F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-211 "Checkmates" prepares for launch aboard USS Enterprise.

F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-211 “Checkmates” prepares for launch aboard USS Enterprise.

This month’s Proceedings article titled Naval Aviation’s Transition Starts With Why” by LCDR Guy Snodgrass is a fantastic article laying out the upcoming “tech refresh,” so to speak, of naval aviation assets that will soon be fielded, specifically noting a unique philosophical change: the shift from fielding purpose built Cold-War era assets to procuring modular payload-based assets that allow for multi-mission capability, and the flexibility to adapt to new missions. One aspect of his article is particularly noteworthy because it hints of something bigger: the Navy will deliver effects within and across domains. This is important. With aviation principally shifting from purpose-built to multi-mission payload-centric assets, the Navy can explore new and unique ways to deliver effects that otherwise would have been very expensive to implement.

LCDR Snodgrass’ article specifically articulates why Navy’s mindset has changed, and it suggests that the old mindset of designing platforms will become irrelevant prior to using up the useful life of an asset. This shift resulted in the procurement of assets that can remain relevant throughout their entire lifecycle without major redesigns via a Payload-Centric architecture. This means that with limited redesign of systems, assets can be repurposed. This has led to multi-mission platforms that can adapt to emerging missions.

What does this mean to naval aviation? Tailoring or refinement of current mission effectiveness is now obvious, but what other unique missions can naval aviation tackle that it currently not doing? The Navy has created the ability to develop an “app based solution” payload, or even CONOPS that can cross multiple domains if it makes sense. I.e., because aviation assets are so adaptable, in theory, the Navy can create new unique solutions to fill mission gaps with enabling payloads in the Surface, Sub-Surface, and Cyber Domains that otherwise would require purpose-built solutions. More bluntly, big Navy may have the foundational assets to conduct fires and deliver effects downrange on hand today…they just haven’t realized it yet.

LCDR Snodgrass succinctly put it “With the advent of multi-mission and networked aircraft, more nuanced employment options become available that can be appropriately tailored to meet the needs of the mission.” This is a profound statement. Noting that, “[s]quadron personnel must reorient themselves to emphasize missions over their platform,” and that they must, “blur the lines between communities” Snodgrass sends a clear message that we have only begun to realize the potential of the unique mission sets we can now do.

In last month’s Proceedings, VADM David Dunaway published an article titled “Creating Integrated Warfighting Capabilities” which discussed the concept that, “in the face of decreasing budgets, rapidly evolving threats, and a shift in national defense strategy that demands more than ever from our naval forces, it’s imperative that every dollar spent increases warfighting capability.” VADM Dunaway suggests the Navy must realign interaction of people, equipment, and training to deliver the required effects downrange in an Integrated Warfighting Capability (IWC) and this will require a culture shift to developing solutions.

So how do we create a culture shift? Culture shift is hard and fought with resistance. People don’t want to change what they have because it works well. But at the same time, the Navy knows it must have a true integrated warfighting approach that considers the bottom-up effects needed across the kill-chain, unencumbered by domain. Naval aviation is primed to lead this culture shift upon fielding of multi-mission payload-oriented airframes simply by virtue of being able to adaptable and flexible.

By fundamentally being oriented to adapt, where could naval aviation assets help the most? LCDR Snodgrass highlights the ISR. Providing more battlespace awareness will be inherently present; the entire carrier airwing will gain more situational awareness by just receiving the organic intelligence from forward platforms. This will make the CSG able to defend itself earlier in the kill chain and present the commander more options.

Where else can this mindset take us? Teasing this concept out a little – what if naval aviation assets created a network in the air that represented a “cloud in the clouds” that can be used for fire control? What could the CSG see and do something about when realizing the full potential (range) of assets with the given improvement in targeting range?

A manual already “within the lifelines” of TACAIR exists today – cooperative targeting. The Navy is advancing this theme via an activity called Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air (NIFC-CA) and it was demonstrated last year at White Sands Missile Range. The Army and Navy executed a joint live-fire test to demonstrate extend over-land and over-water engagement ranges. Also, last month the Navy successfully employed an SM-6 shot over the horizon utilizing Cooperative Engagement Capability to interpret data from remote sensors proving a Ticonderoga class ship could engage an air target it was not tracking with its own fire control systems.

Fully implementing this capability will provide the Navy the first steps in shifting culture to be able to conduct integrated fires utilizing assets external the ship. This will have a two-fold effect: runs at the board at integrated fires thereby getting Navy personnel more comfortable with the concept and opening up opportunities for lessons learned. Once the capability is proven and established, the Navy should invest into automation of the passing (or publishing) of fire control data to assets with the ability to reach out and touch the enemy. This capability should be totally transparent to operators providing the data within the CSG and cross domain assets, as well as, to the shooters. These steps further cement the shift in culture of the Navy to accept “outside the lifeline” data to conduct missions.

If it is almost possible to deliver effects cross domain via naval aviation assets to conduct coordinated fires, what other capabilities and effects could implemented by this emerging architecture? What unique capabilities that are really hard or expensive to conduct today can the Navy now augment with the IWC mindset? Your imagination can really run wild with this and should. The Navy is facing an austere fiscal environment while being challenged to take on the same fight. The cliché in the Pentagon these days is “innovative thinking will be required.” Specifically this innovative thinking will need to leverage emerging assets and enforce necessary cultural shifts in operation. The opportunistic “tech refresh” of naval aviation assets will be the catalyst in a culture shift that will enable the Navy to realize full potential of its already fielded assets, and remain the strongest force on the seas in the fiscally austere environment.

Posted by Sam Septembre in Aviation, Navy
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  • RightCowLeftCoast

    Another area that needs evaluation is the aging systems involved in the aviation-based logistical tail of the Navy, as well as the reduction in airborne ASW capabilities. With the CH-46 having been replaced by the MH-60, whose lift capability is not as great, and an aging COD in the C-2A, the fleet must remember that all the weapon delivering systems in the world do no good unless the systems kept supplied to continue operations. Furthermore, the surface fleet cannot operate while undersea threats exists, and the loss of shipborne platforms with the ability to loiter for significant periods of time increase the threat of underwater platforms. While the glamor of fast moving, nimble aircraft capture the attention of crowds and politicians, as important are the other types of aircraft whose funding and replacement have not received the attention it deserves.

    Let Naval Aviation learn a lesson from the missteps of the Air Force, who are experiencing problems with its aging platforms, and increasing repair costs, all while due to budget considerations the number of replacement aircraft have reduced, thus requiring more flight hours to be placed on the newer aircraft.

  • OldNavy207

    There is some goodness in NAVAIR’s pivot into a capabilities based approach for the development and acquisition of the systems in their domain, but it only addresses one of the issues that we’re facing today: system of systems requirements determination and architecting. To better understand the full problem, I recommend the 2012 report produced by a task group commissioned by CJCS that is titled “Linking and Streamling the Defense Requirements, Acquisition, and Budget Processes.” This group was chaired by MajGen (Ret) Arnold Punaro and their findings were that our acquisition system in its current form is not working. The group recommended a “zero based review” of the entire system, something that I think is absolutely necessary. Anyone who works within NAVAIR knows that it is a matrix organization that has evolved into a large bureaucracy that by its very nature is slow, deliberate, and expensive. As VADM Dunaway writes, they have some very smart and motivated people, but they are trapped in a system that many find dysfunctional.
    We are not going to get significant change by simply adding another enterprise team to an organization that already suffers from a very high level of organizational complexity. What I’m recommending is not easy, though, and I’m doubtful that it’s something that will occur without help from above. The first step would be to start keeping metrics on the real costs of the acquisition system–how much procurement funding is really being used to sustain the bureaucracy? The current numbers only tell part of the story and once you know the real cost, you’ll get a cry for change. The second would be to start a series of kaizen-like events to determine how much waste exists in today’s step-by-step and committee approach for developing weapons systems. And then the hard part: re-architecting the entire system, which will mean reducing jobs and destroying rice bowls, which would be very politically unpalatable. Only then will you embark on a path to make the acquisition bureaucracy more responsive and less expensive.

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