On Independence Day, the U.S. Navy set off a display of American fireworks with a projection of power in the South China Sea, one that was true to the nation’s makeup of ingenuity, independence and strength in deploying a carrier strike force, composed of both the Nimitz and Ronald Reagan Strike Groups, and tactical exercises in international waters. Probing China’s thin line of maritime blue water experience, exposing their vulnerabilities across all the domains and studying their reactions. Leading with audacity and conviction, backed by credible capability, training, readiness and a century of dominant naval operations across the Indo-Pacific, America’s Pacific allies watched and embraced the bold actions of the American Navy in international waters. A demonstration unmatched and unintimidated that serves to secure a Free & Open Pacific.
The United States has had up to three Carrier Strike Groups operating together in the Philippine Sea recently, all under an emerging strategy of demonstrating deterrence to adversaries and credibility to allies that is all founded on an ability to project a maneuverable force of massive capabilities across geometry, geography, and all domains. This has been conducted in tandem with recent exercises of the U.S. Pacific Air Force and the Fleet Marine Forces Pacific, who like their Navy brothers and sisters have had a century of operation and combat over and in the Pacific. This campaign is consistent with the National Defense Strategy (NDS) and the National Security Strategy (NSS) that advanced America’s interests, values, and security.
These exercises maintain a “free and open Indo-Pacific” amidst China’s regional coercion and aggression under a One Belt One Road (OBOR), in expanding artificial islands and violations of international law. China continues its aggression in its economic predation on the nations of Southeast Asia and on the islands and features in and around the South China Sea, East China Sea, Philippine Sea, Taiwan Strait, and most notably the resource-rich Spratly Islands. In Chinese military strategy of demonstrating ‘constant steady pressure’ and overmatch over an extended period of time to thwart conflict and throttle resistance to gain its objectives. The PLA, Air Force and Navy are developing, producing and deploying massive amounts of missiles and platforms to deliver these missiles to achieve overmatch against US and Allied Forces in the first and second island chains. Chinese development and deployment of DF-21D and DF-26 missiles to destroy U.S. carrier strike groups, the WU-14 hypersonic missile and Dongfeng medium intermediate and short-range ballistic missiles continue unabated.
The PLA’s “Rocket Force” has produced an arsenal of more than 2200 missiles, not including those that do not fall under the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which they have never been required to adhere to. Their arsenal has been equipped with ‘carrier killing weapons’ such as the DF-21D, which is the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), with ranges of up to 2000km. The DF-26 is another missile that is operational with 16 current operational launchers and an operational range of 4000 km. In its efforts towards hypersonic technology, the Chinese are in the midst of developing their DF-100 anti-ship missile.
The PLA’s increasing capacity to shape conditions for Chinese aggression to succeed in the Pacific and to hold harmless US Carrier Strike Groups, still has the reality of absolutely no combat in the experience that is a clear disadvantage. That combat experience of more than 75 years for the US Navy Carrier Strike Groups that have historically provided free and open access to all nations, anywhere in the Pacific, also serves to deter Chinese military action and projects US and Allied objectives of a free and open Pacific. The US and oftentimes allied carrier strike group missions include the ability to maintain freedom of movement and navigation in contested regions around the world. Their robust power projection capabilities with its embarked Air Wing, Aegis destroyers and support ships, as well as submarine strike capabilities, provide considerable options to respond to symmetric and asymmetric aggression, in addition to providing deterrence against adversary action. US Carrier Strike groups must be able to operate in “Anti-Access/Anti-Denial” (A2AD) environments with impunity. It means they must establish dominance in the air, surface, and subsurface domains to limit the threats that an adversary may deploy to counter its operations.
The survivability of these strike groups and their offensive strike capabilities rely on robust layered Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) to effectively defend the Carrier Strike group against potential attacks from over the horizon missiles launched from land, air, sea and underwater. It starts with the ability to counter potential launch platforms with strong intelligence that provides indications and warning (I&W) from both organic and national surveillance assets. This also includes detection and countering land, surface ship, air and submarine launch platforms. The next important layer is the strike group’s embarked aircraft with long range “Airborne Early Warning” (AEW) and Combat Air Patrol (CAP) stations to counter aircraft capable of deploying Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCM). It also includes MH-60R helicopters and surface ships capable of detecting, tracking, and countering ASCM capable submarines and surface ships.
The intermediate IAMD defense layer is taken up with Aegis equipped Cruisers and Destroyers. These surface combatants carry a variety of air defense weapons to include Standard Missiles (SM). This missile family has versions like SM6 that are capable of “Over the Horizon” (OTH) engagements with support of overhead E2D AEW Aircraft and the unique Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC). It also includes SM3 that is capable of countering ballistic missiles such as the Chinese DF-21 anti-carrier ballistic missile. The final layer of defense is taken up with every ship being able to provide self-defense with multiple close in systems. Those include “Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles” (ESSM), Rolling Airframe Missiles (RAM), Close-in Weapon System (CIWS),” and active electronic warfare jamming and decoy deployment.
The command and control for this complex set of operations is handled by a Composite Warfare Commander organization that distributes command among several command nodes. The Air Defense Commander is embarked in the senior Aegis Cruiser, while the Anti-Submarine and Anti-surface defense is normally assigned to the embarked Destroyer Squadron Commodore and Air Strike Warfare is assigned to the Commander Air Group (CAG). Each Carrier Air Group includes four fighter/attack squadrons of F/A-18 Hornets, a E-2D equipped AEW squadron and electronic warfare squadron with EA-18 Growler Aircraft, a detachment from Fleet Logistic Squadron (VRC) and two MH-60R helicopter Sea Combat Squadrons. Overall command is with the embarked flag officer. Because of the complex nature of these operations, the concept of “Command by Negation” is employed once active defensive operations commence. It means action is delegated to the individual commanders with the Strike Group Commander only interjecting orders by negation of a component’s direction.
The 2018 NDA strategy defines the DoD strategic approach, with a focus on competing with China and Russia. The key component of this approach is building a more lethal force. With this approach, component modernizing key capabilities are defined to include notably “missile defense” and “joint lethality in contested environments.” To support these objectives, the nation requires continued and robust investments across all of the capabilities of the Carrier Strike Force. That includes maintaining sufficient numbers of Carriers to support Unified Command requirements.
The Strike Force battle space must be extended via full integration with space and land based assets that support robust integrated fire control concepts such as “Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFCA)” and BMD “Engage on Remote (EOR).” Critical is maintaining Aegis Modernization plans to make all Aegis Ships fully IAMD capable by migration from older closed Baselines (BL 5/6/7) to full Open Architecture Baseline 9/10 configuration. The Modernization Schedule must conform with midlife upgrades to full IAMD. Accelerate Fast Frigate (FFGX) procurement to restore and improve Strike Force Anti-Surface and Anti-Submarine defense, and accelerated procurement and integration of F35 aircraft, that are capable of operating with relative impunity in A2AD environments. The challenge of A2AD demands accelerated development of Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USV) with advanced sensing and effectors to improve Strike Force defense.
As important, extension of Strike Force defensive capabilities into Space with continued development of Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS) and integration of its data with Strike Force fire control systems is critical. It is only with the continuation and constant improvements of all of these assets to include expansion of the Sensor Grid to include integration of Space, Ground based radar, and mobile force sensors, Integrated Fire Control, robust Command and Control, and expanded effects options to include Directed Energy and Non-Kinetic effects. These capabilities are critical to counter the ever increasing set of IAMD threats that challenge Strike Force capabilities to operate in A2AD environments that the US can maintain its diplomatic and economic position in the world.
To be Free and Open in the Pacific is to exemplify and evolve Peace through Strength.