Can IT Work for ASW?

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

Business and Warfare

Information technologies are having a profound influence on global commercial business affairs, as well as an economic, political, and societal impact. Even the most diehard holdouts cannot escape—during a routine trip to the grocery store, for example, laser technology reads the bar codes on items to determine the bill for goods, while the inventory data base is adjusted automatically in real time, alerting shelf stocking and ordering activity. In many cases, the personnel in the store, the home user of the internet, or the managers of large corporations relying on information from a computer network do not understand how these tools work, even though they rely increasingly on the technology to accomplish their tasks. In fact, it is the war fighter's off-duty exposure to the new processes and products of the information age that often has been the catalyst in moving the military to incorporate some of the IT that has proved successful in business. Some suggest that we extrapolate new information age operations to warfare and reap similar productivity and strategic benefits to those experienced in industry. An understanding of the similarities and differences between business and warfare, however, is key to exploiting business network applications. Is selling Beanie Babies the same as hunting Kilos?

The most successful and understood applications of IT to the business world have been in what are being defined as linear operations. Linear operations are those that have some form of "perfect knowledge" and a predictable and proportional result for a given input. For example, an airline ticket agent engaged in selling and assigning seats on an aircraft results in predictable loading of the plane and profitability of that particular flight. Communication and computer IT have enabled such improvements as instant parallel ticketing activity around the globe, resulting in greater efficiencies over slow voice communications and thus more passengers airborne at reduced cost. This is a form of inventory control with inherent linear attributes. Note the high degree of perfect knowledge, certainty, and ground truth from the sensor inputs in the linear operation, in essence removing information frictions and allowing the system to run smoothly with a higher capacity. It is easy to identify other linear business operations reaping similar benefits—e.g., banking, automated teller machines, and global shipping.

If one follows the examples of the business world, there will be significant benefits to the linear portions of military operations, which really are the majority of what the military performs. Logistics and communications, for example, have a close relation to the business world, and have incorporated IT with notable efficiency and productivity gains. The Navy has incorporated IT communications in "collaborative planning," using e-mail and video teleconferencing to forward and expedite plans and commander's intent in all warfare areas. These communications also have expanded to keep families in touch while units are deployed. An example of a linear ASW operation using IT is planning a helicopter search pattern using payload, fuel capacity, and burn rates as input and vector search legs as the output. Cost savings, workload reductions, and improved readiness have been some of the peacetime drivers in applying IT to the military over the past several years.

In business and in war fighting, however, total operations extend beyond linear processes, and it is necessary to draw a distinction. A nonlinear operation has a more complex relation between input and resultant output. Frequently, nonlinear operations do not have a predictable outcome for a given initial condition because the input is not known completely and the process is incalculable. In the airline industry, for example, a nonlinear process is seen in the flight operations center, which adjusts plane routes based on unexpected weather or maintenance events. Other commercial examples include telephone operations that optimize call routing based on varying switching network demand; or foreign currency exchange trading centers, which capture profits from currency fluctuations around the globe that result from rapidly changing and contradictory economic and political events. These nonlinear operations are exacerbated by the relatively high degree of uncertainty that comes from the unpredictable time-varying nature of the problem, a lack of perfect knowledge, or the fundamental lack of knowledge of the working environment.

In the airline routing example, the process revolves around knowledge of the aircraft assets and destinations, the use of weather reports and forecasts to predict trouble spots and reduce the uncertainty regarding conditions to be encountered, and speed of decision making to minimize the risk to and impact on the traveler. This illustrates the use of a network to exploit the sensing of the status of assets that are controllable by the airline, as well as the uncontrollable conditions that make the operation nonlinear. The network of sensors that includes local radar sites and weather satellites is used to reduce uncertainty and minimize the nonlinear impact on overall flight operations. This can be associated with the "sensor grid" in emerging network-centric warfare terminology. Telephone switching, foreign currency exchange, and similar business operations also rely heavily on a sensor grid and network.

One need not look far to see that the military performs many linear and nonlinear processes. Even in combat there are periods of nonlinearity (weapons exchange) separated by periods of linearity (planning and maneuver). Peacetime military operations tend to be more linear, and therefore have less uncertainty to manage. They exploit the network by reducing the information friction of support functions and increasing the efficiency and productivity of the war fighter and overall military force. As one moves toward limited hostilities and crisis response, however, there is an increase in nonlinear processes, with greater uncertainty. These operations generally exploit the network by reducing and managing the bane of all war fighters—battlespace uncertainty. Applying this understanding of the relationship between warfare operations and IT to specific tactical and operational ASW activities reveals the value of the network to the ASW war fighter.

An interesting nonlinear ASW example is the process used to engage and attack a threat submarine in the face of a partial track from intermittent contacts of varying certainty and value (passive, active, and non-acoustic). The experience and synthesis used by a battle group sea combat commander to process the incoming information is not deterministic and will vary between individuals and with even slight changes in the content and sequence of event information. Note the adaptive/feedback nature of this process, as well as the relatively high degree of uncertainty stemming from variable environmental factors, capricious human (threat and friendly) behavior, and the lack of and relative value of sensor contact that characterizes ASW. At this point, we need to understand the role and value of IT in nonlinear processes to know what benefits can be expected for ASW.

Back to the Future with Sun Tzu

There are, of course, fundamental differences between warfare and business, namely, warfare is about power and compelling enemy behavior. Sun Tzu's "Art of War" contains many time-tested tenets used by modern war fighters and is a good framework for keeping the discussion of network applications close to the realities of warfare:

Now, the elements of the art of war are first, measurement of space;

Second, estimation of quantities; third, calculations; fourth, comparisons;

And fifth, chances of victory.

Network applications need to provide value to the elements of warfare, and evidence to date suggests that the benefit needs to be in reducing and/or managing battlespace uncertainty. The nonlinear commercial examples discussed show that when the sensor grid is functional and uncertainty associated with the driving functions is manageable, a network can be used effectively to fuse information, develop hypotheses on likely events that will affect operations, and generate options for corrective and compensatory action. The network enables the sensors and systems to improve decision making and reduce the impact of uncertainty. These steps parallel Sun Tzu's elements of war and are similar to the sensor-to-response framework needed to provide meaning to the concept of network-based ASW.

The ASW operation contains a high degree of uncertainty—about both the location of threat submarines and the impact of different environmental conditions, even in peacetime. This is the result of an ineffective ASW sensor grid, which is itself the result of such obstacles as fewer ASW assets (e.g., S-3s being used as tankers, helicopters pulled away to function as logistics carriers, secured Sound Surveillance System [SOSUS] sites, and reductions in force levels), reduced detection ranges because of quieter and lower active target strength targets, operations in more demanding environments, and lack of concomitant sensor modernization. Notice that Sun Tzu's first element of warfare (measurement of space) is compromised for ASW today. Until this is corrected, the benefits associated with network centricity will be limited.

Once a functional sensor grid that includes tactical and environmental sensors is realized, the network will be used to reduce and manage what uncertainty exists, so that the accuracy and speed of decision makers—from the operator to the commander of the joint task force—are improved. Linear functions such as communications and logistics will be performed with greater efficiency in support of decision making as well as execution of response orders. Operational information will be shared on mission progress and status, geographically dispersed battle force capabilities, and disposition to the theater commander. Tactical information such as in situ sensor performance, environmental parameters, and negative search results will provide a measure of ground truth to the tactical picture. The nonlinear functions such as dynamic system and sensor environmental adaptation and tactical/operational assessments that provide rapid option generation also will exploit the computing and display capabilities of IT to manage the war fighter's uncertainty. This type of IT application functional analysis will be needed for the total ASW system—forward area, open ocean, and littoral operations with fleet, ashore, and national assets—to form an effective network capability.

Lessons Learned from Scud Operations

A non-ASW example that provides insight into the end-to-end network-centric ASW problem and helps to clarify the management of military uncertainty is Scud operations conducted during the Persian Gulf War.5 The Iraqi Scud missiles, while not significant militarily, were such a large political threat that they jeopardized mission objectives. In a similar manner, the presence of threat submarines may pose an unacceptable risk to mission objectives. The Scud launchers were operated roughly equivalent to submarines at sea. Although there was a significant effort at large-area search—using satellite, radar, and even human intelligence—threat positions generally were revealed as a "flaming datum." Aircraft resources were committed to continuous airborne alert and ultimately had to resort to on-station "pouncers," and even this tactic was not completely effective.

The analogy to ASW is instructive. The linear processes exploiting network technologies included flight logistics and communications routing to maintain the surface, air, and land forces readiness more efficiently. The nonlinear processes included distributed assessment, adaptation, and decision making to manage the uncertainty in the battlespace resulting from a capricious enemy and inadequate prelaunch missile detection and localization. The network was used to share overhead and airborne sensor information and search results to optimize sensor utilization. Mission progress and intelligence information was used to hypothesize the true situation, through inference, using inadequate search sensing for hidden launchers. The time delay between initial detection and arrival of the aircraft at the missile launch area gave the target time to reposition outside of the aircraft's detection range. The information grid (network) and shooter grids were in place, but the sensor grid was too sparse to provide input with accuracy commensurate with the shooter grid capability. Thus, our goal of getting inside the enemy's decision response cycle through rapid target detection and classification and responding before the mobile launchers were moved was not achieved. The outcome was "a protracted, extremely asset intensive endeavor, characterized by false alarms, high weapon expenditures, and low success rates."

There are lessons here for network-centric ASW:

  • The relationship between national and surveillance sensors and tactical units must be such that cueing information results in an area of uncertainty that is smaller than the tactical units' search capability.
  • Supplemental organic or adjunct sensor capability will be required because of the reduced number of ASW assets.
  • With an appropriate sensor grid, the network will allow operational command to direct action by the appropriate tactical unit in the shooter grid.

Desert Storm taught us that certain aspects of network-centric applications can be successful in open hostilities. To realize the full potential of network centricity, it is essential that the end-to-end capabilities be understood and implemented.

Network-centric warfare is about power derived from the knowledge gained through sensing and the wisdom to know what to do with it. Both business and military leaders recognize that this power translates to success in their respective operations. When looking at the benefits of applying IT to warfare, one must examine carefully the specific conditions, processes, and end-to-end capabilities needed to prevail. Taking network-centric ASW from hopeful perceptions to effective practice will require both experimentation and analysis to sort out the proper role of IT in such operations. Our entrepreneurial spirit, combined with our clinical warfighter instincts, will enable us to seize network-centric warfare opportunities and to understand that the solutions will likely be exactly wrong but generally right.

Admiral Fitzgerald is vice president, director of ASW C 4 I, 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 Undersea Warfare and Submarine Sonar Departments, respectively, at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Division Newport Rhode Island. Mr. Christian recently has been assigned as the science advisor to the CNO Strategic Studies Group, Naval War College, Newport Rhode Island.


More by this Author

None found for this author.

Events and Conferences

None found for this author.


Conferences and Events

Maritime Security Dialogue

Mon, 2016-10-03

You are cordially invited to: Maintaining Maritime Superiority A discussion with Admiral John M. Richardson, USNChief of Naval...

2016 Coast Guard Academy Conference

US Coast Guard Academy

WEST 2017

San Diego Convention Center, San Diego, CA

View All

From the Press

Guest Speaker & Book Signing

Tue, 2016-09-27

Guest Speaker & Book Signing

Tue, 2016-09-27

Why Become a Member of the U.S. Naval Institute?

As an independent forum for over 135 years, the Naval Institute has been nurturing creative thinkers who responsibly raise their voices on matters relating to national defense.

Become a Member Renew Membership