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Surface Warfare: Lynchpin of Naval Integrated Air/Missile Defense

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

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

Introduction- Our Changing World

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

What Has Changed? Back to the Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starting at the Beginning: Warfighting Expertise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We must do better.

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

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

Capability to Defeat the Threat

AEGIS Wholeness – Sustaining the World’s Best Weapon System

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

Navy BMD – From Pioneering Capability to Primary Mission

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

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

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

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

What we must change – Culture and Focus

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

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

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

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

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


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

A New Kind of Drone War: UCAV vs UCLASS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosalyn Turner is an intern at ASPI.

The Ram: A 19th-Century Naval Warfare Dead End

2876611-merrimac-a-confederate-ironclad-ship-rams-the-uss-cumberland-during-the-american-civil-war
CSS Virginia rams USS Cumberland

By Steven Wills

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

Most naval enthusiasts are familiar with the groundbreaking 19th century warship innovations that have influenced warship design down to the present day. The revolving turret, the iron and later steel hull, armor plate, the mine and the self-propelled torpedo and steam propulsion are all familiar signposts on the way to the fleets of the 20th and 21st century. One such innovation (or retrograde feature) in warship design did not survive to see duty beyond the first four years of the 20th century despite being a prominent feature on every major capital warship from the 1860’s to 1904. The Ram bow was once considered more lethal in ship-killing than either the gun or the nascent torpedo and mine. Thanks to its accidental success in the American Civil War and in the 1866 battle of Lissa between Austrian and Italian fleets, the ram acquired a fearsome reputation not seen since ancient times. Despite it supposed potential, the ram claimed many more victims in peacetime accident than it did in war. The British, French, and even the American navies built expensive rams that wasted valuable resources and never saw combat.

Incidents such as the sinking of the USS Cumberland by the CSS Virginia in 1862 and the spectacular loss of the Italian flagship Re D’ Italia when rammed by it’s Austrian opposite number Ferdinand Max in the 1866 Austro-Prussian (and Italian) war convinced many ship designers that the ram was now a preeminent weapon in war at sea. In the words of the late British naval designer D. K. Brown, the ram was the key piece of naval technology to overcome the new iron hull and armor in place of naval guns which often failed in this endeavor.

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HMS Victoria sinks with propellers still spinning

The majority of capital ships after 1866 started to go to sea with rams, but their victims were nearly always friends and not the foes imagined. The British armored frigate HMS Iron Duke sank her sister ship HMS Vanguard in August 1875 as both ships blundered about in heavy fog. In May 1878, the German armored frigate SMS Konig Wilhelm rammed and sank the armored turret ship SMS Grosser Kurfurst in a maneuvering accident in clear weather. Finally, in a spectacular and terrible incident in 1893, the battleship HMS Camperdown rammed and sank the flagship of the British Mediterranean fleet HMS Victoria, who took 358 men and the commanding Admiral of the fleet Sir George Tryon to the bottom off Beirut, Lebanon.

While most rams were mere add-ons to capital ships, some were purpose built with no other combat function. HMS Polyphemus was built in the late 1870’s for over 170,000 pounds sterling. Although she was the first British warship to have an electric light and be painted a gr250px-PolyphemusShipay color for camouflage, Polyphemus was an expensive experiment soon overtaken by the technology of rapid fire guns. While the Polyphemus also had torpedoes as a weapon, the USS Katahdin,commissioned in 1893 at a cost of over $900,000 was a pure ram with only light weapons. Painted green to camouflage herself in coastal waters, Katahdin was a harbor defense weapon against invading enemy fleets seeking to shell U.S. cities.  Although briefly in commission for the Spanish American war, Katahdin saw no combat and little active service before being sunk as a target off the mouth of the Rappahannock river in 1909.

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USS Katahdin

The ram is another example of a so-called “transformative” weapon that in reality was a retrograde feature in warship construction. The steady march of conventional weapon technology in the form of accurate, long range, director-fired guns and faster, longer-range torpedoes eventually overcame any potential held by the ram. Most importantly, the ram bow was a tactical misconception that was rarely tested in peace or evaluated in wartime use, but remained an integral and expensive element of warship design for nearly 50 years. In an ironic twist of fate, the first modern battleship without a ram bow, the famous HMS Dreadnought, actually rammed and sank a German U boat in March 1915. It was an even more bizarre event in that the commander of the rammed submarine was Kapitanleutant Otto Weddigen, who in 1914 helped to inaugurate the modern era of naval warfare by sinking 3 British cruisers by submarine torpedoes in the space of an hour.

Steve Wills is a retired surface warfare officer and a PhD student in military history at Ohio University. His focus areas are modern U.S. naval and military reorganization efforts and British naval strategy and policy from 1889-1941. He posts here at CIMSEC, sailorbob.com and at informationdissemination.org under the pen name of “Lazarus.”

Sea Control 28 (East Atlantic) – The F-35

seacontrolemblemFor the inaugural edition of Sea Control’s “East Atlantic” series, Alexander Clarke brings on Steve George, former engineer with the F-35 program and Royal Navy veteran to discuss the challenges and misconceptions of the F-35 program. Remember, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher Stream Radio. Leave a comment and five stars!

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 28 (East Atlantic) -The F-35

Tune in next week for our interview with Erik Prince!