Pacific Strategy XVI: Weaponizing the Honeycomb


11/01/2011 One of the greatest strength’s America has is to dream great dreams. Nowhere is this more evident in our pushing the envelope in aeronautical and space research. A robust debate is always going on in professional and scientific journals about the next generation of aircraft and technology. It would be extremely foolish to stop such dreams.

However, in very hard and unforgiving budget debates about funding future weapon systems very hard choices will be made. The danger at all times is for visionary “paper proposals” to accidentally or on purpose act as a poison pill for fielding the near term innovative technology now coming on line. It requires significant insight and judgment to make such trade offs.

Weaponization of the honeycomb is the next key technological opportunity after re-norming air power. Credit Image: Bigstock

In a recent example of Congressional Report Language such a balance was struck. In this case future funds for a far out model of the very successful Navy ship missile the SM-3 were redirected to solidifying and building more of cutting edge but proven SM-3 technology.  The Senate Appropriations Committee said that money should go to a proven SM-3 variation the Block II A of T/M/S model thereby recognizing the near present over the uncertain far future.

“The Committee notes that MDA has programmed in excess of $1,700,000,000 for the SM–3 Block IIB missile over the next 5 years, while at the same time, the SM–3 Block IB is scheduled to enter production in fiscal year 2013, and the SM–3 Block IIA is in early development, with fielding expected in 2018.”

This is but one example of many trade offs yet to come. It is our position that the real achievable “sixth gen” revolution should focus on weapons and not be platform centric. With that viewpoint driving funding weapons can be developed, improved and fielded prior to prematurely locking in funding for any future “sixth gen aircraft” or “Strategic Strike Platform” study yes but commit to a specific type of platform –not yet.

This approach has the benefit of capturing the evolving con-ops across the spectrum of US and allied platforms embracing the revolutionary F-35 initiated concept that no platform fights alone. So now weapons first should be the focus to improve the warfighting capability of platforms in the inventory and soon to arrive at IOC-the F-35, A, B, &C.

The scalable force built around diverse basing and F-35 enabled C4ISRD needs a a new Weaponization effort to build out the capabilities of the deployed force.  The current weapons enterprise builds on older technology and innovations have been driven to support the ground warrior by reducing collateral damage and shaping greater capability for close proximity weapons.

The internal weapons bays of the F-22 and F-35 need new weapons. The internal bays will be especially important to the B as it can then deploy across the fleet rather than just operating on ships that are able to arm the aircraft.

The F-35 also has a core advantage as one builds out the new weapons enterprise.  Common software allows for savings and capabilities across a FLEET, rather than building to a specific aircraft or even a specific model of that aircraft.

SLD: Single configuration has a major impact on weapons development as well.  The current situation is a software Tower of Babel whereby weapons are integrated with a type of aircraft or even a model of a type of aircraft.  Software commonality across the fleet will mean that I can save time, effort and money on inserting weapons onto that single configuration F-35A.

Malone: Ultimately it comes down to what weapons are qualified by development test and then also operational test and evaluation. Which airplane?  What weapons are what they call “seek eagle tested” and approved for carry and employment off the weapon system? The F-16 has now been around for quite a while and over the last 25 or 30 years, and has been modernized, upgraded, and it can carry a plethora of weapons that are out in the field today.

The F-35 will go through the same flight test requirement. Initially there’ll be a set of weapons that are very specifically driven toward precision and non-precision GPS type weapons and it’s a very limited scope. . Eventually the F-35 platform   will end up growing and broadening to many more weapons, but that ends up taking time with more testing and flights to ensure the seek eagle process is accomplished.

Initially when the airplane goes operational for each of the variants, there will be a very specific list of weapons that the airplane can carry. It’s been designed and agreed to qualify the airplane with Block 3 and then ultimately that number of weapons that can be employed off each variant will grow like the number of weapons have grown on the F16, the F-15E, the F-18 and A-10 and other aircraft, Tornado, Typhoon, but each one of those platforms that were just mentioned all went through a growing curve where initially they qualified one weapon and they just continued to grow the number of weapons, but it’s a process they had to go through for safety and to ensure safe separation and safe weapons’ effects and the F-35 will go through that same process.

SLD: But the difference is this: what we I saw down at Air Armaments Command (AAC) at Eglin was they qualify each weapon up against the platform as you just described which costs a lot of money, and takes a lot of time. The big advantage here is one can qualify a new missile across a fleet.

Malone: What it does is reduce ultimately the number of test flights that you have to do across all three variants, but there will probably be a requirement to drop each individual weapon off each variant just to confirm safe separation. But there’ll be a lot of synergy; especially with the software that drives the avionics’ processes of stores’ management, radar handoffs and all the interfaces. And this should represent a significant savings of time and money within the testing and evaluation cycle.

In addition, leveraging the connectivity across the scalable force means that designing new weapons for the sub-surface as well as surface force makes sense.  Now with “Aegis as my Wingman” and the “SSGN as my fire support,” one can focus on building weapons that are cost effective to the support mission.  Rather than using expensive Tomahawks for the strike mission, weapons designers can now look at what to insert into the subsurface fleet or put aboard the surface fleet that fit a broader range of needs at a more effective price point.

By shaping new weapons enterprise, which can enable the SCALABLE force, rather than being platform centric, weapons planners can shape in effect the 6th generation capabilities.

Rather than focusing upon new platforms – long range strike, next generation tactical aircraft or the like – the US would have a moratorium on building new air platforms for the next 15 years as R and D is invested into what then best works with the re-normed air elements shaped by the F-35 cultural revolution.  The F-22 needs to be back fitted with relevant capabilities from the F-15 and the MADL data systems can then be able to shape a broader spectrum strike and defensive capability within the entire 5th generation fleet.“penny-wise-and-pound-foolish”-acquisition-approaches/

One can already see some new weapons entering the game which can be part of the 6th generation enablement.

One is the SM-3 missile coming off of surface ships which provides a “6th generation capability” to the re-normed air forces.

In a first rate bit of reporting by AOL’s Carlo Munoz it is clear why distributed F-35s linked to a fleet SM- 3 missile batteries on AEGIS ships is a real battle winning combination. Combining the F-35 with AEGIS/SM-3 directly addresses the “wasting asset” argument because a system real time sensor/shooting link, F-35/AEGIS/SM-3 can mitigate the PLA and other countries IRBMs incoming missile threat. (North Korea and Iran?).

“The newest version of the SM-3 missile, the Block IIB, is actually designed to extend the range of previous variants so it can hit long-range threats.”

Taking advantage of one of the most unique missile shots in history and building forward the F-35/Aegis/SM-3 sensor shooter combination will be the best in the world. The Surface Navy’s huge success was reported in numerous press reports in February 2008.

“A U.S. Navy AEGIS warship, the USS Lake Erie, fired a single modified tactical Standard Missile-3, hitting the satellite approximately 247 kilometers (133 nautical miles) over the Pacific Ocean as it traveled in space at more than 17,000 mph.”

The fundamental point is that regardless of basing mod, the Air Force, Navy, and Marines must establish air dominance and for AA combat capability theF-35A (USAF) F35B (USMC) and F-35C (USN) are essentially equal.

Critics have pointed out that the F-35B has more limited range, however VSTOL aircraft will be distributed among fleet assets because of unique flight characteristics. Thus, the range differential for air-to-air combat is a moot point for a cockpit that senses threats more than 800 miles away and can link to SM-3.

An SM-3 (Block 1A) missile is launched from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Kirishima (DD 174), successfully intercepting a ballistic missile target launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands, Kauai, Hawaii. Credit: USN Visual Service 10/30/201

Additionally, in the range/basing trade off for air-to-ground missions because of VSTOL the advantage always goes to F-35B. Therefore, from a distributed combat capability on the high seas with networked F-35Bs to support moving the infantry ashore the F-35B provides “staying” air power.

Navy/Marine con-ops for amphibious operations make it the most unique and lethal agile combat force in the world. The value of VSTOL sortie rates in support of troops in combat shows us Desert Storm is a perfect example. However, there is one critical point for the future, except for VSTOL capability, the F-35B is most definitely NOT son of AV-8.

Marine squadron’s with the AV-8s Harrier were land based up close to the action, while there were time delays of Marine F/A-18s flying from runways hundreds of miles away and even more time delays for Navy F/A-18 Carrier pilots who had to go even further to get to the fight. This historical combat example shows the value of VSTOL in not trading distance for performance. The same is true for sortie rates by Marines flying AV-8s in Afghanistan and F/A-18 pilots flying off decks significantly far away. The value of proximity, after air dominance was established is playing out in the current NATO Libyan Air War.

This capability is something enemies of America would forget at their peril.  Navy and Marine squadron pilots are courageous and have mastered the intangibles of training and battle proven tactics.  State-of the-art dynamic training and tactics are never an issue for Naval Aviators. As Top Gun states “you fight like you train.”  For both Navy and Marine combat aviators it is a matter of simply procuring the best aircraft for their mission.

As the Peoples Republic of China modernizes and quest for a Blue Water combat fleet, the newer CBGs (Ford Class (CVN-78) CVN-79 is USS John F Kennedy and CVN-80 yet to be named) can sink the Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ships.  Perhaps with some help from subs and B-2s.

A CBG with an air wing complement of F-35Cs networking with Air/Sea battle assets; F-22, B-2, AEGIS, subs, cruise missiles, PGMs UAS, Robots and lasers and allies is a real Deterrence force and if need be a force for “Victory At Sea”.

A second example will be adding hypersonic missiles to the tip of the spear forces.  When an adversary sees an LCS or an ARG, it is important that this front edge presence force be seen as linked to other capabilities inextricably interconnected within a scalable force.

As the former chief scientist of the USAF put it, in effect, hypersonics missiles adds a 6th generation capability to the 5th generation air systems:

Modern warfare is about doing things quickly.  It’s about achieving fast effects, getting results quickly.  If you want to affect something quickly, I can think of basically three options.

The first option is that you have ubiquitous presence.  That means you’ve got an asset anywhere you need it.  That asset might be unmanned, and frankly, that’s a lot of what remotely piloted aircraft are enabling for us – having small assets available and re-locatable at a moment’s notice.  Of course, ubiquitous presence is only good in a limited area; we obviously can’t have ubiquitous presence at every location around the globe, but that’s one part of the solution that is already changing warfare.

The second option for doing things quickly is to operate at the speed of light.  For my aerodynamics friends, the speed of light is about a million times faster than the speed of sound. Operating at light speed means using directed energy systems and/or cyber systems, which are among the other things that Mr. Wynne championed when he was Secretary of the Air Force.  And of course, there’s a lot of development underway right now in directed energy systems, and lots of corresponding questions about how we ultimately would deploy them, as well as how we would ultimately use cyber systems.

If you don’t have the first two available, or if they cannot deliver the desired result, a third option is that you get to where you want to go as fast as you possibly can. That’s the advantage of hypersonics. This could be to perform reconnaissance of some sort, do some sensing, or to deliver weapons on a target.  In order to do that, we need to master the technology required to fly at hypersonic speeds.

Hypersonics would also give us a degree of invulnerability.  We know that the application of stealth technologies has been a tremendous game-changer, but that stealth advantage won’t last forever. I would argue that the next step beyond stealth is speed.

Another core aspect in shaping the new weapons enterprise will be the blurring of lines between RPAs, weapons and robots.  The ability to swarm RPAs or Robots will allow the Z axis deployed decision maker to determine the targets of interest or the AOIs of interest for ISR swarms with weapons implications.

A suggestion of the way ahead was underscored by the COO of iRobot and former head of NAVAIR, Admiral (retired) Joe Dyer:

SLD: How do you see the next phase of robotics as part of re-shaping concepts of operations?

At iRobot, we have a vision of integrated Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV’s), Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UAV’s) and Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV’s). A way I like to think about that is to envision a littoral combat ship that shows up off the coast of some bad guy’s country.  Let’s take a look at how different that will be compared to the way we do it today:

Let’s consider UUVs, which I think are one of the most exciting developmental areas that are underway.  UUV’s are, by the way, the area where autonomy is needed more than anywhere else. Why? Well, while you’ve good radio frequency bandwidth when you’re airborne, you have very little bandwidth when communicating with UUVs.  Underwater, you’re limited to acoustic modems for un-tethered operations. An acoustic modem is slower than your first dial-up PC connection to the web. But as you start to introduce more autonomy, you start to tremendously increase the utility of unmanned underwater systems. Autonomy is important for the future of all robots, but critically important for UUVs.  That is what iRobot is building at our unmanned underwater systems group in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. But let’s continue with this Navy ship showing up with a Navy/Marine Corps team on an adversary’s littoral during the next decade.  The preparation for entering that battle space will be tremendously improved in many ways by unmanned systems.

Using swarm techniques, which DARPA has funded iRobot and others to develop; you start to see the operations research numbers get much, much better. This isn’t something that’s awaiting better batteries and more power; it’s awaiting further development of a new concept.

In short, if each element of the deployed honeycomb can reach out, up and back for weapons, which can be directed by the Z-axis of the F-35, a significant jump in capability, survivability, flexibility and lethality can be achieved.

This is a contribution to the strategic whiteboard.