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CHIPS Articles: Supporting the Warfighter from the U.S. Naval Observatory

Supporting the Warfighter from the U.S. Naval Observatory
Enabling Decision Superiority
By Kirk R. Benson - January-March 2015
On March 19, 2011, as the U. S. Navy command ship USS Mount Whitney sliced through the Mediterranean Sea off Sicily, Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, the commander of U. S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, at that time, was given tactical command of U.S. and NATO forces to enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, according to U.S. Army Gen. Carter Ham, then commander of U.S. Africa Command in his “Commander Statement on Commencement of Military Strikes in Libya,” of March, 19, 2011.

The initial goals of Operation Odyssey Dawn were to prevent further attacks by regime forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi on Libyan citizens and opposition groups and to degrade the regime’s capability to violate the no-fly zone, said U.S. Navy Adm. Bill Gortney, then director of the Joint Staff, in a DoD News Briefing March 19, 2011.

Locklear had, at his fingertips, the experience, technology, and personnel to lead a successful campaign. A little known but crucial component of Locklear’s team, 4,500 miles away in Washington, D.C., was the U.S. Naval Observatory (USNAVOBSY), a member of the U.S. Navy’s Information Dominance community. Behind the scenes, USNAVOBSY provided critical timing and navigation data that were essential for mission success.

Throughout the ensuing 12 days, prior to NATO’s assumption of command, 199 Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles were launched from the sea, and aircraft dropped over 600 precision-guided munitions, targeted primarily at taking down the critical nodes of the Libyan integrated air defense system, early warning sites, and key communication sites, said Gortney in a DoD News brief March 28, 2011.

The joint forces depended upon a comprehensive common operational picture (COP), reliable and secure communications, and precision weaponry, in achieving victory. Numerous factors influenced these capabilities, but the commonality between them were the products and expertise provided by Navy Information Dominance. Navy Information Dominance is the operational advantage gained from fully integrating the Navy’s information functions, capabilities, and resources to optimize decision making and maximize warfighting effects, wrote U.S. Vice Adm. Ted N. Branch, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance in a July 2014 article for Proceedings Magazine.

“The goal of Navy Information Dominance is to deliver decision-quality information, enable freedom of maneuver in all warfighting domains, and integrate Navy fires, whether projected through the network or delivered kinetically for hard-kill or soft-kill,” Branch wrote.

Adm. Locklear did not have time to concern himself with the details of how the COP was created, how the accuracy of the depicted units and targets locations were obtained, or if his communications circuits were operating properly in a secure environment. He trusted that the Information Dominance-managed technology and information were there supporting the fight.

U.S. Naval Observatory

USNAVOBSY (CTU 80.7.3) is operationally part of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command (NAVMETOCCOM – CTG 80.7) under U.S. Fleet Forces Command, and as of Oct. 1, 2014, administratively under U.S. Navy Information Dominance Forces (NAVIDFOR) Command. USNAVOBSY provides a wide range of astronomical products and serves as the official source of time for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and a standard of time for the United States.

USNAVOBSY also determines Earth orientation parameters (EOPs) that are essential to characterize and relate the movement of the Earth’s rotation axis and define the relationship between the Earth’s terrestrial reference frame (TRF) and the celestial reference frame (CRF) above the Earth’s surface. These parameters are used to determine highly accurate satellite ephemerides (a table showing future positions of celestial bodies) and pointing positions on the Earth surface. Precise timing and EOPs are two USNAVOBSY missions that are an integral part of the three pillars of the Information Dominance Strategy: Assured Command and Control (AC2), Battlespace Awareness and Integrated Fires.

Precise Time

Precise timing at USNAVOBSY is maintained by over 100 atomic clocks, collectively referred to as the “Master Clock.” A majority of the clocks are located in Washington with the remaining at the USNAVOBSY Alternate Master Clock detachment, collocated with the U.S. Air Force’s Global Positioning System (GPS) Master Control Station, near Colorado Springs, Colorado.

In accordance with national security policy and DoD directives, USNAVOBSY is tasked with maintaining the standard for uniformity of precise time and time interval for DoD components; specifically, all DoD users of precise time and frequency must use that derived from USNAVOBSY, which is referred to as Coordinated Universal Time as maintained by USNAVOBSY, or simply UTC(USNO), as defined in DoD Directive 4650.05 Positioning, Navigation and Timing. The primary dissemination method of UTC(USNAVOBSY) to DoD users is via the GPS satellite constellation, with numerous secondary methods.

Precise timing is necessary for secure communications and geo-positioning, via GPS, of ships, aircraft, troops on the ground, and weapon systems. Mr. Warren Walls, the USNAVOBSY Time Services division chief states, “The Master Clock at the Naval Observatory is the synchronizing heartbeat behind every DoD system and solution enabling interoperability and coordination, without which, the loss of missions, lives, and assets would quickly escalate. Every packet of data, frequency leveraged, or position attained and shared, across multiple domains, must link back to a common reference, so there is no ambiguity as to the source, reliability and security of this critical data.”

Earth Orientation

USNAVOBSY, as the DoD celestial reference frame manager, provides precise data on the time-varying alignment of the terrestrial reference frame with respect to the celestial reference frame. Accurate Earth orientation parameter values are required for a wide variety of space-based systems involved in positioning or tracking objects above the Earth’s surface, including space navigation and surveillance, satellite operations, astronomy, space geodesy, communications, and time keeping. Earth orientation parameters are also fundamental to the operation of satellite systems that determine precise location and navigation on Earth and those which provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) to the warfighter.

In carrying out this mission, USNAVOBSY obtains observational data from internal and external sources. The internal observations are obtained from very long baseline interferometry and analyses of GPS orbits. External data includes information derived from satellite laser ranging, GPS observations, and atmospheric angular momentum. Once determined, the Earth orientation parameters are provided to the GPS Master Control Station, via the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (the DoD terrestrial reference frame manager).

Lacking the contribution of USNAVOBSY’s precise time and frequency standard and Earth orientation parameters, Operation Odyssey Dawn would not have achieved success so easily; the Information Dominance pillars proved to be extremely important enablers of success. Through these pillars, Information Dominance creates decision superiority, provides asymmetric advantage, and enhances the lethality of deployed forces with non-kinetic options.

Pillar 1: Assured C2 (AC2)

Commanders must be able to plan, direct, lead and coordinate forces and operations under all conditions. Such a capability requires a robust baseline information grid that continually connects the commander to the force, to higher echelon units and to combat support elements. To ensure this capability, AC2 provides data-centric access to all essential combat information and the processes and services necessary for coordinated planning and execution.

It was critical for Locklear to maintain constant and secure communications with his forces. Without precise timing from USNAVOBSY, maintaining communications synchronicity over the encrypted radio frequency paths would not have been possible; secure communications require timing synchronicity for the crypto to work properly. As such, it was necessary that all units utilized UTC(USNO).

Pillar 2: Battlespace Awareness

Commanders require immediate and continual access to essential combat information in order to maneuver the force and execute the full range of missions under a broad spectrum of operating conditions. Commanders base their operational decisions on a continually evolving understanding of the operating environment which relies on the accuracy and completeness of information available at any given point in time. They must also maintain sufficient decision space to operate within an adversary’s decision cycle and continually decide upon available warfighting options as the environment evolves, according to the U.S. Navy Information Dominance Roadmap 2013-2028.

The coalition forces were able to share the COP via data links, such as the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (Link 16) and the Battlefield Information, Collection, and Exploitation System, to provide the commanders the ability to manage the battle, wrote Joe Quartararo, Sr., Michael Rovenolt, and Randy White, in “Libya’s Operation Odyssey Dawn Command and Control,” published by the National Defense University in 2012.

Precise timing also played a similar role with secure data links as it does with secure communications. Positioning data of the units was also critical, and without Earth orientation parameter input into the GPS, using and sharing this positional data would have been useless. The GPS satellite constellation requires EOPs on a daily basis to ensure each satellite continually knows its precise location with respect to the Earth.

Pillar 3: Integrated Fires

Commanders must be prepared to defend their forces against offensive fires, both kinetic and non-kinetic. In light of ever-increasing improvements in the speed, accuracy, range and lethality of maritime-related weapons and technologies being developed worldwide, commanders must continually seek new means to maximize their own warfighting effectiveness and enhance their ability to deliver accurate and timely fires in all domains, according to the Information Dominance Roadmap.

Commanders must fully exploit the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum and integrate targeting and fire control while disrupting the enemy’s own command, control and targeting ability. This requires dynamic collaboration across mission areas and with other services, which permits the exploitation of the EM spectrum as a weapon, wrote Branch. Like the previous pillars, this collaboration requires precise timing and accurate positioning that originates from USNAVOBSY.

The Odyssey Dawn forces relied heavily upon the capability to achieve continuous, accurate and synchronized precise timing and EOPs. Without these Information Dominance exclusive capabilities, the warfighters would have been severely impacted; command and control, ISR, navigation and targeting, all would have been be negatively affected.

Navy Information Dominance is a warfighting discipline responsible for the readiness of intelligence, oceanography and meteorology, information warfare, networks, and space capabilities, according to the Chief of Naval Operation’s Navigation Plan 2015-1019.

The USNAVOBSY is an integral Information Dominance asset whose missions impact every warfighter, whether they realize it or not, by enabling decision superiority across the full range of military operations.

“On an operational level, precise time and astrometry can mean the difference between hitting the targeted building and hitting a building next door or in the next block,” said Rear Adm. Timothy C. Gallaudet, U.S. Navy, Commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command/Task Group 80.7.

Kirk R. Benson is a retired U.S. Navy surface warfare officer and is currently the precise time and astrometry program manager at the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command.

AUGUSTA BAY, Italy (March 31, 2011) Adm. Samuel J. Locklear, III, commander of Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn, talks to Sailors about their efforts in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52). Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn is the U.S. Africa Command task force established to provide operational and tactical command and control of U.S. military forces supporting the international response to the unrest in Libya and enforcement of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1973. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Sunderman.
AUGUSTA BAY, Italy (March 31, 2011) Adm. Samuel J. Locklear, III, commander of Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn, talks to Sailors about their efforts in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52). Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn is the U.S. Africa Command task force established to provide operational and tactical command and control of U.S. military forces supporting the international response to the unrest in Libya and enforcement of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1973. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Sunderman.

MEDITERRANEAN SEA (March 25, 2011) The U.S. 6th Fleet flagship USS Mount Whitney (LCC/JCC 20) is underway past Mount Etna supporting Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn. Odyssey Dawn is the U.S. Africa Command task force established to provide operational and tactical command and control of U.S. military forces supporting the international response to the unrest in Libya and enforcement of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1973. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel Viramontes.
MEDITERRANEAN SEA (March 25, 2011) The U.S. 6th Fleet flagship USS Mount Whitney (LCC/JCC 20) is underway past Mount Etna supporting Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn. Odyssey Dawn is the U.S. Africa Command task force established to provide operational and tactical command and control of U.S. military forces supporting the international response to the unrest in Libya and enforcement of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1973. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel Viramontes.

MEDITERRANEAN SEA (March 29, 2011) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) launches a Tomahawk cruise missile to support Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn. Odyssey Dawn is the U.S. Africa Command task force established to provide operational and tactical command and control of U.S. military forces supporting the international response to the unrest in Libya and enforcement of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1973. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Sunderman.
MEDITERRANEAN SEA (March 29, 2011) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) launches a Tomahawk cruise missile to support Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn. Odyssey Dawn is the U.S. Africa Command task force established to provide operational and tactical command and control of U.S. military forces supporting the international response to the unrest in Libya and enforcement of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1973. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Sunderman.

ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 18, 2014) The PCU North Dakota (SSN 784) during bravo sea trials. The crew performed exceptionally well on both alpha and bravo sea trials. The submarine North Dakota is the 11th ship of the Virginia class, the first U.S. Navy combatants designed for the post-Cold War era. U.S. Navy Photo.
ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 18, 2014) The PCU North Dakota (SSN 784) during bravo sea trials. The crew performed exceptionally well on both alpha and bravo sea trials. The submarine North Dakota is the 11th ship of the Virginia class, the first U.S. Navy combatants designed for the post-Cold War era. U.S. Navy Photo.

The U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. USNAVOBSY provides a wide range of astronomical products and serves as the official source of time for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and a standard of time for the United States. U.S. Navy photo.
The U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. USNAVOBSY provides a wide range of astronomical products and serves as the official source of time for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and a standard of time for the United States. U.S. Navy photo.

The Precise timing at USNAVOBSY is maintained by over 100 atomic clocks, collectively referred to as the Master Clock.  A majority of the clocks are located in Washington with the remaining at the USNAVOBSY Alternate Master Clock detachment, collocated with the U.S. Air Force’s Global Positioning System (GPS) Master Control Station, near Colorado Springs, Colo. U. S. Navy photo.
The Precise timing at USNAVOBSY is maintained by over 100 atomic clocks, collectively referred to as the Master Clock. A majority of the clocks are located in Washington with the remaining at the USNAVOBSY Alternate Master Clock detachment, collocated with the U.S. Air Force’s Global Positioning System (GPS) Master Control Station, near Colorado Springs, Colo. U. S. Navy photo.
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