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Operation Eminent Shield: The Advent of Unmanned Distributed Maritime Operations

Read Part One on the Battle of Locust Point. Read Part Two on the Nanxun Jiao Crisis.

By David Strachan


TOP SECRET/NOFORN

The following classified interview is being conducted per the joint NHHC/USNI Oral History Project on Autonomous Warfare.

Admiral Jeremy B. Lacy, USN (Ret.)

December 3, 2033

Annapolis, Maryland

Interviewer: Lt. Cmdr. Hailey J. Dowd, USN

Good morning.

We are joined again today by Admiral Jeremy B. Lacy, widely considered the father of autonomous undersea conflict, or what has come to be known as micronaval warfare. Admiral Lacy spearheaded the Atom-class microsubmarine program, eventually going on to establish Strikepod Group 1 (COMPODGRU 1), and serving as Commander, Strikepod Forces, Atlantic (COMPODLANT), as well as Commander, Strikepod Command (SPODCOM). He is currently the Corbin A. McNeill Endowed Chair in Naval Engineering at the U.S. Naval Academy.

This is the third installment of a planned eight-part classified oral history focusing on Admiral Lacy’s distinguished naval career, and his profound impact on modern naval warfare. In Part II, we learned of the aftermath of the Battle of Locust Point, and how continued Russian micronaval advances, most notably the nuclear-armed Poseidon UUV, led to the development of AUDEN, the Atlantic Undersea Defense Network. We also learned of CYAN, a “walk-in” CIA agent who revealed Chinese penetration of the AUDEN program, and the resulting emplacement of numerous AUDEN-like Shāyú microsubmarine turrets throughout the South China Sea. One of these turrets, at Gaven Reefs, known to the Chinese as Nanxun Jiao, was directly involved in engaging the USS Decatur, and was subsequently the target of an undersea strike which resulted in the deaths of four Chinese nationals, including CYAN himself.

The Nanxun Jiao Crisis was a wakeup call for the United States. With Chinese militarization of the South China Sea expanding to the seabed, a new sense of urgency now permeated the U.S. national security establishment. Pressure was mounting to counter China’s increasing belligerence and expansionist agenda, but doing so risked igniting a regional conflict, or a confrontation between nuclear-armed adversaries.

We joined Admiral Lacy again at his home in Annapolis, Maryland.


 

Let’s begin with the immediate aftermath of Operation Roundhouse. How impacted was Strikepod Command by the events of that day?

It was devastating. Unimaginable, really. That we’d had a hand, however unwittingly, in the murder of four people, and watched it unfold in real time right before our eyes – you can’t prepare for something like that. They brought in counselors from Langley [Air Force Base] – chaplains, experienced drone pilots who’d been through this kind of thing. But for a lot of talented people it just wasn’t enough, and they had to call it a day.

For those who remained the trauma eventually gave way to anger, and then determination. But the feeling of betrayal, of vulnerability, was difficult to overcome. All we could do was move on as best we could.

The CYAN investigation would eventually yield a single spy – Charles Alan Ordway , a FathomWorks contractor motivated apparently by personal financial gain. But you weren’t convinced that was the end of it.

Ordway worked on AUDEN, but he didn’t have code word clearance, so while it was true that he had passed sensitive information to the Chinese, there was really no way for him to have known of Roundhouse or CYAN. From a counterintelligence perspective, he was low hanging fruit, and I believed – and continue to believe to this day – that there was someone else.

The intelligence provided by CYAN led to the discovery of several operational Shāyú installations in addition to Nanxun Jiao. What was the reaction in policy circles?

Alarm bells were going off throughout Washington, and we were under extraordinary pressure not only to process the raw intelligence, but to understand the broader implications of China’s growing micronaval capability, particularly as it applied to gray zone operations. It was quite clear now that strategic ambiguity was no longer appropriate, and if policymakers were waiting for a reason to act, it seemed Nanxun Jiao was it.

And yet, apparently it still wasn’t.

No. The president felt that while the Shāyú emplacements represented a concerning development in the South China Sea, there was little difference between seabed microsubmarine turrets and onshore ASCM batteries. Keep in mind, it was also an election year, a time when politicians generally avoid starting wars. And there was additional concern that any escalation in the South China Sea would have an adverse impact on the restarted negotiations with North Korea.

So we were in a holding pattern, a period of strategic paralysis, really. No additional strikes were authorized, or even under consideration. We’d sent a message with Roundhouse, and the Chinese answer was continued harassment and militarization. They were dug in and practically daring us to escalate. And with neither side willing or able to consider a diplomatic solution, the tension was left to fester.

Let’s come back to that, if we could, and talk a bit about developments at FathomWorks. The Atom-class was proving to be a phenomenally successful platform, and you were now being called upon to replicate that success in another domain.

Once the dust had settled I got a call from Chandra [Reddy, the ONR Atom-class liaison] who wanted to chat about Falken [the Atom-class artificial intelligence], and specifically whether I thought it could be adapted to an unmanned surface vehicle. We got to talking, and he says you know what, Jay, there’s someone you should meet. Next day, I’m off to Olney [Maryland] with Max [Keller, Director of AI for the Atom-class] to meet with Talia Nassi.

Was that name familiar to you?

She was three years behind me at the Academy, and our paths had crossed a couple times over the years at conferences and training sessions. She was pretty outspoken and wasn’t afraid of ruffling a few feathers, especially when it came to unmanned systems and what was then being called DMO, or distributed maritime operations. Like everyone else, though, I knew her as the maverick commander who’d taken early retirement to start Nassi Marine.

But you had no idea she was behind the Esquire-class?

I had no idea that such a program even existed. It was highly compartmentalized, as these things tend to be. Very need to know. But there’d been rumors that something was under development, that [DARPA/ONR] Sea Hunter was really a prototype for a deep black program, something highly advanced and combat-oriented.

And so you arrive at Nassi Marine…

And Talia greets us in the lobby. Then it’s off to the conference room for small talk, sandwiches, and coffee. Then onto Falken and its potential for USVs. And then after about fifteen minutes Talia politely asks Max if he wouldn’t mind waiting outside. He leaves, and she reaches down, plucks a folder from her briefcase and slides it across the table. I open it up, and I’m looking down at a something straight out of Star Trek.

The Esquire-class?

It was honestly more spaceship than warship, at least on paper. Trimaran hull, nacelle-like outriggers, angular, stealth features. And for the next half hour or so, Talia briefs me on this revolutionary unmanned surface combatant, and I’m thinking, wow, this is some really impressive design work, not really imagining that it’s moved beyond the drawing board.

Did you wonder why you were being brought into the fold?

As far as I knew, I was there to talk about Falken, so it did strike me as odd that I’d be briefed on a deep black surface platform. But it wasn’t long before I understood why. One of the main features of the Esquire was its integrated microsubmarine bay. Talia had originally envisioned something that could accommodate a range of micro UUVs, but ultimately decided to focus on the Atom given its established AI and the seamless integration it offered.

Nassi Marine headquarters is sometimes referred to as “Lake Talia” for its enormous wave pool and micronaval testing facility. Did it live up to its name?

Absolutely!

When Talia finishes her briefing, I follow her down the hall and through a set of doors, and suddenly I’m staring at the largest indoor pool I’ve ever seen. It’s basically her own private Carderock, but nearly four times the size and twice as deep. When she founded Nassi Marine, Talia wanted somewhere she could put classified systems through their paces in a controlled, secure environment that was free from prying eyes. Dahlgren [Maryland] and Bayview [Idaho] were far too visible for her, so she acquired some surplus government land in rural Maryland and nestled a cutting edge R&D facility between a country club and an alpaca farm.

Was there a working prototype of the Esquire?

Talia walks me over to the dry dock, and there it is.

What was your impression?

I was struck by how small it was. At only fifty feet long, it was less than half the length of Sea Hunter. But it looked fierce, and according to Talia, packed a mean punch. Fifty caliber deck gun, VLS for shooting nanomissiles and Foxhawks, a newly developed swarming drone. It also featured a hangar and landing pad for quadrotor drones, as well as two directed energy turrets and countermeasure launchers. And of course, the integrated well deck-like feature for the launch and recovery of microsubmarines. And these were just the kinetics. It also packed a range of advanced sensors and non-kinetic effectors as well.

So, between the engineering and AI integration, you had your work cut out.

Indeed we did. Talia put me on the spot for an ETA, and after giving it some thought, I estimated six to nine months for the full deal. That’s when she hits me with the punch line: “You’ve got three.”

Three months?

Three! I was like look, we might be magicians at FathomWorks, but we’re not miracle workers. And anyway what’s the hurry? Talia looks me right in the eye and says, “Because in about 18 months it’s headed to the South China Sea.”

Did that come as a shock?

The timetable was certainly a shock, but it was also the first I’d heard that any plans for escalation had moved beyond the gaming table. The handwriting had been on the wall for years, of course, so I wasn’t surprised, and honestly it came as a relief knowing that a tangible response was finally in the offing.

So you embark on the Atom integration, and at the same time you’re overseeing Eminent Shadow . . .

Which has now been greatly expanded in the wake of Nanxun Jiao. At its peak I think there were no less than forty Strikepods – about two hundred fifty Atoms – dotting the Spratlys and Paracels, providing FONOP escort and monitoring PLAN and militia activities both on and below the surface.

And the Shāyú was proving itself to be an ideal tool for the gray zone.

Indeed. After Nanxun Jiao, the Chinese were utterly emboldened and were becoming ever more ballsy. Nearly every FONOP was met with Shāyú harassment, and even though we’d stepped up Atom production and significantly increased our operational footprint, it was challenging to keep up. And PLAN engineers were becoming ever more creative.

How so?

They’d been working on a micro towed array for the Shāyú, similar to what we’d been developing for the Block II Atom. From what we could tell, they weren’t having much success, but they did find that it could be effective for gray zone effects. Shāyús would make runs at our DDGs with arrays extended, and once in a while penetrate the Strikepod perimeter and foul the screws pretty good. Even if publically the Chinese didn’t take credit, there was significant propaganda value in disabled U.S. warships.

Were you also monitoring for new indications of seabed construction?

Our main concern was the northeastern Spratlys and southern Paracels near the shipping lanes. With a foothold in either of those locations, the Chinese would have near complete maritime domain awareness over the South China Sea. So our mission was to closely monitor those areas, and report back anything anomalous. It wasn’t long before we found something.

The emplacements at Bombay Reef and Scarborough Shoal?

We’d been monitoring inbound surface traffic when satellites spotted some unusual cargo being loaded onto a couple fishing trawlers up in Sanya. We vectored Strikepods as they departed, and trailed them to Bombay and Scarborough where we snapped some surface imagery of divers and equipment being lowered over the side. We monitored for about five days, keeping our distance, and picking up all manner of construction noise. We’re itching to take a look, but wait patiently for crew changes and quickly order the imagery. The Strikepods are in and out in under five minutes, and two Relay burst transmissions later we’re looking at the beginnings of Shāyú turrets at both locations.

What was your analysis?

It indicated that the Chinese were planning for future confrontations in the region – gray zone or conventional, most likely due to their planned militarization of Bombay and Scarborough.

The implications were grave. Vietnam had a history of taking on great powers and winning, and had pushed back hard on China in the past. And while Duterte had been cozying up to Beijing and drifting away from the U.S., Scarborough Shoal would be a red line. A provocation like this could be just the excuse Hanoi and Manila needed to act.

Did the United States share the intelligence?

Not initially, no. First and foremost we needed to safeguard sources and methods, and sharing anything would reveal our micronaval capabilities which were still highly classified and largely unknown. The Shāyú was also still a mystery, and divulging what we knew to Hanoi or Manila would risk exposure to Beijing. And we couldn’t be sure that they wouldn’t act unilaterally, igniting a conflict that could draw us into a war with China.

You were obviously busy at SPODCOM overseeing Eminent Shadow, but FathomWorks was also working intensively now with Nassi Marine.

Once we discovered Bombay and Scarborough, the sense of urgency was high, and we were working around the clock to get the Esquire combat ready. We ran through countless simulated missions in the Lake, and eventually at sea off North Carolina. Talia handed it off for production on time and under budget, and we joined the operational planning underway at Seventh Fleet.

Eminent Shadow was about to become Eminent Shield?

Yes. Of course planning for a South China Sea incursion had been underway for several years, and it was only after Locust Point that I’d been asked to join, to integrate micronaval elements into the wargaming framework.

But during those games, there was no mention of the Esquire?

Not initially, no. All we were told was that, in addition to being deployed from Virginias and surface ships, Strikepods could also be launched and recovered from a hypothetical USV with fairly abstract capabilities. But once the Esquire moved beyond the design phase, and there was a working prototype, it was folded into the games going forward.

And those games formed the basis for Eminent Shield?

Eventually they did, yes, but initially we were running scenario after scenario of high-end warfighting. There were some smaller skirmishes and limited conflicts where we intervened on behalf of regional states, but in general the primary objective was always either stopping or rolling back Chinese expansion, with the Esquires called upon as a force multiplier to augment ISR and EW, act as decoys, deploy Strikepods for ASW and counter-microsubmarine ops, and take out small aerial threats. Plausible to be sure, but at some point it occurred to me that the Esquire might enable us to project power in a less conventional, but no less effective manner. To essentially meet the Chinese where they were.

So we gamed some scenarios where the U.S. assumed a greater presence in the South China Sea using unmanned systems. Something beyond FONOPS and undersea reconnaissance. Something visible and formidable enough to send a strong signal to Beijing without provoking a shooting war. A kind of gray zone gunboat diplomacy, if you will, pushing things to the edge while gambling that the Chinese wouldn’t resort to a kinetic response.

Turnabout is fair play.

That it is.

How was it received?

Well, people appreciated that it was bold and imaginative, I suppose, but ultimately felt it was fraught with uncertainty, that it would only serve to antagonize the Chinese, and quickly escalate to high-end conflict anyway.

So it went to the back burner?

Yes, but I continued to refine it, along with input from Talia, who eventually came on board as strategic advisor, as well as some folks at the Pentagon and Intelligence. Once the discoveries at Bombay and Scarborough happened, though, the administration was looking for options . . .

And you got the call-up.

Yes, ma’am.

What was the plan?

The overarching objective of Eminent Shield was to signal that the United States would no longer sit idly by as the South China Sea was transformed into a Chinese lake. And we would do this by establishing a permanent distributed maritime presence in the region using a network of unmanned surface combatants.

The plan itself involved four sorties of LSDs out of Sasebo to essentially seed the region with Esquires. At fifty feet long, with a beam of seventeen, we determined that a dozen would fit into the well deck of a Whidbey Island. After some practice with the Carter Hall and Oak Hill down at [Joint Expeditionary Base] Little Creek, we airlifted forty-eight to Sasebo, where they were loaded onto the Ashland, Germantown, Rushmore and Comstock. Separated by about thirty-six hours, they sailed on a benign southwesterly heading between the Spratlys and the Paracels, escorted by an SSN and two or three Strikepods to monitor for PLAN submarines and Shāyús. At a predetermined waypoint, and under cover of darkness, the Esquires would deploy, then sail to their preprogrammed op zone – two squadrons to the Paracels, two to the Spratlys, and one to Scarborough Shoal – and await further orders.

Was there concern that the Chinese would view such a rapid deployment as some kind of invasion? A prelude to war?

 We considered a more incremental approach, something less sudden. But we needed to act quickly, to avoid any kind of coordinated PLAN response – a blockade or other high profile encounter that could escalate. A rapid deployment would also underscore that the United States Navy had acted at a time and place of our choosing, and that we could operate in the South China Sea with impunity. At the end of the day, the Esquires were really nothing more than lightly armed ISR nodes, and were far less ominous than a surge of CVNs or DDGs.

Did it proceed as planned?

For the most part, yes. There were some technical hiccups, with three Esquires ultimately refusing to cooperate, so the final package was forty-five – nine vessels per squadron. The pilots and squadron commanders were based out of SPODCOM in Norfolk, but the Esquires were fully integrated into the regional tactical grid, and, if necessary, could be readily controlled by manned assets operating in theater.

And you were able to avoid PLAN or PAFMM harassment?

By sortie number four we’d gotten their attention – probably alerted by a nearby submarine – and three CCG cutters were vectored onto the egressing LSDs. But the deployment went off without incident, and in a few days all four ships were safely back in Sasebo.

And then we waited.

How long was it before the PLAN became aware?

It was about thirty-six hours before we began to see some activity near Subi Reef. The Esquire is small, and has a very low cross section, so it was unlikely they’d been tagged by radar. More likely they’d been spotted by an alert fishing boat, or passing aircraft, or possibly the heat signatures of the LENRs lit up a satellite.

At around 0300 I wake up to an “urgent” from the watch that about a dozen fishing boats were converging on Subi. So here we go. By the time I get to the office they’ve got the live feed up, and I watch the maritime militia descending in real-time. We order the Equire to deploy a six-ship Strikepod to enhance our visual, and pretty soon we’ve got a wide angle on the whole scene – lots of little blue men with binoculars, clearly perplexed, but no indications of imminent hostilities. This goes on for nearly three hours, until we notice some activity on one of trawlers. They’re prepping a dinghy with some tow rope and a four-man boarding party.

They’re going to grab it?

Certainly looks that way. They lower the dinghy and make their way over, inching to within ten meters or so, and that’s when we hit them with the LRAD [Long Range Acoustic Device], blasting a warning in Chinese – do not approach, this is the sovereign property of the United States operating in international waters. Things along those lines.

They turn tail and beat it back to the ship, but they’re not giving up. Next thing we see guys tossing headphones down to the dinghy. Needless to say, we weren’t about to give them a second chance, so we quickly order the Strikepod recovered and hit the gas.

Did they pursue?

They tried. But the Esquire can do about forty knots, and by the time they knew what was happening, we already had about 500 yards on them, so they gave up fairly quickly.

I imagine it wasn’t much longer before the other Esquires were discovered?

Word spread quickly of that encounter, and no, it wasn’t long before Esquires were being engaged by militia at multiple locations. In some cases they would try to board, in others they would attempt to blockade or ram. But the Esquires were too maneuverable, and between Falken and the pilots, we managed to stay a step or two ahead.

Had you anticipated this?

We’d anticipated the initial confusion and fits of arbitrary aggression. We also anticipated the political backlash, of course.

Which did manifest itself.

Yes, but not entirely how we’d envisioned. We knew that Beijing would be furious that the United States had mounted such an aggressive op in their own backyard. But at the same time, would they really want to draw that much attention to it? Wouldn’t that be underscoring the U.S. Navy’s ability to operate anywhere, anytime?

And the PLAN’s inability to prevent it.

Sure enough, state television reports that a U.S. Navy unmanned surface vehicle – singular – had violated Chinese sovereignty and was engaged by PLAN forces. Video footage flashed from a PLAN destroyer to a rigid hull speeding toward an Esquire, to a couple of hovering [Harbin] Z-9s. The implication was that the Esquire had been captured or otherwise neutralized, yet all forty-five were fully functional and responding. It was a clever propaganda stroke, but by going public, the Chinese had opened a Pandora’s box.

Because now the Western media was all over it?

And with the Esquire out in the open, we’d have a lot of explaining to do. There would be questions about capabilities, deployment numbers …

To which the answer was?

That we don’t comment on ongoing operations, of course. But, through calculated leaks and relentless investigative reporting, the Chinese would quickly realize what they were dealing with, and what it signaled in terms of U.S. intentions and resolve.

And meanwhile Eminent Shield continued. With unmanned FONOPS?

To start with, yes. The Esquires initially had taken up position outside twelve miles, but we soon began moving them intermittently inside territorial limits to deploy and recover a drone. By this point militia boats were always shadowing, and would move quickly to harass the Esquires as best they could.

But then we upped the ante a bit. We’d use onboard EW effectors to spoof their GPS and AIS. We’d lure their destroyers to one location while a DDG ran a FONOP just over the horizon, unmolested. We’d form ASW dragnets using smaller squadrons of three or four Esquires with their towed arrays and Strikepods deployed, sonar banging away.

And, yeah, we also installed dead wire in the towed arrays of some of the Atoms, so we were able to return the favor and foul some screws of our own.

What about the Shāyús?

The Shāyús were the greatest source of trouble for the Esquire, and we’d anticipated this. We couldn’t be certain whether or how the Chinese might engage the Esquires on the surface or in the air, but we were absolutely certain that there would be attacks from below.

But with the Esquire’s waterjets there were no screws to foul. And a six-ship Strikepod was deployed as an escort at all times, and there were also Firesquids [anti-torpedo torpedoes] for additional defense. But even so, the Esquires were quite vulnerable, and the Shāyús quickly moved to exploit this.

In what way?

The Esquires were defending well, but the Shāyú’s tactics were evolving. Initially they would engage the Atoms ship-to-ship and attempt to defeat them before moving on to the objective. But soon they learned to avoid the Atoms altogether and engage in hit and run attacks from below, targeting the Esquire’s stern in an attempt to ram and disable the microsubmarine bay and propulsion. Living up to their namesake, I suppose. [Shāyú is Mandarin for shark.]

Did Falken adapt accordingly?

Falken quickly recognized the need to deploy its full complement of Atoms to defend against the volume of attacking Shāyús, and actually began to form smaller squadrons of two or three Esquires to offset the numerical disadvantage. Falken also ordered escorting Strikepods to assume a tighter, closer formation, one that emphasized protecting the Esquire’s belly and backside, and began using Firesquids as decoys to great effect, something we hadn’t even considered.

Atom attrition was high then?

For a time, yes, and resupply was challenging. The payload modules on nearby Virginias were filled to capacity, but that was only around forty or fifty units. At the rate we were losing them, we’d be critical in a matter of weeks.

So the Shāyús adapt, Falken counters, but the attacks continue until one day the Shāyús succeed in disabling an Esquire within twelve miles of Mischief Reef.

And now it’s a race to recover.

The [USS] Mustin [DDG 89] was about forty kilometers away, and was immediately ordered to the area. The PLAN had also been alerted, and vectored the destroyer Haikou, which was only five kilometers away. So Mustin puts a Seahawk up, but even at full throttle Haikou is still going to win that race.

Haikou arrives, and they immediately put a boarding party in the water. ETA on the Seahawk is two minutes, and the Mustin is still thirty minutes away at flank. We blast the LRAD, but they’re wearing headphones now, so we fire a warning from the 50 cal, and light off a small swarm of Foxhawks. This gets their attention, and manages to buy us the few minutes we need.

The Seahawk arrives, loaded with Hellfires, and five minutes later, Mustin appears on the horizon. Now we’ve got ourselves a standoff. The Chinese are making threats, and we’re making counter-threats. And then the militia shows up – fishing boats, CCG, wrapping cabbage to cut off Mustin and the Esquire. And so we’re eyeball to eyeball, now, fingers on the trigger.

An hour goes by. Two. Eight. “Stand by” is the order. Twelve hours. Darkness falls, and we keep vigil through the night. By now, the media has it, and talk of war is everywhere. A new day dawns on the South China Sea, and around 1930 Eastern, I’m summoned to the vault for a telepresence with the Sit Room.

To brief?

Not exactly.

First they asked me to confirm the conclusions of my earlier analysis, that the Shāyú emplacements were likely a gray zone prelude to a Chinese land grab at Bombay Reef and Scarborough Shoal.

Then they asked whether I believed the Chinese would willingly dismantle Bombay and Scarborough in return for withdrawal of the Esquires.

And did you?

The Chinese would want the Esquires gone ASAP for political reasons, but they also were well aware of their capabilities, and how they would dramatically augment U.S. firepower in the event of regional hostilities. It seemed to me that Beijing would be willing to forfeit those locations if it meant a reduced U.S. military presence, and also the ability to save face by appearing to expel the U.S. Navy from the South China Sea.

And then I offered a pretty candid, if unsolicited, opinion on the deal.

Which was?

That the Chinese would be getting much more than they were giving up. That dismantling the emplacements, while a short-term loss for the Chinese and a gain for us, would do little to deter future militarization. The U.S. would also be giving up significant strategic leverage, and potentially damaging our credibility in the process.

So you were against it?

You’re damn right I was. Call me a hawk, but we’d gone round after round with Beijing for over a decade, and then took one on the chin at Nanxun Jiao. We’d finally taken decisive action, and now we’re just going to let it slip away?

But ultimately it did.

Unfortunately, yes.

Around 2200 the Chinese suddenly back off, and Mustin is allowed to move in and recover the Esquire. The next day news breaks of emergency multilateral talks in Tallinn, Estonia involving the U.S., China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

There was great optimism leading up to Tallinn, that this could be the diplomatic breakthrough that would empower regional states to push back on Beijing knowing that the U.S. had their back. But ultimately it was not to be. The Chinese dismantled the Shāyú emplacements at Bombay and Scarborough, and in return the United States withdrew every last Esquire. Beijing also pledged to work toward “greater understanding” with its neighbors and other ambiguous words to that effect. The Tallinn Communiqué was hailed as a success by all, but for entirely different reasons. The U.S. and our allies believed this was a significant step toward regional stability by checking Chinese expansionism. The Chinese, meanwhile, declared victory in having expelled the United States from its backyard while strengthening its role as regional hegemon.

Were you disappointed with the outcome? 

Disappointed? Perhaps. The Navy exists to ensure peace and protect U.S. interests through strength, and so when policy seems at odds with that mandate, yes, I guess it makes me bristle. But I wasn’t surprised. Tallinn wasn’t the first toothless resolution in the history of international diplomacy, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.

And all I could think, sitting there in SPODCOM, watching the last of the Esquires being recovered under the watchful eye of PLAN warships, was that it wouldn’t be long before we’d be back there again.

Only next time, things might not end so cleanly.

[End Part III]

David R. Strachan is a naval analyst and writer living in Silver Spring, MD. His website, Strikepod Systems, explores the emergence of unmanned undersea warfare via real-time speculative fiction. Contact him at strikepod.systems@gmail.com.

Featured Image: “The Middle of Nowhere” by hunterkiller via DeviantArt

The Future of Information Combat Power: Winning the Information War

By VADM T.J. White, RDML Danelle Barrett, and LCDR Robert “Jake” Bebber

Imagine you are the Information Warfare Commander (IWC) of a coalition naval task force in the South China Sea in 2033. The task force’s mission is to deliver combat power in support of the Commander’s campaign objectives. As the IWC, you are simultaneously a “supporting” and “supported” commander. You execute multiple lines of operations across the full-spectrum of influence, information, and cyberspace. The other warfare commanders – strike, air defense, and sea combat – rely on you to understand their fight and fuel their decision-making with precision information, while simultaneously conducting an integrated high-end fight in and through the information domain leading to warfighting outcomes. The information domain is vast, it can be both localized and completely global, interweaving through all other domains of war.

Cyberspace and the Electromagnetic Spectrum are material realizations of the information domain, whether midpoint or endpoint, Internet Protocol or radio frequency, defense or attack, this is where you fight, for there is only one network separated in time. The arsenal of interoperable weapons and systems, manned and unmanned platforms, at the Commander’s disposal to execute and sustain a campaign requires all that you can bring to bear from across your composeable force to achieve unmatched distributed lethality. You have the authorities to execute full-spectrum information warfare to:

  • Reach intended audiences and decision-makers to alter adversary courses of action to our advantage;
  • Protect coalition decision-making;
  • Seize and hold at risk adversary cyberspace;
  • Defend our interests in and through cyberspace;
  • Compete and Win.

Technological capabilities are advancing at an exponential rate while also converging with each other, creating new capabilities for both you and your adversary. When those are combined with people and processes, they provide significant operational advantages, enabling us to simultaneously contest adversary actions in cyberspace, land, sea, air, and space. Future warfighting, enabled by these emerging technologies, is necessary to adapt, develop, and execute new, more lethal operational methods. The future IWC must foster an intuitive ability in themselves and across their force to recognize these emergent opportunities, seize them with deliberate intent, and be comfortable with a battlespace changing at an unprecedented rate. As “maestro” of the Information Warfare afloat symphony, you understand the potential power of full-spectrum, integrated information warfare. You guide your force to realize that potential by opportunities seized and effects achieved.

This requires serious forethought and planning to make certain the force – human and platform –  is prepared to orchestrate effects in this type of environment. It demands a certain mentality and type of thinker – agile, adaptive, innovative, willing to take calculated risks with speed; an aggressive change agent. Thinking like a futurist and being comfortable with being uncomfortable should be part of the IWC job description. As the IWC, you see the convergence of people, information, and machines as your domain and how the Navy makes that our warfighting gain.

The complex interactions within the information environment and ecosystem expose new vulnerabilities to pre-emptively close or seize. Space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum must be protected from disruption by sophisticated and increasingly aggressive adversaries. These domains are contested ecosystems in which you as the IWC must align kinetic and non-kinetic fires, synchronized alongside other operations. At your disposal are surface, subsurface, air, and space autonomous vehicles that can reason, recommend actions, and execute within prescribed rules of engagement. Autonomous information warfare platforms are hyper-connected with manned units using both laser and radio frequency communications links, complicating an already congested spectrum. The ability to tie all these elements together into the fleet tactical grid, coupled with advanced data analytics and machine learning, are required to prevail in our highly contested battlespace.

Additionally, platforms are equipped with quantum computers networked across 24 time-zones. Secure cloud-networked afloat “information warfare vaults” at the tactical edge project combat power and provide the bandwidth, security, and resiliency needed to fight through information disruption and denial. Our peer adversaries have rapidly advanced their capabilities in parallel. Inexpensive and ubiquitous technology has eroded the qualitative operational advantages we once enjoyed. Our force must be postured to deny the information space to adversaries who wish to hold our national interests at risk. Resilience in your operations presents both sides of the coin; challenge and opportunity.

We observed a sea change in operational focus, due to the vastly different threat outlook outlined 17 years earlier in the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS). In 2033 we face new and emerging threats that were not imagined then. For example, miniaturized computing coupled with advanced robotics on autonomous Artificial Intelligence (AI) vehicles have fundamentally changed maritime warfare. The rules of engagement are different and include means for AI in those autonomous vehicles to even make ethical decisions about warfare. Our adversaries no longer conform to Geneva Convention rules having judged them anachronistic for the current fight. As IWC you have a keen sense of how these factors govern our own warfighting actions, how the adversaries don’t behave in accordance with traditionally accepted rules of warfare, and how to incorporate all of these factors for an information advantage that ensures our lethality.

Since 2000, the U.S. and China have been engaged in a fierce technological arms race, with AI at the forefront beginning 2018. Each amassed complicated autonomous combat platforms that can reason, recommend, and make decisions depending on their programming and their ability to learn. China made significant investments in people, processes, and technology (not always their own) to ensure dominance in AI and quantum computing. They have long held a strategic national objective to be the world leader in AI, working tirelessly to shape information interactions globally. What started in the early stages of Chinese and American research companies developing AI programming that defeated the world’s greatest chess and Go masters, has progressed to unprecedented computing capability far exceeding the capacity of the human brain.

Physical devices such as automobiles, appliances, phones, and homes were embedded with sensors, software, and actuators connected to share data and control actions across an “Internet of Things.” This similarly transformed maritime operations. Strategic competitors like Russia and China added disruptive tools to their information arsenal to achieve warfighting maritime effects like operational technology disruption in navigation, propulsion. and other control systems. As the IWC, you understand how to stay one step ahead of potential adversaries by leveraging those same technologies and capabilities, integrating them into the fight, and denying enemy use.  

Your superior AI is a game changer enabling you to stay ahead. It correlates thousands of factors in real time yielding a tactical picture not disconnected from operational significance. Advanced modeling and simulation of possible enemy courses of action at the tactical edge provides you with recommended countermeasures. Real-time assessment of network conditions yields the means to communicate securely over vast distances to execute distributed operations. Because it processes vast quantities of data in fractions of a second, AI quickly learns, grows, and adapts within a rules framework such as command relationships, rules of engagement, campaign phasing, weight, level of effort, all covering multiple branches and sequels to operational plans. Your team provides the necessary “man in the loop” understanding and maintaining of Commander’s intent and strategic guidance. AI supports your maritime forces by providing courses of action based on analysis of massive amounts of sensor data and information from ashore and organic afloat sources. The key to this operator extended reality (clearer sight picture, farther reach, faster decision) is data veracity – a combination of data trustworthiness and core common data standards across and within the information kill chain. Warfighting decisions are made more quickly and reliably, even factoring ethical and moral elements into the calculus. Only in the most sensitive warfighting scenarios are humans used as the last deciding factor for weapons employment.

The Navy moved boldly to get here by 2033. The information race was not an easy lift. There were practical modernization, structural, and cultural challenges for the Navy to quickly integrate and adapt processes to leverage new technology on aging platforms, new ideas by old warriors, and to build the new platforms with the flexibility to insert emerging technology at a significantly accelerated rate. In 2018, the Navy’s acquisition and programmatic processes were slow, built for the industrial era. The Navy recognized this and changed. It forced creative solutions in how it imagined, researched, built, fielded, and sustained new technology. An example of this was their move to commercial cloud to more quickly deliver lethal technologies and advanced data analytics to the tactical edge of fleet operations. Continued reforms streamlined the traditional acquisition processes so that by 2033 new capabilities are continuously delivered in increments vice in their entirety over decades, ultimately yielding the agility we require for the fight.

More important than improved acquisition processes is flexibility in how our most important treasure – our people – are missioned. To protect platform networks and exploit information advantages in 2018, the Navy began deploying cyber development units, Sailors specially trained who came with their own “cyber kit,” able to build tools “on the fly” to meet emerging priorities. By 2033, training, education, and organic platform capability have resulted in full spectrum cyber and information operations from sea. As the IWC, you recognize processes and people are just as critical to excellence in the information domain as the technology. You deliberately combine these three elements for warfighting supremacy.

In 2033 you also have the authority to execute influence operations to shape the maritime and littoral battlespace. History from prior to 2018 demonstrated that peer adversaries like Russia and China quickly organized social media and public demonstrations around the world in support of their strategic objectives in the Ukraine, Southeast Asia, and America. In 2033, influence actions at the tactical and operational level are designed and executed by you and aligned to strategic objectives including targeted messaging on social media; suppressing, changing, or interfering with adversary maritime messaging to their audiences; or targeting dual-use entities that support adversary maritime sustainment.

So how is this all playing out operationally in the total fight in 2033? Back in the South China Sea, as IWC you are coordinating with our coalition partners as a task force quietly slips out of San Diego. Under the guise of a planned international naval exercise, this force would include a Japanese “helicopter-destroyer” with a mix of Japanese F-35s and older V-22s, as well as a French frigate. To keep the Chinese unaware, the carrier fleet remains in port. The command ship, a Zumwalt-class guided missile destroyer, and two of the newest unmanned guided missile frigates lead the force. An American cruise missile submarine, which departed two weeks prior from the U.S. mainland, avoids the extensive Chinese underwater sensor networks that stretch to Hawaii.

A key component to this lethal task force are those virtually undetectable unmanned surface and subsurface “sensor/shooter” vessels. These platforms use secure and resilient quantum-encrypted relays to massively powerful shipboard data clouds. This cloud ecosystem leverages advanced heuristics and machine-language algorithms correlating sensor production and dissemination of information in the context needed for action to humans and weapons systems. Task Force vessels spread across the Pacific, link land-and-space-based intelligence and surveillance collection and long-range ballistic missiles with Air Force B-52 “arsenal” planes loaded with hypersonic, anti-ship, and anti-air missiles. This powerful manned and unmanned naval force is part of a larger coalition response, sent as a bulwark between Vietnamese islands and the oncoming Chinese amphibious fleets. The Task Force Commander relies on you to execute denial and deception to confound the adversary and maintain tactical situational awareness (EMCON, counter-ISR and counter-targeting systems). You deftly impact adversary behavior through advanced influence operations executed against their maritime forces, partners, and logistics lines of communication. You and the converged human and machine team leverage the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from space to undersea and linked to assessment and intelligence nodes via tactical and operational level “cloud”-based quantum computing systems to proactively analyze, disseminate and act on information. Synchronized human-AI teams dynamically model, wargame, and execute pre-planned and improvised tactical actions and operational movements to prevent detection. Commander confidence is high in the human-augmented teams to quickly and accurately identify potential second and third order effects across an integrated battle space. You provide the Commander with the information warfare options needed to deter, and if necessary, defeat adversary forces. Your Commander has the highest levels of force readiness and uses technology to help maintain that state. The symbiotic relationship between machine and human extends down to the individual Sailor and platform as Sailor health and readiness are continuously monitored via implants and sensors, enabling your Commander to immediately recalibrate force distribution should you begin to take casualties.

Before a shot is fired, the Commander knows she will win the information war, enabling success in the overall campaign. You as the IWC will give her that tactical and operational win as the conductor orchestrating the elements together for mission success.

In a data-rich and knowledge-poor circumstance, challenged with sophisticated competitors, as IWC you will be more than just the conductor of this information orchestra; you will be the instrument builder and tuner, the composer, and the producer. You will rely on advanced technologies and computers to perform the heavy lifting so our forces can act dynamically with precision and purpose. Modern information warfare requires this nimble shift from orchestra to jazz, or to the raw power and disruption of punk rock.

If you are interested in joining, contact the iBoss.

Vice Adm. Timothy “T.J.” White currently serves as the Commander, U.S. Fleet Cyber Command and Commander, U.S. 10th Fleet at Fort Meade, MD. A leader in the Navy’s Information Warfare Community, White originally served as a surface warfare officer before being designated as a cryptologic warfare officer. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and has postgraduate degrees from the Naval Postgraduate School and the National Defense University-Industrial College of the Armed Forces. He is also a Massachusetts Institute of Technology Seminar XXI fellow. He is a native of Spring, TX. 

Rear Adm. Danelle Barrett is serving as the Navy Cyber Security Division Director on the staff of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare (N2N6) in the Pentagon. An Information Professional, she graduated from Boston University where she received her commission via the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps program. She holds Masters of Arts degrees in Management, National Security/Strategic Studies, and Human Resources Development and a Master’s of Science in Information management. Barrett has published more than 29 professional articles. 

Lieutenant Commander Robert “Jake” Bebber was commissioned through the Officer Candidate School program. An Information Warfare professional, Bebber holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy, a Master’s in Public Administration and a Master’s In National Security and Strategic Studies, as well as a BA in Political Science from Stetson University. He currently is assigned to the staff of Commander, Carrier Strike Group 12 on board USS Abraham Lincoln as the Cryptologic Resource Coordinator.

Featured Image: PHILIPPINE SEA (JUNE 21, 2016) Sonar Technician (Surface) 3rd Class Michael E. Dysthe stands watch in the combat information center during a anti-submarine warfare exercise aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrew Schneider/Released)

Developing New Tactics and Technologies in Naval Warfare: The MDUSV Example

By Jeffrey Kline, John Tanalega, Jeffrey Appleget, and Tom Lucas

Introduction

The paper is about synergy. It demonstrates the power of using analytical tools in a logical sequence to generate, develop, and assess new concepts and technologies in warfare. Individually there is nothing new here. Each of the analytical tools described in this paper is thoroughly discussed in academic literature. The use of intelligent experimental design and large scale simulation to advance knowledge in defense and homeland security issues is well describe in Design and Analysis of Experiments by leaders in the Naval Postgraduate School’s Simulation Experiments and Efficient Design (SEED) Center for Data Farming (Sanchez, 2012).1 The power of campaign analysis to gain insight and quantify the value of new technologies and capabilities is covered in the campaign analysis chapter of Wiley’s Encyclopedia of Operations Research and Management Science (Kline, 2010).2 Wargaming’s use to develop concepts for employment of those new technologies and discover possible risks to them are discussed recently in both the Military Operations Research Society’s Phalanx (Appleget, 2015)3 and the journal for Cyber Security and Information Systems Information Analysis Center (Appleget, 2016).4

It is the synergy created by bringing these tools together—linked by officers with tactical experience and educated in the analytical techniques—which this paper addresses.  We provide it as an example of military operations research in practice to advance naval force development and fleet combat tactics.  We tell this story through the lens of our co-author, LT John Tanagela, USN, and one technology, the Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vessel (MDUSV), but provide multiple examples of past work similar in nature. LT Tanagela is a qualified Surface Warfare Officer who chose to attend the Naval Postgraduate School to obtain a master’s degree in Operations Research. We select John’s educational and research experience not for its uniqueness, but instead for its normalcy as a NPS OR student with unrestricted line qualifications. Our other co-authors were John’s combat models instructor, campaign analysis instructor, wargaming instructor, and thesis research advisors. We provide descriptions and results from the analytical courses John leveraged to advance his research in employing a MDUSV and highlights from his thesis.  We conclude with brief summaries of other concepts and technologies advanced in this manner.

Triad of Military Applied Courses

The Naval Postgraduate School’s Operations Research students receive three foundational courses in warfare analysis: the introduction to joint combat modeling course, the joint campaign analysis course, and the wargaming course (See Figure 1). In these applied courses they learn to model combat effects in tactical and operational level conflict, integrate these quantitative techniques in campaign analysis and human decision making, and, as a result, develop and quantitatively assess new concepts, tactics, and technologies.  

Figure 1: The three warfare analysis courses provided to NPS operations research students.

The joint combat models course introduces traditional force-on-force modeling, including homogeneous and heterogeneous Lanchester equations, Hughes’ salvo equations, and computer-based combat simulations. It provides our officers the experience to integrate uncertainty into these models to allow for sensitivity analysis and design of experiments in exploring new capabilities.

The joint campaign analysis class leverages these new skills and previous course work in simulation, optimization, decision analysis, search theory, and probability theory by challenging our officers to apply them in a campaign-level scenario. During the course they must develop a concept of operation to meet campaign objectives, model that concept to assess risk using appropriate measures for their objective, and assess “new” technical capabilities by comparing them to their baseline concept analytical results. The results are quantitative military assessments of new concepts and technologies, identification of force capability gaps, and risk assessments (See Figure 2).

Figure 2: The NPS Joint Campaign Analysis class process for applying officers’ new analytical skills to campaign and operational level issues.

The wargaming class provides an overview of the history, uses, and types of wargaming, but focuses its efforts on teaching officers how to design, develop, execute, analyze, and report on an analytical wargame. After learning the fundamentals, officer-teams are assigned real-world sponsors who provide the objective and the issues they desire to address during a wargame. The officer-teams work with the sponsor through execution of an actual wargame, completing their course work by reporting the wargame’s analysis and results to the sponsor. An example is supporting the Navy’s PEO C4I by assessing the Undersea Constellation concept and technology. (See Figure 3)

Figure 3: Sponsor, student wargaming team (in uniform) and players of the NPS wargaming course’s PEO C4I Undersea Constellation Game.

Passing Lessons and Students along

As the NPS operations research students proceed from one course to another in the triad above—where they are joined by Joint Operational Logistics students, Systems Engineering Analysis students, Defense Analysis students, and Undersea Warfare students—there is an opportunity to carry lessons from on course into another, and gain further insight into those concepts and technologies. The teaching faculty work closely to ensure that happens by design. NPS Warfare Analysis faculty and researchers use these courses synergistically to provide insights to real-world sponsors in advancing their concepts, assessing new technologies proposed by DoD labs and industry, and developing new tactics—all the while enhancing our officer-students’ educational experience and sharpening their combat skills. For example, after learning to model a war at sea strike using salvo equations in the joint combat modeling course, the officers are challenged to develop a maritime concept of employment using distributed forces in the joint campaign analysis class, and assess that concept using the salvo equations and simulation. That concept is passed to the wargaming class (usually the same students) to better understand Blue’s decisions in employing distributed forces and Red’s potential reactions. Common scenarios are used between classes with similar forces structures (See Figure 4).

Figure 4: The NPS Joint Campaign Analysis and Wargaming connection. Technologies and concepts analyzed in the Joint Campaign Analysis class are frequently introduced by real-world sponsors in the wargaming class to better understand Blue’s force employments and Red’s reactions to new Blue capabilities.

The results of these capstone classroom efforts are a series of analytical and wargaming briefings, reports, and papers frequently shared with DoD and service organizations. In addition, the work informs other NPS research occurring in unmanned systems, networks, and command and control. Most impactful, however, is when officers are inspired to take a much more detailed look at new capabilities as their thesis research, using the insights gathered from their capstone course work as a foundation to build upon.

Simulating a Half Million Tactical Engagements 

Officers frequently select a new technology explored in their military operations research applied courses to further study in their thesis work. They will draw upon their own operational experience to develop tactics to employ these technologies; work with weapon tactics instructors to refine these tactical situations; identify important variables and parameters within that scenario to further identify needed performance capabilities (range, speed, etc.) and tactical employment (formations, distances, logistics, etc.); build or use an existing simulation to model those tactics; use intelligent experimental design to efficiently explore a range of values for each of identified parameter; execute the experiment—frequently running over a half million tactical engagements; then use advanced data analytics to identify the most important parameters’ values to be successful (See Figure 5.)

Figure 5: Using simulation, intelligent experimental design, and advance data analytics to identify the most import performance parameters of a technology or tactical employment.

These theses’ results are always of great value to warfare and tactics development commands, to resources sponsors, material commands, and defense laboratories developing new technologies. Their insights also inform future capstone course work and NPS technical research. We now turn to our specific example, LT John Tanalega and the Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vessel. 

The Technology: The Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vessel

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vessel (MDUSV) program is a self-deployed surface unmanned system capable of on station times of 60-90 days with ranges of 900-10000 nautical miles depending on speed (3-24 knots) and payload (5-20 tones).5  For the NPS warfare analysis group, we provide it the following future mission capabilities. In an antisubmarine warfare (ASW) role, it receives an off-board cue and hand off, then conducts overt trail with active sonar. It can act as an ASW scout in coordination with area ASW assets like the P-8 maritime patrol aircraft or benthic laid sensors in an Undersea Constellation, conducting large acoustic surveillance using passive and/or active bi-static sonar. It can deploy three Mk 54 or six smaller CRAW torpedoes. In its Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) role, it can work with surface ships as an advanced scout employing passive sensors, and in an offensive role, can carry eight RBS-15 surface-to-surface missiles. In its mine warfare role, it can conduct mine sweeping with a MK-104 acoustic sweep body or can deploy a clandestine delivered mine in an offensive mining role. It may also act as a forward environmental survey ship, a platform for operational military deception, a tow for a logistics barge, and special operations equipment delivery.

All MDUSVs in these analyses are augmented by TALON (Towed Airborne lift of naval systems)6, which can carry up to 150 pounds of payload up to 1,500 feet. This payload can be communication relays, radar, electronic jammers (or emitters for decoy operations), or optical sensors.

ACTUV conducting testing with TALONS (DARPA Video)

The MDUSV equipped with TALON has been introduced in several Joint Campaign Analysis classes and Wargaming classes as technical injects to be assessed. LT Tanalega was given the MDUSV as a technical inject for both these classes.

The Student: LT John Tanalega

Academically talented, John has a typical operational background for a Naval Postgraduate School Operations Research student. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2011 with a Bachelor of Science degree in English. His initial sea tour was as Auxiliaries and Electrical Officer, and later First Lieutenant, in USS DEWEY (DDG 105). While assigned to DEWEY, he deployed to the Western Pacific, Arabian Gulf, Red Sea, and Eastern Mediterranean. His second division officer tour was as the Fire Control Officer in USS JOHN PAUL JONES (DDG 53), the U.S. Navy’s ballistic missile defense test ship. He attended the Naval Postgraduate School in from 2016 to 2018, where he earned a Master of Science degree in Operations Research and conducted his thesis research in tactical employment of the MDUSV.

Insights from the Joint Campaign Analysis classes, the Wargaming Classes, and other NPS research

As mentioned, the MDUSV with TALON was introduced to a series of Joint Campaign Analysis classes and several NPS wargames. Officer-students have employed it in a variety of missions, from active operational deception to logistics delivery to riverine patrol. Its strongest characteristics are on-station time over unmanned aerial systems, sensor payload capacity over all other unmanned systems, and speed over unmanned underwater systems. Its limitations include vulnerability to attack (it has no active defense), which is mitigated by a low radar cross section making it difficult to target and/or acquire. Our analytical and wargaming teams have found their value forward in offensive naval formations and in defense screening formations (Figure 5). Employing a single or pair of MDUSV with a P-8 maritime patrol aircraft in an area ASW environment is also valuable. (Figure 6).Figure 5: The graph shows the probability of successfully finding and engaging an adversary’s amphibious task force in a South China Sea scenario with a traditional U.S. Surface Action Group (SAG) with and without allied ship support. As MDUSVs are added to the SAG, the probability of mission success is increased. The MDUSV are contributing to the ISR and targeting capabilities of the SAG. This analysis was produced using combat modeling by a Joint Campaign Analysis class team.

Figure 6: This plot shows the simulation results of an Area ASW engagement between a PLA Navy SSK submarine and the MDUSV alone (labeled ACTUV or Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel, the original DAPRA program name); the MDUSV with a P-8 (labeled both), and the P-8 alone. The Tukey-Kramer test displays significant improvement with the MDUSV and P-8 work as an unmanned-manned pair.

Unique employment concepts are also developed, such as employing paired MDUSVs working as an active-passive team for both active radar and acoustic search. This information is passed to both sponsors and the NPS combat systems research faculty for engineering analysis.

LT John Tanalega’s Joint Campaign Analysis efforts included analyzing the MDUSV’s contribution to a scouting advantage for Blue forces in a surface-to-surface engagement (see figure 5). While a student in the NPS Wargaming Class, John’s team designed, developed, and executed a classified South China Sea game for United States Fleet Forces Command exploring distributed maritime operations and a force structure that included the MDUSV. Lessons from both classes were then applied to his further research in the MDUSV’s best tactical employment in a surface to surface engagement.

Furthering the study by use of simulation (Problem, Tactical Engagement, and Design of Experiments)

In transitioning MDUSV from technical concept to operational reality, several questions are prominent. First, MDUSV is just what its name implies—a vessel. The specific technologies which will make it effective in the maritime domain are all in various stages of development, and they are too numerous for MDUSV to carry all of them. Therefore, an exploration of which capabilities improve operational effectiveness the most is essential. Second, while superior technology is necessary, alone it is not sufficient. USVs must also be used with effective tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) to make them effective SUW platforms. USVs are entirely new to the U.S. Navy, and no historical data exists for their use in combat. Modeling, simulation, and data farming7 provide an opportunity to explore concepts and systems that, today, are only theories and prototypes.

Computer-based modeling and simulation are an effective means of exploring MDUSV capabilities and tactics. Live experiments at-sea are always important to gather real-world data and provide proofs of concepts. However, they require a mature design. They are prohibitively expensive, and the low number of trials that can be conducted reduces the confidence levels of their conclusions. Computer-based modeling and simulation allows us to run tens of thousands of experiments over a wide range of factors. It is, therefore, better suited for design exploration. Using high-performance computing and special techniques in design of experiments (DoE), such as nearly orthogonal and balanced (NOB) designs, simulation experiments that would have taken months or years with legacy factorial designs can be can be performed in a matter of days. This highly efficient technique provides greater insights that inform and direct live experimentation and requirements development.

To explore the effects of MDUSV on surface warfare, LT Tanalega used the Lightweight Interstitials Toolkit for Mission Engineering using Simulation (LITMUS), developed by the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division (NSWC DD). LITMUS is an agent-based modeling and simulation tool suited specifically to naval combat. Ships, aircraft, and submarines are built by users and customized with weapons, sensors, and behaviors to mirror the capabilities and actions of real-world combat systems. Using an efficient design of experiments and LITMUS scenario, over 29,000 surface battles were simulated with varied active and passive sensor ranges, MDUSV formations and armament, and emissions control EMCON policies.

To compare battle results, LT Tanalega used the probability of a surface force being first to fire a salvo of missiles against an adversary as a measure of effectiveness. This choice is motivated by the maxim of naval combat in the missile era to “fire effectively first,” and indicates a clear advantage in offensive tactics.8

Simulation Results (Unclassified)

Analysis of the simulation output shows that a traditional Blue force combating a very capable Red force in its home waters has 19 percent probability of meeting first-to-fire criteria (See Table 1). Blue surface forces equipped with MDUSV are nearly three times as likely to be first-to-fire. Analysis also found the increase in performance is due primarily to the extended sensor range afforded by the TALONS platform on scouting MDUSV. Based on the presence of MDUSV alone, Blue improves its probability of being first-to-fire by a factor of nearly three (from 19 percent to 56 percent), as shown in Table 1. Though a SAG will likely have helicopters embarked, it is important to note that helicopters are more limited in endurance. Further, the use of a helicopter in Phase II of a conflict poses exceptional risk to human pilots, especially if the enemy is equipped with capable air defense systems. We therefore modeled “worst case” without an airborne helo during the engagements. Given the long endurance of MDUSV and its autonomous nature, MDUSV represents a worthwhile investment for the surface force. When numerically disadvantaged and fighting in dangerous waters, MDUSV levels the odds for Blue.

Table 1. MDUSV Effect on First-to-Fire Probability

Advanced partition tree analysis of the data noted a breakpoint at an MDUSV passive sensor range of 36nm. With this range or greater, Blue was first-to-fire in 81% of the design replications (Table 2). Using the mathematical horizontal slant range formula to approximate visual horizon, this equates to a tether height of approximately 1020 feet. Given the current 150-pound weight limit for a TALONS payload, a passive electro-optical sensor may be more feasible than an active radar. Placing a high power radar, with power amplification, transmission, and signals processing in a TALONS mission package may not be feasible in the near term. Further study, from an electrical engineering and systems engineering perspective, is required.

Table 2. MDUSV Passive Sensor Range Effect on First-to-Fire Probability

While arming MDUSV provides a marginal increase in first-to-fire performance with EMCON policies 1 and 2, it has a small negative effect with EMCON policy 3. Ultimately, first-to-fire in each replication is driven by scouting—who saw whom and fired first. Since detecting the enemy is a necessary condition to shooting him, providing MDUSV with over the horizon sensor capabilities should be the first concern. This will allow the missile shooters of the surface and air forces to employ their weapons without emitting with their own sensors.

Furthering the Study by Use of Wargaming

The Fleet Design Wargame consisted of three separate gameplay sessions. During each session, the BLUE Team received a different order of battle. During gameplay, the study team observed the players’ decisions to organize and maneuver their forces, as well as the rationale behind those decisions. After two to three turns of gameplay, a member of the study team facilitated a seminar in which all players discussed the game results. Each team, BLUE and RED, had a leader playing as the “Task Force Commander,” and a supporting staff. The Blue Team consisted of three SWOs, a Navy pilot, an Air Force pilot, a Navy cryptologic warfare officer, two human resources officers, and a supply officer. The RED team consisted of three SWOs, one Marine NFO, one Navy cryptologic warfare officer, two Naval intelligence officers, and two supply officers. Search was adjudicated using probability tables and dice. Combat actions are being analyzed using combat models, such as a stochastic implementation of the salvo model.

Wargaming Results (unclassified)

The game demonstrated the combat potential that networked platforms, sensors, and weapons provide. Long endurance systems, such as the MQ-4C Triton and the Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MDUSV) can be the eyes and ears of missile platforms like destroyers. The game also showed that with its range alone, an ASuW-capable Maritime Strike Tomahawk provides BLUE forces with greater flexibility when stationing units. On the other hand, unmanned systems also provide RED with a wider range of options to escalate and test U.S. resolve during phase 1. The study team also found that expeditionary warfare can have a double effect on the sea control fight. The presence of an LHA is a “double threat” to the enemy, acting as both an F-35B platform, and as a means of landing Marines.

Further Research Work on the MDUSV

Future research is required to optimize MDUSV design and to better characterize the human element of MDUSV employment and coordination. While TALONS provides a unique elevated sensor platform, a 150-pound maximum payload will be a considerable constraint. Passive sensors, such as EO/IR, may be mounted on the TALONS platform, but the weight required to house a high-performance radar will be a higher hurdle to overcome. Though this can be mitigated by changing the parasail design to increase lift, this will require more in-depth study of the engineering trade-offs. Also, the process will have to be automated. TALONS testing to-date has involved members of the test team deploying and recovering it.

Though this study was performed with software-driven automata, the tactical decisions leading-up to the placement of MDUSV will be made by humans. The long endurance of MDUSV makes it an ideal platform for deception. Tactical and operational level wargaming may yield insight into the affect that adding MDUSV will have on human decision-making.

As this study was the first SUW simulation of a man-machine teamed force, the scope of the agents explored was purposefully limited. To add to the realism of the experiment, and to explore future tactics, the addition of helicopters and other scout aircraft to the scenario may yield further insight into the design requirements and tactical employment of MDUSV.

MDUSVs in this study were homogenously equipped and shared the same EMCON policy. However, if each MDUSV is given only one capability, such as a particular sensor type or a weapon, their strengths may offset their weaknesses. Grouping several MDUSVs with different mission load-outs may be an alternative to sending a manned multi-mission ship like a DDG. It may also prove to be more resilient to battle damage, as the loss of a single MDUSV would mean the loss of an individual mission, while the mission-kill of a DDG would result in a loss of all combat capability. Further simulation and analysis with LITMUS may yield insights into this trade-off.

Other Examples

Although we have highlighted LT Tanalega’s recent research to demonstrate how the NPS Warfare Analysis group integrates officer’s tactical experience, classroom work, and more detailed research to provide insights in new technologies, tactics, and operational concepts, many other examples can be mentioned. These include tactics to defeat swarms of unmanned combat aerial vehicles, best use of lasers aboard ships, developing tactics to counter maritime special operations insertion, employing expeditionary basing in contested environments, exploration in distributed logistics, best convoy screening tactics against missile-capable submarines, and use of sea bed sensors and systems. Analytical red teaming is also used for sponsors wishing to better understand the resilience and vulnerability of their new systems—employed in the same classes mentioned in this paper. These results are shared with DoD and Navy sponsors interested in getting robust and quantitative assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of their systems.

Although the NPS Warfare Analysis group is pleased to make real-world contributions as part of our students’ education experience, our greatest satisfaction comes from observing the junior officer’s military professional growth that accompanies the application of their newly learned analytical skills. To model and analyze an engagement, a thorough understanding of the tactical factors and performance parameters is necessary. By the end of our students’ experience, they have gained expertise in that mission and in operations analysis—a perfect blend to contribute to our nation’s future force architecture and design.

CAPT Jeff Kline, USN (ret.) is a Professor of Practice in Military Operations Research at the Naval Postgraduate School. He holds the OPNAV N9I Chair of Systems Engineering Analysis and teaches Joint Campaign Analysis, Systems Analysis, and Risk Assessment. jekline@nps.edu

Dr. Jeff Appleget is a retired Army Colonel who served as an Artilleryman and Operations Research analyst in his 30-year Army career. He teaches the Wargaming Analysis, Combat Modeling, and Advanced Wargaming Applications courses.  Jeff directs the activities of the NPS Wargaming Activity Hub. He is the Joint Warfare Analysis Center (JWAC) Chair of Applied Operations Research at NPS. jaappleg@nps.edu

Dr. Tom Lucas is a Professor in the Operations Research Department at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), joining the Department in 1998. Previously, he worked as a statistician and project leader for six years at RAND and as a systems engineer for 11 years at Hughes Aircraft Company. Dr. Lucas is the Co-Director of the NPS Simulation, Experiments, and Efficient Design (SEED) Center and has advised over 100 graduate theses using simulation and efficient experimental design to explore  a variety of tactical and technical topcs. twlucas@nps.edu

LT John F. Tanalega is a Navy Surface Warfare Officer from North Las Vegas, Nevada and is a 2011 graduate of the United States Naval Academy His first operational tour was as Auxiliaries and Electrical Officer, and later as First Lieutenant, in USS DEWEY (DDG 105). He next served as Fire Control Officer in USS JOHN PAUL JONES (DDG 53). As an operations analysis student at the Naval Postgraduate School, his research focused on combat modeling, campaign analysis, and analytic wargaming. After graduating from NPS, he reported to the Surface Warfare Officer School (SWOS) in Newport, Rhode Island, in preparation for his next at-sea assignment.

References

1. Sanchez, S.M., T.W. Lucas, P.J. Sanchez, C.J. Nannini, and H. Wong, “Designs for Large-Scale Simulation Experiments with Applications to Defense and Homeland Security,” Design and Analysis of Experiments, volume III, by Hinckleman (ed.), Wiley, 2012, pp. 413-441

2. Kline, J., Hughes, W., and Otte, D., 2010, “Campaign Analysis: An Introductory Review,” Wiley Encyclopedia of Operations Research and Management Science, ed Cochran, J. John Wiley & Sons, Inc

3. Appleget, J., Cameron, F., “Analytical Wargaming on the Rise,” Phalanx, Military Operations Research Society, March 2015, pp 28-32

 4. Appleget, J., Cameron, F., Burks, R., and Kline, J., “Wargaming at the Naval Postgraduate School,” CSIAC Journal, Vol 4, No 3, November 2016 pp 18- 23

5. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has demonstrated a prototype “Sea Hunter”. Information may be found at https://www.darpa.mil/news-events/2018-01-30a

6. For more information on the TALON visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWEoV88PtTY

7. See Sanchez, ibid.

8. Hughes, W.P., Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, 2nd ed, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 2000.

9. Wagner D.H., Mylander, W.C., Sanders, T.J., Naval Operations Analysis, 3rd ed, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1999, pp 109-110.

Featured Image: The Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MDUSV) (DARPA photo)

Drones in Africa: A Leap Ahead for Maritime Security

By CAPT Chris Rawley and LCDR Cedric Patmon

Technology adoption moves in fits and starts. The developing world cannot be forced into accepting new technology, but it can be enabled, and often in a surprising manner. A recent example is the leap in communications technology. During the 20th Century most of the world developed a robust network of terrestrial-based telecommunications based primarily on the ubiquitous land-line telephone system. Without this infrastructure in place Sub-Saharan African countries were largely left behind at the start of the information revolution. But at the turn of the new century something interesting happened. Rather than retroactively building an archaic phone system Africans embraced mobile phone technology. From 1999 through 2004 the number of mobile subscribers in Africa eclipsed those of other continents, increasing at a rate of 58 percent annually. Asia, the second fastest area of saturation, grew at only 34 percent during that time. The explosive growth of mobile phones and more recently smart phones across practically every African city and village has liberated economies and facilitated the free flow of information. This technology also enabled Africans to lead the world in mobile money payment solutions, bypassing increasingly obsolete banking systems.

Today, Africans have another opportunity to leap ahead in technology to protect one of their most important areas of commerce – their coastal seas. Africa’s maritime economy is absolutely critical to the continent’s growth and prosperity during the next few decades. On the edge of the Eastern Atlantic the Gulf of Guinea is bordered by eight West African nations, and is an extremely important economic driver. More than 450 million Africans derive commercial benefit from this body of water. The region contains 50.4 billion barrels of proven petroleum reserves and has produced up to 5.5 million barrels of oil per day. Additionally, over 90 percent of foreign imports and exports cross the Gulf of Guinea making it the region’s key connector to the global economy.

Favorable demographics and industrious populations put coastal Africans in a position to prosper, but an increase in illegal fishing activities and piracy since the early 2000s has severely impeded this potential. The growth in acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Gulf of Guinea from 2000 onward points to the challenges faced by West African states.

According to Quartz Africa, illegal fishing activities in the region have a negative economic impact of $2-3 billion annually. “Fish stocks are not restricted to national boundaries, and that is why the solutions to end the overfishing of West Africa’s waters can only come from joint efforts between the countries of the region,” Ahmed Diame, Greenpeace’s Africa Oceans campaigner, said in a statement. Marine pollution, human, and narcotics trafficking are also major issues facing the region.

Due to the economic impact of illicit activities in and around West Africa a Summit of the Gulf of Guinea heads of state and government was held in 2013 in Yaoundé, Cameroon. This resulted in the adoption of the Yaoundé Declaration on Gulf of Guinea Security. Two key resolutions contained in the Declaration were the creation of an inter-regional Coordination Centre on Maritime Safety and Security for Central and West Africa, headquartered in Yaoundé, and the implementation of a new Code of Conduct Concerning the Prevention and Repression of Piracy, Armed Robbery Against Ships, and Illegal Maritime Activities in West and Central Africa. Adoption of this agreement has laid the foundation for critical information sharing and resource cooperation that can be used to combat piracy, illegal fishing, and other illicit activities in the Gulf of Guinea.

Though the Code of Conduct established an architecture for maritime security in the region, without enforcement on the water, diplomatic efforts are largely impotent. Key to enforcement is the ability to identify, track, and prosecute nefarious actors on the high seas and in coastal areas. So-called maritime domain awareness is gradually improving in the area, but current options for maritime surveillance are limited. The largest local navies have offshore patrol vessels capable of multi-day over-the-horizon operations, but even these vessels have limited enforcement capacity. Patrol vessels face maintenance issues and fuel scarcity. Shore-based radar systems at best reach out 30 or 40 nautical miles, but are plagued by power and maintenance issues. Moreover, a shore-based radar, even with signals correlated from vessels transmitting on the Automatic Identification System, only provides knowledge that a contact is afloat, not necessarily any evidence to illicit actions.

Latin American navies face similar maritime challenges to those in Africa and have learned that airborne surveillance is simply the best way to locate, track, identify, and classify surface maritime targets involved in illicit or illegal activity. A retired senior naval officer from the region related a study in the Caribbean narcotics transit zone to one of the authors that compared different surveillance mechanisms for the 11,000 square nautical mile area. The probability of detecting a surface target within six hours rose from only five percent with a surface asset to 95 percent when maritime patrol aircraft were included. Only a handful of coastal African countries have fixed-wing maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters, but these aircraft face similar issues to surface assets with fuel costs and mechanical readiness resulting in limited flight time on station.

Drone Solutions to African Maritime Insecurity

Unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones, as they are known colloquially, provide a way for African navies and coast guards to greatly enhance maritime security in a relatively inexpensive manner, similar to the ways mobile telephony revolutionized communications on the continent. Similar to the evolution of computing power outlined by Moore’s law tactical UAS are rapidly growing in capabilities while decreasing in cost. Improvements in sensors, endurance, and payload are advancing quickly. For any solution, acquisition cost, maintainability, and infrastructure required are key factors to be considered. The cost per flying hour of most UAS is negligible compared to their manned counterparts. Today’s fixed and rotary-wing systems, whether specifically designed for military use or for commercial applications, can be adapted for surveillance in a maritime environment without much additional cost.

A Falcon UAV unpiloted aircraft is bungee launched in a midday demonstration flight. (© Helge Denker/WWF-Namibia)

Because each country has unique requirements and budgets no single UAS solution is appropriate. Maritime drones can be based ashore or on coastal patrol vessels. One viable option for countries with limited resources involves services contracted by Western Partners, a model which has already been proven in the region for other applications. Alternatively, the Yaoundé Code of Conduct provides a framework for a possible shared model. This agreement can provide the timely sharing of critical information ascertained by maritime surveillance and reconnaissance systems to aid in the enforcement of the maritime laws and agreements in the region. Contractor-operated drones could be allocated across countries by leadership in the five Zones delineated by the Code. Multinational cooperation on maritime security has already been tested in the annual Obangame Express exercise and during real-world counterpiracy operations. Understanding that not all countries have the investment capability to purchase their own stand-alone systems, consideration could be given to sharing the initial investment costs between countries. The logistics of system placement and asset availability would have to be determined by the participating countries themselves but the benefit of such a program would positively impact the entire region economically, enhance interoperability, and assist in regional stability.

Drones are already being operated across Africa by Africans. Zambia recently purchased Hermes 450 unmanned aerial vehicles for counter-poaching operations. There are also African unmanned systems flying surveillance missions over areas plagued by violent extremists groups. UAS are even being used to transport blood and medical supplies across the continent’s vast rural landscapes. Shifting these assets over water is a natural progression. One concern about using UAS is airspace deconfliction. However, this problem is minimized because there is little to no civil aviation in most parts of Africa. Additionally, most maritime UAS would be flying primarily at low altitudes over water from coastal bases.

Conclusion

The leap-ahead capabilities that unmanned surveillance aircraft could provide to coastal security around Africa are clearly evident. African navies with adequate resources should make acquisition of unmanned air systems a priority. Likewise, western foreign military assistance programs should focus on providing contracted or organic unmanned aircraft capabilities.

Captain Rawley, a surface warfare officer, and Lieutenant Commander Patmon, a naval aviator, are assigned to the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet’s Maritime Partnership Program detachment responsible for helping West African countries enhance their maritime security. The opinions in this article are those of the authors alone and do not officially represent the U.S. Navy or any other organization

Featured Image: GULF OF GUINEA (March 26, 2018) A visit board search and seizure team member from the Ghanaian special boat service communicates with his team during a search aboard a target vessel during exercise Obangame Express 2018, March 26. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Theron J. Godbold/Released)