June 04, 2012

Offshore Weapons, Onshore Warfare

Up at Information Dissemination, Owen Cote Jr. of MIT has an interesting take on the future of naval warfare. Those interested in the future of US defense strategy should pay attention to these two grafs, from which I quote at length:

The next major change in naval warfare caused by U.S. submarines will likely result from the marriage between the submarine on the one hand, and precision, land attack, tactical ballistic missiles (TBMs) and small, long endurance UAVs on the other.In general, fast weapons and small UAVs would give submarines a capability to find and strike high value, mobile targets ashore. Specifically, in the context of the new Air-Sea Battle strategy, they would enable a submarine-based capability to destroy rather than merely suppress modern, ground-based air defenses, or in the DOD vernacular, DEAD. A submarine-based DEAD capability would close a major capability gap against modern A2/AD networks.  The systems that form these networks often seek to use the sanctuary provided by mobility in the cluttered environment ashore as a base from which to launch missile strikes against fixed targets necessary for power projection like air bases, or more ambitiously against ships at sea. 

DEAD? I suppose someone had some fun with that one. Of course, Cote observes that air defenses under this scheme are also assumed to be mobile, which presents a set of different problems:

Ever since the failed “SCUD Hunt” of Desert Storm, persistent airborne surveillance has been identified as key to the rapid identification and precise geo-location of mobile targets, as has been a source of precision weapons for attacking those mobile targets in time urgent fashion when they are found. Everything learned during the decade-long war on terror in operations against IEDs and terrorist leaders has amplified that message. This means that persistent airborne surveillance and time urgent weapons will also need to play a central role in defeating the mobile targets that form the heart of an A2/AD network. ... At the heart of any DEAD capability against a modern air defense system is the need to destroy relatively small numbers of expensive, phased array engagement radars. Without them, SAM batteries lack the ability to track targets with the accuracy needed to guide missiles against them. These radars need only emit intermittently during an engagement and can be quickly moved afterward. Thus, traditional radar-homing weapons like HARM will not work because they require a continuous signal to home on, and traditional single-platform, angle-of-arrival (AOA) ELINT techniques cannot provide accuracy sufficient to target coordinate-seeking weapons.

Cote goes on to look at how an alternative ELINT/COMINT technique called Time Difference of Arrival (TDOA). At this point, I fear that my acronym limit has been reached. The point, overall, is something Dan and I have highlighted in the past. These are major conflict capabilities, but will most likely find operational use in humanitarian interventions, offshore counterterrorism operations, and missions in the Persian Gulf. As Robert Caruso observed about the Afloat Foreward Operating Base, naval ships that enable light projection of special operations forces, Marines and allow dominance over onshore battlefields without the need for large infrastructures are indispensible for current American strategy. A DEAD (OK, bad pun) giveaway is the way Iraq and Afghanistan experiences with improvised explosive devices and high-value targeting has influenced the design of counter-shore capabilities for conventional warfare.

When coupled with operational cyber capabilities for missions against state opponents, what you begin to see is the shape of a military building a capability for decisive onshore intervention. Granted, it is important to qualify this (as we have with drones). The US could, with sufficient investment, destroy Syria's air defense system with existing technologies. But even so, the real problem is the postwar situation and regional effects. Weapons do not make war, and the ultimate determinant of US intervention will be the way these innovations mesh (or do not) with policy discussion in Washington.


* * And because I promised ADTS in the comments of my Stuxnet post, a Lana Del Rey link. It's got alligators in a pool and stuff. Make some kind of crackpot analogy to US naval strategy, Internets.