Combat Today: Kill Webs, and Fighting at the Speed of Light

By Ed Timperlake

We are facing threats and challenges from key strategic competitors right now.

Talking about the force structure and its “goodness” in 2030 will not deter anyone who matters.

As a colleague has noted, “briefing slides about the future force kill the audience, not the enemy”.

We need to focus on what we might call the “zero to five military”.

What do we have right now to deal with an adversary in a crisis?

And how can we build on the key elements of the evolving force to get better in ways that will matter in the next five years?

It is not about augmenting the legacy force to fight in a legacy manner or rebuilding Cold War NATO and imagining Pacific defense 20 years ago and working to rebuild the past force.

It is about leveraging what we have added to the force recently which allows the US to go to war and fight and win today.

And based on that capability, we can evolve the force over the next five years to become even more effective and more lethal.

What can be forgotten is that today’s USAF, USMC and US Navy can fight right now at the speed of light and we have in motion already the means to build upon what we have in place to get better over the next five years.

In this sense, the future is now.

The definition I offer for” fighting at the speed of light” is a utility function in an offensive/defensive enterprise.

Distributed kill webs engage leveraging the relevant platforms to disrupt and destroy the enemy.

The time is right now to take advantage of 21st  distributed sensing and communication systems to execute a successful Payload Utility function in order for Target Acquisition (TA) and Target Engagement (TE) to use the best payload available to mitigate multiple threats.

Offensively, the same principle applies better and better TA and TE allows all forces to engage using  the best payload to destroy the enemy.

One should not confuse “fighting at the speed of light” to be waiting for Directed Energy weapons such as lasers and radio frequency RF weapons.

Rather, as directed energy systems come on line in the next five years, they will become part of the Payload Utility function as a “payload” which can seamlessly be integrated into a mixing and matching package of appropriate Kinetic or “Tron” warheads.

When I developed a technique for measuring conventional force modernization in the TASCFORM series of Analytical Models for the Office of Net Assessment and CIA, our team specifically limited measuring  conventional force modernization to only five years out.

Since all military technology is relative in an ever improving action reaction cycle, the goal was to develop relative figures of merit against two principle adversaries, rather than attempting to create unnecessary precise absolute values.

Looking only five years out was very important because of the speculative nature of future systems and forces.

From “ready now” to five years out as the maximum threat analysis, especially in this time of direct threats to US fighting forces, can give the war fighting commanders a research and engineering fighting chance.

Thus there is a very simple formula for enhanced capability: Better and better TA and TE = more effective employment of all payloads available to the battle commander.

It is the process of understanding the huge complexities in such a simple formula that is the challenge.

This is never ever to say that visionary American warfighters, conceptual thinkers, and our defense industry should be limiting their vision to only five years out.

Rather it is just a ready now solution set of existing technologies that must the number one priority.

The allies had to fight and win on their battlefield during WWII to give time for the Atomic Bomb to be developed:

A key take away from Victory in WWII was the war winning dynamic triggered by the the Einstein–Szilárd letter,written in 1939:

This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable–though much less certain–that extremely powerful bombs of this type may thus be constructed.

A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory.

However, such bombs might very well prove too heavy for transportation by air.(Note:he did not tie in advances in bomber  development to the ability to carry such a weapon)

From the Einstein-Szilard letter to first Atomic Bomb demonstration burst on July 16, 1945 was 2176 days of nasty brutal fighting to eventual Victory.

I am personally not sanguine that today we have more than a five year out window to get it right.

As a brilliant Army ADA general pointed out in concurrence with his Chief of Staff in very direct language;

“All the future modernization programs do not help if you are dead.

“But without effective defense in the maneuver force, you’re not going to be able to survive. Air Defense is a key enabler for the maneuver force.

“Survivability of the maneuver force requires an organic air missile defense as well as extended defense for the integrated battlefield.

“It is not an afterthought; it is a core requirement of mission success.”

The American military and those of our Allies have fielded and tested systems that can fight at the speed of light, from the ocean to the heavens  today, right now .

From today to the next five years those capabilities will only get better.

Russia and China cannot do what this research paper focuses upon and frankly giving our adversaries warfighting prowess beyond what they can filed right now is simply helping them in the global information war. 

This research paper began at the 2019 Directed Energy Summit.

I asked the UnderSecretary of Defense the Honorable Mike Griffin at that conference: Iif war breaks out tomorrow how can we stop the HSCM threat?

He immediately went to his perceived hardest problem an ICBM hypersonic maneuver multi warhead threat to frame an answer.

However when I asked him specifically to address an air-breathing HSCM, he framed his answer in similar fashion to the ICBM threat that because of the HSCM speed it was to hard a war fighting problem.

He mentioned AARAM and Aegis against slower moving cruise missiles, but not adequate for HSCM speeds.

Note in this Breaking Defense reporting, his merging of two threat issues into one “to hard” problem:

So how do we shoot down hypersonic missiles before we develop such directed energy weapons and sensors?

We don’t, Griffin said bluntly: We have to kill them on the launch pad.

“If war breaks out tomorrow, we’re probably not going to kill hypersonic boost glide missiles,” Griffin said.

“Existing air and missile defense systems are “very effective “are very effective against a threat moving slowly enough to give us time to acquire track, target, and deploy a shooter,” he said, but hypersonics just move too fast for current defenses to intercept.

Lasers, Hypersonics, & AI: Mike Griffin’s Killer Combo

On this fundament point of ready now combat UnderSecretary Griffin is  simply wrong.

What follows in italics is my original research published  last year:

The Russians and PLA have stolen a beat in R&D on hypersonic weapons research while the United States has been in a “study mode.”

Initially, thanks to some very smart American scientists, the U.S. had a commanding lead, especially in the development of Hypersonic Cruise Missiles (HSCM).

Then the full sprint “marathon” of increased developmental testing and further research in fielding 21st Century Hypersonic research was slowed down in the Obama Administration.

Hopefully, now with the Trump Administration funded to engage against peer-to-peer threats, the U.S. ‘sleeping giant” can be fully awakened to harness the, scientific, and engineering technological might of the United States in support of an advanced force to deal with peer competitors.

It is past time to harness together an offensive and defensive unity of purpose combat mission in addressing all Hypersonic threats.

This article focuses on empowering those directly threatened by hypersonic end game maneuvering, notably the warriors at sea.

Reaching back to point of origin of launch pads or airfields that create the long-range ballistic missiles or low flying HSCMs threats, especially barraged fired, is essentially a theater Kill Web issue.

A key challenge in dealing with the hypersonic missile threat will be to be able to empower the fleet admiral and his surface commanders to prevail against incoming high speed threats, now being enhanced as hypersonic missiles enter the inventory of the peer competitor.

It is important to keep this perspective in mind when considering both what space systems can provide and what they can not in this mission area.

What space assets provide is a visual monitoring of the incoming treat until it kills you.

To understand the nature of the challenge, one needs to disaggregate the challenge and focus on the key elements of successful defense.

For example, each surface ship CO, from the Carrier to the Cruisers and Destroyers Captains must seamlessly fit together in mutual defense against hypersonic end game maneuvering to save both the fleet and their ship.

This evolving threat is a very hard problem to solve to guarantee ship survival.

This threat is not here yet. And the U.S. and Allies are up to the challenge and must be resourced correctly in R&D efforts against such a threat.

The threat is so far asserted and yet to be proven threat, but in the long term very real and deadly.

Recently, both Russia and the PLA have put the issue of a “hypersonic” attack vehicle in play.

In assessing this threat, first one must put the historic threat of incoming “speed” in context.

The historic  Cold War  speed of an incoming ICBM is well known and has always been a challenging engineering and laws of physics problem.

In developing many types of defense countermeasures especially satellite warning and ABM missiles, which date back to the early days of the strategic “two scorpions in a bottle” days of U.S. versus the USSR, incoming ICBM speeds, without any endgame maneuvering are well known.

The incoming speed of our ICBM Minuteman III from a California launch to Kwajalein Atoll has been reported “”in excess of 16000 km/h” or in other words, roughly 10, 000 miles per hour.

The Russians announced in 2017 their Kh-47M2 Kinzhal air launched (meaning at a minimum from an aircraft) is a now a maneuvering ballistic missile with a speed of Mach 10, which is slightly over 7,500 MPH.

Putin is now discussing Mach 20 weapons at 15,000 MPH.

In 1960 the USAF had Mach 3, SRAM missile, for our B-52 leg of the US “ Triad”

Concurrent with Putin’s bragging, the PLA is also touting their Hypersonic Glide Missiles and superfast airframes, the Xingkong-2, otherwise known as Starry Sky-2

“The flight vehicle was launched at a target range in Northwest China with a multi-stage rocket before being released in the air, making “large-angle turning maneuvers,” and achieving a top speed of Mach 6, or 4,563 mph, the academy said.”

The U.S. response so far has been to build on the foundation kill chain solutions pioneered in the Reagan Administration within today’s 21st Century technology information revolution:

Space-based defenses could be used to counter the high-speed missiles.

“The utility of space for hypersonic defense is in the indications of warning, the launch detection, the surveillance, acquisition, tracking—the whole arena of persistent global timely awareness,” Griffin said.

But such an approach is limited in creating an effective outcome from the warfighting perspective.

It is certainly correct to focus on the heavens as a combat battlefield, and the announcement of  a Space Command is doing that.

But a significant “weather eye” must be kept on subspace technological combat solutions.

Otherwise, a huge and potentially deadly “hole” or seam will created significant vulnerabilities in both our tactical and strategic war-fighting countermeasures.

The threat of HSCM maneuvering warheads will force R&D for sub space mitigation maneuvering endgame “Kill Webs” solutions to become a key focus of attention and is clearly crucial for the maritime forces.

Since no platform fights alone as the UnderSecretary for R&E says about “launch detection, the surveillance, acquisition, tracking,” from space then that very useful Intel must be subsumed into a larger context of the actual utility Payload Utility function of Kill Webs in the defense of the air-maritime force.

A focus on space “Pu” or a payload utility function of target acquisition and target engagement inside U.S. and Allied Kill Webs, with new Space Command included in a well funded partnership must always be a concurrent high priority research and developmental and engineering vector.

It must never be overlooked that the Air Force, Navy and Army ADA are the essential joint technology partners in keeping that sub-space research alive with equal resources, all committed in synergy and not in budget competition with the new Space Command.

Consequently, I now more than ever stand 100% behind my research on what I call the “S cubed revolution” which has tremendous promise directly to address the enemy’s war fighting claims of “extreme endgame maneuvering”

“Against even a Mach 10 threat the F-35 data linked information dominance sensor can off load at the speed of light the incoming track of swarming inbound HSCM threats to other F-35s standing CAP right over the Fleet.”

Put bluntly, it is crucial not to reduce the focus upon dealing with the HSCM threat to a mission for the space force; it is a mission for the kill web inclusive of space-based components and elements.

It is not the speed of the incoming threat that is the issue.

If a distributed fighting force with disaggregated sensor/shooter platforms fighting together, with robust redundancy that the speed of the incoming air breathing HSCM  threat actually is the least hard part of the combat solution.

The great historian Max Hastings in a seminal book about all the fighting forces of World War II said that after some very nasty setbacks early in the war, the US and Royal Navies emerged as the most effective fighting forces in the war.

The US Navy’s combat operational goal in WW II was creating a Big Blue Blanket over the Pacific via a vast deployed fleet.

This now evolved into a “Big Blue ‘Tron’ Blanket.

Building out the concept of a light speed fight against air breathing Hyper-Sonic Cruise Missiles, HSCM, is  absolutely necessary because a very serious personnel threat against the President of the United States has been made.

Enemy targeting against Air Force Bases, fixed Army locations and maneuvering combat ships must have the HSCM threat mitigated..

However, most important  HSCMs were just justified by Russian President Putin to directly threaten to kill President Trump and his family in a first strike strategic decapitation strategy

Russia has confirmed it is building a new hypersonic missile that can be launched from ships or submarines and travel at almost 2 miles per second.

“This is a hypersonic missile called Tsirkon. It will have the speed of mach 9, it has a range of 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) and can hit navy or land targets.”

The Russian leader added the missile could be launched from a ship or submarine and costs would be kept low by its compatibility with the existing Kalibr missile system.

“The list of potential targets was unveiled during a news broadcast on state-run media outlet Rossiya Segodnya.

“During the broadcast, presenter Dmitry Kiselyov displayed a map of the United States, detailed with the rough locations of targets Moscow would likely hit in the event of a nuclear war.

“Mr. Kiselyov reportedly holds close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and routinely serves as a media mouthpiece for the Kremlin, Reuters reports.

“Along with the Pentagon and Camp David, Mr. Kiselyov identified Fort Ritchie and McClellan Air Force Base — both of which were shuttered nearly two decades ago, and Navy Radio Station Jim Creek in Washington State. Russian officials denied the legitimacy of the target map, saying in a statement it plays no role in the editorial content of state-run broadcasts.”

There is the opportunity of a test range proof of concept to fight at the speed of light.

Station two F-35s in  over hundred mile trail formation in the Atlantic 386  warning area along with an Aegis Burke Destroyer somewhere in the same area.

Now as two very smart former USAF 0-6 Test pilots proposed, run high speed F-104s on the deck at their best speed to simulate incoming cruise missiles.

Engage the threat using the F-35s and Aegis to communicate with each other the incoming threat vectors to get weapons on.

Even at a mile a second of incoming treats the Navy Kill Web is operating at light speed in tracking and targeting.

Using Putin’s threat of max distance of 620 miles when detected at launch that distance gives  a fighting force 620 seconds or if 2x that speed (doubtful right now)  310 seconds.

That is more than enough time to get kinetic weapons engage for a successful shot. 310 seconds is a life time to engage for a fighter pilot.

And the Navy surface Fleet lives with the famous Admiral Arleigh Burke’s great quote-“the difference between a good officer and a great officer is 10 seconds”

HSCM have a very serious  flaw in that whatever “force” kinetic or DE disrupts the laminar flow by molecules it will beat itself to death—Close counts in hand grenades, horseshoes and killing HSMC if the shot has a head on aspect

I am 100 percent convinced that the Navy Admiral commanding our newest Fleet, the Atlantic’s  2nd Fleet is up to the challenger of letting no threat go unchallenged.

He has the means motive and opportunity to test right now how his fleet can be a HSCM Killer.

Proof of concept off the Atlantic Coast can easily migrate threats from the Baltics and South China Sea.

The beauty of this research paper is the F-35 global network is a combat theater building block to empower kill web con-ops, not linear kill chain thinking.


New Report: Would You Actually Like to Kill Hypersonic Cruise Missiles Rather than Just See the Attack from Space