of Mexico 2018 expedition. (Image courtesy of the NOAA/OER)

Why Turkish F-35s are a Threat to the United States and NATO

By Duncan Kellogg


Imagine, for a moment, a hypothetical country rapidly spiraling towards autocracy, illegally arresting American citizens, imprisoning journalists, and attacking American-supported forces. Now imagine that same country actively purchasing Russian surface-to-air missile systems and erecting missile defense sites around its territory. In such a hypothetical, it would be difficult to assume that the United States would ever support or even arm such a country. Unfortunately, this is not a hypothetical scenario. Not only is the U.S. treaty-bound to an alliance with such a country, it is actively engaged in efforts to sell fifth generation attack aircraft to it. The country in question, Turkey, and its drive toward acquiring a fleet of F-35s represents a serious threat to American national security and technological superiority. Fortunately, this threat has not been ignored by American policymakers, though more can be done to secure American aerial supremacy. 

Two main factors combine to make the sale of F-35s to Turkey a credible threat to American national security. First, on the immediate and kinetic front, Ankara’s continued efforts to acquire and deploy Russian-made integrated surface-to-air missile systems could give Russian engineers and radar systems operators key insight into the radar cross section and signals signature of the F-35. Second, on a broader and more strategically oriented scale, further supporting Turkey’s military advancement could backfire should the country slip further toward authoritarianism.

The first of these issues has thus far garnered the most attention on the Hill, due largely to its immediacy and clear outcome. Put simply, should the Turkish Air Force operate the F-35 in the vicinity of Russian S-400 missile systems Turkey will receive in 2019, Russian engineers could gain valuable insight into the aircraft’s detectability and flight profile. This would greatly hinder American aerial superiority and could jeopardize some of the most critical capabilities of the new aircraft should conflict with Russia arise. Lawmakers were quick to recognize the signals intelligence threat posed by Turkey linking the Russian missile system to the fleet of F-35s it is scheduled to receive in 2020. Last fall, Congress put a halt on the sale of F-35s to Turkey pending a report from the Pentagon on the implications of Ankara’s acquisition of the 100 F-35s it originally planned on purchasing. That report was delivered in November and Congress has yet to formally announce its conclusions on whether or not the sale will go ahead as planned.

Unfortunately, Congressional concern over Turkish F-35 acquisition might come too late to have a strong impact on Russian examination of the aircraft. Indeed, as President Erdogan continues to develop a stronger relationship with Moscow, pilots of the Turkish Air Force are training to fly American-made F-35s out of Arizona’s Luke Air Force Base. Moreover, the Turkish Air Force has already received its first F-35 and, though the plane remains in the United States, as Sebastien Roblin wrote in early September, it cannot be legally confiscated by the U.S. government. Should this specific aircraft successfully make its way to Turkey, it would likely be exposed to the prying sensors of the S-400.

The problems do not stop there. Beyond the immediate concern of compromising the classified capabilities of the F-35, fifth generation fighter sales to Turkey represent a strategic and ethical threat to both the United States and the NATO alliance as a whole. In the past few years, President Erdogan has successfully solidified himself as a modern autocrat in all but name. After 2016’s failed coup attempt, Erdogan has directed the arrests of tens of thousands of political opponents, journalists, teachers, and activists. He has illegally detained American citizens and threatened American-supported forces on the ground in Syria. These hardly represent the actions of a dedicated ally and should cause grave concern for export control professionals engaged in the sale of any advanced weapons systems, let alone the F-35, to Ankara.

Moreover, Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to leave the NATO alliance as a response to the growing tensions between Turkey and the United States. This comes at a time when the alliance faces increased Russian aggression on its borders and Russian interference in the political spheres of member nations. Indeed, Erdogan’s actions hardly support an image of a united alliance against Russian aggression. Rewarding such threats and rhetoric with the delivery of F-35s, regardless of Turkey’s investment in the program, is hardly a sound strategy. Indeed, as the leader of the world’s largest alliance of liberal democracies, it would behoove Washington to distance itself from Ankara’s rapid descent towards despotism. This argument is only compounded further when recognizing that not only American F-35s would be put at risk by Turkish acquisition, but the F-35 fleets of NATO allies like the UK and Norway as well.

While diagnosing the risks associated with selling F-35s to Turkey is an easy task, treating them is far more difficult. Largely, this is a result of Turkey’s deep industrial involvement in the development of the aircraft. To date, ten separate Turkish firms have engaged in significant support efforts in the F-35 program ranging from the integration of the plane’s new precision-guided Stand-off Missile to direct production of the F-35s weapons bay doors. Beyond the private sector, President Erdogan has repeatedly brought up the fact that the Turkish government has spent, in total, almost a billion dollars on the procurement of F-35 airframes. Such an immense level of sunk cost and existing investment means that Ankara will not simply roll over should Congress decide to cancel the sale of further F-35s. The White House must then determine whether fraying military ties with Turkey is worth preserving its new fifth generation fighter.


In light of Turkey’s increased relationship with Russia, commitment to purchasing Russian weapon systems, and rapid devolution into a modern autocracy, Washington’s best interest lies in denying the sale of further F-35 airframes to Turkey. The F-35 is critical to the future of American and NATO air superiority. It cannot be used as just another political chip on the global chessboard. Should it be sold to Turkey without Ankara’s cancellation of the S-400 deal, the F-35 could be compromised before it even takes flight as America’s primary strike fighter.

Duncan Kellogg is a developing naval analyst studying nuclear defense posture and maritime security at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. Duncan has been writing about the intersection of deterrence theory and maritime security since 2015. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his fish Maverick.

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (July 17, 2018) An F-35B Lightning II aircraft assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VFMA) 121 takes off from the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) during carrier qualifications and flight deck certifications. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Rawad Madanat/Released)180717-N-JW440-0037