Monday, May 23, 2016

The Strategic Cloud Already Confuses Us

The future of naval sea control warfare is arriving. The big-deck carrier cannot survive in that future.

Here comes the tactical cloud at sea:

The Navy is creating an offensive anti-surface network that will tie targeting information from satellites, aircraft, ships, submarines and the weapons themselves to form a lethal “kill web” designed to keep pace with the expanding lethal power of potential adversaries, service officials outlined on Tuesday.

The scheme will use information ranging from sensors in space to the undersea to share information in a so-called tactical cloud that will allow aircraft and ships to access a range of targeting information to launch weapons against surface targets, said Rear Adm. Mark Darrah, at the service’s program executive officer for Strike Weapons and Unmanned Aviation at the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), in a presentation at Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition 2016.

The All Domain Offensive Surface Warfare Capability is “integrated fires, leveraging all domains, the ability for us to utilize air-launched capabilities, surface launched capabilities and subsurface launched capabilities that are tied together with an all domain [information network],” he said. “We call it the tactical cloud. We’re going to put data up in the cloud and users are going to go grab it and use it as a contributor to a targeting solution.”

I've been calling for this for a while--back when the tactical cloud was called "network-centric warfare" and noting how it undermines the role of aircraft carriers:

As the Navy works on network-centric warfare, the ability to mass effect both offensively and defensively from widely scattered platforms, the importance of individual platforms is decreased even more. This reduces our vulnerability to the loss of individual platforms. Other assets can fill in the hole seamlessly and our Navy's targets will never know that a missile from a different platform destroyed it. It will be an irrelevant detail. ...

When guns have range that rivals effective aircraft range, the carrier risks being supplanted by guns in a revenge of the lanyards that reverses the demotion gun-armed ships experienced when carriers took the place of honor in World War II.

In 1999, the United States Naval Institute purchased an article I submitted that addresses the pending demotion of our large carriers. Sadly, it has never been published. I made several points in the article that the DD (X) article addresses.

I wrote that network-centric warfare signals the beginning of the end for the United States Navy's large aircraft carriers, which will lose their value as an instrument of forward presence. Carriers will become valuable targets that, if struck, will encourage an enemy at the outset of war by apparently demonstrating that American technological prowess can be nullified and beaten. Indeed, our new surge strategy for our carriers addresses this vulnerability of essentially having a solitary carrier out as bait where an enemy can plan a first strike to get a very big CNN moment.

In the long run, given networked and very long range cannons, large aircraft carriers will add little to most offensive missions and will absorb scarce resources and assets simply evading attack rather than striking the enemy and contributing to victory. The concentrated power of the carrier platform's air wing will simply be one element of the massed effect of dispersed attack platforms such as DD (X) achievable in network-centric warfare. An enemy will face massed firepower from all directions launched by U.S. forces wielding a plethora of weapons deployed on surface ships, submarines, and aircraft. This attack capability will be potent whether carriers are part of the network or not. ...

To exploit the network, the capable surface ships we will build must be cut loose and dispersed in accordance with the logic of network-centric warfare. Aircraft carriers will not add a bang commensurate with the billions of bucks they cost. ...

A network does not need a high value asset. Certainly, it is true that network-centric warfare defenses can bring dispersed air defenses together to defend the carrier (if they have sufficiently long range) but why expend that effort? In a developed networked force, the aircraft carrier adds little that numerous smaller platforms cannot provide and only represents a potential loss of great propaganda value.

The emergence of network-centric warfare does not mean the near-term obsolescence of large aircraft carriers. They represent large investments and there is no need to simply retire them any time soon. The useful roles for these aircraft carriers will diminish in time, however, beginning with the forward presence role. As I noted, we've already altered our naval presence from rotating a couple carriers to forward location in favor of being able to surge a large number in a crisis. In a peacetime operating routine, aircraft carriers that sail in another nation's surveillance and strike network will be vulnerable to a bolt from the blue and may actually invite war rather than deter it. Only against enemies incapable of striking them--as was the case in both Afghanistan and Iraq--will carriers retain their power to inflict punishing destruction.

Forgive my extensive quoting of my own post. But so far I see no indication that the Navy is continuing the logic of the "tactical cloud" (or "distributed lethality") to the logical conclusion.

Not that big deck carriers become worthless, mind you. But as I've said many times, in a carrier debate, our strategic cloud leads us to mix up concepts of power projection apples with sea control oranges.

As an aside, I think I may email the Naval Institute to note that my unpublished article they purchased has languished through two terminology changes.