The "Q" Transition

By Lieutenant Commander Christopher E. Brown, U.S. Navy

As prosecuted by the West today, warfare is electronic and computer dependent. An information warfare control ship would provide independence to a fleet or deployed commander, whether that commander is service-specific, joint, allied, or a component commander. The ship not only could provide the ability to control battlespace during an engagement but also could allow the commander to affect the battle environment in an ephemeral manner, even before the first projectile is fired.

To influence command-and-control or information warfare targets, and serve as a strategic, operational, and tactical force multiplier, an information warfare control ship must be capable of conducting intelligence collection; information warfare, including electronic attack and defense, psychological operations, physical destruction, and deception and operational security; and command and control. These functions will be executed by skilled information warriors, who will collect, analyze, and act on data. Associated hardware will permit data dissemination and decision execution. At every point, individual analysis will be the factor that determines operational success.

Intelligence Collection

Intelligence collection is the starting point for the components of information warfare. Three types of collection are important:

  • Communications intelligence, which provides the most elusive aspect of any intelligence requirement-intentions
  • Electronic intelligence, which provides real-time unit identification and location information through the intercept of radar emissions
  • Imagery intelligence, for data on unit disposition

When co-located, the three can enjoy significant synergistic results. For example: communications intelligence can cue electronic and imagery collectors for impending actions; electronic intelligence can cue communications and imagery collectors to search a particular area for a specific unit; imagery intelligence can cue collectors to search specific frequencies based on mensuration of electronic equipment.

Information Warfare

Electronic Attack . Electronic attack is potentially the greatest weapon in the U.S. arsenal. Properly applied, it has the potential to win engagements without firing a shot.

This could be accomplished principally through electronic intrusion. 2 Unlike jamming (the other half of electronic attack), which is an interference and thus a complicating hindrance, intrusion is more decisive. Jamming denies information; intrusion interjects additional information into the decision process, which can cause even greater problems. The Soviets were masters at injecting false information into decision processes, thus coloring resource-allocation decisions of their adversaries.

Jamming capabilities currently exist in U.S. warships through the SLQ-32 system. Compact intrusion capabilities also are available within the Department of Defense. The Air Force's Commando Solo airframe demonstrated the capability to provide radio and television programming on local national stations during the Gulf War and operations in Haiti. 3 This system, added to shipboard radio and television systems, would make a potent electronic attack weapon.

Electronic Defense . Electronic defense 4 has two basic components, early warning and electronic counter-countermeasures (ECCM). Much of the early-warning function is supported through communications and electronic intelligence collection and shipboard radars and shared radar data. ECCM is protocol based and is both preemptive and reactive in nature. Traditional ECCM employed emissions control and frequency changes to deal with opposition electronic countermeasures, attack, and intelligence collection. These missions will have to be expanded for ECCM to function efficiently and effectively in an information-era warfare environment. Emissions control will have to be broadened from just own-ship emissions (such as radars and communications), to include recoverable assets (such as unmanned aerial vehicles or reconnaissance teams), and to contain individual emissions, particularly from cellular telephones. The Navy's development of the cooperative-engagement capability will assist in this mission and limit frequency-change requirements.

The currently separate data-processing security protocol must be incorporated into electronic defense in an information-era warship, to ensure uniform protection of information systems from ship to ship. With the expansion of the electronic virtual environment, the threat of cross contamination increases. Security also must account for and inhibit the human tendency to introduce unsanctioned additional software or system capabilities to ship data-processing architecture. All ship systems will need to be monitored for unauthorized or non-sanitized software, to prevent inadvertent viral contamination and targeted electronic attack.

Psychological Operations . Effective psychological operations are not as much a force multiplier as they are an enemy divider, and in this role they are important. They have been employed in warfare for centuries and historically have taken the form of printed material, but with the advent of electronic communications, radio and video material have been added to their arsenal. Modern psychological operations require access to linguists, cultural experts, and production capabilities for audio, video, and print messages.

Psychological operations were used effectively during the Gulf War, but were delayed in employment. To get the needed machinery in place as soon as possible after a crisis occurs—because early employment is most effective 5 —an information warfare control ship with a production capability and connectivity to shore-based experts could provide a unique capability. In addition, organic helicopters, properly equipped, could disseminate psychological operations material.

Physical Destruction . Physical destruction, from the sea, comes in the form of conventional attack and defense, which relies on missiles or guns. All major U.S. Navy surface combatants are protected, at a minimum, by one or more Phalanx 20-mm Gatling gun systems. To counter hostile missile platforms, larger surface vessels, and aircraft, most Navy ships are armed with a point defense missile system, such as the Sea Sparrow or the new rolling airframe missile weapon systems. An information-era warship should have both gun and missile defensive systems to protect itself and attack fleet targets.

The Tomahawk will be the information-era weapon of choice for attack in the foreseeable future. With a range greater than 500 nautical miles and low observability, it would give the ship a proved offensive capability to deal with conventional combat threats and a strike capability to engage information warfare targets. During the Gulf War, 282 Tomahawks were launched from 16 surface ships and 2 submarines at principally information warfare targets (electrical power and distribution facilities and command-and-control facilities). 6

A more potent option would be to marry an information warfare control ship to the proposed arsenal ship. The information warfare control ship could develop targets, send them forward through the targeting process, then either pass them off to the arsenal ship for attack or control the engagement while using the arsenal ship's weapons.

Deception Operations . Deception operations are intended to change an opponent's perception of the battlefield. Throughout history, this has been accomplished by deceiving the enemy with respect to timing, location, and activity at various echelons and levels of war. Conceivably, an information warfare control ship could carry out strategic, operational, and tactical deception. The June 1995 Journal of Electronic Defense outlines five fundamentals of deception that could help determine the potential assets available on an information-era warship:

  • First Rule: To be effective, a deception operation must be one that causes the enemy to believe what he expects.
  • Second Rule: Timely feedback is an essential element of all major deception operations. Third Rule: Deception must be integrated with operations.
  • Fourth Rule: Denial of information on the true activities is also essential; it will depend, in significant part, on stealth and C3 countermeasures activities.
  • Fifth Rule: The realism required for any deception activity is a function of the sensor and analysis capabilities available to the opponent and the time available to analyze the situation, disseminate the data to appropriate points, and take appropriate actions. 7

An information warfare control ship would bring together the diverse disciplines needed to carry out a deception operation within these rules. Electronic attack, through intrusion, could meet the first criterion; intelligence collection could fulfill the second. Command and control, in the form of the embarked commander, could fulfill the third rule. Electronic defense, principally through emission control, could fulfill the fourth rule. The fifth rule could be met through a combination of collection and command-and-control functions.

Operational Security . Operational security is a defensive measure and a function of the commander's will. As part of the overall plan, the commander must determine what indicators should be denied to the enemy and then monitor them to ensure force compliance. The tools of electronic and communications intelligence collection and emissions control can be employed in this task. An information warfare control ship would be valuable to the commander's determination of force operational security discipline.

Command and Control

Because of the dispersed nature of naval warfare, the Navy has developed several command-and-control systems that would be beneficial to an information-era warship. The Navy also has pressed to make the decision-to-execution process seamless, through emerging support systems and envisioned systemic architecture. There are several existing programs that should be brought together for commander decision support and control in an information-era warship: Aegis or integrated ship defense system capabilities for threat detection and operating theater awareness; joint worldwide intelligence communications system and joint deployable intelligence support system connectivity for extra-theater information and support; and cooperative engagement capability and a Marine Corps position location reporting system master station to facilitate control. An information-era warship with these installed systems would provide a strong command-and-control capability to any embarked commander.

Ship Designs

Three classes of naval vessels have the potential to be a transitional prototype for future information-era combatants: the Ticonderoga (CG-47)-class guided-missile cruiser, the Iwo Jima (LPH-2)-class amphibious assault ship, and the Ohio (SSBN-726)-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine. Table 1 shows the relative strengths and limitations of each option. Lessons learned from any of these transitional platforms—the CQ, LCQ, or SSQN—will have tremendous impact on fleet commanders in the 21st century.


Table 1: Relative Platform Strengths and Limitations


Current Hull Life Remaining of Class Leader

Crew Size (Projected Information Warfare Section)

Major Strength

Major Weakness


17 years (2013)

392 (48)

SPY-1 radar C 2 suite weapon system

Tight workspace


0 years New Orleans has two years (1998)

992 (90)

Workspace size, flight deck

Age of hull and propulsion plant


15 years (2011)

240 (90)

Low-profile silhouette, On-station time

Difficult information warfare connectivity while submerged

The aging Mount Whitney (LCC-20), Blue Ridge (LCC-19), La Salle (AGF-3), and Coronado (AGF-1) are not likely to be in the fleet much longer; by 2001, these hulls will be more than 30 years old. Fleet and joint task force commanders will need another platform; the lead Q-ships could become the fleet command ships of the 21st century. The LPD-17 hull, with its ample working and berthing space and aviation capability, would be a good candidate for eventual Q-ship construction. By adding the Q-ship construction to the end of the current LPD-17 class construction, at one every year, all four fleet command ships could be replaced by the year 2012. 8 Other Q-class information warfare control ships, designated for joint task force employment, could be commissioned after 2012.

1 John Keegan, in A History of Warfare (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993), captures the essence of this problem on page 388, referring to the Mamelukes of Egypt. He states, "When eventually confronted by new powers which had adapted to real technological change in warfare, their cultural rigidity denied them the opportunity to respond effectively to the challenge and they were eventually extinguished." He makes the same case for other cultures.

2 Electronic attack formerly was referred to as electronic countermeasures.

3 Douglas Waller, "America's Persuader in the Sky," Time, 21 August 1995, vol. 146, no. 8.

4 Electronic defense is also referred to as electronic protect.

5 Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, Department of Defense, April 1992, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., pp. 536-38.

6 Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, pp. 786-88.

7 Charles A. Fowler and Robert F. Nesbit, "Tactical Deception in Air-Land Warfare," Journal of Electronic Warfare 18 (June 1995): 37-40.

8 Jane's Fighting Ships,1995-96, ed. Capt. Richard Sharpe, OBE, RN (Surrey, UK: Jane's Information Group Limited, 1995), pp. 823, 829, 834.

Lieutenant Commander Brown , an intelligence officer, is a 1996 graduate of the Marine Corps Command and Staff College and currently is a Senior Watch Officer at the Joint Intelligence Center Pacific, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.



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