WASHINGTON: Imagine: tiny sensors built into military combat gear to detect chemical or biological weapons; unseen sensors peppered throughout a submarine to detect radiation leaks or chemical contamination of the crew’s precious air; a cellphone — think Star Trek tricorder, flip it open, open the app and bingo! — able to detect the gas of… Keep reading →
PENTAGON: Technology is a two-edged sword, and it can cut the hand that wields it in unexpected ways. For a generation, ever since the first Gulf War, the information age has been America’s big advantage, arming the US military with everything from smart bombs to remotely piloted drones to supply databases. But even low-tech Iraqi insurgents could pick up Predator video transmissions from time to time, and potential adversaries from China to Iran are far more capable in cyberspace. So as the all-consuming commitment to Afghanistan winds down, the armed services have started looking hard at the perils and potential of their dependence on computer networks — none more so than the US Navy.
The Chief of Naval Operations himself, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, has increasingly emphasized the intersection of the brave new world of cyber with the Navy’s longstanding strengths in electronic warfare, most recently in an editorial published on this website yesterday. To flesh out the CNO’s vision, I sat down with Greenert’s point man on the coming war of electrons, Rear Adm. William Leigher. A veteran cryptologist who went on to serve at Fleet Cyber Command, Leigher now bears the jaw-breaking title of “director of warfare integration for information dominance,” known in Navy shorthand as N2/N6F. It’s his job to keep up with the staggering pace at which information technology advances. Keep reading →
Adm. Jonathan Greenert is Chief of Naval Operations, the Navy’s most senior officer. Greenert has emphasized the convergence between traditional electronic warfare — long a strong suit of the Navy — and the new arena of cyberspace. In this op-ed written for Breaking Defense, the admiral argues that “cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum” must be viewed as a single domain of warfare on par with land, sea, air, and space. Click here to read more from Greenert’s chief cyber aide, Rear Adm. William Leigher. — The Editors.
An unmanned aircraft is returning to its ship when it suddenly loses control, plummeting 5,000 feet to the water and shattering on contact with the surface. Halfway around the world, the lighting at an airfield in North America flickers several times before finally going dark, forcing airliners to seek out an alternate airport to land. In a windowless control room, system administrators at a large international corporation are alerted to higher than normal internet traffic on their servers: Before they can intervene, files which hold the key to a new cancer-fighting drug are exfiltrated via the company’s wireless network, placing 10 years of research and more than a billion dollars of investment at risk. These kinds of events, although uncommon, do happen – and they arise from our dependence on the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum.
The electromagnetic spectrum is an essential – and invisible – part of modern life. We unlock our car and control our television with remote controls, routinely communicate using smart phones, and avoid automobile or aircraft collisions with any number of electronic sensors. EM transmissions and cyberspace are also essential to modern warfare. Our military forces use wireless computer networks to coordinate operations and order supplies, use radars and sensors to locate each other and the enemy, and use electronic jammers to blind enemy radars or disrupt their communications.
With wireless routers or satellites part of almost every computer network, cyberspace and the EM spectrum now form one continuous environment. This environment is so fundamental to naval operations, and so critical to our national interests, that we must treat it on par with our traditional domains of land, sea, air, and space. In fact, future conflicts will not be won simply by using the EM spectrum and cyberspace, they will be won within the EM spectrum and cyberspace. This will require changes to our operating concepts, military systems and – most importantly – a new way of thinking in our Navy.
From primitive tool to double-edged sword
Our use of the electromagnetic spectrum has changed dramatically since Heinrich Hertz discovered it in 1888. Right away, EM transmissions were used to communicate with ships at sea. But in 1922, Naval Research Laboratory scientists also used radio waves to detect a moving ship, creating radio detection and ranging, or radar. With war raging in Europe and East Asia, in 1939 the new technology was sent to USS New York for testing and experimentation. Based on the successful results, radars were soon installed throughout the fleet and became pivotal to winning the war at sea.
Since World War II, the military pioneered new uses for the EM spectrum, from satellite navigation and radar jammers to short-range wireless networks and infrared missile seekers. Now computer processors and transmitters are inherent in almost all our shipboard equipment, and even mechanical systems such as gas turbine engines and guns are “on the grid.”
The EM spectrum is also an integral part of our military and civilian computer networks. Just like in our homes or in a Starbucks, a wireless network provides mobility. We can keep far-flung forces, aircraft and ships connected with each other and commanders back home, but wireless systems also provide ways to access a network that is otherwise isolated from the wider internet. Navy forces have a unique opportunity to exploit (or be exploited by) this access because of their presence around the world and ability to closely approach opponents via the sea.
Commanding the electromagnetic and cyber environment
America’s key military advantage for the last twenty years has been our ability to sense and create a picture of our surroundings, then use that picture to control the air, sea, and undersea domains. The systems that build our operational picture have performed well in the relatively unchallenged EM environments of Iraq and Afghanistan, but in future conflicts that will not be the case.
Inexpensive jammers, signal detectors, computer processors and radios make it easier for unfriendly states, terrorists, and criminals to manage their efforts while jamming our own ability to sense and communicate. Meanwhile, the number of users in the EM spectrum has grown dramatically over the last two decades. The result is an environment we struggle to sense, understand and use in warfare. We need a concerted effort to harness the EM and cyber environment to give us a warfighting edge.
First, we will improve our awareness of the EM and cyber environments. We will detect and assess in real time what is happening in the EM and cyber environment, predict how the environment will react and use this knowledge to guide our own actions. Building this level of awareness will be challenging. Our tools for collecting and analyzing information in the EM and cyber environment are limited, and we lack the familiarity and understanding to take full advantage of the information we do have. To build better tools for sensing the EM and cyber environment, we will work closely with industry and academic researchers.
Second, we will employ agility in the EM spectrum and cyberspace. This will reduce our vulnerability to detection and maximize our ability to defeat jamming and deception. If our systems can shift frequency over a wide range, use shorter “burst” transmissions, employ small directional beams, or move applications between servers automatically in response to a sensed anomaly, our EM and cyber operations would be less predictable, harder to classify, and more difficult to counter or disrupt. One example of this is our “Integrated Topside” project, which uses modular, reconfigurable antennas in a ship’s superstructure that can be alternatively employed as radars, listening devices, or radios.
Finally, we will change how we view the role of EM and cyber in warfare. EM and cyber systems and operators won’t just support air, land, and space operations as they did in previous conflicts. Aircraft and ships will instead help get our EM and cyber capabilities into the fight. This will require developing the same “real-time” flexibility in planning and executing EM and cyber operations as we have today in the traditional “physical” domains.
Warfare in the EM spectrum and cyberspace is much more challenging than in other domains such as undersea or in the open ocean. The web and spectrum are crowded with civilian and commercial users who are rapidly developing and fielding new technologies. To take the high ground in this new environment, we will have to work with industry and fundamentally change our approach to operations and warfare. Most importantly, we will leverage those strengths that are impossible to reverse-engineer: the expertise and flexibility of our research base, our history of adaptation, and the skill and perseverance of our Sailors.
Anti-submarine warfare has given rise to some of the best war movies — “Run Silent, Run Deep;” “The Hunt For Red October” and “Das Boot” come to mind.
The romance of the terror of being hunted and of the human conflict inherent in submarine warfare offers great material for auteurs. But the sometimes unbearable tension of a boat maneuvering through different temperature bands of water (thermoclines), hiding in plain sight and using high-tech spoofing and quirky sonar experts to survive in an underwater battle with other subs or destroyers lurking above may become a thing of the past if a new program run by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) succeeds. Keep reading →
[UPDATED 7pm with Sec. Hagel remarks] WASHINGTON: This afternoon, newly installed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel gave a nod to a high-tech radar, the AN/TPY-2 — improbably nicknamed “Tippy Two” — as a key component of America’s burgeoning missile defenses. Next week could bring more good news for the radar’s manufacturer, Raytheon: Not only will the company announce the delivery of the eighth TPY-2 system to the Army, but Congress is expected to add back a $163 million radar the administration had cut from the program — that is, if the Senate manages to pass the defense appropriations bill.
“It’s not done yet, no fat lady’s singing,” said Raytheon’s Jim Bedingfield in an interview with Breaking Defense this morning, literally knocking on wood at a coffee shop table. Bedingfield is a retired Army air and missile defense officer who works in Raytheon’s Missile Defense & Space Programs unit, which makes the TPY-2 radar. He’s not come down from his Massachusetts office to DC to meet with members of Congress, he said, but he couldn’t speak to what Raytheon’s lobbyists are doing in the last-minute scramble to protect — or insert — items in the defense spending bill. Keep reading →
PENTAGON: While the Air Force and the Marines stake their future on a great leap forward to the stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Navy is taking what one officer called “baby steps” into the future: a careful, incremental upgrade of electronic warfare systems to jam enemy radar instead of just hiding from it. The fleet is moving, slowly but surely, from 1960s-vintage EA-6B Prowlers carrying 1970s-vintage jamming pods — complete with vacuum tubes — to supersonic EA-18G Growlers armed, as of 2020, with a digital Next-Generation Jammer.
Despite persistent rumors the Navy will cut back its F-35 purchase, the service remains officially committed to a carrier-launched version of the F-35, the F-35C. They’re just not counting on the F-35 to penetrate increasingly sophisticated air defenses on its own. Keep reading →
[Corrected 9:35 pm with a note about the EC-130 Compass Call] Is stealth still America’s silver bullet? Or are potential adversaries’ radars getting too smart for US aircraft to keep hiding from them?
That’s literally the trillion-dollar question, because the US military is investing massively in new stealth aircraft. At stake in this debate are not just budgets but America’s continued ability to project power around the world. Keep reading →
GILLIAM COUNTY, OREGON: Sometimes in this business, you get to see something that’s just plain neat. In this case, it was the ScanEagle (one word), a mini-drone built by Boeing subsidiary Insitu.
ScanEagle is a UAV so compact it launches from a short rail, “lands” by snagging on a wire, and can be carried back to its box by a single man. (Really. Just watch the video). Reporters from Breaking Defense and other publications got to watch the whole process at Insitu’s test site in rural Oregon.
We’ve written before about the tactical logic behind the unusual landing methods of the ScanEagle and its larger, but still fairly portable successor, the Integrator, a new Insitu drone now being modified to meet military requirements as what the Navy and Marine Corps will call the RQ-21. Whereas the 44-pound ScanEagle can carry just one sensor at a time — either an ordinary video camera or one of two kinds of infra-red sensor; you can swap them one for another in a few hours. The 135-lb Integrator can carry several sensors at once. It’s the Integrator that the company hopes will carry its business into the post-Afghanistan War era.
Like many wars, this past decade of conflict has inspired a great deal of technological innovation amidst the human suffering. Now the challenge for companies like Insitu is to wean themselves from the flood of wartime funding, find a place in tight military budgets, and explore new opportunities in the civilian sector. Which, of course, is one of the reasons Boeing showed this to us.
[Full disclosure: Boeing paid for travel, hotel rooms and meals.]
Imagine Iran, for whatever reason, is threatening the Fifth Fleet, pledging to use its patented swarming boats to whup us.
Well, the Army has spent almost $2 billion developing a capability that can track and provide “target-quality data” to protect the Navy from swarming Iranian attackers. It can also track and help kill cruise missiles. But the service seems reluctant to spend some of the remaining money in the budget to actually use it. Keep reading →