WASHINGTON: In the brutal naval battles of the future, the first clash of arms will be a clash of electrons. If you don’t win the invisible battle of the airwaves, you can’t win the visible battle of missiles.
Before warships can concentrate their fire on the enemy, they first must communicate with each other. Before they can fire at long range at all, they have to communicate with forward scouts — other ships, satellites, manned aircraft, drones — who can transmit detailed targeting data on enemies beyond the reach of a warship’s onboard radar, typically just 10 nautical miles. (That’s against other ships, which can hide below the horizon: High-flying aircraft and ballistic missiles are detectable hundreds of miles away).
To make the most of all their warships, leaders of the surface Navy have been pushing a concept called “distributed lethality,” summed up as, “if it floats, it fights.” Instead of tying surface combatants — cruisers, destroyers, frigates, and Littoral Combat Ships — to escort duties for aircraft carriers, amphibious warships, and support ships, distributed lethality would send them forward in small Surface Action Groups. The warships would disperse to avoid detection but concentrate their long-range missile barrages on a single target.