Staying Ahead of the Curve
Air dominance is essential in modern warfare. As a force’s ability to control airspace and protect ground and sea-based troops, air dominance is a game-changer in every conflict. According to the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, future U.S. air forces will encounter “integrated air defenses of far greater sophistication and lethality than those fielded by adversaries of the 1990s.”
This situation sounds foreboding; but there is comfort in knowing that the U.S. and its allies have maintained air superiority for more than six decades – not since 1953 have U.S. ground forces suffered a loss of life in an airborne attack by enemy forces. Today and in the future, the air dominance of the U.S. and its allies will remain as important as ever.
A system of systems
Lockheed Martin has been working on next-generation air dominance-related activities with the U.S. Armed Services and most recently the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to determine the best way to maintain air dominance in the post-2035 world.
In October of 2012, Frank Kendall, Undersecretary of Defense, tasked DARPA to explore concepts for the next generation of air dominance. In an attempt to break the battle space into smaller pieces, DARPA defined the following 10 areas: next-generation air dominance platforms, electronic warfare, weapons, sensors, networks, cyber, precision navigation and timing, command and control intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and space.
“This decomposition may not be perfect and will most certainly be fine-tuned over time, but it does provide a logical construct for looking at the future battle space,” said Mark Jefferson, director of Next Generation Air Dominance programs at the Skunk Works®.
Breaking next generation air dominance into 10 areas provides a mechanism to absorb the activities taking place across the air, land, sea, space, and cyber domains in the battle space as well as providing an organizing construct for analyzing it.
“The major challenge for Lockheed Martin will be integrating across the 10 domains. Adopting a multi-domain, net-enabled, system-of-systems approach to air dominance development will equip U.S. Joint Forces to achieve the freedom to conduct air operations at any given time and place,” he added.
The key is that technology development should outpace threat development to enable right-time fielding of necessary air dominance capabilities. The 2035 battle space will be a tough, anti-access (preventing U.S. forces entry into a theater of operations), aerial denial (preventing U.S. forces freedom of action in the more narrow confines of the area under an enemy’s direct control) environment, also known as A2AD. This will force both the U.S. and adversary nations to have their respective systems linked via multiple networks. These networks will allow forces to exchange battle management command and control data, sensor data, and weapons data across and among the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of warfare.
“Given today’s threats and potential emerging threats around the globe, the U.S. and its allies cannot afford to accept a status quo, or they will quickly lose their ability to ensure adequate responses to such threats,” said Jefferson.
Next generation operations
“We believe next-generation platforms will represent another quantum leap in capability,” Jefferson said. “A key differentiator from previous new aircraft development programs is the need for assured universal information exchange of decision-quality information across the multiple domains of tomorrow’s battle space.”
Manned-unmanned teaming not only demands the real-time information exchange capability described above – it’s also something that will likely be required to achieve air dominance for generations to come.
Imagine an F-22 or F-35 formation leading four unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) on a mission. Now imagine those UAVs acting collaboratively, interpreting a single tactical order from the F-22s or F-35s and splitting that order into individual tasks.
That scenario describes collaborative operations – a technology the Lockheed Martin team is currently developing and simulating, and more significantly, something that will help our fighters maintain control of the skies.
“You drastically alleviate the pilot’s burden by allowing UAVs to not only communicate, but also to collaborate and break down tasks,” said Ed Moon, site lead at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control Autonomous Systems. “The pilot no longer has to plot each vehicle’s way points, determine individual assignments or monitor fuel levels. At the same time, you can cover a significantly larger area of operation without the costs of additional manned aircraft or risk to human life. It’s efficient and effective.”
“There are many questions we’re attempting to answer,” Moon continued. “How many UAVs are needed on a team? What mix of capabilities should those UAVs carry? What missions are best suited for manned-unmanned teaming? That’s what our simulations will demonstrate – what’s most effective for what mission.”
It’s clear that beyond 2035, the combat environment will be intense. Moreover, evolutionary linear thinking – leveraging the best of today – will only get us part way there when it comes to providing our forces decisive combat capability, or fighting at the time and place of their choosing without any response from the adversary.
“Revolutionary thinking, that’s educated, but not encumbered by our past experiences will be required to produce the non-linear revolutionary combat capabilities required for success,” said Jefferson. “This approach will keep us ahead of the curve.”
April 10, 2014
- Lockheed Martin has been working on next-generation air dominance-related activities with the U.S. Armed Services and most recently the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to determine the best way to maintain air dominance in the post-2035 world.
- The key is that technology development should outpace threat development to enable right-time fielding of necessary air dominance capabilities.
- A key differentiator from previous new aircraft development programs is the need for assured universal information exchange of decision-quality information across the multiple domains of tomorrow’s battle space.