Given the tremendous appetite for swift and secure information across the maritime domain, the Navy’s information warfare (IW) community stands to have an even greater impact on warfighting than naval aviation did in the early to mid-20th century. Although intelligence, cryptologic warfare, meteorology and oceanography, and information professional are long-standing restricted-line communities, their merger more than ten years ago into the IW community to better support the unrestricted line is still maturing. Ideally, the IW community will maximize its relevance by responding to fleet demand signals; achieving comprehensive integration with traditional sensors and kinetic weapons; and promulgating standardized doctrine and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs).
One of the benefits of serving on an amphibious assault ship is working with officers from each IW community discipline. During the 2018–19 USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) deployment to the Sixth and Fifth Fleets areas of responsibility, the ship and embarked forces made daily use of each IW specialty. Though the ship trained as part of an amphibious ready group (ARG) through the normal advanced-phase underway exercises, it was not until deployment and combat operations that the IW team honed its proficiency and identified areas where it could better support the warfighter’s needs. The following is not an exhaustive list of IW requirements. Rather, it includes gaps in IW support to operations at sea the Kearsarge ARG discovered during the deployment.
Avoiding Information Shoal Water
In 2017, the Kearsarge benefited from its IW team’s expertise in forecasting the environment and making use of Optimum Track Ship Routing (OTSR) to safely evade Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria while supporting civil authorities in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Working with the Fleet Weather Center (FWC) to analyze the plan of intended movement, the meteorology and oceanography community (MetOC) team provided timely and accurate environmental predictions; made track recommendations to avoid destructive conditions; and routed the ship back into the operating area after these hurricanes had passed, ensuring the earliest possible aviation launches in support of search and rescue operations. When combined with traditional navigation information, OTSR provides the commanding officer the data to make decisions regarding track, speed, and acceptable risk level.
Unfortunately, the IW community does not have or make use of an OTSR-like graphical analysis tool to similarly predict lapses in communication and internet connectivity coverage while transiting from one operating area to another. When planning a transit, commanding officers consider anchorages, buoys, shoal water, and other navigational hazards along the route. During the Kearsarge’s deployment, critical communication paths were lost when the ship transited modest distances within the same fleet area of responsibility. These losses of bandwidth can be understood as “IW shoal water.” In other words, losing connectivity during ship movement is the IW domain’s equivalent to running aground. At no time during the deployment was any predictive communication connectivity analysis paired with an intended movement to help the commanding officer, amphibious squadron commander, or Marine expeditionary unit commander consider effects and adjust the ship’s movement based on communication requirements. For example, during a routine relocation in one area of responsibility to support combat operations, the Kearsarge lost satellite communication coverage—a loss that could have been predicted—causing an unacceptable loss of command and control (C2).
A number of factors, such as satellite location, weather, ship’s location, and ship’s heading, impacts a ship’s connectivity in the electromagnetic environment. Without planning for these and other factors, IW shoal water threatens effective command and control of forces at sea. Understandably, diminished or total loss of connectivity is at times unavoidable, but it should be predictable. Deployed units would benefit from a planning center or process that provides a holistic, IW-based analysis of a ship’s plan of intended movement in the same manner the FWC does for weather. This could prevent a surprise loss or degradation of communications by leveraging other communication resources. Proactive rather than reactive shipboard emission control could then be implemented. The Navy should develop an IW graphical analysis tool to help deployed units preserve and maximize connectivity.
Alleviate the Classification Burden
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are the fastest growing air platform in the world. They regularly orbited the Kearsarge during flight operations and unmanned surface vessels are increasingly making appearances as well. The Yemeni rebel Houthi antiship drone attack on 30 January2017 dramatically illustrates how a UAV threat can appear with little or no notice. Yet, commanding officers are challenged to quickly recall the IW capabilities designed to address these threats. The high classification level of many IW programs impedes the unrestricted line community’s knowledge of IW response capabilities. When adversary UAVs are an immediate threat, a commanding officer must be advised by a cryptologic warfare officer with carefully worded, unclassified descriptions of IW response capabilities. The high classification of these capabilities and absence of training and clearances for junior unrestricted line officers force the tactical discussion out of the environment (bridge or combat information center) in which the decisions are made.
Commanding officers and watchstanders must be able to discuss all ship’s warfighting capabilities in the moment, without waiting to move to the nearest authorized secure area. Furthermore, training in IW capabilities must be integrated throughout an unrestricted line officer’s career to produce proficient department heads and commanding officers. The IW community has had to grow its programs in the top secret/sensitive compartmented information/special access program (TS/SCI/SAP) realm and, where possible, it should advocate for wider access to them when fielded on ships. Non-kinetic IW capabilities designed to combat UAVs should not be more highly classified than kinetic weapons systems that can physically destroy manned inbound aircraft and vessels. In the Kearsarge’s wardroom of roughly 80 officers, fewer than 10 are authorized to enter the ship’s signals exploitation space or the joint intelligence center, or are cleared to access any special programs. If petty officers manning those spaces can be trusted with TS/SCI clearances, it follows that officers making warfighting decisions should be as well. For the unrestricted line community to develop proficiency in IW programs and systems, classification levels must either be lowered or the number of officers awarded appropriate clearances raised so training and proficiency can be developed in junior officers.
Standardize IW TTPs
During the Kearsarge’s training and deployment cycle, it became evident that standardization across the IW community is deficient with regard to training, operations, and reporting. The Kearsarge ARG transited from Second Fleet through Sixth Fleet to its final station in Fifth Fleet as U.S. Central Command’s crisis response force. During the month it took the ship to transit three fleet areas of responsibility, the IW team had to learn and implement three different reporting criteria and standards of operation to tackle similar challenges and problems. TTP differences from fleet to fleet are expected, but the differences for IW were more pronounced than for air, surface, or antisubmarine warfare.
The IW community is developing new technology to keep pace with potential adversaries. Meanwhile, state and nonstate actors are making increased use of low-cost/high-capability platforms such as UAVs. Though the “high-end fight” involves a more sophisticated threat, attacks on Navy ships and sailors since the 1980s generally have been with “low-end” methods such as vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and mines. No standard procedures for a number of IW processes and capabilities are captured in tactical manuals, naval tactical publications, allied tactical publications, or anything approaching formal Fleet-wide guidance. During the Kearsarge’s predeployment composite training unit exercise, the ship was tasked with a night replenishment at sea (RAS) while a strict emissions control posture was set (no radar or communications to assist joining station with the replenishment ship). No formal guidance for such an evolution exists. The Kearsarge had to improvise—yet the Navy provides precise guidance to complete preventive maintenance on a commode.
Much as naval aviation publishes Naval Aviation Training and Operations Standardization for each type/model/series aircraft, the IW community must codify its TTPs. Information warfare is not an art in which each professional brings an individual style. Training commands, group staffs, and Fleet staffs must be aligned with validated IW TTPs. There is a reason a Super Hornet pilot based in Lemoore, California, can transfer to a squadron in Oceana, Virginia, and require negligible retraining—standardization.
Closer IW and Unrestricted Line Collaboration
As the IW community continues to mature, we recommend an in-depth look at how it supports the warfighter in the interim. An annual gathering of unrestricted line and IW officers to address the Navy’s warfighting needs is needed, in the same way naval aviation conducts readiness groups for different aircraft. This gathering would emphasize unit-level input to define IW requirements for research, development, and acquisition.
The IW community needs to provide qualitative not quantitative support to fleet operations and focus on preparing the battlespace. This is the entry point for integration with traditional sensors and weapons. While daily operations and intelligence briefs increasingly draw from multiple IW disciplines, much progress can still be made. A variety of IW reports must be fused to provide a coherent picture and better options to commanders. A comprehensive daily IW product is needed. Such a report should include not just intelligence updates, but also cyber threats, communication degradations, weather impacts, and other relevant IW information. The IW community should compile its myriad data and synthesize comprehensive products, making it more relevant to unrestricted line commanders. And critical information must be provided at the lowest possible classification level to enhance timely decision making.
The lack of doctrine governing IW TTPs is a vulnerability that allows ill-advised actions and practices. Swift development of authoritative guidance is needed to ensure fleet standardization. Finally, the IW disciplines must be integrated into the training of unrestricted line officers at all levels of their professional careers. Without that, commanders will struggle to leverage IW capabilities to win wars.
Note: The authors would like to thank Lieutenants Andrew Roscoe and Timothy Davey, Ensign Justin Mays, and Chief Warrant Officer Randy Smith for their input and help with this article.