Does Maritime Patrol Have a Future?

By Commander Scott Jasper, U.S. Navy

We do not have until 2015 to address this problem. Examination of the procurement milestones of the follow-on aircraft (MPX) reveals a much shorter time frame: With a modest procurement profile of 6 aircraft the first year, 9 the second year, then 12, to replace aircraft retiring at 15-20 per year, a milestone III production decision is required in fiscal year 2010. Backing up the procurement cycle for a developmental aircraft option, implementation of a milestone 0/1 concept studies decision should begin in fiscal year 2000—only three years away. 2

Unfortunately for the MPX, the Department of Defense modernization plan reflects several higher priorities, including the C-17 airlift; the Comanche helicopter; the F22, F/A-18E/F, and joint strike fighters; the V-22 Osprey; LPD-17 amphibious transport; DDG-51 destroyer; Surface Combatant for the 21st century (SC-21); and the New Attack Submarine (NSSN). For these programs to be fulfilled, the president's defense budget top line for fiscal years 1997-2001—which includes increasing funding for modernization from $38.9 billion to $60.1 billion in fiscal year 2001—must be approved by Congress. 3

The president approved $244 billion for fiscal year 1997 defense programs—$1.4 billion more than the DoD budget authority top line. 4 This is good news for defense, but considering that the requirement to ramp up modernization in fiscal year 2001 is actually a 41% increase over fiscal year 1997, anxiety is warranted. In addition, the questionable ability of a balanced federal budget to sustain $60 billion for modernization past fiscal year 2001 puts the plan's timeline at risk. The bow wave easily could push maritime patrol into extinction.

The Tough Question

Do we really need to build a follow-on to the P-3C? Three options stand out for accomplishing the maritime patrol mission:

  • Create a maritime patrol system centered on unmanned aerial vehicles supported by satellites, towed arrays, and long-range weapons.
  • Use other traditional platforms—SH-60R helicopters; Ticonderoga (CG-47)-, Arleigh Burke (DDG-51)-, and SC-21-class ships; and Los Angeles (SSN-688)-class submarines and NSSNs—for maritime patrol.
  • Build the MPX follow-on to the P-3C.

A mission area analysis of a future conflict scenario may help highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each option: A hostile state in the littoral has threatened vital U.S. national interests by moving its ground troops toward a neighbor friendly with the United States. To maintain regional stability and halt aggression, U.S. naval expeditionary forces—an aircraft carrier battle group or arsenal ship and an amphibious ready group—are deployed to the area to deliver fires deep into enemy territory and to effect early forcible entry to allow for the arrival of follow-on joint forces. The hostile state presents a layered defense of naval mines, cruise missile patrol boats, long-range strike bombers and ballistic missiles, diesel submarines in choke points, and ballistic missile submarines on patrol away from home waters. In concert with Joint Vision 2010, the primary missions of maritime patrol in this scenario would be to establish local maritime superiority to enable dominant maneuver by naval expeditionary forces; provide full-dimensional protection for forces and facilities; and conduct targeting for precision engagement.

Maritime Superiority for Dominant Maneuver . The smaller force structure of 2010 will mean fewer big-deck assets forward deployed and longer response times to crisis areas. In this scenario, the elimination of the threat prior to the arrival of expeditionary forces is imperative. In the Gulf War, for example, Iraq managed to lay six mine fields of 1,200 total mines, which endangered an allied advance from the sea for months. 5

Technology eventually could provide unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with the capability of establishing local maritime superiority. Today, UAVs such as the Canadair Sea Sentinel or the Boeing Heliwing prototype can launch from frigates and destroyers, with payloads of up to 200 pounds, for three to five hours on station at a radius of 120-180 nautical miles (nm). If the base were shifted to a large-deck ship, systems such as the AAI/IAI Pioneer or the new Alliant Techsystems Outrider would provide four to six hours on station at a radius of 120 nm while carrying a payload of 60-100 pounds. 6 These UAVs can locate targets with electro-optical/infrared sensors and synthetic aperture radar, but their payloads cannot accommodate acoustic devices (such as sono-buoys) or weapons.

The best prototype for maritime use is Global Hawk, which is predicted to fly with a payload of 2,000 pounds to a radius of 3,000 nm for 22 hours on station at 50,000-65,000 feet. 7 Its maneuver limits, high-altitude design, and still minimal payload, however, do not fit the profile required for low-altitude antisubmarine or antisurface warfare. Breakthroughs in UAVs that will allow them to carry a full range of sensors and weapons and to maneuver in the battlespace to counter fast-moving targets or submarines do not appear to be on the immediate horizon.

Traditional platforms offer a wide range of sensor and weapon systems to counter the threat prior to the arrival of expeditionary forces. Constrained budgets will limit the fielding of these forces, however, challenging the ability of those few nearby to respond decisively. Surface units that are focused on theater missile defense and Tomahawk strike zones will be unable to maneuver throughout the entire battlespace to conduct threat sanitation, maritime interception, and unarmed ship escort. Additional units deployed from home bases—transiting at 20-30 knots—will face the tyranny of time and distance, while the enemy deploys mines and assumes striking positions.

Traveling nonstop for 4,000 nautical miles, MPX aircraft can move quickly into the area of operations and immediately start independent operations: they bring their own maintenance personnel, weapons, and sonobuoys, and can operate upon arrival from commercial runways without ground support equipment. MPX aircraft then can locate mine-laying vessels and cruise missile patrol boats within 200 nm with inverse synthetic aperture radar, converge rapidly at 300 knots, classify outside target surface-to-air threat range with electro-optical telescopes and high-resolution infrared detection systems, and respond accordingly with video acquisition, man-in-the-loop, Maverick air-to-surface missiles.

To locate the diesel threat, MPX aircraft can shift missions seamlessly to monitor passive sonobuoy barriers in choke points while conducting open-ocean radar/electronic surveillance/magnetic anomaly detection search tactics. With eight hour on-station times and near instantaneous acceleration, MPX aircraft will shorten revisit times to datum and catch targeting submarines before they disappear on batteries. In addition, the MPX can escort maritime prepositioning, mine countermeasure, and logistic ships through hostile waters, search for violators of U.N. sanctions, or conduct offensive mining operations to trap enemy vessels in port.

Full-Dimensional Protection . Projecting expeditionary force power across the beach depends on neutralization of the naval threat. A maritime patrol system might overcome the UAV's current inability to carry a full range of acoustic sensors and weapons. Satellites can provide cueing data to reduce the UAV's time-on-station requirements for search, trading fuel requirements for payload; however, improvements in satellite overhead coverage and in the transmission of data from the sensor to the UAV base station would be required for tactical use of this national asset. Mobile surface towed-array sensor systems (SURTASS) can provide subsurface cueing for UAV weapon-only delivery platforms or ship-launched rocket-propelled torpedoes, but without the capability to convert the SURTASS datum to a refined targeting solution, the chance of weapon acquisition is reduced. Finally, shipl-aunched long-range surface-to-surface missiles such as Harpoon can destroy surface contacts located by UAVs, but the nondiscriminatory nature of these radar-seeking weapons creates unacceptable hazards for friendly ships in the littoral.

After a decisive force is assembled, the overwhelming firepower of the traditional platforms will work to achieve full-dimensional protection against the asymmetric threats of the scenario. To counter the surface threat, Ticonderoga and Arleigh Burke -class ships have Harpoon missiles with active radar homing to 70 nm, but their reduced effectiveness against high-speed patrol boats in the congested littoral will force reliance on shorter-range five-inch guns. To counter the diesel threat, the ships can fire Mk 46 Mod 5 torpedoes on sonar or towed-array firing solutions (depending on water depth).8 Unfortunately, the high ambient noise and surface reverberation in shallow water and the quiet nature of the diesel submarine interfere with a ship's ability to target a diesel boat outside its threat range, and force the ship to rely on SH-60R helicopters to carry the fight outside the inner zone (a problem considering that Flight I/II DDG-SIs do not have a helicopter hangar). The SC-21 could alleviate these problems, but its mission needs statement currently is focused on an Aegis-type ship with over-the-horizon fire support and the ability to shoot down tactical ballistic missiles—not on a frigate that can knife-fight in the littoral. 9 Traditional surface ships are well suited to hunt ballistic missile submarines with tactical towed array sonar, but could the number required to conduct large area open-ocean search be spared?

With the addition of the dipping sonar of the SH-60F, the SH-60R will be a formidable antisubmarine warfare platform—and a lethal antisurface warfare platform if the AGM-119 Penguin is mounted. 10 The SH-60R suffers from reduced range or time on station when external tanks are traded for torpedoes, or reduced reattack ability when external tanks are favored. The S-3 Viking can augment the traditional platforms after the arrival of the carrier; however, tanking duties for the F/A- 18 air wing will hamper its ability to conduct sustained antisubmarine or antisurface warfare operations.

Navy planners envisage that the New Attack Submarine will be capable of executing antisubmarine and antisurface warfare, covert mine warfare, and covert intelligence collection. It will hunt the diesel in the shallows or the ballistic missile boat on the high seas and employ heavyweight torpedoes to burst submarine pressure hulls. The submarine is silent, self-sustaining, and persistent, but limited maneuver room in the shallows and relatively slow response to cueing data for ballistic missile submarines in the open ocean hamper target prosecution.

After arrival of the main forces, MPX offers full-dimensional protection while carrier air strikes over the beach and escort ships conduct theater missile defense and Tomahawk attack. Enhancements such as missile warning systems, explosive suppressant foam in fuel tanks, and countermeasure dispensing systems will give the MPX better survivability in the inner zone. More important, the extended range of the MPX may result in asymmetric engagements outside the inner zone of the battle force, precluding one-on-one engagements between expensive cruisers or destroyers and inexpensive patrol boats. On the high seas, MPX can protect facilities against submarine-launched nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, because the aircraft's high cruise speed provides responsive conversion of cueing information and its 1,000-nm/ 8-hour radius of action allows sustained target search and prosecution with its passive and active sonobuoys and torpedoes. 11

Targeting for Precision Engagement . The maritime patrol system will provide valuable targeting and intelligence for overwater or overland operations. High-quality photography from satellites and UAVs can enhance tactical delivery of precision weapons by air power or Tomahawk-launch platforms. In addition, Global Hawk-type systems equipped with moving-target indicators can track ground forces, enabling the landing force to exploit seams in the enemy's defenses and maneuver to seize airfields and ports for follow-on joint forces.

Traditional surface platforms can contribute to the surface picture within the inner zone with electro-optic sensors and fire-control surface-search radars and can launch helicopters with conventional search radars for over-the-horizon acquisition. Overland targeting to support expeditionary forces will be limited to short-range, short-duration UAVs.

The MPX can provide overwater or overland targeting for precision munitions. Naval targets can be classified with high-resolution inverse synthetic aperture radar or fine direction-finding electronic surveillance measures. For overland engagement, in addition to the electro-optic system, the aircraft's synthetic aperture radar's ground moving target indication and track option provides the ability to conduct broad or continuous area surveillance to detect and then track ground moving targets out to 80 nm. 12

The Answer?

This scenario is meant to challenge the paradigms of maritime patrol. One could argue that the envisioned capabilities of MPX establish a baseline that the maritime patrol system or traditional platforms could meet with technological advances and changes in doctrine—or that MPX is critical to the accomplishment of joint mission success. It is up to the force planners to decide.

1 Commander, Patrol Wings Atlantic, "POM-98 P-3C Road Map Assessment," October 1996, p. 12.

2 Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Air Warfare, "U.S. Navy P-3C FollowOn Aircraft (MPX) Milestones," October 1996, pp. 1-3.

3 William J. Perry, "Annual Report to the President and the Congress," March 1996, pp. 251-56.

4 "Spending Bill Passes," The Newport Daily News, I October 1996; and "Senate Approves Budget Bill with Clinton Set to Sign It," The New York Times, t October 1996.

5 "Victory at Sea," All Hands, special edition #892, 1991, pp. 20-25.

6 Mark Hewish, "Navies Warm to UAV Systems," Jane's IDR Extra, September 1996, on. 1-6.

7 Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office, "Advanced Technology Enhancing the War Fighter's Operational Effectiveness," October 1996, pp. 1-4.

8 Richard T. Sharpe, Jane's Fighting Ships, 1996-97, pp. 808 and 812.

9 Gregg T. Smith, "Big Commitments, Little Cash," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, October 1996, pp. 22-25.

10 Paul Jackson, Jane's All the World's Aircraft, 1995-96, p. 654.

11 John Stark, "P-3C vs. Orion 2000 Comparison," Lockheed Martin, October 1996.

12 Forward...From the Sea," PMA-290 brief on ISAR/SAR, October 1996.

Commander Jasper , a naval flight officer with more than 3,000 hours in the P-3C, is a recent graduate of the Naval War College. He recently retired from duty in Bahrain as flag secretary for Commander, Fifth Fleet, and is slated to assume command of Patrol Squadron Four. 



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