Admiral Arthur Wilson was the First Sea Lord of the British Royal Navy. He considered submarines “underhanded, unfair and damned un-English!". The “unfair” capability of submarines, first deployed in mass during in World War I, was incredibly disruptive to the battleship commanders. The ability of a submarine to remain undetected until the exact moment of attack and then immediately disappear was a fundamental shift in naval warfare. Admiral Wilson had instructed torpedo and mine warfare in the Royal Navy and knew their power. The proliferation of submarines was so unsettling to Admiral Wilson, he wanted the crews of enemy submarines captured and hanged, normally the punishment for pirates.
During 1990’s collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States was extremely concerned about Russian ballistic missile submarines. There was a threat of sales to the highest bidder or even a rogue commander seeking revenge launching an attack. The power of these vessels required constant attention. It was too provocative to send a Carrier Battle Groups near Russian territorial waters. Instead, US nuclear attack submarines watched their adversary. Every movement of Russian submarines was then reported to the Pentagon, who briefed the President daily.
Now submarines have taken spy duties to new levels. The Seawolf class submarine, USS Jimmy Carter's primary mission is espionage and surveillance. It can interdict or manipulate communications cables deep under the surface of the ocean. The USS Jimmy Carter can insert Special Operations Forces or conduct various types of electronic warfare. It retains the ability to fight other modern submarines or surface ships, but it has many other ways to effect the enemy’s ability to fight.
To remain undetected while having various ways effect the enemy’s ability to fight is a capability our ground forces need. The fight in the Ukraine has shown we need forces that can loiter in the battle space, mass at decisive points, cause maximum combat effects, disperse, then reconsolidate, all undetected.
We need to fight like submarines not battleships.
The United States faces a growing complexity of threats. We lack cohesive deployment of the many capabilities to meet these next generation threats. Senior US leadership has recognized this. Mosaic Warfare is the response to this capability gap. We have appropriately relied on the SFODA to operate within the gray space where Title 10, Title 22, and Title 50 merge.
We need the ability for long duration tactical level units like the SFODA, Marine infantry, or Army infantry to operate undetected in complex high threat environments. Those units differ from other parts of SOF such as SMU’s, Ranger Battalions, and Naval Special Warfare. SMU, NSW, and Rangers still need the same low electronic signature focus. However, they are much more likely to insert, seize the objective, and exfiltrate within hours. This is an effective counter to enemy quick reaction forces.
Long duration tactical units such as an SFODA may withdraw quickly from an objective but will still blend back into a non-permissive environment, making enemy quick reaction forces a concern. The Army and Marine Infantry units seize and hold objectives. They expect threat combined arms, artillery, and electronic counter attacks. All small units need to minimize detectability. For units who seize known locations, who expect the enemy to mass forces against them, the ability to remain undetected is directly proportional to survivability.
Digital emissions are the new white light.
In Ranger School or the SFQC, instructors will “blow you out” of your patrol base using artillery simulators for any errant flash of light. Light discipline is as old as warfare itself. Running blind at night for 300 meters in the forests of North Carolina or Georgia will permanently remind students of one very clear fact. There is no better way to incur casualties than giving away your position.
The war in Ukraine has shown the ability to determine the location of your adversary is increasing in its speed and accuracy. Fires onto those detected units is becoming increasingly fast, often within seconds. Static forces and logistics are quickly becoming statistics. The inability of Russian Forces to conduct effective route reconnaissance has exacerbated their issues.
The Ukrainians has also amplified the complexity for the Russians. The Ukrainians do their best to obfuscate the situational picture the Russians see.
The ability to disperse and mass as needed is a key attribute to the success of these operations.
The massive electromagnetic profile of the modern U.S. ground force is massive. For 20 years we fought against an enemy in an insurgency/ low-intensity style of conflict. Our adversaries never had air dominance, counter battery, or electronic attack capabilities. This will not be the case in the future. Additionally, this lack of modern warfare structures and equipment slowly ingrained institutional norms within DoD that would be exploited by a near-peer competitor.
The politicization of combat operations by domestic antagonists required strict operational control of SOF and GPF engaged in combat. The force protection structure that enabled very low casualty rates may do the opposite against a modern threat. After 20 years, constant electronic communications have become the lifeblood of our command structures. A U.S. Brigade could not function without masses of digital transmissions across all echelons of command. This electronic dependency is the most likely method of being found, fixed, and attacked by an adversary. Modern U.S. ground forces must re-develop the ability to operate in a non-electronic “analog” mode. Comfort with maps, compass, protractors, and grease pencils should find their way back into every level of leadership.
The Economy of Force is the judicious employment and distribution of forces. The ability to mass and disperse with the minimum of detectability is a key capability moving forward. The ability to strike without the opportunity for a counter strike will have exponential effects on enemy forces. We need to attack the enemy while preserving our own combat power. This has combat effects that constrict enemy forces and widely benefits U.S. forces. It also helps to mitigate the U.S. Military’s domestic antagonists such as media activists and political malcontents.
There are analogies that demonstrate the concept. For example, how the energy of a tidal wave acts in the ocean. Currents move under the surface and are very hard to detect. The energy is channeled to a location, all under the surface. Once the energy reaches a peak it breaks the surface, for the first time massing in one location. It soon smashes into the shore, often leaving little time to react. After washing over the shore, it recedes back under the surface.
We have examples within our own force structure that we should emulate.
Fighter aircraft have large and powerful radar systems. These radar systems stay off for a large amount of combat operations. When radars emit their energy to detect targets, adversaries also easily detect them. Imagine using a spotlight to find people in a completely dark warehouse. If you are in the spotlight, everyone knows it. In addition, everyone knows where the spotlight is coming from. In the days of stealth aircraft, exposing your position is a good way to become the next target.
To offset this Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft have massive 360-degree radar systems. These aircraft flood the area with high power radar emission from a safe standoff distance. They flood the warehouse with IR light while wearing NVGs. They are able to see everything, then direct combat assets to attack specific threats. This enables the aircraft under the control of the AWACS to keep as low of an emission profile or “stay as dark” as possible. This radically increases survivability of the entire force. AWACS controlled stealth aircraft creates multiple problems for threat aircraft. Any intrusion into areas controlled by AWACS allows U.S. stealth aircraft vectored into positions of advantage against them.
Another example to emulate comes from under the surface. Submarines are even less likely to use active sensing systems. The active sonar of a submarine is standing under a spotlight in our warehouse. Yes, you can see exactly what is around you. However, everyone now knows exactly where you are. This is wearing a sign around your neck that says “Shoot Me” in a combat environment.
To operate effectively in their combat environment, submarines use their passive sonar to listen. They search for the telltale signs of enemy ships or submarines. Quietly they slip through the dark searching for the sounds of the enemy. Even when the fire weapons, a submarine takes great precautions to ensure the enemy has a very difficult time figuring out where they came from.
I suggest that our ground forces adopt similar capabilities.
We need to explore the developing the ability for ground forces to be managed similar to AWACS systems. I propose dividing the battlespace into unit sized patrol areas. The larger total information collection system (SIGINT, HUMINT, OSINT, ISR, and other active collection apparatus) allows command nodes to select targets from outside counter battery fires. The unit level element reacts with the minimum of communication between echelons. Minimums of message brevity and in overall signal signature. I suggest minimal signals between adjacent units but de-confliction should have multiple layers. There is also the patented BOSS system submitted to the NGSW-FC program. The architecture of the BOSS system scales with the echelons of command. Encryption is a key feature of BOSS’ internal block chain system.
Much like submarines, passive collection systems should become the norm. Plumb Precision Products is developing laser range finding detection, disruption, and auto back azimuth calculation. The ability to detect laser range finding emissions took a large leap last year.
In 2021 Marie Zandi, Kate Sugden, and David M. Benton developed a laser detection system with a 360-deg horizontal field of view. It is able to detect weak, continuous laser sources even against bright background light. The system is composed of a Mach–Zehnder interferometer with one arm modified with a piezo-mounted mirror. Even in prototype form, it has fully functional a 360-deg horizontal field of view. It is currently accurate to an estimated angular precision of ±5 degrees. This is a key capability to determine the back azimuth of LRF emissions for counter battery fire.
Plumb Precision has early stage technologies for “spoofing” Laser Range Finders. Plumb Precision uses altered reflections and accelerating beam divergence techniques of the Laser Range Finder to disrupt accurate readings. Eventually false maximum beam spikes, on the proper wavelength, in the exact back azimuth will make adversary laser emissions a locating beacon for friendly forces.
Laser Range Finders will eventually be the active sonar “shoot here sign” of ground combat.
Other patented passive ranging technologies already developed and under development within Plumb Precision will provide U.S ground forces with unmatched capabilities. Plumb Precision already has the ability to determine range to target, compensate for atmospheric variables, and provide an emission free real time targeting solutions. In July of 2021, as part of a larger submission, a more advanced variant was briefed to USSOCOM. Plumb Precision and a partner company demonstrated a digital application of these technologies at Ft. Benning Georgia. As these technologies mature, we will add to this capability with increasing accuracy and precision. Eventually threat forces who currently mimic our tactics and equipment developed over the last 20 years will fall another generation behind.
It is time for our ground forces to stop fighting like battleships and learn to fight like submarines.