Distributed Lethality

161208-N-KB401-172 ATLANTIC OCEAN (Dec. 8, 2016) The aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) sails alongside the fast combat support ship USNS Supply (T-AKE 6) and the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) through the Atlantic Ocean. GHWB is underway conducting a Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) with the George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group in preparation for an upcoming deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael B. Zingaro/Released)

In 2015, the United States Naval Institute (USNI) published an article signed by Vice Admiral Thomas Rowden and Rear Admirals Peter Gumataotao and Peter Fanta, calling for an operational change in the US Navy that would lead to what its authors called “Distributed Lethality”. To do this, they not only asked to increase the offensive power of each ship in the surface fleet, but also wanted them to start operating in what they defined as “hunter-killer surface action groups”, leaving behind the large formations of escorts, with AAW orientation and articulated around nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.

We have talked about the Third Offset Strategy, understood as the economic, military, technical and diplomatic effort of the United States to compensate for the military rise of the People’s Republic of China and its expansion, especially in the naval field, it is now time to move from the strategic to the operational field.

The last few years have been characterized, in the field that concerns us, by the progressive erosion of the capacity of the Armed Forces of the United States to operate there and where its authorities consider appropriate. Despite the budgetary effort that followed 11/18 and that has lasted during what is known as the “War on Terror”, the truth is that the level of attrition suffered by US material and units has been remarkable, as shown by the hasty sight extension programs of the Boeing F/A-90 Super Hornet or the complaints about the readiness level of many units. This fact, together with the progress made by its main rivals -especially China and Russia, but also countries such as North Korea or Iran- has meant that the US, while maintaining an indisputable primacy in terms of investment and capabilities, has already do not possess the superiority of the XNUMXs, when they could project their power across the globe with virtually no opposition.

During the time that has passed since the end of the Cold War, a series of unfortunate decisions -such as the orientation of the escort fleet towards anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense to the detriment of ASW and ASuW capabilities or the commitment to LCS- and The progressive implementation of A2/AD systems by its competitors has led the US Navy in general, and more specifically the surface fleet, to a critical situation in which it could be unable to fulfill its assigned missions. This, together with the current budget problems, threatens to degrade the supremacy of the US Navy to fatal levels, reaching the point of being unable to defeat its most direct rivals under certain conditions, with its sights always set on the People’s Republic of China. .

Such is the case that the US Navy itself has been gradually recognizing the new situation, going from pursuing effective control of the sea to seeking relative control of it, that is, control over specific spaces for the time necessary to launch operations. aircraft or amphibians. A radically different situation from that of just two decades ago, when nothing and no one could oppose a US Navy that ruled the Seven Seas.

It is a fact that the profusion of ballistic missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles, as well as ISR means capable of providing the former with the information necessary to make a target, has surpassed the anti-aircraft and anti-missile capabilities of US Navy ships and, what worse, it has placed the cost ratio very much in favor of the attackers. This advantage is used by countries like China to settle in strategic points such as the Spratly and Paracelsus archipelagos without anyone being able to do anything to prevent it, in the same way that others such as Iran could make use of this type of weaponry to close the vital Strait of Hormuz, progressively undermining the international presence of the US.

What is worse, the adoption of such systems increases the inability of the US to offer a gradual and credible response in the “grey zone”, that is, in the face of those attacks that are not serious enough to merit a full conventional response. , such as a bombardment or an amphibious landing. This is precisely what is happening in the case of the islands that China is militarizing in the China Sea, under cover of a fait accompli policy to which the US cannot offer an adequate response. In other words; US rivals know that, in the face of certain behaviors, against which it would be possible to respond with a proportionate attack, the US cannot do anything as long as sending a few bombers or making a small landing is totally unfeasible given the equipment A2/AD deployed to the area. This leaves as the only possible responses on the US side either diplomacy -quite ineffective in curbing certain behaviors- and naval presence in the form of the much publicized but useless freedom of navigation operations in which US CSGs show flags in places like the Sea of China, without any effect on the occupation policy practiced by Beijing.

Indeed, in China, at the end of the 90s and after a period of analysis, they understood that in the event of a war with the US, the optimal way to confront the latter was to do so asymmetrically by imposing the forces of USA a series of A2/AD zones. The most effective and efficient way to prepare to win this asymmetric war was to give a big boost to its ballistic and cruise missile capabilities, reinforcing what was the Second Artillery Corps of the People’s Liberation Army (Land), currently called Rocket Force of the People’s Liberation Army (EPL), to which are added the capabilities of the EPL Air Force, which will play a key role with its medium strategic bombers equipped with long-range and precision cruise missiles.

Today, the Chinese will likely have between 100 and 200 DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missiles capable of attacking Guam and the entire second island chain, as well as US Navy ships thanks to their increasingly sophisticated C3ISR assets. . Said missile first appeared in public at the Victory Day parade in September 2015, bringing its entry into service several years earlier, as it was speculated that an intermediate missile (the DF-26) would be ready by 2020. However, in September 2015 16 DF-26 missile launchers could be seen carrying their respective missiles and to top it off, since the end of 2016 China is already putting into service the first J-20 stealth aircraft (possibly when it enters service it will serve as attack aircraft/medium bomber), so since the end of 2017 it is very possible that H-6K bombers with CJ-20 cruise missiles will have to be joined by J-20 stealth aircraft with some type of stand-by attack munition. off. To all of the above must be added the threat posed by the vessels of a PLAN that is constantly growing and improving and its not insignificant capabilities.

Something similar, although on a smaller scale, we could say of Iran, which has made a titanic effort in recent times to equip itself with surface-to-surface, anti-ship and air-launched missiles that allow it to establish a zone of denial sufficient to prevent an Israeli attack. -except in the event of a large-scale war-, as well as to prevent the US from intervening now that the balance of power in the Middle East has tilted on the Iranian side (in collaboration with Russia) to the detriment of the US itself. USA and its allies.

North Korea, despite the antiquated nature of its Armed Forces, has managed to acquire an incipient nuclear arsenal and, what is worse, a sufficient number of vectors to make said weapons pose an unacceptable threat to some of its neighbors. that they could fall into the temptation of decoupling from the alliance with the USA. Added to this is an anti-aircraft network that is in many cases obsolete, but which continues to constitute a danger and, of course, its enormous artillery park.

Special mention deserves the Russian Federation which, despite not matching the number of Chinese ballistic missiles, has powerful arguments to dissuade the US from carrying out any attack not only directly against the Rodina, but also against the areas in which it state has set its red lines. In addition, the Russian deterrence is not based, contrary to what is believed, on nuclear weapons, but has been, especially since 2010, developing capabilities in terms of highly worrying precision munitions (the Russian name for these weapons is High Precision Weapons or Vysokotochnoye Oruzhiye – VТО). Moreover, in Russian military thought these weapons, even equipped with conventional ammunition, have an obvious strategic nature and are an essential tool in any escalation.

In short, we can say that US competitors have developed a series of doctrines and implemented new types of weapons that, together, are capable of limiting US freedom of action, preventing it from implementing proportionate responses. The implications of the latter are much more serious than is thought, since:

  • The external image of the US is damaged, by appearing as a great power incapable of defending its interests wherever they are compromised and, let alone, of assuming the role of global gendarme.
  • Their ability to defend, if necessary, allies such as South Korea or Japan is called into question, favoring decoupling and breaking up the alliances that have been forged since the end of the Second World War.
  • It encourages the resurgence of the arms race in regions such as the Middle East, Eastern Europe or the Far East, since the revanchist powers have more incentives to try to improve their position through the use of force while those in favor of the status quo are forced to assume the weight of their defense that was previously sustained, in large part, thanks to their alliance with the US.

Naturally, in Washington they are not willing to let this situation continue and have been looking for answers for some time. Already in 2012, anticipating what would come next, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, then Chief of Naval Operations of the US Navy, summed up before the United States Congress the new position of the US Navy in three principles:

  • Warfighting first
  • Operate Forward
  • Be ready

With this he intended to emphasize the need to focus the US Navy on combat and not on other types of operations (maritime police, peace enforcement, evacuation of non-combatants…), on the ability to operate in an advanced manner, without matter the availability or lack of large air and naval bases and, finally, in the obligation to be prepared for the harshest scenarios after a time of certain complacency.

In this sense, the article by Rowden, Gumataotao and Fanta to which we referred at the beginning, did nothing but pick up the witness of what was proposed by Admiral Greenert, taking it to the operational field and thereby opening a debate within the US Navy. that has borne fruit, serving to define a series of CONOPS or operational concepts that should lead to a new naval doctrine and guide decisions on new ships and weapons systems to acquire.

These operational concepts, which must complement each other -and of which the Distributed Lethality that gives title to this article is only a part, even though fundamental- do not abandon the theoretical framework launched in 1997 and which is known as war based on networks or network-centric warfare. Rather, they adapt some of its principles to prevail against enemies capable of denying the US dominance of the full spectrum of the battlefield, seeking superiority in what is known as Multi-Domain Battle or Multi-Domain Battle (MDB). . These concepts are, successively, the following:

  • Distributed lethality or Distributed Fleet Lethality
  • Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare or Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare
  • Agile logistics, distributed or Distributed, Agile Logistics

The correct implementation of all of them will depend, in the coming decades, on the ability of the US Navy to continue being the most decisive of the tools of US foreign policy in times of peace and the most lethal of the forces in case of war. So let’s see what these CONOPs consist of.

Littoral Combat Ship
The Freedom and Independence class Littoral Combat Ships have become relative failures and their usefulness will depend on their ability to adapt to new missions and improve their ability to self-defense and operate in a fight in which the electromagnetic spectrum is disputed. However, if the FFG(X) Program materializes, they will end up being relegated in favor of the new frigates and autonomous ships that, paradoxically, will carry some of the mission modules designed for the LCS. Source – US Navy.

Distributed Lethality

The first of the three CONOPS we have discussed -and the most decisive- responds to the need to maximize the offensive -and defensive- potential of each US Navy unit. To do this, look for:

  • Reach Offensive Sea Control
  • Winning the Salvo War (Salvo Competition)
  • Dominate Electronic Warfare

To the extent that the US Navy manages to bring to fruition the transformation in which it is immersed and is capable of succeeding in each of these areas, it will no longer be ensuring its ability to defeat any rival that happens to us but, more importantly, to avoid such a confrontation by regaining control over climbing, reinforcing alliances with its partners by increasing its credibility as the ultimate guarantor of its security and redoubling its deterrence over competitors.

Naturally, being able to adopt the new concepts involves strengthening each surface unit, incorporating more and better long-range weapons (cruise missiles, UAVs, extended-range artillery…) and increasing ASuW and ASW capabilities, as well as improving its defense. through a new approach to the AAW fight in which long-distance interceptors gradually give way to medium and short-range systems, both kinetic (ESSM, CIWS, electromagnetic guns) and non-kinetic (laser and electronic warfare). The underlying idea, on which everything that we are going to explain below revolves, is none other than to disperse the total firepower among all the ships in the fleet, instead of concentrating it around the Carrier Strike Groups ( CSG), to achieve the Offensive Dominance of the Sea, prevail in the Salvo War and dominate the Electromagnetic War. That is the true essence of Distributed Lethality.

Offensive Sea Control

If until now the control of the sea had been taken for granted for the US Navy, the situation has changed remarkably in just a decade and now, more than at any other time since the disappearance of the Red Army, the US Navy must prepare to win the control of the sea in case of conflict before navies specifically designed to deny it (Russian Navy, Iranian Navy or North Korean Navy) or dispute it in wide spaces (Chinese Navy). Needless to say, both to fulfill the traditional missions assigned to the US Navy (control of lines of communication, maritime policing, imposition of exclusion zones…), and to project its power inland, it needs to regain that dominance, even temporarily. This, which is called Offensive Sea Control or OSC, would allow the creation of temporary windows of opportunity, yes, but enough so that the weapons of the ships themselves, the Naval Aviation or the Marine Corps, depending on the scenario, managed to penetrate the enemy defenses and attack their command and control systems, in addition to their vectors, eliminating their F2T2EA capabilities (Find, Fix, Track, Tarjet, Engage and Assess or Find, Fix, Track, Guide, Attack and Evaluate) and thus neutralizing its attack capacity.

Naturally, in order to even have the possibility of generating such windows of opportunity, you first have to overcome the obstacle posed by enemy ships and that, for a US Navy that is overloaded with missions that it cannot ignore, requires multiplying the offensive power of each unit, in such a way that the relative numerical scarcity -relative, since we are talking about a fleet of more than 300 ships- is compensated by its greater collective firepower, but also by a greater defensive capacity, as we will see. This, which seems simple on paper, implies a series of radical transformations with respect to what we have been seeing for more than 70 years. Thus, among many other changes, the most noteworthy are:

  • Transition from a US Navy based on CSGs to one based on SAGs: Currently, the US Navy has, as we have said, just over 300 active ships. For the most part, this huge fleet is made up of escort ships – the largest class being Arleigh Burke-type destroyers, with more than 60 units – designed to protect the dozen CVNs in service and operating within what is known as known as Carrier Strike Groups (CSG). The most visible change -and a sine qua non condition to reach the OSC- will be the shift to the background of the Carrier Strike Groups (CSG) as we know them now, in favor of the Surface Action Groups (SAG). This does not mean in any way that the nuclear-powered aircraft carriers (CVN) cease to play an important role in naval warfare, on the contrary, but rather that they will begin to operate behind said SAGs, which, in turn, will be in charge of settling the control of the sea in the disputed areas and to open windows of opportunity so that the air-naval groups can attack high-value targets. All this represents a notable change, since the creation of these SAGs will force the US Navy to allocate a large part of the escort ships to more assertive tasks, reducing the number of units available to protect the aircraft carriers, but also other priority objectives for the rival navies such as transport ships or amphibious ships. The consequence is obvious: it is necessary to find other ways to defend these assets or, as proposed in the new doctrine, to facilitate their self-defense. Moreover, far from having a passive role, they must form part of the offensive framework of the US Navy incorporating new weapons, especially anti-ship and anti-submarine, as well as anti-aircraft, in this case for self-defense. All of which, by the way, will have interesting consequences. Thus, in the case of the MSC (Maritime Sealift Command), ships that are currently manned by civilian sailors will adopt combat missions, which in turn will have important legal repercussions, since they could be considered pirates or mercenaries by the enemy by not wearing a uniform. of the US Navy, with all that this entails in terms of combatant and prisoner of war status.
  • The renewed role of SSCs: Another fundamental change is the role of small surface combatants (SSC), as is the case of the Freedom and Independence class LCS, originally designed for Network Centric Warfare and designed to accept different modules of mission, but unable to defend themselves even against small enemies, given their lack of weapons. It must be taken into account that these ships were designed for a specific purpose that has currently been left in the background and that the different modules that have been designed for them (ASW, mine warfare, surface warfare, amphibious or irregular warfare) are not They adapt well to the new requirements that require the purchase of multi-purpose vessels. This has put on the table the need to recover the frigate concept, even considering the return to active service of some of the Oliver Hazard Perrys that the US Navy maintains in its reserve fleets or Mothball Fleet. Abandoned as a concept after the demise of that class, leaving the US Navy with a gap between the 9.200 tons full load displacement of an Arleigh Burke (Flight IIA) class destroyer and the mere 3.100 tons of an Independence Class LCS, the frigates are currently seen as a pressing need. Versatile, fast ships, with good autonomy, relatively cheap and, for the case at hand, capable of acting alone, without depending on the connection with other ships and their protection, thanks to their structural resistance, sensors and weapons, the The US Navy seems determined to incorporate a number of not less than two dozen in the coming years, which will make it easier not only to equip the SAGs, but also to cover other missions such as those of protection of lines of communication or naval police. The entry into service of new frigates and the integration of new armaments in classes of ships that until now did not have such power will result in the multiplication of the combat capacity of the US Navy as a whole, which, however, is not by itself a sufficient condition to guarantee victory.
  • The growing importance of autonomous and unmanned systems: As we have suggested, the US Navy cannot drop many of its missions to simply focus on combat. However, covering each one of them with traditional media supposes an unaffordable economic expense in these times of tight budgets. The solution is to incorporate for the service a growing number of unmanned systems (air, submarine and surface), which complement the action of ships, multiplying their ISR and attack capabilities, as well as autonomous systems that complete missions by their own means. own means, without relying on expensive crews. The latter could be used without going any further in the fight against piracy, mine warfare (incorporating the module designed ad hoc for the LCS), troop transport (based on the Spearhead class EFP) or warfare. ASW (in which the ACTUV Sea Hunter Program stands out, developed by the DARPA and which is in a very advanced phase of its development).

The Salvo War

As we said when introducing the article, one of the problems faced by the US Armed Forces as a whole -and not only the US Navy, although we will emphasize it here-, is the proliferation of missiles increasingly accurate cruise and ballistic missiles, with greater range and cheaper to manufacture, coupled with sophisticated C3ISR means and against which the current layered defense is not viable.

For the reader to understand, we can look at a simple example, taking an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer as a starting point. As is well known, these ships equip a certain number of graft missiles in the cells of a vertical launch system (VLS). In the case at hand, the number of cells amounts to 90 in the Flight I and 96 in the Flight II, IIA and in the future Flight III. This does not imply that the maximum number of missiles admitted is that, since some models, due to their size, can be accommodated in packs of 2 or 4 in a single cell, as is the case with the RIM-162 ESSM (Evolved SeaSparrow Missile). 96 cells may seem like a lot, but it is not only the number of cells that matters, but also the distribution that is made between the various missiles. The normal thing is that a DDG uses a distribution in which the SM-3 missiles occupy approximately 10% of the silos, the SM-6 20%, the SM-2 30%, the ESSM barely 10%, the Tomahawk cruise missiles 25% and the RUM-139 VL-ASROC the remaining 5%. Translated into absolute figures, this means that an Arleigh Burke-class ship will sail with 8-10 SM-3 missiles, 18-20 SM-6 missiles, 26-30 SM-2 missiles, 36-40 ESSMs and 22-24 Tomahawk in their cells, plus 4-5 VL-ASROC. As a complement, these destroyers also incorporate 20mm Phalanx point defense systems and the AN/SLQ-32 electronic warfare suite. Given that in no case can it be guaranteed that each interceptor will shoot down an approaching missile, it is normal in these cases to launch two missiles for each threat, with the aim of maximizing the chances of intercepting it. Thus, the 88-100 interceptors available in the best of cases will be able to bring down -and it is a lot to assume- 44 to 50 enemy missiles. All of this, despite being impressive, supposes -according to the calculations of institutions such as CSBA- that the anti-aircraft/anti-missile defense of a destroyer valued at 2.000 million dollars could be overcome (saturated) using a salvo of missiles whose value, at worst cases, it would not reach 200 million dollars.

This leaves us with a bigger problem: the unfavorable cost ratio between the attacker and the defender. If each supersonic ASCM costs China between 2 and 3 million dollars, each subsonic cruise missile around 1 million dollars and each DF-21 MRBM costs over 15 million dollars, it is impossible to face such threats -except in the case of the latter and with certain precautions- with SM-6 interceptors with a unit cost of 3,8 million, especially knowing that they must be used in a ratio of 2 to 1 to maximize the chances of shooting down.

Facing this terrifying scenario leaves the US Navy with the dilemma of continuing to bet on what is known (layered defense), trusting that the interceptor missiles will be able to eliminate any threat when it is still at a considerable distance and developing missiles for this every more capable and expensive -something as we have seen unaffordable- or to look for new approaches.

Today’s layered defense is based on the premise that the safety of a ship and its crew is greater the farther away the threats to it are shot down. It stands to reason that the sooner a target is detected and engaged, and the sooner interceptors are launched that drop it as far as the technique allows, the more time there will be to respond if the interception fails, repeating the sequence once more ( killchain). This sequence is repeated as many times as necessary until the shootdown is achieved and, in the hypothetical case that no interceptor hits, there are always electronic countermeasures and point defense systems to try to deflect or hit the attacking missile at a very short distance. This is what happened on October 9, 2016 when the USS Mason was attacked near the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait launching two SM-2 missiles and one ESSM missile, despite which it is believed that the electronic warfare. These ultimately managed to deflect the Houthi missiles and cause them to impact the sea surface. Naturally, the fact of detecting threats at great distances, thanks to the unparalleled capabilities of the SPY-1D radar and the SPG-62 fire direction radars managed by the AEGIS combat system, gives crews great confidence. in what is undoubtedly a perception of false security. Real security, on the other hand, requires meeting two conditions:

  • Being able to intercept a much greater number of missiles than the current one, since it is feasible for a ship to face salvos of dozens or even more missiles.
  • Do it at an affordable cost that puts the enemy at a disadvantage from an economic point of view.

This is what Distributed Lethality pursues in the field of defense and, for this, while continuing to improve the standard missile in its different variants, the US Navy is obliged to change its doctrine, its tactics, its equipment and also its mentality, undertaking a profound transformation that will have an impact, as we will see below, on multiple aspects:

  • New Approach to Air/Missile Defense: Expensive, useless layered defense against large salvos of cruise and ballistic missiles and G-RAMM (Guided Rockets, Artillery, Mortars, and Missiles) will be abandoned in favor of a new medium and short range defensive mix based on kinetic and non-kinetic systems: 
    • Medium-range missiles: Emphasis will be placed on those interceptor missiles that maximize the cost/effectiveness ratio, in this case the medium- and short-range missiles (RIM-162 ESSM). As we have said before, these missiles can be integrated into the cells of the MK-41 launchers in packs of four units per cell, which allows the number of available interceptors to be multiplied immediately and at a much lower cost, with which the cost ratio goes to be favorable to the defender.
    • Electromagnetic Guns (EMRG): They will make it possible to deal with ballistic threats at a lower cost than missiles, although at the moment they are technologies pending maturity, but with prototypes in the testing phase with a power of 33 megajoules and with a theoretical range of 110 miles. Naturally, it is not feasible to adapt all the inherited systems to the operation of these mills, due to their demand in terms of electricity generation, however, the new ships will be designed taking this easement into account.
    • Hyper-Velocity Projectiles (HVP): Precisely BAE Systems is immersed in the development of new types of projectiles, suitable for being fired from the Mk-45 guns of the Arleigh Burke and whose characteristics would grant a great advantage to the ships that had them in his magazine
    • Solid State Laser (SSL): Although these types of devices have not entered service with the speed that naval planners dreamed of in the 80s, when the “Star Wars” promoted by Reagan seemed that it was going to To generalize laser weapons, the truth is that the first prototypes are already being tested, with navalized models of 30 and 60Kw or prototypes such as the Northrop Grumman JHPSSL, which promises a power of more than 100Kw. Similarly, laser pods are being developed to attach to both fighter-bombers and UASs and would be ideal for dealing with skimmer missiles.
    • High Power Microwave (HPM): Weapons capable of literally burning out the circuitry of enemy missiles, thus causing loss of accuracy, if not destruction.
    • Electronic Warfare Suites: Along with all of the above, it is perhaps the EW capability that is experiencing the greatest development in recent times, a trend that will continue to increase in the future with an ever-increasing range of possibilities. Future systems, in addition to jamming enemy circuits, will be able to deceive their detectors by passing a ship of one type for another. What is more impressive, by resorting to Artificial Intelligence, they will be able to “read” enemy electromagnetic emissions in real time, developing specific emissions that interfere and confuse them, thus altering, for example, their flight plan or causing the fuses to activate. before reaching the target.
  • Long range attack ability: Since the best way to reduce the threat to US Navy ships is to eliminate enemy vectors, the US Navy must be equipped with means capable of attacking both launch vehicles (TEL) and aircraft capable of launching missiles at long range. air-launched cruise ship (ALCM). In other words, to the extent that the archer is destroyed before he releases the arrow, the probability of suffering damage will be drastically reduced, something that also applies to the destruction of enemy ISR media, which will be targeted. a priority for US weapons, since without its assistance, launching precision attacks against the US Navy will be an impossible task.
  • Relocation of naval air bases: Bases located in more distant and safer areas (second chain of islands) or even in the sea itself (atolls or Sea Basing) will be used, which will force the enemy to spend more resources in the manufacture of their vectors with greater range and price. Of course, for the US it will mean fewer departures, in the case of naval aviation. This, in turn, will increase the importance of smaller and heavier refueling aircraft and precision munitions (PGM) to achieve the same destruction even by reducing the number of missions and aircraft engaged.
  • Dispersion and relocation of units: To the extent that the US Navy is able to keep its units on the move, it will make it difficult for any enemy to locate, engage, and attack such assets. If we add a greater dispersion to this, it will be possible that in each attack the salvos are smaller, which will limit the damage. On the contrary, dispersion and mobility pose a formidable logistical challenge, which, however, is the strength not only of the US Navy, but also of the US way of waging war.
  • Resilience: This can apply to bases, which will take advantage of camouflage, deception techniques, or hardening and spreading their structures to make them less vulnerable to attack, as well as warships and personnel themselves. In the case of ships, ships that are more difficult to hit must be built, reducing their RCS and more capable of withstanding a greater number of impacts without losing their combat capacity, recovering the armor in vital areas such as the waist of the ships if necessary. . Regarding personnel, sailors more willing to accept casualties will be needed, after years in which the ships of the US Navy seemed impregnable bastions despite incidents such as the USS Cole.

Dominate Electronic Warfare

To materialize these ambitions, Distributed Lethality seeks to limit the capacity of enemy search sensors (OTH radars, SIGINT receivers, satellites with infrared and electro-optical search systems…) in charge of covering large areas, albeit with little precision. The basic tool is to apply a strict emission control (EMCON) that prevents the enemy from capturing any RF signal of its own. In addition, decoys will be used to confuse the search systems, passing the signals of the US Navy ships or any other system for something that is not, in combination with jammers that interfere with their signals and with laser systems that blind their satellites. no need to knock them down. The same, although applied to the specific case, will apply to sensors intended for the guidance of precision weapons such as active and passive VHF and UHF radars, RF receivers or infrared and electro-optical sensors. Of course, all of these measures will be implemented while still relying on stealth designs that make locating difficult and units spread out and keep moving.

Since it is not enough to limit the enemy’s ability to detect their own forces, nor their abilities to conduct precision strikes by confusing or degrading their guidance sensors, much of the US response will involve striking at the heart of enemy C3ISR capabilities: intelligence. The advantage is obvious, because to the extent that the enemy is unable to develop an accurate and reliable image of the battlefield, he must carry out attacks on a smaller scale or risk attacking by reducing the accuracy of the weapons used or from a shorter distance. , which will increase your exposure to US detection systems.

Furthermore, by deploying numerous signal jammers, decoys capable of mimicking not only the shape, but also the IR and RF signals of US systems, and the application of camouflage techniques, the enemy’s ability to launch precision strikes will be reduced. , tipping the scales in favor of the US.

Naturally, this is only one side of the coin. The other, perhaps more complicated, involves being able to maintain its own C3ISR capability, which would allow it to launch surgical attacks – by nature less escalatory than a large-scale attack – even in environments plagued by AA systems and countermeasures. The task will be entrusted to groups of UAVs that act in a network and are capable of locating and engaging targets, providing information to US fighter-bombers and ships, as far as possible without revealing their location. Attacking the network of anti-aircraft systems, command centers or enemy launchers in this way will once again open windows of opportunity to launch larger attacks or, where appropriate, influence the enemy’s will to continue fighting, by forcing him to to an unacceptable escalation.

Also on the offensive plane, the use of electronic warfare will be generalized, with devices embedded in all types of weapons, even kinetic. Thus, ballistic and cruise missiles and even lower-cost PGMs will incorporate decoys and jammers that, by confusing enemy defenses, increase the chances of such weapons hitting their target. Of course, as the probability of hit increases, the economic cost of each operation decreases, which has a direct impact on salvo warfare.

Carrier Strike Group
Carrier Strike Groups organized around the Nimitz and Gerald class CVNs. R. Ford, which typically consist of four or five Ticonderoga- and Arleigh Burke-class escorts, plus one or two Los Angeles- or Virginia-class SSNs, will act as rear guards for the Surface Action Groups, consisting of three or four destroyers and frigates and destined to achieve Offensive Control of the Sea. Source – US Navy.

Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare and Distributed Lethality

Although it may be confused, due to its name, with the previous section, the Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare goes much further, constituting a CONOP in itself. What the reader must understand is that there is a notable difference between using electronic warfare to support operations in the air, naval or land domains and conducting operations within the electromagnetic spectrum as if it were just another domain since, in fact, , that’s how it is. The classic division between armies, navies and air forces has been left behind for a long time and today both cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum are considered on an equal footing with respect to the previous ones, which makes it necessary to develop a doctrine ad hoc.

The EMW seeks to provide the US Navy with more secure communications, while making it possible to strengthen its own F2T2EA sequence and limit the effectiveness of enemy ISR systems, improving the survivability of the fleet. Unlike the previous point, it does not intend to neutralize the enemy vectors once they have been launched, but rather its intention is to attack the enemy kill chain in all its magnitude.

To give a simple example, electromagnetic interference, far from being a tool that enables one’s own planes to attack enemy radars, confusing them and opening a window of opportunity, must become a weapon in itself. Weapon that, as we will see, gives those who use it a great advantage, since it allows them to operate without it being easy to trace the origin of the attack, making it plausible to deny any participation in it.

In the first part of this article, we explained how the US has serious problems in offering a gradual and credible response in the “grey zone” of conflicts, that is, in the face of those attacks that are not serious enough to warrant a response full conventional, such as a bombardment or a landing. As the reader will undoubtedly understand, in the face of any threat or attack, the strategists present a range of possibilities to the political decision makers. The broader this catalog of responses, the more appropriate the reaction will be, since it will allow us to apply measures gradually, which is known as escalating the conflict, until the opponent gives in, but without the danger of constantly playing a game of all or nothing that ends in an open war with unpredictable consequences.

We can take as an example the policy of fait accompli of the People’s Republic of China in the first chain of islands that surrounds the Asian giant and that is vital in its objective of ensuring dominance over the China Sea. As is known, China has been building military bases on various atolls, investing astronomical sums to gain space from the sea and be able to build barracks and control towers or create ports and landing strips where there was only water. All in the face of protests both from its neighbors, with whom it has open disputes, and from the international community, represented by the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. All without anyone doing anything to prevent it, for a simple reason: There are no tools available to do anything without the conflict escalating out of control. That is to say, that whatever the US does -the most interested in stopping the Chinese advance-, in Beijing they would interpret it as a declaration of war, since any response that is not to walk its ships through the area, but without doing anything beyond showing the flag, it would go through some kind of direct attack, be it a bombardment, amphibious landing, etc.

Acting manu militari against islands such as the Spratlys, plagued by anti-aircraft systems and anti-ship missiles of the latest generation, is in itself complicated. In addition, we must take into account that the Chinese facilities are full of civilian workers or surrounded by fishing vessels -on many occasions ships destined for ELINT and SIGINT tasks camouflaged under the guise of fishing vessels, as the USSR did with its tral’shchiki-, while on paper their security is entrusted to the coastguard, who lack any serious weapons. Naturally, any attack that results in the sinking of a Chinese fishing boat or the death of civilians would lead to an unprecedented crisis with every possibility of degenerating into a high-intensity – albeit possibly short-lived – war, something for which China been preparing for years. In addition, attacking any of these points should be done within the range of Chinese precision weapons, which is an unacceptable risk today and forces the US, in practice, to sit idly by.

The key to being able to act, therefore, lies in the discretion of the attacks and in plausible deniability or, in other words, in the ability not to be obviously involved in this or that action. A complex topic, without a doubt, which we will discuss in depth in future issues.

The solution in any case, if you want to avoid this scenario, is to equip yourself with tools that allow you to undermine the power of your rivals without doing it through direct attacks or, if you prefer, kinetic attacks. That’s where EMW comes in. This, unlike kinetic attacks, allows you to target enemy sensors and weaponry without endangering human lives that can be used as casus belli. With sufficient mastery of electromagnetic operations, the US could take out enemy Integrated Air Defense Systems (IADS) or deprive its precision weaponry of the ISR capabilities afforded by its modern sensors. , losing its effectiveness and thus attacking the waterline of the enemy’s strategy to start fighting one-on-one in the “grey zone”. In fact, the hopes pinned on electromagnetic operations are based precisely on the belief that they will allow:

  • Degrade the search and guidance capabilities of enemy sensors, allowing the US to launch smaller-scale attacks to achieve the same results, while defending against enemy salvos with a less populated network of systems, due to loss of precision of the attacker, using in all cases minimum levels of force.
  • Maintain its own search and guidance capabilities despite the countermeasures deployed by the enemy, maintaining qualitative superiority thanks to the resilience and non-dependence on the satellite network, supplemented, in case of failure, by the information provided or transmitted by UAVs.
  • Increasing the survival of one’s own systems, as small attacks, especially non-kinetic, would make it more difficult to define their origin, while the strict control of electromagnetic emissions will allow discretion to be maintained.

How to fight the EMW?

Talk about electromagnetic maneuvers in simple. Getting them up and running is another matter. The fundamental premise is to act as submarines do, that is, in the absence of electromagnetic emissions. Of course, even submarines, despite the limitations, receive information from abroad and even emit their own signals when they have to send a message. However, it is at that precise moment, when approaching the surface and deploying the antennas, when they are most vulnerable. The US Navy has been inspired by the way its SSNs act -in complete silence of communications- to form the EMW, something that, by the way, is also applicable, as we have seen in the article on the F-22A Raptor, to stealth aircraft.

Applied to surface ships in general and, more specifically, to those that make up the new SAG, this means that a group made up of three or four surface ships, covering a certain area, must do so by limiting communication between them as much as possible. ships – quite the opposite of what has happened until now, when connection was the norm thanks to tactical link systems, such as Link 16.

From the moment that one does not broadcast -but listens through passive systems- the possibility of using broadcasts opens up, precisely, as one more element of the maneuver, for example, broadcasting to be located -acting as bait- and revealing the positions of those enemies who try to fix our position, in such a way that another member of our SAG, located in a more advantageous position or one of the UCAVs that accompany us, can launch an attack on them. This is a single tactic and one of the simplest, but the possibilities go much further and are still beginning to be glimpsed.

Of course, the problem of “real” communications between the members of the SAG itself must be solved in some way, as they need to be in contact in one way or another to support each other, avoid friendly fire, etc. The solution is to establish directional communications, which emit in a narrow band in the direction of the ship or the UAS with which we want to communicate -and which, like each unit of the SAG- could perfectly act as a relay, forwarding the message to the destination unit . This would be done through optical communications or through lasers, to give just two examples. Also using the UAS as relays, which transfer the signal between ships, but without relying on satellites or less discreet emission modes and always in such a way that the security of communications, as well as their undetectability, remain in the first place in the priority scale.

In any case, the basic idea of ​​EMW is deception, on the one hand based on silence and the use of passive listening systems, while on the other hand playing with the broadcasts to make them seem what they appear to be. are not. All with the intention of fighting both a classic war for dominance of the sea, using the EMW to destroy enemy units, and attacking their ISR systems that also have to emit, in many cases, to be able to locate US units and, therefore, Therefore, they become more visible and, therefore, vulnerable.

ESSM Medium Range Missile
ESSM medium-range missile fired during a live-fire exercise. Winning the Salvo War will force you to rely on missiles of this type, cheaper and more deployable than the older, much rarer and more expensive SM-2, SM-3 and SM-6. Source – Royal Canadian Navy.

Agile, Distributed Logistics (DIaL) and Distributed Lethality

The two previous CONOPS, but especially Distributed Lethality, imply profound changes for the logistics of the US Navy in general and, in particular, for the Maritime Sealift Command. Undoubtedly, the reader will have already realized that it is impossible to supply the new SAGs as is done with the current CSGs, whose composition always includes large supply ships capable of ensuring the availability of naval and aerial fuel, lubricants , water, spare parts and food to the entire deployment for weeks, as is the case with the Supply-class T-AOEs. Plain and simple there are not as many logistics ships as SAG intends to put into service and, what is worse, it would not make sense to incorporate them, even if there were, because they would make them lose much of their meaning, given that the supply ships are Not very discreet, slow and, moreover, priority targets for any enemy army, as they are force multipliers.

The problem for the US Navy lies, therefore, in choosing the most appropriate way to satisfy the logistical demands of the SAGs, while meeting the increasing easements imposed by the US Marine Corps and without neglecting the rest of the demands. , which also do not decrease, like those of the CSG and its air wing. All while diminishing the importance of some of the most important bases it has abroad, given their vulnerability, which will undoubtedly further strain the logistics chain. The solution, how could it be otherwise, is complex and involves recovering some lessons learned in past conflicts, such as the Second World War. Indeed, then the

The US Navy was forced to establish a system of floating bases capable not only of supplying the ships of the fleet, but also also to attend to all kinds of incidents, including the periodic maintenance of many ships. It is in this conflict that Distributed, Agile Logistics (DiAL) finds its inspiration, which combines new technologies, the establishment of safer land bases that act as nodes, the development of new floating bases and the establishment of networks safer logistics command and control, capable of guaranteeing the supply of the fleet in disputed seas.

The new requirements

Until now the main concern of the Maritime Sealift Command had been to ensure the sustainment of the CSGs, which meant transporting huge numbers of gallons of naval and aviation fuel and ammunition, but also supplying the immense crews and air wings of the aircraft carriers. Of course, he had to do the same with the forward bases, the Marine Expeditionary Units and the rest of the ships, like the LCS. From now on, on the contrary, you should be able to:

  • Self-protection and establish redundant logistics in the case of the most critical requirements, such as supplying fuel and sufficient precision munitions to both the SAGs and the CSGs and MEUs in the middle of a high-intensity conflict. This means that each MSC ship will incorporate, in the near future, self-defense systems, mainly short-range anti-aircraft, EW and ASW, with special emphasis on ASROC-type systems, since it has been shown that, in most cases, , throwing either torpedoes or depth charges is enough to scare away the enemy by disrupting his attack, even if the chances of hitting him are minimal.
  • Establish expeditionary bases not only on the surface of the sea (Seabasing) but also taking advantage of each islet and atoll that they find in their path. In addition, these bases must not only become logistics nodes, but must also become true bastions capable of denying control of the maritime space to the opponent by incorporating defensive and offensive systems. For this it will be essential to reduce the cost of systems such as the Aegis Ashore, but also the multiplication of non-kinetic systems that we have talked about.
  • Have the necessary mobility and agility to supply dispersed forces in a short space of time with sometimes opposing requirements. As a consequence, the number of ships dedicated to logistics will have to increase, adopting smaller and more versatile platforms and making intensive use of unmanned systems, which will be able to go where the large AORs of today cannot or should not go.
  • Operate in an environment where communications are either contested or degraded. This, as is easy to imagine, will make logistics management extremely difficult, as there will be no direct communication between the ships that must receive the supplies and those in charge of transporting them. New forms of communication will be needed, in some cases directional and in others indirect, through UAVs acting as repeaters.
  • Improve their situational awareness and maneuver accordingly not only on the physical plane, but also on the electromagnetic spectrum, by controlling communications, assuming the same restrictions as combat units.
  • Ensure the inaccessibility of its systems, in such a way that a hypothetical enemy cannot alter the data, vital for the correct functioning of the system. This could have dramatic consequences in a highly computerized system such as the current one, causing, for example, toilet paper to be discharged instead of cartridges or diesel where aviation fuel is needed.
  • Perform ordinary maintenance on US Navy ships (at least surface combat ships and as long as they are not large hulls), in addition to undertaking emergency repairs, all with the aim of increasing availability ratios by avoid long transfers to the CONUS facilities and thus improve the time of operations.
  • Incorporate new and more varied types of platforms that will range from large ESBs to small EFPs, as well as aerial, underwater and surface drones, while refining the manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) concept that will integrate autonomous robotic systems (RAS) with manned platforms.

Of course, as we anticipated at the beginning of the article, many of these changes can be implemented at a technical and economic level in the coming years -although it will be necessary to continue increasing budgets-, but there are still loose ends that we will analyze below.

DiAL’s challenges

As we say, although at a technical and economic level it is not impossible to satisfy each of these demands, it is still a Herculean effort that will require financing and tenacity, but also a remarkable degree of ingenuity.

First of all, getting what is needed to where it is needed is relatively simple, even for large volumes, when the distribution points or the number of products are small. This is, in a way, what the MSC has been doing up to now with its large ships, ready to supply a limited number of large naval groups.

Now we have to make an effort to think about what it really means to bring an ever-increasing range of references to a number of destinations that is not only much larger but, what is worse, constantly changing. Let’s take as an example a Zone of Operations in which three SAGs, each made up of three or four surface combat ships, are distributed at distances of hundreds of nautical miles from the nearest base, something perfectly possible. This would force us to supply a number of between 9 and 12 ships, predictably of different classes -although the majority would be Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and the new frigates that come out of the FFG(X) Program-, their helicopters and embarked drones , the ROVs, the crews… We are talking about an area of ​​tens or hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of ocean in which there is no base where the ships can go to, for example, reload their missile silos or refuel what they implies that all operations must be mobile. Furthermore, it would not make sense since moving nine to twelve ships to a naval base would be much more expensive than moving a resupply ship to any point equidistant between the SAGs. Now, once we have determined that a replenishment ship should approach these, we run into the problem of coordinating actions in such a way that each ship receives its provisions in the shortest possible time, in a relatively safe position, without violating security. of communications and knowing that the rest of the vessels may be in a similar situation, albeit several tens or hundreds of miles away. It does not seem an easy task without multiplying the number of MSC ships or without losing combat capacity by withdrawing an entire SAG for supply each time with all that this implies.

Not all the problems, however, are purely logistical. The status of the MSC personnel, who are currently considered civilian personnel, raises questions, since they cannot handle the weapons essential for the self-defense of logistics ships without risking being considered as mercenaries or guerrillas. This will force either to give them a new status, or to incorporate military personnel on these ships which, in turn, will increase the operating cost.

There are also problems related to the coordination between the two main branches involved, the USMC and the USNavy, because, although in this article we are deliberately leaving out the Marines, the truth is that they will be the ones demanding a large part of the supplies that the MSC must transport and, what is more, they will be the ones who expose logistical capabilities to the most tensions when they implement their own -and new- CONOPS, such as the Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) that must complement DiAL.

ACTUV program, from the DARPA agency
Autonomous ships are on their way to becoming a reality not in a matter of decades, but years. In the image, the prototype of the ACTUV Program, of the DARPA agency -currently managed by the Office of Naval Developments of the US Navy- that seeks to develop a stealthy and highly autonomous ASW vessel, capable of patrolling disputed areas completely autonomous. The first units are expected to be operational in the next five years, once the sea trials of the prototype are completed and the project matures. Source – DARPA.

The Distributed Lethality and it’s impact over the Navy

Changes as profound as those we have described, perforce, must have consequences of a similar magnitude and affect, among many others, both at a budgetary, technical and human level.

Although it is still too early to be able to assess in depth the effects of the new CONOPs that the US Navy is adopting, the truth is that we can dare to conjecture about some of them, warning the reader, yes, about the uncertainty that the future arises.

Fleet architecture

Currently the US Navy is designed in such a way that everything revolves around its 11 aircraft carriers. Given that the strategy of their enemies, in case of conflict, is to direct all offensive power towards them and that the point has been reached where leaving them out of action is perfectly possible, it is mandatory to change the current -and possibly obsolete – architecture of the fleet.

Throughout this short article we have talked about the transition from CSGs to SAGs but this, in reality, is only a small change that, by itself, does not solve the underlying question: a US Navy without aircraft carriers is a US Navy with little offensive power.

Maintaining offensive power against enemies equipped with anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles, as well as the ISR means to take advantage of them, will require all the aspects that we have covered, from prevailing in salvo warfare to mastering EMW. However, this will not be enough either if the US Navy of the future is not designed based on the new requirements and spending priorities are changed to favor the entry into service of new types of ship, the adoption of a greater number of offensive weapons long range to the detriment of merely defensive ones or the rationalization of spending, perhaps betting on a good number of baby-carriers as a complement to the current CVNs, which would offer greater flexibility.

New types of ships?

For some, Distributed Lethality is nothing more than a desperate attempt by surface sailors to maintain their share of power within the US Navy, at a time when the ship best suited to face the A2/ AD seems to be the submarine, especially at a time when the Silent Service’s superiority over its rivals is overwhelming. For others, the only way is to build corvettes or LCS-type ships in large numbers, distributing firepower in this way, in a sort of imitation of the original idea of ​​Distributed Lethality and with the hope that, being targets smaller, increase their chances of survival. Nothing is further from reality, however.

The truth is that submarines cannot in any way ensure dominance of the sea, unless we want to understand the negation of maritime space as negative domination of the sea, a full-fledged misrepresentation. On the contrary, both to be able to carry out amphibious landings and to keep the lines of maritime communication open to traffic -not only military- it is not enough to deny a hypothetical rival the presence of its ships in a certain sea. After all, merchant ships, supply ships and any other vessels would be a perfect target for anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles. This leads us, apparently, to a dead end, since large surface ships are also, on paper, easy targets for these weapons.

Actually, it’s not that simple. The large surface combat ships -corvettes, destroyers and cruisers-, precisely due to their size, and as we explained about the Mosquito Fleets in our Number 2, have reserves of space and weight for multiple systems that allow them to face the guaranteed threats. In addition, due to their volume, they have a much greater structural resistance that allows them to absorb blows better, without being totally out of play at the first impact, as is the case with ships with a smaller displacement.

On the other hand, larger ships are not per se easier targets to locate and lock onto, as the example of the Zumbalts demonstrates, with a much smaller radar cross-section than their Ticonderoga-class predecessors. This is so, in addition to the peculiarities of the stealth design, which have to do with the shape rather than the size and the materials used in its construction, because the larger the size, the greater the possibilities of incorporating cooling systems that increase stealth or more complex electronic warfare equipment that confuses enemy search systems.

In any case, although it seems clear, as has been seen with the renewed interest in frigates and the FFG(X) program, that large surface combat ships will continue to be the US Navy’s priority, it is true that we will see how new types of ships make their appearance. First of all, unmanned systems. In this case, those that are managed remotely will take on larger ship protection missions, maximizing their tactical possibilities either by acting as bait and revealing the position of enemy ships, or by allowing attacks from different directions. Autonomous ships, for their part, will conduct maritime patrol or ASW missions without the need for human interference, something that will be reserved, possibly and for ethical reasons, only for those occasions in which it is necessary to decide whether or not to use force. .

The economic factor

Interestingly, the implementation of the three CONOPS that we have talked about, far from shooting up the US Defense Budget, could help contain spending while multiplying combat capacity. As we explained in the first issue of Armies when talking about the Third Offset Strategy, the US is at a decisive historical moment in which the sum of various factors could unleash a Military Revolution. These changes include the spread of drones and autonomous weaponry, improvements in artificial intelligence, and advances in digital printing, all of which, combined, could deliver a number of cascading effects.0

In the case at hand, the early withdrawal of some legacy platforms -such as the Arleigh Burke destroyers of the first variants or the Ticonderoga-class cruisers-, together with their replacement by USVs and UUVs, as well as the progressive use of UAVs/ UCAVs replacing aircraft and helicopters currently in service could lower both the cost of acquisition and the cost of operation even despite increasing the number of ships in service well above the little more than 300 that the US Navy maintains to date. Today, there are official sources that speak, in their studies, of 480 ships.

3D printing technology, which is already beginning to be used to manufacture spare parts on-site, will allow in the future to print increasingly complex and larger parts as circumstances require, eliminating the need to maintain large inventories and the delays derived from their transport to the Operations Area. On the contrary, logistics will be simplified, since it will only be necessary to transport, in the large supply ships, the base materials, essential to print the final pieces in ad hoc facilities within the ships themselves, or in land facilities.

In the same way, other aspects such as the changes necessary to prevail in the Salvo War, such as the acquisition of cheaper and shorter-range AA missiles or the increasingly important role of hypersonic ammunition, high-power lasers and EW can’t help but contain the cost in a run that had gone haywire. What’s better, if they manage to shift the cost disadvantage to the enemy, they’ll help keep the deterrent at a more palatable price point across the board.

New times and new sailors

Accustomed for decades to operating in large formations, always under the protective umbrella of naval aviation, the unit commanders will have to adapt -as their predecessors were not so long ago- to a much more thankless war, in which they will basically be alone facing an enemy capable of hitting them in multiple ways.

When an enemy appears on the combat system screens, far from following the traditional chain of command -which currently requires authorization from the highest levels of the naval hierarchy before using any weapons-, the chief of unit will have to decide for itself, as it had done for centuries and centuries. This, which should be simple, will force us to radically change the training of US naval officers and establish new selection criteria that prioritize those who are more serene, but also bold and imaginative.

On the other hand, the huge number of unmanned vehicles of all kinds, necessary to implement the new CONOPs, will make it necessary to modify all the instruction, as well as create new specialties that can satisfy the demand of operators while rewarding their performance and allowing These personnel develop their entire career within a coherent itinerary, instead of jumping from one specialty to another in order to progress. It must be taken into account that we are not talking about a small number of combat commuters but literally thousands, to handle as many systems, which, in turn, will have far-reaching consequences.

The main one of all affects the distribution of jobs within the US Navy. If until now in any navy -and the US Navy is not an exception- the number of what in Spain we call MPTM (Professional Military Troops and Sailors) represented the majority of the naval personnel, reducing the number of members of each rank according to you go up the ladder, in the near future this is going to change, as it is possible that non-commissioned officers will come to represent the bulk of the workforce, in what will be a historic turning point.

We can say that, as happens in many technology companies, the US Navy will have to adapt to the new times by changing its structure and ranks, in the same way that we have said regarding the architecture of the fleet. In this way, if modern companies have a moderate number of managers and a large number of middle management and highly trained employees (engineers, computer scientists, economists…), reducing more and more or subcontracting those positions for which they are not requires no special attributes (cleaning, cooking…), the US Navy must do the same. It is unreasonable to think that the control of drones valued in millions of dollars, the supervision of complex equipment, such as AESA radars or electronic warfare suites, or the maintenance of increasingly advanced propellers could be left in the hands of ordinary sailors. On the contrary, in the most modern ships the number of crew members tends to be reduced, precisely due to a significant cut in the troop personnel, unnecessary except for specific positions.

Naturally, we are aware that this goes far beyond Distributed Lethality itself and that it is rather a consequence of the unstoppable advance of technology. However, it cannot be forgotten that the DL, as the basis of the future naval doctrine, will be the one that guides a large part of these changes, hence the need, at least, to leave just a few brushstrokes in this regard.

MQ-25 resupply drone
The use of drones for logistics tasks will be essential for Distributed Lethality to come to fruition. In fact, although the emphasis is normally placed on their usefulness for air-naval warfare, surface ships and autonomous submarines will also be used for resupply. In the image an MQ-25 resupply drone. Source – Lockheed Martin.

Conclusions about Distributed Lethality

Distributed Lethality will allow the US, to the extent that it is capable of implementing all the associated programs, of coping with the huge investment involved and of codifying it in an adequate naval doctrine, to maintain its naval supremacy. What is more, it will make it possible for the US to be in a position to respond proportionately to actions that occur in what is called the “Grey Zone” of conflicts, maintaining control over escalation and deterring any enemy from going ahead with their plans.

Of all the problems that the US Navy has to face to make this a reality, perhaps the most important is the budget. Far from decommissioning ships in service and building new units or investing in grandiose programs, the US Navy will have to adapt the ships that are already in service, lowering costs by taking advantage of existing platforms and will have to look closely at each technological bet, selecting only those programs that offer a real benefit. This will possibly force to discard technologies as fashionable as electromagnetic guns, in favor of cheaper and more effective systems, such as the HVP launched from the 127mm guns that equip most of their ships. In the same way, given that most of the budget goes to personnel expenses, it is very unlikely that one day we will see that navy of 355 ships that Donald Trump announced, although we may see a US Navy with around 280-300 manned ships, as today, and literally hundreds of unmanned ships.

Of course, neither can a new doctrine be outlined by losing sight of the enemies. Although many of the aspects of Distributed Lethality are secret and the studies, simulations and war games associated with its development remain beyond our reach, only with the public data do the naval planners of the US adversaries have enough material like to start working on an answer. It will be interesting to see what it consists of.

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