By Andrew M. Gray
Estimated Read Time: 19 Minutes
Editor’s note: The following article is the third of a three-part series discussing necessary advancements which will best enable the Department of Defense to continue to lead during current and future periods of competition. Part I focused on the history of the current threats, Part II outlined areas of defense and civilian research which must be pursued, and Part III delves into the path forward for cohesive, joint application of technology and research.
PART III: FIGHTING IN THE FUTURE – FOCUSING ON FUTURE INITIATIVES TODAY
As the Department of Defense (DoD) continues to approach synergy through joint force interaction it needs to continue further development without doubling efforts within classified/special access programs. “USNORTHCOM and NORAD have developed a Homeland Defense Design (HDD) consisting of three main elements: a layered sensing grid for domain awareness, an adaptive architecture for joint all-domain command and control (JADC2), and new defeat mechanisms for advanced threats, including cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, hypersonic weapons, and small unmanned aerial systems.” These three elements highlighted by General O’Shaughnessy focus on sensing and communicating and killing or neutralizing threats but does not address imperatives to increase the survival of our hardware, infrastructure, and networks from threat attacks that make it through our defenses. To aid in the Homeland Defense Design the Defense Science Board released a study in December 2019 on the Role of DoD in Homeland Defense.
“In spite of the awareness raised by the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS), the Task Force found that the DoD is currently ill-prepared to deter and defend against these threats to the homeland… Attacks against the homeland will most certainly include those on infrastructure and facilities whose loss will impede force projection abroad. Current air and maritime defense capabilities will be seriously challenged against emerging adversary capabilities. Attacks on the electric grid or Defense Critical Infrastructure – both kinetic and digital – could slow down or stall the movement of US forces in other theaters. Neglecting the defense of the homeland is no longer a luxury that the United States can afford.”
How should the DoD prepare for the current fight and threats that are evolving though innovation and technological advancement? What technologies should the DoD and military industrial complex pursue and invest in? To bring the future faster, the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering organized eleven areas of focus, in-line with the National Defense Strategy, that have the “greatest potential for technology insertions and leap-ahead gains in capability.” The eleven areas are: hypersonics, directed energy, artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning, biotechnology, autonomy, cyber, microelectronics, fully networked command-control-and-communication, quantum science, space, and 5G connectivity. The private sector is focusing on AI, biotechnology, autonomy, cyber, microelectronics, quantum science, and 5G connectivity for civilian purposes; however, each technological area will provide increased capability throughout the operational domains the military fights and lives within. The civilian sector and economy are not as focused on hypersonic capability and directed energy, except for research and space-based projects within specialized labs and industry. Each of these areas represents an opportunity for research and development to meet specific needs and deficiencies within the current homeland defense structure.
“Quantum technologies exhibit remarkable potential to enhance or upend current warfighting capabilities. Fields such as sensing, computation, and communications are key mission areas in which quantum could make a significant impact.” Quantum sensors in test and development have shown improved performance and reliability for military applications. A major concern to military platforms is precision, navigation, and timing (PNT), enabled by the Global Positioning System (GPS). New quantum sensors can maintain PNT signals from GPS, updating internal navigation systems (INS), and gravity-based navigation. Of these technologies, quantum sensing based upon gravimetric sensitivity is an emerging technology of note. “Several atomic interferometric approaches have demonstrated gravimetric sensitivity and portability for DoD applications with potential for increased sensitivity.” When coupled to the sensing grid and capabilities of current air, space, and land sensor suites, the sensitivity of gravimeters to detect threats or provide cueing to other sensors based upon gravity changes or disturbances represents opportunity. If radio frequency sensors are out of band or infrared sensors are negated due to atmospheric conditions, gravimetric sensing, using quantum technology, could provide redundant coverage.
Quantum sensors provide large swaths of data and require fast processing, which will be enabled by quantum computing technology. “Quantum computers can potentially give DoD substantial computation power for cryptography, signal processing, physical simulation, and artificial intelligence/machine learning.” There is much development in quantum computing in the commercial world. The DoD must continue to partner with industry for updated technologies that can be adapted to provide new characteristics and capabilities for data analysis, storage, and computing power. Quantum computing is “based on quantum bits that can be zero and one at the same time and instantaneous correlations across the device, a quantum computer acts as a massive parallel device with an exponentially large number of computations taking place at the same time.” Quantum computing will allow forces within the cyber domain to effectively prevent attacks through quantum encryption methods including the use of quantum encryption key devices or “quantum key distribution (QKD) [which] provides natural information theoretic cryptographic security” and using quantum random number generators. While current algorithms for communication security protocols are susceptible to cracking and hacking by some super computing and quantum computing, quantum security is reliable and done through small and discrete methods which make any tampering detectable.
Quantum sensing and computing enables quantum communication which provides significant capability by defeating jamming and interference in near-peer threat environments. A communication denied environment limits coordination, capability, and success. Quantum communication can be adapted to current radio or datalink architectures to bridge the transformation away from legacy systems. A disadvantage of quantum communication is the decrease in range capability for transmission due to the encryption methods discussed above. To negate the shortened transmission ranges, repeaters are essential to ensure coverage. “The advantage of quantum repeaters lies in extending the distances between trusted nodes. The building blocks for fully quantum repeater schemes are twofold: a small quantum processor and a quantum interface to convert the information into photons similar to the optoelectronics devices used in today’s internet, but with quantum functionality.” New capabilities within the USAF Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) systems and Air Battle Management System (ABMS) could use quantum communication as the baseline in development and production. In order to modernize the remaining aircraft inventory in all services to be compatible to the newer platforms and infrastructure, modifications to apertures that have software designed capabilities resting upon quantum communication encryption and transmission methods will increase capability in denied environments.
FUTURE SENSING GRID AND COMMUNICATION
The future multi-domain sensing grid needs to connect though a system that is fully networked with command, control, and communication. In testimony to the US Senate, General O’Shaughnessy said, “We cannot deter what we cannot defeat, and we cannot defeat that which we cannot detect.” Currently multiple efforts within the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), the United States Air Force (USAF), and the joint force are ongoing to increase joint cooperation. The coordination is two parts: one is to increase the sensing grid and the second is to increase the awareness across the command and control spectrum. The joint force is focusing on JADC2 through interoperability in systems and communication. The services have been platform centric in sensor procurement and operation. The attempt to communicate across the joint force has been accomplished through Link-16 architecture but has still been limited by non-compatible sensors and platforms that are not fusing information and data but rather simply sending and receiving. The F-22 is an example of a platform not fully integrating into the joint fight through datalink sharing. It uses stove-piped internal-platform sensor fusion that is effectively gathered and commanded across an F-22 formation through its intra-flight data link. However, only the F-22s in the formation have sensor fusion across their formation and they must rely on voice messages to effectively integrate with the joint force.
“To overcome this issue, we need a robust architecture for JADC2 to effectively gather data from a myriad of sensors across all domains and share it seamlessly. The architecture must facilitate rapid data fusion, processing, and analytics to feed decision makers at all levels with accurate, decision-quality information at the speed of relevance. Data from any sensor should feed any defeat mechanism, and rapid data fusion and analysis should provide faster, more precise solutions to all shooters. By leveraging a cloud architecture, big data analytics, edge computing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, this network should sense a threat from one node and engage it precisely and expeditiously from another across vast distances and across all domains.”
Within ballistic missile defense the Command and Control, Battle Management and Communications (C2BMC) system operates using similar principles and is an early example of what JADC2 will enable. “C2BMC provides persistent acquisition, tracking, cueing, discrimination, and fire-control quality data to AEGIS BMD, GMD, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), Patriot, and coalition partners to support homeland and regional missile defense.” The tracking information may start with sensors in Asia, the high north, or space and quickly alert the other sensors on the C2BMC network to engage and refine the missile warning and defense missions. C2BMC and other operational networks will transition to be nodes within JADC2 to pass information and commands back and forth creating the ability for sensors and shooters within all domains the battle space picture.
Other examples of sensor suites and networks in test and design that will integrate into JADC2 are over the horizon radar (OTHR), the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS), mesh networks and artificial intelligence, and integrated space and terrestrial sensors. The goal for these developments is to increase homeland defense capabilities by detecting threats further to the left of launch with increased intelligence and awareness to increase real-time intercept capability and neutralize inbound threats to the homeland. A coalition effort with the United States and Canada culminated in an OTHR test for cruise missile detection and awareness in the summer of 2019. OTHR is affected by the arctic and polar region ionosphere and aurora activity within the magnetic field and presents challenges because of this environment. The long approaches over the North Pole and threat from Russia needs increased sensing grid technology. A combination of space and land-based sensors are needed to incorporate the required detection, tracking, and engagement capabilities. Any attack with kinetic weapons would most likely incorporate a non-kinetic attack in the cyber domain upon our sensing assets.
A redundant mesh network design that is not hindered by nodal attack will ensure defense. During 2019 there was an “event [that] successfully demonstrated the potential for a mesh network and artificial intelligence to detect, identify, and track a cruise missile threat in realistic field conditions” during a demonstration in Colorado, Gen O’Shaughnessy described in his testimony. The USAF is also redesigning its command and control though an experimental effort known as the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS). A cloud-based application for command and control, ABMS is attempting to fuse data between platforms and eventually create the ability for any sensor to cue any shooter providing interoperability that may be platform agnostic if the appropriate weapon is available. The most recent ABMS test in December 2019 linked F-22 and F-35 5th generation fighters with an AEGIS, a US Army High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), and special forces operators. The air defense role of the AEGIS destroyer with the use of its SPY-1 radar for air and ballistic missile defense tied with sensor fusion from F-22 and F-35 airborne radars is the perfect application to provide a joint sensor suite allowing employment cueing for the right weapon and platform at the right time. Near-peer threats may jam and negate tracking capability for a platform, but the goal of JADC2 is to provide the ability for the platform being jammed to still engage with effects upon the threat through seamless coordination. JADC2 is not at this stage yet, but this is the desired end state. The next ABMS test, scheduled for April 2020, has been postponed tentatively to the summer of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The aim of missile defense is to update command and control mechanisms and increase ISR indicators leading to more warning before enemy threat launch. The MDA is collaborating with multiple partners, including the intelligence community, to provide left through right of launch capabilities. The increase of intelligence sharing within agencies will improve defensive capabilities and engagement in phases other than midcourse. Understanding intelligence tips that highlight enemy preparations may allow for assets to be positioned and ready for BMD defense in the boost phase. Per Lt General Samuel Greaves, the MDA is also “developing advanced electro-optical sensors to achieve a diverse sensor architecture to provide highly accurate midcourse tracking, discrimination and battle damage assessment for homeland missile defense.” Multi-domain defensive solutions are important across the electromagnetic spectrum as threat attack will not be limited to single domains or spectrums. These electro-optical sensors will be part of the HBTSS discussed earlier that will use a multi-tier overhead persistent infrared detection and tracking capability for hypersonic threats. All hypersonic threats provide a heat signature caused by their excessive speed. After detecting hypersonic threats, the intercept and kill of the threat is extremely challenging due to time compression and speed. Future weapon design will be discussed below.
NEUTRALIZING AND KILLING FUTURE THREATS
If a new sensing grid is integrated through JADC2, legacy weapons, may negate the leaps in technological advancement. Technology advancements in weaponry that increases the probability of kill and decreases cost are essential to modernization in a fiscally constrained budget. Currently a ground-based interceptor (44 in the inventory) costs between $70 – 90 million while the SM-3 used on the US Navy’s AEGIS destroyers is $18.4 million. Both capabilities are important and not replaceable as one is fixed and the other is mobile. New weapon solutions need to be in continuous development. The MDA is currently working on a multi-object kill vehicle to place upon the ground-based interceptor that will be able to split and receive guidance to multiple warheads during the midcourse phase in space. They are also developing high-powered lasers that will target ballistic missiles during the boost phase of flight. When coupled with the updated infrared detection capability, also in development, and intelligence tips, the kill chain will have options during both the boost and midcourse phases of the ballistic missile trajectory, providing high probability of kill while still retaining terminal phase defense assets to protect critical infrastructure. A high-powered laser will incur large upfront costs; however, unlike other missile technologies it is reusable.
Another example of weapon innovation is the use of AGR-20A Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System rockets that successfully targeted and hit a drone replicating a cruise missile in 2019. The current weapon carried for the cruise missile defense role by NORAD air defense fighters, the AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile, costs $300,000 – $400,000 for the AIM-120C variant and over $1 million for the AIM-120D variant. The AGR-20A rocket is a laser guided rocket that only costs $22,000. An F-16 successfully completed the engagement with the use of onboard systems and the laser guided rocket, demonstrating a new capability for cruise missile defense at significant cost savings. With future investments in JADC2 and specifically the ABMS for the USAF, the eastern and western air defense sectors should be able to manage cruise missile threats by passing cueing to alert fighters, employing significantly cheaper weapons such as the AGR-20A. The current alert forces in Alaska and Hawaii are F-22 Raptors that operate at the highest cost per flight hour of the fighter fleet. Homeland defense missions in the future should transition to a fighter that has the capability of both AIM-120 and AGR-20A employment for air and cruise missile threats and offers significant cost savings. This will free up the three F-22 combat squadrons (out of 5 total) to focus on increased employment capability. This adjustment will allow the stealthy F-22 to continue to maximize its readiness for the high-end, near-peer fights. The T-7 in development for pilot training can fulfill the cruise missile defense mission with integration of an infrared search and track sensor (IRST) and the AGR-20A and may even be able to carry the AIM-120 in a limited role to accomplish the full alert mission requirements. Other alert forces, to include F-16s and F-15s, should be able to employ this capability.
Other weapons, to include hypersonic missiles, may not be used for homeland defense, however they will deter threats if they are acquired and operational. In February 2020, the USAF chose the air-to-ground munition (AGM-183) Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) hypersonic missile over competitors because of its size and capabilities. The USAF has adjusted its fighter fleet modernization plans because of stand-off capabilities, including the ARRW which is small enough to be carried by the F-15. This platform is being purchased again by the service for the first time since the early 1990’s. NORTHCOM and NORAD have a multitude of sensors and weapons currently at their disposal while much more is in development. These developments will need continual shaping to ensure joint interoperability across each domain to ensure effective defense of North America.
SURVIVING ATTACKS IF DEFENSES ARE COMPROMISED
Former Secretary of the Air Force, Heather Wilson, stated, “Threat drives strategy; strategy drives force posture.” Strategy that includes a new sensing grid and communication nodes, updated weaponry and tactics, but omits updates to force posture and security will not be fully prepared when threats strike. Threats may be through asymmetric means or nation-state actors. Efforts to harden infrastructure and networks are crucial to ensure survival from kinetic strike or cyber-attacks. As previously discussed, moving to the left of launch through intelligence gathering and sensor enhancements is one method to increase survivability. In addition to hardening defended asset list infrastructure and networks, a capability to spoil threat weapon target solutions could negate the success of strikes. Imagine a mix of cruise missiles from air, land, or sea-based platforms flying towards the coastline. They would use a guidance system that interacts with satellite infrastructure for some PNT or they could use a form of land navigation with an onboard mapping system. Through non-kinetic targeting, offensive cyber operations could spoil the PNT for the cruise missiles or affect the onboard guidance through a laser or optical source near the coasts. The utility and feasibility of spacing devices all along our periphery may be cost prohibitive with current technology. Rather, a separate solution is available with the use of swarming drone techniques. As autonomy increases and is coupled with artificial intelligence, the use of small drone swarming techniques coupled with unmanned drone or remotely piloted vehicles can assist in the defense of specific cities or defended asset list sites. As threats are detected inbound through the network and sensor grid, a defensive shield of a drone swarm can be launched to create a perimeter wall or walls in front of defended locations to disrupt the leakers that get through. Ultimately, a layered defensive system across multiple domains, including the electromagnetic spectrum, is the most likely to ensure survival against inbound threats.
PEACE AT HOME
The only way to ensure peace at home is to continue to fight the enemy and its threats on the road. In order to maintain proper levels of deterrence, the DoD should continue to posture forces in conjunction with the National Security Strategy and employ to meet the objectives of the National Defense Strategy. Continuing to maintain alliances in all theaters will increase deterrence and help ensure all common domains are accessible and free. As the DoD focuses on remaining strategically predictable by adhering to forecasted roadmaps, funding, and acting on those plans, it must also keep an operational strategy of irregularity that keeps its adversaries on their toes. As the government and the commercial industry work closer together to realize all domains today are battlegrounds in great power competition, there needs to be synergy in effort and collaboration. The civilian sector within the United States has enjoyed freedom of action, innovation, and operability through the democratic republic that has afforded growth and success. It is time for the civilian sector to help the military industrial complex to update its technologies, increase its efficiencies, and bolster homeland defense together. When the first cyber-attacks negate the ability to use modern banking functions and credit transactions followed by kinetic attacks, it will be too late for cooperation. The DoD and civilian sector must prioritize increasing capability in quantum technologies and cyber technologies that enable an updated sensing grid. New and innovative weapons and applications are required to maximize the effectiveness of the sensing grid. Most importantly, while research and development continue, the DoD must find innovative ways to fight and defend with the capabilities currently maintained.
Andrew Gray is an F-22 evaluator/instructor pilot and Air Force Fellow at Air Combat Command. He has amassed over 1000 flight hours in the F-22 and 1800+ total flight hours between the F-22, F-15, and T-38. He provided air support during Operation Inherent Resolve during the offensives to recapture Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria from ISIL control. He has intercepted Russian aircraft over Syria and in the arctic. He also served as the Legislative Liaison to the Commander of ALASKAN COMMAND / Alaska-NORAD Region / 11th Air Force.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force or the US Government.
Featured Image Source: https://www.defensenews.com/air/2016/04/08/beyond-the-fighter-jet-the-air-force-of-2030/