With the developing relationship between sensors and shooters in the maritime kill web, what is the evolving role of the fighter?
I had a chance to talk about these changes with the CO of TOPGUN, CDR Tim Myers.
We started by discussing how he would compare and contrast his experience during his previous tour at TOPGUN, in 2006 through 2009, to his current tenure as CO.
In terms of continuity, he underscored that TOPGUN has always been staffed by innovative warfighters, whose experience in the fleet has meant that the organization’s work on innovation of operational tactics has had a significant influence throughout the Navy writ large.
A key difference between his time during his earlier tour and now is that NAWDC has become much more engaged than its predecessor organization in working on warfighting requirements.
From his perspective, incorporating experience from warfighters on the tactical cutting edge is key to ensuring the Navy is developing capabilities that will fold into future operations.
Another key difference is the increasing importance of integrated operations across the entire joint force, and, of course, within the Navy.
He noted that TOPGUN has a close working relationship with the U.S. Marine Corps, with five USMC blue instructors currently on the TOPGUN staff. The interoperability with the USAF is significant as well, with naval aviation billets at the 422nd Fighter Squadron in Nellis and the 6th Fighter Squadron JSF Weapons School. These billets are both filled by former TOPGUN instructors, ensuring close alignment between USAF and Navy tactics.
CDR Myers underscored the key synergies being worked among MAWTS-1, Nellis and NAWDC as well.
He noted that with all three services flying the same combat fighter (in three variants of the Joint Strike Fighter with 80% commonality), they are improving their understanding of how to work jointly in the new strategic environment.
And the joint cooperation leads to enhanced cross learning.
For example, he noted that USAF experience in IADS, rollback, over land, and offensive counter-air is something that naval aviators are leveraging, whereas the USAF is leveraging the Navy’s expertise in maritime strike operations.
We then discussed the USAF-led WEST-PAC exercise held this past January, which highlighted the evolution of USAF thinking. The exercise had the stated purpose of distributing airpower throughout the operational area and working integratability to shape the desired combat effect, but it also demonstrated a USAF focus on working maritime strike with joint partners.
Clearly, the F-35 has now arrived with full force at TOPGUN, who graduated their first Joint Strike Fighter Class in April, bringing an increased focus on fourth and fifth generation combined tactics, which has allowed them to maximize the strengths and minimize the weaknesses of both the F/A-18E/F and F-35.
For example, NAWDC has been able to leverage fifth generation sensor fusion and target identification capabilities, contributions to kill web management, and enhanced survivability inside of certain weapons engagement zones while also taking advantage of the unconstrained form factors, greater weapons payload capabilities and flexibility that come with a mature and evolved fourth generation platform.
TOPGUN, as a component of NAWDC, is uniquely positioned to tackle integration both within a Carrier Strike Group as well ensure integratability within the joint force. NAWDC hosts the type weapons schools for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and F-35 Lightening II (TOPGUN), E/A-18G Growler (HAVOC), E-2C/D Hawkeye (CAEWWS), MH-60R/S Sea Hawk (SEAWOLF), and Maritime Intelligence, Resonance, and Surveillance (MISR) staff officers, all under one roof.
The organization is also responsible for the integrated training and certification of every Carrier Air Wing prior to deployment. Bringing the sweep of virtually every key element of an aviation kill web together on the NAWDC range complex, they can examine this evolving synergistic fighter capability and rapidly work through how integratability is optimized with other elements of the sensor and strike force.
By generating a fused picture, distributed strike can be delivered throughout a kill web concept of operations.
In my discussions with the head of the Navy’s Maritime Patrol Enterprise, Rear Admiral Garvin, he underscored that the Navy was not going through iterative, but rather a more dramatic, step change. CDR Myers concurred.
For CDR Myers what the kill web was highlighting was a strategic opportunity: “How do you use information to distribute the coordination of fires to a point where you can accomplish fires more rapidly?”
“Instead of fusing all of this information into a central hub and then distributing that information from some coordinated command level, the focus becomes finding ways to autonomously push all the most relevant information so that the warfighting assets at the tactical edge, with a comprehensive understanding of commander’s intent, can take mission command to the point of execution.”
The answer to the question posed at the outset of this article: Fighters comprise a force package at the tip of the spear for the kill web, combining advanced sensor packages with inherent survivability with the battle space awareness necessary to bring effective fires to bear.
With the introduction of the F-35 as a multi-domain flying combat system, and in some ways with the evolving integration of the fighter force into a synergistic sensor-shooter lead element via fourth and fifth generation as a key enabler of the kill web itself, naval aviation demonstrates a promising way to leverage the strengths of its diverse platforms to shape the battlespace.
Lt. Cmdr. Timothy Myers, assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 31, gives a thumbs up after making an arrested landing in his F/A-18E Super Hornet aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush.
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