Twitter Facebook Google RSS
 
ARTICLE 

7th Fleet Experiment Probes Navy’s Near-Term Concerns 

2,003 

by Sandra I. Erwin 

Worries about the proliferation of diesel submarines and long-range ballistic missiles shaped combat scenarios during a recent U.S. Navy war game.

The Navy’s 7th Fleet tested several new concepts of operations and technologies during a command exercise in May called “Tandem Thrust,” held in conjunction with a fleet battle experiment that consisted mostly of simulated forces and platforms.

This fleet battle experiment, known as FBE-K, focused on near-term concerns about the Navy’s undersea warfare skills, theater missile defense and rapid-targeting capabilities. It gave commanders an opportunity to figure out how to implement technologies the Navy plans to deploy in the foreseeable future, said Navy Cmdr. John W. Covell, the director of the experiment.

He noted that, traditionally, fleet battle experiments have served as trial grounds for futuristic concepts that were not necessarily based on near-term concerns. This time around, however, the Pacific-based 7th Fleet, which sponsored the war game, decided it needed to address more immediate priorities.

“Rather than go out and play with new toys, we looked hard at what we need to do in the near future to tighten up how we do business and correctly employ the systems,” Covell said.

These systems included the Joint Fires Network and the Area Air Defense Commander System. The fleet also tested a new offensive anti-submarine warfare concept that relies on a low-frequency active sensor—a controversial system that, according to environmental groups, harms many marine mammals.

The Joint Fires Network is a complex “black-box” architecture that links sensors electronically and consolidates input from multiple sources to a common database, shared by users aboard ships or airplanes.

The Area Air Defense Commander System is a planning software tool to help plot the location of air-defense assets in the theater.

Both the JFN and the AADCS were installed on the USS Blue Ridge, a sophisticated command ship, operating off the coast of Guam. In the experiment, the joint commander of the air war, an Air Force officer known as the JFAC, was stationed back in Hawaii and used the AADCS tools to plot the location of anti-missile defenses. Navy personnel operated the JFAC equipment.

Covell said this sort of arrangement marked a drastic departure from conventional war-fighting practices. Typically, commanders “reach back” via satellite communications links from the front lines to the rear (such as a military base in the United States). In this case, the JFAC “reached forward” to the Blue Ridge to get the information he needed from the AADCS.

The JFAC usually is responsible for organizing air defenses. He used the AADCS to help establish where to place anti-missile defense systems throughout the theater, such as Patriot batteries and Aegis cruisers. Covell said the AADCS technology is a significant breakthrough for the Navy. Where to place the “shooters,” historically, has been based on “guesswork,” he said. “This system removes a lot of the guesswork.”

Experiments with JFN, meanwhile, were designed to sort out procedures associated with “time-critical strike” operations, requiring commanders to have “weapons on target” within minutes after the target has been spotted.

The JFN linked the Blue Ridge with a simulated Australian warship, a virtual DDX (the Navy’s future destroyer) located in Dahlgren, Va., and an E-2C Hawkeye early-warning radar aircraft simulator, located in Newport, R.I. Newport is home to the Naval Warfare Development Command, which helps organize annual fleet battle experiments.

“The shooters were responding to calls for fires that were routed through the JFN on the Blue Ridge,” Covell explained. In a “decision cell” onboard the Blue Ridge, commanders would match up shooters with targets.

The shooters were the Australian ship, DDX and the Hawkeye, which had simulated fighter jets flying under its control.

Unlike the real E-2C aircraft, the Hawkeye simulator had a satellite imagery terminal (called tactical exploitation system) that received live pictures.

The anti-submarine experiments tested a so-called “common undersea picture” technology installed on the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and a couple of other ships. The CUP is a planning software tool to help the theater commander analyze sectors of the ocean and, based on potential threats, decide where to place defensive assets.

“The CUP technology was used extensively for the first time in support of a major exercise,” Covell said.

The undersea warfare experiments employed a low-frequency active sensor, which the Navy believes is much more effective than passive sonar in detecting quiet enemy submarines.

The use of this sensor is prohibited, due to environmental concerns, but a court order allowed the Navy to deploy it only for this fleet battle experiment.

The low-frequency active sensor is a set of acoustic transmitters suspended by cable beneath a surface ship. These “projectors” produce an underwater sound pulse or “ping,” much as a stereo speaker turns electrical impulses into audible sound waves in the air.

Vice Adm. Robert F. Willard, commander of the 7th Fleet, said he views undersea warfare skills and technologies as “one of the biggest challenges we face in the U. S. Navy today.”

Exercises such as Tandem Thrust and FBE-K are opportunities for the fleet to explore concepts in offensive, anti-submarine warfare, Willard said in an interview with the Joint Information Bureau.

Willard stressed that it is important for the Navy to test systems such as the AADCS and JFN in large-scale experiments, because they are technologies that “haven’t really matured yet.” In the area of “time sensitive targeting,” he added, “we actually borrowed some lessons learned from Iraqi Freedom.”

Even if the technologies are not ready for real-world operations, the Navy must continue to work on “tactics, techniques, and procedures development,” he said. “Some of it is just getting the process right, so we are exchanging the right information, at the right time, to the right people, to be able to get it into the hands of a war fighter who can direct some form of fires against the target and destroy the target—and do it all in minutes instead of hours.”

Another new concept tested in the war game was the Expeditionary Strike Group. An ESG is an expanded amphibious ready group that also includes surface combatants and submarines. “It’s got great potential,” Willard said. “This is a new war-fighting concept that meets our transformation goal of trying to have more striking capabilities in more places all at once.”

The lessons and after-action reviews from Tandem Thrust and FBE-K will be studied by the Naval Warfare Development Command and forwarded to the Combined Fleet Forces Command.

  Bookmark and Share