Maximising Future Integrated Maritime Capability

23 May 2022

Operational maritime activities are changing, as navies adapt to the increasingly complex international security environment and look to benefit from technology proliferation. Leonardo examines the challenges and explains how industry is supporting.

The UK Government’s Integrated Review published in March 2021 clearly stated the UK’s objective to “support a resilient ocean” and included the intention to “deploy more of our naval assets across the world to protect shipping lanes and uphold freedom of navigation’’ across the global commons of the sea. Such ambitions require the Royal Navy to increase ‘mass’ and improve influence and effect, to be both interoperable and interchangeable in the provision of multi-domain operations – locally, regionally and internationally with partners and allies. Forward deployed they can provide leadership and effective forces, for immediate response and support.

The recently published Maritime Operating Concept defines three key areas of focus for the Royal Navy as it moves forward. The first of these addresses its aspiration to increase its overall presence. This includes improving availability, modernisation and exploitation of the latest technologies, and enhancing the Fleet’s capabilities with persistent uncrewed and autonomous platforms. A ‘protean’ approach will enable a ship’s capability to change between missions, or even during missions. Some commentators are seeking agility where updates and changes will be measured in weeks rather than years; however, if by design its functionality is software defined, assured change could be done in days or hours.

Secondly, the Royal Navy’s intention to move to a Systems of Systems Approach (SOSA) would see a shift away from a platform-centric focus to capability primacy. This envisages the ‘Sensor’, ‘Decider’ and ‘Effector’ functions dispersed across several platforms or Force. In this context, Platforms become the Enabler, and whether they are crewed or uncrewed, they set important boundary conditions for SOSA and mission success; e.g. range of operations, speed, endurance, power, computing capacity and sensor real estate.

This prompts the question as to whether there is a minimum core capability for a ship or aircraft of any given size. It may mean there is no requirement for an ‘Air Defence Destroyer’ or an ‘Anti-Submarine Warfare Frigate’. Instead, it may require a capacity to adapt different ships and aircraft to change their capability for specific missions by using appropriate Persistent Operationally Deployed Systems (PODS).

Lastly, affordability of this approach will depend on the Navy’s adoption of the ‘wise pivot’ principle. This will balance the rate of retiring legacy capability and introducing new, whilst retaining the ability to conduct its operational roles. This principle must be resilient enough to withstand UK Ministry of Defence scrutiny and comply with its acquisition processes. In short, it requires a more robust approach to through life capability management; to balance the cost and risk of maintaining legacy, against the ability to experiment and accelerate new assured solutions to the front line.

Building a broader maritime presence

The rules-based international system continues to be challenged, and with that, the governance and protection of rights on the High Seas. In addition, choke points such as the Suez, the Bab-el-Mandeb and the Straits of Hormuz, and under-sea cable infrastructure (which carries nearly all the global data), are vulnerable, with the data alone worth $10 trillion per day.

These risks justify the need to ‘forward deploy’ units to contribute to maritime security in partnership with local allies. The recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia has changed the security framework in the High North and Baltic, as well as the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea. This too further justifies the decision for maritime forces based closer to the risks threatening international security.

Forward deployed ships and strike groups will therefore provide greater mass and ‘presence’. Uncrewed and / or autonomous systems and PODS will enhance capability, and provide decision advantage and increased lethality. It will apply across the spectrum of naval operations; from a Task Group projecting power and conducting theatre entry in ‘State on State warfare, to single units on counter drug and counter piracy operations. Information dominance is required at all levels of command to deliver mission success.

A step-change towards interchangeability

An extension of this broader presence is how the UK works with its allies – something that is prompting the transition from interoperability, which remains essential, to interchangeability, as part of ensuring a forward deployed presence. We have seen this with F35 combat aircraft being operated off other nations’ ships, with the US Marine Corps and HMS Queen Elizabeth. Not only is this required within the UK’s own defence forces, but also with allies. As an example, all Royal Navy air assets – crewed and uncrewed – should be interchangeable with allies’ surface units and seamlessly incorporated within coalition Task Groups.

Industry’s role in future maritime development

Collaboration between industry and military forces is a key aspect to transforming warfighting, of which Strategic Partnership Relationships and National Shipbuilding Strategy are examples. The agile exploitation of technology, through experimentation, will be essential to give the planned transformation in warfighting momentum. The Royal Navy is demonstrating this by engaging more closely with industry, specifying what operational effect it wants to achieve. In return, industry can update on technology maturity, what capability it has in development, and how this may exploited in different scenarios.

At Leonardo, opportunities for technology transfer and sharing through programmes such as Tempest, working with our national partners and in industrial enterprises to develop a rolling programme of activity, will continue to transform the rate of technological innovation. This includes, for example, the miniaturisation and reduced weight of sensors, and providing improved use of aircraft payload. Applying such approaches could scale this technological approach for other platforms such as warships, improving the overall capability.

Providing operational agility and manoeuvrability in the electromagnetic battlespace

Resilience of the information network in a contested environment is crucial, in light of the threat of severe disruption or denial. Therefore, moving to a Systems of Systems architecture means looking beyond the traditional focus on platforms and having a much greater focus on the utility of information at all levels in the information hierarchy.

The information architecture must be developed using the views from producers and consumers from all levels. If the resultant architecture is optimised for one viewpoint only, ongoing developments of capabilities will be constrained rather than facilitated by the architecture. Additionally, it will restrict the agility in development of sensing modalities and effects that will be required to address rapidly developing threat scenarios.

Other benefits of a well-planned and delivered information architecture will enable agile development of capability to meet future threats, unlock latent potential within subsystems which could be limited by the architecture they are hosted in, and allow a more incremental approach to capability enhancement which is not hampered by platform.

Smart Information Dissemination and Management Services (SmartIDMS™)

The pace and complexity of modern warfare means that reliable, secure, networked access to low latency, high quality data can be critical for mission success. Participation in real-time collaboration, including rapid and flexible decision-making, is necessary for the coordinated delivery of decisive effects in high tempo operations.

Smart Information Management is a term used to embody a number of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ techniques which, acting in concert, dramatically improve end-to-end network performance for applications where intermittent communication and/or limited bearer bandwidth are serious issues. It enables network-dependent users operating in network-depleted environments to exchange the right information with the right place at the right time, reducing time in communicating by typically >80%. Leonardo is the world leader in the development and deployment of SmartIDMS™.

Capability Delivery

The insertion and integration of new technology can only provide part of a battle winning solution. The transformation in warfighting capability described by the Maritime Operating Concept will require changes across all the Lines of Development. 

It needs to be matched by a transformation in training so that the users understand the full potential and the operational benefit it offers. By definition, forward deployed units whose capability can be changed in short timescales will require a higher level of planning and logistic support than hitherto. All this is likely to require a closer level of engagement across the enterprise.

What’s next?

It is clear that the changing maritime landscape, such as where global warming has opened up the High North, also requires a new approach to both exploit routes and limit new threats. Improving sustainable operations – potentially limiting global warming and with the exponential increase in technological change – throws up new challenges along with opportunities for new ways of working.

Maintaining assured communications and benefit from information from a range of sensors will require an adaptable ecosystem, sensing the operational environment and adjusting its behaviours depending on the military effects required. Cognitive bearers supported by artificial intelligence will provide the intelligence and agility to underpin the PODS concept described earlier. Effort will be needed to ensure that the information architectures are developed to deliver this flexibility, but equally, we must ensure current organisational constructs do not impede this progress. We must also think beyond current operational approaches to capitalise upon the resultant capabilities.

The challenges of adopting a truly integrated Multi-Domain approach are in many ways more cultural than technological. Information technologies have developed to the point, which enable much greater integration of data, and information at all levels in the Command and Control (C2) hierarchy. This unlocks the potential for more collaborative and closely integrated sensing and effects between systems hosted on physical platforms operating in different domains and in different chains of command.

As the Royal Navy and other naval forces adapt to these, Leonardo stands ready to support, combining the capability of its products and mission suites with extensive knowledge and understanding to operate in a multi-domain environment, demonstrating that flexibility and integrated capabilities are key.