The system, referred to as Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air, or NIFC-CA, uses Aegis radar, an airborne sensor and SM-6 missile to find, track and destroy approaching threats such as cruise missiles at ranges well beyond the typical radar horizon, Navy officials said.
Alongside Aegis radar and an SM-6 missile, NIFC-CA uses an E-2D Hawkeye aircraft as an airborne sensor to help relay threat information to the ship from beyond its normal radar range.
The idea with 2015-2016 demonstrations would be to use the F-35 as an airborne relay node or sensor in place of the E-2D Hawkeye. This could allow NIFC-CA to operate against an increasingly complex set of targets such as stealthy targets.
NIFC-CA is a technology which could alter the strategic calculus for both offensive and defensive warfighting scenarios; it is the kind of system which could have implications regarding what the Pentagon likes to call anti-access/area-denial or A2/AD – the strategy through which potential adversaries seek to use long-range weapons such as anti-ship guided missiles to deny U.S. forces the ability to operate in strategically important areas. For instance, long-range, land-launched cruise missiles could make it more difficult for Navy ships to approach certain coastal waterways.
However, if there were a NIFC-CA-enabled ability to identify and destroy approaching threats at much further distances beyond the horizon – that could greatly impact where U.S. forces such as Navy ships and carrier groups could safely operate.
Alongside this defensive role, NIFC-CA technology can bring offensive firepower capability to Navy ships as well, allowing them to attack targets at much greater ranges. For example, the SM-6 uses both active and semi-active guidance technology, giving it the ability to discriminate and destroy targets at ranges beyond-the-horizon. NIFC-CA could potentially be used for long range offensive strikes against a range of enemy targets to include things such as aircraft, unmanned systems, ships, vehicles and buildings.
The NIFCA-CA is slated to deploy later this year with Navy forces in 2015 as part of the Teddy Roosevelt battle group, so this cruise missile defense technology will be protecting the fleet soon.
SOURCES - Defense tech, Navy