Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Still Thinking Inside the Surveillance Box

Our big deck carriers are capable ships but are also big targets in a network-centric world where ships entering the surveillance grid of an enemy can be targeted by widely dispersed ships, planes, and missiles who can mass effect on one of our carriers. But we have to be able to push into that surveillance grid in order to attack those enemies. So we will build network-centric air defenses to protect our carriers:

The concept behind CEC [NOTE: Cooperative Engagement Capability] is a sensor netting system that allows many ships to pool their radar and sensor information together, creating a very powerful and detailed picture that’s much finer, more wide-ranging, and more consistent than any one ship could generate on its own. The data is then shared among all ships and participating systems in the air and on the ground, using secure frequencies.
Any ship's air defenses in range of the carrier target could be slaved to the defense of the carrier's air defenses to make sure that our defensive missiles don't double-tap an incoming threat while leaving another untouched to take a shot at the carrier. That's the concept. We've been working on this for a long time.

This is nice. Since we do have these big, expensive ships to protect. Just losing one in a war would be a major blow to our prestige given how highly our big carriers are associated with American national power.

But it begs the question of why, in a network-centric world, do we persist on trying to fit the ultimate platform-centric weapon--our super carrier--into our fleet? We no longer need a single huge platform to mass effects on a target. Once upon a time, you needed your shooters all together to ensure you could mass effects on a target. Now that isn't the case. That's why we worry so much about the survivability of our carriers. Our enemies are starting to demonstrate that they can exploit network-centric warfare to attack our carriers. Since we can distribute our offensive power on numerous, cheaper naval platforms and on land- and air-based systems, why don't we move beyond the platform-centric reliance on big carriers?

I'd certainly put CEC on our ships. We have big carriers and we need to defend them in the developing threat environment. But I'd do it only to extend the useful life of existing carriers, since they are a huge capital investment and do have uses in fights short of a fight against a country advanced enough to deploy a robust surveillance and strike network over the seas to strike our carriers as they approach them.

In time, however, the only proper response to enemy network-centric offensive capabilities is to evolve our fleet into a network-centric force of widely dispersed, more numerous assets that use our own surveillance and targeting network to mass effects on targets without the need to mass assets.