Torpedo-armed submarines need to locate and attack enemy surface ships and submarines, undersea drones need to detect mines and enemy submarines, and surface ships need to launch massive offensive attacks, all while simultaneously networking with unmanned systems and, perhaps most importantly of all, deterring incoming enemy anti-ship missiles.
It is a multi-domain focus for the Navy, operating within a conceptual framework calling for a heavily armed, yet distributed and highly networked fleet. It would be safe to say that information processing, speed, and shortening the decision-making cycle to exponentially decrease sensor-to-shooter time is now a defining concept in the Pentagon’s multi-domain focus on future warfare. Information at the “speed of relevance” from space to surface to air to ground to undersea is the sought-after goal.
There is wide speculation about the Defense Department’s overarching Joint All Domain Command and Control strategy. People often focus on the success of the Army’s Project Convergence, which connected forward mini-drones with larger drones, helicopters, robots and armed combat vehicles to attack enemies in seconds. By extension, the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System on-ramp experiments have generated massive steps toward achieving the strategy’s goals. Meanwhile, the Navy’s maritime effort is called Project Overmatch. Although it may garner less attention, Project Overmatch has made unprecedented progress toward better gathering, organizing, networking and protecting information shared across air, sea and undersea domains.
The thrust of the Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations strategy rests upon the secure networking and processing of warfare information, as disaggregated nodes such as space-based sensors, air drones, submarines, surface ships and even fighter jets can be greatly dispersed across a vast combat envelope, yet still closely connected by long-range sensors and communications networks. This can both bring the maritime warfare impact of close coordination, yet within a broader, more dispersed formation. This tactical approach is increasingly reflected in the strategic thinking of the Navy and Marine Corps. It continues to massively emphasize unmanned systems and elevates information processing and transmission across domains as a fundamental strategic warfare objective.
For example, the recently published Marine Corps Force Design 2030 lays out sweeping changes the Marine Corps needs to make to meet the principal challenges facing the institution to include new priorities such as information sharing, data processing and analysis and sheer targeting speed linking sensors to shooters.
“Future force development requires a wider range of force options and capabilities,” the Marine Corps report states. “The Marine Corps must be able to fight at sea, from the sea, and from the land to the sea; operate and persist within range of adversary long-range fires; maneuver across the seaward and landward portions of complex littorals; and sense, shoot, and sustain while combining the physical and information domains to achieve desired outcomes.” Artificial-intelligence-enabled networking, secure radio frequency datalinks, longer-range sensors and weapons, high-speed computer processing and other innovations impacting the warfare decision cycle are naturally areas of great focus.
Expeditionary warfare, firepower, increasing long-range precision fires, dispersed unmanned systems, lighter, smaller amphibious and electronic warfare attack technology are all described in the Marine Corps report; they do not seem at all surprising as key tenets or points of emphasis in the Marine Corps’ strategy. Additionally, the text introduces some uniquely modern variables and applications, which represent interesting steps forward and adaptations to a fast-evolving modern threat environment.
Force Design 2030 highlights the importance of expeditionary warfare in the Indo-Pacific region and a need to adapt to and embrace new, evolving, high-tech “threat assumptions.” The planning guidance emphasizes “expeditionary long-range precision fires; medium- to long-range air defense systems; short-range (point defense) air defense systems; high-endurance, long-range unmanned systems with Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), Electronic Warfare (EW), and lethal strike capabilities.”
It is upon this foundation that the Navy is working with various industry partners to refine radar, electronic warfare, synthetic aperture sonar, optical networking, radio frequency datalinks and other communications technologies to further evolve multi-domain maritime networking as part of Project Overmatch. Northrop Grumman, for instance, continues to work with the Navy on multi-domain mission systems, command and control and digital networking technologies to help the Navy and Marine Corps transition to a more dispersed, yet highly connected force ready for great power warfare on the open ocean.
“The Marine Corps has been a ‘second land army’ largely for the last twenty years or so, so we are now focused on supporting their move back toward their expeditionary, amphibious roots. It requires a different force structure, it requires different hardware and software and using existing systems in new ways,” Tom Wears, the director of the sensors division of Northrop Grumman’s Program Development, Maritime/Land Systems, told the National Interest.
Northrop Grumman supports sensors, networking and command and control for the “Mission Systems” supporting anti-submarine, surface and countermine warfare modules for the Littoral Combat Ship and delivers the Marine Corps G/ATOR radar and upgraded electronic warfare systems, among other things. The AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task-Oriented Radar (G/ATOR), is a Marine Corps system that Northrop continues to upgrade by migrating from analog to digital surveillance technology and expanding targeting range and aperture. Wears said Northrop Grumman was adjusting the legacy or basic G/ATOR radar by adding new sensing elements so it has a “denser pattern.” He also said Northrop Grumman was working on expanded capabilities for the G/ATOR system and performing multiple software upgrades to tie into an integrated fire control kill chain.
A major Northrop Grumman electronic warfare technology now in production called AN/SLQ-32(V)7, Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP) Block 3, an evolving maritime electronic warfare system intended to help defend against incoming anti-ship missiles, is capable of being networked.
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 Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.