Many things can affect the nature of the battlefield, technological developments, combat methods, climatic changes, commercial developments, political developments etc. Following the US invasion of Iraq, the public agenda has been dominated by the anti-terrorism operations and the news of the civil war that took place in the asymmetrical field. While these issues continue to constitute the primary operative areas of the world armies; In recent years, asymmetric war, conventional symmetric war, and hybrid/mixed wars, in which the electromagnetic spectrum are intertwined, have started to dominate the agenda. In fact, detecting and analysing these fields is as difficult as performing an operation.
Developments that have been on the agenda for a long time cause various ideas to collide in the defense industry circles. On the other hand, new operational concept ideas, defensive and offensive equipment constitute the focus of the ideas.
The developments and issues that occupy the agenda in general terms are as follows:
- The effect of UAVs/UCAVs in asymmetric and symmetrical warfare and air defense of heavy armored vehicles
- Performing air defense missions with the elements other than primary air defense systems (UAV, Self-Propelled Howitzer, “Guided Missile” etc.) and communication of different network systems
- That fire support devices have longer range, more sensitive ammunition and their use with net.
New Generation Combat
UAV/UCAV and the lessons learned
The extraordinary success of Bayraktar TB2 and ANKA-S/B UAVs and UCAVs with a cost-effective ammunition such as MAM-L in Operation Spring Shield attracted attention notably.[I, II, III] Later, Bayraktar TB2’s “Hunt for Pantsir”[IV] in Libya and finally its hunter role in the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflicts in the Karabakh region in 2020 had sensational effects. The developments caused a lot of research and discussions on the effect of UAVs and UCAVs on the modern battlefield.[V] As well as the actual impact, the psychological impact of the UCAVs on the public and the soldiers who are in the front, was performed in an effective manner that could be the subject of academic studies.
However, evaluating these results with only the side of UAV/UCAV effect will be extremely inefficient in determining the place of these systems in the new generation combat understanding. It should not be forgotten that UAVs /UCAVs are not only hunters in the Operation Spring Shield, and their ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) roles provide huge gains.[VI] It should not be forgotten that in Operation Spring Shield, UAV/UCAV activities were heavily supported by fire support vehicles and air bombardment, and attack and support systems were used to support the operation in the electromagnetic spectrum. In addition, it should not be ignored that the security of the regions where UAVs /UCAVs operate is provided by F-16 warplanes supported by Peace Eagle (Barış Kartalı) Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft – against the warplanes belonging to the regime. Considering the aforementioned issues, it is concluded that instead of system-based evaluations, it is necessary to consider the difficulty of the management of the more complex operational area and how this is achieved.
Accordingly, when we look at 1st Figure, it is noticed that the success of UAVs/UCAVs is not only for products, but also the command control structure and related technical infrastructure that use these products are extremely important. The operations carried out by the Turkish Armed Forces in Syria were directed from the operation centers established under the Army Command. Thanks to the Turkish Armed Forces Integrated Communication System (TAFICS), information flow is provided to the operation center from the base commands of the units participating in the operation (examples: 8th Main Jet Base Command, 14th Unmanned Aircraft Systems Base Field Command). The information flow of the dynamic units such as artillery units can be transferred to the operation center by TASMUS (Tactical Field Communication System) through fire management systems. In addition, owing to this command-and-control infrastructure, not only the manned/unmanned elements of the Army and Air Forces, but also the Armed UCAVs of the Naval Forces have taken part in the region.
Turkey is also developing a command control system (“Electronic Warfare Command, Control and Coordination System-EHKKS”) for electronic warfare systems, such as the command control systems it has developed for artillery systems (ADOP-2000) and air defense systems (HERIKKS- Air Defence Early Warning and C4I System).[XVIII][XIX]
Looking at the field of Azerbaijan and Armenia, it is observed that the support of UCAVs/UAVs has shifted from fire support vehicles to attack drone systems, especially considering valuable targets. Likewise, Azerbaijan recorded the footage of the Harop loitering munition shooting the Armenian S-300 air defense system with Bayraktar TB2 UCAV. It has even been observed that the Orbiter type loitering munition entered the frame of TB2 while Bayraktar TB2 UCAV destroyed Armenian artillery. Azerbaijan’s use of artillery systems in the field has remained more traditional. There is not enough information to allow a sound assessment of what a joint operation structure is used in this region.
Establishment of alternative air defense elements and communication of different network systems
The USA had to pay more attention to the Pacific region as a result of China’s increasing military power in order to protect its increasing economic influence and to protect its interests, and the tensions in the Chinese sea region. The rapid development of China in terms of quality and quantity and rapid military growth to fill the gaps in terms of quality quantitatively put pressure on the USA to create new solutions.
In the event of a possible war between the US and China, the US military assets (especially Okinawa and Guam) that have spread to the Pacific region will have to deal with numerous threats. In such a scenario, it is known that dozens of ammunition such as aircraft, smart ammunition, cruise missiles will be directed by China to US elements. The USA is willing to expand and support its air defense umbrella in case of the possibility of existing land-based air defense systems will not be sufficient in such a scenario and / or possibility of not having time for rapid transfers of these systems. In addition, there are significant difficulties in terms of sustainability, as the destruction of targets with existing air defense systems causes a lot of cost. For this reason, it has a great importance to strengthen the air defense network with the existing systems.
The important attempts made by the USA in this direction are as follows:
- Being shot of the target drone which was simulating a cruise missile with a Self-Propelled Howitzer (SPH)
- In a test conducted by the US Army in September, the Self-Propelled Howitzer shot down a BQM-167 target aircraft simulating a cruise missile using Hypervelocity Projectile (HPV) ammunition reaching Mach-5 speeds. The test was conducted as part of the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) trial, which is a newly developed command and control system by the USA. The system combines data from many sensors such as satellites, ground-based radars and warplanes to produce a digital picture of the battlefield. The system which is supported by artificial intelligence, determines the friendly elements that can later destroy a certain target and creates a menu for the commanders to select the striking element.[VII]
- Another of the most important technologies that made this trial possible is BAE Systems’ high-velocity precision-guided HPV munition. The howitzer hit the target aircraft simulating a low-speed cruise missile for now. However, BAE Systems claims that the ammunition can also be hit by ballistic missiles that come from higher and faster. There is also a version of the ammunition developed for electromagnetic cannons. In this respect, the test in question is a light source for air defense with electromagnetic cannons.[VIII]
- Shooting the target aircraft simulating a cruise missile with UCAV
- In the test conducted by the US Army in September, a BQM-167 target aircraft was shot down with the MQ-9 Reaper UCAV with integrated AIM-9X Block II missile. The test was again carried out within the scope of the ABMS trial. Likewise, within the framework of the information transmitted to the UCAV ground control station by ABMS, the MQ-9 was directed to the target area and fired the MQ9X Block II missile, which has a bidirectional data link, to the target aircraft. Regarding the test, the US Air Force provided critical information to the ground control station by the Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) system. The ABMS system has shortened the overall time from integration and target reconnaissance to operational damage assessment.”[IX]
- Shooting target aircraft simulating cruise missile with fighter jet:
- In a test conducted by the US Army in December 2019, the F-16C fighter jet using APKWS II (70mm Hydra rocket fitted with a laser guidance system) shot down a BQM-167 target aircraft simulating a cruise missile. The components and/or command and control systems used in this test were not disclosed. However, when the test images were examined, it was seen that the fighter aircraft had AN/AAQ-33 Sniper targeting pod. It is possible for this pod to detect the target and direct the guided rocket.[X]
- Communication of aircraft using different link systems:
- On December 9, the U.S. Army performed an XQ-58A Valkyrie UAV arm flight with F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II warplanes at the Yuma Test Site. During the flight, two manned and one unmanned combat aircraft experimented with real-time data exchange with each other over the gatewayONE interface. For the first time, bidirectional data exchange was performed between the F-35 and F-22 in the trials. The US Air Forces stated that: “This test was the latest demonstration of the transformative combat impact of the open architecture that underpins the Advanced Combat Management System (ABMS)”. Valkyrie performed an autonomous flight with F-22 and F-35s for the first time, but connections with communication payloads were not successful in this attempt.[XX]
The structure that is being tried to be established can be described as a kind of Internet of Things – IoT, which will connect all weapons, sensors and information-communication systems. The name given to this structure, or rather the concept, by the US Department of Defense is Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2).
Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) represents a common command and control concept covering all operational environments. The goal of the US Department of Defense with JADC2 is to unify all detection, identification and tracking systems of all forces (air, land, sea, marines and space) in a single communication network.
Within the scope of the JADC2 concept, the US Air Force is developing a command control and communications system called the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS). In other words, ABMS is the solution proposed by the US Air Force on the way to JADC2; the backbone upon which the desired capability will be built.
The ABMS project was originally initiated for the development of a new system to replace the E-8C JSTARS battlefield command and control aircraft. The initial form of the acronym was “Airborne Battle Management System”. However, over time, a project on a distributed architecture, in which all sensors and weapons were connected, turned into the concept of “systems of systems”, to be more precise, and took its current name.
Fire support systems have more sensitive ammunition with longer range, and their use with net
Again, primarily by the USA, cost-effective, high-precision and multi-use ammunitions are developed and/or existing ammunitions are adapted to the usage concept in question.
Examples of these adaptations are:
- Access to longer ranges with the new generation howitzer cannon:
- Within the scope of the ERCA (Extended Range Cannon Artillery) Program carried out by the US Army, it is aimed that the existing artillery systems with a range of 30-40 km will shoot more accurately at ranges of 70-120 km. Within the scope of the program, the 39 caliber gun of the existing M109A7 KMO was replaced with a 58 caliber gun and tested under the designation of M109A8. Existing cannon tube lengthened by 2 meters, making it 450 kg heavier. Within the scope of the ERCA Program, the needs of the Pacific region are also emphasized directly.[XI]
- Propulsion ammunition for current and new generation howitzer systems:
- A ramjet-propelled howitzer ammunition, which is expected to reach a range of 100 km, is being developed under the XM1155 ERAP (Extended-Range Artillery Projectile) under the umbrella of the ERCA Program.[XII] Raytheon, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics companies are competing within the scope of the project while aiming to hit targets on land and sea with ammunition that can engage moving targets.[XIII]
- The destruction of the air defense threat by the fire support vehicle directed by the fighter aircraft:
- In a test conducted by the US Army artillery units and the US Air Forces in December 2019, a target simulating the air defense system was detected by the F-35 Lightning II fighter aircraft and the target information was transferred to the artillery units on the ground. Artillery units destroyed the target according to the information provided by the F-35 with the M142 HIMARS system.[XXI]The concept in question was handled exactly in the Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) promotional video released by Lockheed Martin.[XXII]
These tests by the USA are beyond the search for alternative weapons. The main factor in these current trials is gaining importance in terms of network-centered warfare and data exchange. Functioning of the integrated systems and, most importantly, the rapid processing of these data and sending them to the relevant units are at the center of the capability acquisition as seen in the example of shooting BQM-167 with Self-Propelled Howitzer. Therefore, the priority here; receiving the data very quickly from different sensors and equipment, processing properly and assigning in the appropriate command and control structure.
These developments have important common grounds. Considering the USA in particular, it is seen that these developments were made under the influence of China. Of course, China is not the only factor in this regard. Russia also has a significant influence on this issue. The A2/AD (Anti Access/Area Denial) strategy[XIV], supported by Russia and China with very different systems (air defense systems, electronic warfare vehicles, cruise missiles, artillery rockets, coastal defense batteries, warplanes etc), obliges the USA to create layered, integrated, cost-effective and rapid attack and defense concepts. However, on the other side of the coin; when the conflicts in Yemen region, Operation Spring Shield and Azerbaijan-Armenia conflicts in Karabakh region are examined, it is revealed that the necessity of layered and integrated attack and defense organs is not only against the adversaries such as China and Russia.
As always, this is the main reason why the “necessity of tanks” is discussed again. The events are only discussed on the basis of the system-based deficiencies and the capabilities of the opponents with insufficient structure which cause the results to be interpreted incorrectly.
On the location of tanks and heavily armored vehicles
Tanks have constantly faced deadly threats from the day they entered the battlefield to the present, and thus they continued their rapid development. The debates on the necessity of tanks and other related armored vehicles (ACV/APC) in today’s combat environment are far from the realities of the field. The need of the soldiers in the field for a deadly and effective means of fire still under heavy armor has not disappeared, on the contrary, it has increased. The operations carried out by the Turkish Armed Forces in Syria are the biggest examples of this. Despite the fact that the TAF has all kinds of air superiority and fire support, tanks have been the main supporter of the infantry and have maintained their place in the field as the main striking element in overcoming trenches, barricades and fortification points. However, it should be kept in mind that the main design periods of almost all tanks on the field today belong to the Cold War period. Therefore, it is not surprising that failure is inevitable in scenarios where every element from warplanes to infantry systems is transformed, new generation sensor capabilities are acquired, and these elements do not keep up with today’s network-based integrated warfare. Today, the need for mechanized troops is to operate under an integrated air defense and electronic warfare network. In addition, system-based active protection systems need hard-kill systems. Therefore, the subject of discussion is not whether tanks are necessary or not, but how the general structure of tanks and other related armored units should be shaped.
Towards the end
Considering all the factors in the article, the result is, although today’s popular phrase is “We should invest in education, science, technology, robotics and R&D”; The focus should be on “Joint Warfare and Network Centered Warfare”. However, the focus is not only on technological competencies and knowledge. For the war structure of the future, the communication of all combat systems within a certain network is not sufficient for them to be used jointly during the operation. Essentially, the staff structure, command and control organization and mission field planning in the armed forces should be modified and structured accordingly. It is not clear which command structure will be responsible for which region when a joint war zone is set up.
Network Centric Warfare includes the use of weapon systems, sensors and command and control systems in communication with each other and, relatively, a more horizontal hierarchy.
Essentially, Network Centric Warfare transforms information superiority into war power by effectively connecting the knowledgeable entities on the battlefield. Admiral Jay Johnson described network centric warfare as “a fundamental change from platform centric warfare”.[XXIII]
Joint Warfare is a military doctrine that involves the various service branches of the armed forces serving in a central unified command structure. It is an important part of this doctrine that elements such as Air Force, Navy, Special Forces, marines etc. can be used in combination on a national and international scale in a complementary way.
For example, in a scenario where a threat is perceived by the air force, and the closest element to this threat is considered to be a destroyer affiliated with the navy, and direct information is conveyed, which command will communicate and direct? Which forces will direct processes such as secondary damage assessments for the operation performed after the detection and diagnosis of the threat? Air Forces or Naval Forces?
So and so, in the Joint Concept Note 2/17 – Future of Command and Control report published by the Ministry of Defense of the United Kingdom, it is stated that the command and control structure of the multinational Helmand Task Force in Afghanistan could not respond to the complex structure of the region, and that two formal and unofficial command and control structures were formed. In addition, it is stated that the command and control structure, which was created unofficially for the region, provides more effective support to the environment.[XV] The document emphasizes the importance of considering allied countries and possible joint operation areas while creating a new generation command and control structure.
Operations with UCAVs/UAVs, shooting cruise missiles with Self-Propelled Howitzers, development of longer-range artillery munitions; the success of all these operative activities depends on the construction of a strong and effective command control and communication system. Although TAFICS (Turkish Armed Forces Integrated Communication System) within the TAF is the biggest example of this, the main element of the TAF’s use of different force elements (Land Forces – Air Force, Naval Forces – Air Force etc.) is the communication and command control infrastructure.
The key point of the battlefield of the future will be shaped by the aforementioned communication and command and control structures and the appropriate political-military force structures. It is seen that the command and control structures exemplified and/or described throughout the article form structures that are intertwined and contain different units. In Figure 3, the intersecting elements and different layers of the command and control structure take place. In Figure 3, the transition of command control, real notifications and movements in the field to the network structure, then becoming information, transferring from there to people, evaluating and re-virtualization are explained. While this situation reveals the complexity of command and control, it draws attention to the importance of virtual and real transition in the creation of the command control setup.
While considering the effectiveness of military structures in the formation of future command and control structures, it should not be forgotten that civil-political structures will also be included in this network and their effectiveness in the decision-making mechanism should be taken into account. This is one of the elements that complicates command control. In addition, the ability of link and communication systems of very different structures to exchange data in a common network is one of the most important technical difficulties.
Network centric warfare, which has many benefits, especially in fiction, also leaves important negative impressions such as data security and high costs.
P.S: David S. Alberts, American Director of Research for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration (OASD/NII) of that period, states “Considering the pace of evolution of ideas and experiences about Network-Centric Warfare, it is impossible for a ‘print media’ to keep up.” in the foreword of his book ““NETWORK CENTRIC WARFARE: Developing and Leveraging Information Superiority”. That book was first published in year 1999. Now, it needs to be expressed clearly that even digital media has difficulty in keeping up with this speed.
“I would like to thank Mr. Arda Mevlütoğlu for his comments and suggestions.”
Author: Fatih Mehmet Küçük
Translated by Elifnur Başaran
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