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CAPT Wayne P. Hughes Jr., USN (Ret.) has written his latest (and perhaps most straightforward) explanation of why the Navy needs small combatants.

USS Cushing DD797
USS Cushing (DD-797)

 "Single-Purpose Warships for the Littorals" (U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, vol. 140 no.6, June 2014).  Also unabridged copy, 21 March 2014.  Relevant excerpts:

  • In this cost-constrained era, when it comes to responding to threats in dangerous coastal waters, a single-purpose ship is best suited to the task.
  • Today, the ever-more-capable missile threat is even more demanding. The precision tracking, targeting, and homing capabilities of modern projectiles have enhanced the value of small combatants because they can distribute offensive power more widely than a DDG or an aircraft carrier too big to launch and recover modern combat aircraft. When ships must sail in dangerous waters, a single-purpose vessel is far superior to an open-ocean multipurpose one.
  • New Tactics and Methods. [...] The details of every littoral operation are different, but it is obvious that each requires new and flexible Fleet doctrine and tactics. New methods of command and control will be important to naval tactics. CSGs and ESGs cannot function and fight without detectable electromagnetic radiations within the ideal of “network-centric warfare.” But command-and-control of flotilla operations can exploit new ways of fighting under what might be called “network-optional warfare,” a term coined by Professor Don Brutzman, who is pursuing a variety of technologies to enhance semi-silent and undetectable operations at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS). We can become adept at infrequent, hard-to-detect emissions to conduct sudden attack in the littorals. Achieving proficiency and cooperative action will take tactical development and training, done most usefully in the waters where fighting may ensue, and in collaboration with the countries with prior experience that we are supporting with a combined “1,000-Ship Navy.”

It looks like Professor Hughes's insights are two or three steps ahead of everyone, once again.  I think that he is right to say that NOW offers the opportunity to rethink command and control (C2) for maritime littoral warfare, which is not entrenched in current practice, and must be agile in order to impact (and also deter) future threats to freedom of the seas.  But he still gets credit (from me at least) for the term.  I still remember -- clear as a bell -- sitting in his office last fall, briefing him on our latest progress with Optical Signaling.  Suddenly he interrupted to declare, "You're not talking about Network-Centric Warfare, you're talking about Network-Optional Warfare!"  That seed crystal of an idea has been clarifying and refactoring many tactical possibilities ever since. 

Lots more work awaits, we will keep charging ahead with Network-Optional Warfare (NOW).  Thank you sir!

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