Tag Archives: UAVs

February Members’ Roundup Part One

By Sam Cohen

Welcome to part one of the February 2016 members’ roundup. Over the past month CIMSEC members have examined several international maritime security issues, including recent Indian Navy maritime policy developments, aspects of the U.S. Navy’s defense procurement program, components of a notional South China Sea naval conflict between China and the U.S. and capability challenges for the U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).

Beginning the roundup at Offiziere, Darshana Baruah discusses India’s Cold War non-aligned strategy and the implications this strategy has had on India’s maritime security policy in the post-Cold War period. Ms. Baruah explains that India must realize that non-alignment does not equate to non-engagement and that committing to a policy of engagement is critical to manage the complexities of the developing Asian maritime security environment. She references the bilateral MALABAR naval exercises between the U.S. and India as well as the Maritime Security Strategy document released by the Indian government as developments hinting to a changing Indian maritime policy.

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Ankit Panda, at The Diplomat, also discusses India’s maritime strategy with an analysis on potential joint patrol operations in the South China Sea between Indian and U.S. navies. Mr. Panda highlights that there is no indication whether these jointly conducted patrols would reflect recent U.S. FONOPs or less contentious passing patrols, however, he notes that the potential for these patrols to occur reflects a shift in India’s maritime doctrine to ‘act East’. Also at The Diplomat, Mr. Panda explains the conditions and challenges of completing a Boeing-India F/A-18 Super Hornet deal where the Indian Defense Forces would receive an advanced multi-role fighter to supplement its next-generation indigenously built Vikrant-class aircraft carrier and raise the potential for increased technology sharing between the U.S. and India.

Bryan McGrath, at War on the Rocks, discusses the concept of distributed lethality and recent weapons tests and developments that have brought this concept to maturity for the U.S. Navy’s surface force. Mr. McGrath explains how the successful launch of a Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) from a U.S. Navy destroyer has now increased the anti-surface warfare combat range of about 90 U.S. cruisers and destroyers currently operating with the Vertical Launch System (VLS) to 1000 miles. Mr. McGrath also identifies the additional capability introduced to the long-range supersonic SM-6 missile, now capable of engaging enemy surface combatants, as a critical development for distributed lethality implementation across the fleet.

Kyle Mizokami, for Popular Mechanics, discusses the planned purchase of 14 F/A-18 Super Hornets as a result of the fighter shortfall in carrier air-wings caused by delays in the Joint Strike Fighter Program. He explains that the delays will also reflect the slow introduction the F-35C will have entering into service within the Navy with only four planes to be purchased in 2017. Mr. Mizokami also outlines surface combatant purchases included in the Navy’s FY2017 budget, highlighting the procuring of two Virginia-class attack submarines and two Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers – the destroyers to be equipped with the new Air and Missile Defense Radars that boost the ship’s ballistic missile defense capabilities. Also at Popular Mechanics, Mr. Mizokami provides an analysis on the U.S. Navy’s LCS live fire exercise against an enemy fast-attack swarm that demonstrated potentially serious flaws in the ships design, revealed by combatants entering the ‘keep-out’ range of the ship and technical issues arising throughout the test – albeit the exercise only tested certain weapon and fire control systems.

To conclude the roundup in the Asia-Pacific, Harry Kazianis for The National Interest provides an outline of potential tactics China’s PLA would emphasize during a notional conflict with the U.S. Navy. Mr. Kazianis explains that over the past two decades China has feared the U.S. ability to rapidly deploy naval assets throughout multiple domains in China’s areas of interests largely due to limited PLA capabilities. Mr. Kazianis identifies the employment of large volumes of rudimentary sea-mines and missiles as a simple mechanism for overwhelming U.S. Navy defenses and a feasible strategy to achieve an asymmetric edge over U.S. fleets in theatre.

Members at CIMSEC were also active elsewhere during the first part of February:

  • Chuck Hill, for his Coast Guard Blog, discusses the possibility that the U.S. Army may develop an anti-access/ area-denial (A2AD) strategy along the First Island Chain in the Asia-Pacific and the implications these anti-air and anti-ship systems would have on the Army’s role in U.S. domestic coastal defense. In a second article for his CG Blog, Hill outlines the participants and talking points of a multi-lateral coast guard meeting between the U.S., Japan, Australia and the Philippines.
  • At USNI News, Sam LaGrone discusses the Request for Proposal Naval Air Systems Command is set to release later this year concerning the Carrier Based Refueling System (CBARS) or the unmanned aerial refuelling tanker. Mr. LaGrone explains how the CBARS is a follow-on program that will incorporate many components and systems from the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike program (UCLASS).
  • Robert Farley, for The National Interest, provides an analysis on the Zhenbao Island conflict between the Soviet Union and China in 1969 and how the sovereignty dispute nearly escalated to a nuclear confrontation. Mr. Farley explains the avenues of escalation that may have led to Soviet tactical strikes on Chinese nuclear facilities and the implications this would have had on U.S.-NATO-Soviet stability in Europe.
  • James Stavridis, for Nikkei Asian Review, provides five strategies for Pacific-Asian countries that will reduce the potential of an outbreak conflict in the region. Mr. Stavridis suggests that direct military-to-military contact can create a framework of deconfliction procedures thereby reducing escalatory conditions within the region. He also explains how the use of international negotiation platforms to resolve territorial disputes can contribute to a sustainable stability. In an article at The Wall Street Journal, Stavridis highlights the ‘icebreaker gap’ the U.S. has developed with only four large icebreakers to be active by 2020 while Russia will have at least 42. He explains how acquisition processes to close this gap are extremely strained with the current defense budgetary restrictions the government is experiencing.
  • Dave Majumdar, for The National Interest, explains how the next generation of U.S. Navy surface combatants will incorporate digital and information technologies into the core foundations of ship design to allow for time and cost efficient technological upgrades. In a second article at The National Interest, Majumdar highlights the strategy shift that has occurred within the U.S. Navy’s UCLASS approach. The article outlines how the move to CBARS away from the UCLASS ISR and light strike capability will assist the Navy in developing a sophisticated unmanned aviation infrastructure for future carrier operations.

At CIMSEC we encourage members to continue writing, either here on CIMSEC or through other means. You can assist us by emailing your works to dmp@cimsec.org.

Sam Cohen is currently studying Honors Specialization Political Science at Western University in Canada. His interests are in the fields of strategic studies and defense policy and management.

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Trusting Autonomous Systems: It’s More Than Technology

By CDR Greg Smith

How will naval aviation employ unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the future? The answer is, of course, “it depends.” It depends on technology, on the economy and budgets, on whether we are at war or peace, and on leadership. It also depends on less interesting things like how squadrons and air wings are organized. Given the rapid advances in unmanned systems technology and the success of unmanned platforms like Predator and BAMS-D,[1] UAVs will certainly proliferate and significantly impact the future of naval aviation. If properly integrated, future manned-unmanned teams could deliver exponential increases in combat power, but integration of unmanned aircraft requires a level of trust in autonomous systems that does not yet exist in naval aviation. Building trust will require technical improvements that increase the “trustworthiness” of UAVs, but it will also require naval aviation to establish organizations that enhance trust in UAVs with the goal of fully integrating them into the fight. Indeed, organization will likely be the limiting factor with regard to the pace of integrating trusted UAVs. Therefore, naval aviation should consider the impact organization will have on the ability of aviators to trust UAVs and balance this among the competing requirements for introducing new unmanned platforms.

The Issue is Trust

Although naval aviators are perceived as natural risk-takers, they are trained to take no unnecessary risk and to mitigate risk throughout every evolution. Therefore, UAV integration will occur only when aviators trust UAVs to the same extent that they trust another aviator flying in close proximity as part of a strike package or during coordinated antisubmarine warfare sorties today. 

The proliferation and success of UAVs in the past decade belies the fact that aviators still do not trust them. The vast majority of unmanned aircraft continue to fly only scheduled sorties in pre-established air space in order to ensure separation from manned aircraft. In addition, naval aviators operate with an abundance of caution around UAVs. Aircrews are briefed on planned UAV routes and orbits prior to a mission and routinely deviate from airspace assignments or coordinate new air space in flight to ensure safe separation from UAVs. Being notified that an operator has lost communications with a nearby UAV (i.e. it is autonomously executing a pre-programmed reacquisition profile) assists manned aircraft, but it also raises the hair on the back of an aviator’s neck. In the terminal area it becomes necessary to fly closer to UAVs, which is accomplished safely with the assistance of ground air traffic controllers. Still, as with any congestion, the threat to manned aircraft increases, especially in expeditionary locations. After several, near mid-air collisions with UAVs in 2010, one task force commander grounded his manned aircraft at a remote operating location until he was assured that the local control tower and UAV operators, who were physically located half-way around the world, would improve procedural compliance. Anecdotes like these abound, demonstrating both the adaptability and skepticism of aviators flying near UAVs. After nearly a decade of sharing the sky with UAVs, most naval aviators no longer believe that UAVs are trying to kill them, but one should not confuse this sentiment with trusting the platform, technology, or operators. 

Building trust in autonomous systems should be a goal of those who will design the UAVs of the future as well as those who will employ them in the Fleet, because establishing trust in autonomous systems may be the tipping point that will unleash the revolutionary combat potential of UAVs. Naval aviation could fully integrate trusted UAVs into every mission area of every community. Unmanned tankers, wingmen (wingbots?), jammers, decoys, missile trucks, minesweepers, and communications relays could be launched from the decks of aircraft carriers, destroyers, support ships, from bases ashore, or from aircraft cargo bays, wing pylons and bomb bay stations in the coming decades, truly revolutionizing naval aviation. However, lack of trust is a critical obstacle which must be overcome before such a proliferation of UAVs can occur.

There are several technological improvements that can contribute to trust by enhancing situational awareness and the safety of both manned and unmanned platforms.  Improvements in see-and-avoid technology are needed to assist UAV operators when the UAV is flying in proximity of manned platforms. UAV command and control architectures and traffic collision avoidance systems (TCAS), as well as radars and data links, require improved reliability, security, and flexibility to ensure survivability in an anti-access environment or in the face of cyber or space attacks. Systems that provide manned platforms with increased situational awareness regarding the location of UAVs and the intended flight profile would also enhance trustworthiness. Today, the vast majority of naval aviation is not comfortable sharing an altitude block with a UAV in day, visual meteorological conditions (VMC), much less during war at sea in an anti-access environment. Technological improvements that make UAVs more trustworthy are necessary but not sufficient for establishing trust between an aviator and a machine. Sufficient trust will also require training, mission experience, and technical understanding of the system. 

Organization Matters

Given the technological enhancements described above, it is not a stretch to imagine a manned F-35 establishing a CAP station with a UAV wingman, or a P-8 crew employing UAVs or unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) to search for a submarine, or an E-2D using a UAV to extend the range of its radar or data link, or an EA-18G commanding a UAV to jam air defenses or deliver an electromagnetic pulse. There remain challenges to fielding these capabilities, but the technology will soon exist to safely integrate UAVs into these naval aviation missions and many more.  This level of integration raises numerous questions about UAV organizations and their personnel. 

Who would be responsible for the success, failure, and safety of the missions? Would each community operate UAVs that support its mission or would a UAV community operate all UAVs performing the full spectrum of naval aviation missions? How would a UAV operator develop the expertise to execute complex tactical tasks in close coordination with manned platforms? What tactical and technical training will be required to integrate UAVs in this manner? How are the skills of pilots and UAV operators similar? How are they different? What portions of the unmanned sorties are accomplished autonomously and which require a link with a UAV operator? From where will UAVs launch and recover? From where will they be controlled and who will control them?

The answers to these questions depend on how squadrons of the future will be organized to command, operate and maintain the UAVs. In turn, each organizational model significantly influences the amount of additional training, coordination, and experience required to achieve the trust necessary to fully integrate UAVs. Consider the issue of who controls the UAVs.  Some options include: control by the pilot of a manned aircraft themself; control by another aviator in the same aircraft or section; control by an aviator from the same naval aviation community outside the section; control by a UAV operator from a UAV community — aboard ship, ashore, or airborne; and fully autonomous operation.  The amount of trust required to execute complex missions in close proximity to UAVs is the same regardless of how the UAV is controlled, but the amount of trust inherent in each scenario varies greatly.   Decisions about these elements will significantly influence how quickly aviators will be able to trust, and therefore integrate, UAVs. As technology overcomes the challenges posed by the various capabilities implied above, organizational structures will determine how quickly UAVs can be integrated into the fight.

Beyond U-CLASS

Naval aviation’s plans for its next UAV, the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance System (U-CLASS), will prudently focus on ensuring the safe introduction of a novel platform in a budget constrained environment. Yet, looking beyond U-CLASS, there is the potential for naval aviation to exponentially increase its combat effectiveness by integrating UAVs in every mission area. Technological innovation is necessary to make UAVs more trustworthy, but naval aviation should also understand how organization will facilitate or impede the integration of trusted UAVs. The optimal structure of future UAV units will maximize trust between manned and unmanned platforms and allow for innovation and growth in integration. 

Commander Smith is a Naval Flight Officer and the former Commanding Officer of VP-26.  These are his views and do not reflect the views of the United States Navy.

This article featured as a part of CIMSEC’s September 2015 topic week, The Future of Naval Aviation. You can access the topic week’s articles here

What’s the Buzz? Ship-Based Unmanned Aviation and its Influence on Littoral Navies during Combat Operations

By Ben Ho Wan Beng


“Unmanned aviation” has been a buzzword in the airpower community during recent years with the growing prevalence of unmanned systems to complement and in some cases replace peopled ones in key roles like intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). Insofar as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are increasingly used for strike, their dominant mission is still ISR because of the fledging state of pilotless technology. This is especially the case for sea-based drones, which are generally less capable than their brethren ashore. That said, several littoral navies have jumped on the shipborne UAV bandwagon owing to its relative utility and cost-effectiveness.[1] And with access to such platforms, how would these entities be affected during combat?

For littoral nations without an aerial maritime ISR capability in the form of maritime patrol aircraft (or only having a limited MPA capability), the sea-based drone can make up for this lacuna and improve battlespace/domain awareness. On the other hand, for littoral nations with a decent maritime ISR capability, the shipborne UAV can still play a valuable, albeit, complementary role. The naval drone also offers the prospect of coastal forces amassing more lethality as it refines the target-acquisition process, enabling its mother ship to attack the adversary more accurately.

The Littoral Combat Environment

Littoral operations are likely to be highly complex affairs. As esteemed naval commentator Geoffrey Till said: “The littoral is a congested place, full of neutral and allied shipping, oil-rigs, buoys, coastline clutter, islands, reefs and shallows, and complicated underwater profiles.”[2] One key reason behind the labyrinthine nature of littoral warfare is that it involves clutter not only at sea, but also on land and in the air. Especially troublesome is the presence of numerous ships in the littorals. To illustrate, almost 78,000 ships transited the Malacca Strait, one of the world’s busiest waterways, in 2013.[3]

Such a complex operating milieu would place a premium on the importance of battlespace awareness, which could make or break a campaign. As fabled ancient Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu asserted: “With advance information, costly mistakes can be avoided, destruction averted, and the way to lasting victory made clear.” This statement was made over 2,000 years ago and is still as relevant today, especially when considered against the intricacies of littoral combat that hinder sensor usage. Indeed, shipborne radar performance during littoral operations can be significantly degraded by land clutter. For instance, the 1982 Falklands conflict manifested the problems sea-based sensors had in detecting and identifying low-flying aircraft with land clutter in the background.[4] Campaigning in congested coastal waters would also necessitate the detection and identification of hostile units in the midst of numerous other sea craft, which is by no means an easy task. All in all, the clutter common to littoral operations presents a confusing tactical picture to naval commanders, and the side with a better view of the situation ­– read greater battlespace awareness – would have a distinct edge over its adversary. Sea-based UAVs can provide multispectral disambiguation of threat contacts from commercial shipping by virtue of onboard sensor suites, yielding enhanced situational awareness to the warfare commander.

Improved Battlespace Awareness         

Traditional manned maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) would be the platform of choice to perform maritime ISR that helps in raising battlespace awareness in a littoral campaign. However, not all coastal states own such assets, which can be relatively expensive[5], or have enough of them to maintain persistent ISR over the battlespace, a condition critical to the outcome of a littoral operation. This is where the sea-based drone would come in handy. Unmanned aviation has a distinct advantage over its manned equivalent, as UAVs can stay airborne much longer than piloted aircraft. To illustrate, the ScanEagle naval drone, which is in service with littoral navies such as Singapore and Tunisia and commonly used for ISR, can remain on station for some 28 hours.[6] In stark contrast, the corresponding figure for the P-3 Orion MPA is 14 hours.[7] The sensor capabilities of some of the naval drones currently in service make them credible aerial maritime ISR platforms. Indeed, they are equipped with sophisticated technologies such as electro-optical and infrared sensors, as well as synthetic aperture radar (SAR) systems.

To be sure, the shipborne UAV is incomparable to the MPA vis-à-vis most performance attributes, and the two platforms definitely cannot be used interchangeably. The utility of the naval drone lies in the fact that it can complement the MPA by taking over some of the latter’s routine, less demanding surveillance duties. This would then free up the MPA to concentrate on other, more combat-intensive missions during a littoral campaign, such as attacking enemy ships. And for a littoral nation without MPAs, the shipborne UAV would be especially valuable as it can perform aerial ISR duties for a prolonged period.

The naval drone can contribute to information dominance in another way. In combat involving two littoral navies, the side with organic airpower tends to have better domain awareness over the other, ceteris paribus. However rudimentary it may be, the shipborne drone constitutes a form of organic sea-based airpower that extends the “eyes” of its mother platform. The curvature of the Earth limits the range of surface radars, but having an “eye in the sky” circumvents this and improves coverage significantly. Being able to “see” from altitude allows one to attain the naval equivalent of “high ground,” that key advantage so prized by land-based  forces. Indeed, the ScanEagle can operate at an altitude of almost 5,000 meters.[8] In the same vein, the Picador unmanned helicopter has a not inconsiderable service ceiling of over 3,600m.[9] In essence, the UAV allows its mother ship to detect threats that the latter would generally be unable to using its own sensors.

All in all, shipborne drones enable littoral fleets to have a clearer tactical picture, translating into improved survivability by virtue of the greater cognizance of emerging threats that they offer to surface platforms. Having greater battlespace awareness also means that the naval force in question would be in a superior position to dish out punishment on its adversary.

Increased Lethality

Sea-based UAVs would enable a littoral navy to target the opposing side more accurately as they can carry out target acquisition, hence increasing their side’s lethality. In this sense, the drone is reprising the role carried out by floatplanes deployed on battleships and cruisers in World War Two. During that conflict, these catapult-launched aircraft acted as spotters by directing fire for their mother ships during surface engagements. In more recent times, during Operation Desert Storm, Pioneer UAVs from the American battleship Wisconsin guided gunfire for their mother ship. Several current UAVs can fulfill this role. For instance, the Eagle Eye can be used as a guidance system for naval gunfire; ditto the Picador with its target-acquisition capabilities. There is also talk of drones carrying out over-the-horizon targeting so as to facilitate anti-ship missile strikes from the mother platforms.[10]

Though land-based UAVs are increasingly taking up strike missions, the same cannot be said for their sea-based counterparts as very few of the latter are even in service today in the first place due to their complexity and cost. The Fire Scout is one such armed naval UAV. This United States Navy rotorcraft can be armed with guided rockets and Hellfire air-to-surface missiles; however, with a unit cost of US$15-24 million[11], it is not a low-end platform. All in all, unarmed shipborne drones are likely to be the order of the day for littoral navies, at least in the near term, and such platforms can only carry out what they have been doing all this while, tasks like ISR and target acquisition.


In summary, the sea-based drone can, to some extent, complement the maritime patrol aircraft in the aerial ISR portfolio at sea by helping to maintain battlespace awareness for the littoral navy during a conflict. The naval UAV’s target-acquisition capability also means that it can improve its owner’s striking power to some extent. These statements, however, must be qualified as current shipborne drones can only operate in low-threat environments – in contested airspace, their survivability and viability would be severely jeopardized, as they are simply unable to evade enemy fighters and anti-aircraft fire. In the final analysis, it can perhaps be maintained that the rise of sea-based UAVs constitutes incremental progress for littoral navies, as the platform does not offer game-changing capabilities to these entities.

Going forward, ISR is likely to remain the main mission for sea-based drones in the near future. Though the armed variant seems to offer a breakthrough in this state of affairs, it must be stressed that it is neither a simple nor cheap undertaking. If and when defense industrial players provide lower-cost solutions to this issue in the future, however, the striking power of coastal fleets would increase considerably and with that, the nature of littoral and naval warfare in general would profoundly change. Until then, the sea UAV-littoral navy nexus will be characterized by evolution, not revolution.

Ben Ho Wan Beng is a Senior Analyst with the Military Studies Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore; he received his master’s degree in strategic studies from the same institute. The ideas expressed above are his alone. He would also like to express his heartfelt gratitude to colleague Chang Jun Yan for his insightful comments on a draft of this article.

This article featured as a part of CIMSEC’s September 2015 topic week, The Future of Naval Aviation. You can access the topic week’s articles here


[1] For instance, the Scan Eagle drone has a unit cost of $100,000. See www.nytimes.com/2013/01/25/us/simple-scaneagle-drones-a-boost-for-us-military.html?_r=0.

[2] Geoffrey Till, Seapower: A Guide for the Twenty-first Century (London: Routledge, 2013), 268.

[3] Marcus Hand, “Malacca Straits transits hit all-time high in 2013, pass 2008 peak,” Seatrade Maritime News, February 10, 2014, accessed September 4, 2015, www.seatrade-maritime.com/news/asia/malacca-straits-transits-hit-all-time-high-in-2013-pass-2008-peak.html.

[4] Milan Vego, “On Littoral Warfare,” Naval War College Review 68, No. 2 (Spring 2015): 41.

[5] Some of the more common MPAs include the P-3 Orion, which is in service with nations like New Zealand and Thailand which has a unit cost of US$36 million, according to the U.S. Navy. See www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=1100&tid=1400&ct=1.

[6] “ScanEagle, United States of America,” naval-technology.com, accessed September 5, 2015, www.naval-technology.com/projects/scaneagle-uav.

[7] “P-3C Orion Maritime Patrol Aircraft, Canada,” naval-technology.com, accessed September 5, 2015, www.naval-technology.com/projects/p3-orion.

[8] “ScanEagle, United States of America.”

[9] “Picador, Israel,” naval-technology.com, accessed September 5, 2015, www.naval-technology.com/projects/picador-vtol-uav.

[10] Martin Van Creveld, The Age of Airpower (New York: Public Affairs, 2012), 274.

[11] United States Government Accountability Office, Defense Acquisitions: Assessment of Selected Weapons Program, March 2015, 117.

Surviving the Fabled Thousand Missile Strike (Part Five)

Surviving the Fabled Thousand Missile Strike

CARN class jpeg

Sketch by Jan Musil. Hand drawn on quarter-inch graph paper. Each square equals twenty by twenty feet.

This article, the fifth of the series, examines how fitting lots of drones, of all types, and large numbers of railguns, aboard a CVLN and either one or two CARNs, can allow the U.S. Navy to confidently ride out the fabled thousand missile strike from the mainland of Eurasia. To do so let’s walk through a possible exercise involving Red, a Eurasian mainland power and Blue, essentially a typical Western Pacific carrier strike group. Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.

Red’s motivation might be ensuring that Blue cannot interfere with, or arrange for reinforcements to reverse, an offshore invasion. An alternative, somewhat more likely though, is that Red is intent on challenging one of Blue’s friends or allies and finds that it cannot achieve its objectives without removing Blue’s powerful naval forces from the area. When threats and warnings do not result in a satisfactory result, Red’s leader authorizes a massive missile strike on Blue’s carrier strike group at sea. This missile strike will be an attempted TOT (time-on-target) strike where all the missiles launched, regardless of distance to the carrier strike group or their speed, i.e. a combination of subsonic and hypersonic missiles, will arrive within a five minute window at the target location. The strike will primarily consist of land-based missiles, but some of Red’s numerous submarines will attempt to participate as well, for the purposes of this exercise it is assumed 29 missiles launched from three different submarines will arrive on target within the five minute TOT time period. Red’s commander has elected to hold his meaningful, though not massive, long-range aircraft striking power in reserve, hovering in a threatening position but not immediately participating. Thus a total of 1,029 missiles are launched.

This exercise assumes that Red can coordinate the command and control challenges involved in such a large undertaking. It also assumes that Red possesses adequate space based surveillance capabilities that real time targeting information down to the nearest kilometer, or better, is available on a timely basis to the relevant land, air and submarine commanders.

It should be emphasized here the importance of the compressed TOT portion of Red’s attack plan. Any incoming missiles, whether land or sub launched will be far easier for Blue to defend against if straggling in before or after the massed attack. This advantage of Blue’s is magnified by the presence of the railguns with their enormous magazine size and the ability to fire every five seconds.

It is assumed that Blue’s carrier strike group consists of:



1 CG (Ticonderoga class)


4 DDG (Arleigh Burke)

4 FF (the new ASW frigate under development)

2 squadrons of F-18s

6 EA-18G Growlers

1 squadron of F35s

1 squadron of strike drones

15+ ISR drones

4 E-2D Hawkeyes

2 S-3 Vikings

6 refueling drones

15+ Fire Scouts

10+ Seahawks

75+ buoys with UUVs or a dipping sonar installed and a radar/infrared lure

Blue’s carrier strike group commander has taken full advantage of the ASW capabilities provided by all the Fire Scouts and buoys, spreading the strike group out over a thirty mile radius in a preplanned dispersal strategy. The commander has also been successful at maneuvering the strike group into a position where there are no Red submarines within at least 30 miles, and it is believed (or hoped) by Blue’s commander that the strike group is at least 50 miles from the nearest Red submarine.

Blue also possesses space based surveillance capabilities and is able to provide Blue’s carrier strike group a twenty minute warning of the incoming attack. Blue’s commander selects one of his preplanned spatial deployment plans, concentrating the majority of his surface assets in a compact zone with the CARN taking position and turning its broadside closest to the incoming missile strike, three of the four DDGs some distance behind it, then the CG and two of the frigates, then the CVLN and finally the CVN. One frigate is so far off on the periphery on ASW duty that it will fire chaff rounds repeatedly during the attack and hope the handful of aircraft overhead and many radar lures dropped in its vicinity will allow it to emerge unscathed. On the opposite side of the strike group one DDG and the fourth frigate will do the same, though with the added protection of the DDGs AAW missiles.

This dispersion plan means a large portion of the area where the strike group is located is simply empty ocean. The intent is to use the strike groups EEW and radar lures to effect and make thorough use of the fact that even a subsonic missile cannot maneuver quickly enough to search out targets if presented with enough empty ocean upon their initial arrival at the selected target location.

Blue’s commander has also chosen a specific plan for utilizing his air assets in a layered defense, intent on maximizing the effectiveness of the various weapon systems embarked. Let us follow the resolution of the attack, starting with the outermost layer, and work our way inwards as the strike progresses.

Cap Layer

2 E-2D Hawkeyes and 12 F-18 Super Hornets

Blue’s strike group commander has assigned these air assets to anti-aircraft duty, approximately 250 miles from the strike group’s location. Since Red’s long-range bombers are known to be airborne, but apparently are not immediately participating, the decision is taken for these Super Hornets to hold their fire, confident that the rest of the strike group can deal with the incoming missiles, and continue to guard against any enemy aircraft that might intrude later.

Shot Down/Eliminated/Missed/Decoyed This Layer: Zero

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: Zero           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

ISR Drones Layer

8 ISR Drones

These eight drones are individually scattered in an arc 150 miles out from the strike group’s location. They are there to provide accurate targeting information, primarily for the SM-2 and railgun equipped surface ships of the strike group. In particular the presence of this arc ensures timely targeting information so the railguns can effectively engage at their maximum range of 65 miles.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: Zero 

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: Zero           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

Railgun Layer

13 railguns (12 on the CARN and 1 on the CVLN)

With the targeting information provided initially by the ISR drones and later by the various aircraft and AAW radars of the strike group the railguns will steadily engage at their maximum rate of every five seconds. Since it is unlikely that any particular missile, even subsonic ones, will not close the remaining 65 miles to the strike group before a second shot can be taken this exercise assumes each railgun will only fire once at any given missile.

Each railgun can fire every seconds, 60 seconds/5 = 12 shots a minute. Therefore over a five minute time period each railgun will get off 5 x 12 = 60 carefully aimed shots. 13 railguns x 60 equals 780 opportunities to hit an incoming missile.

This exercise will assume a 50% success rate for the railguns. Therefore 390 incoming missiles are eliminated.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 390  

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 390           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

SM Family Missile Layer

420 surface ship launched SM-2 missiles and 2 E-2D Hawkeyes operating approximately fifty miles out from the strike group’s location.

The CG (100) and four DDGs (80 each) in the strike group are assumed to have 420 SM-2 missiles available to fire in their collective VLS cells.

This exercise will assume a 70% success rate for the missiles. Higher success rates can easily be argued for, though there will be some unavoidable overlap with the railguns resulting in double targeting by some missiles. 420 x .70 = 294. Therefore 294 incoming missiles are eliminated.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 294  

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 684           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

Air Wing Layer

12 F-35s, 12 Strike Drones, 12 F-18 Super Hornets, 6 EA18-G Growlers, and 2 S-3 Vikings carrying 4 air-to-air missiles each = 176 AAW missiles

Blue’s air commander has elected to concentrate the bulk of his air assets close to the strike group. This allows the air commander to attempt to concentrate this groups AAW missiles in defense of the three zones occupied by the surface ships below. This allows more of the incoming missiles that have survived to this point but appear to be targeted on empty ocean to be ignored.

This exercise will assume a 70% success rate for the AAW missiles. Again, higher success rates can easily be argued for, though given the tight time constraints on pilots decision making some double targeting will be unavoidable. 176 x .70 = 123.2 rounded down to 123. Therefore 123 incoming missiles are eliminated.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 123   

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 807           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

Eliminated Due to Malfunction Layer

If everything always worked perfectly the world would be a much happier place. But things inevitably go awry and the incoming missiles are not immune to this problem. This exercise assumes a standard 5% malfunction rate. 1,029 x .05 = 51.45, rounded down to 51.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 51     

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 858           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

Missed Due to Dispersal Layer

The high rate of speed of the incoming missiles will sharply limit their ability to effectively search for a target if they happen to encounter one of the areas of empty ocean Blue’s commander has contrived. This exercise assumes, rather arbitrarily, a 5% missed rate, but empty ocean will certainly greet some of Red’s missiles. 1,029 x .05 = 51.45, rounded down to 51.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 51     

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 909           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

Decoyed Layer

The strike groups EEW capabilities, including the Growlers, all the strike group helicopters, Fire Scouts and over 75 buoys with various types of lures aboard can be utilized to great effect. This exercise assumes, rather arbitrarily, a 5% decoyed rate. It is tempting to select a higher rate, but to be conservative the 5% rate is used. 1,029 x .05 = 51.45, rounded down to 51.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 51     

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 960           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

Internal Rolling-In-Frame Layer

The CARN has six rolling-in-frame close defense missile launchers installed on each side of the ship. As Red’s surviving missiles reach the LOS horizon, these missiles engage those missiles targeted on the primary layered group of surface ships, which includes the crucial CVN.

This exercise will assume a 70% success rate for these missiles. 48 x .7 = 33.6, rounded down to 33. Therefore 33 incoming missiles are eliminated.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 33    

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 993           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

Last Ditch Layer

At this point the last 36 missiles of the original 1,029 are assumed to acquire surface targets and close on them. At this point the targeted ships individual CIW and close range missile defense provide a last ditch defense layer.

To be consistent, this exercise will assume a 70% success rate for the CIW and close range defense missiles. 29 x .7 = 20.3, rounded down to 20. Therefore 20 incoming missiles are eliminated.

SD/E/M/D This Layer: 20    

SD/E/M/D Cumulative: 1,013           Of 1,029 incoming missiles

The hits the remaining 26 missiles inflict will do varying amounts of damage, with the highest variability being the size of the target. One hit can easily destroy one of the ASW frigates. Depending on where the hit occurs, damage to a DDG or the CG will merely damage some portion of its functionality but the combination of the damage and the resulting fires could easily incapacitate the ships fighting ability for quite some time. A hit or two on the CARN with its extensive armor are likely to incapacitate some of its weapon systems but not seriously impair the ships ability to fight. Obviously the more hits, the greater the collective damage. The CVLN and CVN, hopefully spared the worst by their placement at the far back of the layered spatial deployment chosen by Blue’s strike group commander, should be able to continue to function at close to normal capabilities, with the obvious proviso that any fires started do not prove difficult to bring under control.

So at the conclusion of the first round of the exercise, Red has achieved some significant, but not decisive damage with its massive 1,000 missile strike. So what does the Red Commander do next? If that is the sum of his assets, committing his modest long-range aircraft to anything other than continued harassing missions does not seem prudent. Blue’s obstructing carrier strike group has more or less survived and Red must now consider alternative means of achieving its objectives.

Unless Red, assumed to be a major East Asian land power, has utilized its substantial economic capability to construct a second wave of long-range missiles.

Red Force Commander

If so, then Red force commander, after a rapid but thorough review of the results of the first strike provided by his space-based reconnaissance assets decides to proceed with a pre-planned second strike. This time all of his available air assets will participate in the attack and Red Force commander does his best to coordinate another five minute time-on-target attack by hundreds of land based missiles and orders a much larger number of submarines to participate. Hopefully many of them will be able to evade Blue Forces SSNs and contribute at least some missiles from a multitude of different directions.

The intent here is to take advantage of the fact Blue Force will not have time to reload his ship borne missile tubes and in the intervening 30 minutes to an hour, only a few aircraft will have time to re-arm with AAW missiles. This will leave only the magazines of the railgun equipped ships with a significant amount of ammunition available for use.


At this point we will take leave of the exercise for with the results so far we are capable of making several conclusions.

1- Adding the various types of drones now available as well as the railgun, IN QUANTITY, to the fleet combined with appropriate doctrine adjustments, and flexible and carefully thought through battle plans means the fabled 1,000 missile strike can be survived by a typical carrier strike group.

2- This is particularly true of what most non-East Asian powers across the Eurasian landmass are likely to be able to field over the next few decades.

3- Adding a second CARN to the Western Pacific carrier strike group might well be a wise additional investment.

4- Several of the layers discussed above were deliberately provided with conservative success rates. The railgun itself may very well be able to operate, even at 65 miles, at much higher success rates. The ability to utilize our EEW and decoying assets could also provide significantly better results than estimated, as could the effects of dispersal.

5- Installing one or two railguns aboard the new CVNs as they are built looks to be an excellent idea. Consideration should also be given to installing one or two during refits, or during the refueling process, of our existing carrier assets.

In the next article we will discuss just why Congress and the American taxpayers should pay for all these additional UAVs, UUVs, Fire Scouts, buoys, railguns and the necessary ships to deploy them at sea.                                                                           

Jan Musil is a Vietnam era Navy veteran, disenchanted ex-corporate middle manager and long time entrepreneur currently working as an author of science fiction novels. He is also a long-standing student of navies in general, post-1930 ship construction thinking, design hopes versus actual results and fleet composition debates of the twentieth century.

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