The Army and Navy are operating together in the Pacific to fire Army artillery from Navy ships, send targeting data to land weapons from Navy sensors, and use coastal land rockets to destroy enemy ships at sea, service leaders said.
“The Army is looking at shooting artillery off of Navy ships. Innovation is taking existing things and modifying them to do something new,” Maj. Gen. John Ferrari, Director, Program Analysis and Evaluation, G-8, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
Ongoing explorations of the now heavily emphasized Pentagon “cross-domain fires” strategy are currently taking on new applications through combined combat experiments in the Pacific theater. Ferrari explained that these experimental “teams” are combining air defense units, ground combat units, cyber units, and artillery units, and putting them together in operations.
“Part of what we do is integrate with the Navy. The Naval threat for the Pacific is one of the major threats, so the Army is doing multi-domain battle. The Pacific is inherently Joint. There is very little that we do that is not done with other services,” Ferrari said.
Much of the ongoing work involves integrating combat units which have historically operated in a more separated or “single-focused” fashion. Combing field artillery, a brigade headquarters, air defense, Navy assets, and ISR units into a single operation, for instance, represents the kind of experiments now underway.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Woody Paschall)
“Instead of having three battalions of artillery, you will have pieces of these things – then go out and use it,” Ferrari said.
Tactically speaking, firing precision artillery from surface ships could possibly introduce some interesting advantages. The Navy is now exploring weapons such as long-range precision-guided ammunition for its deck-mounted 5-inch guns, ship-fired offensive weapons such as the advanced Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), Maritime Tomahawk, and an over-the-horizon weapon for the Littoral Combat Ship and Frigate.
Something like an Army Tactical Missile Systems rocket, Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, or GPS-guided Excalibur 155m artillery does bring the possibility to supplement existing ship-fired Navy weapons systems. Tomahawk and LRASM, for instance, can fly lower and somewhat parallel to the surface to elude enemy defensive systems.
One senior US military official explained that bringing Army artillery to surface ships to compliment existing Navy weapons could bring new dimensions to the surface attack options available to commanders.
Artillery could also lend combat support to extensive layered defensive weapons on Navy ships such as SeaRAM, Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, and Rolling Airframe Missile, among others. These interceptors, it seems, could be strengthened by the potential use of land-fired weapons on Navy ships.
“Mixing all presents multiple dilemmas for the enemy,” a senior official told Warrior.
Much of this kind of experimentation will take the next step this coming summer at the upcoming Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise, a joint, multi-national combat and interoperability exploration.
Navy commanders have been “all in” on this as well, previously using F-18s to identify targets for land weapons in exercises in recent years such as Noble Eagle in Alaska, senior military officials have described.
Along these lines, US Pacific Commander Adm. Harry Harris has consistently emphasized multi-domain operations in public speeches.
“I’d like to see the Army’s land forces sink a ship, shoot down a missile, and shoot down the aircraft that fired that missile – near simultaneously – in a complex environment where our joint, and combined forces are operating in each other’s domains,” Commander, US Pacific Command, said in 2017 at the Association of the United States Army LANPAC Symposium and Exposition.
During this same speech, Harris also said the Army will fire a Naval Strike Missile from land as part of the upcoming RIMPAC exercise.
Harris underscored the urgency of the US need for stronger multi-domain battle technology and tactics by telling the House Armed Services Committee early 2018 “China will surpass Russia as the world’s second largest Navy by 2020, when measured in terms of submarines and frigate-class ships.
As part of the cross-domain effort, the Army and Navy are looking at improving ways to connect their respective networks; Adm. Harris said “joint effects” in combat can be challenged by a lack of integration between different services’ “tactical ISR, target acquisition and fire control systems.”
For example the Navy’s integrated sensor network known as Cooperative Engagement Capability connects targeting and ISR nodes across the force. The emphasis now is to connect these kinds of systems with, for instance, Army weapons such as ground-fired Patriot missiles and Theater High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, missile defense weapons.
In addition, the Army’s Integrated Battle Command Systems is itself a comparable combat theater sensor network where various radar, command and control and weapons “nodes” are networked to expedite real-time data sharing. Part of the maturation of this system, according to Army and Northrop Grumman developers, is to further extend IBCS to cue Air Force, and Navy assets operating in a given theater of operations.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Fidel C. Hart)
One senior Army weapons developer told Warrior – “it’s about target acquisition and ranges. Maybe target acquisition comes from a ship and I do surface fires on land. We need to experiment with sensors.”
The advent of long-range sensors and precision fires on the part of potential near-peer adversaries has reinforced the need for the US military to operate in real time across air, sea and land domains. Furthermore, the emergence of converging newer domains, such as cyber, space and the electromagnetic sphere are naturally an indispensable element of cross-domain fires.
In an Army paper titled “Multi-Domain Battle: Evolution of Combined Arms for the 21st Century 2025-2040,” former TRADOC Commander Gen. David Perkins writes:
“It (Multi-Domain Battle) expands the targeting landscape based on the extended ranges and lethality delivered at range by integrated air defenses, cross-domain fire support, and cyber/electronic warfare systems. We must solve the physics of this expanded battle space, and understand the capabilities that each domain can provide in terms of echelon, speed, and reach.”
Perkins and other senior Pentagon strategists have explained Multi-Domain Battle as a modern extension of the Cold War AirLand Battle Strategy which sought to integrate air and ground attacks to counter a Soviet attack in Europe.
“AirLand Battle started developing the concept of ‘extended battlefield.’ Multi-Domain battle endeavors to integrate capabilities in such a way that to counteract one, the enemy must become more vulnerable to another, creating and exploiting temporary windows of advantage,’ Perkins writes in Multi-Domain Battle: Joint Combined Arms Concept for the 21st Century.
Army – Air Force
The Army and the Air Force are also launching a new, collaborative war-gaming operation to assess future combat scenarios and, ultimately, co-author a new inter-service cross-domain combat doctrine.
Operating within this concept, Perkins and Air Force Air Combat Command Commanding General James Holmes are launching a new series of tabletop exercises to replicate and explore future warfare scenarios – the kind of conflicts expected to require technologically advanced Army-Air Force integration.
In a Pentagon report, Holmes said the joint wargaming effort will “turn into a doctrine and concept that we can agree on.”
“The F-35 is doing ISR and could possibly deliver a weapon on the same flight. We can then use what they can generate on the ground, fusing sensors, and target acquisition with things that can deliver effects,” a senior defense official told Warrior.