Tag Archives: distributed lethality

Airborne Over The Horizon Targeting Options to Enable Distributed Lethality

This article was submitted by guest author Michael Glynn for CIMSEC’s Distributed Lethality week. 

The Navy’s surface warfare community is committed to remedying its lack of anti-surface warfare (ASuW) punch with the concept of Distributed Lethality. “If it floats, it fights,” is the rallying cry.[1] Dispersed forces operating together pose challenges for an adversary, but also create targeting difficulties we must solve.

The detection range of shipboard sensors is limited by their height above the waterline and the curvature of the earth. Since it appears doubtful leaders would call on a ship to steam into visual range of adversaries, airborne assets are most likely to provide over the horizon (OTH) targeting.

In a January 2015 article in Proceedings, Vice Admiral Rowden, Rear Admiral Gumataotao, and Rear Admiral Fanta reference “persistent organic” air assets as key enablers of Distributed Lethality.[2] While a completely organic targeting solution offers opportunities in some scenarios, it has limits in high-end contingencies. In empowering the surface force, let us not ignore inorganic air assets. Distributed Lethality is far more effective with them.

TASM: A Cautionary Tale

During a January 2015 test, a Tomahawk Block IV test missile received in-flight updates from an aircraft and impacted its target, a mock cargo ship near the Channel Islands of California.[3] “This is potentially a game changing capability for not a lot of cost,” said Deputy Secretary of defense Bob Work. “It’s a 1000 mile anti-ship cruise missile.”[4]

But this test did not solve the fleet’s ASuW problem. Nor was it the first time the service had used Tomahawk in an anti-shipping role. To understand the difficulty of OTH targeting, we have to examine the final days of the Cold War.

In the late 1980’s, various ships and submarines carried the radar guided Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile, or TASM. The TASM boasted a range of over 200 nm. But because TASM was subsonic, it took as long as 30 minutes to reach its target. In this time, a fast warship could steam as far as 15 miles from its initial location. Additionally, neutral shipping could inadvertently become the target of the seeker if the enemy vessel was not the closest to the missile when the radar activated.

Therefore, TASM could only reliably be used when there was no neutral shipping around, or in a massive conflict where collateral damage considerations were minimal. The Navy sought to remedy this by developing OTH targeting systems known as Outlaw Hunter and Outlaw Viking on the P-3 and S-3 aircraft. But with the demise of the Soviet Union, massive defense cuts and the evaporation of any blue water surface threat led to the retirement of TASM.

OTH targeting is not a new problem. To solve it, airborne platforms are critical. Let’s examine the organic and inorganic assets that can fill these roles. We will then discuss how inorganic assets offer the most promise.

Organic Assets: Benefits and Limitations

The surface force is equipped with rotary and fixed wing assets to enable OTH targeting. From a sensors standpoint, the MH-60R is most capable. Its inverse synthetic aperture radar (ISAR) can identify ships from long range, but it is limited in altitude and radar horizon. MQ-8 UAV’s offer increased endurance over manned assets. Their maximum altitudes are higher, but still constrain sensor range. The RQ-21 fixed wing UAV rounds out this group. It has solid endurance, but very limited speed.

The limited speed and altitude capabilities of these aircraft mean that the area they can search is small. Also, they must operate well within the weapons engagement zone of their targets to identify their prey. If these sensors platforms are radiating, a capable adversary will hunt them down or lure them into missile traps and destroy them in an effort to deny our forces a clear targeting picture.

Large Fixed Wing Assets: Increased Capability

While not organic to a surface action group, fixed wing aircraft bring speed, altitude, and persistence to the fight. P-8 and P-3 patrol aircraft offer standoff targeting and C5I capabilities. So too do the MQ-4 UAV and the E-8 JSTARS aircraft.

The carrier air wing brings blended detection and OTH targeting capabilities. The E-2 lacks ISAR identification capability, but does boast a passive electronic warfare (EW) suite and the ability to coordinate with the powerful EW system onboard EA-18G aircraft.  Additionally, the latest E-2 model can pass targeting quality data to surface ships to allow them to engage from the aircraft’s track, significantly increasing the ship’s effective missile envelope.

These platforms are expensive and limited in number, but their altitude capability and resulting sensor range allows them to standoff further from the enemy, radiating at will. Additionally, their high dash speed allows them to better escape targeting by enemy fighter aircraft. Their speed, persistence, sensor coverage, and survivability make them logical targeting platforms. They are far more capable and enable better effects than shipboard rotary assets and UAV’s.

Stand-in Stealthy Aircraft: The Ultimate Targeting Asset

The ultimate platform to provide targeting updates to long-range ASCM’s would be a stealthy UAV similar to the RQ-170.[5] Such an aircraft could receive cueing from other platforms, an onboard EW suite, or its own low probability of intercept (LPI) radar.[6] Able to stand in, it could provide visual identification, satisfying rules of engagement. It could provide target updates via a LPI datalink to inbound weapons. These technologies have their roots in the “Assault Breaker” initiative that led to the creation of the Tacit Blue test aircraft and the rise of modern stealth technology.[7],[8] Similar radars, datalinks, and low observable platforms have been proven and are flying today in various forms.[9]

Cost of a new platform is high, but their ability to get close and persist while unobserved is very useful and provides high confidence visual identification to commanders. Their survivability removes the need to provide airborne early warning (AEW) and high value airborne asset protection. Their stealth frees AEW aircraft and fighters to focus their energies elsewhere.

Conclusion

The concept of Distributed Lethality offers promise, but will be limited if its scope is confined to only utilizing capabilities resident in the surface fleet. It is best to pursue organic capabilities while also integrating inorganic assets when planning how the fleet will fight the conflicts of tomorrow. Let us pursue solutions that incorporate forces from many communities to best meet future warfare challenges.

Lieutenant Glynn is a Naval Aviator and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. He most recently served as a P-8 instructor pilot and mission commander with Patrol Squadron (VP) 16. He currently flies the T-45 with Training Squadron (VT) 21. He is a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell. The views expressed in this article are entirely his own.  

Recommended photos illustrations:

[1] Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., “’If it Floats, it Fights’: Navy Seeks ‘Distributed Lethality’,” Breaking Defense, January 14, 2015, http://breakingdefense.com/2015/01/if-it-floats-it-fights-navy-seeks-distributed-lethality/.

[2] Thomas Rowden, Peter Gumataotao, Peter Fanta, “Distributed Lethality,” Proceedings Magazine, January 2015, Vol. 141, http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2015-01/distributed-lethality.

[3] “Tomahawk Hits Moving Target at Sea,” Raytheon Company, February 10, 2015, http://www.raytheon.com/news/feature/tomahawk_moving_target_sea.html.

[4] Sam LaGrone, “WEST: Bob Work Calls Navy’s Anti-Surface Tomahawk Test ‘Game Changing’,” USNI News, February 10, 2015, http://news.usni.org/2015/02/10/west-bob-work-calls-navys-anti-surface-tomahawk-test-game-changing.

[5] “RQ-170,” U.S. Air Force Fact File, December 10, 2009, http://www.af.mil/AboutUs/FactSheets/Display/tabid/224/Article/104547/rq-170-sentinel.aspx.

[6] Aytug Denk, “Detecting and Jamming Low Probability of Intercept (LPI) Radars,” Naval Post Graduate School, September 2006, http://dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a456960.pdf.

[7] Robert Tomes, “The Cold War Offset Strategy: Assault Breaker and the Beginning of the RSTA Revolution,” War on the Rocks, November 20, 2014, http://warontherocks.com/2014/11/the-cold-war-offset-strategy-assault-breaker-and-the-beginning-of-the-rsta-revolution/.

[8] “Northrop Tacit Blue,” National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, March 9, 2015, http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=353.

[9] Kelley Sayler, “Talk Stealthy to Me,” War on the Rocks, December 4, 2014, http://warontherocks.com/2014/12/talk-stealthy-to-me/.

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Weaponized Hovercraft for Distributed Lethality

This post was submitted by guest author John Salak for CIMSEC’s Distributed Lethality week. 

Distributed Lethality is a concept that offers the Navy an opportunity to transform our force structure to both enhance and expand mission capabilities to meet our national military objectives. It takes our contemporary carrier-strike group model centered around the striking power of the carrier – and re-distributes that offensive power across an up-armed fleet, and across the battlefield in distributed SAGs. Transforming that concept into reality may call for a little out-of-the-box thinking on how the Navy can achieve a larger footprint that is both scalable to a conflict and adaptable to a variety of missions. Better yet, in an era of significant budget constraints, it would be achieving those capabilities by utilizing existing technologies and assets in platforms, weapons, communications, and sensors in a new combinations that significantly transform tactical employment.

One of those out-of-the-box ideas started out as a way of indirectly enhancing LCS mission capability by utilizing off-board systems to increase the defensive and offensive perimeter with remote weapons platforms. Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), a foundation block for distributed lethality, is one of those key technologies for extending the reach of LCS off-board defensive and offensive weapons. Utilizing off-board weapons platforms at a significant distance from the ship effectively buys time in the kill chain for early engagements in a defensive mode, and quicker strike in an offensive mode. As an example, selection of the Vertical Launch capable Hellfire Longbow for LCS opened up the potential to outfit smaller off-board craft with the same weapon and forward deploy those craft to extend the LCS weapons radius. Another foundation block of distributed lethality, the battle space sensor network, eliminates the need for local sensor capabilities on the off-board platform to develop threat and targeting data. CEC provides the communications mechanism to integrate the off-board weapons and fire control with C2 assets to select and engage with the appropriate asset. While the idea was initially applied to enhancing LCS capability, the same concept and capability can be extended to any Navy capital ship with the C2 assets to control an engagement.

The LCS is a pretty fast ship, so off-board weapons platforms have to be not only as fast, but preferably much faster in order to maintain that extended footprint as the LCS force maneuvers. Helicopters (manned or unmanned) are the obvious answer, but they come with their own set of limitations for payload capability, time on-station, and a host of other resource limitations.

So what is the best solution for this high speed, large payload, and high endurance off-board craft? If we look at the Navy’s LCAC hovercraft/air cushion vehicle (ACV), the answer to this providing this new, unique capability becomes apparent. The LCAC is designed to carry payloads up to 70 tons at design speed. Like any ship or aircraft, high speed and high payload usually require significant amounts of propulsion power. In the case of LCAC, what if that power was diverted from payload capacity to increased speed with the end result being a craft capable of near helicopter speeds with 10 times the weapons payload of a helicopter and 4 to 5 times the mission endurance?  We call this modified craft the Fast Air Cushion Expeditionary Craft (FACEC), with a speed capability in the 85-100 knot range and weapon payloads up to 35-45 tons. This high speed craft would use its open cargo deck to provide the capability for utilizing reconfigurable strap-down modular weapons loads, much like an aircraft, matched to specific mission needs.

While the skeptics maybe already firing up their keyboards to mention the problems with Patrol Hydrofoils (PHM) and numerous other past attempts at very high speed naval craft, this is a varied approach. The key difference in this case, and why LCAC has been successful, is the craft was not designed as a ship, it was designed as an aircraft that flies 3m above the water. With all ship based designs, one literally brings along the kitchen sink as part of the weight/speed/power trade, and that has consequences in mission endurance/range, speed, and weapons payloads. With LCAC the kitchen sink, along with everything else not essential to mission performance, gets left behind to the benefit of speed, payload and endurance.  The trade is LCAC requires a host carrier ship for long range transport, crew accommodations, maintenance, fuel, and weapons.

The FACEC conversion of an LCAC would be optimized for high speed by significantly reducing that 70 ton payload capability to a range sufficient for any weapons modules that would fit on the deck. The envisioned weapon payload modules, such as a 24 cell LCS VL-Hellfire, 4 cell Naval Strike Missiles, Harpoon, APKWS, and even MK-41 VLS modules can be combined or swapped out to meet specific mission tasking. Layered weapons capabilities would include remote control guns and self-defense systems. The ability to shoot from the LCAC platform has been demonstrated in the past with efforts such as the GAU-5 based Gun Ship Air Cushion and rocket launched systems such as DET/SABER and the MK-58 lane clearance system.

greek hovercraft with weapons

The utilization of a very high-speed air cushion craft as forward deployed weapons platform/picket in a CEC network provides some interesting engagement scenarios for an opposing force. The speed capability makes rapid deployment and maneuver 50 to 100 miles forward of the main force a practical reality. The off-board weapons capability cannot be ignored in any attempt to engage the main force if the FACEC are deployed in sufficient numbers. The opposing force must either concentrate on taking out small, relatively low value assets or risk being attacked or neutralized by those same assets if they engage the main force directly.

Being an ACV, the FACEC is not restricted by any shallow water maneuvers, which opens up large operating areas that make the A2AD much more difficult for opposing forces. The speed and maneuver capability of FACEC would make it nearly impossible for any surface based vessel like a corvette or fast patrol boat to outrun or hide in an engagement. Being an ACV, the FACEC could hide anywhere there is enough space to park it, including on land, for fire and evade scenarios. In areas of the world where restricted maneuverability is a constraint, FACEC enables the weapons systems to venture into those areas while safely leaving the command ship behind.  Need an AEGIS ashore battery?  Send a FACEC loaded with a pod of SM-x equipped MK-41 VLS on an erectable base and park it anywhere you have a clearing.  Running a mission against a large force of small craft? Send a FACEC with 48 VL Hellfire Longbows and a remote control 25mm gun. Need something to reach and touch the enemy at 100 miles? Send a FACEC with NSMs and/or Harpoons.

FACEC

The astute observer might be wondering about that host ship carrier mentioned earlier. The USMC is already looking for more lift capability and more Lxx type host ships that carry LCAC are not in budget. The additional lift problem is addressed by utilizing a type of commercial off-shore platform support vessel capable of ballasting down to launch and recover the FACEC craft. A 105m craft has been identified that would be an ideal support platform for two embarked FACEC, while providing crew accommodations, maintenance, fueling and most importantly the ability to store and swap out the modular weapon systems. The ballast down capability allows FACEC operations similar to those currently conducted by LCAC and MLP ships. There are also potential alternate missions once the FACEC are launched, such as USMC AAV transport in support of expeditionary operations. In an era of shipbuilding budget pressures, these commercial PSVs are envisioned as another component of the MPS force, and eventual resale as commercial ships once their mission need ends. The FACEC/PSV combination makes a great hunter/killer combination with quick reaction capability.

With the commencement of LCAC-100 production, the U.S. Navy will have eventually have a significant fleet of legacy LCAC available for FACEC conversion. By utilizing existing assets and modifying them for high speed operations, adding CEC comms, along with repackaging some existing weapons to make modular swap outs possible, the Navy has an opportunity to transform force utilization in the littorals. If you want distributed lethality at its best, here is your express pass to get it.      

Mr. Salak is employed by BAE Systems. His background includes 28 years of LCAC engineering support, development of LCS off-board systems for mine warfare, C4N systems for the ONR T-Craft, and 12 years as a USN P-3 crew member. 

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Distributed Basing: The Key to Distributed Lethality’s Success in the Western Pacific

The following is a submission from guest author Eric Gomez for CIMSEC’s Distributed Lethality week.

The distributed lethality concept that was unveiled in Proceedings at the start of this year represents a new way of using naval forces against an adversary attempting to deny the U.S. Navy access to a combat area. Simply put, distributed lethality calls for creating hunter-killer surface action groups (SAG) consisting of a handful of surface combatants that conduct offensive anti-submarine and anti-surface operations.

In the Western Pacific, the greatest challenges to the U.S. Navy’s surface fleet are the air, naval, and missile forces of the People’s Republic of China, which are supported by a growing array of surveillance and reconnaissance systems. However, China’s ability to track and target American surface ships is still relatively weak and could be the “Achilles’ heel” of China’s anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) strategy. Distributed lethality seeks to exploit this surveillance weakness by putting more targets into a combat area, making tracking and targeting a more complex problem.

If implemented as intended, distributed lethality will likely succeed at making it difficult for the Chinese military to target U.S. Navy surface ships that are underway. However, the ports and base facilities in the region that the Navy depends on to keep it surface forces in the fight would be at risk. For example, the naval base at Yokosuka, Japan, the only base west of Hawaii that can repair aircraft carriers, lies within the range of Chinese land-based missiles. Bases that are protected by distance from Chinese attack, such as Guam, are too far away to play a major role in the distributed lethality concept that calls for fast tempo offensive operations.

A look at US bases in the Western Pacific (2011)
A look at US bases in the Western Pacific (2011)

In order for distributed lethality to work, the U.S. Navy and government must start reaching out to Western Pacific partners to expand American access to naval bases and port facilities. Realistically, “expanded access” would probably look like the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the Philippines, or the stationing of Littoral Combat Ships in Singapore. These are not full-fledged U.S. bases, but there is an expanding American military presence that should include more of the surface combatants that are the lynchpin of distributed lethality. The best way to implement the distributed lethality concept in the Western Pacific is through distributed basing, expanding the number of facilities where U.S. surface combatants can be based.

Distributed basing gives strategic heft to the distributed lethality concept in two ways. First, distributed basing increases the credibility of American extended deterrence in the Western Pacific by creating more “tripwires” similar to the token American forces stationed in Berlin during the Cold War. Second, distributed basing raises the costs of Chinese attacks by placing U.S. surface combatants alongside the military equipment of host countries. If the Chinese military wants to inflict a crippling first strike on U.S. Navy surface combatants in port, it will risk destroying the equipment and killing the personnel of another country’s military. This would likely draw that country into military conflict with China, thereby raising the economic, political, and military costs of the Chinese decision to strike.

However, no military decision comes without negative consequences, and it is important to consider the costs or pitfalls of distributed basing. Bases and other facilities will have to be able to withstand attacks. There has been much discussion about hardening U.S. Air Force bases against Chinese missile attacks. Similar hardening efforts or installing the Aegis Ashore missile defense system would be two examples of American efforts to keep a

A depiction of Aegis Ashore (USNI)
A depiction of Aegis Ashore (USNI)

distributed surface combatant force alive in the opening stages of a conflict. Fully implementing such base defenses will take time and resources, both of which might be in short supply. This could create a “window of opportunity” for Chinese military action in which the distributed lethality concept will be less effective as bases and facilities are upgraded.

Additionally, there is no guarantee that other states will allow the U.S. to implement distributed basing. Even in Japan, a U.S. treaty ally, there is considerable popular opposition to the basing of American forces. An increasingly threatening China could provide a compelling rationale for allowing American warships to be put back into bases and ports, but distributed basing is by no means a political slam dunk.

The distributed lethality concept does provide a new and potentially effective way for the U.S. Navy to respond to A2/AD threats, but more work needs to be done on the logistical side. In order for distributed lethality to be most effective, U.S. surface combatants should be distributed at more locations throughout the Western Pacific. This would enable them to get to their combat areas faster and would present more targets for the Chinese to engage in the early stages of an armed conflict. However, expanding access and distributing surface combatants across more facilities in the Western Pacific will not be easy tasks. Having the U.S. Navy spread across more facilities will not be beneficial unless those facilities can be adequately defended. Bringing many facilities up to an acceptable standard of protection will require an investment of time and resources that create a “window of opportunity” for Chinese action.

Having the distributed lethality concept is a good start because it shows the Navy is thinking creatively about new ways to counter the A2/AD strategy. However, more thinking and writing on the logistics aspect of distributed lethality needs to be done in order for distributed lethality to reach its full potential.

Eric Gomez is an independent analyst and recent Master’s graduate of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. He is working to develop expertise in regional security issues and U.S. military strategy in East Asia, with a focus on China. Eric can be reached at gomez.wellesreport@gmail.com.

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


Distributed Endurance: Logistics and Distributed Lethality

The following is a submission by guest author Chris O’Connor for CIMSEC’s Distributed Lethality week.

Distributed lethality is a concept that harkens back to the glory days of the US Navy in the age of sail: small groups of ships with operational autonomy fighting the enemy with their organic firepower and capabilities. Operational autonomy was the default state for ships  until Marconi’s radio set- the lack of instantaneous communication meant that commanders had to make decisions by themselves. Concerning distributed lethality, the lack of communications is imposed upon our ships by enemy communications denial in an A2/AD environment. The parallel does not work in the logistics domain as well- warships then had to fend for themselves logistically, while today, we will have to force a new mode of supply on our ships in order for them to operate independently.

There are some lessons we can learn from how we supported our ships in the past, but there is a big difference in the sustainment modality of the 64-gun USS Bonhomme Richard of Revolutionary War legend and the modern namesake of her captain USS John Paul Jones (DDG-53).

First of all, those ships of sail operated with what is now called an “expeditionary mindset.” They operated with austerity, for threplenishment opportunities were few and far between. Most of our surface combatants are replenished from MSC ships with such frequency that fresh fruits and vegetables are a part of the staple on Carrier Strike Group (CSG) deployers and hard pack ice cream is not uncommon. Life on-board the hunter killer Surface Action Groups (SAGs) will be less comfortable, but it does not have to regress to the days of hard tack and picked herring. Instead, austere life on a modern surface ship life will be closer to that of how submariners live on nuclear attack subs. More canned and from scratch food could be served and valuable storeroom space that is now used for ship’s store items and soda vending could further extend the endurance of a vessel as food storage. Our refrigeration units could be converted to only carry frozen items, yet another adaptation for better food autonomy that sacrifices the comfort of salads and perishable fruit for several more days between replenishment hits.

Ships in the age of sail had carpenters in their crew and bosun’s mates that could repair a large part of what we would call ‘Hull, Mechanical, and Electrical’ systems on today’s warships, using materials that could be collected from almost any port- or from captured enemy ships, for that matter. Shot out rudders, rigging, sails- the prime movers of a ship of the day- could be at least “jury rigged” with organic capabilities on-board. The bridge that modern warships need to come even close to this capability is a suite of additive manufacturing systems that can build replacement parts of many shapes and materials, to include systems that can repair parts by building directly on their surfaces with an additive manufacturing (AM) system. Sailors will need to be able to repair their own systems with these new technologies, introducing an organizational level repair suite that can fix far more than the currently installed machine shops. In the near term, AM will not be the solution to all of our shipboard repair problems, especially on space constrained surface combatants. The state of the technology means that our ships will still depend on logistics assets for at least some of their repair parts, which will tend towards the complex in design, and will be most likely vital for the operation of our critical systems.

The delivery of high priority parts to ships at sea necessitates a solution that departs from our historical parallels. If we are to provide logistical supports to distributed assets in a emission-restricted or denied environment, a family of autonomous replenishment assets needs to be developed. In the “distributed lethality” environment, large, exquisite MH-60 helicopters should not be used to deliver small packages of critical parts (a situation that the author has personally experienced a number of times). These multi-mission aircraft are better utilized prosecuting targets, providing ISR, and acting as communications relays. The crews of the helicopters should also not be put to risk delivering parts where detection in contested airspace would have a fatal outcome. Vertical take-off and landing UAVs (VTUAV) lend themselves perfectly to this mission, but there is not currently a platform in the Navy that is suited for this mission.

The Navy needs to fill this capability gap by changing how VTUAVs are operated from ships and advancing existing technologies to a level that allows for a mature autonomous capability. We have to

VTUAVs like this CybAero design could enable robotic replenishment
VTUAVs like this CybAero design could enable robotic replenishment

operate these systems without flight following; controlled assets are no use to us an environment where communications are not guaranteed. To enable this, such a robotic replenishment asset would have to have “sense and avoid” systems so that they do not collide with other aircraft, ships, or oil platforms as they fly point to point from ship to ship or ship to shore. In addition, these aircraft will have systems that use a combination of EO/IR, LIDAR, and INS to first get in the vicinity of the receiving ship and then land on it without any outside input or control. This is an important difference from our current CONOPs, for there is no UAV that can land on any ship in our inventory by itself; they all require UCARs (UAV Common Automatic Recovery System), SPN radars, or man-in-the-loop input. To be truly useful, logistics missions should be able to be flown to and from any surface ship, as they are with manned helicopters. The all of the above technologies needed for an autonomous logistics UAV currently exist but have not been combined into one dedicated platform. When proven, a family of systems ranging from Fire Scout to optionally manned H-60s to hybrid airships could be employed, stretching a flexible sustainment chain that can leapfrog from asset to asset out to our hunter killer SAGs.

Austerity, additive manufacturing, and robotic replenishment can only take sustainment endurance so far without dealing with the five hundred pound gorilla of energy supply. At sea fuel replenishment will be much rarer if combatant ships operate in environments that make MSC ship operations difficult due to distance or enemy threats. In addition, these oilers might be occupied in other future missions as missile shooters with bolt-on launchers or adaptive force package elements. To start, a greater tolerance for lower levels of shipboard fuel bunkerage needs to be embraced operationally. Fuel cells and batteries need to be added to existing platforms to share the electrical generation burden from the gas turbine generators, so more fuel can be conserved for ship propulsion. The end solution to this problem could be much more radical and needs to be examined in great depth. Unmanned fuel tugs in concert with underwater fuel stations could service our ships, but the full implications of using such systems are far from certain.

“Distributed Lethality” will prove a sea change to how naval forces employ surface assets with significant implications for tactics, command and control methods, and platform employment means. In order for it all to work, we need to be as innovative with our sustainment methods we are in all the other enabling warfare disciplines. The sooner we get started, the more seamless the final package will be.

Chris O’Connor is a supply corps officer in the United States Navy and is a member of the Chief of Naval Operations Rapid Innovation Cell. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent those of the United States Department of Defense.

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