Pentagon acknowledging that today's era of the uncontested battlefield may be coming to a close

May 20, 2014
THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 20 May 2014. I'm seeing encouraging signs from the Pentagon that today's military senior leadership finally is acknowledging that military campaigns of the future probably won't be as easy as they've been for the past quarter century.  
THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 20 May 2014. I'm seeing encouraging signs from the Pentagon that today's military senior leadership finally is acknowledging that military campaigns of the future probably won't be as easy as they've been for the past quarter century.

Since the first Gulf War in 1990, the most formidable threats that U.S. military forces have faced were of the unconventional kind -- roadside bombs, hit-and-run guerilla attacks, and surprise terrorist incidents. There's been little experience against modern military threats involving sophisticated technology.

Much of the U.S. military's operations over the past few decades have involved so-called "uncontested" areas on land, sea, and in the air. That means a relative lack of enemy electronic warfare (EW) jamming, enemy fighter cover, formations of opposing main battle tanks, and coordinated communications and cyber warfare attacks.

It seems the Pentagon expects that's about to change.

Related: Air Force researchers choose Matrix for CERFER program to track targets amid RF jamming

One indication of this is the Air Force's CERFER program to develop radar and electronic warfare (EW) technology that improves target detection, tracking, imaging, classification, and identification in the midst of enemy RF jamming, spoofing, and other challenging conditions.

CERFER is short for Contested Environment Radio Frequency Exploitation And Research (CERFER). The Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, just this month awarded a $36 million contract to Matrix Research Inc. in Dayton, Ohio, to carry out the program, which seeks to address problems of concurrent detection, tracking, imaging, classification, and identification of targets.

This should come as good news, because it's one indication that military leaders are preparing for future battlefields with sophisticated threats. It's good to see the generals and admirals might be on their toes after all.

Related: Navy announces plan to deploy laser weapon aboard amphibious assault ship late this summer

Here's another indication: the rapid development of laser weapons for Navy surface ships. There's a very real military threat posed by Iran in the Persian Gulf involving swarm tactics of fast, maneuverable missile boats, coupled with anti-ship missiles and quiet diesel-electric submarines.

Laser weapons, once they improve, might be just the weapon to counter swarms of fast boats and missiles before they can penetrate defenses and attack a high-value target like a U.S. aircraft carrier.

But what about those quiet diesel-electric submarines? Well, just this week, Lockheed Martin received a $31.8 million contract modification to build nine advanced TB-37/U Multi-Function Towed Array (MFTA) sonar systems.

Related: Lockheed Martin to provide Navy with advanced towed-array sonar for surface warships

This kind of sonar trails along behind warships like cruisers, destroyers, and the Littoral Combat Ship at a variety of depths to detect, locate, and track quiet submarines that pose an immediate threat to carrier battle groups. It can just listen, or ping active to ferret out hidden subsea threats.

Something else encouraging is the possible restructuring of the Navy's Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program. While Navy requirements now call for a lightly armed UAV able to conduct surveillance missions in uncontested airspace, members of Congress are voicing concerns that a future carrier-based combat UAV not only should pack a bigger offensive punch, but also should be able to defend itself from high-technology EW and missile attacks.

Related: Military seeks to blend aircraft and sensors to keep air superiority in dangerous airspace

As if that were not enough, DARPA has kicked off the System of Systems Integration Technology and Experimentation (SoSITE) program that aims at maintaining air superiority in dangerous airspace where pilots risk having their sensors and communications jammed or their aircraft shot down.

The era in which U.S. military forces were able to overwhelm technologically inferior forces quickly and with devastating power couldn't last forever. senior military leaders today are facing up to that reality.

About the Author

John Keller | Editor

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

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