Tag Archives: P-8 Poseidon

Information Management in Next Generation Anti-Submarine Warfare

The Future of Undersea Competition Topic Week

By Michael Glynn

The last decade has featured rapid advances in computing power, autonomous systems, data storage, and analytics. These tools are double-edged weapons, offering possible advantages to the U.S. while also opening the door to increased adversary capabilities. When combined with legacy systems and current doctrine, these technologies offer the U.S. Navy the chance to retain an advantage in the undersea contests of the future. The service must capitalize on these technologies. If they do not, they should realize that the low barrier of entry may drive potential opponents to do just that, eroding comparative advantage.

For the last 25 years, the Navy’s anti-submarine warfare (ASW) community has enjoyed the luxury of a permissive threat environment. What limited money was available to be spent on ASW was allocated to defensive measures to protect high value units in a close-in fight. The sensors and weapons that make up the stockpile are holdovers or incremental improvements of systems conceived in the late 1980s. The once dominant ASW task forces that tracked fleets of Soviet submarines have suffered from neglect, brain drain, and disuse in the last quarter century.

Despite these challenges, the U.S. currently retains a decisive advantage in the undersea domain. The service’s doctrine has been recently rewritten, and draws lessons from effective ASW campaigns of the past. Full-Spectrum ASW seeks to degrade the submarine threat as a whole.[i] It seeks to attack the adversary kill chain at every point, making damaging and sinking submarines only one piece of the ASW campaign.

Some observers have claimed that advancements in sensor systems and data analysis will strip stealth away from submarines.[ii][iii] This erosion of stealth will not happen unless the U.S. Navy solves three distinct challenges: gathering, analyzing, and disseminating environmental information, integrating operations analysis at the operational and tactical levels of war to maximize sensor and weapons effectiveness, and ensuring that ASW task forces are equipped with standardized equipment and highly effective training. Let’s discuss each of these challenges in detail.

Environmental Information

The ocean is an enormously complex and variable warfare domain. The properties of the ocean can change rapidly over small distances, just like weather ashore. Temperature, salinity, pressure variations, and the features of the ocean floor alter the way that sound energy moves through water. Characterizing the environment is critical to conducting effective ASW.

For decades, the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command (NMOC) has provided the service with oceanographic and bathymetric information. NMOC
a fleet of survey vessels, gliders, and sensors to gather information on the water-column.[iv] Computers ingest the information and build forecast ocean models.[v][vi]Operational planners and ASW operators use these products to model how sound energy will travel between their sensors and the submarine they are hunting. Without accurate ocean models, ASW operations are exercises in guesswork. Models are critical tools for effective ASW.

Paleobathymetry in the Southern Ocean. Photo: NOAA.

The Navy of tomorrow will need to make better use of the environmental data it collects and the models it produces. Many tactical platforms constantly collect data such as ambient noise or sound velocity profiles. Unfortunately, much of this raw data never makes it back to NMOC, due to communications limitations and process shortfalls. This hurts the quality of oceanographic models, and means the fleet will show up to the fight already at a disadvantage.

The undersea competition of the future will feature better dissemination and use of oceanographic models and bathymetric information. Ships and aircraft will automatically record environmental data and upload it to NMOC databases. When bandwidth makes it possible, ships, submarines, and aircraft should be constantly fed the most recent environmental model and use this information to drive radar and sonar performance predictions inside their combat systems. Fusion algorithms will automatically ingest real-time environmental measurements from sensors in the water to merge with the model and improve the accuracy of sonar performance predictions.

Operations Analysis

In the past, ASW planners have been able to degrade their adversary’s submarine force and maximize the effectiveness of a small number of ASW platforms by using operations analysis. In World War II, the British Submarine Tracking Room and U.S. ASW Operations Research Group used all-source intelligence to re-route convoys, assign aircraft to guard threatened ships, target submarine transit routes, and hunt down individual high-value submarines.

During the Cold War, the U.S. Navy used applied mathematics and computational modeling to predict the location of Soviet submarines. These search systems used track information of past patrols to build models of how Soviet commanders tended to operate. Cueing information was used to identify high probability search areas and recommended platform search plans.[vii] Real-time updates of positive and negative information during a search were fed to the computer to modify the search as it progressed.[viii] These computerized systems allowed planners to double their rate of successful searches compared to manual planning methods.[ix] Despite two decades of operational success, these planning systems were defunded and shut down after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

ASW forces of tomorrow will have to rediscover the value of operations analysis and apply these efforts at the operational and tactical levels. ASW task forces will be equipped with all-source intelligence fusion centers. Cueing information will flow from traditional means such as the Integrated Undersea Surveillance System, signals intelligence, and novel means assisted by big data analytics. Methods as unusual as monitoring the social media or Internet activity of adversary crew members and their families may provide indications that a submarine is getting underway.

A U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon with Patrol Squadron 45, is at Clark Air Base, Philippines in support of Exercise Balikatan 2015, April 9. (U.S. Navy photo)
A U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon with Patrol Squadron 45, is at Clark Air Base, Philippines in support of Exercise Balikatan 2015, April 9. Photo: U.S. Navy

Legacy computational search systems could only be run ashore due to the limits of processors of the day. Today’s hardware allows these systems to be run on a laptop. In the near future, tactical platforms will ingest cueing information and generate employment plans for themselves and assets nearby. A P-8A will generate optimized sonobuoy drop points, sonar dip points for two MH-60R’s flying nearby, and search plans for an ASW Continuous Trail Unmanned Vehicle and three unmanned underwater vehicles.[x][xi] The search plans and sensor points will automatically be broadcast via Link 16 and other future networks. The ability to direct multiple ASW platforms in today’s environment exceeds human capabilities, but tactical operations analysis systems will reverse this deficiency.

Optimized Task Force Training and Equipment

The final key to enabling next generation information management is revamping the equipment and training of the task forces who direct ASW at the Combatant Commander level. The increasing lethality of cruise missile armed submarines means focusing ASW planning at the Carrier Strike Group (CSG) level and fighting a close-in defensive battle is unacceptably risky. Future ASW campaigns will be won or lost at the theater level, with CSGs being only one piece of a multi-faceted approach. While 25 years of low budgets and disuse have blunted theater ASW (TASW) task forces, it is these commands that will direct the undersea battles of tomorrow.

Today, each TASW task force uses a hodgepodge of various systems and local information management procedures that have grown up to fit the unique challenges of the area. Lack of oversight means each task force uses its own training syllabus, communications procedures, and unique methods to maintain a common operating picture (COP). Despite this disunity, personnel are expected to flow from one task force to another in times of crisis and seamlessly master a system they have never trained with. This is not a recipe for success in an increasingly complicated information management environment.

The Navy should ensure each TASW task force is equipped with a standard suite of analysis and information management tools. The forces will adopt and master the Undersea Warfare Decision Support System and maintain a worldwide COP backed up at each task force. Standardized qualifications cards, methods for maintaining the COP, and disseminating information will allow personnel to rapidly surge and integrate with another task force. An open architecture construct will allow adjustments in managing relationships with regional allies, information release, and the unique nature of the adversary threat.

The aviation community uses the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center to develop and rigorously standardize tactics. The surface community has recognized that standardized employment and highly trained Weapons and Tactics Instructors are crucial for operating today’s exquisitely complex and capable weapon and sensor systems.[xii] The TASW community should adopt a similar focus on standardization of information management and search employment, just as their colleagues in the aviation and surface communities have. The Undersea Warfighting Development Center will take a much more central role in tactics development and employment standardization.


Operations analysis has proven itself a force multiplier in ASW. This will be critical as fleet size continues to shrink. In the information age, the problem is not too little ASW information, but rather how to properly ingest, analyze, and disseminate information. If the Navy capitalizes on the opportunities listed above, it will be well on its way to maintaining undersea superiority. If it does not, it should remain wary that the barrier for entry for other nations to build effective information management and operations analysis systems is low. The technology required is relatively cheap and has current commercial applications. There is extensive open source literature on the topic. Without having to contend with an entrenched defense bureaucracy and legacy programs of record that stifle innovation, these nations will certainly seek to rapidly capitalize on these concepts as a means to disrupt U.S. undersea superiority.

Lieutenant Glynn is an active-duty naval aviator. He most recently served as a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell. The views expressed in this piece are entirely his own and do not represent the position of the Department of the Navy.

[i] William J. Toti, “The Hunt for Full-Spectrum ASW,” Proceedings, (June 2014), http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2014-06/hunt-full-spectrum-asw, (accessed May 22, 2016).

[ii] Bryan Clark, “The Emerging Era in Undersea Warfare,” (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis, January 22, 2015), http://csbaonline.org/publications/2015/01/undersea-warfare/, (accessed May 22, 2016).

[iii] James Holmes, “U.S. Navy’s Worst Nightmare: Submarines may no Longer be Stealthy,” The National Interest, (June 13, 2015), http://nationalinterest.org/feature/us-navys-worst-nightmare-submarines-may-no-longer-be-13103, (accessed May 22, 2016).

[iv] “Oceanographic Survey Ships – T-AGS,” (U.S. Navy, August 23, 2007), http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=4500&tid=700&ct=4, (accessed May 23, 2016).

[v] “Naval Oceanographic Office Global Navy Coastal Ocean Model (NCOM),” (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration), https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/model-data/model-datasets/navoceano-ncom-glb, (accessed May 22, 2016).

[vi] “Naval Oceanographic Office Global Hybrid Coordinate Ocean Model (HYCOM),” (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration), https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/model-data/model-datasets/navoceano-hycom-glb, (accessed May 22, 2016).

[vii] Henry R Richardson, Lawrence D. Stone, W. Reynolds Monach, & Joseph Discenza, “Early Maritime Applications of Particle Filtering,” Proceedings of SPIE, Vol. 5204, 172-173.

[viii] Daniel H. Wagner, “Naval Tactical Decision Aids,” (Monterey: Naval Postgraduate School, September 1989), II-5.

[ix] J. R. Frost & L. D. Stone, “Review of Search Theory: Advances and Applications to Search and Rescue Decision Support,” (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Coast Guard, 2001), 3-4.

[x] “Anti-submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vehicle (ACTUV),” (Arlington, VA: Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), http://www.darpa.mil/program/anti-submarine-warfare-continuous-trail-unmanned-vessel, (accessed May 22, 2016).

[xi] Michael Fabey, “ONR Seeks Long-Duration, Large-Diameter UUV’s,” Aviation Week, (October 29, 2012), http://aviationweek.com/defense/onr-seeks-long-duration-large-diameter-uuvs, (accessed May 22, 2016).

[xii] Sam LaGrone, “Navy Stands up Development Center to Breed Elite Surface Warfare Officers,” USNI News, (June 9, 2015), https://news.usni.org/2015/06/09/navy-stands-up-development-command-to-breed-elite-surface-warfare-officers, (Accessed May 22, 2016).

Featured Image: A P-8A Poseidon surveillance plane conducts flyovers above the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group on February 3, 2012. REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Daniel J. Meshel/Handout

Information Management and the Future of Naval Aviation

By Michael Glynn

Aviators and operators hitting the fleet today have reasons to be excited. Naval Aviation is in the process of recapitalizing the fleet with a stable of very capable platforms and sensors: the E-2D carrying the highly advanced APY-9 multifunction radar; the P-8A with a powerful acoustic system and the APS-154 Advanced Airborne Sensor radar; and the EA-18G armed with the very capable ALQ-218 electronic warfare system and Next Generation Jammer.

The advances are not restricted to manned platforms alone. The MQ-4C will enable wide area search and ISR operations, covering hundreds of thousands of square miles during 30 hour flights. The MQ-8C will bring impressive endurance to small deck surface ships. Longer dwell time promises to yield more collection opportunities and push more data to warfighters.

But observers should be cautioned that these new platforms, new sensors, and emerging autonomy won’t necessarily yield higher quality intelligence or more information to commanders. Warfighters today are fighting not to generate enough information, but rather to manage the incredible amounts of data that today’s sensors record and store. The fleet is struggling to keep from being drowned in a sea of data. The battle of the information age is to separate the useful information from the vast amount of meaningless noise.

Our sensors today already develop tremendous amounts of data. How do we store it, access it, make sense of it, and disseminate it? How will we manage this in the future with even more data as unmanned systems become more common? Can autonomy and data fusion be part of the answer? Will our training and intelligence analysis need to change? Let’s examine these challenges in detail.

Large Data Sets, Autonomy, and Data Fusion

The increasing use of unmanned systems will bring longer mission profiles and hence longer windows of time where sensors can collect. This will generate extremely large amounts of information each flight. To put the challenge in perspective, consider a modern maritime patrol aircraft, the P-8A and its partner, the soon to be deployed MQ-4C UAV. On an eight hour mission, a Poseidon will generate up to 900 gigabytes of sensor information. How much more data will the unmanned Triton generate during its thirty hour flights?

Any operator in the fleet will admit that the amount of data gathered by our platforms today far surpasses the bandwidth of our long range communication networks. What happens to data that can’t be transferred off an aircraft during its mission? How best to manage information that may be over a day “time-late” when a UAV lands? What sensor information should be broadcast to operators ashore and what should be saved for post-flight access? These are challenging questions for program mangers, requirements officers, and operators to solve.

In the same vein, the large data set generated by sensors today offers the possibility of using analytics to sift through them and draw conclusions. However, this will only happen if managers design suitable architectures to extract the data post-flight, store it, and make it available to customers. We will discuss this concept later.

A second broad trend worth mentioning is automation and the ability to use technology to parse the data. Algorithms in modern sensors allow these systems to automatically capture, store, and disseminate information. Legacy surface search radars required an operator to manually plot a contact, log its position on paper, and update the position as time went by. Modern surface search radars can automatically identify, assign track numbers, and update tracks of dozens, if not hundreds of contacts, and promote certain tracks to datalinks such as Link 16. The track information is also recorded on-board and available for post-mission download, analysis, and storage.

The benefits of automation and data storage don’t end there. Today’s platforms either already do or will soon employ data fusion engines that merge complimentary information from multiple sensors to produce a higher-fidelity view of the battlespace. These systems will identify a surface contact by radar and overlay an electronic line of bearing signal that arrives from the same direction as the radar contact. The fusion engine will recognize the radar signal is coming from that ship and by analyzing the parameters of the signal might be able to provide a possible identification of the type of vessel. The system will then merge the radar contact and the electronic emission into a single track and promote it automatically to a datalink.

The capability of our sensors and our ability to store the data they produce is improving rapidly. Unless we think about how we collect and process this data, we risk not being able to capitalize on the capability. Let’s examine some actions we can take to prevent the technological advances from outpacing our ability to control them.

Recognizing the Challenge

Our warfighters and intelligence professionals need to examine the process by which they collect, store, process, and disseminate information. We need to match technology with roles a computer can accomplish and utilize our manpower where the skills of a human are most needed. Too often, our warfighters are employed in roles to which they are poorly suited.

In parts of the fleet, an observer can find operators plotting the locations of ships in paper logs when mission systems are recording the same information and storing it with far greater fidelity and fewer errors. These mission systems scale easily, plotting not one track history, but thousands. The same observer could find aviators submitting message traffic to meteorological commands listing environmental measurements at one location when the aircraft they just flew recorded similar measurements at dozens of locations spread over hundreds of miles. The observer could also find an intelligence officer spending their time preparing a PowerPoint brief for a commander instead of analyzing the information brought home by crew.

Humans are excellent at recognizing patterns and drawing conclusions from data. When it comes to tasks like plotting and updating radar contacts or transcribing information in a log, a machine wins every time. Yet we can find numerous cases in which we ask humans to “beat the machine” and conduct a rote task when the technology exits to automate the process. We need to train our operators to adopt a “sensor supervisor” approach and use technology to automate post-mission product creation.

Action Ahead

Are we making wise use of the billions of dollars spent on collection platforms if we don’t examine our own information processing requirements? When we bring new sensors to the fleet, are we process mapping to determine how best to analyze and disseminate the data they collect? Do we even know what types of information our systems are collecting? In all of these cases, Naval Aviation as an organization can get better.

Leaders in Naval Aviation and the Information Dominance Corps have several solutions that can be implemented. The first is to examine and implement a “pull” based system of information portals where collection platforms can post data and customers of all types can access it. Currently, the fleet relies on a “push” model where a unit is assigned to accomplish a collection task, and then information is reported back to stakeholders. Under a “pull” system, information would be posted to IP accessible portals where any authorized user can discover the information and utilize it for their analysis purpose. This is a far more efficient system, prevents stovepipes, and will enable next generation “big data” analytics efforts including applications in the Naval Tactical Cloud.

Next, information analysis and dissemination need to be viewed as a key part of the kill chain and performed so as to optimize mission effectiveness. Is a trained intelligence analyst better suited to sifting through ambiguous data and drawing conclusions about adversary behavior or best used building PowerPoint slides? Software today can be easily adopted to automatically generate post mission message traffic, briefing slides, and other products. This allows human capital to be reallocated into value-added efforts.

In a similar manner, Naval Aviation should examine how we can train our aviators and operators to best employ their sensors. We should expose our young aviators and sensor operators to concepts of information management early in their training. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses both of the human sitting in the seat and the sensor system will go far to optimize our collection platforms. This will allow operators to let machines do what they do best, and apply human minds to the analytical tasks they are best suited for.


The platforms and sensors being introduced to the fleet are very capable and will grow more so with intelligent management of the data they produce. Let us write and think about how best to manage the information our warfighters gather as they prepare to deter and win the conflicts of tomorrow.

Lieutenant Glynn is a naval aviator and member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell. The views expressed in this article are entirely his own.

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

From Words to Action in the South China Sea – Updated 5/22

Update 5/22:

– China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman says U.S. actions in the South China Sea “‘irresponsible, dangerous” and that China’s military drove away the U.S. military aircraft.

– A Pentagon spokesman says the P-8 and naval vessels have not yet gone within 12nm of the islands, but said “that would be the next step.”

– The Washington Free Beacon also reports US officials as saying “China tried to electronically jam U.S. drone flights over the South China Sea in a bid to thwart spying on disputed island military construction.”


InterceptLast week the Wall Street Journal reported that the United States was considering sending U.S. air and naval assets to conduct freedom of navigation (FoN) transits around China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea, specifically the Spratlys – claimed in part or in whole by six nations. Today, CNN released exclusive footage from just such a flight, as a P-8 may have flown within the claimed 12nm of territorial airspace of three of the islands (more on that below), including Fiery Cross Reef and Mischief Reef. I highly recommend watching the video to gain a greater appreciation of the sort of interaction that is likely to occur with increasing regularity, and to see the dredging in action that CSIS’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative has so ably documented through overhead satellite imagery [full disclosure: I’ve contributed to the site in the past].

interphoto_1428568832One of the questions bedeviling the maritime security community over the past several years has been how to respond to China’s “salami slicing” actions – a question that took on new urgency with the previous year’s massive surge in reclamation efforts in the South China Sea. Among others, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS)’s excellent Maritime Strategy Series included several reports devoted to developing options to provide answers for policy makers. Unfortunately, much of the analysis more broadly has struggled to move from generalities of the need to “impose costs” or, conversely, to “develop cooperative strategies” to the specifics of application. And, for those that did, there had until now been little evidence of words being translated into action.

Spratly_Islands-CIA_WFB_MapNot everyone is happy. Over at our partners’ site – ASPI’s The Strategist – Sam Bateman questions whether the “US knows what it’s doing” and rightly points out that FoN operations have to be “conducted with ‘due regard’ to the rights of coastal States.” But he also asserts that U.S. action is an indication that the United States has “taken a position on the sovereignty of the claims.” If true, (and that’s not official policy) it belies the first qualm since the United States presumably would not therefore need to take claimed but invalid rights into account. Bateman is on stronger ground in noting that if the Navy is sailing through the territorial waters or flying through the islands’ territorial airspace (it is not clear in the video whether this is the case) – water/airspace granted due to the small fractions of at least Fiery Cross Reef’s natural features that remain above water during high tide – it would do so at risk of violating the “innocent” condition of innocent passage if the vessels were conducting military missions such as intelligence gathering. This is not the case if the island is entirely man-made, if a military vessel refrained from action prejudicial to the coastal state, or if the vessel stayed in an island’s EEZ – outside the 12nm of the territorial waters.

Of course this is all moot if, as Bateman suggests, the United States by these actions is declaring it holds specific island sovereignty claims invalid, rather than waiting any longer for China to explain upon what basis its claims are made. Perhaps the best course of action is for the United States to declare that until China has explained the basis for the nine-dash line claim in a manner in accordance with international law and so adjudicated it will not honor any of China’s South China Seas sovereignty claims or the rights derived thereof. This would cut through some of the legal complexity in providing a basis for the ongoing FoN activities and point to a way for China to take action to resolve the situation. While it is unlikely China will be persuaded to prematurely end its reclamation efforts, the actions undertaken by the Navy may at least demonstrate the likelihood that a declared South China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) without resolution of outstanding claims will result in a frequent high-profile acts of indifference.

Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and founder and president of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC). He is a graduate of Georgetown University and the U.S. Naval War College, a member of the Truman National Security Project, and a CNAS Next-Generation National Security Fellow. 

Seizing the ASuW Initiative with Land Based Patrol Aircraft

By Michael Glynn

Recent months have found uniformed officers and naval strategists writing and speaking about regaining the ability of U.S. Navy (USN) ships to conduct offensive anti-surface warfare (ASuW). The discussion has been lively and featured many authors and many different approaches. Some solutions are incremental, such as fielding more capable long-range weapons in existing launch systems.[i] Others are more radical, such as trading large long-range missile defense interceptors for small point defense missiles and building a new generation of multi-role cruise missiles.[ii]

A P-8A test launches an AGM-84D BLK IC Harpoon Missile. (U.S. Navy photo)

Missing from the discussion of future acquisitions and new weapons is how the USN can leverage existing land-based airpower to seize the offensive in ASuW. The P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft is deployed today, with the range, persistence, sensors, and network architecture to serve as a self-contained “kill chain.” It is able to disperse and operate in an expeditionary environment during peacetime or contingency operations. If equipped with more suitable long-range anti-ship weapons, this aircraft will provide greatly increased capability for the combatant commander. This will allow more flexibility for USN forces to operate in an A2/AD environment when a carrier is not nearby or in the interim until more capable surface-based ASuW weapons are fielded.

Framing the Challenge

During the last three decades, the USN has divested its surface forces of offensive anti-ship firepower as operations shifted to littoral environments with permissive threat profiles. With the retirement of the Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile, the service has been left without a weapon that can engage targets at a range beyond that of threat anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM’s).[iii] Our ships now go to sea armed only with the sub-sonic, medium range Harpoon missile. The removal of Harpoon from Flight IIA DDG-51’s after DDG-79 and proposed cuts to funding for cruisers have exacerbated this glaring deficiency.[iv] The onus for conducting maritime strike has shifted from our surface ships to the aircraft of the Carrier Strike Group (CSG).

As the reach and number of U.S. ASCM’s have decreased, threat systems have proliferated and improved in range, speed and sophistication. China, Russia, and India all possess advanced supersonic long-range ASCM’s. Foreign militaries are equipping themselves not only with the weapons needed to strike, but also the C4ISR capabilities needed to detect and accurately target adversary forces.[v]

Commanders, legislators, and the defense industry have responded with a variety of initiatives, including the development of an Offensive Anti-Surface Weapon (OASuW.) This program is aimed at fielding an advanced cruise missile with sufficient range to allow USN ships to employ outside the reach of threat weapons systems. OASuW Increment 1 will begin fielding the Lockheed Martin Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) in FY17 for carriage on the F/A-18 Super Hornet and USAF B-1 bombers. OASuW Increment 2 will provide for integration of a long-range anti-surface capability onboard surface ships.[vi] By equipping the F/A-18 and B-1 with the ability to carry LRASM, the Department of Defense has signaled that regardless of eventual integration of OASuW onboard surface ships, carrier and land-based airpower will remain a key component of the U.S. anti-surface strategy.

Missing from this conversation on OASuW capabilities is the USN’s Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance (MPR) force. The MPR community is recapitalizing with the P-8 Poseidon aircraft. The sensors, datalink capabilities, and expeditionary nature of this aircraft make it a natural choice to augment the lack of anti-surface punch. The P-8 and RQ-4C UAS are envisioned to play targeting roles in long-range ASuW engagements, so arming P-8 with upgraded weapons is a logical next step. The Poseidon can allow the fleet to seize the initiative in anti-surface employment, especially in situations where the threat makes the reality of deploying the CSG forward politically unpalatable or disadvantageous.

The Solution

The P-8 Poseidon is derived from the Boeing 737 aircraft. It features long-range, high transit speed, solid persistence, and will soon incorporate the ability to perform air-to-air refueling. The open architecture mission systems are easily reconfigurable and allow for rapid improvement of sensor and weapon capabilities. The P-8 features a Mobile Tactical Operations Center (MTOC), which aids in processing data collected during and after mission flights. The MTOC is fully expeditionary, allowing an MPR detachment to quickly relocate in peacetime or disperse away from main operating airfields and continue to fight in wartime.

The ability to disperse is especially critical in an A2/AD environment. The proliferation of theater ballistic missiles (TBM’s) and cruise missiles has allowed previously weak nations to hold an opponent’s forward bases at risk. By deploying aircraft to auxiliary fields away from large military installations, adversary commanders are faced with a much more challenging targeting problem. The increased cost of building more TBM’s may be daunting to a particular military, and the uncertainty of being able to destroy forward forces is a stabilizing influence. P-8’s ability to deploy to medium sized airfields and sustain itself during combat operations is a force multiplier.

P-8 will also carry the Raytheon Advanced Aerial Sensor (AAS) to provide standoff detection and targeting of maritime and land targets. Descended from the highly-classified APS-149 Littoral Surveillance Radar System, AAS will provide Poseidon crews with the ability to detect, classify, and provide targeting solutions of threats even in highly congested littoral areas.[vii] In A2/AD environments with highly advanced surface to air missile systems, this ability to accurately detect threats from long-range and provide targeting updates to net-enabled weapons isn’t just beneficial, it’s critical.[viii] A MPR squadron equipped with AAS and appropriate weapons becomes its own self-contained targeting and strike force.

In short, P-8 offers a weapons platform that is uniquely suited to maritime strikes. Its crews are far more familiar with operating in the ASuW role than USAF bomber crews and culturally more pre-disposed to emphasize this mission set. The ability to act as an armed sensor platform allows the Poseidon to close the kill-chain itself. P-8 armed with suitable standoff weapons has the ability to detect and attrite adversary surface ships, preserving the ability for our surface forces to deploy forward in wartime, and decreasing the need for our carriers to surge forward into extremely high-risk areas to eliminate surface threats with the air wing. This provides increased flexibility to the combatant commander.

Needed Changes

The MPR force has the potential to act as a powerful ASuW strike force, however this capability can grow stronger with upgrades and training. P-8 should be equipped with an OASuW capability, ideally allowing it to carry the LRASM rounds that will enter production in FY17. The largest roadblock will not be carriage capability or weapons system engineering, rather finding the funding to provide integration and testing for this weapon onboard P-8.

The P-8 currently carries the Harpoon Block IC, which is insufficient for high-end ASuW. The Block IC is not net-enabled, meaning it cannot receive in-flight updates from targeting platforms via a datalink. This makes the weapon less flexible and precise in congested environments. The aircraft is slated to receive the Harpoon Block II, which is net-enabled, but is still constrained by its short range.[ix] This lack of reach prevents it from engaging high-end air defense warships without putting the P-8 and its crew at serious risk.

It is best to utilize the synergy that exists in MPR squadrons and equip these aircraft with both the sensors and the weapons required for standoff targeting and strike. Since AAS equipped P-8’s may be required to provide targeting support to OASuW in a complex surface environment, equipping the targeting aircraft with weapons is the logical next step to close the kill chain. Once P-8 is equipped with LRASM, crews must be required to train frequently with AAS equipped targeting aircraft and LRASM equipped shooter aircraft against representative threat pictures. Maritime targeting is a very dynamic and challenging game, and requires practice to execute properly.[x]


Equipping the MPR force with a long-range strike capability will capitalize on existing sensors, platforms, and aircrew skills. The ability to call on an existing force structure with incremental upgrades provides a solution to a glaring deficiency in the Navy’s ASuW capabilities. The ability to task highly mobile aircraft rather than SSN’s or carriers to provide ASuW firepower provides a commander with increased options and flexibility. This can reduce risk while raising the enemy’s uncertainty about U.S. operational intentions.

American patrol crews gained fame during World War II for their nighttime raids on Japanese shipping. Operating alone and independent of the carrier they provided a critical force to weaken enemy logistics capability and to disrupt sea lines of control. It is fitting that almost three quarters of a century later we consider the role of our current MPR force. The P-8 can add to our ASuW capability if we make the decision now to properly equip it and provide training to aircrews.

Lieutenant Michael Glynn is an active-duty naval aviator and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. He most recently served as a P-8 instructor pilot and mission commander with Patrol Squadron (VP) 16. He currently serves as an instructor flying the T-45 with the ‘Fighting Redhawks’ of Training Squadron (VT) 21. The views expressed in this article are entirely his own.

[i] Robert Crumplar and Peter Morrison, “Beware the Anti-Ship Cruise Missile,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, vol. 140, no. 1 (January 2014), http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2014-01/beware-antiship-cruise-missile.

[ii] Bryan Clark, Commanding the Seas: A Plan to Reinvigorate U.S. Navy Surface Warfare, (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2014), http://www.csbaonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/A-Plan-To-Reinvigorate-US-Navy-Surface-Warfare.pdf.

[iii] Charlie Williams, “Increasing Lethality in Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW),” Center for International Maritime Security, May 31, 2014, https://cimsec.org/increasing-lethality-anti-surface-warfare-asuw-minor-less-minor-course-corrections/11478.

[iv] “LRASM Missiles: Reaching for a Long-Range Punch,” Defense Industry Daily, October 15, 2014, http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/lrasm-missiles-reaching-for-a-long-reach-punch-06752/.

[v] Congressional Research Service, China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities – Background and Issues for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke, (Washington, D.C., 2014), 34.

[vi] LRASM Missiles, Defense Industry Daily.

[vii] Bill Sweetman, “Navy Moves Forward On Advanced Airborne Radar,” Aviation Week, June 18, 2012, http://aviationweek.com/awin/navy-moves-forward-advanced-airborne-radar.

[viii] Bill Sweetman, Christina Mackenzie, and Andy Nativi, “Net Enabled Weapons Drive Sea Warfare Change,” Aviation Week & Space Technology, September 3, 2012, http://aviationweek.com/awin/net-enabled-weapons-drive-sea-warfare-change.

[ix] Richard R. Burgess, “A ‘Year of Transition’ for the P-8A Poseidon,” Seapower, April 9, 2013, http://seapowermagazine.org/sas/stories/20130409-p-8a.html.

[x] Maksim Y. Tokarev, “Kamikazes: The Soviet Legacy,” Naval War College Review, vol. 67, no. 1, (Winter 2014), 61-84. It should be noted that Soviet Tu-95RT “Bear-D” reconnaissance and targeting aircraft were equipped with Uspekh-1 “Big Bulge” maritime search and targeting radar. This system did not feature Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (ISAR) capabilities for standoff imaging and identification. The P-8 AAS system and APY-10 search radar both feature ISAR capabilities, simplifying long-range identification challenges. Modern employment scenarios would find ISR aircraft much better able to identify a contact once it had been located and would not be as chaotic as the Soviet experience that Tokarev describes. Maritime targeting still remains an arena that is inherently dynamic and therefore requires proper training to execute reliably and efficiently.