The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 2/14/20
Digitalization: From Use Cases to Implementation
Alix Leboulanger, Research Associate
February features several events that could provide insight into the state of military digitalization. Earlier this week, the US Navy and Boeing successfully tested manned-unmanned teaming flights to assess technology compatibility and efficiency. The US Navy flew two unmanned E/A-18G Growlers, with a third E/A-18G acting as mission control for both unmanned systems. The purpose of this test was to demonstrate how the Growlers and the F/A-18 Super Hornet could conduct combat missions with unmanned systems from the cockpit. Aside from networking capabilities in safe and hostile environments, future CONOPS for manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) missions, and new rules of engagement, a key area of focus will be the data collected during missions. Data collection is a key requirement for many such missions, as it supports everything from situational awareness to decision-making, and the amount of data collected utilizing this new unmanned capability could yield a significantly larger collection compared to just operating one manned aircraft.
The second digital highlight of the week came from Israel. Rafael will provide the Israeli Defense Force with a networked sensor-to-shooter system, dubbed Fire Weaver. The system has been developed by Rafael and the Directorate of Defense Research and Development of the Israeli Ministry of Defense. According to the press release, Fire Weaver is leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to process and evaluate combat theater data that will help soldiers prioritize fire allocation and reduce risks of friendly fire and collateral damages. This could be a game changer in urban warfare by improving combat awareness to reduce the number of casualties. This system is also being taken into consideration by German armed forces. Unlike other announcements on testing digitalized platforms, the Fire Weaver is an example of a direct implementation of AI in the battlefield.
Lastly, leading software solutions and AI-based technology firm MASA Group was awarded a contract on February 10 to provide training and simulation services to the Spanish Army. The AI-based training software, known as SWORD, is aimed at improving combat readiness for commanding officers. It can be cloud-based to facilitate collective, interoperable, and remote military exercises in an open and simulated environment. In this case, AI is expected to provide more realistic and personalized training experience to improve the learning curve.
It’s clear from these examples that militaries around the globe are emphasizing the need to integrate more AI-based technologies into future capabilities. These AI-based solutions demonstrate the ways AI are being implemented and tested onto various platforms and systems, ranging from training and simulation to operating unmanned aircraft. As China and Russia also push to integrate and develop AI-based capabilities, one should expect Western countries to aggressively finetune these emerging technologies.
On February 10, the US Department of Defense released its FY2021 defense budget. Of the $740.5 billion allocated towards defense, the US Air Force (USAF) portion of the budget is $169 billion, which is a $900 million increase from the FY2020 budget. However, included in the FY2021 budget for the first time is the newly created Space Force, which now houses the USAF’s space programs. The DoD allocated $15.4 billion of the USAF’s unclassified budget toward Space Force. Some of the major programs under Space Force include the National Security Space Launch, Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared satellites, and GPS III Follow-On. Research and development represent a significant amount of the Space Force’s budget, totaling $10.3 billion. For non-space programs, the Air Force request prioritizes next-generation and fighter programs. The B-21 received $2.8 billion in development funding, while the Air Force is looking to acquire another 48 F-35As for $5.8 billion and 12 F-15EXs for $1.4 billion. The Air Force is also actively retiring older aircraft in order to free up funding for future capabilities. The Air Force has proposed to retire 13 KC-135s, 16 KC-10s, 24 C-130Hs, 17 B-1Bs, and 24 RQ-4s (Block 20/30) in the coming year. However, Congress has frequently blocked attempts by the Air Force to retire aircraft early and may well do so again.
The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency approved a potential Foreign Military Sale to India of an Integrated Air Defense Weapon System. The potential $1.8 billion sale would include five AN/MPQ-64FI Sentinel radars that would be linked to fire control and launch systems for both AMRAAM and Stinger missiles. The sale would provide India with 118 AIM-120C-7/C-8 missiles and 134 FIM92Ls for use with the system. The deal comes ahead of a potential visit by President Trump later in the month that could also see the country finalize a $2.6 billion deal for 24 MH-60R maritime helicopters.
On February 7, the US State Department approved the sale of up to 200 AGM-158C Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles (LRASM) to Australia, worth up to $990 million. This is the first time LRASM has been approved for export. Australia is increasingly interested in long-range strike to control its sea lane approaches. LRASM will likely address Project 3023 Phase 1, “Enhanced Maritime Strike for Air Combat Capability,” which procures anti-ship missiles for Australia’s F-18 Super Hornets. The missile is already integrated on the F-18 Super Hornet. But LRASM may also address Project SEA 4100, the first phase of which procures anti-ship missiles for Australia’s surface fleet. The future Hunter-class frigates will be equipped with 48 Mk41 vertical launch system cells, with which LRASM has also been integrated. Other projects that pertain to long-range strike include the second phase of SEA 4100, which procures a deployable land-based anti-ship missile system, and a long-range rocket system that can provide fire support up to 300km.
On February 11, the Polish Navy purchased the Double Eagle Semi-Autonomous Remotely Operated Vehicle (SAROV) system from SAAB. As the name implies, the Double Eagle SAROV can function as either a remotely operated vehicle or an autonomous underwater vehicle; it will be used for mine reconnaissance and mine disposal. The new Double Eagles will be delivered between 2021 and 2022, at which time they will be integrated into the Polish Navy’s Kormoran II mine countermeasure vessels. The Double Eagles will most likely be used to help secure Poland’s territorial waters amid ongoing regional tension with Russia.