Thursday, October 30, 2014

Deception and the Backfire Bomber, Part IV

For previous installments, see Parts I, II, and III

Ingredients of Counter-Deception

How could a U.S. Navy battleforce then—or now—avoid defeats at the hands of a highly capable adversary's deceptions? The first necessary ingredient is distributing multi-phenomenology sensors in a defense’s outer layers. Continuing with the battleforce air defense example, many F-14s were equipped during the 1980s with the AN/AXX-1 Television Camera System (TCS), which enabled daytime visual classification of air contacts from a distance. The Navy’s F-14D inventory later received the AN/AAS-42 Infrared Search and Track system to provide a nighttime standoff-range classification capability that complemented AN/AXX-1. Cued by an AEW aircraft or an Aegis surface combatant, F-14s equipped with these sensors could silently examine bomber-sized radar contacts from 40-60 miles away as meteorologically possible. As it would be virtually impossible for a targeted aircraft to know it was being remotely observed unless it was supported by AEW of its own, and as the targeted aircraft’s only means for visually obscuring itself was to take advantage of weather phenomena as available, F-14s used in this outer layer visual identification role could help determine whether inbound radar contacts were decoys or actual aircraft. If the latter, the sensors could also help the F-14 crews determine whether the foe was carrying ordnance on external hardpoints. This information could then be used by a carrier group’s Air Warfare Commander to decide where and how to employ available CAP resources.

It follows that future U.S. Navy outer layer air defenses would benefit greatly from having aircraft equipped with these kinds of sensors distributed to cover likely threat axes at extended ranges from a battleforce’s warships. Such aircraft could report their findings to their tactical controllers using highly-directional line-of-sight communications pathways in order to prevent disclosure of the battleforce’s location and disposition. Given that the future air threat will not only include maritime bombers but also strike fighters and small unmanned aircraft, it would be enormously useful if each manned aircraft performing the outer layer visual identification role could also control multiple unmanned aircraft in order to extend their collective sensing reach as well as covered volume. This way, the outer layer would be able to investigate widely-dispersed aircraft approaching on multiple axes well before the latter’s sensors and weapons could be employed against the battleforce. The same physics that would allow the U.S. Navy to disrupt or exploit an adversary’s multi-phenomenology maritime surveillance and reconnaissance sensors could be wielded by the adversary against a U.S. Navy battleforce’s outer layer sensors, however, so the side that found a way to scout effectively first would likely be the one to attack effectively first.

A purely sensor-centric solution, though, is not enough. Recall Tokarev’s comment about making actual attack groups seem to be “easily recognizable decoys.” This could be implemented in many ways, one of which might be to launch readily-discriminated decoys towards a defended battleforce from one axis while vectoring a demonstration group to approach from another axis. Upon identifying the decoys, a defender might orient the bulk of his available fighters to confront the demonstration group. This would be a fatal mistake, though, if the main attack group was actually approaching on the first axis from some distance behind the decoys. If there was enough spatial and temporal separation between the two axes, and if fighter resources were firmly committed towards the demonstration group at the time it became apparent that the actual attack would come from the first axis, it might not be possible for the fighters to do much about it. An attacker might alternatively use advanced EW technologies to make the main attack group appear to be decoys, especially when meteorological conditions prevented the CAP’s effective use of electro-optical or infrared sensors.

This leads to the second necessary ingredient: conditioning crews psychologically and tactically for the possibility of deception. During peacetime, tactical competence is often viewed as a ‘checklist’ skillset in that crews are expected to quickly execute various immediate actions by rote when they encounter certain tactical stimuli. There’s something to be said for standardized immediate actions, as some simply must be performed instinctively if a unit or group is to avoid taking a hit. Examples of this include setting General Quarters, adjusting a combat system’s configuration and authorized automaticity, launching alert aircraft, making quick situation reports to other units or higher command echelons, and employing evasive maneuvers or certain EW countermeasures. Yet, some discretion may be necessary lest a unit salvo too many defensive missiles against decoys or be enticed to prematurely reveal its location to an attacker. The line separating a fatal delay to act from a delayed yet effective action varies from circumstance to circumstance. A human’s ability to avoid the former is an art built upon his or her deep foundational understanding of naval science and the conditioning effects of regular, intense training. Only through routine exposure to the chaos of combat through training, and only when that training includes the simulated adversary’s use of deception, can crews gradually mentally harden themselves against the disorienting ambiguity or shock that would result from an actual adversary’s use of deception. Likewise, only from experience gained through realistic training can these crews develop tactics that help them and other friendly forces reduce their likelihoods of succumbing to deception, or otherwise increase the possibilities that even if they initially are deceived they can quickly mitigate the effects.  

It follows that our third ingredient is possessing deep defensive ordnance inventories. A battleforce needs to have enough ordnance available—and properly positioned—so that it can fall for a deception and still have some chance at recovering. It is important to point out this ordnance does not just include guns and missiles, but also EW systems and techniques. During the Cold War, a battleforce’s defensive reserves consisted of alert fighters waiting on carrier decks to augment the CAP as well as surface combatants’ own interceptor missiles and EW systems. These might be augmented in the future by high-energy lasers used as warship point defense weapon systems, though it is too early to say whether their main ‘kill’ mechanism would be causing an inbound threat’s structural failure or neutralizing its terminal homing sensors. If effective, lasers would be particularly useful for defense against unmanned aircraft swarms or perhaps anti-ship missile types that trade away advanced capabilities for sheer numbers. Regardless of its available defensive ordnance reserves, a battleforce’s ability to receive defensive support from other battleforces or even land-based Joint or Combined forces can also be quite helpful. 

The final ingredients for countering an adversary’s deception efforts are embracing tactical flexibility and seizing the tactical initiative. Using Tokarev’s observations as an example, this can be as simple as constantly changing CAP and AEW cycle durations, refueling periods, station positions, and tactical behaviors. A would-be deceiver needs to understand his target’s doctrine and tactics in order to create a ‘story’ that meshes with the latter’s predispositions while exploiting available vulnerabilities. By increasing the prospective deceiver’s uncertainty regarding what kinds of story elements are necessary to achieve the desired effects, or where vulnerabilities lie that are likely to be available at the time of the planned tactical action, it becomes less likely that a deception attempt will be ‘complete’ enough to work as intended. A more aggressive defensive measure might be to use offensive counterair sweeps well ahead of a battleforce to locate and neutralize the adversary’s scouts and inbound raiders, much as what was envisioned by the U.S. Navy’s 1980s Outer Air Battle concept. The method offering the greatest potential payoff, and not coincidentally the hardest to orchestrate, would be to entice the adversary to waste precious ordnance against a decoy group or expose his raiders to ambush by friendly fighters. All of these concepts force the adversary to react, with the latter two stealing the tactical initiative—and the first effective blow in a battle—from the adversary.

Tomorrow, some concluding thoughts.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Deception and the Backfire Bomber, Part III

For previous installments, see Parts I and II

The Great Equalizer: Backfire Raiders’ Own Use of Deception


The key to improving a Soviet maritime bomber raid’s odds of success appears to have been its own use of EW and tactical deception. Tokarev observes that SNAF doctrine developers closely monitored U.S. Navy carriers’ Combat Air Patrol (CAP) tactics and operational patterns, with particular interest on patrol cycle durations and aerial refueling periods, to identify possible windows of vulnerability that could be exploited in a large-scale attack (Tokarev, Pg. 69). He further observes that SNAF doctrine developers concluded U.S. Navy CAP crews were “quite dependent” upon direction by tactical controllers embarked in area air defense-capable surface combatants or E-2 Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft. This meant

“…the task of the attackers could be boiled down to finding a way to fool those officers—either to overload their sensors or, to some degree, relax their sense of danger by posing what were to their minds easily recognizable decoys, which were in reality full, combat-ready strikes. By doing so the planners expected to slow the reactions of the whole air-defense system, directly producing the “golden time” needed to launch the missiles.” (Tokarev, Pg 75)

In practice, this entailed extensive use of chaff to clutter and confuse the E-2s’ and surface combatants’ radar pictures, not to mention to create ‘corridors’ for shielding inbound raiders from radar detection. This probably also involved using elements of the sacrificial reconnaissance-attack group mentioned earlier to draw attention away from the other penetrating pathfinders. Most interestingly, Tokarev mentions that the raid’s main attack group included a “demonstration group.” When combined with his statement that only seventy to eighty of the bombers in an air division-strength raid would be carrying missiles, this suggests some of the bombers might have been specifically intended to attract their opponent’s attention and then withdraw from contact—the very definition of a deceptive demonstration (Tokarev, Pg 73, 77). As a Backfire raid would be conducted from perhaps two or three attack axes, a demonstration group could hypothetically cause a significant portion of available CAP resources—not to mention the carrier group’s overall tactical attention—to be focused towards one sector while the main attack would actually come from other sectors. Any missiles launched by the CAP against the demonstration group (or the reconnaissance-attack group for that matter) would obviously no longer be available when the main attack group arrived on scene. In this way, enough of the main group might survive long enough to actually launch their missiles, and maybe longer still to escape homeward.

The reconnaissance-attack and demonstration groups might also have been used to induce the carrier group to break out of restrictive EMCON and thereby help clarify the situational picture for the rest of the bombers. Enticing warships to light off their air search radars—and for the pre-Aegis combatants, missile-directing radars—would have provided some high confidence indications of which contacts were surface combatants and which were not. A similar effect might result if the Soviet tactics resulted in U.S. and NATO warships ceasing radio-silence as the carrier group oriented itself to defend against the perceived inbound threat. Still, as the carrier and any carrier-simulating decoy ships present might refrain from radiating telltale radars or engaging in telltale radio communications even under these conditions, the raid’s deceptions would not necessarily help pinpoint the carrier. They would, though, reduce the number of contacts requiring direct visual identification by pathfinders—perhaps dramatically. They would also likely help the raid’s air defense suppression group designate targets for jamming or anti-radar missile attack.

None of this should be surprising to those who have read Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising. The novel’s famous first battle at sea begins with a Badger group lobbing target drones towards a NATO carrier task force from far outside the latter’s AEW radar coverage. Equipped with ‘radar blip enhancers’ that allow them to simulate bombers, the drones present themselves using a formation and flight profile that easily convinces the task force’s air defenses they are facing an actual raid. The resultant ruse fools the task force’s F-14 fighters into wasting their AIM-54 Phoenix long-range air-to-air missiles against these decoys, essentially denuding the task force of its outer defensive layer. This is readily exploited by a Backfire group approaching from a different axis, with disastrous consequences for the task force’s warships.

Nor should any of this be surprising to students of the first Gulf War. While U.S. Air Force F-117’s were rightly heralded as having penetrated all the way to Baghdad with impunity on Operation Desert Storm’s opening night, their ease in doing so was paved by a joint U.S. Air Force and Navy deception titled SCATHE MEAN. In this little-known mission that closely emulated Clancy’s fictional scenario, the two services launched BQM-74 target drones and ADM-141 Tactical Air Launched Decoys to distract Iraqi Very High Frequency surveillance radar operators from detecting the inbound F-117s, seduce the Iraqis into expending precious Surface to Air Missiles against the bait, and induce these SAM sites into exposing their search and fire control radars to U.S. anti-radar missile attacks.

Tomorrow, the ingredients for countering such deceptions.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Deception and the Backfire Bomber, Part II

Part I available here

Was U.S. Navy Tactical Deception Effective?


Since Backfire needed pathfinder support, the U.S. Navy’s key to disrupting if not decapitating a raid by the former was to defeat the latter. As part of my thesis research, I came across much circumstantial evidence that the U.S. Navy’s combination of strict Emission Control (EMCON) discipline, decentralized command and control doctrine, occasional use of lower campaign-value warships to simulate high campaign-value warships, and perhaps even occasional use of electronic jamming gave SOSS controllers and Soviet reconnaissance assets fits during real-world operations. Still, I did not come across any authoritative Russian perspectives on whether or how these U.S. Navy countertargeting efforts affected Soviet doctrine, tactics, or confidence. That’s what makes the following comment from Tokarev so interesting:

“Moreover, knowing the position of the carrier task force is not the same as knowing the position of the carrier itself. There were at least two cases when in the center of the formation there was, instead of the carrier, a large fleet oiler or replenishment vessel with an enhanced radar signature (making it look as large on the Backfires’ radar screens as a carrier) and a radiating tactical air navigation system. The carrier itself, contrary to routine procedures, was steaming completely alone, not even trailing the formation. To know for sure the carrier’s position, it was desirable to observe it visually.”(Tokarev, Pg. 77)

He goes on to describe a special reconnaissance-attack group of sacrificial bombers that might be detached from an inbound raid to penetrate a naval formation and visually identify the primary targets. Only with positive target designations from these pathfinders, or perhaps from TU-95RT Bear-D reconnaissance aircraft preceding the raid, could Backfire crews have any confidence the single missile they each carried was aimed at a valid and valuable target (Tokarev, Pg. 72, 77). Even then, he observes that “Contrary to widespread opinion, no considerable belief was placed in the ability of launched missiles to resist ECM efforts” (Tokarev, Pg. 75), indicating recognition that the countertargeting battle hardly ended with missile launch.

The one exception to the above contact classification and identification problems would have been a war-opening first salvo attack, in which targeting-quality cues could have been provided to Backfires or other anti-ship missile-carrying assets by any tattletale ships following a carrier closely. While noting the tattletale tactic’s high potential efficacy, Tokarev makes clear it could only be used in peacetime and would never again be possible following hostilities’ outbreak:

“Despite the existence of air reconnaissance systems such as Uspekh, satellite systems like Legenda, and other forms of intelligence and observation, the most reliable source of targeting of carriers at sea was the direct-tracking ship. Indeed, if you see a carrier in plain sight, the only problem to solve is how to radio reliably the reports and targeting data against the U.S. electronic countermeasures. Ironically, since the time lag of Soviet military communication systems compared to the NATO ones is quite clear, the old Morse wireless telegraph used by the Soviet ships was the long-established way to solve that problem. With properly trained operators, Morse keying is the only method able to resist active jamming in the HF band… But the direct tracker was definitely no more than another kind of kamikaze. It was extremely clear that if a war started, these ships would be sent to the bottom immediately. Given that, the commanding officer of each had orders to behave like a rat caught in a corner: at the moment of war declaration or when specifically ordered, after sending the carrier’s position by radio, he would shell the carrier’s flight deck with gunfire, just to break up the takeoff of prepared strikes, fresh CAP patrols, or anything else.” (Tokarev, Pg. 80)

Preventing a tattletale from maintaining track on a carrier accordingly reduced the chances for successfully striking that carrier. Additionally, since not all carriers would be operating forward at the time of the first salvo, those withheld in areas tattletales could not readily access would be more or less immune from large-scale attacks. This would leave the Backfires overwhelmingly dependent upon pathfinders in any later raid attempt.

It should be obvious that EW (and its contemporary cousin, cyberwarfare) or tactical deception capabilities on their own are not going to deter an adversary from embarking upon some form of conventional aggression. The adversary’s decision to seek war will always be politically-driven, and the possibility of aggression out of desperation vice opportunism cannot be discounted. To the extent that political and military leaders’ latent psychological perceptions of their forces’ strengths and weaknesses influence their warmaking calculus, though, efforts to erode an opponent’s confidence in his most doctrinally important military capabilities can induce him to raise his political threshold for resorting to war. Tokarev’s observations therefore imply that Soviet commanders understood the likely cost in their crews’ lives that would be necessary just to provide a raid a chance at success, and that complicating variables such as the U.S. Navy’s demonstrated countertargeting competencies only made the whole endeavor seem more uncertain and costly. The impact upon general deterrence, while unmeasurable in any real sense, obviously was not insignificant.

Tomorrow, an examination of the deception tactics that might have been employed by Backfire raids.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Small update to China's 5th gen project

Most recently, we've seen a set of 3 photos coming out of CFTE testing center at Yanliang. The test aircraft in question were J-20 prototype No 2012, Y-20 prototype No. 783 and Y-8FQ (ASW variant) prototype No. 731. All 3 of these projects are obviously very important, but J-20 has the special distinction as China's first 5th gen fighter jet project. This entry just provides a quick look at where China is with its 5th generation project.

Earlier this year, J-20's Prototype No. 2011 came out with significant changes from the earlier prototypes. It was quite clear at that time J-20 project has advanced from the demonstrator stage to pre-production prototypes. When prototype No. 2012 came out in July, PLA followers compared the new prototype to No. 2011. As expected from previous analysis, not much has changed from No. 2011 to No. 2012. As this projects continue to progress, it's likely that no further major changes will be made before certification unless problems are detected in flight tests. I would expect some changes to be made at the rear when domestic 5th generation engine becomes available for testing, but we are a couple of years away from that. No. 2012 had its maiden flight on July 26th and was delivered to CFTE recently for PLA flight tests. At the time No. 2012 appeared, there were a lot of rumors online that 2 more prototypes (No. 2013 and 2014) are likely to come out before the end of the year for flight testing. I would also expect there to be a couple of more prototypes built for static testing. Based on J-10 project where 4 pre-production prototypes (No. 1013 to 1016), this might be all the prototypes that are needed to complete the flight tests. Of course, J-10 had more initial prototypes, but CAC at that time probably needed more time and prototypes to settle on the final design. After these pre-production flight test prototypes are delivered, CAC will probably start producing initial production variant and then deliver them to FTTC for developing combat tactics, flight techniques, training programs for new aircraft and conducting certification of J-20. Further prototypes for the J-20 project will be delivered to CFTE if any major changes are made to the aircraft or when new engine (like WS-15) becomes ready.

More recently, we have seen a bunch of flight testing photos of prototype No. 31001 posted online. This led to a lot of speculations online surrounding the status of the project. I've even read online that some Chinese military expert proclaimed serial production will start within five years for this project. Now, I personally think that's complete nonsense. At this point, this project still seems to be at demonstrator phase. It looks like No. 31001 or a model might appear at Zhuhai air show for export interest. I do expect PLAAF to pick up this project to create a high-lo combination with J-20. While it will most likely be given the designation of J-31, I try not to settle on that name yet in case it gets a different designation in the end. The problem with this project is the lack of available engine options. We know J-20's final production variant will be using WS-15. Even though that engine is not ready, it has been worked for a while and should become available for flight testing in a few years. Until then, upgraded variants of WS-10 engine could be used in the first batch of J-20s. For J-31, there is no current domestic option for flight testing, since WS-13 is not certified yet. The development for this next generation engine in its class began more recently and is not given the same level of importance as WS-15. Even if PLAAF picks up this project in the next year, all of the initial testing would be done using an engine whose power and propulsion will be quite different from the eventual engine. So, I always thought that this project will go into service probably 5 years after J-20 does.

Rule # 1 and the Cost Cult of Invulnerability

The following contribution comes from Captain Henry (Jerry) Hendrix, Captain (ret.). Jerry Hendrix is a Senior Fellow and the Director of the Defense Strategies and Assessments Program at the Center for a New American Security.

On the morning of December 7, 1941, the USS Arizona, with 13.5 inches of armor at her waterline, 18 inches of armor on her turrets, and watertight compartments throughout her hull, was one of the most survivable ships in the world, that today continues to rest upon the bottom of Pearl Harbor with over a thousand honored dead still onboard. The USS Cole, equipped with the Aegis defense system, represented a $1.3 billion dollar investment in survivability in today’s dollars. She was designed to defend herself and other ships around her against the latest in air, surface and subsurface threats. Yet on October 12, 2000, a small motorboat filled with explosives nearly sank the ship as she refueled in Yemen.

There is no such thing as invulnerability. Many defense investments are misplaced, but near the top of the list are the billions spent chasing the illusion that ships can take a hit in a modern, hypersonic warfare environment and keep fighting. DOD must face the unpleasant reality that we will never build an indestructible ship.

This drama is playing out with the Navy’s overdue decision on the Small Surface Combatant (SSC) that will follow the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). The decision will have a significant impact on the next Navy budget submission. One of the prime contenders for the SSC design will be a modified LCS with more armament. Another should be the Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter (NSC). Both will fly in the face of critiques who carp about reliability and survivability. Issues with reliability for both ships are being addressed and are in line with other previous “first in class” ships ranging from the Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG-7) to the San Antonio (LPD-17), all of which experienced significant mechanical challenges. However, it is the issues of survivability (LCS and NSC were built to the basic Level 1+ standard) that has triggered the most concerning debate.

To be sure, we try. It is incumbent upon Defense officials, naval officers, and the nation to attempt to preserve the lives of our fighting men and women, and no one wants to take a position where they could be accused of supporting the idea that service members are “expendable.” Rules and requirements are written into procurement documents in an attempt to create platforms that can take a hit and preserve the lives of the crew inside. Much of this protection comes with a downside, generally complexity and weight, which in turn results in decreased range (as weight goes up, fuel mileage comes down) and ultimately in cost, which also has the net effect of lowering the overall number of platforms purchased.

Both of these ships illuminate persistent questions regarding survivability and the proper level of investment in it. History reveals war as a science that ebbs and flows between the offense and the defense. Offense had the upper hand when the first rock made contact with a forehead, but armor granted wearers an ability to shrug off blows and strike the unarmored with their swords, at least until the longbow showed up. One hundred and fifty years ago advances in metallurgy granted the advantage briefly to the defense, giving rise to ironclads, but soon the offense regained its advantage with the advent of the large rifled projectile and the high-speed missile.

Today’s military research and development attempts to defend by shooting down the projectile rather than building armor because physics dictates that there is nothing that can shield you from a hypersonic missile when it has you in its sights. We cannot make any platform invulnerable to attack.

The point here is not whether platforms can be made survivable or not. The Arizona and Cole tell us that on day one of the next conflict, given our form of government, we are going to take the first blow. No one likes the sad simple truth that in war that men and women will die. This is also not to say that we shouldn’t invest in survivability or that we should stop buying high-end platforms. We should, but in a balanced high-low, manned and unmanned mix with an eye to the realistic return on investment in a wartime environment and its impact on the number of platforms we can ultimately purchase to comprise our frontline force.

On day two of the next war, after we have been struck first, we will adjust to the new reality and redeploy our remaining forces to deal with the threat. Given this fact, existing platforms like LCS and the NSC should be in the mix for the Small Surface Combatant selection. They are basic designs, relatively cheap, rapidly maturing, and here. We cannot afford a pause in shipbuilding. We need numbers. Quantity has taken on a quality all its own. Over emphasis on survivability in the face of a hypersonic reality represents hubris and an attempt to ignore the reality of modern war. We chase pleasant illusions over unpleasant realities at our own peril.

Deception and the Backfire Bomber: Reexamining the Late Cold War Struggle Between Soviet Maritime Reconnaissance and U.S. Navy Countertargeting

Last winter's Naval War College Review contained a must-read article on the Soviet Navy’s doctrine from the 1980s for employing its TU-22M Backfire series of bombers against U.S. Navy carrier groups. In “Kamikazes: the Soviet Legacy,” former Soviet Navy officer Maksim Y. Tokarev reveals many details regarding Backfire capabilities and tactics that, to my knowledge at least, have not been previously disclosed within English-language open sources.

As part of my 2011 master’s thesis, I conducted a case study examination of how the U.S. Navy used Electronic Warfare (EW) and tactical deception to counter Soviet long-range maritime strike capabilities such as Backfire during the Cold War. I found that while a considerable amount of information is now publicly (though not necessarily widely) known about the two sides’ tactics, technologies, and real-world operational experiences from the late 1950s through mid-1970s, relatively few details regarding the competition’s late-1970s through early-1990s peak have been declassified by the U.S. or Russian governments. Tokarev’s article sheds a remarkable amount of light on the latter period from the Russian perspective. In doing so, he also underlines timeless maritime targeting challenges that technology can partially ameliorate but never fully eliminate. He additionally paints an intriguing picture of how an advanced attacker might use tactical deception in an attempt to score a lopsided win in a battle at sea. In my posts this week, I will point out the most fascinating of the new details provided by Tokarev and then examine their historical significance as well as contemporary implications.

What Kind of Reconnaissance Support did Backfire Need?


One of the key historical questions regarding Backfire involves the reconnaissance support the bombers’ crews needed to effectively employ their missiles. The earlier TU-16 Badger series of Soviet maritime bombers depended upon targeting cues provided by scout aircraft. These so-called ‘pathfinders’ penetrated an enemy’s battleforce ahead of a raid in order to locate and positively identify aircraft carriers or other high-priority target ships. This was necessary because a standoff bomber like Badger simply could not tell whether a large contact held by its onboard radar was an aircraft carrier, a surface combatant or other ship configured to simulate a carrier, an artificial decoy, or a large and perhaps neutral-flagged merchant vessel. Even if a surface contact of interest made ‘telltale’ radiofrequency emissions, the vessel’s type could not be determined with high confidence because of the possibility that the emissions were deceptive. Visual-range verification of contacts’ types (if not identities) was consequently a prerequisite for the Badgers to be able to aim their missiles with confidence. Yet, because the Soviet pathfinder aircraft necessarily had to expose themselves to the entirety of a battleforce’s layered defenses in order to do their jobs, they represented single-points-of-failure that could easily doom a raid if neutralized before they located, classified, and identified desired targets.

In the mid-1970s, the Soviets began launching Radar Ocean Reconnaissance and Electronic intelligence Ocean Reconnaissance Satellites (RORSAT and EORSAT) into low earth orbit. RORSAT and EORSAT were primarily intended to expand the maritime areas covered by the Soviet Ocean Surveillance System (SOSS), a networked ‘system of systems’ that fused data from a wide variety of remote sensors to locate, identify, track, and target U.S. Navy forces at sea. In theory, Soviet standoff bombers might not have needed the support of pathfinder scouts if SOSS operators were able to provide a raid with high confidence, targeting-quality tactical pictures derived from RORSAT, EORSAT, and perhaps other remote sensor sources.

Backfire made its Soviet Naval Air Force (SNAF) debut in 1976. Unlike the subsonic Badger, Backfire could make its final approach to its firing position—and then its subsequent escape attempt—at supersonic speed. The SNAF’s Backfire-C variant, which reached Initial Operational Capability in 1981, carried enough fuel to make an indirect approach against a targeted naval force operating well beyond 2000 nautical miles from the Soviet coast. Defending against a Backfire raid was therefore an order of magnitude more complicated than defending against a Badger raid. The tactical dilemma facing a U.S. Navy battleforce would have been further exacerbated—potentially decisively—if a Backfire raid received its targeting data directly from SOSS instead of from pathfinders. Some later Backfire-Cs were even equipped with a communication system that allowed them to download RORSATs’ and EORSATs’ tactical pictures as those satellites passed overhead.

From a purely technical perspective, though, it seemed quite unlikely Backfire could completely do away with reliance upon pathfinders or other visual-range scouts. As I detailed in my thesis, RORSAT suffered from the same contact classification challenges that inherently plague any radar. In fact, RORSAT’s shortcomings were even worse: its sensitivity was apparently so poor that it could only detect large ships, and even then not reliably when the area it was searching contained inclement weather. EORSAT was completely dependent upon ships complacently radiating telltale radiofrequency emissions, and as a result could not compensate for RORSAT. Lastly, as neither RORSAT nor EORSAT could report their data in ‘real time,’ their contact pictures generally suffered from tactically-significant lateness. Nevertheless, other than anecdotes from U.S. Navy veterans of the 1980s who directly observed SNAF operations when their carrier groups steamed into the “Bear’s Den,” and beyond some open source scholarly interpretations of Soviet doctrine dating to the early 1990s, until Tokarev there has been virtually no authoritatively-sourced evidence available to the public confirming or refuting Backfire’s dependence upon pathfinders.

On that note, Tokarev first relates that SNAF bomber forces

“…always tried to use reconnaissance and targeting data provided by air assets, which was also most desired by their own command structure. Targeting data on the current position of the carrier sent by surface ships performing “direct tracking” (a ship, typically a destroyer or frigate, sailing within sight of the carrier formation to send targeting data to attack assets—what the Americans called a “tattletale”), were a secondary and less preferable source. No great trust was placed in reports from other sources (naval radio reconnaissance, satellites, etc.). Lieutenant General Sokerin, once an operational officer on the Northern Fleet NAF staff, always asked the fleet staff’s admirals just to assign him a target, not to define the time of the attack force’s departure; that could depend on many factors, such as the reliability of targeting data or the weather, that generate little attention in nonaviation naval staff work.”(Tokarev, Pg. 73)

He later amplifies this, noting that Backfire crews

“…had the targeting data that had been available at the moment of takeoff and kept the receivers of the targeting apparatus ready to get detailed targeting, either from the air reconnaissance by voice radio or from surface ships or submarines. The latter targeting came by high-frequency (HF) radio, a channel known as KTS Chayka (the Seagull short-message targeting communication system) that was usually filled with targeting data from the MRSC Uspekh (the Success maritime reconnaissance targeting system), built around the efforts of Tu-95RC reconnaissance planes. The Legenda (Legend) satellite targeting system receiver was turned on also, though not all planes had this device.” (Tokarev, Pg. 74)

These statements tell us two things. First, while Backfires could use direct satellite-based cueing, they relied heavily upon—and in fact placed greater trust in—targeting provided by scout aircraft. Second, a Backfire (or any Soviet maritime bomber) sortie depended upon raid planners being told approximately where a U.S. or NATO naval group was operating. If SOSS or any other surveillance or reconnaissance capabilities supporting this general cueing was disrupted or deceived, a raid might be dispatched to the wrong location, might be wasted against a decoy group, might be exposed to an ambush, might be held back until too late, or might never be launched at all.

We must keep in mind that launching a SNAF raid was no small undertaking. Per Tokarev, an entire air division—up to a hundred bombers—might be hurled against a single carrier’s battle group. Furthermore, doctrine called for the Soviet Northern and Pacific Fleets to be equipped with three air divisions each in order to counter multi-carrier battle groups. Tokarev also mentions that the bomber attrition rate for a single raid was expected to be as high as 50% regardless of whether or not the objective U.S. or NATO warships were successfully struck (Tokarev, Pg. 73, 78). With a finite number of bombers, missiles, and trained crews, it is reasonable to think Soviet commanders would have been somewhat hesitant to dispatch such irreplaceable forces into battle unless they had some degree of confidence in their situational picture’s accuracy; the operational-strategic penalties that would be incurred if they ‘got it wrong’ simply seem too high for this not to have been the case. Accordingly, it will be extremely interesting to someday learn the criteria that had to be satisfied for SNAF commanders to order a raid.   

Tomorrow, just how effective was U.S. Navy countertargeting?

Friday, October 24, 2014

21st Century Maritime Operations Under Cyber-Electromagnetic Opposition: The Finale


For previous installments, see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3


Candidate Principle #6: Technical Degradation is Temporary, Psychological Effects can be Enduring

It must be appreciated that the greatest damage caused by an adversary’s successful cyber-electromagnetic attack may not be in how it degrades a system or network’s performance, opens the door to kinetic attacks against a force, or even tricks commanders into making operationally or tactically-sub-optimal decisions. All of these are generally temporary effects and can be recoverable with flexible plans, resiliency-embracing doctrine, and crafty tactics. Rather, as renowned naval analyst Norman Friedman has hypothesized, it could very well be the shattering of commanders’ and operators’ trust in their systems and networks that is most destructive. If personnel are not conditioned to anticipate their systems’ and networks’ disruption in combat, an attack’s lasting effect may be a morale-corroding fatalism. Likewise, if they are deceived just once by a manipulated situational picture, and even then not necessarily in a majorly harmful way, they may still hesitate to take needed actions in subsequent engagements out of fear of deception even when none is present. Either of these consequences could result in ceding the tactical if not operational initiative. In a short conflict, this might be catastrophic. Doctrinal collapse might also result, which would be especially debilitating if force structure is designed so tightly around a given doctrine that it severely limits options for creating or adapting operating concepts on the fly.[i] 
Interestingly, similar effects might conceivably occur even when a system’s or network’s electronic protection and information assurance measures cause a cyber-electromagnetic attack to only achieve a relatively minor degree of immediate ‘damage.’ In fact, near-continuous cyber-electromagnetic harassment in the form of noise jamming, incessant yet readily parried cyber penetration attempts, situational picture-manipulation attacks that the target’s operators can quickly discover and reverse, intermittent system crashes or network connectivity interruptions that are quickly recovered from, or even severe disruptions of  non-critical systems and network services may wear a force’s commanders and crews down mentally even if their critical systems and networks remain fully capable. A clever adversary might actually find this psychological degradation more exploitable (and more likely to be available for use at any given time) than technical degradation. Indeed, cyber-electromagnetic warfare’s psychological applications may well be where it finds its greatest utility.

Assessing the Implications

As the Chief of Naval Operations and others have asserted, the cyber and electromagnetic domains have become equally important to the physical domains in waging modern war.[ii] The cyber-electromagnetic fight will extend throughout all phases of major future conflicts, may begin well before open hostilities break out as an adversary attempts to ‘prepare’ the battlespace, and accordingly may be particularly pivotal during a war’s opening phase. Indeed, high-impact anti-network operations with major maritime strategic implications date back as far as the opening moments of the First World War.[iii] Just as a belligerent might not be able to win a war with naval dominance alone but could easily lose without it, so it will be for cyber-electromagnetic dominance. It follows that a naval force’s ability to operate within a contested maritime zone will be highly questionable if it cannot effectively suppress or exploit the adversary’s force-level networks while simultaneously parrying the adversary’s own cyber-electromagnetic attacks. This will even extend to operations featuring stealth platforms, as such assets have long needed direct EW support to achieve maximal effectiveness.[iv] Should the U.S. Navy under-appreciate a potential adversary’s integration of cyber-electromagnetic warfare within combined arms doctrine, in a future conflict it would risk facing attrition rates on par with what it endured in the Solomon Islands from summer 1942 through summer 1943—something that its contemporary force structure simply could not endure.[v]

Assuming the candidate principles we have outlined are validated, they will influence future maritime warfare in at least five general ways. First, they will confirm leading tactical theorist Wayne Hughes’s hypothesis from over a decade ago that the next major maritime fight will be defined by the belligerents’ struggle for scouting superiority.[vi] This will represent a drastic change from the U.S. Navy’s post-Second World War combat experiences, in which the absence of threats to its sea control allowed it to focus on maximizing the efficiency and persistence of power projection ashore. Regardless of whether a tactical action pits two naval battleforces against each other, or one against a land-based force, the victor will likely be the side that is able to achieve high-confidence classification, identification, and targeting against his opponent’s forces first, thereby enabling effective attack.[vii] Cyber-electromagnetic discipline and capabilities will clearly be central to the success of the scouting/anti-scouting phases of any future operation.
Second, the above signifies that a force will need to extend its effective scouting and anti-scouting reach beyond that of its opponent. This is not achieved solely by covering a given area with more sensors than the opponent, or deploying scouts at greater ranges than the opponent. Rather, as suggested earlier, a sensor network’s effectiveness is equally a function of its architecture. This means the availability of difficult-to-intercept communications pathways and backup communications infrastructure will be just as important as raw coverage volume, lest key sensors be cut off from the network or the situational picture they feed be decisively manipulated. This also means the network must employ multiple sensor types. For surveillance, this translates into multi-phenomenology sensors positioned (or covering areas) as far as possible forward within the battlespace, with some using sensing methodologies and platform characteristics that allow them to avoid (or at least delay) counterdetection. For reconnaissance, this requires sensors capable of penetrating the opponent’s force to support the confident confirmation of a given contact’s classification and identity. The U.S. Navy simply cannot afford to waste precious inventories of advanced weapons by falling for deception in a future battle. In this light, the Navy’s proposed Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) system could be a critical enabler for effectively employing the proposed Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), beyond visual range anti-air missiles, and similar network-enhanced standoff-range maritime weapons. It should not be overlooked that UCLASS, a scouting and attack asset that will be organic to the battleforce, can be designed to support expanded operations on interior lines of networking.
Third, if there is to be a reasonable chance that any degradation will be graceful, cyber-electromagnetic resilience must become a defining attribute of systems’ and networks’ designs. Strong electronic protection and information assurance features are certainly vital, with the latter applying just as much to ‘engineering plant’ systems as to the warfare systems they support. Nevertheless, as no system or network can ever be unexploitable, those central to a force’s tactical capabilities must contain additional design features that allow for quick restoration, graceful degradation, or capability expansion when subjected to withering cyber-electromagnetic attacks. Systems’ avoidance of network-dependency will also help greatly to this end.
Fourth, operations within opposed cyber-electromagnetic environments will demand C2 decentralization, as a higher echelon’s ability to assert direct, secure control over subordinate units under such circumstances will be dubious. Even if possible, this kind of close control will almost certainly be inadvisable if only for force concealment and counter-exploitation considerations. Instead, maritime forces will need to re-embrace ‘command-by-negation’ doctrine, or rather the broad empowerment of lower-level commanders to exercise initiative in accordance with their higher commander’s pre-disseminated intentions, if they are to fight effectively. Relatedly, aggressive experimentation will be needed to find the proper balance between operating on interior and exterior lines of networking when inside a contested zone—and will probably reveal that the bias should be towards the former.
Lastly, forces capable of operating under command-by-negation and in opposed cyber-electromagnetic environments are not developed overnight. Frequent and intensive training under realistic combat conditions will be needed if the requisite force-wide skills are to be developed.[viii] In particular, much as we have traditionally done to cultivate physical damage control readiness, commanders and crews on the deckplates must be regularly conditioned to expect, recognize, and fight-through cyber-electromagnetic attacks. A force’s cyber-electromagnetic resilience will depend in no small way upon its personnel’s technical, tactical, and psychological preparation for operating with critical systems and networks degraded if not compromised, and with situational pictures that have been manipulated. Likewise, a force’s ability to successfully deceive the adversary—not to mention successfully employ countermeasures against the adversary’s weapons—will depend upon the cyber-electromagnetic tactical skills the force’s personnel cultivate through routinized peacetime training. Emission control discipline, decoy placement relative to defended assets, precision evasive maneuvers, precision timing and sequencing of tactics, and the like require frequent practice if commanders and crews are to gain and then maintain just the minimum proficiencies needed to survive in modern maritime battle. The Navy’s next Strategy for Achieving Information Dominance needs to make it clear that cyber-electromagnetic competence must not be isolated to its Information Dominance Corps, and instead must be ingrained within the total force.

While cyber-electromagnetic risks hardly invalidate the use of advanced sensor and networking technologies, they do caution us not to take for granted that our systems and networks will be secure, functional, and reliable when needed.  Our doctrine, contingency operational plans, and tactics must be structured around the assumption each of our warfare systems contain exploitable cyber-electromagnetic vulnerabilities that may prevent us from using them to their fullest—or at all—when most needed. We must not allow ourselves to build and field a force that can only fight effectively when its systems and networks are unhindered and uncompromised.


[i] Norman Friedman. “Trust but Verify.” Naval Institute Proceedings 134, No. 11 (November 2008), 90-91.
[ii] ADM Jonathan Greenert, USN. “Imminent Domain.” Naval Institute Proceedings 138, No. 12 (December 2012), 17.
[iii] LCDR James T. Westwood, USN. “Electronic Warfare and Signals Intelligence at the Outset of World War I.” U.S. National Security Agency, undated, accessed 1/31/14, http://www.nsa.gov/public_info/_files/cryptologic_spectrum/electronic_warfare.pdf
[iv] See 1. ADM Jonathan Greenert, USN. “Payloads Over Platforms: Charting a New Course.” Naval Institute Proceedings 138, No. 7 (July 2012), 18-19; 2. Gordon and Trainor, 213-215, 217; 3. Arend G. Westra. “Radar Versus Stealth: Passive Radar and the Future of U.S. Military Power.” Joint Forces Quarterly 55 (October 2009), 136-143.
[v] Thomas G. Mahnken. “China's Anti-Access Strategy in Historical and Theoretical Perspective.” Journal of Strategic Studies 34, No. 3 (June 2011), 310.
[vi] CAPT Wayne Hughes, Jr, USN (Ret). Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, 2nd Ed. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2000), 201-202, 210-212.
[vii] Ibid, 40-44.
[viii] Solomon, “Maritime Deception and Concealment,” 104-106.

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