Tag Archives: Littoral

Sea Control Through The Eyes of the Person Who Does It, Pt. 2

The following article originally appeared in The Naval War College Review and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here. It will be republished in three parts, read Part One here

By Christofer Waldenström 

The Field of Sensors

To determine whether the field of safe travel is receding toward the minimum safety zone, the commander must be able to observe the objects present in the naval battlefield. Today, the naval battlefield comprises more than just the surface of the sea. Threats of all sorts can come from either beneath the surface or above it. The driver of a car determines from the pertinent visual field whether the field of safe travel is receding toward the minimum stopping zone.22 For a commander, however, it is not possible to perceive directly the elements of the operations area—the naval battlefields are far too vast. Instead, as noted above, the objects present have to be inferred, on the basis of sensor data.23

Thus, there exists a “field of sensors” that the commander uses to establish whether the field of safe travel approaches the edge of the minimum safety zone. The field of sensors is an objective spatial field the boundaries of which are determined by the union of the coverage of all sensors that provide data to the commander. The importance of the sensor field is also emphasized in one theory of perception-based tactics that has been advanced (though without discussion of its spatial dimensions).24 As the sensors that build up the field have different capabilities to detect and classify objects, the field of sensors will consequently consist of regions in which objects can be, variously, detected and classified with varying reliability. (These regions could be seen as fields in their own right, but for now we will leave them as is.) Nevertheless, to establish the boundary of the field of safe travel and determine whether it is receding toward the minimum safety zone, the commander must organize the field of sensors in such way that it is possible both to detect contacts and to classify them as nonhostile before they get inside the minimum safety zone.

Factors Limiting Detection

Several factors limit the detection of enemy units. First, terrain features can provide cover. Units that hide close to islands are difficult to detect with radar. In a similar way, a submarine that lies quietly on the bottom is difficult to distinguish from a rock formation with sonar. The weather is another factor: high waves make small targets difficult to detect; fog and rain reduce visibility for several sensors, such as visual, infrared, and radar; and temperature differences between layers in the atmosphere and in the water column influence how far sensors can see or hear. Yet another factor is stealth, or camouflage, whereby units are purposely designed to be difficult to detect with sensors. Sharp edges on a ship’s hull reflect radar waves in such ways that they do not return to the transmitting radar in detectable strength. Units are painted to blend into the background, propulsion systems are made silent, ships’ magnetic fields are neutralized, and exhaust gases are cooled—all to reduce the risk of detection. Being aware of these factors makes it possible for commanders to use them to advantage. Units might be positioned close to islands while protecting the field of safe travel, or the high-value units might select a route that will force the enemy units to move out at sea, thus making themselves possible to detect.

Factors Limiting Classification

To avoid being classified, the basic rule is to not emit signals that allow the enemy to distinguish a unit from other contacts around it. Often naval operations are conducted in areas where neutral or civilian vessels are present, and this makes it difficult to tell which contacts are hostile. To complicate matters, the enemy can take advantage of this. For example, an enemy unit can move in radar silence in normal shipping lanes and mimic the behavior of merchants, so as to be difficult to detect using radar and electronic support measures. Suppressing emissions, however, only works until the unit comes inside the range where the force commander would expect electronic support measures to classify its radar—no merchant ever travels radar silent. To detect potential threats the commander establishes a “picture” of the normal activities in the operations area. Behavior that deviates from the normal picture is suspect and will be monitored more closely. Thus, contacts that behave as other contacts do will be more difficult to classify.

The Field of Weapons

As mentioned above, the commander has three choices for handling a detected threat: move the high-value units away from the threat, take action to eliminate the threat, or receive the attack and defend. In the two latter cases the threat can be eliminated either by disabling it or by forcing it to retreat. Either way, the commander must have a weapon that can reach the target with the capability to harm it sufficiently. It is immaterial what type of weapon it is or from where it is launched, as long as it reaches the target and harms it sufficiently. Thus, the weapons carried by the commander’s subordinate units, or any other unit from which the commander can request fire support, create a “field of weapons” in which targets can be engaged. Like the field of sensors, the field of weapons is a spatial field, bounded by the union of the maximum weapon ranges carried by all units at the commander’s disposal. The field of weapons is further built up by the variety of weapons, which means that the field consists of different regions capable of handling different targets. For example, there will be regions capable of engaging large surface ships, regions capable of destroying antiship missiles, and other regions capable of handling submarines. Nevertheless, to prevent the high-value units from being sunk, the field of weapons must be organized in such way that it is possible to take action against hostile units and missiles before they get inside their corresponding minimum safety zones. For example, the threat posed by air-to-surface missiles can be dealt with by protecting two minimum safety zones. The commander can take out the enemy aircraft before they get a chance to launch the missile—that is, shoot down the aircraft before they enter the minimum safety zone created by the range of the missile they carry. If this fails the commander can take down the missiles before they hit the high-value units—that is, shoot down the missiles before they get inside the minimum safety zone created by the distance at which the missile can do damage to the high-value units.

It is now possible to specify how the fields of sensors and weapons work together: the field of sensors and the field of weapons must be organized in such a way that for each field of safe travel hostile units can be detected, classified, and neutralized before they enter the corresponding minimum safety zone. One scholar of naval tactics and scouting touches on what can serve as an illustration. Closest to the ships that should be protected is a zone of control where all enemies must be destroyed; outside the zone of control is a zone of influence or competition, something like a no-man’s-land.25 Outside the zone of influence is a zone of interest where one must be prepared against a detected enemy. Scouting in the first region seeks to target; in the second, to track; and in the third, to detect. Important to notice is that the field of sensors and the field of weapons are carried by, tied to, the commander’s units, which simultaneously bring the fields to bear with respect to all pairs of fields of safe travel and minimum safety zones. This complicates matters for the commander. As the fields of safe travel and minimum safety zones are stacked, actions taken to tackle a threat to one minimum safety zone may create problems for another. The competition of units between the pairs of minimum safety zones and fields of safe travel may lead to a situation where a managed air-warfare problem creates a subsurface problem. This bedevilment is not unknown to the naval warfare community: “The tactical commander is not playing three games of simultaneous chess; he is playing one game on three boards with pieces that may jump from one board to another.”26

To illustrate the problem, suppose that the situations in figure 3 occur simultaneously; there is both a surface and a subsurface threat to the high-value unit. In this case the field of sensors has to be organized so that contacts can be detected and classified in a circular field with a radius of a hundred kilometers (for the antiship missile, figure 3a) and also within a smaller and elliptical field (figure 3b, in the torpedo case). For example, radars and electronic support measures have to be deployed to detect and identify surface contacts, while sonar and magneticanomaly detection have to be used to secure the subsurface field. Accordingly, the field of weapons has to be organized so that contacts can be engaged before entering the respective minimum safety zones—antisubmarine weapons for subsurface threats and antiship weapons for surface threats.

Not only weapons can be used to shape the field of safe travel; another means to influence it is deception. Deception takes advantage of the inertia inherent in naval warfare. First, there is the physical inertia whereby a successful deception draws enemy forces away from an area, giving an opportunity to act in that area before the enemy can move back. Second, there is the cognitive inertia of the enemy commander. It takes some time before the deception is detected, which gives further time. Deception can, thus, be seen as a deliberate action within the enemy’s field of sensors to shape the field of safe travel to one’s own advantage. For successful deception it is necessary that commanders understand how their own actions will be picked up by the enemy’s field of sensors and that they be aware of both the enemy’s cognitive and physical inertia. The commander has to “play up” a plausible scenario in the enemy’s field of sensors and then give the enemy commander time to decide that action is needed to counter that scenario (cognitive inertia) and then further time to allow the enemy units to move in the wrong direction (physical inertia). The central role of inertia will be further discussed later.

Having defined the fundamental fields it is now possible to formulate what is required from commanders to establish sea control. The skill of securing control at sea consists largely in organizing a requisite set of pairs of correctly bounded minimum safety zones and corresponding fields of safe travel shaped to counter actual and potential threats, and in organizing the field of sensors and field of weapons in such way that that for each field of safe travel, hostile contacts can be detected, classified, and neutralized before they enter the corresponding minimum safety zone.

Factors Limiting the Field of Safe Travel

So far it has been said that it is the enemy that limits and shapes the field of safe travel. This is, however, not the whole truth. The field of safe travel is also shaped by other physical and psychological factors.

Terrain Features That Reduce Capability to Detect and Engage Targets

To be able to sink the high-value unit the enemy must detect, classify, and fire a weapon against it. All this must happen in rapid succession, or the high-value unit may slip out of the weapon’s kill zone. This means that to fire a weapon against the high-value unit the enemy must organize its field of sensors and its field of weapons so that they overlap the high-value unit at the time of weapon release. In this way the field of safe travel is built up by all the paths that take the high-value unit outside the intersection of the enemy’s field of sensors and the enemy’s field of weapons. This further means that the boundaries of the field of safe travel are determined in part by terrain regions where high-value units can go but enemy weapons cannot engage them—for example, an archipelago that provides protection against radar-guided missiles. The boundaries are also determined by the enemy’s capability to detect the high-value units, and thus terrain features can also delimit the field of safe travel in that they protect the high-value units from detection. For example, the archipelago mentioned above also provides protection against detection by helicopter-borne radar, as long as the ships move slowly. (If they start to move quickly, however, they will stand out from the clutter of islands.) It is also important to notice that a minimum safety zone is resized in the same way as the corresponding field of safe travel—if the enemy cannot see the high-value unit or has no weapon that can engage it, the enemy unit can be allowed closer in.

Terrain Regions Where Enemy Units Can Hide

Like enemy units, potential threats also throw out lines of clearance. One such potential threat is a terrain feature where the enemy might have concealed units and from which attacks can be launched (see figure 4a). Such regions—for example, islands where enemy units can hide close to land—contain potential threats. There may or may not be actual threats there, the objective field of safe travel may or may not be clear, but since commanders can only react to their subjective fields, the latter are properly shaped and limited by these barriers.

Terrain features that serve as good attack points for the enemy also radiate lines of clearance, and they shape the field of safe travel (a); enemy units may or may not be present. In (b) the field of safe travel is impinged by the potential location of enemy units. When an enemy unit slips out of the field of sensors, it creates an area of potential threat that grows as time passes. These potential threat areas also determine the boundaries of the commander’s subjective field, although here the enemy never encroached on the objective field and is now well clear of it.

Enemy Units That Are Spotted and Then Lost

Another potential threat that will radiate clearance lines arises from the movement of enemy units. It is possible for a contact that has been detected and classified to slip out of the field of sensors —for instance, by turning off its radar after being tracked by electronic support measures. The potential movement of such a unit shapes the field of safe travel. Suppose an enemy unit was detected at position p at time t (see figure 4b). As the enemy is outside the field of safe travel, it does not pose a threat to the commander at this time. Now, the contact slips out of the field of sensors, and contact with it is lost. As time passes and the commander fails to reestablish contact, the region where the unit can be is a circle that grows proportionally to the maximum speed of the enemy unit. Eventually the region grows to such a size that it is not possible for the force to pass without the minimum safety zone intersecting with it. In figure 4b the subjective field of safe travel is correctly shaped by the potential threat, but the objective field of safe travel is clear—the enemy unit has turned around and is heading away.

Legal Obstacles and Taboos

 The field of safe travel is also limited by international law. One such legal obstacle is the sea territory of neutral states. A neutral state has declared itself outside the conflict the commander is involved in, and this prohibits the parties of the conflict from using its sea territory for purposes of warfare. Such regions delimit the fields of safe travel and thus restrict where the commander’s units can move. On the other hand, they do not pose a threat to the high-value units and can safely be allowed to encroach on the minimum safety zone.

Neutral Units in the Operations Area

Today, as noted, naval operations take place in areas where neutral shipping is present. Like the sea territory of neutral states, neutral shipping is protected by international law. A consequence of this is that neutral shipping in the area also influences the shape of the field of safe travel. The commander is of course prohibited from attacking neutral merchants. This is not a problem in itself—if a certain contact is classified as neutral, we cannot engage it. Nevertheless, it has implications for where high-value units are allowed to move. As neutral shipping cannot be engaged, we are forbidden to use it for cover—for instance, to move so close to a merchant vessel as to make it difficult for the opponent to engage without risk of sinking the merchant. This means that neutral shipping creates “holes” in the field, where combatants are not allowed to move. If the commander does not track the merchant vessels continuously, these holes grow proportionally to the merchants’ maximum speed, as they do for enemy units spotted and then lost.

Mines

Mines shape the field in the same way that ships do. They can be seen as stationary ships with limited weapon ranges; the minimum safety zone for a mine would be the range at which a ship could pass it without being damaged if the mine detonated. Laying mines shapes the commander’s field, and the commander must react, either by taking another route or by actively reshaping the field—that is, by clearing the mines. Clearing mines has the same effect as taking out enemy ships; the field of safe travel expands into the area that has been cleared. Of course, the enemy can use this for purposes of deception, pretending to lay mines, sending a unit zigzagging through a strait, and making sure that the commander’s field of sensors picks this up. If the deception is successful, the commander’s subjective field is shaped incorrectly.

Dr. Waldenström works at the Institution of War Studies at the Swedish National Defence College. He is an officer in the Swedish Navy and holds an MSc in computer science and a PhD in computer and systems sciences. His dissertation focused on human factors in command and control and investigated a support system for naval warfare tasks. Currently he is working as lead scientist at the school’s war-gaming section, and his research focuses on learning aspects of war games.

References

22. Gibson and Crooks, “Theoretical FieldAnalysis of Automobile-Driving,” p. 457.

23. Intelligence reports from higher command are also included when constructing this operational view of the battlefield. This operational view of the battlefield is compiled by exchanging and merging sensor data, a partly manual and partly automatic process well known in all navies. The result is usually displayed as a map of the operations area overlaid with symbols representing the objects present in varying stages of classification— detected, classified, or identified.

24. T. Taylor, “A Basis for Tactical Thought,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings (June 1982).

25. Hughes, Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat.

26. Ibid., p. 196.

Featured Image: MEDITERRANEAN SEA (July 25, 2012) A plane captain signals to the pilot of an F/A-18C Hornet assigned to the Blue Blasters of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 34 on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Joshua E. Walters/Released)

Don’t Neglect the Human Factor in Littoral Combat

The following article originally appeared by The National Interest and is republished with the author’s permission. It may be read in its original form here

By James Holmes

A new article from Wayne Hughes is a treat for anyone in naval geekdom. Captain Hughes literally wrote the book on U.S. Navy fleet tactics and coastal combat; I still schlep around my dog-eared copy of Fleet Tactics from my midshipman days in the 1980s. It keeps good company with tracts from Clausewitz, Corbett and the boys.

But last month over at USNI Blog, Hughes and a brace of Naval Postgraduate School colleagues proposed the concept of “mesh networks.” It refers to a dispersed yet networked ships, planes, weapons, and sensors that are able to seize the initiative from regional adversaries, maneuver in both physical and cyberspace, and prevail in near-shore combat. The whole thing is worth a read.

It’s a compelling read in many respects. Hughes and his coauthors accentuate how complex and menacing offshore waters and skies can be. For instance, we tend to evaluate weapons in large part by their firing range. Outrange a foe and you acquire a significant tactical edge. Similar to boxing, in sea fights, the pugilist with greatest range can wallop his opponent before he has the chance to strike back. The perpetrator inflicts damage without absorbing any himself.

But range is mainly an asset for open-ocean battle. The open sea resembles a vast, featureless plain; weapons can reach their full potential there. Ships and planes can pound away from their maximum firing ranges. Littoral combat, by contrast, compacts the distances at which battle takes place. You have to get close to shore to strike inland, land troops, or blockade enemy harbors.

To continue the boxing analogy, it is similar to forcing boxers to fight in the clinch rather than dancing around the ring. The fight transpires within weapons range of an enemy who’s fighting on his own ground, with all of his manpower and armaments close to hand. Compressing the theater, then, attenuates any range advantage U.S. forces may enjoy, or nullifies it altogether.

And if that’s not bad enough, inshore combat constricts the time available to defend against incoming rounds. Dexterity is essential when forced to cope with myriad challenges. Scattering and moving sensors and “shooters” around the theater constitutes one way to confound foes—provided U.S. forces can still mass firepower at the decisive place on the map at the decisive time. Hence the concept of nimble, “networked” forces. Despite the concept’s virtues, it feels incomplete and abstract, possibly even otherworldly.

That’s because it slights the human dimension of sea combat—a hazardous thing to do when contemplating how to wage war, an intensely human enterprise. My advice is to look not to a U.S. Navy admiral but to a U.S. Air Force colonel for insight into how to prosecute littoral combat. Let’s keep the human in human competition—enriching mesh-network tactics.

The coauthors make the late Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski’s model of decision-making their own, using it to explore the potential of offshore networks. Cebrowski describes tactics as a three-phase cycle. Sensing represents the first phase. Combatants gather and exchange data about their surroundings. They next decide what arms and tactics to deploy within those surroundings. And then they act on the decision, with the aim of getting off the first effective shot. Sense, decide, act. It makes sense on the surface, but the trouble is that this approach is too mechanical. It makes little allowance for the messiness that is human interaction in a competitive environment.

Cebrowski implies that in combat you can plug data into an algorithm, churn out an answer, and do what the algorithm says. Colonel John Boyd, a fighter pilot and self-made strategist, interjects a fourth element into the decision cycle. The tactical surroundings, says Boyd, are constantly in flux. It’s not enough to collect information about the setting. It’s about orienting oneself to the setting before making a decision and acting.

For Boyd, then, the cycle goes observe, orient, decide, act—OODA. Fail to orient to the surroundings and you are disoriented, estranged from the reality around you. Losing touch with reality represents a dangerous situation at the best of times—but especially in combat. The victor, oftentimes, is the combatant best in tune with the situation. So orienting is important.

How do you do it? It’s a process of assimilating and analyzing new information that comes in from sensors and other sources. Sounds like Cebrowski’s decide function. But Boyd also maintains that past experience shapes how combatants adapt to their surroundings. So do cultural traditions. So does “genetic heritage.” Boyd even factors in the biological basis of human cognition.

The fighter pilot thus incorporates not-strictly-rational components of human decision-making into his paradigm for tactics and strategy, adding texture to the model. Thinkers from Machiavelli to Taleb warn that people are hardwired to think in linear terms, projecting the past into the future in a straight line. Past trends constitute the best guide to future events.

Yet straight-line thinking impedes efforts to cope with the opponent—a living, determined contestant with every incentive to deflect competition onto nonlinear, unpredictable pathways. Culture likewise channels efforts to process new data in certain directions. Bewilderment greets unfamiliar information all too often—further slowing down adaptation.

Nor is orientation some incidental or throwaway element of the decision cycle. Boyd portrays it as the one element to rule them all: “The second O, orientation—as the repository of our genetic heritage, cultural tradition, and previous experiences—is the most important part of the O-O-D-A loop since it shapes the way we observe, the way we decide, the way we act.”

There’s a corollary to Boyd’s decision-making taxonomy. Pit two antagonists against each other, both of which are struggling to observe, orient, decide, and act effectively. Orienting swiftly and accurately is a defensive endeavor. But if there’s an orient function whereby each antagonist tries to stay abreast of change, there must also be an offensive, disorient function to the OODA cycle.

And indeed, Boyd beseeches savvy contestants to spring “fast transients” on their adversaries, seizing control of the environment. Sudden, swift, radical maneuvers befuddle the adversary. Repeated maneuvers cut him off from the tactical or strategic environment altogether, making him easy pickings. Boyd famously defeated every mock adversary he encountered during air-combat training within forty seconds. He ascribed his unbeaten record to fast—unforeseeable—transients.

All models simplify; that’s true in all fields of inquiry. We assume perfect competition in economics, exaggerating economic actors’ rationality for the sake of simplicity. We assume laminar flow in fluid dynamics, disregarding turbulence within the fluid and between the fluid and the pipe wall. And we assume frictionless machinery to illustrate physics and engineering principles.

And this is all to the good—provided economists and physicists disregard only secondary factors for the sake of explaining fundamental concepts, and provided they take account of these factors when they devise economic policies, piping systems, and engines for real-world use. Disregarding a primary factor could invalidate the model altogether. Cebrowski takes the orient function—the most important function—out of the decision cycle. Doing so abstracts any model founded on his theory from reality.

As a legendary pugilist once said, any scheme for human competition and conflict that neglects interaction has dim prospects for success. I urge the Naval Postgraduate School team to reject Cebrowski’s paradigm, and eliminate that fallacy from their worthwhile project. Wargames premised on Boyd’s more realistic decision cycle will yield more meaningful insight into how coastal combat may unfold, and that will bolster U.S. Navy performance.

Naval warfare is an intensely human enterprise, rife with dark passions, chance, and uncertainty. It’s disorderly and erratic, operating by its own topsy-turvy logic. Not for nothing does John Boyd insist that people, ideas, and hardware—in that order—constitute the crucial determinants of victory and defeat. Prioritizing people represents the starting point for wisdom.

James Holmes is Professor of Strategy at the Naval War College and coauthor of Red Star over the Pacific. The views voiced here are his alone.

Featured Image: USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) enters Apra Harbor for a port visit on U.S. Naval Base Guam on Dec. 11, 2014. (U.S. Navy photo by Leah Eclavea)

A Century On: The Littoral Mine Warfare Challenge

Title Photo: An Officer’s Sketches of the Attack on the Narrows on  March 18, 1915 – the Allies’ fleet of 16 battleships attempt to force their way through the Dardanelles; by the end of the day, a quarter of them would be put out of service due to mines and shorefire.

Littoral Arena Topic Week

By Timothy Choi

Within 21st century discussions of littoral warfare challenges, the concept of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) is often used as a homogenous term. This has led to an overwhelming emphasis on the development and acquisition of high-tech weaponry such as anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles that aim to hold a fleet at risk as far from shore as possible. Yet, this is representative of only the first half of the A2/AD concept. Should a fleet successfully defeat anti-access threats, it would have to still deal with the area-denial challenge within the littoral operational area. Here, one particular weapons system has remained understudied, but no less lethal: sea mines. With some 70% of US Navy ship casualties since the end of the Second World War caused by mines, any discussion of littoral warfare must include these incredibly cost-effective weapons. The disproportionate impact of sea mines in an area-denial role is perhaps best illustrated in the First World War’s Dardanelles campaign, which provide many lessons that continue to apply today in such potential littoral areas of operation as the Strait of Hormuz.

Mines and the Dardanelles

The Gallipoli land campaign is often mentioned in historical overviews of the First World War as an isolated event that began and ended on land. Although most histories succeed in noting that Gallipoli was intended to reopen traffic to southern Russia via the Turkish Straits, only dedicated study of the campaign actually explains its operational necessity: to enable Allied battleships to pass safely through the Dardanelles and bring their guns to within range of Constantinople, thereby bringing about the Ottomans’ surrender. The land campaign was thus supposed to be a supportive operation to the original naval-centric strategy and was to be concluded once Allied minesweepers could conduct sweeping operations in peace, allowing the battleships to safely make their way through into the Sea of Marmara.

Ottoman minelayer Nusret (replica). Deploying her mines under the cover of darkness in the midst of the Allied operating area, she was responsible for the March 18 outcome, emphasizing the need for persistent MCM efforts during all phases of conflict.
Ottoman minelayer Nusret (replica). Deploying her mines under the cover of darkness in the midst of the Allied operating area, she was responsible for the March 18 outcome, emphasizing the need for persistent MCM efforts during all phases of conflict.

Outgunned and outmatched in their conventional naval forces, the Ottomans utilized a defensive strategy that centred around the naval mine. In so doing, its forces needed to only prevent the minefields’ reduction – a fairly simple task that pitted Ottoman mobile howitzers against the Allies’ defenseless and slow minesweepers.[1] The vulnerability of big battleships to the humble mine was ably demonstrated during the March 18th, 1915, attempt at forcing the Dardanelles: there would be no reaching the Marmara unless the minesweepers could proceed free from howitzer harassment. Only through land forces would the howitzers be rooted out from behind their protective embankments.

Yet, the very land campaign that was to support the naval passage through the strait ended up being an operation that required naval support – resulting in even more losses for the RN in the form of Goliath, Triumph, and Majestic’s sinking by torpedo boat and submarine.[2] Instead of being an operation focused on the destruction of the howitzers, it became the standard trench warfare that plagued Western Europe and where Ottoman land forces proved that they were at no disadvantage. Furthermore, even had the Allies succeeded in taking and holding the Gallipoli peninsula, only half the problem would have been solved: the Asiatic shore still had to be controlled and would require much more effort given the lack of any landward chokepoints to that shore.

In the grand scope of the Dardanelles/Gallipoli campaign, it is quite clear to see what impact the humble naval mine had on Allied failure and Ottoman success: an instrument whose technical attributes so complicated matters at the tactical level that it completely altered the operational approach needed by the Allies, which in turn resulted in their loss of vision of the overall strategic objective. The mines could be trusted to do the job of sinking the heavily-armoured battlewagons – Ottoman guns only had to focus on the minesweepers to ensure this outcome.

Lessons for Today

What lessons might this suggest for today and tomorrow in the Strait of Hormuz (SoH)? The main lesson drawn from the Dardanelles is that minesweepers must be able to reach the mines and be able to conduct their mission safely once on-site. Today, the Avenger class MCM ships certainly face no problems against any open water currents. However, as modern mines have benefited from the drastic advances in electronics over the past decades, it is no longer advisable for MCM ships to put themselves into harm’s way to sweep mines. Modern influence mines can be set off by a wide variety of triggers: acoustic, magnetic, and pressure wave, just to name several[3] – the wood and fiberglass hulls of the Avengers will not guarantee safety. There is thus a move towards unmanned vehicles in order to keep sailors safe. Recently added to the USN MCM inventory was the SeaFox mine disposal system, meant to swim up to and explode against an identified mine. However, current battery technology means they can barely make six knots[4] – same as the Dardanelles minesweeping trawlers. SoH currents can run as high as 4.8 knots, depending on location and time of the year.[5] This reduces the effective range of the SeaFox, limiting the stand-off distance at which an Avenger can deploy the neutralizer. Thus, it will become very important to invest in better battery technologies to ensure manned MCM assets can stay as far back from the minefield as possible.

A Kongsberg REMUS 100 unmanned underwater vehicle being retrieved on one of USS Fort Worth LCS 3's boats in the South China Sea. Much like the Seafox, its speed (~4.5 knots) and endurance are limited and will struggle in areas of high current. U.S. Navy photo.
A Kongsberg REMUS 100 unmanned underwater vehicle being retrieved on one of USS Fort Worth LCS 3’s boats in the South China Sea. Much like the Seafox, its speed (~4.5 knots) and endurance are limited and will struggle in areas of high current. U.S. Navy photo.

Of course, MCM vessels cannot conduct the slow and onerous hunt for mines if they are under threat. While the distances of the SoH are large enough to preclude attacks from most Iranian shore howitzers, such is not the case for longer-ranged weapons like anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs). ASCMs are, of course, much more expensive than mines or artillery shells – the targets chosen for them must be of high value. While the obvious target choice may be an American aircraft carrier, the reality is that most Iranian ASCMs are of older generations and would likely be easily foiled by USN anti-air systems: the chance of a successful strike is fairly low. Taking a page from the Ottomans, then, Iran would have more success if they were to direct their ASCMs against American and allied MCM vessels. Unarmed and lacking the screen of heavy escorts enjoyed by carriers, current MCM assets would be vulnerable and easily neutralized. Coalition naval forces and civilian traffic, lacking suitable protection from the hidden and deadly mines, would be forced to remain away from the Strait of Hormuz. Unable to achieve freedom of maneuver along all areas of the coast, America’s ability to project power ashore would be significantly limited, with consequences not just in wartime, but peacetime deterrence as well.

CNO Adm. Richardson inspects a Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle, part of the LCS MCM mission package. Despite continued reliability problems, the concept of a long-endurance and relatively high-speed unmanned minehunting vehicle is sound and crucial for a robust modern MCM capability. More conventional unmanned surface vehicles are being considered for the RMMV's role. U.S. Navy photo.
CNO Adm. Richardson inspects a Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle, part of the LCS MCM mission package. Despite continued reliability problems, the concept of a long-endurance and relatively high-speed unmanned minehunting vehicle is sound and crucial for a robust modern MCM capability. More conventional unmanned surface vehicles are being considered for the RMMV’s role. U.S. Navy photo.

So how might the USN alleviate this rather dire-looking situation? Firstly, it must recognize that MCM vessels are attractive targets that may be prioritized over capital units like carriers. Accordingly, equip MCM assets with self-defense capability. For all their other faults, the Littoral Combat Ships, destined to be the USN’s next MCM platform, at least have basic self-defence weapons in the form of RAM or SeaRAM. This is a good start, but the centrality of the mine threat means that MCM assets require greater protection. They should not operate unless under the protective umbrella of higher-end surface combatants or air support. There are risks to providing such protection, of course: USS Princeton’s mining in 1991 took place as she was escorting MCM assets[6] – air cover may be preferable.

Secondly, invest greater capital on technologies that will increase the speed of mine-clearing. The Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) has been experiencing difficulties, though many of them appear to have been resolved. It appears to be the only method that has any promise for quickly identifying mines – a MH-60 flying over the ocean is a lot faster than waiting for an underwater drone to swim and scan the area with sonar. Ideally, reinstating the Rapid Airborne Mine Clearing System (RAMICS) and fixing its targeting difficulties would also go a long way towards speeding up the clearing of near-surface mines[7]: if Iran chooses to mine the SoH, the world cannot afford the three years that it took for coalition forces to completely clear Iraqi mines after the 1991 Gulf War. While shipping can probably resume within a few weeks as soon as a transit lane has been cleared, insurance companies will be unlikely to reduce their rates until all mines have been cleared. The need for speed, so to speak, is thus paramount.

An MH-60S equipped with the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) flies near Bahrain during the ALMDS' maiden deployment. The ALMDS will play a crucial role in quickly detecting moored minefields before friendly vessels enter an area, but the helicopter will require protection. U.S. Navy Photo.
An MH-60S equipped with the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) flies near Bahrain during the ALMDS’ maiden deployment. The ALMDS will play a crucial role in quickly detecting moored minefields before friendly vessels enter an area, but the helicopter will require protection. U.S. Navy Photo.

Finally, any attempt at clearing the SoH of mines must be accompanied by efforts to ensure that Iran does not use or reuse it shores as staging points for further attack. Such efforts may require ground forces – a modern Gallipoli, as it were. However, given the American war-weariness after Iraq and Afghanistan, a heavy presence of boots on the ground will be highly unlikely, not to mention causing the undesirable landward escalation of a littoral campaign. The advent of unmanned aerial vehicles may well alleviate the problem. Persistent surveillance and prompt overhead precision strikes can ensure that Iranian missile and artillery batteries are unable to maneuver into attack positions. Unlike the howitzers in 1915, hills and valleys will not provide protection.

This essay has identified several difficulties the United States and its allies may face in the event of an Iranian mining of the Strait of Hormuz. It has also offered several areas – technological, tactical, and operational – that coalition forces will need to improve upon or address in order to increase chances of success. In the particular problem of a littoral area-denial operation by a small power against a large navy, mines remain an effective and efficient weapon requiring as much attention as the threats posed by high-tech anti-access platforms.

Timothy Choi is a PhD candidate at the University of Calgary’s Centre for Military, Security, & Strategic Studies. Interested in all areas of maritime security and naval affairs, he struggles everyday with the fact that he studies at an institution located hundreds of kilometres away from the nearest ocean. When not on Twitter (@TimmyC62), he can be found building tiny ship models and plugging away at his dissertation on Scandinavian seapower.  

[1] Admiral of the Fleet Lord Keyes, “66. Keyes to his wife,” in 1914-1918, ed. Paul G. Halpern, vol. 1 of The Keyes Papers: Selections from the Private and Official Correspondence of Admiral of the Fleet Baron Keyes of Zeebrugge (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1979), 106.

[2] Paul G. Halpern, A Naval History of World War I (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1994), 117-118; Langensiepen and Güleryüz, The Ottoman Navy, 74;

[3] U.S. Navy, “21st Century U.S. Navy Mine Warfare: Ensuring Global Access and Commerce” (PDF primer, June 2009), http://www.navy.mil/n85/miw_primer-june2009.pdf, 10.

[4] “SeaFox,” Atlas Electronik, last accessed January 20, 2016,  https://www.atlas-elektronik.com/what-we-do/unmanned-vehicles/seafox/.

[5] “Fujairah, UAE: Currents and Tides,” last modified February 2006, http://www.nrlmry.navy.mil/medports/mideastports/Fujairah/index.html; Prasad G. Thoppil and Patrick J. Hogan, ”On the Mechanisms of Episodic Salinity Overflow Events in the Strait of Hormuz,” Journal of Physical Oceanography 39(6): 1348.

[6] U.S. Navy, “21st Century U.S. Navy Mine Warfare,” 14.

[7] Ronald O’Rourke, “Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program: Background, Issues, and Options for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, 15.

Army’s Apaches Bring Fight to Maritime and Littoral Operations

Littoral Arena Topic Week

By Aaron Jensen

Military operations in the littoral domain are typically associated with the navy and the marines. In the future however, the U.S. Army will also play a key role in maritime and littoral operations. Developments such as the Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons (JAM-GC)[1], as well as the Asia Pivot, have compelled the army to consider how it can best contribute to possible future conflicts. One area where the army is seeking to contribute is in the maritime domain. The army has been preparing its rotary-wing assets, especially the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, to fight in the maritime environment.

In recent years, Apache units have begun to train with their navy counterparts. In 2013, the Texas Army National Guard’s 36th Combat Aviation Brigade began testing its helicopters for operations at sea. From March through August, soldiers spent time aboard the amphibious transport docks Ponce and Green Bay, dock landing ship Rushmore and aircraft carrier John C. Stennis. During this time army aviators practiced deck landings, as well as live-fire practice.[i] In 2014, the Army sent eight Apaches from Fort Carson, Colorado to the U.S. Navy’s RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) exercise where they conducted deck landings and simulated attacks against enemy ships.[ii]

The Apache’s impressive offensive capability is well suited for operations against smaller vessels at sea. In 2011, the British Army demonstrated the Apache’s lethality against maritime threats. During tests aboard the HMS Ocean, British Apaches fired nine Hellfire missiles (AGM-114) and 550 rounds from its canon against seaborne targets, achieving a 100% success rate.[iii]

An Apache attack helicopter of 656 Squadron Army Air Corps is pictured firing a Hellfire missile during an exercise conducted from HMS Ocean. Photographer: LA(PHOT) Guy Pool Image 45152700.jpg from www.defenceimages.mod.uk
An Apache attack helicopter of 656 Squadron Army Air Corps is pictured firing a Hellfire missile during an exercise conducted from HMS Ocean.
Photographer: LA(PHOT) Guy Pool
Image 45152700.jpg from www.defenceimages.mod.uk

Tests by the U.S. Army have also verified the Apache’s ability to execute missions in the maritime domain. In August, 2014 the Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC) conducted a series of tests on the Apache in different environments and mission tasks. For the maritime segment, Apaches were tasked to secure a shipping lane by defending against swarms of small enemy attack boats. The attack boats carried man-portable infrared missile-simulators to simulate a typical threat that would be posed by small boats. Threat radar systems were also simulated in several cases to simulate the danger from radar-guided missile launches. Over eight maritime mission tests, the Apaches performed well, receiving a score of 4.3 (out of a maximum score of 5) and nearly achieving complete success.[iv]

The Apache has also shown that it can operate from ships to attack land targets. During the 2011 military intervention against Libya (Operation Ellamy), several British Apaches operating from the HMS Ocean successfully destroyed targets in Libya. Utilizing Hellfire missiles and 30mm cannon fire, the Apaches destroyed a radar site and a military checkpoint.[v]

The army is modifying the Apache so that it will function better in a maritime environment. The Apache’s fire control radar will be upgraded so that it can more effectively detect and target small ships. Additional upgrades will also give the Apache the ability to better communicate and share information with assets from other services through a connection with LINK 16, a digital data link used widely by the U.S. Air Force and Navy.[vi] Further upgrades for operations at sea may also be necessary. The British Army is seeking to configure its Apaches with flotation devices to enable crew members to ditch in the event of an emergency over water.[vii] As U.S. Apaches move toward maritime operations, similar modifications may be necessary.

The Apache’s lethality is further amplified by its ability to interface with unmanned aerial systems under the manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) concept. The army is in the process of integrating the RQ-7B Shadow tactical unmanned aerial system into Apache units.[viii] Under this arrangement, Apache crews can receive data from the Shadow, and even take control of the drone itself. The development of MUM-T capability appears to be paying off for the Apache. In Afghanistan, some Apache units have received help from drones in 60% of direct fire missions.[ix] The ability to receive information from UAVs will provide Apache crews with greater situational awareness and improved ability to detect targets.

Apache operating on USS Bonhomme Richard. U.S. Navy photo.
Apache operating on USS Bonhomme Richard. U.S. Navy photo.

In preparation for its new mission, army aviators have been working with their navy counterparts to develop Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTP) to effectively utilize Apaches in a maritime role. In 2014, the South Carolina Army National Guard’s 1-151st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion (ARB) sent several aviators to the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center (NSAWC). During the exchange, U.S. Navy Rotary Wing Weapon School instructors shared information on Strike Coordination and Reconnaissance (SCAR) tactics to protect navy vessels in confined littoral waters.[x] Similarly, the Texas Army National Guard’s 36th Combat Aviation Brigade has also been developing TTPs for operations against small attack craft.

The threat from swarms of fast attack craft operated by countries like Iran poses a serious challenge to the U.S. Navy. The deadly asymmetric which fast attack craft present to larger ships was well documented during exercise Millennium Challenge 2002 (MC02). In this scenario, a Middle Eastern nation conducted attacks on the U.S. Navy with swarms of fast attack craft and anti-ship missiles. The results of the test were disastrous as sixteen ships, including an aircraft carrier and two amphibious assault ships were destroyed.[xi] The intent of countries to employ swarms of small attack boats against larger ships was vividly illustrated in February, 2015 when the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) conducted a live-fire exercise against a mock-up of an aircraft carrier. Expressing confidence in their ability, Admiral Ali Fadavi of the IRGCN boasted that his forces could sink American aircraft carriers.[xii]

In the Pacific, modern fast-attack craft such as the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) Type 022 ‘Houbei’ could also present a serious threat to the U.S. Navy. In recent naval exercises, the PLAN has emphasized the use of the Type 022 fast attack craft against aircraft carriers using multi-axis attacks.[xiii] The Type 022 packs a powerful punch for its size, carrying eight YJ-83 anti-ship cruise missiles with a 135 nm range.

With growing challenges to U.S. military operations in areas such as the Persian Gulf and the South China Sea, the military will need to fully utilize and integrate the full range of its assets. The inclusion of maritime and littoral operations into the Apache’s mission spectrum constitutes an important step in furthering joint operations.

Aaron Jensen is a PhD student in the International Doctoral Program in Asia-Pacific Studies (IDAS) at National Chengchi University (NCCU) in Taipei, Taiwan.

[1] JAM-GC is the successor to the Air-Sea Battle concept.

[i] Meghann Myers, “Army helicopters fly from Navy ships, test joint ops,” Navy Times, September 5, 2103. http://archive.navytimes.com/article/20130905/NEWS/309050004/Army-helicopters-fly-from-Navy-ships-test-joint-ops 

[ii] William Cole, “Army tests Apaches during RIMPAC exercises at sea,” The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, July 28, 2014. http://www.stripes.com/news/pacific/army-tests-apaches-during-rimpac-exercises-at-sea-1.295581/apache-rimpac-2014-1.295605

[iii] “Army’s Apache fires first Hellfire missiles at sea,” UK Ministry of Defence, May 13, 2011.

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/armys-apache-fires-first-hellfire-missiles-at-sea

[iv] “Lot 4 AH-64E Apache Attack Helicopter Follow-on Operational Test and Evaluation (FOT&E) Report” Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E), December 15, 2014. http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a617060.pdf

[v] Kim Sengupta, “Libya: Flashes of orange and shattering noise as Apaches go to war” The Telegraph, June 4, 2011. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8557266/Libya-Flashes-of-orange-and-shattering-noise-as-Apaches-go-to-war.html

[vi] Kris Osborn, “Army Configures Apaches for Sea Duty,” DOD Buzz, October 13, 2014.

http://www.dodbuzz.com/2014/10/13/army-configures-apaches-for-sea-duty/

[vii] Andrew Chuter, “Flotation Equipment slotted for U.K. Apaches,” Defense News, February 8, 2013. http://archive.defensenews.com/article/20130208/DEFREG01/302080018/Flotation-Equipment-Slotted-U-K-Apaches

[viii] Beth Stevenson, “US Army establishes first manned unmanned unit,” Flightglobal, March 24, 2015. https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/us-army-establishes-first-manned-unmanned-unit-410504/

[ix] Richard Whittle, “MUM-T Is The Word For AH-64E: Helos Fly, Use Drones” Breaking Defense, January 28, 2015. http://breakingdefense.com/2015/01/mum-t-is-the-word-for-ah-64e-helos-fly-use-drones/

[x] Matt Summey, “1-151st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion holds strong bond with U.S. Navy,” South Carolina National Guard, March 13, 2014. https://www.dvidshub.net/news/printable/121969

[xi] Brett Davis, “LEARNING CURVE: IRANIAN ASYMMETRICAL WARFARE AND MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE 2002,” Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), August 14, 2014. http://cimsec.org/learning-curve-iranian-asymmetrical-warfare-millennium-challenge-2002-2/11640

[xii] Thomas Erdbrink, “Iran’s Navy Blasts Away at a Mock U.S. Carrier,” The New York Times, February 25, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/26/world/middleeast/in-mock-attack-iranian-navy-blasts-away-at-replica-us-aircraft-carrier.html?_r=0

[xiii] John Patch, “Chinese Houbei Fast Attack Craft: Beyond Sea Denial,” in China’s Near Seas Combat Capabilities, edited by Peter Dutton, Andrew S. Erickson, and Ryan Martinson, China Maritime Studies Institute, February 2014. https://www.usnwc.edu/cnws/cmsi/publications