Magazine article National Defense

7th Fleet Experiment Probes Navy's Near-Term Concerns

Magazine article National Defense

7th Fleet Experiment Probes Navy's Near-Term Concerns

Article excerpt

Worries about the proliferation of diesel submarines and long-range ballistic missiles shaped combat scenarios during a recent U.S. Navy war game.

The Navy's 7th Fleet tested several new concepts of operations and technologies during a command exercise in May called "Tandem Thrust," held in conjunction with a fleet battle experiment that consisted mostly of simulated forces and platforms.

This fleet battle experiment, known as FBE-K, focused on near-term concerns about the Navy's undersea warfare skills, theater missile defense and rapid-targeting capabilities. It gave commanders an opportunity to figure out how to implement technologies the Navy plans to deploy in the foreseeable future, said Navy Cmdr. John W. Covell, the director of the experiment.

He noted that, traditionally, fleet battle experiments have served as trial grounds for futuristic concepts that were not necessarily based on near-term concerns. This time around, however, the Pacific-based 7th Fleet, which sponsored the war game, decided it needed to address more immediate priorities.

"Rather than go out and play with new toys, we looked hard at what we need to do in the near future to tighten up how we do business and correctly employ the systems," Covell said.

These systems included the Joint Fires Network and the Area Air Defense Commander System. The fleet also tested a new offensive anti-submarine warfare concept that relies on a low-frequency active sensor--a controversial system that, according to environmental groups, harms many marine mammals.

The Joint Fires Network is a complex "black-box" architecture that links sensors electronically and consolidates input from multiple sources to a common database, shared by users aboard ships or airplanes.

The Area Air Defense Commander System is a planning software tool to help plot the location of air-defense assets in the theater.

Both the JFN and the AADCS were installed on the USS Blue Ridge, a sophisticated command ship, operating off the coast of Guam. In the experiment, the joint commander of the air war, an Air Force officer known as the JFAC, was stationed back in Hawaii and used the AADCS tools to plot the location of anti-missile defenses. Navy personnel operated the JFAC equipment.

Covell said this sort of arrangement marked a drastic departure from conventional war-fighting practices. Typically, commanders "reach back" via satellite communications links from the front lines to the rear (such as a military base in the United States). In this case, the JFAC "reached forward" to the Blue Ridge to get the information he needed from the AADCS.

The JFAC usually is responsible for organizing air defenses. He used the AADCS to help establish where to place anti-missile defense systems throughout the theater, such as Patriot batteries and Aegis cruisers. Covell said the AADCS technology is a significant breakthrough for the Navy. Where to place the "shooters," historically, has been based on "guesswork," he said. "This system removes a lot of the guesswork."

Experiments with JFN, meanwhile, were designed to sort out procedures associated with "time-critical strike" operations, requiring commanders to have weapons on target" within minutes after the target has been spotted.

The JFN linked the Blue Ridge with a simulated Australian warship, a virtual DDX (the Navy's future destroyer) located in Dahlgren, Va., and an E-2C Hawkeye early-warning radar aircraft simulator, located in Newport, R. …

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