Archive for the 'Littoral Warfare' Tag

If you dig around a bit, you can find more and more about the Tactical Lessons Identified (learned is a totally different concept) from the Libyan operations. Like all real world operations, when looked at with a clear eye you can learn what theories were good in practice, what old lessons you needed to remember, and who was being too optimistic or too academic when it came to the realities of combat.

Robbin Laird has a great article out based in a large part on his interviews with the French military. What is so interesting is to hear from other nations what we are used to hearing from our own – expeditionary and littoral combat. This is good and healthy for all – and exceptionally valuable to the military professional who is willing to listen.

Make sure and read it all – but here are the things that stuck with me the most;

A main point underscored by the French military was the impact of the political process on military planning. The French President clearly saw the need for the operation and had worked closely with the British Prime Minister to put in place a political process which would facilitate a Libyan support operation for the rebels. But until NATO received the UN Mandate was obtained, no military action could be authorized. This meant that there was little or no planning for military operations with the result that, in the words of one French military officer, “we were forced to craft operations on the fly with little or no pre-planning or pre-coordination. We did some on our own but until the authorization for action was in place, we could not mobilize assets.”

That is why it is so critical that you have a Commander identified early in a process with a Staff in place. Many an Operational Planner has received the, “We are not supposed to do any planning for this. So, I want the core planning team to just … what shall we call it … talk about this. Don’t plan … just, ahem, talk. Have the Chair see to me in four hours about your, ahem, discussions …. ” speech with a nod-nod-wink-wink from the N/J/CJ-5.

There is no reason to go without a plan on the shelf … unless … you don’t have one. If you don’t have one in work – then someone needs to have a serious talk with their planning staff. Even with a pick-up team – you should already have a plan in work once a crisis rears its head. Sounds like they had something to work with – but given the sloppy start to the Libyan operations; no shock we had to improv a bit at the start.

…. and now – one of my favorite topics, NSFS.

An aspect of the operation of the helos off of the Mistral is noteworthy as well. The frigate with which it was deployed used its guns to support the helo deployment. The guns provided fire suppression to enhance the security of the insertion of the helos off of the Mistral.

The ship’s C2 is first rate and was part of the link to the air fleet for receiving and processing information to shape an intelligence picture in support of strike operations. This demonstrated that integrating maritime with land-based air can provide a powerful littoral operations capability, one which may prove very relevant to the United States as it rethinks the relationship between the USAF and the USN-USMC team in shaping 21st century operations.

Hasn’t this been true since, well, we had aircraft flying early last century? The critical importance and flexibility of the naval gun known for centuries? Modern combat from The Falklands, to the Haiphong gunline, to Five Inch Friday, to Libya reminds us – have your gun ready. None of this is new or shocking – but the fact we have to relearn fundamentals is a reminder how much we need to focus on them – “we” of course being the USA and its allies.

For the veterans of the Balkan operations in the ’90s to AFG the last decade – some habits never go away.

First, rules of engagement were being proposed by the partners of France in NATO that were “ridiculous,” to quote one French officer. “We received from NATO sources the directive that there were to be NO civilian casualties from our air strikes. My view was, why not just not do airstrikes. We pushed back and insisted on something sane: ‘No excessive civilian casualties from NATO air strikes.'”

Here is one final thing that I think we need to ponder on in depth; UAV/S. Too many people are enamored by the PPT and the promise. Not content with having an improved tool – they want to think they have a new tool that can do it all. It is hard even in peace for them to accept the very real bandwidth, loss rates, and other issues – what is harder to explain to the UAV/S true believers are the tactical limitations.

FROM UCAV-N to BAMS – the transformationalists really think that the F-35 will be the last manned fighter. Kind of the same mentality that I read in a book after the Falkland Island War about the Harrier stating that it was likely that the Harrier will ever see combat again. Silly, but there it was. The Future does not like to be taunted. She is touchy like that.

In that light – everyone needs to keep this reality check in mind. In this case, our French friends are exactly right.

the notion that unmanned systems are going to replace the pilot is ludicrous in a dynamic targeting situation. If we are reluctant to give a guy with SA in the pilot’s seat authority, why are we going to give some guy in Nevada or Paris looking through a soda straw the authority to do dynamic targeting.”


Now the reason the enlightened prince and the wise general conquer the enemy whenever they move and their achievements surpass those of ordinary men is foreknowledge. What is called “foreknowledge” cannot be elicited from spirits, nor from the gods, nor by analogy with past events, nor from calculations. It must be obtained from men who know the enemy situation.

Sun Tzu, Employment of Secret Agents, pp. 144-145

As I observe the maritime domain I see three major evolutions in scouting: electronic, visual, and physical. Electronic scouting is often associated with techniques such as signals, sonar, and radar, but includes any electronic mechanism that allows for the detection of enemy forces based on many various forms of electronic enabled detection technologies. Visual scanning is often associated with image intelligence, and while this form of scouting was previously primarily associated with satellite and manned aviation platforms, growth in this form of scouting is occurring at a rapid pace with unmanned systems including unmanned aviation vehicles. Physical scouting is emerging as a quiet but intense challenge with new focus being given to VBSS operations. Physical scouting requires a sailor physically at the point of contact with the suspected enemy to perform a physical inspection that might require language skills as well as skills for uncovering concealed or smuggled materials which might include anything from weapons to drugs to people. Physical scouting is evolving primarily because of more restrictive Rules of Engagement by naval forces at sea.

Depending upon the challenge facing naval forces, any of the three types of scouting may be more important than the others, which is why all three forms of scouting require diligence in development, resourcing, and implementation in order for naval forces to maintain credible scouting capabilities. Today, the Navy tends to spend more development and resources into the implementation of both electronic and visual scouting than physical scouting, and this weakness in our scouting development requirements are being exploited by inferior foes in the maritime domain.

In his timeless book Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, Captain Wayne P. Hughes Jr. notes a constant in the history of naval battles suggesting “antiscouting and its likely exploitation have become major constraints on enemy scouting effectiveness.” He notes that “antiscouting became possible when scouting started to be carried out at long range to account for the phenomenal growth in weapon range. Antiscouting by cover, deception, and evasion would now aim at limiting detection, tracking, and targeting.” He associates familiar terms with the concepts of cover, deception, and evasion. In the context of Navy forces stealth means cover, distortion and disinformation means deception, and obfuscation means evasion.

The United States Navy has spent a fortune in hull forms towards the development of stealth technology for surface vessels, but I question whether the Navy truly understands what stealth on the sea means. Under the sea a submarine achieves stealth by using water as a means of cover to avoid visual and physical detection, and leverages silence as a way to avoid detection by electronic detection means. In both sky and space our stealth aviation platforms are dark to the night sky and conceal contrails to avoid visual and physical detection, while using special materials and platform design to avoid electronic detection.

The Navy has attempted to design a ship incorporating silence, special materials, and special platform design characteristics as a way of avoiding electronic detection. The Navy paints the platform a special color to imply concealment in darkness against visual detection. At 14,500 tons and with a hull form straight out of a science fiction movie, I have no idea how the Navy believes they will achieve physical or visual detection avoidance with the DDG-1000 regardless of paint color, so clearly the concept of stealth was only applied to electronic detection only, and being that Captain Hughes defines stealth as cover, it raises the question why the concept of stealth is applied to the DDG-1000 at all.

The point is that the Navy has spent billions of dollars developing a design that will be so visibly strange to every seafarer in the world that absolutely nobody will fail to note what they are looking at, whether via a long range visual scouting tool or physically with the MK0 eyeball. When the Navy decided to put one of the most power intensive thus detectable radars in the world on the DDG-1000 platform, how the Navy believes they can avoid electronic detection in any high threat environment is questionable.

What really bothers me is that Captain Hughes book is one of the gospels of littoral warfare, and when designing a series of littoral warships the designers apparently disregarded what stealth, or cover, meant in the populated littorals. For a blue water force, low radar cross-section is an important form of cover because electronic detection is the scouting capability most often utilized in a blue water environment today, but for a littoral force, defeating visual and physical scouting are much more important for antiscouting stealth solutions, and both the DDG-1000 and LCS are absent any charactoristics that would provide a stealth solution against either form of scouting. How were the designers of the SC-21 platforms allowed to so clearly disregard the definition of stealth as cover in the requirements planning process for littoral warfare? Clearly, something went terribly wrong in the requirements planning process, and unless something has changed, that flaw still exists today.

Does the Navy still believe the same design techniques for aviation platforms and submarines apply for surface vessels to achieve stealth in the littoral, or have we evolved our requirements planning process enough to distinguish why blue water requirements are vastly different than the requirements that will be necessary in the complex littoral environment? I believe the Navy has blown billions of dollars attempting to achieve stealth on surface vessels for littoral warfare when, right under our nose, the antiscouting tactic of exploiting the cover of a populated littoral (exploiting cover is also known as stealth according to Capt. Hughes) has been the bane of international naval forces in attempting to deal with pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Without a single dime spent on research and development, it turns out that blending into the environment that makes up the populated littorals is how stealth is achieved on the surface of the sea. US Navy warships and aircraft utilize the most advanced electronic and visual detection capabilities in the world off the coast of Somalia, and yet our naval forces are being flanked. By blending in with the local population in plain view of both electronic and visual detection, both of which represent the long range scouting capabilities the US Navy emphasizes with development, resourcing, and implementation, the US Navy finds itself absent the necessary physical manpower centric scouting capabilities in any credible number to exercise the physical scouting requirements necessary to counter the enemies stealth advantage of achieving cover by blending into the populated littorals. Why is it the US Navy has spent billions to develop an incomplete stealth capability while our enemy has spent nothing and exploits stealth in every hijacking off the coast of Somalia?

The exploitation of antiscouting through stealth by Somali pirates has become a major constraint on our scouting effectiveness. It isn’t just us though, the rest of the world who also operates naval forces off the coast of Somalia has demonstrated they have the same constraints. Perhaps it is in our best interest to close the gap, so that we can both neutralize our weakness that is being exploited, and also adopt lessons as necessary in case we desire to exploit realistic stealth in the littorals of our enemies.

I believe the only way to effectively counter the exploitation of stealth in the littoral is to increase the US Navy’s physical scouting capabilities to better identify enemy forces that blend in with the local population. That means the US Navy needs more manpower distributed in the complex littoral environment. To counter this weakness in the US Navy’s force structure in an affordable way, the US Navy needs to invest in more smaller ships in larger numbers, rather than the larger ships in smaller numbers approach the Navy has demonstrated repeatedly to favor since the end of the cold war.

It is one thing to note the necessity of cooperative partnerships in solving difficult challenges in the littoral, but it is another thing completely to ignore our own tactical shortcomings and believe some other country will always be there to fill these gaps, particularly as the pirate problem proves other countries are being exploited by the same tactical weaknesses. Ignoring the problem is not the solution, and believing that a helicopter is a credible replacement for a small ship on the sea in meeting physical scouting requirements disregards the persistent presence requirement central to the necessity to limit the enemies ability to exploit the constantly evolving littoral environment that gives the enemy cover.