Navy Considers it’s Beyond-the-Horizon Future

The Navy is in the early phases of choosing new sensors, aircraft and weapons it could add to its cruise missile intercept system.

The Navy is in the early phases of considering new sensors, aircraft and weapons it could add to its beyond-the-horizon strike and cruise missile intercept system, service officials said.

The system, called Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air, or NIFC-CA, uses a Standard Missile 6 and an E-2D Hawkeye aircraft as an airborne sensor to track and destroy approaching cruise missiles at much longer distances than existing technologies can.

NIFC-CA uses an airborne sensor and the SM-6 missile to enable ships to locate and destroy approaching threats from distances well beyond the existing radar horizon, Navy officials said.

Although still in the middle of a rigorous testing regiment in preparation for deployment in 2015, the NIFC-CA system is showing promise and leading Navy thinkers, developers and futurists to contemplate additional uses for the technology.

“Can we develop other sensors which we can incorporate into the architecture of the future? What are future platforms going to have to do with NIFC-CA? Is the Joint Strike Fighter going to have a role with NIFC-CA? Is there a UAV component that we could use in the future?” Capt. James Kilby, Deputy for Ballistic Missile Defense, AEGIS Combat Systems and Destroyers in the Surface Warfare Directorate, told in an interview.

Working in tandem with airborne sensors, the SM-6 missile uses an active and semi-active seeker to locate and guide itself toward targets beyond the horizon, said Michael Campisi, senior director, SM-6, Raytheon.

“The SM-6 is a multi-mission missile. It uses active and semi-active modes that are part of the ability to intercept beyond the line of sight. The booster gives you the range and the active mode gives you the over-the-horizon ability,” Campisi said.

The Navy has more NIFC-CA tests planned in coming months.

“Every test is incrementally more difficult than the previous one where the target gets smaller, faster or farther out,” Kilby said.

NIFC-CA’s framework establishes a foundation upon which other technologies could be integrated, he added.

“When you think about NIFC-CA – what we’re talking about is integrated fires. That involves weapons and sensors. How can I leverage future weapons and sensors to make that system more robust? That is the exciting part about NIFC-CA,” Kilby said.

NIFC-CA could allow ships to be closer to the shore in some instances because the ship would have the technology to thwart or destroy land-launched anti-ship cruise missiles. At the same time, there may be instances where NIFC-CA would enable a ship to operate and accomplish its mission objectives at greater distances, Kilby added.

One analyst said NIFC-CA extends the Navy’s strategic range..

“NIFC-CA extends your range dramatically. You are beginning to see the stirrings of a Navy that is going back on the offensive. When the wall fell and we lost our near peer competitor at sea, we got very good at strike. We didn’t think as much as we did in the 80s about the use of the Navy offensively,” said Bryan McGrath, managing director at FerryBridge Group LLC, a defense consulting firm based in Easton, Md.

“The concept of integrated fire control is it is all about breaking what has been a slavish relationship between the sensor and the shooter; integrated fire control allows you to employ weapons to their max kinematic ranges,” he said.

Much of the discussion regarding the Pentagon’s Pacific rebalance hinges on forward presence and developing technologies able to overcome Anti-Access/Area-Denial threats such as long-range, guided anti-ship cruise missiles designed to prevent ships such as carrier groups from entering closer to the coastline.

The NIFCA-CA is slated to deploy with Navy forces in 2015 as part of the Teddy Roosevelt battle group, so this cruise missile defense technology will be protecting the fleet soon.

NIFC-CA is part of the Navy’s upgraded Aegis ballistic missile defense system called Baseline 9, which is being engineered into destroyers now under construction such as DDG 113 through DDG 118. Baseline 9 is already engineered onto a handful of platforms including the USS John Paul Jones, a destroyer– and two cruisers, the USS Chancellorsville and the USS Normandy.

Baseline 9 uses a common source code for a variety of applications so as to be able to tailor in functions and applications as needed, Kilby added.

In fact, Baseline 9 is able to integrate air defense technology with ballistic missile defense, or BMD, capability, he explained.

“Now I’ve got an integrated baseline that allows me to do three different things. I can be in ballistic missile defense only mode for my most challenging threats, I can be in IAMD (integrated air and missile defense) mode where I can do both ballistic missile defense and air defense, or I can be in air defense only mode for the most challenging air and surface cruise missiles,” Kilby explained.

Kilby also explained that the Aegis technology uses what’s called a ballistic missile signal processor which analyzes the spectrum by using both medium band and synthetic wideband returns. This allows for an increased ability to discriminate a target from a group of objects, he added.

The Navy is already working on the next Aegis baselines now being developed to succeed Baseline 9.  A new Baseline is slated for 2016 which will incorporate a new larger and more capable SM3 Block 2A missile and yet another Baseline is being developed for 2020 which will integrate a new, far more capable radar system called Air and Missile Defense Radar, or AMDR, Kilby said.

“Aegis Baselines are configurations of computer program which speak to all the weapons and sensors that they touch,” McGrath said.

Developing NIFC-CA is an integral part of the Navy’s broader post-Iraq and Afghanistan strategy which seeks to return the service to a more pronounced surface warfare emphasis and what’s called blue-water combat. This involves a re-balance to the Pacific as well a focus on anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare and integrated air and missile defense, among other things.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.