CNO Calls for High-Tech Platforms, Better Cybersecurity and No More Gunpowder
The technological lead the U.S military has over its adversaries could be a fleeting one as repeated budgetary cuts have bled funding from research and development coffers while rivals grew their technology prowess, said the U.S. Navy’s top military officer.
Adversaries rapidly grew near-matching technology “and we’re not—not as quickly as I would like,” Adm. Jonathan Greenert, USN, the chief of naval operations, warned attendees at the Naval Future Force Science and Technology Expo in Washington, D.C.
Despite looming threats of another sequestration, Adm. Greenert called on scientists and researchers from industry, defense and academia to push forward with endeavors, and pointed them to three key areas for focus.
“Number one, you’ve got to get us off gunpowder and rocket propellant at sea,” he told the crowd of roughly 2,700 attendees. “Probably the biggest vulnerability of a ship is its magazine, because that’s where all the explosives are.” He lauded scientists’ work in laser weapon systems and the Navy’s electromagnetic railgun, with an anticipated capability to launch a projectile at speeds topping Mach 7—or more than 5,000 mph.
The railgun will be less expensive than current onboard weapons systems, costing about $25,000 per shot. “You might say that’s a little pricey, but a missile with half the range is $1 million. That’s a scale I can deal with,” Adm. Greenert said.
Railgun experts now are working to better understand the impact of the friction and heat on the barrel to “provide plausible configurations to ensure effective capability of the barrel and the projectile,” according to Rear Adm. Mat Winter, USN, the newly installed chief of naval research who has been in the job for less than five weeks. Much of the research and testing includes the “discovery of the appropriate combinations of material to ensure that we’re providing a safe and effective capability,” Adm. Winter said. Navy officials are planning for a live railgun demonstration in 2016 from a joint high speed vessel.
During his keynote address, Adm. Greenert also challenged attendees to concentrate efforts beneath the oceans’ surfaces. “I need greater stamina in the unmanned underwater vehicle propulsion systems than we have today. … We’re doing pretty well in the air, but it’s a hurdle with unmanned underwater vehicles.”
Adm. Greenert’s pleas mirror key objectives outlined by Adm. Winter, who says the Office of Naval Research is focusing efforts on directed energy, cybersecurity, underwater maneuver warfare, electromagnetic maneuver warfare and autonomous phenomenology. “If you think about our unmanned systems in the air … we’re looking at a similar methodology and framework for our underwater [platforms],” Adm. Winter said. “But the phenomenology and the communication and the power density requirements are more challenging. But that’s what we do. The S&T community should not be pursing the things that are no brainers. S&T needs to be looking at those very hard problems and saying, ‘How do I generate and create underwater systems that can operate at tactical significant ranges for the … duration required by our warfighter?’ We’re seeing some very promising research in those areas of communications, in power density and in vehicle maturity.”
Though the leaders directed much attention to underwater and autonomous platforms, Adm. Greenert offered that the military’s next generation fighter might rely less on speed and stealth and more on outsmarting and outmaneuvering adversaries through suppression technologies. “You know that stealth may be overrated,” Adm. Greenert offered. “I don’t want to necessarily say that it’s over, but let’s face it, if something moves fast through the air and disrupts molecules and puts out heat, I don’t care how cool the engine can be, it’s going to be detectable.”
Adm. Greenert also petitioned for better cybersecurity technologies. “I need you to lock your IT doors. … Cybersecurity is a key requirement for all our systems and weapons. The losing of proprietary data … it’s just driving me crazy. … Cyber theft is just hemorrhaging us.”