The Kill Web, Payloads, and the Surface Fleet


As the U.S. Navy and its joint and coalition partners rework their forces to deliver capability through an integrated but distributed operational force, a key element are the payloads which can be leveraged throughout the modular task forces making up such a force.

As Ed Timperlake has argued:  “Payload utility can be a driver for understanding the future development of combat systems. To understand payload/utility (PA/UT) with full honor to John Boyd, it can be noted that Observe/Orient (OO) is essentially target acquisition and Decide/Act (DA) is target engagement. Thus, there is a very simple formula, better and better TA and TE =more effective employment of all payloads available to the battle commander.

“It is the process of understanding the huge complexities in such a simple formula that is the challenge. Understanding the technology and human dynamic through an analytic filter of a Payload Utility function consisting of weapons (kinetic and TRON) and the dual components of Target Acquisition (TA) and Target Effectiveness (TE) effectiveness in a fighting fleet engaged in high intensity combat in the unforgiving cauldron of battle maybe a war winner. Either in one platform or melded into a unified fighting Fleet to bring all different types of appropriate “weapons on” for the kill shot is a powerful concept….”

“A very simple filter to look at platform and weapon development within the integration of current weapon systems and platforms is asking the largest questions possible and pursuing force design and operational answers to these questions:

“What does a weapon or system add to fleet PA/UT? How does this system help in TA? How does this system help in TE? What is the best weapon for the highest Pk against the target? Is the TA, TE and Weapons (kinetic and Tron) carried together organically on a single platform or distributed in the sensor-strike force”[1]

A recent interview by Rick Burgess of Seapower magazine with Rear Admiral Paul Schlise, Director of the Surface Warfare Division, N-96, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations highlights how the cross-cutting evolution of the surface fleet and payloads intersects to create a kill web force.[2]

When asked the question of how the Rear Admiral would compare the fires capability of the fleet when he was first commissioned in the Navy to today, this is what Rear Admiral Schlise said:

“The Navy has progressed in every dimension over the past several decades. Compared to when I commissioned in 1989, the ability to integrate weapons and sensors across a carrier strike group has expanded beyond my wildest dreams.

“Our ships are able to coordinate fires across the spectrum of warfare with combat systems, sensors and missiles that are smarter and better integrated with the platforms that operate them.

“Our Sailors are far more talented and benefit from tremendous virtual multi-domain training capability.

“To put it plainly, when compared to when I first commissioned, our surface fires capability is like comparing an old “brick” phone from the ’90s to a brand-new iPhone 12 today. We’re smarter, faster and more lethal than ever before.”

To get to this point, the Navy has added new capabilities to the surface ship platforms, provided new weapons on those platforms, integrated strike more effectively across those platforms, and is working new weapons as well as new approaches to adding platforms, including projected unmanned platforms, to the fleet.

As the Navy focuses on what distributed maritime operations actually mean for the evolution of the surface Navy and its operations with the joint and coalition force, the payload/utility function introduced by Timperlake is a key element of assessing how modular task forces can operate at the tactical edge.

What capabilities can a task force deliver as an integrated combat node?

What capabilities can that modular task force reachback to in order to enhance its lethality, survivability and lethality?

What capabilities can that modular task force contribute to its operational partners and allies in an area of interest?

According to Schlise: “The Surface Combatant Force is the key enabler for the Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations concept.

“Enhancing lethality across all of our ships at sea operationalizes DMO and ensures the fleet has requisite capability and capacity to fight and win.

“Our efforts to up-gun our combatants are directly in step with the Navy’s Naval Tactical Grid initiatives.

“The Surface Navy is moving out aggressively to improve lethality across the spectrum of warfare. The Naval Strike Missile is in the fleet providing a multi-mission weapon for our littoral combat ships [LCSs] and future frigates. The SM-6 is a multi-domain missile, deployed on ships today, providing surface combatants improved capability and flexibility against advanced threats. As we continue to procure the SM-6, spiral development of the SM-6 family is ongoing to provide greater range and speed. The Maritime Strike Tomahawk provides versatility over long distances against targets at sea or on land.

“In addition to extended missile ranges, we’re also increasing our close-in battlespace lethality. The updated Mk38 Mod 4 Gun Weapon System provides an updated electro-optical sensor system with combat system integration for improved accuracy and close-in engagements against fast-attack craft and fast inland attack craft threats. In the near future, these guns will be paired with other weapon systems for greater lethality against close- in air threats as well.

“The surface fleet is also improving terminal defense weapons with spiral developments to the existing Rolling Airframe Missile and Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile. A new Vertical-Launch Anti-submarine Rocket Extended Range is proposed to significantly increase the range a ship will be able to engage a submarine target.”

He argued that new weapons are coming to the fleet as the Navy works with the versitility in its vertical launch systems, introduces directed energy weapons, and reconsiders how to reshape the amphibious fleet to be part of the broader surface warfare mission sets.

He discussed new platforms coming to the fleet, such as DDG next, and the new Constellation-class FFG.

He noted as well that the coming of maritime remotes are part of the platform build out and payload delivery capability within the fleet.

“USVs can bring additional capacity and capability to the manned combatant force to support distributed maritime operations. Results from our Future Surface Combatant Force Analysis of Alternatives and Future Navy Force Structure study both show the value in USVs and support continuing investment, prototyping and experimentation to mature this capability for future force integration.

“LUSVs, as a distributed fires platform, can increase the fleet’s missile carrying capacity and MUSVs, as a distributed sensor platform, improve the commander’s battlespace awareness.

“Our Surface Development Squadron (CSDS-1) is involved in testing these concepts using current prototypes in fleet exercises and experimentation.

“The lessons learned from CSDS-1 and results from our continued study and war gaming will help us refine concepts and inform further platform development to provide the fleet with a capability that can and increase lethality and capacity.”

But what is identified in the very good interview by Burgess of the Surface Warfare Director would simply be a laundry list of new weapons, upgraded weapons, or new platforms if not for fully grasping Timperlake’s point about distributed payloads and their utility to a kill web force.

Understanding how the fleet operates across the extended battlespace envisaged as a chessboard and how surface ships can operate beyond what it has onboard organically or in its legacy task force is crucial to grasp what an integrated distributed force warfighting approach can deliver.

The weaponization-platform dynamic interacts to allow for modular task force flexibility and significant reachback to other sensors and shooters accessible to a kill web operating force.

Hence, by understanding the payload-utility function of weapons, sensors, and the diverse impact of multi-domain platforms one can grasp why the US Navy is focused on shaping a maritime distributed force integratable with its joint force partners and allies,

[1] Some slight modifications from the original have been introduced into the text.


Featured Photo: WATERS TO THE WEST OF THE KOREAN PENINSULA (March 17, 2013) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56), front, the Republic of Korea Navy Aegis-class destroyer ROKS Seoae-Yu-Seong-Ryong (DDG 993), middle, and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG 85) move into formation during exercise Foal Eagle 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Declan Barnes/Released)</p>