Future Combat System Development

When most people think of how a naval platform fights, the first thoughts are of guns, missiles and radar. These elements form part of the platform’s combat system and they are essential to achieving any navy’s mission to fight and win at sea. At the heart of the combat system is the Combat Management System (CMS), which integrates sensor information and provides situational awareness and decision support to the war fighter in both defensive and offensive action. This technology must be flexible and adaptable to enable rapid integration of new technologies to meet evolving threats. What is in the future for combat system development?

Saab’s 9LV CMS is the core of the combat capability on board the Royal Australian Navy’s current Anzac Class frigates and Canberra Class LHD’s and will soon enter into service with the new Supply Class replenishment ships.  Saab has been selected to provide a 9LV based Situational Awareness System for the new Arafura class offshore patrol vessels. The Royal Australian Navy’s fleet of nine Future Frigates and the three upgraded Air Warfare Destroyers will be equipped with US Navy’s Aegis combat management system, with an Australian interface developed by Saab Australia. When commissioned this commonality will provide the RAN with unique advantages in training, operation and support of the fleet.

Saab has built a solid reputation and formidable presence in Australia on the back of 9LV CMS delivery and performance. The company has the in-country capability of developing a range of new applications and features to evolve the 9LV system to meet the current and future unique requirements of the Australian customer.

What can we expect in the future then? The major shift in combat system integration has been the evolution of the systems being interfaced. In the past the sensors and weapons had custom physical interfaces requiring complex hardware and software. They also had limited functionality and simply “did what they were told”. The new generation of systems have digital interfaces and have a much higher degree of built-in intelligence, which both simplifies and complicates the integration task.

An example would be a decoy countermeasures system. In the past the decoy simply fired its rounds on command, with the optimisation of the deployment of the rounds done by the CMS, taking into account such factors as threat type, the current tactical picture and location of high value units. The latest generation of decoy countermeasure systems do their own threat processing, target prioritisation and launch optimisation. It expects the CMS to feed it the necessary tactical data to calculate its response. That sounds great except that due to the proprietary nature of the algorithms in the decoy system Saab has worked closely with its suppliers to understand how their systems work so they are integrated to provide the best solution.

So how will the CMS deal with emerging threats, such as hypersonic missiles, railguns and swarming drones? One way to counter these is to reduce the visible and electromagnetic visibility of the platform. A weapon that cannot see the target is ineffective. Future warships will need to be very stealthy and the CMS will need to know precisely the probability of detection against every type of sensor under real-time environmental conditions. Saab has had success in integrating sensor performance models, which provide real-time data on the performance of both ownship and hostile sensors in the current geographic location and environmental conditions.

New generation CMS will also incorporate Game Theory, using mathematics to model human decision making in competitive situations. Ideally suited for analysing military situations because it depicts the realistic situation in which both sides are free to choose their best "moves" and to adjust their strategy over time. The ship’s combat team can analyse tactical probabilities and optimise the ships course, speed, emission state and sensor settings for both individual assets and an entire task group. 

Removing the fog of conflict will also play a major role in reducing the probability of detection. One example has been integrating intelligence data with track correlation functions. For instance when multiple sensors detect a potential threat it is automatically identified as a hostile fighter with a known specific search radar and weapons. The CMS automatically initiates a response ranging from electronic countermeasures to long-range engagement to neutralise the adversary before it can become a threat. Currently Saab is developing an extension of this response capability to Force Level Coordination of force assets across all warfare domains. This includes Force Planning, Intelligence, Task Group C2 and Force Operations.

Integration of unmanned systems is also a high priority for CMS development. Unmanned systems can dramatically extend the sensor and weapon footprint of a warship and offer great tactical advantage in littoral operations. New generations of air, surface and subsurface unmanned vehicles are appearing which all require integration with the CMS to optimise the display and utilisation of their valuable data in a way that is seamless to the command team.

Increasing levels of autonomy through Artificial Intelligence drive similar challenges for the CMS in fully understanding the likely behavior or response of any unmanned system to the tactical situation.

The next generation of warships and their Combat Systems will see even greater advances in utilisation of high bandwidth networking such that the CMS will be a node within that network.  This will revolutionise interoperability and the exchange of tactical data and communications in general.

Saab Australia continues to work closely with the Royal Australian Navy and the Defence Science and Technology Group, its supply chain and academic partners to explore and further develop these and other capabilities to meet the rapidly evolving threats in naval warfare.