The US Navy is preparing to roll out an advanced network of targeting information that will revolutionize the fleet’s capabilities in a time when they are increasingly being threatened by regional rivals.
Russia and China are at or near parity with US naval forces in key strategic areas and developing convincing anti-access/area-denial defenses. Russia has even gone as far as to simulate attacks on the USS Donald Cook as it sailed off the coast of Poland.
American air superiority is in question in a time when our allies need our reassurance most, but there is a bright spot just over the horizon.
The Navy has lately been focused on a concept called “distributed lethality,” or equipping even its smallest ships with powerful, stealthy, and long-range missiles that can sink enemy ships or signal emitters from a safe distance. So far, the strategy has mainly relied on retrofitting the ships to carry “over-the-horizon (long range)” missiles.
The next step appears to be the formation of a “tactical cloud,” or a network of targeting information from satellites, aircraft, ships, submarines, and even weapons themselves to form a lethal “kill web.”
This will afford the Navy “the ability for us to utilize air-launched capabilities, surface launched capabilities and subsurface launched capabilities that are tied together with an all domain” information network, said Navy Rear Adm. Mark Darrah at the Naval Air Systems Command, as the US Naval Institute notes.
“We call it the tactical cloud. We’re going to put data up in the cloud and users are going to go grab it and use it as a contributor to a targeting solution,” he said.
The tactical-cloud concept mirrors abilities already possessed by regional adversaries: “Specifically their ability to take all of their sensors and nets them together to project their ability to see me faster and farther away and [now] my sanctuary [has] been decreased,” Darrah said.
- US Navy Photo
“It’s about their ability to reduce the amount of space I have to operate in by tying their capability together and force me to operate from a farther distance from a threat,” he said.
The Navy already employs more ships, bases, and radar sites than any navy in the world. The issue now is simply leveraging them to create an all-inclusive picture that draws on information from submerged vessels all the way up to space assets.
As such, the Navy looks to introduce the network within the year, with Darrah saying that the tactical-cloud concept “has been tested and it will be ready to deploy later this year, we’re pretty excited about that.”
The network of sensor information will greatly increase the capability and interoperability of different Navy platforms.
“I can replace an F-18 with a Harpoon with a JSF and another weapon [in the future]. That’s the important piece. This is about [being] role based. Role-based means I don’t care what the platform is, what I care about is the sensor that generates the information,” Darrah said.
The challenge, once the network goes live, is prioritizing and finding relevant data in the web.
“We’re going to put data up in the cloud and users are going to go grab it and use it as a contributor to a targeting solution, [but] what’s the pedigree of the data?” said Darrah. “Who generated it? How long has it been since it’s been refreshed? Is it actually a fidelity that’s meaningful to my weapon?”