Network-Centric Antisubmarine Warfare

By Vice Admiral James R. Fitzgerald, U.S. Navy (Retired), Raymond J. Christian and Robert C. Manke

Network-Centric Warfare Principles

Network-centric warfare and its implications for military affairs will continue to evolve as war fighters exercise new strategic, tactical, and operational concepts afforded by new technologies and changing societal communication trends. From a tactical perspective, it is characterized as warfare conducted with linked sensors, and decision makers and shooters linked by communication and information systems that facilitate vertical and horizontal transfer of sensor information, a coherent tactical picture, hypotheses of intent, assessment of potential options, and the ability to select an appropriate response in a timely manner.

Network-centric warfare already has become a reality in a rudimentary form. During the 1996 Chinese missile tests in the Taiwan Straits, for example, the U.S. Navy made extensive use of modern civilian communication methods. The fleet commander distributed his commander's intent for the day via a classified Internet and used video teleconferencing for confirmation and clarification of instructions at all command levels. The staffs then used electronic mail to organize the coordination and collaboration needed to generate the planning documents to effect the instructions. This was far more time efficient than waiting for the message traffic and conducting any clarification by either message or secure voice.

Canonical textbooks defining the new calculus of network-centric warfare remain to be written, but there are emerging principles based on early military applications as well as trends in the business area:

  • Information superiority translates to power . Information superiority results from creation, accretion, and control of battlespace information. The power is manifested in speed of command, accuracy of command, and self-synchronization or adaptation to operational and environmental variability.
  • A balance of sensor, shooter, and information-based command-and-control capabilities is needed . A shortfall in any one area will have a negative impact on overall warfighting capability. The value of network centricity, however, is its ability to ameliorate (at least temporarily) shortfalls in a particular area.
  • Command-and-control flexibility is necessary to exploit networking advantages fully . The unpredictable nature of warfare, together with the realities of limited numbers of capital assets, will require flexible organizational structures with full vertical and horizontal interactive communications allowing decentralized and cooperative command and control. These are the features that provide for speed of command in decision and response.
  • Network information must be managed properly to ensure that use of the information is maximized . Noted management specialist Peter Drucker defines information management as who needs what information, when, where, and in what format. This is an excellent paradigm for the development of network-centric requirements. We must determine what information is required by whom, while at the same time supporting whatever command-and-control structure the commander requires. The means of accessing information also must be established.

All this presupposes a high level of knowledge at all levels of command and the discipline to resist interfering in the command decisions of subordinates.

From Data to Decision

The model for network-centric warfare shows the information and control linkages between the sensor grid, command and control, and the shooter grid. One needs to examine the relationship of the command-and-control hierarchy between the sensor and shooter grids and possible options offered by the evolving information network. The need is not just for more information. Many warfighting platforms today receive more information than they are equipped to handle. Today's need is for the right information to make a quick and correct decision.

In military terms, the path from data to decision begins when surveillance, intelligence, and tactical sensor data is converted through various processors into information. Information in various forms is sent to various command decision levels, such as the warfare commander, where it provides the basis for the development of a tactical picture.

Application of tactical relevance to the information generates knowledge in the form of tactical situational awareness. This may be accomplished by setting the common tactical picture in a context of time (e.g., What has been the path or action taken by the adversary?). This helps to develop an understanding of the adversary's intent and potential impact on the current or planned course of events.

Knowledge in the form of situational awareness allows a decision maker to generate more accurate response options. The options are generated and assessed based on readiness, tactical alternatives, potential vulnerability, and battle damage assessment.

The final stage is the determination of the course of action. The options are weighed based on the rules of engagement and/or mission objectives and a decision is made for the nature of the response.

Properly applied, network-centric warfare will result in the generation of a theater-level combat system, which includes national and surveillance assets, surface ships, submarines and air assets, command sites, and shore support facilities such as intelligence agencies. These elements, or nodes, are distributed at different levels in the theater command hierarchy, linked by the information network backplane.

Applying Network-Centric Warfare to ASW

So what does network-centric warfare mean to ASW? An understanding of the nature of antisubmarine warfare suggests that significant benefits can be realized by the application of network-centric concepts. ASW is an enabler for battlespace dominance that allows other warfare to be conducted with minimum risk to life and assets. It is by nature a cooperative warfare, where the unique capabilities of diverse assets are exploited in concert to ensure undersea battlespace dominance. It may be offensive or defensive and can be grouped into three categories:

  • Forward-area operations that consist primarily of independent submarine operations cued by national and surveillance assets
  • Open-ocean operations that combine surveillance, air, submarine, and surface ship assets
  • Littoral operations that bring together the full assets of a warfare action group such as a battlegroup in support of power projection ashore (strike warfare)

For this discussion, we will address only the littoral, as it generally is the most demanding case. The undersea littoral battlespace is characterized by complex environmental conditions and constrained geographic size with subsequent short tactical cycle times. Complicating the ASW problem are modern, high-technology, slow-speed nuclear and conventionally powered submarines with low radiated noise levels, increasing weapons capabilities, and tactics, such as bottoming, that we generally do not experience or train for. Low confidence, false contacts, and a paucity of positive contact data typifies ASW. Combined, these difficulties result in shortened detection and classification ranges and thus potentially abrupt engagements requiring shorter tactical response times as compared to open-water operations.

A multiplatform mission area, ASW is conducted with the use of today's networks. Using the battlegroup as the most common example, the current concept of operations is driven by the force over-the-horizon tactical coordinator (FOTC) and is based on current ability to deliver data. It is by nature stove-piped and episodic. The data is provided to the sea combat commander, a warfare commander with combined undersea warfare and antisurface warfare responsibilities.

The Navy can continue to operate in the FOTC-driven manner, or it could apply network-centric principles to develop more flexible and effective command structures that deliver swift, decisive, harmonious actions throughout the battlespace. For example, a decision to implement electromagnetic emission control in a battlegroup need not imply limiting engagement capabilities if the information shared by the network provides a sufficient coherent tactical picture and tactical awareness among platforms to allow a timely hand-off of prosecution authority from the sea combat commander to the appropriate assets.

It is important that the Navy determine how it wants to conduct ASW in a network-centric world. A concept of operations will evolve with fleet usage of the network, but it is important that it also evolve in innovative warfare forums such as the Strategic Studies Group and the Naval Warfare Development Command at the Naval War College, to ensure that the delivered capabilities of the network support expectations.

Information Engineering for ASW

A key to successful antisubmarine warfare will be the quality of the information in the combat system. Platforms generally are positioned to counter above-the-surface threats such as aircraft and cruise missiles, as opposed to the submerged threat from submarines and torpedoes. Current sensor detection and classification capabilities against slow-speed, high-technology, conventional submarines are short-range, making search the most time-consuming phase of ASW. The correlation, fusion, and processing of sparse threat-contact data sets alone will not provide greatly enhanced ASW capability for the search. Two additional facets will be required:

  • Translation of the lack of contact data into meaningful information
  • Enhanced integrated sensor capability to improve the input data

Detection, classification, and localization data from the theater-level combat system is correlated and fused to provide a coherent tactical picture. This consists of known contact information and associated area of uncertainty (AOU), together with environmental overlays, navigation charts, meteorological and oceanographic information, and intelligence information.

Situational awareness is obtained by adding the history associated with the contact tracks or historical track information together with knowledge of how well the sensor systems are expected to perform given their in situ environmental conditions and tactical employment considerations. Another aspect of situational awareness is knowledge of asset readiness (e.g., whether the helicopter is ready for launch or the torpedo is ready in the tube).

Situational awareness of this nature gives us the best information possible from which to hypothesize the threat submarine location and intent. Information pertaining to the success of individual platform searches can be used to optimize the search pattern. In this instance, the lack of positive data can provide what is known as negative information. If the lack of a target is known with some degree of certainty, this information is valuable in adjusting search patterns or assessing surveillance cueing (reverse cueing). The collective information also is useful in determining the vulnerability of assets (predicted counter-detection ranges) within the warfare action group, the risks assessed, and adjustments that may be made.

Examples of Network-Based ASW

It is not unusual for the ASW search phase to go on for long periods without any positive contact. This is not, however, negative information. It is possible to use the existing tactical decision aids on board the platforms to generate cumulative probability-of-detection calculations. These calculations use measured in situ parameters and can be supplemented with the latest intelligence information from the network to generate threat density maps that show the area searched, the current search, and the projected search based on own ship track. These maps are refreshed with time and would change as old search areas become cold. A threat density map for a given area may be transmitted in grid format, allowing quick transfer of information. Techniques exist that allow the fusion of multiple platform searches into a composite picture. All the information that was used in the calculation of the map could be transmitted, as time permits.

The use of the network in ASW can affect as many levels of the decision hierarchy as the imagination and technology will allow. There are many possible methods for connecting sonar shacks and intelligence sites. Consider, for example, a sonar "chat room," where the sonar operators of a battlegroup are connected. Sonar operators tend to hesitate calling contacts until their confidence builds. This results in lost time, lost opportunities, and potentially lost ships. Time and operational requirements permitting, a chat room, or the ability to link back to an analysis center, would permit operators to discuss "whiffs and sniffs" of a potential contact in a given direction or could permit the transfer of selected amounts of raw acoustic data for comparison and/or analysis. The use of multiple platforms and "ears" raises the alertness (recognition differential) and could shorten the search phase.

The use of a network will be essential with multi-static active operations and contact management using dissimilar sensors, such as radar and non-acoustics. Instant correlation of multiple contacts from geographically separate and dissimilar sensors will be required to employ active sources and multiplatform correlation effectively.

In addition, it may be necessary for processors simultaneously to process raw sensor data "in the background" and to provide alerts for the operators to investigate. This will require networks with sufficient bandwidth to accommodate the data load.

What Network-Based ASW Is Not

Network-centric ASW is based on a complete information system. It relies heavily on the use of communication networks with sufficient bandwidth but goes beyond these links to include information management. Similarly, data fusion is a very important element, but it is only a beginning step in the data-to-decision hierarchy.

There is the possibility of sharing technologies, but network-centric ASW is not an underwater version of the cooperative engagement capability (CEC), as many have articulated. CEC has been established to counter the antiair warfare and cruise missile threat. Its concept of operations is based on dispersal of forces, relatively long-range radar contact data, detection equating to targeting quality localization, and often near-instant target classification. The system must react within minutes, seconds, or even milliseconds. The problem, therefore, generally is contact management and targeting.

ASW is sufficiently different to alter this concept of operations. Its phases traverse from national asset cueing to kill, and in the case of task group ASW, require mutually supporting forces in relatively close proximity. Detection generally is short-range and of short duration, and does not necessarily equate to target classification or targeting quality localization. Like CEC, the system may be required to react within minutes, but with considerably less positive information. The problem, therefore, is inadequate sensor performance to support a CEC-like concept. Only after the contact is generated, classified, and localized does the problem become similar to that of CEC.

In addition, without definitive information to the effect that the threat is completely removed (all the order of battle submarines have been accounted for), ASW will require constant vigilance.

Realizing the Potential of Network-Based ASW

Where should the Navy go from here? It must resolve how it wishes to address the disparate warfighting requirements of competing warfare areas, develop its overarching ASW concept of operations, and conduct the development and supporting systems engineering. Concomitant with these improvements, the needed communications and information engineering must be done to ensure the right connectivity and conductivity backplane to the network afloat and ashore, and to ensure rapid, effective decision making by determining who needs what information, when, where, and in what format. In addition, there needs to be a clear understanding of how information superiority achieved by network centricity translates to real undersea warfare power. First, however, there must be adequate sensor improvements to ensure that contact can be generated at reasonable ranges to provide meaning to the concept of network-based ASW.

Admiral Fitzgerald is vice president, director of ASW C41, for Analysis & Technology, Inc., in Arlington, Virginia. While on active duty, he served as Department of the Navy Inspector General and as Deputy Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet. Mr. Christian and Mr. Manke are senior analysts for the Surface USW and Submarine Combat Systems Directorates, respectively, at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Division Newport Rhode Island.


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