Rough Cuts

September 18, 2013  

Deptula: ‘Combat cloud’ is ‘new face of long-range strike’

Lt. Gen. (ret.) David Deptula

Lt. Gen. (ret.) David Deptula

Lt. Gen. (ret.) David Deptula, the USAF’s first deputy chief of staff for ISR and newly the dean of the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute, headed a panel at AFA’s annual conference yesterday. Here are his remarks:

As we’ve heard throughout the conference so far, our challenges are the growing complexity of our security environment; the declining share of resources available for defense; and our changing strategy to meet the two.

What I’d like to do is expand on these issues from a couple of related perspectives. One that emphasizes that we’re at a turning point in the character of warfare as a result of technology, and two, that’s good timing because we’re not going to be able to afford the last century paradigm of warfare where our objective was to put as many of America’s sons and daughters into harm’s way as quickly as possible.

However, to achieve the objectives of attaining superior U.S. warfighting capability at less cost will require more than new technology, adjusting manpower, or altering the number or type of widgets we operate. It will require applying concepts of operation enabled by information age capabilities in new ways. Information-centric, interdependent, and functionally integrated operations are the keys to future military success.

This will require an agile operational framework for the integrated employment of military power. That will entail a shifting away from the conduct of warfare segregated by the separate domains of land, air, sea, space and cyberspace—while still retaining those competencies—to truly integrated operations based on the functions of global situational awareness, strike, maneuver, and sustainment.

Linking operations across all domains with accurate information can be the basis of creating an omnipresent security complex that is self-forming, and if attacked, self-healing. This kind of complex could enable a deterrent effect that would induce stability wherever employed, or achieve decisive outcomes if force application is actually required.

The central idea is cross-domain synergy: the complementary — vice merely additive —employment of capabilities in different domains such that each enhances the effectiveness and compensates for the vulnerabilities of the others.

We’re moving into an era that’s much different than the one we just left. Moving from the 20th to the 21st century wasn’t just a convenient break point. It marks a shift from the industrial age of conducting warfare to an information age, and that trend is only going to accelerate.

There are people who have spent their entire careers employing weapon systems in a linear fashion to execute warfare. Today we’re faced with a different set of threat conditions. Accordingly, we have to change our thinking on how to effectively accomplish our security objectives, adapting them to the ubiquitous way information is collected, analyzed and distributed.

We can move further into the information age, or we can apply old concepts of operation to new equipment. Such a failure to adapt will prevent us from exploiting the potential of the acceleration of technology, and a multi-domain, multi-dimensional architecture that capitalizes on information exchange. To paint the picture I’m trying to describe, let me characterize it as a combat cloud—or an ISR/Strike/Maneuver/Sustainment complex with the potential to usher in an entirely different architecture for the conduct of war.

The next generation long-range ISR/strike aircraft will be key to this concept. We have the opportunity to create a paradigm shift in air operations that’s facilitated by technology, but that can only be realized by a shift in concepts of operation. We need to have imagination driving technology instead of just taking technologies that are handed to us and applying them in old ways.

Resource constraints are driving us to fewer and fewer aircraft types, which then drives the idea of multi-role to a whole new level. The notion of modularity suggests that we can accomplish different mission sets by changing the configuration of the aircraft itself. This may require an approach different from conventional aircraft design.

Imagine a common fuselage, but the wing structure can be changed based on how fast or how survivable or how low observable the overall aircraft needs to be for a particular threat environment. Or we change out the payload structure.

We need to build the next generation of aircraft to perform more than just one function. The key drivers of aircraft in the future will be modularly, survivability, and flexibility. We do not need any more aircraft that can only operate in uncontested airspace. We have plenty of those.

As we move into a more resource-constrained environment to fully exploit the next generation long-range ISR/strike aircraft, and our 5th generation F-22/F-35 sensor/shooter nodes, we can’t just treat them as elements of a strike package to go hit individual targets—they need to be incorporated in a fashion to create an information sharing and strike regime as part of a distributed system of systems.

Pairing up remotely piloted aircraft with manned aircraft will add to, and enable a degree of seamless operations between the two that we have yet been able to achieve. That’s the direction we need to move, and that’s the kind of potential that a long-range, ISR/strike aircraft, next generation unmanned combat air vehicle, F-35 and F-22 bring to the equation.

Through robust, secure, jam/intrusion-proof connectivity, fewer aircraft can achieve higher levels of effectiveness across a larger area of influence than was possible with older, legacy aircraft. The development and fielding of a long range ISR/strike aircraft with increased range and payload capacity, will significantly amplify the advantages of fifth generation fighters: battle managers will be able to exploit intelligence gathered by these aircraft nodes, and share it through resilient networks with air, sea, land, cyber, and eventually space-based forces, allowing them to respond dynamically to any contingency.

A system of systems approach can integrate complementary weapon systems with carefully tailored capabilities that are responsive to the demands of an Anti-access/Area Denial environment. By defining specific requirements during development, such weapon systems can be produced on a predictable schedule at predictable cost.

For some, the image of network-centric warfare suggests an overreliance on digital systems and centralized switching and focus. The reality is the opposite. It’s about enabling disaggregated, distributed operations over a fluid operational area.

It’s about combining digital tools with effective distributed decision-making. It’s more akin to a honeycomb than a network, and operations in, from, and through all domains in an integrated fashion will be at the heart of this complex.

This kind of “complex” is not just about “things,” it’s about integrating existing and future capabilities within an agile operational information framework guided by human understanding. It’s an intellectual construct enabled by technological infrastructure—and it’s eminently affordable when thinking in terms of cost per desired effect to assess real value, instead of the simple, but deceiving metric of individual unit cost. Hopefully, these perspectives generate some thought for our discussion this morning.

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