Standing C2 on Its Head: It is a Force Generator, Not Simply a Force Enabler


By Robbin Laird

As we work through force structure change to deal with the new strategic environment, terms like C2, ISR and training are being changed significantly.

New concepts of operations are being shaped, with modifications of existing platforms to play new roles and responsibilities, and new platforms being designed to enable an integratable force.

With the crafting of an integrated distributed force able to operate through interactive kill webs, the ability and capability to shape task forces appropriate to crisis management challenge is enabled.

To do so effectively, rests upon how specific platforms can work together, which, in turn, depends in significant part on what wave forms they have onboard which enables them to work together in a crisis management environment.

In my discussion with the Navy Air Boss earlier this year, we focused on a better way to describe how the US Navy is reworking its fleet concepts. They are no longer simply doing training for a set piece carrier air wing, they are evolving it with regard to an integratable air wing.

In that discussion, we highlighted the rethink from operating and training an integrated air wing to an integratable air wing.

Vice Admiral Miller provided several examples of how this shift affects the thinking about new platforms coming onboard the carrier deck.

One such example is the new unmanned tanker, the MQ-25. The introduction of this new air asset will have an immediate effect in freeing up 4th gen fighters, currently being used for tanking, to return to their strike role.

Even more importantly from a transformation perspective, the MQ-25 will have operational effects as a platform which will extend the reach and range of the CVW.

But MQ-25 will be a stakeholder in the evolving C2/ISR capabilities empowering the entire combat force, part of what, in my view, is really 6th generation capabilities, namely enhancing the power to distribute and integrate a force as well as to operate more effectively at the tactical edge.

The MQ-25 will entail changes to the legacy air fleet, changes in the con-ops of the entire CVW, and trigger further changes with regard to how the C2/ISR dynamic shapes the evolution of the CVW and the joint force.

The systems to be put onto the MQ-25 will be driven by overall changes in the C2/ISR force.

These changes are driving significant improvements in size, capability, and integration, so much so that it is the nascent 6th gen.

This means that the USN can buy into “6th gen” by making sure that the MQ-25 can leverage the sensor fusion and CNI systems on the F-35 operating as an integrated force with significant outreach.

It is important to realize that a four-ship formation of an F-35 operating as an integrated man-machine based sensor fusion aircraft is can operate together as a four-ship pack fully integrated through the CNI system, and as such can provide a significant driver of change to the overall combat force.

This affects not only the future of training, but how operations, training, and development affect individual platforms once integrated into the CVW and larger joint force.

This is having a significant impact on Naval Air Warfare Development Center (NAWDC) based at Fallon.

I have conducted a wide range of interviews with NAWDC officers, and the change driven by the integratable air wing focus is dramatic.

Not only is the training of platforms being altered, but NAWDC has set up two weapons schools, one MISR or Maritime ISR, and the other focused on dynamic targeting, both of which are in turn based on the ability of the force to be integratable, which is rooted in available wave forms.

When I refer to standing C2 on its head, what I mean is simply, that C2 and wave form availability is becoming a foundational element for force generation in contested combat environments, rather than simply being ways to connect platforms operating in sequential operations.

A clear case in point is the changing nature of what an amphibious task force can deliver as integratability is shaped going forward with a USMC force which can operate common wave forms with the US Navy and the US Air Force.

For example, with common wave forms, the Viper attack helicopter can marry upon with the Seahawk Romeo to provide an entirely new flank defense and attack capability for the amphibious task force.

What is required are common wave forms, and common training to shape such a capability.

The key point is that without the common wave forms an entire force structure capability is currently absent which is crucial for sea control and sea denial activities which COULD be generated by the amphibious task force.

In a recent discussion with Marines at Aviation Headquarters at the Pentagon, the potential along these lines was highlighted.

By working integration of the MH-60 Romeo helicopter with Viper, the fleet would gain a significant defense at sea capability. 

Integration of the two helicopters within the amphibious task force would allow them to provide an integrated capability to screen and defend the flanks of the afloat force.

The MH-60 crews are optimized to integrate into the Navy’s command and control architecture, and with onboard sensors can help detect potential targets and direct Vipers to engage threats.

The integration of Link-16 will make this effort even more seemless.

My interviews with NAWDC have underscored how the Navy is working through the question of how the integratable air wing will change when the MQ-25 joins the fleet, and working ways for the Romeo to work with MQ-25 and Advanced Hawkeye will inform Romeo as part of its fleet defense function.

“The Romeo community is already looking at how having sensors onboard the MQ-25 can expand the reach and range of what the Romeo’s onboard sensors can accomplish for the maritime distributed force.

“It is also the case that as sensor demands currently made on the Romeo can be shifted elsewhere.

“The Romeo can refocus its task priorities and enhance its contributions to broader mission sets such as ASW and to focus on contributing capabilities that other platforms within the strike group are not prioritized to perform.”

Clearly, integrating Romeos which fly onboard the amphibious class ships with the Viper would provide a significant enhancement of the flank defense capabilities for the amphibious task force.

And working a Romeo/Viper package would affect as well the evolution of the Romeos that would fly off of the L class ships as well.

And all of this, frees up other surface elements to support other missions at sea, rather than having to focus on defending the amphibs as greyhound buses. 

Another example of what the new generation of C2 can do is clearly the CNI system within the F-35, which enables the Marines to not just integrate their F-35s and to work a different approach to knowledge management to inform the maneuver force, but allows Marine Corps F-35s to be integratable with joint and coalition F-35s as well.

The integration of the F-35 into the Marine Corps and its ability to work with joint and coalition F-35s provides significant reach to F-35 empowered mobile bases afloat or ashore

In a recent interview which I conducted with Major Brian “Flubes” Hansell, MAWTS-1 F-35 Division Head, we discussed at length what the coming of the F-35 and its integratability capabilities meant for the evolution of the USMC and its role with joint and coalition partners.

The coming of the F-35 to the USMC has expanded their ability to operate within a broader kill web and to both empower their expeditionary bases as well as to contribute to the broader kill web approach.

The Marine’s F-35s are part of the broader joint and coalition force of F-35s, and notably in the Pacific this extends the reach significantly of the Marine’s F-35s and brings greater situational awareness as well as reach to other strike platforms to the force operating from an expeditionary base as well as enhancing the kill web reach for the joint or coalition force.

As Major Hansell put it: “By being an expeditionary, forward-based service, we’re effectively extending the bounds of the kill web for the entire joint and coalition force.”

The F-35 is not just another combat asset, but at the heart of empowering an expeditionary kill web-enabled and enabling force. On the one hand, the F-35 leads the wolfpack. As Major Hansell put it: “During every course, we are lucky to have one of the lead software design engineers for the F-35 come out as a guest lecturer to teach our students the intricacies of data fusion.

“During one of these lectures, a student asked the engineer to compare the design methodology of the F-35 Lightning II to that of the F-22 Raptor.

“I like this anecdote because it is really insightful into how the F-35 fights.

“To paraphrase, this engineer explained that “the F-22 was designed to be the most lethal single-ship air dominance fighter ever designed.  Period.

“The F-35, however, was able to leverage that experience to create a multi-role fighter designed from its very inception to hunt as a pack.”

Simply put, the F-35 does not tactically operate as a single aircraft.

It hunts as a network-enabled, cooperative four-ship fighting a fused picture, and was designed to do so from the very beginning.

“We hunt as a pack.

Future upgrades may look to expand the size of the pack.”

The hunt concept and the configuration of the wolfpack is important not just in terms of understanding how the wolfpack can empower the ground insertion force with a mobile kill web capability but also in terms of configuration of aircraft on the sea base working both sea control and support to what then becomes a land base insertion force.

None of this would be possible without a revolutionary transformation of C2/ISR and data fusion integratability across the F-35 force.

Put bluntly, C2 systems are no longer commodities added platform by platform; they are the operating infrastructure within which platforms find their role within a scalable, tailorable combat force. 

Also, see the following:

C2, the Knowledge Base and the Kill Web