Military Embedded Systems

What sits on top of the kill chain?


February 27, 2018

Ray Alderman

VITA Standards Organization

WARFARE EVOLUTION BLOG: In my previous article, I promised that we would integrate the warfare models (RMAs [Revolution in Military Affairs], warfare domains, strategic offsets, the OODA Loop, and generations of warfare) with the kill chain.

WARFARE EVOLUTION BLOG: In my previous article, I promised that we would integrate the warfare models (RMAs [Revolution in Military Affairs], warfare domains, strategic offsets, the OODA Loop, and generations of warfare) with the kill chain. That noble goal has been overcome by events. A number of important reports have been released in the past few months, so it’s best that we take a look at those elements first. Otherwise, we risk confusion and lose some critical connections about how the kill chain is evolving.

President Trump unveiled his National Security Strategy (NSS) in mid December 2017. The upshot of this report is that with the decline of ISIS, Taliban, and Al Qaeda in the Middle East, the U.S. will turn its attention to peer threats China and Russia, and the rogue states of North Korea and Iran. We are shifting from counterterrorism back to warfare between nation-states.

-In January the Department of Defense (DoD) released their National Defense Strategy (NDS). The NDS is the military version of the NSS. It basically states that the US will build-up military assets in the Asia-Pacific region and the Atlantic, to counter China and Russia respectively. But, this change requires further exploration: the following narrative excludes the prospect of nuclear war. Neither China nor Russia want to trade missiles with the U.S., Iran doesn’t have the weapons, and Kim Jong Un (KJU) will only use nukes to protect his dictatorship.

To read more Warfare Evolution Blogs by Ray Alderman, click here.

Threats to U.S.

China is listed as the primary threat in the NDS. They have adopted an A2/AD strategy (anti-access/area denial), exhibited by the construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea (Mischief Reef, Subi Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Gaven Reef, Woody Island). These islands have been equipped with air defense missiles, naval bases, radar installations, and air strips for fighter jets. China has significant naval and air force assets: 120 deep water warships, over 200 coastal defense boats, 70 submarines, and the warm-water ports to deploy them. They have one aircraft carrier operational, and another under construction. And, they have about 2,500 fighter planes. China has a robust economy and lots of financial and manufacturing resources to fight a conventional war. The U.S. has been moving bomber wings (B-1, B-2, B-52) to Guam, fighter wings (F-22, F-35) to Japan, and carrier attack groups to the Pacific (Japan, South Korea, Hawaii). China wants to be the primary regional power in the Pacific. It is clear that military conflict with China will be an air-sea battle.

Russia is second on the list of threats in the NDS. They have about 100 warships and one elderly aircraft carrier that's currently in dry dock for the next two to three years for repairs and upgrades. Their navy is barely a shadow of the previous USSR naval fleet and most vessels are terribly antiquated. Russia has lost more ships to accidental on-board fires in the past seven decades than in battle. Their surface vessels consist mostly of green-water ships for coastal defense. However, those old ships are being outfitted with short range anti-ship missiles, the Russian version of A2/AD, since they don’t have islands or reefs offshore to build-up as bases. And they have about 60 submarines. Most of their ports are frozen-over in winter so deploying their naval assets is problematic. They also have about 2,200 fighter aircraft, but a smaller number are operational. On the ground, Russia has more than 20,000 tanks and 1 million soldiers, and the most likely location for a confrontation with the U.S. would be in the Suwalki Gap, the border between Lithuania and Poland. That’s how they would invade the Baltic states Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. It would be foolish for them to maneuver tanks and troops through Belarus, then Poland, and then through the Fulda Gap, to invade Germany against combined NATO troops. As Senator John McCain once said, "Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country." Their economy was about the same size as Canada’s in 2017, even with their huge energy exports, so they don’t have the financial and manufacturing resources to fight a conventional war for very long. Russia wants to be the primary regional power on the edge of Europe. It is clear that a conventional war with Russia would be an air-land battle.

North Korea is a rogue state with about 1 million soldiers, a lot of antiquated artillery pieces, and 5,000 tanks. They have about 900 fighter aircraft of questionable operational status, and little fuel to fly them. They have about 500 surface ships, mostly small brown-water coastal defense craft. And they have 75 small diesel submarines. North Korea’s GDP is about half the size of the state of Vermont’s economy. They don’t have the financial or manufacturing assets to fight any kind of war. Moving the bomber and fighter groups, and the carrier battle groups to the Pacific to counter China, are also in place for a war in Korea. Kim Jung Un just wants to maintain his dictatorship and not meet the same fate as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Ghaddafi. It is clear that a conventional war with North Korea would be a short naval battle (to remove their submarines), followed by an air-land battle.

Iran has about 1 million soldiers, 1,600 tanks, 2,300 artillery pieces, and 1,400 rocket launchers. Their navy consists of 230 shallow-water coastal defense surface craft and about 30 submarines. They also have about 250 fighter aircraft. Their GDP is the same size as the state of Maryland’s economy. U.S. Navy, Army, and Air Force assets in the region, to counter Russia, would already be in place for a conflict with Iran. After the enemy submarines are removed from action, it is clear that a conventional war with Iran would be an air-land battle.

U.S. strategic planning

-The Electronic Warfare Strategy (EWS) report was released only to military personnel and defense contractors in June 2017. This is super-secret stuff, so we don't want to tell our enemies what we are doing. Just consider that there’s a lot of discussion inside the Pentagon, to make the Electro-Magnetic (radio) spectrum another warfare domain (along with land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace). If the EM spectrum did become an official warfare domain, that would require a big budget, a general or admiral to run it, a seat on the joint chiefs at the Pentagon, lots of troops, and lots of equipment. Back in 2011, the Pentagon declared cyberspace a new warfare domain. The commander of the cyber domain is the Director of NSA (DIRNSA). There have been discussions about breaking-off the cyber command from NSA too, because it gives DIRNSA too much power. Putting EM spectrum command under NSA would only exacerbate that problem, and putting cyber and EM spectrum commands under Air Force, Navy, or Army would create a firestorm of inter-service rivalry.

-In early February, the Pentagon released the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). The new capabilities outlined in this report are small low-yield nuclear warheads for our present submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and for a new submarine-launched nuclear-armed cruise missile. Low-yield is defined as something less than the explosive power of the Hiroshima bomb (less than 15 kilotons). These weapons are a response to Russia’s recent aggression in Crimea, Ukraine, and Syria. This report names Russia as our primary nuclear-peer enemy. These low-yield nuclear weapons would be used to stop a Russian tank invasion of the Baltic states, coming through the Suwalki Gap. Now you know how the NDS feeds into the NPR. And, you can also see how low-yield nuclear weapons are entering the conventional-weapon kill chain. These new tactical weapons assume that we can fight a limited nuclear war against fielded military forces, without the destruction of cities and populations by high-yield strategic nuclear weapons.

-The Ballistic Missile Defense Review (BMDR) was due to be released in late February, but I could not wait for it. I had to get this article finished to meet the publishing deadline. However, there has been speculation by credible sources about what that document contains, so let’s include that here. We have 44 mid-range interceptor missile systems presently deployed in California and Alaska. Speculation is that we will increase those to 100 missile intercept systems, to guard against an attack from North Korea. We will also see requests for more Patriot, THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense), and Aegis-Ashore intercept missile systems. Many of those will go to allies in Europe and the Middle East, to intercept Russian or Iranian missiles. We’ll have to wait and see the details of this report.

-The FY 2019 DoD budget (NDAA or National Defense Authorization Act) was released in February. The Army got the largest amount, followed by the Navy and then the Air Force. The Army requested 5,113 JLTVs (Joint light Tactical Vehicles), 135 M-1 Abrams tank upgrades, 30 Amphibious combat vehicles, 197 armored multi-purpose vehicles, 60 attack helicopters, and lots of ammunition. The Air Force requests 77 new F-35 fighters. Also, they will begin phasing-out the B-1 and B-2 bombers as more B-21 bombers come into service. They will upgrade and keep the B-52s until the bomber fleet reaches 175 B-21s. The Navy requests three new DDG-51 destroyers, two Virginia class submarines, and 24 new F/A-18 fighter jets. The Army has been in the Pentagon's doghouse ever since the FCS (Future Combat System) program imploded. Now, it looks like the Navy is in budgetary purgatory for banging their ships into commercial vessels in the Pacific regularly, and the Army has been forgiven. There’s lots more in the 2019 DoD budget, but not enough room to discuss it here. It’s best that you read the document.

So, there you have it. You should read the NSS, NDS, speculative EWS articles, NPR, BMDR, and the NDAA in that order. Or, you can save some time and read the summary and analysis articles about them on the web. They all feed into the 2-dimensional kill chain in one way or another.

But, you also need to understand how the multi-domain/cross-domain warfare strategy is transforming the kill chain into the "Kill Web". Once we integrate RMAs, warfare domains, strategic offsets, the OODA Loop, and generations of warfare into the kill chain, you’ll see the transformation to the 6-dimensional kill web more clearly. That’s the topic of our next episode, unless we are overcome by events again.

Ray Alderman, Chairman of the Board of VITA, presents how embedded electronics and open standards enable enhanced C4ISR - from sensors to signal processing to real-time communications. Join us on August 30 at 2pm EST with Military Embedded Systems and VITA Technologies for the webcast titled: Leveraging Open Standards and C4ISR for Multi-domain Challenges in Modern Warfare. To Register, visit:


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