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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Long-Range Strike Puzzle Pieces

If there is such a thing as a "bomber mafia" in US defense circles, Northrop Grumman's Robert Haffa, recently retired director of the company's Analysis Center, is one of its ruling dons. Together with NGAC colleague Michael Isherwood, Haffa has a new article in Joint Forces Quarterly talking about the "family of systems" approach to long-range strike.

It's worth reading in full, but here are some highlights.

Like every other document that refers to LRS, the Northrop Grumman piece mentions the "central" role of "enablers" such as "survivable airborne ISR assets."  It goes on to list eight principal characteristics by which the other LRS systems are assessed. 

  • promptness: reach any target worldwide within 1 hour
  • persistence: maintain on station/position for ISR and time-sensitive targeting for more than 4 hours
  • time-sensitive: possess organic as well as integrated “find, fix, and track” capabilities to engage fixed or highly mobile targets
  • multitarget: engage more than one target nearly simultaneously
  • command and control: retasking assets to meet the commander’s intent in a denied communications environment
  • standoff: achieve desired effects from a range of 1,000 nautical miles or more
  • penetration: operate, succeed, and survive within a high threat environment
  • nonkinetic: provide options such as electronic attack and cyber capabilities.
Haffa and Isherwood identify five distinct classes of LRS weapons. Interestingly, they include the Virginia-class nuclear attack submarine (SSN) as a platform for cruise and ballistic missiles -- possibly because the Block 3 will carry a wider range of missiles, and because surface ship VLS tubes will be largely filled with SM-3-class weapons for missile defense.

This is how the authors see the systems stacking up against the eight requirements:
blog post photo

The authors drive a clear distinction between the Next Generation Bomber and the smaller Unmanned Combat Air System. The UCAS is important because of its "ability to engage and defeat a time-sensitive target in a matter of minutes owing to its persistence, sensor suite ... and kinetic or nonkinetic weapons systems".

However, the bomber can carry more and heavier weapons and "perhaps more important" provide an airborne command and control capability to knit all the systems together even if communications into and out of the theater are jammed.

The essay stresses the value of supersonic speed to future cruise missiles -- and notes that although the conventional prompt global strike (CPGS) weapon scores well against only three of the eight metrics listed above, it has an advantage in that it can be fielded soon. 

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