Multidimensional Operational Concept for the Naval Force

In the future global naval battlefield, the winner will be the side that manages to employ all of its naval capabilities as a unified fabric, capable of dealing with rapid changes in the theater – and not necessarily the side that had developed the best technological capabilities

Photo: IDF

The introduction of unmanned submerged and surface vessels to the global marine theater will change the doctrine according to which naval forces operate. One of the directions of the force build-up process is the establishment of mixed swarms of manned and unmanned surface and submerged vessels. A swarm capable of fully synchronized operation on the surface and underwater will gain an advantage with regard to situational awareness in the area cell where it operates. Aerial platforms and satellite swarms should be added to the traditional naval vessels. These elements, constituting a part of the naval arsenal, will fly above the marine area cell for the purpose of expanding the area within which persistent area surveillance can take place.

The operational doctrine of such a force build-up process may be referred to as a 'Matrix Operational Concept,' as it applies to four environmental dimensions (space, air, sea surface, underwater) and two technological dimensions (manned & unmanned) operating together as a swarm. When all of those dimensions are viewed together, as one, the range of operational options expands. An additional dimension – the implementation of a Spot & Shoot concept – may be added to this matrix as well. This dimension will include the functions of the shooter element (collect, analyze, shoot). In this way, the Matrix Operational Concept may be either two-dimensional or three-dimensional, according to the scenario.

Persistent Area Surveillance at Sea

Unlike other media such as the ground and the air, at sea, one of the Achilles' heels involves the ability to monitor the space and attain real-time situational awareness and on-going persistent area surveillance. The area in question is expansive, the environment is difficult to operate in, and the platforms must operate under harsh conditions. The sea presents a serious challenge to the intelligence collection (surveillance) activity, too, as electromagnetic waves do not penetrate deep water, thereby preventing effective charting of the underwater environment. As far as the submerged platform aspect is concerned, communication range is a problem, as communication relies on soundwaves and there is no option of long-range wideband communication.

When persistent area surveillance at sea is the issue, the problem should be divided into three main zones. The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the state extends to a distance of 200 nautical miles (about 370 kilometers) from the shore. In most cases, this zone is clearly defined in terms of sovereign responsibility, and as it is restricted in terms of distance, it allows the implementation of an operational concept that enables effective persistent area surveillance. Admittedly, this is a complex and costly technological and operational challenge – but it can be accomplished.

When one leaves the EEZ and heads for the high seas, the zone in question is vast and not subject to the sovereign control of the state, as it belongs to all states. Attaining persistent area surveillance in this zone is regarded as a nearly impossible challenge for the capabilities of today's naval forces, including even the US Navy and the Chinese Navy.

The third and final zone is the EEZ of the enemy state. This limited-size zone is clearly defined – but hostile. It is assumed that the enemy state had attained persistent area surveillance in that zone, and the law is on their side, too, as it is their sovereign territory. An operational error made in this zone might lead to military escalation or even to a war. Consequently, this zone is defined as possessing a low political and operational sensitivity threshold.

The Matrix Operational Concept outlined above can change the face of warfare in these zones in several ways. Firstly, unmanned platforms can operate continuously, around the clock. This capability makes it possible to scan/monitor an area cell continuously on the surface and underwater, with assistance provided from the air and from space. If anything moves in that area cell – it will have an extremely hard time attempting to remain undetected.

Another way involves the option of decentralizing and distributing technological capabilities among the individual elements making up the swarm. Instead of fitting all of the technological capabilities to one vessel, as is the case today with regard to manned platforms, users may allocate a single capability to each platform. In this way, the user will face no space and weight limitations regarding the installation of equipment, the capabilities will be more redundant and a 'plug & play swarm' mode of operation may be implemented. In the event that one of the individual elements making up the swarm should fail or sustain a hit, it will be replaced by another element possessing the same capabilities. Alternately, the surviving individual elements in the swarm may exchange capabilities according to the importance of the capabilities to the mission.

A third way is to use unmanned platforms for high-risk missions. One such mission is the clearing of naval mines – a high-risk mission for humans. Another aspect of the same context is providing these platforms with the ability to react. The option of a swarm of unmanned platforms closing a fire loop independently on enemy surface or submerged vessels constitutes a critical element of the persistent area surveillance capability. A reaction capability will enable such a swarm to enter a high degree friction with enemy platforms in nearly any scenario. Another scenario is the "Kamikaze" or suicide mission scenario. Such a swarm will provide the option of positioning some of its elements covertly at strategic locations like ports, and then blowing them up according to a predetermined timetable or by a command from another element of the swarm that monitors the target area.

Flexibility in Resource Management

The option of combining unmanned platforms with manned platforms will make it possible to handle scenarios that are complex from a human perspective. One such category includes the scenarios in which uninvolved parties are present. Take, for example, the boarding of an enemy ship, as was the case in the Mavi Marmara incident. Another hypothetical case can involve a situation where terrorists take control over a merchant ship, a cruise liner or an offshore drilling rig. In such cases, the mission cannot be concluded by destroying the target, and the involvement of a human element is required in order to manage the crisis situation.

The swarm of unmanned platforms can identify the problem, classify it, decide to fence it in (prevent the terrorists from escaping) and alert a manned vessel to manage the situation. A combination of aerial and space platforms with high-resolution surveillance payloads, including color video, will enable the transmission of a real-time status picture to the manned vessel, where the personnel may properly prepare for the situation on the way to the site. Upon arrival on the scene, the human commanders will assume command over the swarm of unmanned platforms. After the situation has been concluded, the swarm may switch back to autonomous operation and the manned vessel will be free to handle other incidents.

Combining manned and unmanned capabilities as outlined in the above example can provide a solution to the declining number of manned platforms. Naturally, manned platforms have two primary weaknesses: they are costly and operated by humans. Human operation means operational weakness owing to political considerations (as in the case of fatalities). The high acquisition and maintenance costs of the vessels constitute a weakness in the context of considerations as to whether or not to employ such a vessel in high-friction focal points. Given the proliferation of shore-to-sea missiles, surface-to-surface missiles and enemy 'Kamikaze' (suicide) platforms, the areas that are safe for the operation of manned vessels are fairly small.

The option of developing an operational concept where a number of swarms of unmanned platforms carry out persistent area surveillance in the required area cells, while alerting manned vessels only in relevant situations, will increase the manned-unmanned ratio by orders of magnitude, thereby enabling a small fleet of manned vessels to carry out persistent area surveillance for very large areas at sea.

This concept should be based on a low manufacturing and maintenance cost of the unmanned platforms compared to the manned platforms. Only asymmetrical economy in favor of the unmanned platforms will enable the establishment of swarms that would be large enough for persistent area surveillance at sea. Additionally, the cost of an error with these platforms, namely – the loss of a platform, should be marginal relative to the total budget of the operating naval force.

Along with the military challenge, the naval force will also be required to provide a solution to routine security scenarios, including safeguarding of offshore energy infrastructures and maritime routes against such threats as the military forces of an enemy country, terrorist attacks or pirates threatening to disrupt maritime routes. The employment of the Matrix Operational Concept will provide an advantage with regard to these aspects, too. A swarm of unmanned platforms can provide an escort to vessels and carry out persistent area surveillance in areas that constitute sections of civilian maritime routes. In the event that the EEZ of the state contains energy assets, the persistent are surveillance capability employed by the military in that area will provide a solution to these needs, too.

Amorphous Platforms

The introduction of unmanned platforms and the employment thereof in combination with manned platforms calls for new directions of thinking with regard to the aspect of technological force build-up. One direction is creating platforms capable of switching smoothly between the environmental dimensions, as required. An unmanned platform capable of diving, sailing, flying or launching a UAV, and in the future – to be launched into near space, will definitely provide an advantage. This advantage will apply to the economic aspect, but more importantly – to the operational aspect. A platform of this type will be able to provide a tactical or strategic surprise.

Another direction involves an unmanned platform with modular capabilities. As outlined above, a swarm in which each element can provide a single capability will constitute an advantage. In order to achieve full redundancy in the employment of the swarm, the unmanned platform should be adapted to the fitting of different capabilities (intelligence collection, analysis, strike). In such a situation, managing swarms through the general perspective of the naval force will be sufficiently effective to conform to the budgetary restrictions.

Along with the unmanned and manned platforms, consideration should be given to technologies that are suitable to stationary persistent area surveillance. In other words, after an area cell has been dominated, monitoring devices should be planted in it to relieve the mobile platforms to engage in other missions. One such measure can be a family of stationary sensors, either floating or submerged. Deploying such sensor networks in a given area cell will make it possible to assign mobile platforms to other area cells while keeping only a minimum size reserve as a prompt reaction force. Combining reaction capabilities in such sensors ("conditioned" naval mines, for example) will enable the networks to be a factor that delays the enemy's advance until the responding force has arrived – in addition to being an early warning element.

A different direction involves datalink communication. As the sea areas in question are vast, the use of stationary sensor networks as outlined above will make it possible to convert these networks into databases. A combination with satellites or airborne platforms used as relays will enable the data to be released to shore-based stations through a back channel. This configuration will enable the swarms to operate without 'tails' – traces of information that could betray operational plans to the enemy when a platform is captured or serve as backup in the event that a platform has failed or has been destroyed.

Another aspect to be considered is the development of dedicated weapon systems for a mixed manned-unmanned force. Large manned platforms can carry a considerable weight compared to unmanned platforms. Consequently, they can carry long-range strike missiles (cruise missiles/surface-to-surface missiles/guided rockets), air-defense systems and heavy Radar systems. Given the fact that the platforms in question are small, cheap and replaceable unmanned platforms, a different weapon system concept is required. An unmanned platform can serve as a weapon as it is (Kamikaze style) or carry munitions. Such a platform can be used for persistent area surveillance at ranges of dozens of kilometers if it is fitted with missiles or torpedoes. It can also serve as a hot pursuit platform. One of the primary challenges in the development of weapon systems in line with the swarm perspective, contrary to a single platform, is the decision as to how the weapon systems should be distributed between large, manned platforms and small, unmanned ones. A point to be considered in this context involves the extent of autonomy of an unmanned platform required to cope with the enemy at the front line, opposite the long-range weapon system capabilities deployed on the shore and fitted to aerial platforms or to manned naval vessels.

The communication element has also evolved into a primary element in the era of swarms at sea. The link between the various dimensions of the naval force operational matrix is based on reliable and secure wideband communication. As far as this aspect is concerned, permanent "Citron"-based networks, as well as Mobile Ad-hoc Networks (MANETs) based on various types of relays with a data storage capability should be considered. Such a redundant configuration will make it possible to deal with the challenging marine environment, where communication cuts are fairly common.

Without a doubt, the introduction of unmanned platforms to the marine theater opens up numerous operational capabilities that were once confined to the pages of science-fiction books. At the same time, technology alone will not be enough. Without the imagination required in order to develop an operational concept that will utilize all of the environmental dimensions and technological resources as a single, unified fabric, the advantages of the unmanned platform revolution may not be fully utilized. In the future global naval battlefield, the winner will be the side that manages to employ all of its naval capabilities as a unified fabric, capable of dealing with rapid changes in the theater – and not necessarily the side that had developed the best technological capabilities.