Pacific Strategy VII: “Aegis is My Wingman”


10/20/2011 – In a phrase, this is how the remaining core naval assets are integrated into a scalable Pacific capability.  The F-35s, whether land or sea-based as a Z axis C4ISR D force can bring the entire surface and subsurface fleet into a scalable operation.  An economy of force capability is deployed every day with the permanent presence forces.  By making all of these forces C4ISR enabled, their individual strengths are combined into a honeycomb across the Pacific by a flying decision-making and decision directing asset.

With the combination of Aegis with F-35, the sensors are combined into wide area coverage.  With a new generation of weapons on the F-35, and the ability to operate a broad wolfpack of air and sea capabilities, the F-35 can perform as the directing point for combat action.  With the Aegis and its new SM-3 missiles, the F-35s can leverage a sea-based missile to expand its area of strike.  With a combination of the F-35 and the Aegis, the defense of land-bases and sea-bases is expanded significantly.

The commonality across the combat systems of the three variants of the F-35 provides a significant advantage.  When one talks about the Aegis as my wingman, this can be true for F-35As, Bs, or Cs.  80% of the F-35s in the Pacific are likely to be A’s and many of these coalition aircraft.  Building an F-35 and Aegis global enterprise provides significant coverage and capability across the Pacific.

As the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter comes on line, the integration of Aegis with F-35 will provide a powerful capability for the US and its allies.  It must always be remembered how significant numbers of allied partners are in the Aegis deployed fleet, and that there are several joint Aegis and F-35 allies in prospect.

During exercise Stellar Avenger, the Aegis-class destroyer USS Hopper launches a standard missile 3 Blk IA, successfully intercepting a sub-scale short range ballistic missile, launched from the Kauai Test Facility, Pacific Missile Range Facility, Barking Sans, Kauai.  (Credit: USN Visual Service, 7/31/09)During exercise Stellar Avenger, the Aegis-class destroyer USS Hopper launches a standard missile 3 Blk IA, successfully intercepting a sub-scale short range ballistic missile, launched from the Kauai Test Facility, Pacific Missile Range Facility, Barking Sans, Kauai.  (Credit: USN Visual Service, 7/31/09)

And by combining the F-35B with Aegis a whole new capability to defend land based air in the Pacific opens up.  No longer should the F-35B be considered a boutique niche aircraft only essential for Marine combat con-ops. With vision and commitment on numbers it can become a tactical aircraft that sends a strategic signal.

The reason is simple, an F-35B can stand strip alert on any long runway, US or Allied. From a strategic point of view think of Guam, South Korea or in the Middle East on all long runways. As a crisis situation develops, the F-35Bs can be remotely placed in hardened bunkers and revetments and thus become a significant deterrence asset that can instantly sortie into combat and return to gas and go again and again. (

By using a detachment of F-35Bs the issue of enemy runway area denial and need for rapid runway repair does not become a show stopper to ops-tempo both offensively and defensively.

Tie an F-35B to the Aegis and the entire “wasting argument” about asymmetric IRBM and enemy strike against our hard fixed land targets becomes moot. This is because Guam for example will still have air power in its defense. This principal can be applied globally.

Folding the subsurface assets into the presence and scalable force structure exponentially expands the strike force quality of the deployed force.  We have deployed the NSC, the LCS, the ARG, the F-35A, B, and C, and now add an integrated strike and surveillance capability of the SSGNs, and SSNs.

The SSN assets are expensive to buy, efficient to operate and own, and provide a multi-mission capability when their strike and other capabilities are included into the Pacific operational concept.  Subs versus subs are an important part of ASW activity and for dealing with many at sea threats.  But there are also a long at sea deployment capability, which can provide strike and other support to surface and air assets operating in an area of interest.  The SSNs can provide such support to littoral engagement assets such as LCS as well as ARGs.

The guided-missile submarine USS Ohio arrives at Fleet Activities Yokosuka for a routine port visit. The visit to Yokosuka marks the beginning of a one-year deployment to U.S. 7th Fleet for Ohio. Ohio is home ported at Naval Base Kitsap, Bangor, Wash., and currently serves under Commander Submarine Group 7 at Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan. (Credit: USN Visual Service, 8/29/09)The guided-missile submarine USS Ohio arrives at Fleet Activities Yokosuka for a routine port visit. The visit to Yokosuka marks the beginning of a one-year deployment to U.S. 7th Fleet for Ohio. Ohio is home ported at Naval Base Kitsap, Bangor, Wash., and currently serves under Commander Submarine Group 7 at Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan. (Credit: USN Visual Service, 8/29/09)

The SSGNs are even more interesting. Sporting very large tubes, which could be enabled with new robotic or strike capabilities, the SSGN could well become the new wingman for the F-35Bs coming off of the ARG. Chris Cavas of Defense News has written from time to time highlighting the nature of the real estate onboard the SSGN which could be used creatively in supporting littoral assets such as the Agile Response Group.

The real value of the undersea strike capacity is in its ability to be delivered with surprise from close-in against particular high-priority targets. This “little or no notice” context greatly increases the military value of power projection and may serve an essential role in permitting general-purpose forces to gain subsequent access to the theater of operations.

(Undersea Warfighting, Command Submarine Forces, July 2011).

These SSN and SSGN capabilities will be supplemented over time as the robotic revolution unfolds.  In a recent interview, which we conducted with General Heinz of I Robot, and the former F-35 PEO, the role of robotics in the littoral engagement was underscored:

SLD: We are working on a Pacific strategy, which highlights the centrality of the C4ISR D grid, and clearly some of the tools you are developing are very important for such a capability. We have had much verbiage about the Coast Guard/Navy/Marine Corps relationship, which is just verbiage, but we really need to make it real.  And one way you could make it real is put that kind of ISR grid together and lay it down in this part of the world, and robotics would be certainly a key part of that.

Heinz: And you could start to develop that grid to be a little bit more persistent and mobile versus a stationary underwater grid, and it would be at a fraction of the price.

SLD: I would like to look back at your experience with the F-35 and forward with evolving work on maritime robotics.  We’re building littoral combat ships. We’re building new LPD-17s, all of which can deploy news robotic vehicles, and I think the missing factor in the conversation about how we’re going to manage the thousand nautical miles into the littorals is the whole robotic contribution that an LCS can deliver that you can drop by tactical aircraft, that you can manage data.

I think that the 360-degree bubble deliverable by the F-35, and how I manage it and working with a robotic front end, all of this is not really been focused on in the national conversation.

Heinz: This is important and doable for the future.  The environment in under water is as difficult as it is in space and compounded further by the fact that you don’t get the same bandwidth in terms of trans activity/communications protocols when you’re in water as you do when you’re in space. So the vehicles themselves actually have to be more autonomous in terms of their smarts that they employ and their ability to operate remotely by themselves without human intervention.

The bandwidth that you’re going to be able to provide under water as well as the ranges that you’ll achieve are much smaller and so you’re not going to be able to send high resolution video movies from station to station through water without some kind of tether.

But having said that, what I also think is a fallacy of the current thinking is that most of it in terms of underwater robots is centered almost entirely around duration or ability to move covertly to a location.  So the large diameter UUV program and others are building these very large vehicles that have separate power systems and lots of storage for batteries simply because it’s believed you’re going to drop these things in waters and they’re going to have to travel 200 miles by themselves covertly in order to begin to be able to perform the mission that you’re looking for.

And I would simply propose that either that concept or an air deployable one, but the reality is we want to start moving to a number of smaller robots that can populate that grid and do so by delivering them near the site and then allowing the persistence of the mission to fill in those gaps and whether that’s an air deployable system or it’s a mother ship that then carries them a number of smaller robots that are deployed at intervals, but we have to start thinking about what those smaller robots are going to do for us and what persistence that they want to have.

So the simplest mission or challenge might actually be: How you going to blow up mines in the surf, and what’s the means that you’re going to do to deliver those and dolphins probably is not the answer.

The challenge will be:  What is the communications protocols that you’re going to have to have those robots do because again that is the number one issue relative to water operations is that I want to be under water most of the time. I still want to be able to communicate my data back to some platform and I also have to have better obstacle avoidance than we have today.

What the F35 will bring to the party is a much more robust and wide-ranging capability to leverage the full range of maritime and air capabilities, which can be brought to bear on an area of interest.

(For a look at the Norwegian F-35 and Aegis context see

This is a contribution to the strategic whiteboard.

Addendum: Chris Cavas alerted us to the SSGN possibilities when he wrote this story in 2008 and filed it with Navy Times March 11, 2008.

Part of the story follows and we thank Chris Cava for providing.

The Navy’s new submarines have unprecedented flexibility to carry and operate a variety of payloads.

The four Ohio-class guided-missile submarines, converted from Trident ballistic missile subs, have 24 payload tubes, each 7 feet in diameter — more carrying room than any previous submarine. New Virginia-class attack submarines have a nine-man lockout chamber; future versions will feature two payload tubes nearly as large as those in the subs.

Submariners are excited about the prospect of filling those tubes with new generations of manned and unmanned vehicles, weapons, sensors and a variety of gear to handle an ever-expanding range of missions. But they also acknowledge a problem: Not enough people in other warfare communities know about the new capabilities. They worry that if the new submarines aren’t used to their full potential, follow-on programs could be in jeopardy.

To flesh out the possibilities, a group of experienced submarine officers met in mid-February with analysts, academics and industry representatives.

“The goal,” said Rear Adm. William Hilarides, the Navy’s program executive officer for submarines, “is to generate buzz and energy so we can get going on this.”

Some of those in attendance during the two-day unclassified meeting, sponsored here by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, came from warfare communities outside the “bubblehead” sphere.

“I can’t tell you how excited we are,” said Mike Cleary of the Defense Intelligence Agency. The subs’ ability to carry large payloads close to shore means access, he said.

“It gets me there, brings endurance,” he said. “It can be a robust package without expending a lot of funds.”

Rear Adm. Mark Kenny, commander of Navy counterterrorism operations, was equally enthusiastic as he pointed to the large Virginia Payload Tubes that will be installed in the submarine class’ Block 3 ships.

“This is huge. This gets us lined up for the next 30 to 40 years,” said Kenny, who commanded an attack sub. The new capabilities “give us the ability to make these investments and leverage them for years to come.”

The money spent to rebuild the former ballistic missile submarines “is pennies on the dollar,” he said.

Navy officials realized that experimentation would play a key role in developing the new subs’ capabilities, so one payload tube aboard each Ohio-class sub is dedicated on every deployment to experimental use…..

But Vice Adm. Jay Donnelly, Submarine Force commander, noted a number of hurdles. Scheduling experiments is a challenge, for example, because the subs have only about three months between deployments.

Other issues include bandwidth and technology problems. Donnelly said a submarine recently fed 30 seconds of video of an experiment but needed about three hours to transmit the video file from periscope depth.

More ideas

Other ideas include installation of surface-to-air missiles. The Missile Defense Agency recently identified the submarine as the ideal delivery platform for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor under development for ballistic missile defense.

But setting up reliable communications below periscope depth remains a challenge.

“Communication difficulties need to be addressed before [BMD from submarines] can become a reality,” Donnelly said.

He also pointed to efforts to operate UAVs from submarines, saying the attack submarine Montpelier flew its first Buster UAV in early February while operating in the Persian Gulf. The small UAV — launched slingshot fashion from the submarine’s cramped bridge — operated for about four hours at ranges up to about 10 miles and fed surveillance video to the submarine.

In future experiments, a submerged sub will try to launch a UAV. Donnelly said the submarine force hopes to experiment next year with UAVs that can be launched through the trash disposal unit and feed data directly into the submarine’s combat system.

But no one envisions a near-term way to stealthily recover them.

“For now, launching a UAV from periscope depth may be good enough as a first step,” Donnelly said. “We can add additional bells and whistles later.”

Development of a disposable, cost-effective UAV is a challenge, other speakers noted. Tim Devane, a special projects manager with Northrop Grumman’s KEI effort, described missions and capabilities required for a submarine-launched UAV, including instant video, communications and data relay, precision targeting, signals intelligence, mine detection and chemical-biological detection.

Encapsulated UAVs capable of being launched underwater are under development, he said, with designers hoping to achieve 15-hour endurance and six-hour loiter time.

Kenny noted the submarine Florida will try out UAV ideas on its spring deployment.

“We have another wave of Buster-like aircraft that will deploy on the Florida,” he said, adding that Montpelier’s aircraft might be “in combat in the next couple of months.”

Larger UAVs flown from shore also are being tested from submarines. An assessment of the Predator B/SSGN combination will begin this year and “last about a year,” Kenny said, and other experiments will be conducted with satellite links with large aircraft.

While technological testing is necessary, so is work to develop capabilities for other purposes…..