The US Navy has a new trick up its sleeve, and it could be a game changer

USS FreedomMass Communication Specialist 1st Class James R. EvansThe USS Freedom, one of the Littoral Combat Ships set to be equipped with over-the-horizon missiles.

The US Navy is preparing to roll out an advanced network of targeting information that will revolutionise the fleet’s capabilities in a time when they are increasingly being threatened by regional rivals.

Russia and China are at or near parity with US Naval forces in key strategic areas and developing convincing anti-access/area denial defences. Russia has even gone as far as to simulate attacks on the USS Donald Cook as it sailed off the coast of Poland.

American air superiority is in question in a time when our allies need our reassurance most, but there is a bright spot just over the horizon.

The US Navy has lately been focused on a concept called “distributed lethality,” or equipping even their smallest ships with powerful, stealthy, and long range missiles that can sink enemy ships or signal emitters from a safe distance. So far, the strategy has mainly relied on retrofitting the ships to carry “over-the-horizon (long range)” missiles.

The next step appears to be the formation of a “tactical cloud,” or a network of targeting information from satellites, aircraft, ships, submarines, and even weapons themselves to form a lethal “kill web.”

This will afford the Navy “the ability for us to utilise air-launched capabilities, surface launched capabilities and subsurface launched capabilities that are tied together with an all domain [information network],” said Navy Rear Adm. Mark Darrah at the Naval Air Systems Command, as the US Naval Institute notes

“We call it the tactical cloud. We’re going to put data up in the cloud and users are going to go grab it and use it as a contributor to a targeting solution.”

The tactical cloud concept mirrors abilities already possessed by regional adversaries: “Specifically their ability to take all of their sensors and nets them together to project their ability to see me faster and farther away and [now] my sanctuary been decreased,” Darrah said.

Aircraft carrierUS Navy PhotoChief Aviation Boatswain’s Mate signals a C-2A Greyhound on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76).

“It’s about their ability to reduce the amount of space I have to operate in by tying their capability together and force me to operate from a farther distance from a threat.”

The US Navy already employs more ships, bases, and radar sites than any navy in the world, the issue now is simply leveraging them to create an all inclusive picture that draws on info from submerged vessels all the way up to space assets.

As such, the Navy looks introduce the network within the year, with Darrah saying the tactical cloud concept ” has been tested and it will be ready to deploy later this year, we’re pretty excited about that.”

The network of sensor information will greatly increase the capability and interoperability of different navy platforms.

“I can replace an F-18 with a Harpoon with a JSF and another weapon [in the future]. That’s the important piece. This is about [being] role based. Role-based means I don’t care what the platform is, what I care about is the sensor that generates the information.”

Naval strike missile NSM konsbergUS Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Zachary D. BellNaval Strike Missile launch from USS Coronado (LCS-4) in September 2014.

The challenge, once the network goes live, prioritising and finding relevant data in the web.

“We’re going to put data up in the cloud and users are going to go grab it and use it as a contributor to a targeting solution [but] what’s the pedigree of the data?” said Darrah.

“Who generated it? How long has it been since it’s been refreshed? Is it actually a fidelity that’s meaningful to my weapon?”

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