The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned 'ghost fleet' - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

As the Navy advances plans for a 10-ship “ghost fleet,” leaders are assessing how much decision-making power to give large unmanned vessels that can operate without any humans aboard.

The Navy wants $400 million in fiscal 2020 to build two “large unmanned surface vessels.” Budget documents show service leaders plan to request $2.7 billion to build 10 of the ships over the next five years.

But with the programs still largely in the research and development phase, the plans raise questions about what the Navy is actually planning to buy, and how those ships would function in the real world. Not only is it unclear exactly what these future unmanned ships will look like, but also what capabilities they’ll have.


“Doing [research and development] and figuring out exactly the capabilities that we need, it’s critical,” James Geurts, the Navy’s assistant secretary for research, development and acquisition, recently told lawmakers. “…The real RD is in a lot of the guts: the autonomy, the decision-making, how are we going to control it, how are we going to do those things?”

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

James Geurts, the Navy’s assistant secretary for research, development and acquisition.

(US Navy photo)

The service has completed the first phase of testing on its large unmanned surface vessel, Geurts said, but much about those plans is shrouded in secrecy. Earlier in 2019, the Navy’s 132-foot-long medium-unmanned vessel named Sea Hunter sailed from California to Hawaii and back again, mostly without anyone aboard. Officials declined to talk to Military.com about the transit, citing operational security while it’s in development.

Rear Adm. Randy Crites, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget, told reporters March 2019 that the large unmanned surface vessels will serve “as both a sensor and a shooter.” And since they’re smaller than conventional ships, he added, the 200- to 300-foot vessels should be cheaper to produce and operate.

The Navy’s budget also requests funding for dozens of underwater drone vehicles and unmanned aircraft.

Navy leaders are pushing funding for projects like the Sea Hunter as it faces new threats at sea from more sophisticated adversaries. The service’s 2020 budget request has some in Congress questioning the decision to push an aircraft carrier into retirement early, but leaders say it’s essential to use the savings the ship’s retirement would provide on newer cutting-edge technology, such as a self-driving ghost fleet.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

The unmanned prototype ship ‘Sea Hunter’ is part of the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel program.

(U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams)

“[That] led to some tough choices,” Geurts told lawmakers. “One of those is to retire that ship early in favor [of] looking at other technologies, other larger cost-imposing strategies.”

The Navy’s future aircraft carriers will include a mix of manned and unmanned aircraft and boats that can operate on the surface or underwater as the service prepares to counter more high-tech threats at sea, leaders have said.

Geurts said he expects to see the development of large unmanned vessels pick up quickly over the next year.

“It’s less about the ship design, because you could make a lot of different ship designs autonomous,” he told reporters last week. “The capabilities you would put on there could be fairly flexible and fairly mobile, so our real emphasis, and where I think you’re going to see an acceleration versus a traditional shipbuilding program, is you’re going to focus more on the autonomy technology — the capabilities you want to strap onto the ship — and less about the ship hull form.”

The Navy is proving its ability to sail unmanned vessels with the Sea Hunter transit, Geurts said.

“We learned a lot from that,” he said.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

Articles

This Army vet is about to make his professional MMA debut

Army infantry veteran Joshua D. Hardwick will make his professional MMA debut Sat., May 14 in Bellator 154 in San Jose, California. The 160-pound striker is facing off against Staff Sgt. Jorge Acosta, a California Army National Guardsman.


Interested in going to Bellator 154 in San Jose? Get half off your tickets by entering the promo code “MIGHTY” at checkout.

Acosta is 1-1 on the professional circuit. Hardwick is 5-2 on the amateur circuit (including three international fights in Thailand).

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’
J.D. Hardwick, in the orange shorts, steps into a fight with Ben Lugo in Spartan Combat League 46. Screenshot: YouTube/Sparta Combat League

Hardwick served predominantly as a sniper in reconnaissance platoons. The future MMA fighter had relatively tame ambitions when he transitioned from the military.

“When I got out of the Army, I went back to Washington and started logging and working in a mill with the intent of going back to school,” he told WATM. “Then when my girlfriend and I broke up, I decided to move to Denver and chase my dream. It’s worked out really well for me.”

Hardwick said that he’s excited to face off against another veteran chasing his dreams in MMA. While Acosta has more experience on the professional stage, Hardwick said he was sure that he can still control the fight and come out on top.

“I’m very confident in what I’m able to do and in my ability to defend from what he’s going to do and establish my game plan and my style in the fight,” he said.

“I’ve been training for my pro debut since I first started,” he said. “Every camp, every day that I’ve been training it’s been for this opportunity. I lived in Thailand for 6 months, I train on the best team in the world with Elevation Fight Team, world-class fighters. I couldn’t be more prepared for this fight than I am.”

While Hardwick prefers to fight a striking battle, he’s comfortable heading to the floor if the situation calls for it.

“I think I’m pretty decent everywhere,” he said. “I like to strike but I have three first-round submission finishes.”

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’
JD Hardwick checks on Ben Lugo after obtaining a first-round submission from Lugo. Screenshot: YouTube/Sparta Combat League

Hardwick has been out of the military for a few years but stays close with his former brothers-in-arms. Their support is part of why he fights.

“So many of them are like family,” he said. “But even ones that I’ve lost touch with, they reach out and tell me that they’re inspired by what I’m doing and how hard I’m working.”

Inspiring other vets to go after the life they really want is important to Hardwick.

We all fought so hard for freedom, and when we get done fighting for it, we need to fight for our own dreams. Stop doing what society says we need to do and do the things that we think will make us happy.

He hopes that his own story will remind vets that they don’t have to come home to desk jobs if they don’t want to.

“Like me, I got out of the Army and I worked some jobs that made good money and I was going to go to school because I thought that was what I was supposed to do but that stuff didn’t really make me happy,” Hardwick said. “And, when I got the opportunity to give that all up and make zero money and move back in with my mom and start chasing me dream, and now it’s kind of all coming together.

“This is just the beginning and there’s a long, long road ahead but I couldn’t be any happier than I am today being a poor MMA fighter.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

The US is putting 3,500 more boots on the ground in Afghanistan

A US official has told ABC news that the Defense Secretary James Mattis authorized 3,500 additional troops to deploy to Afghanistan as part of the troop buildup associated with President Donald Trump’s South Asia Strategy.


Late last month, Trump announced his new strategy on Afghanistan which included an increase in the number of US troops to the country.

Reports in the past indicated that Mattis favored the Pentagon’s recommendation to send about 3,900 more troops to Afghanistan.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’
Defense Secretary James Mattis (left) and Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford. DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith

On Sept. 8, Mattis told reporters that he had signed deployment orders for some of the additional troops that would be sent, though he would not disclose the number.

No details have however been released on when these troops will deploy.

On Sept. 6, Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats briefed members of Congress about the new strategy in Afghanistan.

Last week, the Pentagon disclosed that the number of American troops actually serving in Afghanistan was 11,000 and not the 8,400 official numbers it had been providing for some time.

MIGHTY TRENDING

That story of Chinese chip-spying might be completely wrong

In October 2018, Bloomberg published a bombshell report about how Chinese spies managed to implant chips into computer servers made by SuperMicro, an American company.

If true, the report raised questions about whether sensitive US government and corporate data may have been accessed by Chinese spies, and whether it’s all data stored on PCs is essentially at risk.

But since then, a series of statements from government officials and information security professionals — including some named in the stories — have cast doubt about the report’s main claims.


On Oct. 10, 2018, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security denied the report in a Senate hearing — the strongest on-the-record government denial yet.

“With respect to the article, we at DHS do not have any evidence that supports the article,” Kirstjen Nielsen said on Oct. 10, 2018. “We have no reason to doubt what the companies have said.”

(During the same hearing, FBI Director Chris Wray said that he couldn’t confirm nor deny the existence of any investigation into compromised SuperMicro equipment, which was claimed in the Bloomberg report.)

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

(photo by Jetta Disco)

Nielsen’s denial comes on the same day as a senior NSA official said that he worries that “we’re chasing shadows right now.”

“I have pretty great access, [and yet] I don’t have a lead to pull from the government side,” Rob Joyce, perhaps the most public-facing NSA cybersecurity official, said at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce meeting.

“We’re just befuddled,” Joyce said, according to Cyberscoop.

Alex Stamos, Facebook’s former head of security, called Joyce’s denial “the most damning point” against the story that he had seen.

The increasing doubt about Bloomberg’s claims come as lawmakers demand additional answers based on the series of reports. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Marco Rubio asked SuperMicro to cooperate with law enforcement in a sharply worded letter on Oct. 9, 2018. Senator John Thune also sent letters to Amazon and Apple, which Bloomberg said had purchased compromised servers.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

NSA advisor Rob Joyce.

(USENIX Enigma Conference)

Sources walk back 

But government officials aren’t the only people who are now having second thoughts about the stories.

One prominent hardware security expert, Joe Fitzpatrck, who was named in the story, ended up doing a revealing podcast with a trade outlet that’s more technical than Bloomberg, Risky Business.

Journalists who write stories based on anonymous sources often call up experts to fill out some of the more general parts of a story and improve the story’s flow.

But Fitzpatrick said that’s not what happened.

“I feel like I have a good grasp at what’s possible and what’s available and how to do it just from my practice,” Fitzpatrick explained. “But it was surprising to me that in a scenario where I would describe these things and then he would go and confirm these and 100% of what I described was confirmed by sources.”

He went on to say that he heard about the story’s specifics in late August 2018 and sent an email expressing major doubt. “I heard the story and it didn’t make sense to me. And that’s what I said. I said, ‘Wow I don’t have any more information for you, but this doesn’t make sense.'”

Several notable information security professionals used Fitzpatrick’s quotes as a jumping-off point to express their doubts with the story:

Bloomberg sticks by its story

Bloomberg’s report was obviously explosive and had immediate effects.

Super Micro lost over 40% of its value the day of the report. Apple and Amazon, which the report said had bought compromised servers, fiercely denied the report in public statements.

While Bloomberg put out a statement that said that it stood by its reporting shortly after the first story, the loudest institutional support for the story came in a followup story by Bloomberg that said new evidence of hacked Supermicro hardware was found in a U.S. telecom.

Bloomberg didn’t name the affected telecom.

“The more recent manipulation is different from the one described in the Bloomberg Businessweek report in October 2018, but it shares key characteristics: They’re both designed to give attackers invisible access to data on a computer network in which the server is installed; and the alterations were found to have been made at the factory as the motherboard was being produced by a Supermicro subcontractor in China,” according to the Bloomberg followup report.

But even the source for the followup now says he’s “angry” about how the story turned out.

“I want to be quoted. I am angry and I am nervous and I hate what happened to the story. Everyone misses the main issue,” which is that it’s an overall problem with the hardware supply chain, not a SuperMicro-specific issue, Yossi Appleboum told Serve The Home.

But everyone says it’s possible

But the tricky thing about Bloomberg’s story is that nearly everyone agrees something like it could happen, it just didn’t happen the way the report suggests.

Security experts agree that the security of the factories that make electronics is an ongoing issue, even if no malicious chips have been found yet.

“What we can tell you though, is it’s a very real and emerging threat that we’re worried about,” Sec. Nielsen said shortly after saying she had no evidence in favor of the story.

And as one manufacturing expert told Business Insider, “I don’t actually think it’s hard to inject stuff that the brand or design team didn’t intentionally ask for.”

Chinese industrial espionage has been an issue for many years, and it’s a talking point for President Donald Trump, who accused Chinese exchange students of being “spies” in a conversation with CEOs including Apple CEO Tim Cook.

But there is evidence that Chinese spies do spy on American companies. In October 2018, a Chinese officer was extradited to the United States to face espionage charges related to stealing secrets from companies including GE Aviation.

The FBI also arrested a Chinese national in 2018 who had worked for Apple and allegedly was taking self-driving car information to a little-known Chinese startup.

So there’s a lot of evidence that there are spies who are actively working to steal American industrial secrets. Just maybe not with malicious chips inserted through the supply chain — yet.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

This aging Russian plane was the Tomahawk strike’s target

The strike on Shayrat Air Base was intended to take out a number of targets, but one plane in particular was top of the list: The Su-22 Fitter.


According to Scramble.nl, two squadrons of this plane were based at the Shayrat air base that absorbed 59 T-LAMs. But why was this plane the primary target, as opposed to the squadron of MiG-23 Floggers? The answer is that the versions of the MiG-23 that were reportedly based there were primarily in the air-to-air role. The MiG-23MLD is known as the “Flogger K” by NATO. The two squadrons of Su-22 Fitters, though, specialized in the ground attack mission.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’
A pair of Su-22M4 Fitters, similar to those based at Shayrat Air Base in Syria. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

According to militaryfactory.com, the Su-22 is one of two export versions of the Su-17, which first entered service in 1969. Since then, it has received progressive improvements, and was widely exported to not only Warsaw Pact countries but to Soviet allies in the Middle East and to Peru. The Russians and French teamed up to modernize many of the Fitters still in service – and over 2,600 of these planes were built.

According to the Encyclopaedia of Modern Aircraft Armament, the Su-17/Su-20/Su-22 Fitter has eight hardpoints capable of carrying up to 11,000 pounds of munitions. It also has a pair of MR-30 30mm cannon. It is capable of a top speed of 624 knots, according to militaryfactory.com.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’
A Libyan Su-22 Fitter – two of these were shot down by Navy F-14s in 1981. (US Navy photo)

The Fitter has seen a fair bit of combat action, including during the Iran-Iraq War, the Yom Kippur War, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, and the Russian wars in Chechnya.

Recently, it saw action in the Libyan Civil War as well as the Syrian Civil War.

While it has performed well in ground-attack missions, it was famously misused by then-Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi to challenge U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcats over the Gulf of Sidra in 1981. Both Fitters were shot down after an ineffectual attack on the Tomcats.

During Desert Storm, the Iraqi Air Force lost two Su-22s, then two more during Operation Provide Comfort.

The Fitter did get one moment in the cinematic sun, though. In the Vin Diesel action movie “XXX,” two Czech air force Fitters made a cameo during the climactic sequence.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why space debris cleanup might be a national security threat

As an international relations scholar who studies space law and policy, I have come to realize what most people do not fully appreciate: Dealing with space debris is as much a national security issue as it is a technical one.

Considering the debris circling the Earth as just an obstacle in the path of human missions is naive. As outer space activities are deeply rooted in the geopolitics down on Earth, the hidden challenge posed by the debris is the militarization of space technologies meant to clean it up.


To be clear, space debris poses considerable risks; however, to understand those risks, I should explain what it is and how it is formed. The term “space debris” refers to defunct human-made objects, relics left over from activities dating back to the early days of the space age. Over time that definition has expanded to include big and small things like discarded boosters, retired satellites, leftover bits and pieces from spacecraft, screwdrivers, tools, nuts and bolts, shards, lost gloves, and even flecks of paint.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

A computer-generated image of objects in Earth orbit that are currently being tracked. Approximately 95 percent of the objects in this illustration are orbital debris, i.e., not functional satellites. The dots represent the current location of each item. The orbital debris dots are scaled according to the image size of the graphic to optimize their visibility and are not scaled to Earth. The image provides a good visualization of where the greatest orbital debris populations exist.

(NASA photo)

From the 23,000 pieces of debris in Earth orbit that are larger than 5-10 centimeters that we can track and catalog, to the hundreds of millions that we cannot, there is little question that both big and small objects whizzing around at lethal speeds endanger the prospects for civilian, commercial and military missions in outer space. You may pick apart what the movie “Gravity” got wrong, but what it got unforgettably right was the sense of devastation wrought by an orbital debris cloud that destroyed equipment and killed three astronauts on impact. No matter its size, space debris can be lethal to humans and machines alike.

As of early 2018, the European Space Agency (ESA) estimates that there have been about 500 break-ups, collisions, explosions or other fragmentation events to date that yielded space debris. Some of these events are caused by accidents. NASA reported the first-ever known collision between two objects in space in July 1996, when a European booster collided with a French spacecraft. That incident created one new piece of debris, which was itself promptly cataloged. Yet accidents can also have a big impact on increasing the debris cloud. In 2009, for the first time ever, a functioning U.S. communications satellite, Iridium-33, collided with a non-functioning Russian one, Cosmos-2251, as they both passed over extreme northern Siberia. This single crash generated more than 2,300 fragments of debris.

Natural fragmentation versus deliberate destruction

Space debris may also be affected by the breakup of older spacecraft. In February 2015, a Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP-F13) spacecraft, called USA 109, which had gone up 20 years earlier, blew up due to a battery malfunction. It may have contributed 100 debris pieces that were tracked by military radars on Earth, and possibly also 50,000 shards larger than 1 millimeter that defied tracking because they are too tiny. Because of the satellite’s original high altitude, all those fragments will remain in orbit for decades, posing risks for other spacecraft. In November 2015, again due to a possible battery failure, another decommissioned U.S weather satellite, NOAA-16, crumbled adding 136 new objects to the debris cloud.

Notably, debris itself can also fragment. In February 2018, a discarded tank from the upper stages of a Ukrainian-Russian Zenit-3F rocket fragmented.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

Fuel tank of an Iridium satellite launched in 1997-1998 re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and crashed in a California orchard where it was discovered in late October 2018.

(Kings County Sheriff’s Office)

Debris can also fall back down on Earth, whether from natural orbital decay or controlled re-entry. Fortunately most such falling debris lands in the Earth’s oceans. But sometimes it does not, and these rare events may become a bigger hazard in the years ahead as the size of the debris cloud grows, and as the projected fleet of commercial small satellites becomes a reality. Recently, parts of Zenit rocket debris are reported to have ended up crash-landing in Peru. One of the most recent such events just took place in October 2018. The U.S. military identified a fuel tank from a decade-or-so-old Iridium satellite that crashed in a walnut orchard in Hanford, California.

Then there are the highly publicized deliberate events that add to the debris cloud. In 2007, China used a ground-based direct-ascent missile to take out its own aging weather satellite, the Fengyun-1C. This event created an estimated 3,400 pieces of debris that will be around for several decades before decaying.

China’s actions were widely seen as an anti-satellite test (ASAT), a signal of the country’s expanding military space capabilities. Having the ability to shoot down a satellite to gain a military advantage back on Earth exposes the basic nature of the threat: Those who are most dependent on space assets – namely, the United States, with an estimated 46 percent of the total 1,886 currently operational satellites – are also the most vulnerable to the space debris created deliberately. There is no doubt that the aggressor will also lose in such a scenario – but that collateral damage may be worthwhile if your more heavily space-dependent rival is dealt a more crippling blow.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

Saudi officials inspect a crashed PAM-D module in January 2001.

Stealth ‘counterspace race’

The set of government or commercial solutions to counter orbital debris – whether lasers, nets, magnets, tethers, robotic arms or co-orbiting service satellites – have only fueled the prospects for a stealthy race for dominance in outer space.

The same technology that captures or zaps or drags away the debris can do the same to a functioning spacecraft. Since nobody can be sure about the intent behind such proposed “commercial” space debris cleanup technologies, governments will race to get ahead of their market competitors. It matters how and with what intent you counter space debris with dual-use technologies, and more so at a time of flux in the world order. Both the old and new space powers can easily cloak their military intentions in legitimate concerns about, and possibly commercial solutions to, debris hazards. And there are now a number of open assessments about space junk removal technologies that can double up as military programs, such as lasers or hunters.

This fusion of the market and the military is not a conspiracy but a reality. If you are a great power like the United States that is heavily dependent on space assets in both the economic and military realms, then you are vulnerable to both orbital debris and the technologies proposed for its cleanup. And both your allies and your rivals know it.

This is how we have ended up in a counterspace race, which is nothing like your grandfather’s space race. In a fundamental way, this new race reflects the volatile geopolitics of peer or near-peer competitors today, and there is no getting away from it in any domain. Just as on Earth, in the cosmos the world’s top space powers – the United States, China, Japan, Russia, India – have moved from merely space situational awareness to all-out battlespace awareness. If things stay the course, accidental or deliberate events involving orbital debris are poised to ravage peaceful prospects in outer space.

How then do we move forward so that outer space remains safe, sustainable and secure for all powers, whether big or small? This is not a task any one single nation — no matter how great — can carry out successfully on its own. The solutions must not only be technological or military, either. For peaceful solutions to last, deterrence and diplomacy, as well as public awareness, will have to be proactively forged by the world’s space powers, leaders and thinkers.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Follow @ConversationUS on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This cocktail recipe was kept secret by U.S. Marines for over 200 years

The story begins in pre-revolutionary Philadelphia.


As a result of early trading with Caribbean countries, colonists along the fishing ports massed great quantities of rum and citrus fruits.

These fish houses, as they were called, kept punch bowls of Fish House Punch in their outer foyers to entertain guests as they waited to be seated.

The combination of rum, brandy, lemon juice, water, and sugar gained a reputation for packing a punch among early colonists, including Continental Marines.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

U.S. Marine Corps legend, Gen. Victor “Brute” Krulak (center) insisted that this drink be served at every one of his birthday celebrations after 1940.

“The recipe for true Fish House Punch was kept secret for almost 200 years,” according to Gary and Mardee Regan’s review on Fish House Punch, located on the Amazon.com website. “The Formula was first developed at the Fish House Club, also known as the State in Schuylkill, or simply the Schuylkill Fishing Company in Philadelphia, an organization formed in 1732 by a group of anglers who liked to cook.”

According to the Regans, the Fish House Punch recipe fell into public hands some time around the beginning of the 20th century, and the formula has been seen in print many times over the past hundred years.

Nevertheless, for those who mix this historical punch, the history surrounding it is legendary and so is the taste.

Articles

The world’s two biggest terror groups may go head to head in Syria

Experts have been warning for a while now that Al Qaeda is still very much a presence as a jihadist group, posing perhaps an even bigger long-term threat than ISIS.


And now, Al Qaeda is planning to challenge ISIS in its stronghold — Syria.

American and European officials told The New York Times recently that Al Qaeda has started moving veteran operatives to Syria as the group plans to escalate its fight with ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh), which operated under the Al Qaeda umbrella until the two groups split off and became rivals.

And though ISIS has been grabbing most headlines with its gruesome propaganda machine and bold proclamations about building a “caliphate” that will take over the world, Al Qaeda has been quietly focusing on its strategy to be the last group standing when the dust settles.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’
Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front fighters carry their weapons on the back of a pickup truck during the release of Lebanese soldiers and policemen in Arsal, eastern Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. | YouTube

Al Qaeda is now “taking an opportunity off of what ISIS did” to make itself a main focus of the West’s fight against terror, Ali Soufan, the CEO of strategic-security firm The Soufan Group, said earlier this month at a national-security conference at Fordham University in New York.

“What ISIS did made so many people in the Muslim world think, ‘Al Qaeda are the good guys. ISIS are the bad guys,'” said Soufan, a former FBI special agent who has investigated high-profile terror cases.

“Even when you hear some people testifying on Capitol Hill that, ‘It’s OK. Let’s support al-Nusra or let’s support Ahrar al-Sham because they probably will fight ISIS’ — well al-Nusra is … an official affiliate of Al Qaeda in Syria,” he continued, referencing the group Jabhat al-Nusra, which is fighting ISIS for control of territory in Syria.

While ISIS has made a show of its excessive violence — through beheading videos and other propaganda distributed online in several languages — Al Qaeda has been more cautious. The group holds the same brutal ideology to which ISIS subscribes, but it’s been more patient with winning over the Syrian population.

“You can see Al Qaeda taking advantage thinking strategically,” Soufan said. “ISIS is not thinking strategically. ISIS is just doing crazy stuff, a lot of violence, trying to bring a lot of people in.”

And while ISIS has lured thousands to its territory with its violent advertising and declaration of the “caliphate,” or pseudo-state ruled by a strict interpretation of Islamic law, recent reports indicate that fighter defections within the group are increasing and the flow of foreign fighters to ISIS territory has slowed. On top of that, the group has been losing territory without gaining much new land.

“ISIS is becoming like a smoke screen. We’re all looking at ISIS all the time. ‘Oh, look, ISIS, they did a video, or they put out another thing of Dabiq,'” Soufan said, referring to the group’s English-language online propaganda magazine.

He added: “They are technically more advanced than Al Qaeda, but I think Al Qaeda is looking into the long term.”

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’
ISIS fighters in Syria | YouTube

Al Qaeda’s strategy seems to be predicated on waiting for Syrians to slowly come around to the idea of Islamic rule. That lowers the chance of a successful uprising if Jabhat al-Nusra is able to establish Syria as an Islamic “emirate” — land that would be controlled by the group and run under strict Islamic law, similar to ISIS’ so-called caliphate.

Charles Lister, a fellow at the Middle East Institute who has written a book on the insurgency in Syria, said at a recent event in Washington, DC, that Al Qaeda has sought to grow not just acceptance of its rule in Syria, but also support from the general population. He also assessed that Al Qaeda is playing a long game.

“This is an organization that has spent the last five years growing durable, deep roots in Syrian opposition and revolutionary society,” Lister said. “ISIS, on the other hand, has shallow roots. It hasn’t deigned to acquire popular support — it controls populations.”

Al Qaeda’s emirate might now come sooner rather than later — The Times reported that the Al Qaeda operatives being funneled into Syria have been told to start creating a headquarters in Syria and to lay the groundwork for establishing an emirate. The emirate would be in direct competition with ISIS.

Eric Schmitt wrote in The Times that Al Qaeda establishing an emirate in Syria would mark a “significant shift.” Al Qaeda has so far resisted declaring an emirate — it’s part of the group’s long-term strategy to avoid acting too hastily before leaders feel confident that fighters could hold the territory they seize.

Syrians on the ground seem to have been expecting this for a while.

Ahmad al-Soud, the commander and founder of the Syrian rebel group Division 13, told Business Insider earlier this year that “Nusra’s stated goal throughout all of Syria from when they first started until today is to turn Syria into an Islamic emirate.”

“They don’t want any other armed group in Syria except for them, and they want to turn it into kind of what Afghanistan was under the Taliban,” al-Soud said. “Once they … get rid of all the other groups, [Jabhat al-Nusra] can finally duke it out between them and ISIS for who’s the worst.”

Schmitt notes in The Times that “establishing a more enduring presence in Syria would present the group with an invaluable opportunity” because it would “not only be within closer striking distance of Europe but also benefit from the recruiting and logistical support of fighters from Iraq, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.”

With the collapse of the ceasefire in Syria, the timing might be good for Al Qaeda to increase its presence there. The ceasefire — between the regime of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad and the rebels who oppose his rule — never applied to terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS, but it allowed the Syrian government and its allies to focus its fire on jihadists rather than moderate rebels.

Additionally, the West seems to have focused mostly on hitting ISIS in Syria — US officials are emphasizing operations to drive ISIS out of its strongholds in Syria and Iraq and deprive them of more territory.

The dysfunction in Syria provides the perfect vacuum for Al Qaeda to move in and exploit.

Soufan explained:

Al Qaeda’s position is, “Let’s create a lot of these vacuums where there is no strong government, and let’s operate under a different name.” Bin Laden actually, before he died, in his letters, he was telling Al Qaeda, “Do not use Al Qaeda’s name. I do not want anyone to use Al Qaeda’s name, because the moment you use Al Qaeda’s name, the West and the locals are going to come and they’re going to beat you up.”

Al Qaeda has done this in Syria with Jabhat al-Nusra, which is always referred to as such rather than simply “Al Qaeda.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the “Hercules of the American Revolution”

Peter Francisco was born into a wealthy family in June, 1760, on an island in the Azores archipelago of Portugal. When Francisco was just 5 years old, he was abducted by pirates. The future patriot was ripped from his home and carted off to a nearby ship. Approximately six weeks later, a dock worker saw a boat maneuver up the James River in Virginia. There, the pirates dropped off the young Francisco and left as quickly as they’d arrived.

Nobody’s entirely sure why the abductors snatched him up only to later drop him off without seeking payment, but historians have their theories. Some say that Francisco’s father orchestrated the kidnapping in order to spare Peter from the wrath of his family’s political enemies.

Whatever the case, locals took the abandoned Francisco to a nearby orphanage soon after he arrived. There, he was taken in by Judge Anthony Winston. He took the young boy back to his plantation to learn English. Due to his dark, Mediterranean complexion, however, Francisco lived near the slaves and never received a proper education.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

Francisco spent many of his early years working on Judge Winston’s plantation, learning how to be a blacksmith. Winston invited Francisco to join him at the Second Virginia Convention in 1775, where George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry were all in attendance. After several days of intense debate between loyalists and patriots, Patrick Henry delivered his famous quote,

“Give me liberty or give me death.”

As the teenage Francisco watched through a window, he chose liberty.


Nearly a year and a half later, Francisco finally convinced Winston to allow him to join the Continental Army. At just 16 years old, Francisco was officially a member of the 10th Virginia Regiment and stood six feet, six inches tall and weighed 260 pounds — truly a giant of his era.

Soon after, Francisco fought in several famous battles, including Brandywine and Valley Forge. During the Battle of Stony Point, George Washington recruited 20 elite troops to be first in line to assault the British fort. Francisco was selected as one of those men.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’
The Continental Army defeated British troops at Stony Point with a well-planned nighttime attack.

Francisco was tasked with scaling a 300-foot wall and reaching the fort’s flagstaff. Of the 20 who led the charge, 17 were either killed or wounded — a large slash across the abdomen put Francisco among them. Despite his injury, he killed his adversaries and reached his destination. He lay, wounded, at the base of the flag as the British surrendered. From then on, Francisco was known as the “Hercules of the American Revolution.”

During the Battle of Camden, Francisco noticed a 1,100-pound cannon in a field next to some dead horses. According to legend, he managed to lift the canon and take it, saving it from falling to British hands. For this courageous act, the U.S. Postal Service design a stamp in Francisco’s honor.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’
Stamps were expensive even in 1975…

As Francisco continued to fight the war, he continuously remarked on the tiny size of the swords with which they fought. Eventually, Washington gave Francisco a six-foot broadsword — not unlike the sword famously used by William Wallace in his own battles against the English.

By the time Francisco was done serving, he had been wounded six times, but never stopped fighting. He was later elected by the Senate to work as the sergeant-at-arms.

Later, Francisco died from appendicitis. He was 71-years-old.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

‘Missile barges’ could be America’s secret weapon in the Pacific

In recent years, the United States has begun to shift its military focus away from counter-terror operations and back toward the possibility of a large-scale conflict with near-peer opponents like China. Unfortunately, nearly two straight decades of the Global War on Terror has left the American defense apparatus on the wrong footing for such a war. In some important respects, America now finds itself playing catch up; working to close capability gaps that have presented themselves in Europe and the Pacific.

While America retains the largest military on the planet, it also has further reaching obligations than any other force on the planet as well. In every corner of the globe, America’s military serves in a variety of capacities, from providing a stabilizing presence, to training foreign militaries to defend themselves, to enforcing international norms on the high seas. As we’ve discussed in some depth before, America’s Navy may be huge for this era of relative global stability, but it would find itself significantly outnumbered in a Sino-American war in the Pacific. That issue becomes even more clear when you consider that the U.S. Navy couldn’t deploy the entirety of its fleet to any one waterway without leaving a number of other important interests un-guarded.


When you combine China’s rapidly growing Navy with its well-armed Coast Guard and its maritime militia, you get a positively massive 770-ship Chinese presence in the Pacific. For context, the massive U.S. Navy currently boasts only around 293 ships–and while President Trump has pushed for growth to reach a 355-ship Navy, no real plans to get there have yet to materialize. That means the U.S. Navy would be left to face China’s massive sea fairing presence while outnumbered at least two to one.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

(U.S. Navy)

When the most powerful military in the world isn’t enough

Having a massive fleet alone isn’t enough to win a 21st century conflict on the high seas–It’s equally important that you have the right kinds of ships to leverage for specific roles.

Over the years, advancing technology has enabled the United States to move away from the massive fleets of ships and aircraft it maintained during the Second World War, and toward a lower number of assets that are capable of filling multiple roles. Ships like the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers, just like multi-role aircraft like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, are properly outfitted to serve in a number of capacities. This mindset has allowed the United States to expand its capabilities while reducing its personnel requirements and the overhead costs of maintaining far more assets with far more specialized roles.

But there are downsides to America’s love affair with “multi-role” platforms: They dramatically increase the cost of research and acquisition, and that increased cost forces purchases in fewer numbers. It also forces military assets into positions that don’t fully leverage their broad capabilities.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

Three Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, the USS McCampbell (DDG 85), USS Lassen (DDG 82) and USS Shoup (DDG 86) steam in formation during a photo exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer’s Mate Todd P. Cichonowicz)

For some useful context into how more advanced technology has enabled the U.S. to increase capability while decreasing volume, consider that America’s military apparatus wielded a whopping 6,768 ships and an astonishing 300,000 combat airplanes at its peak during World War II. As America poured money into better military technology throughout the Cold War, it transitioned to an era of valuing technology and capability over volume, and today the U.S. Navy boasts just 293 ships, and America maintains a comparatively paltry 13,000 military aircraft.

With so many fewer platforms to utilize, these multi-role ships and airplanes are left doing a wide variety of work that has to be prioritized. Despite being capable of filling multiple roles, these platforms can often only fill one role at a time — making them more effective for strategic posturing, but less effective in a combat situation. Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers are incredibly powerful ships, equipped with a variety of guns, missiles, and torpedoes, but are often relegated to simplistic missile defense operations because of their role within the Aegis missile defense apparatus. These destroyers serve as a shining example of how a ship with a number of uses may get stuck in a single defensive role during large scale conflict.

As former Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson put it, BMD (ballistic missile defense) ships are restricted to very confined operating areas that he refers to as “little boxes.”

A cargo ship packed with missiles? Really?

If the United States were to find itself on a collision course with China, one of the nation’s first priorities would be finding ways to rapidly expand both America’s military presence and strategic capabilities in the Pacific. China owns a positively massive ballistic missile stockpile (including hypersonic anti-ship missiles), which would mean missile defense would be considered a significant priority for America’s Aegis destroyers. Unfortunately, that would limit the ability for America’s destroyers to operate in a more offensive capacity, as they steamed in circles around their area of responsibility, waiting to intercept any missiles lobbed their way.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

Left to right, the guided missile cruiser USS Vicksburg (CG 69), and the guided missile destroyers USS Roosevelt (DDG 80), USS Carney (DDG 64) and USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) launch a coordinated volley of missiles during a Vandel Exercise (VANDALEX). (US Navy photo)

This would be a significant waste of destroyers, which would in turn limit the capability of other battle groups that couldn’t rely on the offensive power of these warships. In a real way, America would simply need more vertical launch missile tubes (commonly referred to as VLS cells, or Vertical Launch System cells) in the Pacific to bolster both offensive and defensive operations — and it would be essential to get them as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

That’s where the idea for missile barges, or missile ships, comes into play. In a 2019 article in the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings, five experts, including a retired Navy captain and a retired Marine Corps colonel, offered their suggestion for rapidly procuring and equipping commercial cargo ships for combat operations.

“The Navy should acquire and arm merchant ships, outfitting them with modular weapons and systems to take advantage of improving technology and shipping market conditions while providing capability more rapidly and less expensively than traditional acquisition efforts.”
-Captain R. Robinson Harris, U.S. Navy (Ret.); Andrew Kerr; Kenneth Adams; Christopher Abt; Michael Venn; and Colonel T. X. Hammes, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.)
The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

(Pixnio)

The premise behind missile barges has been around for some time; after all, at its most simplistic levels, this idea boils down to “just stick a bunch of missiles on a ship you have laying around,” but what differentiates this modern missile barge concept from past iterations is the technology of our day. America has long possessed “containerized” missile platforms that would sit comfortably on the deck of large cargo ships. Further, with data-fusing supercomputers like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, America has also already demonstrated the capability of engaging targets with surface-based weapons via targeting data relayed by nearby aircraft.

Put simply, we already have modular weapon systems that would work when operated off the decks of cargo ships, and we’ve already proven that weapons of that sort can be leveraged to engage targets identified by aircraft… That means this concept would require very little in the way of infrastructure building or development–which equates to both cost and time savings.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

(PXHere)

Procuring the hulls

The first step to building a fleet of missile barges would be procuring the hulls of commercial cargo ships, which would likely be a fairly easy endeavor if a war in the Pacific were to occur. It’s estimated that as much as 1/3 of all global commerce sails across the South China Sea on an annual basis, and a conflict between the United States and China would curtail a majority of these trips–due to both the drop in trade between these two economic power houses and the perceived danger of sending commercial ships through what would effectively be the site of the greatest naval conflict in all of recorded history. As a result, purchasing these vessels would likely come at a significantly reduced cost.

Purchasing a new commercial double hulled cargo ship would normally run the United States between and million dollars, but cargo ships that are already in use can be procured on websites like NautiSNP for pennies on the dollar, with some vessels currently on the market for just over id=”listicle-2647023060″ million.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

Again, a significant drop in trade through the Pacific would likely result in even greater cost savings as firms liquidate their assets in the region to recoup some of their losses.

Modifying commercial ships into missile barges

Once the U.S. Navy had procured the ships themselves, it could begin the relatively significant task of refitting them for service as missile barges. This can be accomplished in one of two ways.

The Navy could utilize containerized missile and drone assets stacked on the ship, which would make it more difficult to discern from traditional cargo vessels while dramatically reducing the actual work required to convert each ship. While the vessels would have to be marked as U.S. Navy ships and flagged as such, the similar profile to commercial ships would force the Chinese Navy to positively identify each vessel before engaging, as many weapons systems rely on inverse synthetic-aperture radar that assesses targets through little more than low-resolution profiling.

LORA Weapon System Operational Demonstration

www.youtube.com

That front-end investment could be further curbed by relying on external assets like nearby Aegis destroyers for command and control, relying on the warship’s radar, targeting, and command apparatus for what is effectively little more than an arsenal ship or “floating magazine.” In this regard, missile barges would effectively serve as a supplement to a destroyer’s existing weapons loadout.

Conversely, these vessels could be modified to carry traditional VLS tubes just like those employed by America’s guided missile destroyers today. A container ship could be modified to carry a slew of vertical launch tubes carrying Tomahawk missiles in as little as three to six months. The costs would be higher, but the trade off benefit would be utilizing the same basic systems found on other Navy ships, reducing the required training and logistical concerns associated with standing up a different weapon system.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Charles Coleman inspects missile cell hatches on one of two Vertical Launching Systems (VLS) aboard the guided missile cruiser USS Hue City (CG 66). The VLS is capable of launching numerous missiles including the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile and SM-2 Standard Missile. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Charles E. Hill)

As the proposal in Proceedings suggests, it would be important for the Navy to carefully consider how many missile barges they intended to build, and how many missiles they intend to keep on each.

While it’s possible to place more than a hundred VLS tubes and associated missiles on one of these vessels, that would represent both a massive expense and a massive target for the Chinese military. Instead, the proposal suggests converting 10 to 15 cargo ships into missile barges, each carrying between 30 and 50 Tomahawk missiles. That would limit the potential losses if such a vessel were lost, while giving it enough firepower to benefit the Navy’s overarching strategy.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Jimmy C. Pan)

The hybrid-crew model

Of course, another shortfall we have yet to discuss in a Pacific conflict could very well be trained Sailors. As the U.S. Navy rapidly procured and modified ships into missile barges, it would also have to rapidly staff these vessels — which likely wouldn’t be feasible leveraging a traditional Navy recruiting pipeline. Instead, the hybrid crew model proposed by Navy Captain Chris Rawley seems most logical.

Each missile barge would have a crew comprised of both U.S. Navy officers and civilian sailors that have experience operating these commercial vessels. By recruiting from the private sector, the U.S. Navy could rapidly field these ships with crews that are already trained and proficient at the tasks they’d be assigned, while placing Naval officers in command of the vessel and in other essential combat roles.

By using a military command element, operating missile barges in war with a crew made up in part of civilians would still be legal under international law. Indeed, this model is already in use aboard some specific Naval vessels, like the recently decommissioned USS Ponce amphibious transport dock.

These missile barges could be crewed with as few as 30 people, split between U.S. Navy and civilian personnel. Because the missile payloads would not come close to these ship’s total capacity, they could also utilize buoyant cargo sealed in the hull to help make these ships more survivable in the event of an attack.

It’s possible that these ships could be crewed by even fewer people in the near future, as the Navy has already earmarked 0 million in the 2020 budget for the development of two large unmanned surface ships. The Navy’s Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vessel dubbed “Sea Hunter” has already successfully traversed the open ocean between San Diego and Hawaii all on its own, demonstrating the capability for unmanned Navy ships to come.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

Are missile barges actually realistic?

Although the U.S. Navy is in the early stages of what may come to be a transformative era, it seems unlikely that the United States would shift away from its current love affair with high-cost, multi-role platforms any time soon. The new USS Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers serve as a good example of how the U.S. military prefers new, shiny, and expensive hardware over old, rusty, and more cost efficient options. While some within the Defense Department are questioning the future of America’s supercarriers, the alternative posited is usually something akin to smaller, but still rather large and expensive Lightning Carriers built for short-take off, vertical landing F-35Bs.

However, it’s important to note that the Navy of today is a product of the past fifty years of foreign policy posturing, but that may not be the right Navy to see us through a return to large scale conflict. Today, war with China remains a distant threat, but as that threat looms closer, we may see a transition in the Navy’s mindset similar to that of the Air Force’s recent push for “attritable” aircraft to bolster our small volume of high-capability assets.

Attritable, a word seemingly designed to give copy editors stress wrinkles, is the term used by the U.S. Air Force to describe platforms that are cheap enough to be used aggressively, with some degree of losses considered acceptable. This has led the Air Force to investing in drones like the Kratos Valkyrie, which is a low-observable drone capable of carrying two small-diameter bombs for ground strikes while costing only a few million dollars a piece.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

Kratos Valkyrie (Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Hoskins)

While it would cost more than a few million dollars to field each missile barge, the price may still be discounted enough to be considered attritable when compared to billion behemoths like the Ford. As unmanned ships become more common, and as a result, more affordable, it may become even more cost effective to leverage existing commercial hulls as a means of offsetting China’s huge numbers advantage in the Pacific.

Does it seem likely that the U.S. Navy would start strapping missiles to old container ships any time soon? The answer is a resounding no, but if America and China continue on this collision course, America’s defense apparatus may find itself being forced to make some hard decisions about just how much capability it can squeeze out of America’s already massive defense budget. If that day comes, missile barges may represent one of the most cost effective force multipliers America could leverage.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.


popular

Here is what would have really happened after the Hartman murder-suicide

If you’ve seen Full Metal Jacket, then you probably recall the scene where Private Leonard “Gomer Pyle” Lawrence snaps, killing his tormentor, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, and then himself. The film then segues to 1968, where “Joker” and “Cowboy” are both sergeants — as if the incident had no effect on their careers.


The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

At the time Full Metal Jacket was taking place, drill instructors like this one would have been supervised by officers.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

It would not have gone down that way. To put it mildly, the killing of Gunny Hartman is likely merciful end when compared to the hell he would catch in the wake of such an incident. A murder-suicide like that would, in all likelihood, rock the entire Marine Corps.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

NCIS agents – the real-life version of Leroy Jethro Gibbs – would be investigating the murder-suicide,

(Photo by Bill Wheatley)

Immediately after the tragic event, both the Navy Criminal Investigative Service and the United States Marine Corps Criminal Investigation Division would move in to investigate what happened. Joker, Cowboy, and everyone in the recruit platoon would be thoroughly interrogated. That “blanket party” would come back to haunt them — they’d get non-judicial punishment as a best-case scenario. Worst-case scenario could involve courts-martial, like the one in A Few Good Men, and a potential for dishonorable discharges.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

Brig. Gen. Austin E. Renforth’s counterpart in Full Metal Jacket would likely see his career hit a dead end in the wake of the Hartman-Lawrence murder-suicide.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

But it doesn’t stop there. The Naval Inspector General’s office would come in and start asking a lot of questions — not just of the Marines in the platoon, but of the entire chain of command at Parris Island. If you think the recruits had it bad, well, some of the officers would likely see their careers end.

The Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps would probably be conducting a lot of court-martials in the wake of the Hartman-Lawrence murder-suicide.

(U.S. Navy)

In the wake the 1956 Ribbon Creek incident, in which a DI got six recruits killed during night march through a swamp, officers were required to more closely supervise recruit training. The DI was court-martialed and charged with negligent homicide.

In the wake of an incident like the one portrayed in Full Metal Jacket, the lucky ones would get relieved and receive letters of admonition or reprimand and would close out their careers long enough to get retirement. Unlucky ones would face the “up or out” realities of promotion. And the really unlucky ones would get court-martialed.


In short, the Hartman-Lawrence incident would cause a ton of havoc. The case would have spawned media headlines, and Pyle’s fellow recruits would probably be infamous among their fellow Marines – if they hadn’t already been booted out.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How Spain just laid the foundation for Turkey’s new navy

Spain has long had a maritime tradition. For example, Christopher Columbus was sponsored by Spain for his fateful voyage that discovered America. There was also the Spanish Armada, which, well… didn’t turn out so well for Spain.


Now, Spain has built a relatively small but powerful navy — still called the Spanish Armada. These days, its flagship is the amphibious assault ship Juan Carlos I, named after the king of Spain who brought the nation into the 21st century. Its hangar can hold a dozen helicopters or eight EAV-8B/B+ Harriers. This vessel weighs in at 19,300 tons, roughly the size of the Yorktown-class carriers that held the line in the early part of World War II, and has a top speed of 21.5 knots. It is capable of hauling just under a thousand troops and can also carry up to 110 vehicles.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’
Australia has two Juan Carlos I-class amphibious assault ships in service. (Wikimedia Commons photo by printjockey)

In addition to being the flagship of the modern Spanish Navy, the Juan Carlos I-class design has been exported. Australia bought two of these vessels, naming them HMAS Canberra and HMAS Adelaide. Now, according to a report by NavyRecognition.com, the Turkish Navy is going to get one of these ships. The vessel, to be named TCG Anadolu, just had its keel laid. This is part of an expansion program which will give Turkey not just this amphibious assault ship, but an amphibious transport dock and some smaller landing craft.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’
Three MV-22B Ospreys with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa participate in deck landing qualifications aboard a Spanish amphibious assault ship Juan Carlos I (L61) on the southern coast of Spain, Oct. 21. U.S. Marines and Spanish sailors practice deck procedures including tie-downs, taxiing and refueling the aircraft. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Vitaliy Rusavskiy)

The Turks are not the only country in the eastern Mediterranean to acquire such vessels. Egypt acquired two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships originally built for Russia from France after the French canceled the deal in the wake of Russia’s seizure of Crimea. The two vessels were purchased with financial assistance from Saudi Arabia.

MIGHTY GAMING

Army turns to virtual battlefield to train squads

A four-man team of soldiers sits in a nondescript building on Fort Belvoir, Va., each at his own desk, surrounded by three monitors that provide them individual, 3D views of an abandoned city.

On screen, they gather at the corner of a crumbling building to meet another team — represented by avatars — who are actually on the ground in a live-training area, a mock-up of the abandoned city. They’re all training together, in real time, to prepare for battles in dense urban terrain.


That’s the central goal of the Synthetic Training Environment (STE) — immersive, integrated virtual training — presented during a Warriors Corner session at the 2018 Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington. The Army has been working toward this kind of fully immersive training experience for decades, and leadership hopes to have it operational as early as 2025.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

In May 1993, Army RDA Bulletin dedicated several articles to the concept and execution of distributed interactive simulation (DIS), “a time and space coherent representation of a virtual battlefield environment” that allowed warfighters across the globe to interact with one other as well as computer-generated forces, according to John S. Yuhas, author of the article “Distributed Interactive Simulation.”

Better, faster, stronger

While the name of the program seems to emphasize individual simulation units, its overarching purpose was to bring together thousands of individuals and teams virtually in real time. Central to DIS was the idea of interoperable standards and protocol, allowing each community — “trainer, tester, developer, and acquisitioner” — to use the others’ concepts and products, Maj. David W. Vaden wrote in “Vision for the Next Decade.”

The article explained that “distributed” referred to geographically separated simulations networked together to create a synthetic environment; “interactive” to different simulations linked electronically to act together and upon each other; and “simulation” to three categories — live, virtual and constructive. Live simulations involved real people and equipment; virtual referred to manned simulators; and constructive referred to war games and models, with or without human interaction.

Sound familiar?

DIS has much in common with STE. Both provide training and mission rehearsal capability to the operational and institutional sides of the Army (i.e., soldiers and civilians). They even share the same training philosophy: to reduce support requirements, increase realism and help deliver capabilities to the warfighter faster.

Users of STE will train with live participants and computer simulations, with some units training remotely. However, STE takes virtual reality training to a new level altogether by incorporating advances in artificial intelligence, big data analysis and three-dimensional terrain representation.

Current training simulations are based on technologies from the 1980s and ’90s that can’t replicate the complex operational environment soldiers will fight in. They operate on closed, restrictive networks, are facilities-based and have high overhead costs for personnel, Maj. Gen.

Maria R. Gervais, commanding general for the U.S. Army Combined Arms Training Center and director of the STE Cross-Functional Team, said in an August 2018 article, “The Synthetic Training Environment Revolutionizes Sustainment Training.”

The Synthetic Training Environment

www.youtube.com

Those older technologies also can’t support electronic warfare, cyberspace, and megacities, the article explained. For example, soldiers in the 1990s could conduct training using computers and physical simulators — like the ones showcased in Charles Burdick, Jorge Cadiz and Gordon Sayre’s 1993 “Industry Applications of Distributed Interactive Simulation” article in the Army RDA Bulletin-but the training was limited to a single facility and only a few networked groups; the technology wasn’t yet able to support worldwide training with multiple groups of users in real time, like the Army proposes to do with the STE.

Gervais presented a promotional video during “Warriors Corner #13: Synthetic Training Environment Cross-Functional Team Update,” which said the STE will provide intuitive and immersive capabilities to keep pace with the changing operational environment. The STE is a soldier lethality modernization priority of the U.S. Army Futures Command.

“With the STE, commanders will conduct tough, realistic training at home stations, the combat training centers and at deployed locations. The STE will increase readiness through repetition, multi-echelon, multidomain, combined arms maneuver and mission command training. And most importantly, the STE will train soldiers for where they will fight,” said Gen. Robert B. Abrams, then-commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command, in the same video. Abrams is now commander of United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command, U.S. Forces Korea.

Today, simulations in the integrated training environment do not provide the realism, interoperability, affordability and availability necessary for the breadth of training that the Army envisions for the future. The STE will be able to do all that — it will be flexible, affordable and available at the point of need.

“This video helps us get to shared understanding, and also awareness of what we’re trying to achieve with the synthetic training environment,” Gervais said during the AUSA presentation. “But it also allows us to understand the challenges that we’re going to face as we try to deliver this.”

Challenges ahead

“We don’t have the right training capability to set the exercises up,” said Mike Enloe, chief engineer for the STE Cross-Functional Team, during the presentation. “What I mean by that is that it takes more time to set up the systems that are disparate to talk to each other, to get the terrains together, than it does to actually have the exercise go.”

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

The Synthetic Training Environment will assess Soldiers in enhancing decision-making skills through an immersive environment.

(US Army photo)

The Army’s One World Terrain, a 3D database launched in 2013 that collects, processes, stores and executes global terrain simulations, has been the “Achilles’ heel” of STE from the start, Enloe said. The Army lacks well-formed 3D terrain data and therefore the ability to run different echelons of training to respond to the threat. The database is still being developed as part of the STE, and what the Army needs most “right now from industry is content … we need a lot of 3D content and rapid ways to get them built,” Enloe said. That means the capability to process terrain on 3D engines so that it can move across platforms, he said, and steering clear of proprietary technologies. The STE is based on modules that can be changed to keep up with emerging technologies.

The Army also needs the ability to write the code to develop the artificial intelligence that will meet STE’s needs — that can, to some extent, learn and challenge the weaknesses of participants, he said.

Retired Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, 32nd vice chief of staff of the Army, emphasized during the presentation that the Army needs to move away from the materiel development of the STE and focus on training as a service. “I believe that a training environment should have two critical aspects to it,” he said: It should be a maneuver trainer, and it should be a gunnery trainer.

Changing the culture

Brig. Gen. Michael E. Sloane, program executive officer for Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation (PEO STRI), said the leadership philosophy of STE’s development is about fostering culture change and getting soldiers capabilities faster. “We have to be proactive; the [cross-functional teams] have to work together with the PEOs, and we’re doing that,” he said. “Collectively, we’re going to deliver real value to the soldier, I think, in doing this under the cross-functional teams and the leadership of the Army Futures Command.”

Many organizations are involved with STE’s development. The U.S. Army Combined Arms Center-Training and the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command capability managers are working requirements and represent users. PEO STRI is the materiel developer. The U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence is responsible for the infantry, armor and combined arms requirement. And finally, the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology (ASA(ALT)) serves as the approval authority for long-range investing and requirements.

With the Futures Command and ASA(ALT) collaborating throughout the development of STE, Sloane believes the Army will be able to reduce and streamline acquisition documentation, leverage rapid prototyping, deliver capabilities and get it all right the first time.

The Navy wants to deploy an unmanned ‘ghost fleet’

Soldiers prepare to operate training technologies during the STE User Assessment in Orlando, Fla., in March 2018.

(Photo by Bob Potter)

Gervais reminded the AUSA audience in October that she had spoken about STE at the annual meeting two years ago, explaining that the Army intends to use the commercial gaming industry to accelerate the development of STE. “I did not believe that it couldn’t be delivered until 2030. I absolutely refused to believe that,” she said. In 2017, the chief of staff designated STE as one of the eight cross-functional teams for Army modernization, aligning it with soldier lethality.

Since then, STE has made quite a bit of progress, Gervais said. The initial capability document for the Army collective training environment, which lays the foundation for STE, was approved in 2018. The Army increased its industry engagement to accelerate the development of STE, according to Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley’s direction, which led to the awarding of seven other transaction authority agreements for One World Terrain, followed by a user assessment in March 2018. In June, Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper and Milley codified STE in their vision statement. “We’re postured to execute quickly,” Gervais said.

In the meantime, she said, there has been a focused effort to increase lethality with a squad marksmanship trainer in the field to allow close combat soldiers to train immediately. The Army also developed a squad immersive virtual trainer. “We believe we can deliver that [squad immersive trainer] much quicker than the 2025 timeframe,” she said.

Conclusion

STE is focused on establishing common data, standards and terrain to maximize interoperability, ease of integration and cost savings, Gervais said. With the right team effort and coordination, she believes STE can be delivered quickly. Perhaps in a few short years, STE can achieve the lofty goal that DIS had for itself, according to Yuhas: Revolutionize the training and acquisition process for new weapon systems.

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

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