Recently, I had the chance to talk with CDR Jeremy “Shed” Clark, Senior Leader at the Naval Rotary Wing Weapons School (SEAWOLF) at NAWDC.
The Seawolf School focuses on Romeo, Sierra, and Fire Scout training, with Romeo being the sensor rich ASW/SUW/EW and related tasked focus helo onboard the Navy’s large deck carriers.
The shift from focusing largely on a targeted task for carrier defense and upon how the organic capabilities on the Romeo and Sierra could play their task most effectively to one where the focus is on broadening the sensor and strike partners of these platforms who can contribute to carrier strike and defense is a significant one.
Rather than quote the CDR directly, I will identify a number of takeaways which I drew from the conversation but for which I am not going to hold him responsible for.
The first point is that the aperture of considering the role of all rotory wing assets expands significantly as one shifts from a legacy carrier strike operation focus to broader support to a distributed maritime force.
Due to the nature of where helicopters deploy this means that the sensors onboard these platforms can see their reach significantly expanded by being able to integrate with other sensors in the battlespace.
Rather than being platform focused, the shift is to empower the Romeo/Sierra/Fire Scout and their reach with an expanded sensor network.
This sensor network will be found both onboard each helicopter as well as with other aircraft onboard the carrier, but more broadly into the interactive allied working capabilities in the expanded battlespace.
The second point is that new assets coming onboard the carrier are going to be looked at from the outset in terms of what they can contribute to the sensor network and decision-making capabilities of the strike force.
For example, we discussed the coming of the MQ-25. The Romeo community is already looking at how having sensors onboard the MQ-25 can expand the reach and range of what the Romeo’s onboard sensors can accomplish for the maritime distributed force.
It is also the case that as sensor demands currently made on the Romeo can be shifted elsewhere.
The Romeo can refocus its task priorities and enhance its contributions to broader mission sets such as ASW and to focus on contributing capabilities that other platforms within the strike group are not prioritized to perform.
The third point is that the new generation of Navy operators are clearly thinking in kill web terms – they are not focused simply on what their platform can do based on how they were trained, but how they can work in the broader battlespace to deliver the desired effects working closely with partners in the sensor, decision-making and strike web.
He argued that this meant that NAWDC is looking at how to change the entire dynamic of the strike group with such an approach.
The fourth point is that with the distributed sensor network being built, manned helicopters can reduce the amount of time they need to be airborne to provide a core sensor set of tasks.
The so-called unmanned revolution is ultimately about expanding the sensor network and allowing the manned operators within that network to operate more efficiently and more effectively; it is not primarily about replacing them in the battlespace.
The fifth point is that the kill web learning curve has a major impact on thinking about acquisition.
Rather than focusing on the systems proprietary to a specific task oriented platform, the focus is shifting towards integratability: what system can I tap onboard my platform via integratability with other combat assets, and what systems do I have onboard which provide a specific capability which the kill force needs to be able to leverage to enhance combat effectiveness?
The sixth point we discussed was the repurposing of the Fire Scout unmanned system.
Originally, this was platform tasked, namely, to support the littoral combat ship.
But with the new approach of utilizing all assets within a kill-web, the question is how the helicopters working with Fire Scout can add the fleet needed capabilities, and where might the Fire Scout operate from within the fleet to gain maximum impact?
This a significant shift and part of the dynamics of change unfolding at NAWDC.
And CDR Clark highlighted that his team is working on ways to deliver some EW capability via Fire Scout integration with assets onboard the Growler EW aircraft.
In short, the shift is dramatic.
Historically, training was done in stove pipes.
One would train to be the best operator you could be on that platform.
Now, that is not enough; obviously critical but the foundation for working a different way.
The focus is upon working in a kill web and cross-linking capabilities within a distributed integrated force.
Featured Photo: There are many partners with the US Navy in the global Seahawk force. The featured photo shows the arrival in 2013 at Jax Navy of the first Seahawks being delivered to the Australian.