By Ed Timperlake
A game changer in weapon effectiveness and a way ahead to deal with a most “wicked problem” facing the US Navy today is how to effectively counter Putin’s threat of using HSCMs, notably aboard submarines.
My preliminary analysis on how to engage with evolving HSCM and to develop counter measures originates from a comment made by the previous CNO Admiral Greenert.
Admiral Greenert graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1975 with a Bachelor of Science degree in ocean engineering and completed studies in nuclear power for service as a submarine officer 1
As a very smart Navy Captain noted in discussing con-ops-“we have no problem using the word attack we are Naval Officers.”
Consequently just like the famous Carrier Pilot mantra “kill the archer not the arrows” in the Navy Air Fight against strike bombers — Sinking the sub at all costs is critical.
But if that isn’t achieved then the Navy then fighting HSCMs in flight is everything.
Thankfully the Navy now has now declared the F-35C carrier version operational. The best way I could hope for in looking at the problem of destroying a HSCM in flight was to identify the coming global “S-Cubed” revolution of Sensors, Stealth and Speed.
“You know that stealth may be over-rated,” Admiral Greenert, the Chief of Naval Operations, noted during a speech at the Office of Naval Research Naval Future Force Science and Technology Expo, Washington D.C. (2015)
“I don’t want to necessarily say that it’s over but let’s face it, if something moves fast through the air and disrupts molecules in the air and puts out heat – I don’t care how cool the engine can be – it’s going to be detectable.”
The CNO was exactly right.
Admiral Jonathan Greenert, a nuclear trained Navy submarine officer, and General Mike Hostage the recently retired Commander of the USAF Air Combat Command and an F-22 pilot are in agreement on the dynamic nature of “stealth.”
From General Hostage’s last interview before retirement and one which he did with us:
People focus on stealth as the determining factor or delineator of the fifth generation. It isn’t; it’s fusion.
Fusion is what makes that platform so fundamentally different than anything else.
And that’s why if anybody tries to tell you hey, I got a 4.5 airplane, a 4.8 airplane, don’t believe them.
All that they’re talking about is RCS (Radar Cross Section).
Fusion is the fundamental delineator. And you’re not going to put fusion into a fourth gen airplane because their avionic suites are not set up to be a fused platform.
And fusion changes how you use the platform.2
Just like in Admiral Greenert’s initial warfighting community, the U.S. Navy’s submarines “silent service,” airpower commanders have the same type of relative technology dynamic against a reactive enemy but in a different medium.
Both communities have to be ready to fight in a very dangerous three-dimensional maneuvering environment where active and passive sensing and weapons and countermeasures to those weapons mean the difference between life and death.
In our discussions with Dr. Mark Lewis, former Chief Scientist of the USAF and currently head of the Institute for Defense Analysis Science and Technology Policy Institute, we focused on the threat posed by the hypersonic cruise missile.
HSCMs are part of what one might call an S Cubed formula for thinking about military critical technologies for 21st-century targeted R&D.
S-cubed=sensors-stealth-speed of weapons can provide a new paradigm for shaping a combat force necessary for the US Military to fight and win in 21st century engagements.
Stealth or no stealth the F-35 fits perfectly into the S3 revolution in modern war.
No matter which path is taken, the F-35 as a single platform with all three attributes combined or as a non-stealth sensor platform, employing speed of weapons carried organically or trading off with other platforms at the speed of light by giving incoming target vectors to their weapons.
Airframe design characteristics are all blended together in tradeoffs and have been focused on constantly improving, payload (improved by systems/and weapons carried), maneuverability (measured by P Sub s), speed, and range (modified by VSTOL–a basing mobility plus factor).
Stealth was a clean sheet design for F-22 and F-35 and is embedded in the total airframe and it is a very sensitive multiplicative factor; one does not add stealth.
Additionally like all modern fighters stealth aircraft are also designed with inherent other survivability factors, such as system redundancy and hardening.
Stealth is simply a survivability term that impacts the entire airframe and will eventually decline as better sensors are developed.
This is also why passive sensing is also a real revolution. Passive sensing can attenuate the problem of generating active “signals in space” which often can give away a platform’s position either maneuvering or an absolute fixed location for a counter- attack.
Stealth dynamically over time will become more vulnerable as enemies sensors improve.
How long and against what enemy, and where in world will the ant-stealth sensors and successful weapons be employed is unknown, but it will occur.
Modern air combat, just like submarine warfare is essentially an evolving contest of “blind man’s bluff.”
Even if and when stealth survivability deteriorates–ENTER the F-35 fusion cockpit with passive sensing and a significant payload of hard points.
External weapon hard-points on the F-35 are a brilliant design aspect, which is often overlooked in most discussions.
The non-stealth F-35 can sling more ordinance than F/A-18 and F-16.
So even in a non-stealth world, advantage goes to F-35, with its 360 active and passive horizontally linked cockpit decision-making ability.
As the former CNO says “payloads over performance.”
An F-35 as a non-stealth fleet still has a 360-degree sensor platform with “reach not range” as a fundamental fleet enabler.
It is an information dominance fusion platform that can be favorably compared to the equivalent of being a 21st Century version of USN Destroyers standing very dangerous and heroic radar picket duty protecting the amphibious invasion force and Carrier Fleet against kamikazes off Okinawa.
As the former CNO pointed out “something moves fast through the air and disrupts molecules in the air and puts out heat – I don’t care how cool the engine can be – it’s going to be detectable.”
Only this time against the HSCM and also a lesser-included problem of killing slower cruise missiles if F-35 did not exist it would have to be invented.
In other words, an additional benefit of R&D and con-ops efforts to kill HSCMs makes taking down conventional cruise missiles much easier.
Bluntly put, an overemphasis on sensing of hypersonic missiles from space really misses the point — it is not about being alert to what is about to kill you — it is about killing the archer and the arrow.
And we have in our hands the means to do so as we knit together key platforms which are delivering the S cubed revolution.
The future is now and working enhanced integrative capabilities moving forward with the new platforms and the relevant legacy ones is a core priority; not preparing for a new space world in 2035.
This is the eighth piece in our series on the response to Putin’s escalatory rhetoric and force structure planning with regard to threatening the US with sub strikes using high speed hypersonic missiles.