In a past post, ComNavOps stated that the Army seems to be beginning to understand what a future war will entail (see, “Army Gets It”). That recognition is belated, to be sure, and still incomplete but at least aspects of reality are starting to be recognized by the Army. Here’s the latest demonstration of the Army’s slowly dawning recognition via a Breaking Defense website article about combat communications as put forth by Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, head of the Army’s network Cross-Functional Team (1).
“Instead of video, the screens will show minimalist messages and abstract icons on digital maps, updated by telegraphic bursts of data designed to avoid detection. Instead of constant micromanagement, there’ll be a taut silence broken by terse litanies of codewords, soldiers getting on and off the radio before the enemy can trace the transmission. Instead of direct uplinks to bulky, vulnerable satellites high in geostationary orbit, signals will bounce from low-orbiting mini-satellites to relay drones to ground antennas, following dozens of possible paths, too many for the enemy to block them all. Instead of specialist soldiers and contractor field service reps laboriously configuring and reconfiguring the network, artificially intelligent software will adapt autonomously to avoid jamming, hacking, and interference.” [emphasis added]
The full featured, video-intensive, real time documentation of military operations that our leadership has come to assume as normal will be impossible. Electronic countermeasures, jamming, signal disruption, equipment destruction, cyber attacks, etc. will ensure that we’ll have sporadic communications, at best. The article sums it up nicely.
“Instead of optimizing the network to provide the best user experience in normal circumstances — the current standard — you optimize it to provide acceptable performance in extreme circumstances.” [article’s emphasis]
This demonstrates that the Army has at least a glimmer of understanding about a future peer war and is beginning, just beginning, to prepare for it.
“in a high-intensity, fast-moving fight against a great power adversary, he said, the network will be under attack, so you have to prioritize to ensure that at least three essentials get through:
- secure voice, so troops can talk to each other, because typing a text message under fire isn’t always practical, and nothing tells you whether a subordinate is confident or cracking up like his tone of voice;
- Position Location Information (PLI) that’s not reliant on the Global Positioning System, so you know where your people are even when GPS is jammed; and
- telegraphic updates on each unit’s status and enemies spotted so you can populate your digital map with what the Army calls a Common Operational Picture.”
All of this is fascinating and worth a tip of the hat to the Army but what does it have to do with the Navy since this is, after all, a Navy blog? Well, it should be obvious – the Navy will face the same attacks on its communications and networks and, therefore, should be working towards the same goals as the Army.
The really disturbing aspect to this is that far from working towards minimal, but assured, communications in recognition of the reality of peer combat, the Navy is actually increasing its dependence on highly suspect and even more complex and “bulky” communications such as Distributed Lethality, Co-operative Engagement Capability, Third Offset Strategy, unmanned vehicles, Navy Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air (NIFC-CA), etc.
Did you note the use of the term “bulky”? This means that communications and data are becoming ever more demanding of increased bandwidth, signal strength, and signal duration. It takes a
LOT of bandwidth and time to transmit
video as opposed to a couple of word text transmission. Enemy electronic countermeasures are going to
ensure that our communications and network data transmissions are interrupted,
degraded, and sporadic. This is the
antithesis of the path the Navy is on.
Here’s an example. The LCS was designed to self-monitor its machinery, instrumentation, and condition and transmit all that data back to a shore station so that the shore support group could anticipate maintenance and repair needs and have the proper personnel and parts waiting when the LCS arrived back in port for its all too frequent maintenance visits. However, during the first two
public relations deployments the
reality was that the LCS lacked the communications bandwidth and fidelity to
transmit the monitoring data and the entire system broke down and this was
during peacetime when communications were unchallenged! How much worse will the situation be during
war when communications are contested? Singapore
Those high resolution videos of terrorists from overhead UAVs that we’ve all grown so accustomed to on the news are simply not going to be possible in a peer war - of course, neither will UAV survival over the battlefield so the inability to transmit video won’t really be that big an issue, I guess!.
The point is that the Navy needs to take a lesson from the Army and begin reducing its reliance on communications and networks rather than increasing it. We also need to greatly increase the robustness of our communications but that, in turn, depends on reducing the demands, complexity, and bandwidth requirements. In other words, we need to train to fight silently and isolated. If we find that our communications and networks perform better than we anticipated, all the better but we must not count on it.
(1)Breaking Defense website, “Can’t Stop The Signal: Army Strips Down Network To Survive Major War”, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.,