CDR Salamander is writing at the USNI blog again. As usual, he’s concerned about the poor shipbuilding program that resulted in the LCS and the DDG-1000, and the lack of offensive firepower in the surface fleet.
We have been floundering since the end of the Cold War when it comes to our ability to advance the fight from our warships. “Build a little, test a little, learn a lot” has morphed in to “Spend a lot, testify in front of Congress a lot, learn new ways to make PPT slides.”
But Sal sees a ray of hope, this one emanating from the current Director Surface Warfare (N96), Rear Admiral Pete Fanta.
Fanta is basically arguing that the current risk adverse system stifles innovation, and is not allowing existing systems and platforms to be developed to their full potential. For instance, we’ve all spent the last quarter century watching the Tomahawk missile be used as the weapon of choice for land attack from the sea. The original anti-ship version of the missile was retired because the long time of flight meant that it was quite likely its intended target would move outside the radar seeker field of view before it arrived, and the risk of attacking innocent neutral shipping was too high. It was simply assumed tactical air would handle shipping strikes at longer ranges.
But improved network capabilities and vastly more powerful electronics* mean we should be able to incorporate more modes of attack. We chatted with SWO Pro Bryan McGrath a few weeks ago, and the coming improved capabilities of the Tomahawk were to him pretty much the most exciting development in the near term for increased lethality in the surface force.
Similarly, Rear Admiral Jon Hill discussed adding offensive capabilities to the Standard Missile SM-6. SM-6 is an active radar guided air defense missile that is the primary air defense weapon of the Aegis equipped destroyers. Its primary mission is to shoot down airplanes and missiles.
But there is no fundamental reason why we can’t use it for other missions. For instance, an autopilot with INS/GPS and midcourse guidance from the Aegis system yields an incredibly efficient kinematic flight profile. Coupled with the active radar seeker and a backup imaging infrared seeker, software updates should allow an anti-surface warfare use. The warhead is hardly optimized for this role, but given the lack of armor on virtually all modern warships, it would still pose a considerable threat. A land attack role should be easily feasible. While it would be a very expensive approach for most missions, it would be quite well suited for the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) role.
For instance, as we noted yesterday, the Russians have deployed the formidable S-400 SAM system in Syria. Suppressing the system is normally seen as a job for E/A-18G Growlers working with jammers and HARM missiles. But if the location of the system can be pinpointed, why not toss a couple SM-6s from over a hundred miles away? If nothing else, while the S-400 is busy dealing with that (all while being jammed by the Growler) other systems can close in to finish it off in a more traditional manner.
RADM Fanta is right, that there is enormous room for improvement at relatively low cost, that good, workable ideas are out there in the fleet, and that not every program needs to be a massive top down all up system of systems transformation. Let’s hope his style begins to catch on.
*The original Harpoon and Tomahawk ASM seekers were late sixties, early seventies technology, fielded in the early eighties. Take a look the computer or phone you’re reading this on. Do you think there might be room for improvement on Tomahawk?