As the U. S. Navy envisions its future force strength, the number one priority is placed on maintaining undersea dominance. The new Columbia Class ballistic submarine is critical to the United States Nuclear Triad – land/sea/air strategic deterrence. It’s also darned expensive! The plan is to purchase twelve of these boats, and the price tag will weigh in at about $9 billion each. That takes up a huge chunk of Navy’s budget.
Navy’s 30-year plan calls for maintaining a 355-ship fleet. To accomplish this with available resources, Navy is considering the inclusion of both manned and unmanned platforms to the mix. After all, unmanned platforms are already included in Navy’s wargames, exercises and real-world contingency planning. How they will count against the total-force numbers is still being determined, but there is one key consideration that must be solved before that can happen – assured connectivity.
Navy has a long-standing tradition of giving ships Commanding Officers ultimate responsibility and authority to complete missions, even when disconnected from the chain of command. Someday, we might trust our unmanned (autonomous) platforms in the same way, but that day is not today. For unmanned platforms to be included in the Navy’s force structure, they have to be connected.
Last month, the Chief of Naval Operations wrote a memo to Admiral Small, Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, ordering him to spearhead a new initiative called Project Overmatch. The memo directed him to “develop the networks, infrastructure, data architecture, tools and analytics that support the operational and developmental environment that will enable our sustained maritime dominance.” This means connecting all assets, and he wants it done ASAP.
Details are few, but Project Overmatch has given focus and priority to an issue that has been festering for years. Navy notoriously maintains many legacy stovepipes that work for their intended purpose, but don’t necessarily connect to inform other missions or platforms. Project Overmatch, ordered from the top, will put pressure on these programs: either figure out a way to connect for the greater good or go away.