Finding ever new and efficient ways to sink enemy ships is usually assigned to the U.S. Navy and, to a lesser extent, the Air Force, but not anymore.
Though still focused on its primary role of maneuvering against land forces and shooting down air and missile threats, the Army is quietly developing an arsenal of long-range maritime strike options.
- Project Convergence 2021 to include anti-ship test
- Precision Strike Missile to receive anti-ship role in 2025
As the Army carves out an offensive role in the Pentagon’s preparations for a mainly naval and air war with China, service officials now seek to develop a capacity for targeting and coordinating strikes on maritime targets with helicopter gunships in the near term and with long-range ballistic missiles by 2025.
The Project Convergence 2020 event in September focused the Army on learning how to solve the command and control challenge for a slew of new land-attack capabilities scheduled to enter service by fiscal 2023. The follow-on event next year will expand to include experiments with the Army’s command and control tasks in the unfamiliar maritime domain.
“I think we have a long way to go in terms of partnering with the Navy for some of the maritime targeting [capabilities],” says Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, the Army’s cross-functional team leader for Long-Range Precision Fires.
“And I think that’ll be a natural evolution into Project Convergence 2021,” Rafferty says, speaking during the Association of the U.S. Army’s virtual annual meeting on Oct. 15.
The Army operates a small, modest fleet of watercraft, including logistics support vessels and Runnymede-class large landing craft, but service officials have been content to respond to attacks on enemy ships at sea with the Navy’s surface combatants and carrier-based fighter squadrons. Last year, the Air Force also revived a maritime strike role by activating the Lockheed Martin AGM-158C Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile on the B-1B fleet.
But the Army’s position has changed. The AH-64E Capability Version 6, which Boeing started developing in 2018, includes a modernized radar frequency interferometer. The receiver can identify maritime radars, allowing the AH-64E to target watercraft at long range for the first time.
Meanwhile, the Defense Department’s Strategic Capabilities Office started working in 2016 to integrate an existing seeker used for targeting ships into the Army Tactical Missile System (Atacms), which is currently the Army’s longest-range surface-to-surface missile at 300 km (162 nm). Beginning in fiscal 2023, the Lockheed Martin Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) is scheduled to begin replacing the Atacms. The Increment 1 version will extend the range of the Army’s missiles to 500 km. A follow-on Increment 2 version of PrSM is scheduled to enter service in fiscal 2025, featuring a new maritime seeker now in flight testing by the Army Research Laboratory.
“As we begin to develop the PrSM [Increment 2] with the cross-domain capability against maritime and emitting [integrated air defense system] targets, obviously we’ll be partnering with the Navy on that,” Rafferty says.
Targeting ships from land-based artillery systems is not unique to the Army. The U.S. Marine Corps plans to introduce the Raytheon-Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile, firing the ground-based anti-ship cruise missile from a remotely operated Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.
To strike a moving target at ranges beyond the horizon, the Army needs more than an innovative new seeker. A targeting complex linking over-the-horizon sensors with the Atacms and PrSM batteries is necessary. Moreover, the Army will need to adapt command and control procedures to an unfamiliar maritime domain.
The annual Project Convergence events offer a laboratory for the Army to prepare the targeting and command and control complex before new weapons enter service. With the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon, a medium-range ballistic missile and PrSM also set to enter service in the next three years, the Army is seeking to adapt quickly.
Last month, the Army used the first prototype of the Tactical Intelligence Targeting Access Node ground station. An artificial intelligence (AI) program named Prometheus sifted through intelligence information to identify targets. Another AI algorithm called SHOT matched those targets to particular weapons with the appropriate range and destructive power. An underlying fire-control network, called the Advanced Field Artillery Data System, provided SHOT with the location and magazine status of each friendly weapon system. A process that would otherwise take minutes or even hours dwindled—in an experimental setting—to a few seconds.
The first Project Convergence event last month focused on the Army’s traditional mission against targets on land. The next event will seek to replicate that streamlined targeting process against ships possibly hundreds of miles away. These experiments are intended to help the Army familiarize itself with new tools in the command and control loop, such as automated target-recognition systems and targeting assignments. The event also helps the Army dramatically adapt, in a few years, institutional practices that had endured for decades.
“In order for a bureaucracy to change, [it has] to understand the need, and we have to create the use case in order for a bureaucracy to change,” says Gen. Mike Murray, the head of the Army Futures Command. “I think in Project Convergence, what we’re able to demonstrate to the senior leaders in the army will further help drive that change.”
In a way, the Army is seeking to achieve in the maritime domain a networked sensor and command and control system that the Navy introduced to its fleet nearly two decades ago. To improve the fleet air-defense mission substantially, the Navy’s Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) generally develops a common, shared database of tracks from the multiple airborne, surface and subsurface sensors available to a carrier battle group.
But the Navy also is building on the CEC standard. In 2016, a Lockheed F-35B demonstrated the ability to develop a target track of an over-the-horizon enemy warship. The track information was sent via the CEC to a launcher for a Raytheon SM-6. Although primarily an air- and missile-defense interceptor, in this case the SM-6 demonstrated an anti-ship role. A follow-on development SM-6 Block 1B is expected to optimize the weapon system as a long-range, anti-ship ballistic missile with hypersonic speed.
More recently, the Navy has been quietly experimenting with its own series of Project Convergence-like experiments. Known as the Navy Tactical Grid experiments, the Navy and Marine Corps organized a series of demonstrations in fiscal 2019, according to the latest budget justification documents. Building on the common operating picture provided by the CEC, the Navy Tactical Grid is possibly experimenting with similar automation and machine-learning algorithms to streamline and amplify the targeting cycle dramatically.
A new initiative is now replacing the Navy Tactical Grid experiments. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday tapped Rear Adm. Douglas Small, the head of Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, to lead the effort known as Project Overmatch.
Small must provide a strategy, no later than early December, that outlines how the Navy will develop the networks, infrastructure, data architecture, tools and analytics to support the operational force. This includes linking hundreds of ships, submarines, unmanned systems and aircraft.
“Beyond recapitalizing our undersea nuclear deterrent, there is no higher developmental priority in the U.S. Navy,” Gilday wrote in an Oct. 1 memo that revealed the existence of Project Overmatch. Aviation Week obtained a copy of the document. “I am confident that closing this risk is dependent on enhancing Distributed Maritime Operations through a teamed manned-unmanned force that exploits artificial intelligence and machine learning.”
While Small is tasked with creating the “connective tissue,” Gilday directs Vice Adm. James Kilby, deputy chief of naval operations for warfighting requirements and capabilities (N9), with accelerating development of unmanned capabilities and long-range fires, Gilday wrote in a separate Oct. 1 memo outlining the details of Project Overmatch.
Kilby’s assessment must include a metric for the Navy to measure progress and a strategy that appropriately funds each component. His initial plan is also due to Gilday in early December.
“Drive coherence to our plans with a long-term, sustainable [and] affordable view that extends far beyond the [future years defense plan],” Gilday wrote.