The Network as a Weapon System: The Perspective of Rear Admiral Mayer, Commander Australian Fleet


2016-09-10 By Robbin Laird

During the Williams Foundation seminar on evolving approaches to air-sea integration, Rear Admiral Mayer, the Commander of the Australian Fleet, focused on the concrete and specific challenges facing the evolution of the Royal Australian Navy as a key element of the joint force.

He argued that the Army, Navy and Air forces were evolving in the context of tapping shared networks to empower their platforms to form an extended battlespace.

But the challenge, he observed, was to work through how to most effectively shape, coordinate and execute effects from the networked force while retaining decision authorities at the lowest practical level to achieve speed of decision.

Rear Admiral Stuart Mayer, Commander Fleet Australia, speaking at the Williams Seminar on Air-Sea Integration, August 10, 2016, Canberra, Australia.
Rear Admiral Stuart Mayer, Commander Fleet Australia, speaking at the Williams Seminar on Air-Sea Integration, August 10, 2016, Canberra, Australia.

He highlighted that the Navy was returning to a task force concept but one, which was 21st century in character, whereby Navy was tapping into ground and air assets as “part” of the task force, rather than simply focusing on Navy operated assets.

This evolution of the task force effect and the networked approach, clearly in the mode of what the US Navy is referring to as the “kill web,” will require the evolution of capabilities, both in terms of connectivity, and training.

During the seminar he characterized the network as a weapon system with “no single master” and that one of the ADFs challenges was to shape the evolving network in order to effectively operate in a distributed multi domain task force.

“Each service is designing its platforms and enabling their potential through the elements of a common network.

“There is increased overlap thereby for the air and sea forces, at the very least through the access and synergy provided in the network.

“A fundamental question presents itself; how should we best develop, certify and deploy our joint network that must be cross domain in nature?”

He argued that the Australian Defence Force was on a good track but needed to enhance its capability to work in a joint domain that recognized tactical effects were generated by Services, but operational outcomes were inherently Joint.

In effect, the Services provided the muscle behind the Joint intent.

If the ADF were to achieve its potential it would need to design forces from the ground up that were interconnected to a single reference standard, rather than simply connecting assets after the fact.

But to do so required an open architecture approach to building a joint network that recognized the different needs of the participants.

The role of the network as a weapon system required that it had to be designed, deployed and certified like any other weapon system.

I had a chance to sit down with Rear Admiral Mayer and discuss further some of his thinking about the way ahead.

“We are joint by necessity.

“Unlike the US Navy, we do not have our own air force or our own army. Joint is not a theological choice, it’s an operational necessity.”

It was clear both from his presentation and our discussion during the interview that Rear Admiral Mayer was focused on how the build out of the Navy in the period ahead would be highly correlated with the evolution of the joint network.

“The network is a weapons system.

“Lethality and survivability have to be realized through a networked effect.”

Rear Admiral Manazir at the seminar focused on the kill web as a weapon system; it was very clear that Rear Admiral Mayer had in mind a similar thought when he discussed the network as a weapon system.

A key element of change for the Australian Navy was evolving a 21st century concept of task force operations.

He noted that the development of the new amphibious ships had come within a decade of work on shaping an amphibious warfare system.

The importance of the LHDs was not just the capability they offered, but the elevation in thinking they drove in Navy over the decade, thinking that moved operational concepts from the platform to the Task Group and affected all of Navy’s force elements.

He emphasized throughout the interview that not enough work has yet been done to prioritize the evolving C2 and network systems empowering the platforms in the force, including but not limited to the amphibious force.

He sees this area of development as a crucial one in creating a more interactive joint force able to deliver lethal effect.

“The potential of each of the individual platforms in a network is such that we’ve actually got to preset the limits of the fight before we get to it.

“The decisions on what we’ll do, how much we’ll share, and what sovereign rights we will retain have to be preset into each one of the combat systems before you switch it on and join a network.

“There is no point designing a combat system capable of defeating supersonic threats and throttling it with a slow network or cumbersome C2 decision architecture.

“Achieving an effective network topology is so much more complex in a coalition context in which the potential for divergence is higher.

“The paradox is that a coalition network is much more likely a requirement than a national network, and yet what investment we do make is based on national systems first.

“If we don’t achieve the open architecture design that enables the synergy of a networked coalition force, then the effectiveness of the coalition itself will be put at risk.

“The moment we insert excess command and hierarchical decision authority into the loop we will slow down the lethality of the platforms in the network.

“Before we even get in the battlespace we have to agree the decision rights and pre set these decisions into the combat system and network design; the fight for a lethal effect starts at the policy level before we even engage in combat operations.

“The network and C2 rather than the platforms can become the critical vulnerability.”

“This is why the decision making process needs to be designed as much as the network or the platforms.

“If the C2 matrix slows the network, it will dumb down the platform and the capability of the system to deliver a full effect.”

“The nature of the force we are shaping is analogous to a biological system in which the elements flourish based on their natural relationship within the environment.

“We have an opportunity to shape both the platforms and the network, but we will only achieve the flourishing eco system we seek if each harmonise with the other, and the overall effectiveness is considered on the health of the ecosystem overall.

“For example, an ASW network will leverage the potential of the individual constituent platforms and that in turn will determine the lethality of the system.

“A discordant network connection will, at least, limit the overall Force level effect of the network and at worst break the network down to discordant elements.”

Clearly, a key part of the evolution is about shaping a weapons revolution whereby weapons can operate throughout the battlespace hosted by platforms that are empowered by networks tailored to the battlespace.

And that revolution will have its proper impact only if the network and C2 dynamics discussed by Rear Admiral Mayer unfold in the national and coalition forces.

“The limiting factor now is not our platforms; it’s the networks and C2 that hold the potential of those platforms down.

“When the individual platforms actually go into a fight they’re part of an interdependent system, the thing that will dumb down the system will be a network that is not tailored to leverage the potential of the elements, or a network that holds decision authority at a level that is a constraint on timely decision making.

“The network will determine the lethality of our combined system.”

The slideshow above shows Rear Admiral Mayer performing some of his various duties and the photos are credited to the Australian Ministry of Defence.