Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson has a vision for the afloat forces of the future. In his 2018 guidance, A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority 2.0, Richardson spells out the challenges he expects Naval forces to face—and overcome.
“U.S. Naval operations—from the seafloor to space, from the blue water to the littorals, and in the information domain—will deter aggression and enable resolution of crises on terms acceptable to the United States and our allies and partners. If deterrence fails, the Navy will conduct decisive combat operations to defeat any enemy.”
To that end, more than 80 emerging technologies aligned to information warfare (IW), counter intelligence surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting (C-ISRT), and strike capability were put through an assessment process during the 21st Century Combined Arms Advanced Naval Technology Exercises (ANTX West 2019) March 31 to April 9, 2019 with live field testing on the closed environment of San Clemente Island (off the coast of Southern California) aligned with demonstrations and evaluations at the Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific (NIWC Pacific) on Point. Loma.
Advanced Naval Technology Exercises (ANTXs) are a series of exercises led by the joint Naval forces and the Naval Research and Development Establishment (NR&DE) during which industry, academia, and Government research and development organizations are invited to demonstrate technologies that can address priority warfighting missions in a 12- to 18-month timeline.
ANTX is the demonstration phase for technology proposals received in response to a collaborative set of Commercial Solutions Offerings (CSO) released by NIWC Pacific and Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC Crane) last year.
So, why have engineers, warfighters, technicians and industry gathered during field testing on San Clemente Island? The Marine Corps says it’s because the technology has to work in theater, as well as the lab.
“Being able to apply the technology in an operational and realistic environment is critically important,” said Brig. Gen. Christian Wortman, commanding general, Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, speaking of the testing site. “It takes superb talent and a high level of leadership energy to be able to put it [ANTX] together. ANTX reflects the best work across really prominent organizations that adds a lot of value to our services and to our Nation.”
U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Christian Becker, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) commander, concurred, while stressing the need for rapid transition of technologies from concept to capability in a real world environment.
“It’s all about the speed of bringing capability to the fleet,” Becker said. “We partner with government, industry and academia to explore and experiment with new and emerging technologies. Our goal is to accelerate acquisition and increase the pace at which we put advanced capabilities into the hands of warfighters to provide a competitive edge for our Navy from seabed to space.”
Specifically, the efforts are designed to allow Joint Naval forces to aggressively compete in a shifting maritime environment, harnessing three forces that continue to shape the modern security environment:
- The increasing use of the maritime domain—the oceans, seas, waterways, and seafloor.
- The rise of global information systems, especially the role of data in decision making.
- The increasing rate of technological creation and adoption.
Rapid Learning/Rapid Development and Prototyping
As a result of the rapid learning/rapid development and prototyping environment, incorporating industry, academia and military partners into exercises such as ANTX allows for quick feedback of emerging capabilities as well as integrated learning. In addition, prototyping and experimentation projects progress through complex scenarios and environments during which technologies are tested with operational units.
According to Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. David J. Hahn, Director, Innovation Technology Requirements, and Test and Evaluation, ANTX is an opportunity to get the A-plus team working on the Navy’s challenging problems.
“The ANTX process—which has been refined as we’ve moved through a couple of cycles—is now reaching the point where bringing industry, warfare centers, laboratories and, most importantly, the operators into the same space, takes advantage of technology. We merge that group of humans with a live virtual constructive environment, and a very tight concept of operations—or even a movement toward a concept of operations that may not be fully fleshed out. All of that will allow us to accelerate and move faster,” Hahn said.
What’s different about the ANTX approach?
“What differentiates this ANTX approach is the synch of technical researchers with the operators, in a rigorous assessment cycle, that pins to a concept of operations. You can then run that same data set in a live virtual constructive environment with as many permutations as you want. I am particularly interested in understanding how, in an LVC environment, we can incorporate the variables that surround the concept of operations (CONOP)—and then assess the pieces of technology that were brought to bear, and their effectiveness in getting that CONOP executed successfully.”
Industry, academia and military partners don’t have to wait until final fielding to learn and understand the emerging technologies; they can learn instead as the process develops, thus accelerating the learning process.
When integrating cutting-edge prototypes with military, industry and academia participants, the learning curve is accelerated and experiences are shared, contributing to more efficient prototyping and fielding.
Through the joint effort, the proliferation of technology throughout the services will ultimately make the Department of Defense more lethal, more survivable, more resilient and more effective.
Performance at the Speed of Relevance
The key to rapid acquisition is to learn, innovate and demonstrate capability at speed.
ANTX assessors evaluated technologies using the Tactics and Technology Exploration and Experimentation (TnTE2) method first developed in the 2017 Ship-to-Shore Maneuver and 2018 Urban 5th Generation Marine exercises. The method brings technologists together with warfighters to explore tactics and technology pairings -- at speed, at scale, and with rigor.
ANTX West 19 provided meaningful insights to complex and priority naval integration problem sets and rated the impact of participating technologies.
"The Tactics and Technology Exploration and Experimentation method, or TnTE2, has been used to break down barriers, and to accelerate the adoption rates of mature, field-able technologies," said Carly Jackson, NIWC Pacific's lead for Rapid Prototyping.
Bringing industry and government acquisition, and operational experts together to deliver performance at the speed of relevance means the quicker tools move through the acquisition process, the quicker troops have hands-on capabilities and are able to engage the adversary. NIWC Pacific and its ANTX partners are working hard to develop processes to streamline decision-making to speed innovation, technology development, and the delivery of top priority warfighting capabilities.
Assessors from NSWC Crane, NIWC Pacific, and the Marine Corps assess the technologies for follow-on experimentation and prototyping.
Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City Division, supported the exercise with its data assessment tool which provided near real-time analysis and visualization of the more than 50 prototype technologies assessed by warfighters and practicing scientists and engineers.
"The NSWC Panama City team and their tool were critical enablers to bringing speed, scale and rigor to the TnTE2 method," said Jackson.
Andy Brough, Expeditionary Warfare lead at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane (NSWC Crane), said participation by industry and academia were also key components for success.
“The event is all about trying to find the right technologies to align with what warfighters need for the current and the future fight,” said Brough. “We put out a call to industry, government and academia looking for the best technologies that align to those capability sets and then brought them here to demonstrate the tech.”
Just as vital as the Naval force partnership between the Navy and Marine Corps, Becker said academia and industry are integral team members.
“We’ve got a great government team as you’ve seen across our warfighter centers, our laboratories, but it’s also the teaming with academia and industry that expands our horizons,” said Becker.
“What we find is innovation breeds innovation. The passion of people I’ve spoken to today is unquestioned. Everybody is out here to see how they can increase capabilities faster, make sure our warfighters are ready, ready to compete and win.”
The Future is Now
When asked about future warfighting development and concept refinement, Becker was emphatic. There’s no time to waste. The battle is upon us.
“I’d say the future is now,” said Becker. “Exercises like this, they’re looking at things that might come in two, or three, or four, or five years. We’ve got to look at today and see how we can accelerate what we’ve seen here into the fight as soon as possible.”
Hahn concurs with the need to accelerate deliverables, with one difference.
“I would say it’s not just about speed—it’s about velocity. Because velocity includes speed and direction, and it couples them. We have to have both,” he said. “We can be very speedy, but if we’re going in the wrong direction, we end up in a place that is not of use. Direction and speed are the focus at ANTX—and those two factors together, I think, will allow us to accelerate into that space we need going forward.”