The United States prefers to fight the “away game,” and our adversaries know it. The problem for them is how to prevent us from projecting power onto their shores; the answer is to build a defense-offense strategy that denies us access to the littorals and maneuver space in the critical domains. China already is implementing this strategy. Thus, within the U.S. military, antiaccess/area-denial (A2/AD) and command-and-control denied or degraded environments have dominated the doctrinal discussion. The conversation, however, is singularly focused on operational access—how to sneak in and operate while hidden. Focusing on keeping a carrier strike group hidden may be distracting us from what should be our real goal—mastery of counter-targeting through proper information operations planning. We need to drive our tactical situation, not let it happen to us.
Many believe today’s U.S. operational doctrine is to “wait for the initial . . . attack, absorb it and then go on the offensive straight away. . . . The U.S. response will await the hours of darkness on day one because it will rely upon a lot of decoy and jammer cruise missiles to shield the aircraft carrying bombs.”1 If true, a near-conflict environment could transition to a conflict environment long before the United States could meet its operational doctrine needs. We would have to claw our way back into the battlespace. Those forces that survived the initial salvos would be critical for reestablishing access. Finding a way to keep our forces “untargetable” in a near-conflict environment should be our focus.
The Navy currently lives in Phase 0 of the six-phase operational planning model. When viewed on the continuum of military operations, security cooperation and presence operations fall in Phase 0. Today and into the future, however, the near-conflict conditions of many operating environments and the presence of military near-peers shorten the peace-to-conflict transition. The likelihood of a Navy unit experiencing hyper-escalation of conflict as a result of miscalculation is growing.2 The number of Russian Federation Navy vessels operating in the Mediterranean, for example, is reminiscent of the Cold War and highlights the complexity and tension of operations in these types of environments. The Navy cannot allow a combatant to be caught off-guard and lost in an escalation.
Breaking an adversary’s reconnaissance-to-strike chain is something the Navy always has pursued, but until the recent emergence of an electromagnetic maneuver warfare focus, our post-Cold War operational practices paid little attention to counter-intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting (C-ISRT) skills. This probably is due to the security cooperation and presence operations the Navy conducts, not to mention the lack of a maritime adversary. In security and presence operations, the Navy starts at a position of “known” to an adversary and in many cases already is targetable. In recent history, our adversaries always knew our location, in large part because we told them and operated in unchanging, self-constrained locations. To a lesser extent, broad area cuing across multiple domains is easy against capital ships. Therefore, the goal should not be to remain hidden, but to make ourselves untargetable while located.
Navy doctrine uses “tactical situations” (TACSITs) to describe the probability of an enemy being able to locate and target a force for an engagement. TACSITs are defined as:
0 – Unknown
1 – Forces located and targeted
2 – Force location known, disposition unknown
3 – Forces not located3
From a threat perspective, conventional thinking is units maintain TACSIT 3 at all times, but operations in a Phase 0 environment are about achieving U.S. strategic interests through presence—a diametrically opposed proposition. Phase 0 operations require units to place themselves in TACSIT 1. Working toward TACSIT 3 in Phase 0 is counterproductive and unrealistic. Instead, we need to manage TASCSIT appropriately based on the operating environment and assigned tasks—untargetable presence operations.
Since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, the Navy has operated its units with little concern for their TACSIT, despite being inside potential threat areas. This likely is the direct result of the tension between presence operations and support of land-power campaigns. This blurs the traditional operational phases in the maritime environment. Until A2/AD and electromagnetic maneuver warfare concerns registered outside the Pacific Command area of operations, the nonlinearity of operating environments was explored only during certification training exercises prior to deployment. It was not a consistent consideration of Phase 0 operations.
A2/AD placed so much focus on preserving TACSIT 3 at all costs that one could argue we lost the gamesmanship and interactive nature of maneuvering afloat forces for countertargeting purposes.4 TACSIT 3 is not an all-or-nothing situation in a Phase 0 environment, yet many portray it as such. Concealment of strike group units should be coupled with theater-level deception to be effective—a joint force effort. Emission control measures that create countertargeting effect may require some units to emit more while others emit less or none. The end state is to present an adversary only what we want him to see, confuse him when needed, and seize initiative. We must embrace living within TACSIT 1 and the command and control needed to focus our operations on preserving what can be called “TACSIT potential (TACp),” or the ability to move along the TACSIT continuum at will, throughout the force, at all times.
Generating TACSIT Potential
Reconnaissance-to-strike operations can be broken into three components: intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), or find, fix, and track; targeting (TTG); and engagement, usually with antiship cruise missiles (ASCMs). (See Figure 1.) Together, find, fix, track, target, engage, and engagement assessment are referred to as the F2T2EA model.
The C-ISRT model is broken into the three corresponding areas of counter-ISR, counter-TTG, and antiship missile defense (ASMD) to defeat an adversary’s F2T2EA effort. To align further, Figure 1 shows linkages to TACSIT. Getting left of the kill chain, or disrupting the adversary’s “find, fix, track, and target” process, is important. When living in TACSIT 1, every operation should consider ways to preserve TACSIT potential, the essence of which is establishing ways to complicate the adversary’s targeting process and posturing units to move quickly into TACSIT 2 or 3 when needed. The space to the left of engagement in F2T2EA—specifically, the space between target and engage—holds TACSIT potential. If every afloat evolution uses tactics, techniques, and procedures to intentionally and methodically preserve the TACp inherent in maneuver warfare, our ability to survive the rapid escalation scenario will increase.
Preserving TACSIT potential is not new. The Navy uses the concept every time it executes a chokepoint transit. TACp is less about trying to hide during Phase 0 operations and more about preserving kinetic and nonkinetic effects to make us untargetable and unengagable. Effective maneuver, coupled with other tactics, creates enough ambiguity to break the adversary’s kill chain, or at a minimum, force him to restart his targeting process. Preserving TACp must be considered for every at-sea evolution, no matter how mundane. The limited warning we might receive before an engagement in a nonlinear operating environment does not allow routine operations to get left of engagement if TACSIT potential has not already been preserved through proper planning.
Changing Culture and Institutional Thinking
Preserving TACSIT potential requires rethinking our information operations (IO) planning. The problem with most Navy IO planning is that too few individuals are trained to do it properly. In most cases, we spend too much time on the plan and too little on how to measure its effectiveness. Three things are needed for TACp IO planning to work:
• A theater deception plan that places afloat planning within a broader deception framework
• A plan to assess our TACSIT
• Standard operational procedures and responses that are intuitive
For IO planning to be effective in preserving TACp, it has to be repeatable, sustainable, and act as a building block for other counter-TTG and ASMD efforts.
IO planning is a joint force function and should be coordinated with other U.S. government agencies, foreign allies, and within the Department of Defense (DoD). At the strategic level, IO planning institutes “appropriate protective and defensive measures to ensure friendly forces can continuously conduct IO across the entire spectrum of conflict.”5 If DoD and the theater have not done their IO planning and implemented clear guidance, the afloat strike group IO planning will have no foundation to build on. Unlike in the 1970s and 1980s, the European theater no longer has well-developed deception plans like those born from Operations Haystacks and Uptide—deception exercises that developed operating procedures and preplanned responses for fleet units to counter Soviet reconnaissance-to-strike activities.6 To be effective in preserving TACSIT potential, afloat IO planning requires strong theater-level guidance, something that needs time to develop and must be started immediately.
In the Navy’s composite warfare commander structure, the IO warfare commander (IWC) leads IO planning.7 However, the IWC is not specifically trained to conduct effective planning. In most cases, any considerations of combining information-related capabilities with normal strike group operations are an afterthought. In a recent Proceedings article, the authors note that the lack of an IWC career and training track hinders effective afloat IO planning that plays to Navy strengths and integrates with the joint force.8 While the article discusses developing IWCs, it does not address how to make good any IO planning they conduct.
The critical component of managing TACSIT is convincing the adversary where you are on the TACSIT spectrum, not yourself. The afloat IO planning cell should establish TACSIT indicators for each individual unit, as well as for the entire strike group. This requires IO planning to consider TACSIT potential and decide who will operate at a specific TACSIT to balance emission control restrictions with organic surveillance capability and preserve TACp for the high-value units. Once established, the afloat intelligence enterprise must develop a collection plan that provides insight into each unit’s signal and maneuver control effectiveness, as well as indications of the effectiveness of the adversary’s reconnaissance and surveillance operations. Together, this allows a more accurate assessment of actual TACSIT.
As much as we wish to believe we are in the TACSIT directed, the adversary gets a vote. TACSIT is simply a perception of an adversary’s ability to locate and target a specific unit or group. Unfortunately, afloat collection management has waned over the past 20 years. Even at its best, it rarely provided the capacity to focus on its own unit’s emissions. If we are to be successful at generating TACSIT potential, we must bring back afloat collection management and create a specialty track that develops the collection requirements and operations managers needed to support IO planning.
Afloat IO planning for TACSIT potential must include guidance for the intelligence enterprise to assess individual unit TACSIT. The commander’s prioritized intelligence requirements must force the intelligence enterprise to consider how it assesses TACSIT. This TACSIT measurement must be standardized and consistent. Part of the intelligence indications and warning line of effort must be timely notification of changes to individual unit TACSIT, but this level of fidelity is extremely difficult to achieve. The afloat collection plan must link national, theater, and organic capabilities to ensure it can play its role in developing TACp through assessment of the plan’s effectiveness.
Finally, for TACp preservation to be effective we need to redefine the risk to force and mission in Phase 0. In today’s resource-constrained Navy, it could be argued that there are no low-value units, so the fundamental question associated with TACp may be what combatant within the strike group the commander is willing to sacrifice to prevent the enemy from having a successful engagement against a high-value unit. Are we willing to conduct our operations near merchant traffic, possibly using them as battlespace complications, if it creates opportunity to preserve TACp? This ends-based approach to operating in a nonlinear, near-conflict environment likely does not fit our American way of war.
The operating environment of today is nonlinear, with high-end weapons and unstable geopolitical conditions underpinning persistent low-conflict or near-conflict conditions. In this environment, our strike groups will be expected to conduct Phase 0 missions: presence, theater security, and overland ground combat support operations. We will be located because our strategic missions require potential adversaries to be influenced by our presence. The Navy must embrace TACSIT 1 operations and change its thinking to ensure TACSIT potential is managed for every unit to achieve assured operations of our high-value units.
To preserve TACSIT potential, we need to implement deception, concealment, and maneuver operations that work together. To develop TACp for the high-value unit, all strike group units may not be in the same TACSIT at the same time—a risk we must accept and address by integrating afloat IO planning in everything we do. Our units must maneuver in the electromagnetic spectrum with the purpose of disrupting an adversary’s targeting to shift units from TACSIT 1 to TACSIT 2/3 quickly. For our IO planning to be effective, the theater must develop a deception framework. Most important, we must develop an afloat collection management structure that employs trained specialists. Consistently designing organic and external own-force monitoring is the critical aspect missing in today’s afloat IO planning. Until our thinking changes, we will be unable to live, let alone thrive, in TACSIT 1.
2. The 2006 missile attack against the Israeli corvette Hanit and the 1969 sinking of the Israeli destroyer Eilat are examples of such an escalation.
3. Department of the Navy, Composite Warfare Doctrine NWP 3-56 (Norfolk, VA: NWDC, September 2010).
4. Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Operational Access Concept (Washington DC: 17 January 2012), 1.
5. Department of the Navy, Navy Information Operations NWP 3-13 (Norfolk, VA: Navy Warfare Development Command, February 2014) 2-5.
6. Robert G. Angevine, “Hiding in Plain Sight: The U.S. Navy and Dispersed Operations Under EMCON 1956-1972,” Naval War College Review 64, no. 2 (Spring 2011), 79-80.
7. Composite Warfare Commander NWP 5-36.
8. Michael Todd, James Grant, and David Jessen, “It’s Time to Fix Navy Information Operations,” Proceedings 142, no. 6 (June 2016), 80-82.