Best near term gains for future US Navy would be improved targeting, better robotic vehicles, high velocity projectiles and railguns

During a House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, ranking member Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) asked the panelists – representing the studies conducted by a Navy team, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and the MITRE Corporation – what the first investments ought to be to achieve the teams’ visions of a future Navy fleet.

Charles Werchado, the deputy director of the Navy’s Assessment Division (OPNAV N81B), told the subcommittee that countering the adversary’s Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) would be the most important step to take now.

“Naval weapons have gotten so long-range, so precise and so lethal that, in hundreds of studies that (N81 runs) here at the Navy, what really comes out strongly is that it’s the battle of the first salvo. Naval forces, by their nature, are mobile, and therefore they have to be targeted to be hit. And so whichever side completes that targeting kill chain first and fires first almost always wins,” he said.

“So I would make my investments in counter-C4ISR – where is our decoy ship, where is our electronic warfare to create false targets? Let’s make us hard to find, while we make ourselves more capable of finding them. I think if we make investments in counter-C4ISR, they’re going to be higher-payoff first.”

Additionally, he said, he wouldn’t advocate the first dollars for offensive firepower going towards more ships or weapons but rather towards boosting the Navy’s own targeting chain.

“We have lots of cruise missiles we can use and we have lots of [Vertical Launching System] cells on the combatants, but we need to be able to complete the targeting chain effectively,” Werchado said.

Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at CSBA, piggybacked Werchado’s comments and said his priority would be “to invest in the unmanned vehicles that are going to be the things that carry around these payloads of counter-C4ISR systems.”

“Buying new Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (XLUUVs); buying new large unmanned surface vehicles, the Common USV; and also the Extra Large USV, which is a variant of the DARPA Sea Hunter program. Those would be the platforms that carry around some of these sensor packages and some of the jammers and decoys that we need to deploy in order to keep platforms inside these highly contested environments,” Clark said.

Looking out a bit farther, though, he said the Navy is not equipped today to properly net these unmanned vehicles together with manned ships, and that investments in networks and a battle management system would be key to operating the way CSBA outlined in its Future Fleet Architecture story.

Sunoy Banerjee, the Naval Research Development Test and Evaluation portfolio manager for MITRE, told the subcommittee that his first investments would go to the electromagnetic railgun and its associated Hyper Velocity Projectile, as well as a missile defense system that loops in the railgun to defeat incoming cruise missiles. He said this trio would allow the U.S. Navy to survive an opening salvo with limited damage and strike back against the adversary – particularly if the development of HVP included the addition of a seeker head.

Whereas the Navy and CSBA noted the benefits of beginning to ramp up acquisition of current ship classes with hot production lines, Banerjee said a near-term priority ought to be building a new type of ship that can integrate the railgun and provide sufficient power for continuous railgun firing instead of having to stop and recharge the weapon with a capacitor. He suggested that leveraging other navies’ ship designs could help the U.S. Navy begin building a railgun-friendly combatant faster.

To Conaway’s question about “the long pole in the tent,” Werchado warned that the HVP would be fielded much sooner than the railgun, which is posing technological challenges to the Navy and its contractors, both in supplying enough power and in building a gun barrel that can withstand the physics of magnets sliding down metal rails at high speed to launch the projectile.

“Right now there’s over 100 barrels in the fleet that can fire HVP, and (Naval Surface Warfare Center) Dahlgren’s working together with the Army and coming along well in the testing,” Werchado said.

“That one could be fielded very quickly. Railgun is going to be a lot longer. We have to solve a lot of problems – barrel wear, repetitive rate, you mentioned the recharge. I think the low-hanging fruit is to get HVP out as fast as we can, it does really well against cruise missiles.”