Rotary Wing Innovation and Shaping a Way Ahead for the Integratable Air Wing


By Robbin Laird

For me, the biggest surprise during my several months of discussions about training for the high-end fight has been learning about the contribution of the Romeo community to the innovation underway.

With the shift from the primacy of the land-wars to a return to Blue Water operations, the capabilities of the systems onboard the Romeo have been given much more prominence.

Part of it is due to the work with Fire Scout for the S-60 community working through ways ahead for manned-unmanned teaming, which is an increasingly important aspect for shaping the way ahead. And part of is due to the enhanced emphasis on shaping a wide range of ISR-capabilities to inform combat operations.

In my discussions at NAWDC with the head of the Maritime ISR (MISR) Weapons School, CDR Pete “Two Times” Salvaggio, the CDR underscored how he viewed the contributions of the Romeo community to the MISR effort.  According to “Two Times:” “They are a force to be reckoned with. 50% of the people we are getting come from the Atlantic Romeo squadron.”

Prior to my July 2020 visit to NAWDC, I had the chance to talk with CDR Jeremy “Shed” Clark, CO of the Naval Rotary Wing Weapons School (SEAWOLF) at NAWDC but was able to continue our discussion during the July visit. In our earlier discussion, he highlighted how he saw the change underway.

“The new generation of Navy operators are clearly thinking in kill web terms – they are not focused simply on what their platform can do based on how they were  trained, but how they can work in the broader battlespace to deliver the desired effects working closely with partners in the sensor, decision-making and strike web. He argued that this meant that NAWDC is looking at how to change the entire dynamic of the strike group with such an approach.”

One role we discussed during the July meeting was how Romeo was working with Growler to deliver electronic warfare capabilities to the fleet. When the fleet transits narrower areas, the Romeo is working EW functions for the fleet. And to do so more effectively in the future, how should payloads be shared with unmanned systems, like the Fire Scout. And because they are already operating Fire Scout, it is not simply an abstract discussion, but can be translate into how the Firescout can work differently with the S-60s.

CDR Clark also reinforced the point made by “Two Times,” namely, that the Seahawk community was increasingly engaged in the expanded ISR for the fleet. He noted that after officers come through the Seahawk program, they now spend time at MISR to focus on the ISR part of what the Romeo provides. They are focused on ways to use their systems in an integrated ISR environment.

But he cautioned: “We are not training to our broader community.” But he sees the MISR engagement as a way to shape that broader community focus. I did note that during my visit of the new building to host integrated simulators there was no planned Romeo simulator in the building. He noted: “We are currently working on a white paper on why such an acquisition is necessary and what capability the Romeo will bring to the integrability effort.”

CDR Clark highlights the importance of identifying capability gaps and then looking at the operational platforms in terms of targeted modernization strategies.

He noted: “We eeed to look at the gaps in the mission sets, and then consider the applicable platforms whose upgrades could close those gaps most expeditiously and cost effectively. We should look for the lowest cost solutions on a particular platform, rather than looking to upgrade the entire force. And such gaps could well be met by changes in USMC or USAF platforms, not just with regard to US Navy platforms.”

I would add that as software upgradeable platforms enter the force, like F-35 and P-8s, this approach is particularly apt.

And I had such a conversation during a 2016 visit to the United Kingdom with the Commander of the ISTAR force. According to Air Commodore Dean Andrews:

“Treating each of the platform types as interconnected segments of an ISTAR capability Venn diagram will allow us to create the breadth of intelligence and understanding in the common operating picture that the Joint Force needs.

“Getting out of the platform stovepipe mentality will not be easy; it will be necessary to shape an overall operational approach to where the key operators of the platforms become plug and play elements in the overall ISTAR Force.”

We discussed the idea that as the core platforms are replaced by an all software upgradeable fleet, the possibility could exist to put the platforms in competition with one another for modernization upgrades.

“Which upgrade gets the priority for which platform to make the greatest contribution to the integrated ISTAR capability are the sort of decisions that should lie with the ISTAR Force in the future – it is at Force level, not within individual programmes and projects that the overall capability benefit can be seen and prioritized.”

Operating as a kill web has clear implications for shaping modernization approaches for the platforms engaged in the integrated force.

Featured Photo: Oct. 13, 2020: An MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter, from the “Battlecats” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 73, prepares to land on the flight deck aboard the aircraft USS Nimitz (CVN 68).

Nimitz, the flagship of Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations, conducting missions in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, and maritime security operations alongside regional and coalition partners.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cheyenne Geletka/Released)