Both China and Russia, the United States’ competitive peers, have placed significant emphasis on developing and deploying Anti Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) capabilities in critical strategic areas, to include hypersonic missiles to target forward-operating U.S. aircraft carriers, critical air bases, and ports. With the reconstituted military capabilities of Russia and the aggressive expansion and modernization of China’s naval forces, adversary air and missile threats have grown more complex and diverse, including land-attack cruise missiles and hypersonic weapons, in addition to more conventional ballistic missiles. Furthermore, this new weaponry is being deployed on multiple weapons platforms from multiple domains launched at “standoff” range from aircraft, surface ships, and submarines. Negating the A2/AD capabilities and responding to their missile threats is, and with proper investments, can remain within the capability of U.S. sensors and shooters from the space, air, sea, and undersea unmanned and manned platforms.
“The Navy’s ability to establish and sustain sea control in the future is at risk. I am confident that closing this risk is dependent on enhancing Distributed Maritime Operations through a teamed manned/unmanned force that exploits artificial intelligence and machine learning. I am not confident we are building the Naval Operational Architecture connecting and enabling this future as quickly as we must.” – Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Michael Gilday, in a memo to Rear Adm. Douglas Small; U.S. Navy; October 1, 2020.
Advancements in the field of artificial intelligence and machine learning will contribute to U.S. efforts to ensure information dominance, which enables rapid increase efficiency in the kill chain process. The “best” shooter is connected to the “best” sensor by integrated Command and Control across all domains, thus giving U.S. forces the decision making edge over their near-peers and making it possible to beat their overmatch of capacity. JADC2 (USAF), Convergence (Army), ABMS (USAF), and IBCS (Army) with the Transport Layer (Space Development Agency) represent recent U.S. military service efforts to participate in this connective domain and achieve this objective.
The United States Navy, who has been driven for decades by the near-peer threat to its aircraft carriers, has led the other services with the development of integrated layered missile defense on its Aegis destroyers and cruisers. These Aegis ships have both offensive strike weapons and defensive interceptors that defend 360-degrees in a layered capability that would extend to over the horizon threats to the aircraft carrier and its own self-defense systems. The Navy has invested significantly in Navy Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIF-CA) that connects its shipboard and airborne sensors to its long-range shooters across the battlespace to convergence on airborne threats. Today this enables over the horizon engagements for air threats and launch on remote and ‘engage on remote’ for BMD threats on Aegis ships deployed with “integrated fire control” features that transcend air and space engagements. Aegis ships with its Aegis Weapon System can defend the aircraft carriers from the full range of air and missile threats.
Adding a remote unmanned capability for cost efficiency and capacity will enable the Navy to place even more sensors, long-distance strike weapons, and defensive interceptors on the surface, subsurface, and in the air. These unmanned capabilities can be placed in high-risk areas, as well as within A2/AD areas, without risking human lives.
A Navy of 355 Ships as requested by the Secretary of Defense can be done and even a Vision of a 500 Ship Navy can also be done.
“In short, it will be a balanced force of over 355 ships — both manned and unmanned — and will be built in a relevant timeframe and budget-informed manner. And we will build this fleet in such a way that balances tomorrow’s challenges with today’s readiness needs and does not create a hollow Navy in the process.” – Secretary of Defense Mark Esper; speaking at the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, California; September 16, 2020.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith challenged the Defense Department’s intentions arguing that the Pentagon is fixated on the large number rather than the capabilities of the vessels.
“I was not a fan of the 355-ship Navy because what does that even mean?” HASC Chairman Adam Smith, speaking to the Center for a New American Security; October 29, 2020.
While having a sufficient number of manned highly capable surface combatants and submarines are essential, the ability to execute distributed maritime operations into the A2/AD environment requires a large number of unmanned platforms capable of extending sensor and shooter capabilities across a very large battlespace. It is not a partisan or political issue, it is an issue of building and maintaining the right U.S. maritime force, with the full multi-domain mission capabilities to maintain the National Security of the United States and its economic health by protecting international sea lines of communication.
It is right to target an objective of a 355-ship Navy. It is right to focus on Naval Capabilities. And, it is right to balance, integrate, and coalesce Manned/Unmanned Systems with exquisite Artificial Intelligence protocols.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) boasts the largest Navy in the world, “with an overall battle force of approximately 350 ships and submarines including over 130 major surface combatants.” This fleet is set to expand to 360 vessels by the end of 2020, this fleet is increasingly composed of capable multi-mission ships. China is also developing its own Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USV) and has already unveiled several different models, one of which is nearly identical to the U.S. Navy’s own Sea Hunter USV.
The Russian Navy is undergoing similar levels of modernization primarily focused on expanding its world-class submarine fleet. It continues to develop and test Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV), seabed warfare tools, as well as nuclear-tipped torpedoes. Unlike the U.S. Navy, the Russian Navy has trended recently towards investing in smaller surface combatants, such as corvettes, patrol boats, and mine-warfare ships rather than costlier, larger vessels. Today, the Russian fleet consists of approximately 360 ships, slightly larger than the U.S. Navy’s but much smaller in size and less capable of carrying a large arsenal of missiles. Earlier this year, President Putin gave a speech in which he called for the share of modern warships in the Russian Navy to exceed 70-percent by 2027.
The US Navy will embrace the tenants and objectives of ‘Project Overmatch’ as directed by the Chief of Naval Operations in the inclusion of the requirements of the IAMD mission in regional and Homeland Defense. It will ensure the maritime force has sufficient Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) contributions including both manned and unmanned maritime platforms to support robust 360-degree coverage and is integrated with the Joint Force’s All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) and national command authority for defense of the nation. These capabilities must include sensors and effectors distributed across the force and placed to maximize detection, tracking, and engagement capabilities. It means maintaining sufficient IAMD Surface Combatants, including sensor and effectors as mission packages in its unmanned surface vehicles, potentially add long-range interceptors in the submarine force capabilities, and the continued integration of airborne assets like F-35, E-2D, and maritime patrol aircraft.
“Your goal is to enable a Navy that swarms the sea, delivering synchronized lethal and non-lethal effects from near and far, every axis, and every domain” Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Michael Gilday, in a memo to Rear Adm. Douglas Small; U.S. Navy.
MDAA’s mission is to make the world safer by advocating for the development and deployment of missile defense systems to defend the United States, its armed forces and its allies against missile threats.
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