Expanding the Reach of the Australian Reconnaissance-Strike Enterprise

By Robbin Laird

As Australia looks to expand its sovereign options, expanding the reach of its reconnaissance-strike enterprise is a key tool set to do so.

As presenters suggested at the Williams Foundation conference, it was less a question of reaching and striking deep into potential adversaries’ territory and more influencing the behavior of those adversaries as they reached out into the Pacific to directly affect Australian interests and territory.

This means that targeting needs to be specific and be guided by accurate C5ISR systems which could provide strike options at greater reach, range and speed for the ADF.  This could be done by systems at sea in the air, or launched from Australian territory or as part of a forward deployed force.

This requires shaping a range of integrated capabilities to provide for the reconnaissance and decision-making side of a strike capability.

The Aussies already have in train several capabilities to shape an extended capability in this domain, notably the F-35 and its regional reach through its interconnected sensor grid, and the P-8/Triton dyad.

And as well, the Australians could be in a good position to leverage the innovations going on in the space business which can provide some new capabilities which could be integrated as well within an expanded reconnaissance and decision-making grid operating further and deeper into the Pacific.

(See the appendix below to read further on the impacts of each of these systems on the reconnaissance side of the strike enterprise, namely, the F-35 global enterprise, the P-8/Triton dyad, and the space business.  We have written extensively about Wedgetail but it too is a key element of the learning curve for how to operate a longer range reconnaissance strike enterprise).

Michael Tarlton, Program Director, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. Credit Photo: SLD

At the Williams Foundation seminar, Michael Tarlton, Program Director, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, provided an overview of how the evolving capabilities of remotely piloted aircraft could play an enhanced role for the ADF as they rework the range and reach of their reconnaissance-strike enterprise.

He started his presentation by examining the range and reach which the RAAF might wish to prioritize in the evolving strategic environment in their region.

What this graphic highlights is the importance of expanded reach in the defense of Australia and its interests and the importance of being able to curtail the intrusions of adversaries into the air and maritime space crucial for Australian defense.

To do so, will require both persistence and reach, for which remotely piloted vehicles, such as Triton can provided, and can do so in a complimentary role to other air, maritime ground and space systems.

He argued that a remotely piloted vehicle had several advantages for a combat force.

First, there is a significant increase in the ability to conduct missions for longer periods of time.

Second, there is enhanced survivability in persistent operations.

Third, there was no aircrew capture/casualty risk.

And, finally, there are significant potential cost effectiveness advantages, notably with regard to life-cycle costs.

He argued that by flying aerial refuellable remotely piloted vehicles, one could achieve a good balance between endurance and payload to perform the core missions which the vehicle would perform

The core endurance of the unrefueled air vehicle of 8-10 hours is clearly feasible and with aerial refueling much longer periods of operation are possible.

Remotely piloted vehicles can be configured for a variety of platforms.  By building an aircraft capable of carrying multi-role mission payloads, air-to-surface and air-to-air roles can be performed. And a mix or core focus on ISR/T, EW or Strike roles can be prioritized.

But a key element for the future considerations of remotely piloted vehicles within the overall combat force really rest on their flexibility in terms of the configurability noted above, but also life cycle costs.

With regard to the costs of operating manned aircraft about 60% of the cost is for operations and support. He argued that comparing a pilot versus a UAS operator support model highlighted why life cycle costs will be much lower for the UAS.

In short, as the ADF worked on shaping a longer range reconnaissance-strike enterprise, Tarlton argued that remotely piloted vehicles could play an important role in the evolving integrated force designed to deliver the kind of strike capabilities which could support an integrated ADF.


The F-35 Global Enterprise

Shaping Redundant Response U.S. Military Space Capabilities

by Robbin F. Laird and Ed Timperlake — June 27, 2012

Space News

In a recent report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, the evolving threat to U.S. space capabilities was highlighted. “China is pressing forward with an ambitious counterspace program, including a ground- and space-based space surveillance systems, electronic warfare capabilities, and kinetic kill vehicles,” the report said.

As the United States shapes an Asian pivot, the ability to network U.S. and allied forces is growing in importance. The Chinese understand this, and their counterspace program is designed precisely to degrade such U.S. and allied capabilities and to undercut confidence in what the U.S. and its allies can do to deal with threats in the Pacific and beyond.

The answer to such a challenge is clearly robust and redundant space-enabled C5ISR(command, control, communications, computers, combat systems, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) capabilities. But the response is not simply in terms of space platforms, it is about building from the recognition that air breathing systems being deployed and about to be deployed into the Pacific provide crucial building blocks for robust redundancy.

“No platform fights alone” is a key point in understanding the design of the attack and defense enterprise of the 21st century. Space platforms are not being tasked to provide the only response to a Chinese counterspace threat. Rather, the entire C5ISR enterprise built into a honeycomb is the correct response and approach.

The Pacific capability of the U.S. military can be built around three principles: presence, economy of force and scalability. Presence refers to having U.S. forces present and interdependent with allied forces in the Pacific. Economy of force is built around not having to bring overwhelming force to presence. But that only works if the force is scalable and has the capability to reach back and up to a surge of capability to provide for overwhelming force as necessary.

The key linchpin to do this is the C5ISR enterprise in the Pacific. With robust and redundant ISR, the enterprise enables a distributed force presence to be honeycombed. That is, the network is not about hierarchy and the ability of an adversary to whack the head of the hierarchy; it is about a honeycomb of deployed and distributed capability that no adversary can cripple with a single or easy blow.

A key element for shaping a robust and redundant ISR system in the Pacific is the F-35, a tactical aircraft with strategic impact. The new aircraft is a flying combat system that has C5ISR built into the cockpit. As a fleet, the F-35s provide a critical layer in shaping a robust and redundant ISR system, which is both synergistic with space systems and complementary to those systems.

A deployed fleet of F-35s — allied and U.S. — provides a powerful deterrent to any Chinese thought of a first strike on U.S. military space systems. It makes such a strike significantly less effective and useful to Chinese military planners. From the outset, the deployed fleet and space systems forge a powerful deterrent capability.

To understand how the F-35 can intersect with the deployed C5ISR systems and provide robust redundancy for military space, it is important to understand briefly what the F-35 actually is. The F-35 is often simply referred to as a tactical aircraft, and a replacement for fourth-generation or legacy aircraft. It is really something quite different.

It represents a dramatic shift from the past. Individual F-35 pilots will have the best database of real-time knowledge in the history of combat aviation. And all of this is internal to their cockpit and enabled by advances in computer processing and sensor information fusing.

Each F-35 pilot combined with human sensing (seeing visual cues outside the cockpit) will be enabled by machine-driven sensor fusion to have combat situational awareness better than any opponent.

Concurrent with their ability to look-see, which is limited by physical realities, the F-35 pilots will be able to “see” using cockpit electronic displays and signals to their helmet allowing them not to just fight with their individual aircraft but be able to network and direct engagements at more than 1,200 kilometers in 360 degrees of three-dimensional space out to all connected platforms.

A fleet of F-35s will be able to share their fused information display at the speed of light to other aircraft and other platforms, such as ships, subs, satellites and land-based forces, including unmanned aerial vehicles and eventually robots. Tactically, “Aegis is my wingman,” “SSGN is my fire support” will be developed for conventional warfare.

This enables a “tactical” aircraft to evolve into a key technology for strategic operations and impacts.

The F-35 is known as a fifth-generation player in the state-of-the-art for both the air-to-air fighter and air-to-air attack combat roles. It also adds an electronic warfare component to the fight.

Electronic warfare is a complex subject with many discreet but also connected elements. It was designed inherently into the F-35 airframe and C5ISR-D (for decision) cockpit.

Electronic warfare can include offensive operations to identify opponents’ emissions in order to fry, spoof or jam their systems. In successful electronic war, often-kinetic kill weapons can be fired. An F-35 can be a single sensor/shooter or offload its track to other platforms such as planes, ships and subs and eventually unmanned aerial combat systems.

The kinetic kill shot is usually a high-speed missile designed to home on jam. It has been said on the modern battlefield — air, sea or land — if not done correctly,

“You emit and you die.”

Defensively in electronic warfare there are a lot of other issues, such as electronic countermeasures, electronic counter-countermeasures, and all things “cyberwar,” which is a subject unto itself, extremely complex and not well understood.

Electromagnetic pulse concerns, infrared sensing, always protecting “signals in space” of the friendly info being transmitted and, as mentioned, jamming opponents’ signals, all are key considerations in electronic |warfare.

What is necessary to succeed in evolving capabilities to fight in the age of electronic warfare?

In taking a lesson from history, before World War II, AT&T long lines research found that in order to build and keep operational a U.S. phone system, the key to success was the need for “robust and redundant” systems.

Two generations later, the F-35 was designed as both inherently robust and redundant with many sensors and systems built into the airframe structure from initial design forward. All the F-35 systems designed and developed sent electronic information into the aircraft cockpit “fusion engine.” Trusted fusion information generated by inherent aircraft systems, queued up electronically by threat, will send to the cockpit displays and the pilot’s helmet battle-ready, instantaneous situational awareness.

The ability of the deployed F-35s — again owned by allies as well as U.S. forces — presents a diversified and honeycombed presence and scalable force. This baseline force is significantly enhanced by reachback to space assets, but the space assets now receive redundancy by being complemented as well by a deployed fleet of flying combat systems. This joint capability means that the value of space-based targets goes down to the Chinese or whomever, and diversification provides significant enhancement of deterrence as well.

In short, in rethinking the way ahead with regard to military space — notably in a period of financial stringency — getting best value out of your entire warfighting enterprise is highlighted. Reorganizing the space enterprise within an overall C5ISR approach enabled by a honeycombed fleet of F-35s is a strategic opportunity of the first order.

And this re-enforces an American and allied advantage in facing competitors like China. In countless articles on the People’s Liberation Army and its way of war, author after author refer to the brilliance of Sun Tzu and his “Art of War.” The point they often make is always be alert to advantages accruing to the side that creates an “asymmetric war” advantage.

The evolving capability described above actually foreshadows U.S. and allied asymmetric robust and redundant strategic technologies. It is the beginning of a new level of deterrence against proliferating 21st century threats.

However, one of the best examples of the American “Art of War” was forcefully stated by William Tecumseh Sherman, a West Point-trained officer who arguably was one of the most visionary and capable generals in history. His words 150 years ago cautioning the South not to trigger a war still ring true to this day: “You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical and determined people on Earth — right at your doors. You are bound to fail.”

The Triton and Expanded Situational Awareness for the ADF

In an interview with the Commander of the RAAF’s Surveillance and Response Group, Air Commodore Craig Heap, the role of Triton in expanding the reach of the ADF was highlighted.

“For example, in a HADR event, the first thing we’ll send out is a Triton.

“It will be there probably within five to 10 hours of the first reports.

“It can be sitting on top of a remote disaster area, a South Pacific nation for example affected by a cyclone, earthquake or tsunami, obviously with the nations permission, to pushback real-time information regarding the situation on the ground, in areas that previously might have taken weeks to assess

“It might even be relaying.

“It will be providing significant information that can then inform other whole of government international relief capabilities, be they C-17’s, maritime, orland assets, that are going to roll in with a better understanding of the support required to help the people in the affected area.

“We see that as one of our key roles.

“And that’s obviously one of the reasons we are acquiring the Triton, because of the extreme ranges we have to deal with, including the huge expanses of water, but also on occasions in the region in an overland scenario.”

The P-8/Triton Dyad and Its Impact

In a story which we published on July 11, 2016, we discussed the role of the P-8/Triton as a dyad providing significant enhancement of the reconaissance strike capabilities for the US Navy.

On May 23 and 24, 2016, during a Jacksonville Naval Air Station visit, we spent time with the P-8 and Triton community which is shaping a common culture guiding the transformation of the ASW and ISR side of Naval Air. The acquisition term for the effort is a “family of systems” whereby the P-3 is being “replaced” by the P-8 and the Triton Remotely Piloted Aircraft.

But clearly the combined capability is a replacement of the P-3 in only one sense – executing the anti-submarine warfare function. But the additional ISR and C2 enterprise being put in place to operate the combined P-8 and Triton capability is a much broader capability than the classic P-3. Much like the Osprey transformed the USMC prior to flying the F-35, the P-8/Triton team is doing the same for the US Navy prior to incorporating the F-35 within the carrier air wing.

In addition to the Wing Commander and his Deputy Commander, who were vey generous with their time and sharing of important insights, we had the opportunity to interviews with various members of the VP-16 P-8 squadron from CO and XO to Pilots, NFOs and Air Crew members, along with the wing weapons and training officer, the Triton FIT team, and key members of the Integrated Training Center. Those interviews will be published over the next few weeks.

The P-8/Triton capability is part of what we have described as 21st century air combat systems: software upgradeable, fleet deployed, currently with a multinational coalition emerging peer partnership.   Already the Indians, the Aussies and the British are or will be flying the P-8s and all are in discussions to build commonality from the stand-up of the P-8 Forward.

Software upgradeability provides for a lifetime of combat learning to be reflected in the rewriting of the software code and continually modernizing existing combat systems, while adding new capabilities over the operational life of the aircraft. Over time, fleet knowledge will allow the US Navy and its partners to understand how best to maintain and support the aircraft while operating the missions effectively in support of global operations.

Reflecting on the visit there are five key takeaways from our discussions with Navy Jax.

A key point is how the USN is approaching the P-8/Triton combat partnership, which is the integration of manned, and unmanned systems, or what are now commonly called “remotes”. The Navy looked at the USAF experience and intentionally decided to not build a the Triton “remote” operational combat team that is stovepiped away from their P-8 Squadrons.

The team at Navy Jax is building a common Maritime Domain Awareness and Maritime Combat Culture and treats the platforms as partner applications of the evolving combat theory. The partnership is both technology synergistic and also aircrew moving between the Triton and P-8

The P-8 pilot and mission crews, after deploying with the fleet globally can volunteer to do shore duty flying Tritons. The number of personnel to fly initially the Tritons is more than 500 navy personnel so this is hardly an unmanned aircraft. Hence, inside a technological family of systems there is also an interchangeable family of combat crews.

With the P-8 crews operating at different altitudes from the Triton, around 50K, and having operational experience with each platform, they will be able to gain mastery of both a wide scale ocean ISR and focused ASW in direct partnership with the surface navy from Carrier Strike Groups, ARG/MEUs to independent operations for both undersea and sea surface rather than simply mastering a single platform.

This is a visionary foundation for the evolution of the software upgradeable platforms they are flying as well as responding to technological advances to work the proper balance by manned crews and remotes.

The second key point is that the Commanders of both P-8 aviator and the soon to be operational Triton community understand that for transformation to occur the surface fleet has to understand what they can do. This dynamic “cross-deck” actually air to ship exchange can totally reshape surface fleet operations. To accelerate this process, officers from the P-8 community are right now being assigned to surface ships to rework their joint concepts of operations.

Exercises are now in demonstration and operational con-ops to explain and real world demonstrate what the capabilities this new and exciting aspect of Naval Air can bring to the fleet. One example was a recent exercise with an ARG-MEU where the P-8 recently exercised with the amphibious fleet off of the Virginia Capes.

The third key point is that the software upgradeability aspect of the airplane has driven a very strong partnership with industry to be able to have an open-ended approach to modernization. On the aircraft maintenance and supply elements of having successful mission ready aircraft it is an important and focused work in progress both inside the Navy (including Supply Corps) and continuing an important relationship with industry, especially at the Tech Rep Squadron/Wing level.

The fourth point is how important P-8 and Triton software upgradeability is, including concurrent modification to trainer/simulators and rigorous quality assurance for the fidelity of the information in shaping the future of the enterprise. The P-8s is part of a cluster of airplanes which have emerged defining the way ahead for combat airpower which are software upgradeable: the Australian Wedgetail, the global F-35, and the Advanced Hawkeye, all have the same dynamic modernization potential to which will be involved in all combat challenges of maritime operations.

It is about shaping a combat learning cycle in which software can be upgraded as the user groups shape real time what core needs they see to rapidly deal with the reactive enemy. All military technology is relative to a reactive enemy. It is about the arsenal of democracy shifting from an industrial production line to a clean room and a computer lab as key shapers of competitive advantage.

The fifth point is about weaponization and its impact. We have focused for years on the need for a weapons revolution since the U.S. forces, and as core allies are building common platforms with the growth potential to operate new weapons as they come on line. The P-8 is flying with a weapon load out from the past, but as we move forward, the ability of the P-8 to manage off board weapons or organic weapons will be enabled.

For example, there is no reason a high speed cruise or hypersonic missile on the hard points of the P-8 could not be loaded and able to strike a significant enemy combat asset at great distance and speed. We can look forward to the day when P-8s crews will receive a Navy Cross for sinking a significant enemy surface combatant.

In short, the P-8/Triton is at the cutting edge of naval air transformation within the entire maritime combat enterprise. And the US Navy is not doing this alone, as core allies are part of the transformation from the ground up.

Australia and Leveraging the New Space Industry

In a recent article published in The Australian by Alan Dupont, resident fellow at the Lowry Institute, the potential for Australia to leverage the new space industry was highlighted.

The US operates several kinds of satellites to which Australia has access because of our alliance and membership of the “five eyes” intelligence community that includes Britain, Canada and New Zealand. There are satellites equipped to provide imagery from: visible light photographs, radar or reflected infra-red emissions; early warning of ballistic missile launches; signals analysis from monitored radio and electronic emissions; and measurements of seismic, acoustic, chemical and biological signatures.

In 2001, the US used nearly 50 satellites in the search for Osama bin Laden. A decade later several intelligence satellites were used to help track him down and kill him in his Pakistani hide-out. If North Korea were to contemplate a nuclear attack against Australia, the first indication of a ballistic missile launch would come from a US missile early warning satellite relayed through a ground station that forms part of the Australia-US Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap outside Alice Springs.

The ADF is also a heavy user of the US Wideband Global Satcom system, which provides rapid and secure communications for deployed troops and links them to our new ships, aircraft and drones. The holy grail of this increasingly integrated satellite architecture is a comprehensive picture of the battlefield and an adversary’s strategic capabilities regardless of weather, terrain and time.

Maintaining privileged access to this network of US satellites will be far more difficult under Donald Trump’s transactional approach to alliances, which places a premium on burden sharing. Developing complementary, niche space capabilities would blunt crit­icism we are not pulling our weight and strengthen our alliance credentials as well as the economy.

Obvious candidates for investment include: “launch on demand” Australian rockets and satellites to monitor a geopolitical crisis or support our troops on operations; a network of ground stations, incorporating advanced machine learning, to receive and process the information retrieved from satellite downloads; and nurturing promising technologies such as laser tracking of space junk where our science is leading edge.

While it is not the ASA’s role to pick commercial winners, the agency would be wise to keep abreast of national security requirements when thinking about the strategic direction of our space industry. Biddington is adamant Australia “needs a space strategy that embraces all aspects of space activity”, both civilian and military, as they are joined at the hip.

Integrating the security and civilian dimensions of space policy into a cohesive national strategy to create a 21st-century industry should not be beyond us, but sceptics worry our latest venture into space may crash and burn on the rocks of complacency, indifference and unrealistic expectations.

Such an outcome would be an indictment of our political culture, a failure of vision and another lost opportunity to develop a sovereign space industry that could help make Australia a genuinely smart country. Let’s hope we get it right this time.

EOS and the Australian Space Business

EOS is a world leading sensor company and is an important player in the space business and well aware of developments globally.

In an interview with the CEO and founder of EOS, Dr. Ben Greene, the space side of the business was discussed.

Question: Let us turn now to the space side of your business. Could you describe the focus of your payload business in this domain?

Dr. Greene: We have built core capabilities to enhance situational awareness in space. We irradiate certain areas of space with lasers, and we then analyze the reflected returns.

We can determine range from that. We can also determine other elements of the spacecraft from a light signal directed at that spacecraft.

We have been in this business area for 40 years.

Question: How would you describe the complementarity of radars with lasers in terms of providing key ISR performance?

Dr. Greene: They’re very complimentary. Radars are exceptionally good at detecting anything that’s moving in a large area of space. Lasers are very good at characterizing that object and that motion very accurately.

For example, we can detect UAVs with radars and kill them with lasers.

The same thing applies on a much larger scale in space.

So space is really consists of two domains. There’s 2,000-kilometer zone around the Earth, which is the lower Earth orbit.

In the space domain above two or three thousand kilometers, only optics applies, and so the lasers can operate to two or three times the range that radars can operate, and beyond that we have passive optical techniques with extreme range, where both laser and radar techniques fail.

And so the entire space domain from 3,000 kilometers to 50,000 kilometers is managed optically with lasers and light.

Question: Your work is rooted in a very strong working relationship between Australia and the United States.

How would you describe that relationship?

Dr. Greene: I think that there’s a very strong two-way relationship.

Australia can offer special aspects of territory in terms of where we sit in the world physically, in terms of our geography. In addition, our technology combined with operating within our specific climate, means that if we deploy optical technologies from Australia, they are of immense value in terms of the information captured from the platforms that we deploy here.

That information can complement and support the intelligence database that US would apply for space information. And we would like to contribute to space information superiority for the alliance in that sense.

We’ve had a very strong program here that has always been a joint program with the US from its inception.

There’s always been significant US participation in our program.

Wedgetail: Recent Pieces