2015-03-03 By Robbin Laird
After having visited along with Ed Timperlake CVN-78, Fallon and having talked with Rear Admiral Manzir, the head of Naval Warfare, I had a chance to sit down with Jim Gigliotti during my plant visit to Fort Worth in late February 2015.
Gigliotti is Director, F-35C and Navy Program Manager. Gigliotti is an experienced retired Naval Officer who started by flying A-6s in the 1980s, and finished his Navy career as the Executive Assistant to the Commander, US Joint Forces Command. He previously served in several sea-going command positions including command of the Aircraft Carrier USS Harry S. Truman.
Ed Timperlake and I have focused on the coming of the F-35 within the context of the evolution of transformation approaches of the various U.S. services as well as partner nations. For the Navy this means that the F-35C is part of the overall evolution of the fleet in reshaping distributed operational capabilities or in the words of senior Navy Admiral’s “distributed lethality.”
As Vice Admiral Tom Rowden, Commander of the US Naval Surface Forces put it earlier this year:
I want to follow up on my remarks about the future of our Surface Force using the concept of distributed lethality. Distributed lethality is the Surface Force’s contribution to the CNO’s first tenet—Warfighting First—by taking a long, hard look at our Force’s strengths and weaknesses, and thinking through how best to maximize the former and mitigate the latter.
This is a relatively simple yet powerful idea. By applying the principles of distributed lethality, the Surface Force can help sustain and extend America’s competitive advantage in power projection against a growing set of sea-denial capabilities. Distributed lethality is the most effective and efficient method of capitalizing on the Fleet we have today, and the one planned for the immediate future. We simply need to make better use of the ships we have today, and think differently about how we equip and employ them.
We anticipated distributed lethality as a concept in many earlier pieces, such as my own Proceedings article on the long reach of Aegis or in Ed Timperlake’s presentation to the Air Force Association, which discussed the concept of Aegis as my wingman for the combat air force.
The broader point is simply put: the F-35 is a facilitator and enabler of a crucial evolution of the naval fleet, namely, enhancing, facilitating, and shaping 21st century distributed operations, and shaping a 21st century version of what the US Navy did earlier to deal with long range threats to the carrier battle group, perhaps even re-vitalizing what the Navy used to refer to as the “chain saw” approach in dealing with emerging long-rang threat capabilties.
A layer of defenses facilitated the operation of the carrier with combat aircraft at the outer edge, which provided several opportunities to defeat air-breathing threats to the carrier or to deal with subsurface threats as well.
The discussion with Gigliotti highlighted the cross-cutting processes of US Navy fleet innovations with the coming of the F-35C.
Question: What is the impact of the F-35C on distributed operations?
Gigliotti: One has to understand that distributed operations have always been crucial to carrier operations. In what we used to call “chain saw”, F-14s would operate at the outer edge of the Carrier Battle Group (now Carrier Strike Groups or CSGs) and provide initial carrier defense capabilities for the battle group.
When Aegis ships and newer, better surface-to-air missiles came to the fleet we began to morph how we conducted such operations, but it was distributed operations none the less.
For strike operations against land-based targets, there was dedicated level of coordination that took place in the 90s in which Tomahawk missiles and Carrier-based aircraft were folded into complex, integrated operations.
Witness what happened during and after Desert Storm. The strike group was widely separated in order to best place ships and aircraft for most effective employment. The only time the various ships in the carrier battle group were together in one place was for the photo op.
Clearly, with emergence of new threats and build-up of state actors in specific regions, the carrier battle group may need to re-shape some variant of a 21st century “chain saw” approach.
The E2D and the F-35, working closely with the F-18E/F and enhanced Aegis capabilities are central pieces to shaping such an approach.
The idea is to move rapidly information and assets around the battle-space in order to efficiently and decisively assign the right platform with the right capability or weapon to neutralize the threat.
What we’ve always needed in the fleet is the ability to securely move a lot of decision-quality data around the battle group so we could make quicker, faster, decisions to negate enemy reaction or employment time. That’s what it is all about.
It’s about controlling time domains.
How do I control time domains? I either have to go real fast, or I have got to be delay detection or interpretation of intentions i.e be stealthy, or I have got to control information flow. In reality we need to do all three.
But what we’re trying to eventually do is to control the time domain to our advantage.
We want to be able to determine when we could employ weapons and actually expand our own force engagement envelopes both in terms of time and distance while decreasing an adversary’s ability or opportunity to engage.
The more time I have to react, the less time he has to react, the advantage accrues to me. I do that with again, speed, stealth, and data movement.
The more I can distribute the faster I can move that data the more I can build the situational awareness (SA) the more advantage I have to employ my weapons.
It chains like that, that’s how I view it.
We’ve conducted distributed ops for a long time, but with airplanes like E2D coming online the F35 moving that data we will be able to operate at a different level of capability.
Question: The F-35C and the E2D will help the Navy to extend the reach of the carrier from a defensive point of view, but it unlocks enhanced strike capabilities as well.
How do you view this process?
Gigliotti: In Desert Storm, the USAF leadership rightly complained that USN strike aircraft spent an inordinate amount of time defending the carrier as opposed to providing ramped up sortie generation rates against Iraqi targets.
Of course, that is why the Army puts Patriots around U.S. bases and the USAF dedicates airplanes in a CAP role as well.
What the E2D and the F-35C, working alongside F/A-18s and EA-18Gs, do is to unlock more offensive capabilities from the strike force.
The F-35 was developed to operate unsupported in high-threat environments and is therefore designed with the inherent capability to gather, process and disseminate a significant amount of data by itself or by working in conjunction with other F-35s.
It can also work closely with other air wing and joint assets, and this is where the true value of the aircraft comes in.
It is an information sump.
The F-35 collects a lot of information across multiple spectrums in order to provide the pilot a fused picture of the battlespace.
While the intended use is for the aircraft itself, certain pieces of information can be shared with and amongst other F-35s and even the amongst the strike group.
If that information can be properly shared among the rest of the strike group and air wing, the F-35 helps make the entire strike group more effective and, in turn, does the same for the F-35.
By expanding the SA available for fleet defense, the numbers of assets which can be devoted to strike operations can be enhanced. Of course, it is scenario dependent, but you’re going to have more flexibility to be able to proportion forces for offensive operations in the future.
The F35 is unequivocally going to make the carrier strike group as a whole, not just the aviation side, better.
I think the E2D has already gone in that path working with Aegis ships and the Super Hornet. I think the F-35 will help take it to the next level
Question: The F-35 is entering the Navy at a time when the Navy is shaping a more synergistic force, and the operational concept of Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFCA) is clearly designed to do this.
What is your view of the contribution of the F-35C to NIFCA?
Gigliotti: For me, I prefer to speak of NIFC or Navy Integrated Fire Control.
It does not have to be anti-air.
It can be anti-surface as well.
What you are focused upon is a more effective ability to pair the right weapon from the right platform with the right targets in a timely fashion.
Clearly, an airplane like the F-35 will be a key part of that process.
An airplane like the F35 specifically because of the ability to get in and do things, not necessarily completely undetected, nothing is invulnerable, is going to provide more options for how we can build an integrated fire control network.
Again, the task is optimally to pair weapons against targets and engage those targets faster.
Question: When we spoke to Admiral Manazir about the extended reach with the F-35 brought to the fleet, a key consideration is the global fleet of F-35s.
With MADL able to connect the F-35 and create the possibility of an integrated air fleet, the ability of the carrier to tap into that fleet expands carrier capabilities and enhances the carrier’s contribution to the joint or coalition force.
How do you look at this process?
Gigliotti: There are a couple of ways to look at it.
If we look at the Marine Corps-Navy team, its integration and lethality will go up with the introduction of the F-35.
The Marines will fly F-35Bs from amphibs and F-35Cs off of carriers.
They will integrate both planes. And the operation of the F-35Bs off of the amphibs will send data to the carrier-based F-35Cs, Navy or Marine, thereby expanding the mission flexibility and lethality of both types of ships and strike groups.
In fact, Vice Admiral Tom Rowden, Commander of the US Naval Surface Forces, clearly is looking at the USMC F-35Bs as a key asset for the overall contribution to what he refers to as distributed lethality.
There is a real partnership emerging there that will affect the Navy’s future.
Imagine a pair of F-35s flying off the North Coast of Australia and operating with the RAAF whose F-35s are then part of an integrated air operation, which can be in support of an Australian operation, or a jointly declared common objective in the region.
Question: The next decade of airpower innovation will be quite interesting.
The first appearance of the F-35s will undoubtedly do what one Typhoon pilot referred to as the F-22 contribution to the Typhoon – make it more lethal and survivable.
But it will take time to unlock all of the advantages which an F-35 fleet can provide.
What is your perspective on the process?
Gigliotti: I think that is a good way to look at it.
The plane will have an immediate impact when it enters service but until the war fighters get their hands on it and wring it out, we will not know what the jet’s full impact is going to be.
The captains and the lieutenants who are flying this airplane are uncovering things that we didn’t think about in design.
And they’re going to discover all kinds of new ways to do distributed ops missions or to employ the aircraft in more lethal ways that weren’t even envisioned when this aircraft was designed.
Just like with any new airplane, the discovery curve will be steep with regard what we can do with the aircraft once we get to the fleet.
And as security limitations are sorted out, the cross-learning among the various international partners working with the US services will unlock even greater operational capabilities.
But in general this program will not realize its full capability from a military employment standpoint until we find a way to get the pilots in the room, regardless of Service or what flag they’re wearing on their left shoulder and say, “Okay… how did you do this? What did we learn? How do we do it better?” Just like any fighter mission, training or real-world operation, the debrief may be the most important part of the flight.
We need to be able to pull the right and best ideas out of the cockpit, or out of the Combat Information Centers on our Carriers and Aegis ships for that matter, in order to rapidly realize and expand what the aircraft will bring to the fleet as whole.
For additional pieces on the coming of the F-35C to the fleet see the following:
The video above shows the F-35C Lightning II carrier variant Joint Strike Fighter conducting its first arrested landing aboard the USS Nimitz (CVN 68) aircraft carrier off the coast of San Diego, November 2, 2014.
Credit: Fleet Combat Camera Pacific
The photos in the slideshow provide various shots of operations aboard the USS Nimitz in early November 2014.
The photos are credited to Naval Media Services.