Network Centric Warfare: Cooperative engagement capability of navies

December 25, 2020 12:43 PM

At the most fundamental level, supporters of NCW advise strategists, planners, operators, and even members of the acquisition group to contemplate about warfighting in terms of nodes and networks instead of just weapons platforms.

network centric warfare, Cooperative Engagement Capability, military operations in NATO, Russia and China, Indian navy's NCW, Russian Navy's NCW, INS Vikramaditya, MiG-29KfightersAt the core of Network Centric Warfare is to first fight for information predominance.

By Debajit Sarkar

For better or worse, acknowledged or not, Network-centric warfare (NCW) and its basic principles like Cooperative Engagement Capability are now entrenched in much of current thinking about military operations in NATO, Russia and China. At the most fundamental level, supporters of NCW advise strategists, planners, operators, and even members of the acquisition group to contemplate about warfighting in terms of nodes and networks instead of just weapons platforms. At its most elementary, this means that designing, sustaining, and defending connectivity (i.e., networks, varying from radios to fibre optics) is at least as significant as ships, aircraft, tanks, satellites, and sensors. At the core of NCW is to first fight for information predominance.

Recent Developments: Russian Navy’s Network Centric Warfare Plan

The Russian Ministry of Defense announced last week that the nuclear submarines and Project 22350 frigates of the Russian Navy can be used to fire the hypersonic cruise missile Zircon at enemy targets. This seems to be a part of the Russian Navy’s new net centricity plan, which means fighter planes and submarines can scout targets that other platforms can subsequently engage. Forward scouting submarines will be eavesdropping for targets and plotting their locations using sonar and will transmit target information to blue force platforms faraway away. Hypersonic cruise missiles are one of the cornerstones of any NCW plan because speed and precision make it possible to utilize specific battlefield opportunities and operate at a speed calculated to overpower an enemy’s capability to respond. Hypersonic missiles offer a highly agile naval force, the ability to change from one rapid, precise operation to another at will and to compress multifaceted targeting procedures to fit the almost real-time dimensions of the battlefield.

Indian Navy’s Network Centric Warfare Capabilities

The Tri-Services Commanders Conference held annually focuses on joint planning and execution of ‘Network Centric Warfare’ scenarios on a regular basis. The Indian Navy already has a limited NCW capability in place where ships, fighter planes and submarines can scout targets that other platforms can subsequently engage. This means the fighter planes don’t need to fly far and wide with high drag large and heavy anti-ship missiles. Instead, they can use sophisticated sensors and equipment to locate targets fit for engaging and submarines can do the same as well as small surface, subsurface and airborne drones presumably. If the various platforms of the Indian Navy – surface combatants, submarines, fighter planes, helicopters, drones are comprehensively networked to create near-real-time situational awareness the Navy could act constantly because they would no longer need to pause before deciding on further action; the information and coordination required would already be there. To this effect, the Indian Navy’s design lab and the Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO) need to develop not just state of the art sensors and information technologies that can compress this process significantly but also accelerate the observe–orient–decide–act (OODA) cycle and the process of generating combat power. A force-level vision is crucial in order to devise and design the Sensor Resource Management—whose performance and system boundary traversesBattle Force platforms. Having the best amalgam of information, sensors, and communications that comprise the information backplane of network-centric operations. Therefore, the Indian Navy can change the mode, course, and objectives of their actions, just as fast as they can bring speed and precision to targeting.At a time when the PLA-Navy is trying to dominate maritime operation in the Indian ocean the Indian Navy must focus on developing effective NCW capability.

If they are operating now with the INS Vikramaditya in dry dock I would expect a group of Indian surface combatants in the middle of the ocean won’t expect too much from MiG-29Kfighters in terms of support. Radar and sonar and satellite sources would probably suffice in peacetime. They have what are called commanders, who get information placed in front of them and they issue orders. A MiG-29K launched in the general direction from a radar or radio emission flying perhaps 600km and operating at 10km altitude might detect a target that turns out to be an enemy ship. The MiG 29K probably does not have anti-ship missiles with it… it probably has air to air weapons for self-defence in a lighter low drag load to allow higher speed while maintaining operational range. If it did have suitable anti-ship missiles then the commander could decide whether to attack or not and if they decided to attack then those heavy high drag Kh-35s or Kh-31s the MiG 29K was carrying could be launched at the target. It could monitor the results and then depart… of course if there are large numbers of enemy ships it could use its radar to locate them identify them and pass location and ID information back to the blue force ships and then depart the area before it gets engaged. Accelerating away and perhaps dropping to a low level if being tracked by missile targeting radar.

It would be flexible and would be largely based on the situation. During peacetime, the MiG would scan for targets and ID them and then continue its patrol. Submarines are more useful when the enemy does not know they are there. The submarine detects the target and passes information back to the ship and the ship launches the BRAHMOSsupersonic missile (and in the near future a hypersonic version of the BRAHMOS). But of course, the submarine could launch a Harpoon missile too if it wanted to. However, remaining quiet and not launching weapons means it can remain where it is and monitor the results of the attack while looking for other enemy threats.

Network Centric Warfare: The Payoff

For navies, the real pay-off in network-centric operations is foreshortening conflict by causing the adversary to concede long before his means to challenge have been exhausted, or long before additional friendly forces could be expected to reach in the crisis area. This efficacy revolves around the proficiency of network-centric forces to carry out precise effects-based operations, that is, result-oriented, activity focused on rival behaviour. The purpose of these campaigns is psychological rather than physical. Therefore, they are concentrated on the enemy’s decision-making procedure and aptitude to take decisive action in some coherent manner—particularly getting inside the enemy’s OODA loop and prompting exploiting chaos. The know-how, precision, speed, and swiftness brought by network-centric operations constitute the price of admission into this realm.

(The author is a subject matter expert on competitive intelligence and market research in the aerospace and defence industry. Views expressed are personal.)

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