The Buzz

The U.S. Army Wants to Become a 'Navy-Killer'

The Pentagon wants air-and-sea-based fighter jets to acquire and pass targeting information to land-based artillery and rockets - allowing for land weapons to destroy enemy ships at greater distances.

An emerging Pentagon concept for warfighting is aimed at vigorously increasing “cross-domain” fires wherein air assets provide fires for ground attack weapons fire support in real time. This concept also includes Army rockets and artillery to destroy maritime targets such as ships off the coastline, just as sea and air force assets attack targets on land. 

Pentagon leaders, including leading Army weapons developers speaking last month at the Association of the United States Army annual convention, regularly now refer to the fast-increasing emphasis upon using air, land and sea weapons and technology through faster, more lethal networking and coordination.

“The Army does surface to surface fires. The fact that one end of the surface is wet is not the most significant thing. We have to use all the joint assets of a cross domain effort,” Rickey Smith, Deputy Chief of Staff, G-9,Training and Doctrine Command, told Scout Warrior in an interview. “We can use land forces to open gaps in air defenses and then hold it. Then use the Air Force.”

Cross-domain tactics are far more impactful than merely sustaining information sharing; the idea includes leveraging quickly-networking for information, targeting and location of friendlies and adversaries.   

 The concept, for example, is to enable a Paladin or HIMARS to kill that enemy ship from the land, weapons developers and senior service leaders have said. 

Also, Smith elaborated that electronic and satellite communications technologies such as GPS are increasingly themselves vulnerable to enemy attack. For this reason, Army developers continue to work on communications technologies which can function in a degraded mode as well as in what’s called a “denied” environment. Given the pace of global technological change, cross-domain operations will increasingly involve cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum.

While posited at a theoretical prospect, senior Pentagon leaders have explained that this kind of “cross-domain” fires has already been demonstrated and is now gaining momentum within senior Pentagon circles.

A 6,000-personnel strong joint-training exercise last year called Northern Edge, hosted by Alaskan Command above mountain ranges and the Gulf of Alaska, used networking technology to quickly send targeting coordinates from a fighter jet to land-based weapons. 

Major participating units include U.S. Pacific Command, Alaskan Command, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Pacific Air Forces, Marine Corps Forces Pacific, U.S. Army Pacific, Air Combat Command, Air Mobility Command, Air Force Materiel Command, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve Command and U.S. Naval Reserve.

When it comes to networking technology, one example involves the use of something called Joint Range Extension Applications Protocol, or "JREAP."

 JREAP enables tactical data messages to be transmitted long distances, over the internet, effectively extending the range of the Link-16. Due to the internet, JREAP-C tracking data can then be passed, developers have explained. The JREAP-C “cloud” is necessary because Link-16 is already over-subscribed, senior Navy leaders and weapons developers have explained earlier this year.  

The Navy is now closely coordinating the strategy, tactics and approaches of cross-domain fires with the Army and Air Force, senior officials explained.

“If the network is your greatest advantage, it can become your greatest vulnerability so you have to have many options. The notion of cross-domain operations should not be limited to single fires,” Smith said.

“We need to improve how we project power from land into the other domains – air, sea, space and cyberspace. All domains are becoming more congested and contested," he added. 

If you want to stop a cyber-attack, put a 120mm tank round through the server and the operator of the cyber attack will stop,” he explained. 

 An increased use of cross-domain fires would bring a commensurate need to de-conflict frequencies, communications and fires between different domains, protecting things like space, land and air assets.

At the same time, integrating fire-control technology is essential to these operations, as geographical, tactical and targeting information needs to be processed, integrated and coordinated with land-based firing assets such as artillery, HIMARS rockets or Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, or GMLRS.

“Just because you can send me information does not mean I know how to process the information in time to strike a target,” Smith elaborated."There is much work to be done." 

In some instances, the U.S. military may need to give up warhead capability to gain additional range for weapons attacking maritime targets with a small, longer-range explosive as a necessary trade, Smith added.

Air-Ground-Sea interoperability designed to facilitate “cross-domain” fires is not new, but this modern warfare phenomenon is growing. The Army Operating Concept in 2014 highlighted future warfighting as Joint Combined Arms Maneuver where U.S. forces,operating in multiple domains, cause multiple dilemmas for the enemy and offer options to U.S. Commanders. The emphasis for expanding the approach is rapidly gaining traction amid fast-moving global technological trends. 

Historic Precedent

During the first Barbary War in the early 1800s, American President Thomas Jefferson sent land and sea forces to project power from one domain to another, Smith said.