Where Surface Warfare Is Headed--and Why

By Rear Admiral Mike Mullen, USN

Fortunately, we can harness those same rapid technological changes to leverage our present forces and ensure our entrée into the 21st-century battlespace. The concept we are pursuing is network-centric warfare—essentially a battlefield information grid that will give us the ability to assimilate and share data quickly among our forces. All sensors and shooters will be plugged into the network, contributing to a single, accurate, integrated picture of the battlefield. This will change fundamentally the way we do business, both ashore and—more important—at sea.

An excellent example of a key by-product of network-centric warfare is the development and maintenance of a single integrated air picture (SIAP). As noted in the Joint Theater Air and Missile Defense Organization's (JTAMDO's) master plan, this picture is "the product of fused, common, continuous, unambiguous tracks of all airborne objects in the surveillance area. Each object within the SIAP has one, and only one, track number and set of associated characteristics. . . . The SIAP is the critical enabler that will provide the war fighter the ability to perform effective, efficient, and integrated theater air and missile defense." The SIAP will fuse data from near-real and real-time networks, such as the Joint Data Network and Joint Composite Tracking Network, respectively. Today, the Joint Data Network consists of data links (e.g., Links 11 and 16), and the Joint Composite Tracking Network will use data from the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) or a CEC-like system.

Revolutionary changes must be made in the way we receive and transfer data if we are to reap the benefits and efficiencies of network centricity. But because the concept still is developing, and we are operating in a fiscally constrained environment, the plan to achieve this desired endstate must be affordable and realistic. We have developed, therefore, a surface combatant and mission transition strategy that bridges our present surface force to the future surface force by leveraging our current investment.

Our Road Map

The first requirement of network centricity is that old barriers must be broken down, so we can get beyond platform capabilities and limitations, and think beyond traditional demarcations of air, surface, and submarine communities. Organizational structures, operational concepts, and doctrine are changing, to ensure that our tactics match the technologies and combat systems capabilities being brought to the waterfront.

Our resources and requirements are being realigned to enhance those things that will allow the Navy to influence events ashore directly and decisively from the sea. In theater air dominance and land attack, we are moving away from a platform-centered surface Navy to a network-centric one. The combination of the near-term evolution of a new generation of ships and a far-term revolution in the capabilities of these platforms to achieve full-spectrum dominance from the sea is unparalleled in naval history.

In all communities, joint command, control, and targeting capabilities will migrate toward the realization of direct sensor-to-shooter connectivity. Seamless coverage of the joint battlefield will be achieved by overhead sensors. Information superiority will be gained, and maintained, by increased use of space-based sensors and connectivity. Long-range sensor suites, joint connectivity with theater and national systems, and long-range precision munitions will give air, surface, and submarine platforms—operating independently or with a battle group—the ability to attack throughout the battlespace.

The Navy has not yet realized the single integrated air picture as envisioned in JTAMDO's master plan, but we are far enough along to realize that this is an achievable goal and that the payoff will be significant. We also know that the SIAP cannot be built without fully integrating and leveraging the formidable capabilities of the other services—joint interoperability is paramount.

Joint interoperability and the SIAP will allow surface combatants to extend protection against overland cruise missiles to forces ashore. Using Standard missiles directed in the terminal phase by airborne fire-control radars, surface ships will be able to provide defense in depth and 360-degree coverage critical to defended assets ashore. Attaining this air-directed surface-to-air capability will be a true measure of network-centric warfare.

Surface combatants also will employ advanced guns with guided and ballistic munitions, cruise missiles, and fast-response missiles to execute such land-attack missions as strategic attack, interdiction, suppression of enemy air defenses, fire support, suppression of coastal defenses, and self-defense. To accomplish these missions, these ships will exploit national, theater, and tactical sensors (both remote and organic) and employ guns and missiles to attack fixed, relocatable, and moving targets.

Much of what will evolve still is to be determined, but whatever platforms eventually put to sea as replacements for today's force structure, we know that they will be revolutionary rather than evolutionary in design. Combat systems will be developed with open architectures, permitting on-line upgrades via software, as opposed to hardware, changes. New modular construction techniques will change dramatically the way capabilities can be added to platforms and will maximize flexibility and combat capabilities specifically tailored to the mission.

Near Term: DDG-51-Class Construction and Cruiser Conversion

There already exists a solid base from which to strengthen the world's most capable sea-based combat capability: our Aegis cruisers and destroyers. The focus of near-term efforts, then, is to make evolutionary changes in current force structure and to meld the fundamental precepts of the Navy's operational concept with the Marine Corps' operational maneuver from the sea (OMFTS).

Sea-based theater ballistic missile defense (TBMD) systems and strong land-attack capabilities are superb examples of 21st-century technologies that are being developed. As full partners with the Marine Corps in implementing OMFTS, surface combatants with greatly enhanced land-attack systems will provide much of the sea-based fire support required to enable operational maneuver from the sea. Naval defensive capabilities, such as theater air and missile defense systems, will be networked and integrated with joint systems for maximum protection of the joint force. The sea-based defensive umbrella of our Aegis-equipped, TBMD-capable surface combatants will complement land-based systems and in some situations may be the only U.S. capabilities readily available, particularly in the early stages of a campaign.

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The large defended operational areas afforded by NTW give the CinC great flexibility in accomplishing theater ballistic missile defense. A few ships can protect many critical assets in the theater of operations, as well as provide defense against longer ranged missiles fired elsewhere. The NTW system provides a defensive overlay for Navy Area and land-based TBMD systems, which affords the CinC the opportunity to use layered defense for high-value assets and target areas that are critical to achieving his objectives. This results in a high cumulative kill probability where it is needed most and the flexibility to provide significant protection over much of the theater. When forces move out from under the less mobile land-based TBMD umbrella, this is especially important.

Where geography or threat capabilities preclude forward placement of ships, external cueing from space assets or ground-based radars enable the employment of NTW over large operational areas. Engagements are possible with midcourse ship locations and terminal ship locations. For longer threat ranges, ships must be located closer to the defended areas. Even in these locations, however, NTW yields shoot-look-shoot opportunities when supported by Navy Area or ground-based TBMD systems.

Capital Ships

Navy surface combatants remain forward deployed, on station, shaping the security environment favorably toward U.S. interests. Quite simply, we have "been there and done that." The investment in these combatants, coupled with their increased roles and missions, certainly qualifies them as capital ships. By redefining the missions of land attack and theater air dominance, we ensure the nation's continued maritime dominance in the littorals.

There is much to do as we build an interoperable surface force that will remain a full participant in the joint battlefield and continue to secure the peace. Never has the opportunity to promote surface warfare's enduring and evolving contributions to our national defense been brighter.

Admiral Mullen is Director, Surface Warfare.


Admiral Mullen is the Chief of Naval Operations.

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