The recent diplomatic announcement that the United States and the United Kingdom will partner with Australia to help Australia build nuclear-powered submarines has received sensational headlines, but the bigger story is what prompted the agreement in the first place: sustained, rapid growth of Chinese naval power and the threat it poses to American allies and interests, especially in the western Pacific.
The last few years have seen numerous encounters between US and Chinese warships in disputed areas of the South China Sea. A recent incident occurred in May last year, when China accused the US Navy of illegally violating its territorial sovereignty in what the United States considers international waters.
Beijing’s growing behavior in the region is supported by what experts say is the world’s largest fleet in terms of number of ships. In addition, China is arming its navy with increasingly capable anti-ship missiles.
In response to these and other naval threats, including from longtime adversaries Russia and Iran, the U.S. Navy adopted a concept of warfare known as Distributed Naval Operations (DMO). In general, the DMO deviates from the increasingly vulnerable large platforms operating as a group and to a widely dispersed but highly networked fleet of predominantly smaller ships and reconnaissance / surveillance / reconnaissance air platforms, both manned and unmanned, integrated. closely with a wide range of sensor and weapon systems for maximum domain awareness, survival and lethality.
The DMO is closely linked to the Ministry of Defense Joint command and control of all domains (JADC2) a concept that aims to connect sensors within military services into a single network, according to Tom Wears, director of strategic and mission decisions at Northrop Grumman’s Marine / Land Systems and Sensors Division.
“There’s little difference between DMO and JADC2,” Wars said. “Distributed maritime operations are a concept for fleet exploitation. But it is supported by Project Overmatch, which is the introduction by the Navy of goals similar to JADC2.
Each of the services has its own contribution to JADC2 based on unique needs and service capabilities, Wears said, noting the Convergence of Army projects, the ABMS of the Air Force (Advanced Battle Management System) and Overcoming Navy Projects. “At the end of the day, all three separate approaches should be linked together in this JADC2 architecture.”
The DMO and Project Overmatch represent the Navy’s response to advances in network and sensor technology and the evolving threat environment, Wears said. The latter involves the proliferation of sophisticated weapons, such as hypersonic missiles and long-range sensors, that are capable of jeopardizing traditional US carrier battlegroups, he said.
The Navy is not alone in moving to more distributed resilience architectures. The recently established U.S. Space Agency, for example, is investing in large constellations of closely related satellites for critical missions such as missile surveillance and communications, a paradigm shift caused by the vulnerability of larger platforms on which the Pentagon has relied for decades.
“There are advantages to not concentrating forces and allocating the structure so that there is a much wider range of sensors to monitor the area,” Wars said, citing the DMO’s philosophy.
Fleet structure that includes large, small and unmanned
A shipbuilding project launched in June by the Biden administration as part of the 2022 budget request marks a departure from previous fleet plans of 355 ships to a smaller but more distributed fleet architecture, including a combination of manned and unmanned vehicles. The plan specifically requires 321 to 372 manned ships and 77 to 140 large unmanned vehicles.
“The Navy and the Ministry of Defense have been working since 2019 to develop a successor to the target at the level of 355 ships. The new goal is expected
introduction of a new, more distributed fleet architecture, including a smaller part of the larger ships, a larger part of the smaller ships and a new third row of large unmanned vehicles, “said a September report by the Research Office. of Congress (CRS), entitled “Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Problems for Congress. “
This means smaller ships such as large deck aircraft carriers, cruisers,
destroyers and large amphibians and supplies balanced by smaller ships such as frigates, corvettes, smaller amphibious ships and supplies, and perhaps even smaller aircraft carriers. The new third level of surface vessels will be approximately as large as corvettes or large patrol vessels, which will be either light-duty, optional or unmanned, as well as large unmanned underwater vehicles.
Nowadays, however, the service must support DMO and Project Overmatch with existing capabilities, Wears said.
“The short-term challenge is to understand how we can use what we have at the moment and develop it as much as we can, and in a short period of time start providing the fleet with capabilities similar to JADC2,” Wears said. “It will be built and matured gradually. More platforms will be introduced in the structure and over time new types of communication systems and networks will be implemented. At the end of the day, they all reconnect in this JADC2 architecture.
Well positioned for DMO
With platforms and sensors deployed in all areas, from the seabed to space, Northrop Grumman is well placed to support the transition, Wears added.
“We are in a unique position to listen to the operational needs of the Navy and help them understand potential solutions to meet those needs by bringing together platforms and sensors that may or may not support traditional naval missions, but we have shown that they can, if they are collected properly, “he said.
Indeed, Northrop Grumman is a major supplier of U.S. warships, manned and unmanned aerial vehicles and satellites, as well as sensors and communications payloads that these platforms carry. Two of the company’s short-term proposals that are specific to the DMO and Overmatch projects are the US Marine Corps Task Force (G / ATOR) and the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP) Block 3.
G / ATOR’s efforts unite the missions of five different Marine radar families into one
system, Mike Meeney, vice president, Land and Maritime Sensors, told Northrop Grumman. “Instead of having five completely different families of radars and the endurance that goes with each, it’s a set of hardware with software applications for switching between different Marine missions.”
An active electronically scanned array (AESA), G / ATOR, quickly identifies objects in the air, including missiles and even artillery shells, and determines where they are aimed, Mini said. He can also identify where the shells came from, allowing friendly forces to deal with the threat before a second round is fired, he said.
“This is a flexible system and fundamentally defined software that allows us to expand it to new and different missions in clear ways. It can also interact with various weapon and sensor systems operating in different areas. “
In September, the US House of Representatives approved a defense bill that would allow $ 645.4 million to be spent in 2022 on G / ATOR, more than double the $ 297.4 million requested by the Pentagon. The full Senate has not yet voted on its version of the legislation, a draft of which corresponds to the increase in G / ATOR funding approved by the House of Representatives.
G / ATOR provides the kind of situational awareness that is fundamental to the DMO mission, according to Meaney.
Northrop Grumman recently delivered the 15th G / ATOR system to the Marine Corps, completing the initial phase of low-speed production of the program. The team recently unveiled the first G / ATOR system with full production and expects to continue deliveries until 2024, the company said.
Meanwhile, ground tests are underway on SEWIP Block 3, a weapon with electromagnetic energy that is capable of deactivating enemy anti-ship missiles in mid-flight. “Electronic attack systems such as Block 3 provide the ship’s commander and crew with an unlimited magazine of non-kinetic bullets to shoot down these anti-ship missiles,” Minnie said.
In June, Northrop Grumman announced that it had delivered the first engineering and development model for the Navy’s SEWIP Block 3 for testing in Wallops Island, Virginia. The first two limited production units are scheduled for delivery before the end of 2021 and will be installed aboard Arleigh Burke-class destroyers for marine testing.
“The ability to hit multiple targets in a single non-kinetic way simultaneously saves the kinetic weapons in the missile compartment of the ship for offensive purposes, rather than protecting the ship from anti-ship missiles,” Minnie said. “Ships are limited to how many kinetic weapons they can carry, so this is a multiplier in many different ways for the Navy.”
Like the G / ATOR, the SEWIP Block 3 is a software-defined system that can be easily reconfigured for other RF missions, including electronic attack, signal reconnaissance, communications, and basic radar functions. Although the Navy did not specifically require these features, they provide the flexibility that meets modern military concepts such as DMO and JADC2, Mini said.
In an interview with Breach of defense in June, Brian Clark, a former Navy commander and electronic warfare expert at the Hudson Institute, said he hoped the Navy would eventually use the multifunctionality of SEWIP’s Unit 3. “The AESA digital array it uses can make it a muffler, receiver, radar or radio,” he said.
This would allow the ship’s SEWIP Unit 3 to be part of an e-war network architecture that includes air or surface drones, Clark said, adding that this would make the ship more difficult to target than enemies.