Network Everything: Meet the Military’s New Future Way of War
The Pentagon wants planes, ships, and ground units to share real-time threat data to better defend against incoming attacks.
What if a salvo of incoming enemy missiles were quickly closing in on a number of sensitive, high-value U.S. and allied land and surface targets at staggering speeds? Further complicating the threat, imagine if the areas under attack were spread across multiple domains, including surface ships such as carriers, land-based structures such as Forward Operating Bases or even a collection of drones?
The scenario presents the new scale of threats the Pentagon is working quickly to address, yet any defensive solution or counterattack would need to draw upon multi-domain node-to-node connectivity, something now being explored and tested vigorously by U.S. weapons developers. Programs such as the Army’s Integrated Battle Command System (IBCS), is engineered to specifically address these kinds of inter-domain massive new threat possibilities. Having recently completed several tests, such as a Limited User Test, the Army program is now being refined and expanded to incorporate more multi-domain operational functionality.
Kenneth Todorov, vice president and general manager, combat systems and mission readiness, Northrop Grumman, explained IBCS in terms of a multi-domain Net Centric Integrated Fire Control, to “increase weapons effectiveness through a network, to connect and fuse multi-service operations at relevant speeds.”
Given this objective, envision this: an F-35 operating hundreds of miles forward from ground based radar and Navy surface ships on patrol, functions as an aerial “node” by using its long-range sensors to detect incoming ballistic missiles. The F-35 then instantly networks fire-control and threat data to fire-control systems on board Aegis-enabled Navy surface ships. These warships are then able to track the incoming attack and quickly fire an SM-3 interceptor to destroy it. In this scenario, multi-domain networking can afford ship commanders a much greater time window with which to respond to enemy attacks and share information with additional air and ground assets or nodes as well. These kinds of operations are not far off but rather are already here in certain respects. Northrop Grumman has already demonstrated F-35 connectivity with IBCS, and Todorov said ongoing work was done to further expand muti-domain IBCS functionality.
Northrop Grumman’s ongoing work toward new fire-control cross domain connectivity is described by company innovators as Joint Integrated Fires Command, Control and Communication (JIFC3).
This kind of Air-Land-Sea connectivity encapsulates the expanding aims of the Army’s IBCS effort which is rapidly moving beyond its initial role of operating as a purely land-based Air Defense Network. Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville told reporters last Fall that IBCS could be described as an Army contribution to the Pentagon’s fast-emerging Joint All Domain Command and Control multi-service networking program.
The IBCS system weaves several air-defense nodes and radar, such as an Army Patriot missile or Sentinel radar onto an interconnected unified command and control network so that threat data from otherwise segmented or spread apart areas can quickly share threat data. This massively decreases the sensor-to-shooter cycle and dramatically improves counterattack possibilities.
“We are building the architectural framework that provides scalable and resilient design scales, because we may see major conflict on a scale we have never seen before. This environment will provide scalability, enabling us to be disaggregated and distributed across a network of nodes,” Todorov said.
The Army and Air Force have already collaborated on extending IBCS to incorporate an F-35 as an aerial node to expand multi-domain surveillance and targeting, and Todorov explained that Northrop was looking at ways to further expand connectivity to include Navy surface ships. This kind of webbed “networking,” Todorov explained, also expedites long-range strike and precision fires for offensive operations as well.
“We are investing in cross-domain examples and talking to the services about various different projects and opportunities. We are looking at the whole kill chain across all sensors and weapons. Building the C2 will provide that. The key point is not to replace one existing node, but to augment cross-domain operations and allow domains to be interconnected,” Todorov said.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.