Future-focused: Next Generation Air Dominance

Rear Adm. DeWolfe H. Miller III
Chief of Naval Operations Director, Air Warfare (OPNAV N98)

This summer, I had the privilege to follow Rear Adm. Mike Manazir as the Chief of Naval Operations, Director, Air Warfare (OPNAV N98). Before returning to the Pentagon, I deployed as Commander, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 2 on USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) where I was keenly aware of the immense flexibility, capability and capacity of our Sailors and the hardware they are entrusted to operate.

Having previous OPNAV experience, I realized then as I do now that there is an incredible amount time, effort and hard work that goes into procuring new technologies and developing and fielding existing and future capabilities. I am extremely impressed with how our elite team of warfighters and engineers continue to work with industry to mature promising technologies and deliver them to the fleet. The future of Naval Aviation is closely tied to our ability to seamlessly operate both with ourselves and our joint and coalition partners. We still have our work cut out for us. Maximizing our ability to train like we fight and execute operational missions with a fully integrated force is absolutely crucial to outpacing any threat around the world. As I settle into my new role, I remain excited and focused on the future.

Navy Next Generation Air Dominance

160814-N-XW558-216 ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 14, 2016) Three F-35C Lightning II carrier variants, assigned to the Grim Reapers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101, fly over the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). VFA-101 aircraft and pilots are conducting initial qualifications aboard George Washington in the Atlantic Ocean. The F-35C is expected to be Fleet operational in 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alex L. Smedegard)
The Navy is full speed ahead integrating the extraordinary capabilities of the F-35C into the carrier strike group. Here, three F-35C Lightning II carrier variants, fly over aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). Navy photo by MC2 Alex L. Sm

Since the crucible of World War II, Naval Aviation has remained forward and ready to address threats to our nation. Naval Aviation has adapted to address shifting strategic national priorities, respond to global contingencies, and shape the global security environment. During that time, the capability to conduct decisive air operations in the maritime domain and project power from the sea have remained essential elements in our nation’s ability to deter conflict and win. To continue meeting our nation’s needs, the Navy is exploring options for developing the next generation of airborne strike tactical aircraft systems.

The Navy’s primary strike fighter and Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) platforms, the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the EA-18G Growler, will approach their flight-hour design limits beginning in the late-2020s. Meanwhile, the Navy continues to manage service life while investing in follow-on capability improvements for the F/A-18. The Navy is full speed ahead integrating the extraordinary capabilities of the F-35C Lightning II into the carrier strike group. Despite these efforts, the Navy projects significant capability and capacity gaps in the future strike fighter and airborne electronic attack force in the 2030s.

At the same time, technologies designed to counter U.S. military advantage and curtail U.S. access to global commons are proliferating among potential adversaries at an alarming rate:

By 2035 … parts of today’s free and open commons may be disrupted by a combination of active opposition to existing norms, the maturation of anti-access and area denial capabilities, and the development of new power projection capabilities to control and manage these spaces.1

Anti-access area denial (A2/AD) technologies, including high-energy systems, long-range and hypersonic weapons, advanced aircraft platforms, multi-spectral and multi-domain sensing and other emerging capabilities will stress the future maritime force. To assure access in the future, the Navy is exploring different solution concepts to support the capabilities required of the air wing and strike group of the future.

Setting the Stage

The systematic process of assessing the capability requirements and associated gaps of the 2030’s Carrier Air Wing Strike Fighter force started in 2009. The Navy conducted a capabilities-based assessment study titled “Power Projection from the Sea.” This analysis concluded that a family of systems would be needed to deliver the required aircraft carrier-based tactical aircraft capabilities of the future. Based on those findings, the Navy developed an initial capabilities document, or ICD, formalizing a “requirement” to address the projected operational gaps. The Navy’s Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) Family of Systems ICD was approved by the Chief of Naval Operations in spring 2015 and validated by the Joint Staff in summer 2015.

This summer, the Navy began the NGAD Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) to formally identify potential materiel solutions and evaluate those alternatives based on cost, performance and supportability. The Navy’s NGAD AoA is sponsored by the Chief of Naval Operations, Air Warfare Directorate (OPNAV N98) in coordination with the Secretary of the Navy’s Deputy Assistant for Aviation—DASN(AIR). Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) is executing the AoA with extensive external support and coordination across numerous external organizations and agencies. The AoA is scheduled to last 18 months and will conclude in early 2018.

Over the past two years, the Navy has been in exploratory discussions with research labs, research and development organizations and industry. Technical interchange topics include, but have not been limited to: derivative and developmental air vehicle designs, advanced engines, propulsion, thermal management, weapons, data-links, mission systems, electronic warfare systems and numerous other emerging technologies and concepts.

Insight Through Analysis

The analysis is expected to generate much more information on the emerging capabilities of systems of systems. A myriad of operational employment concepts will pull out the cost/performance trade-space across the future carrier air wing. At the same time, detailed analysis will generate timely insights into the structural capabilities and limitations of current and future systems.

Currently, the AoA is still considering the widest possible range of trades to balance capability, lethality, affordability and survivability. Categories of alternatives include investing in follow-on development of current planned systems and platforms; modifying or upgrading existing systems or platforms; and developing materiel capabilities in the form of new systems or platforms. The AoA is also evaluating manned, unmanned, optionally manned and “teamed” options to fulfill predicted mission requirements and meet expected threats. The solution may be comprised of a family of systems across multiple domains vice simply focusing on a single aviation platform. Equally important has been the detailed evaluation of techniques of operational analysis, cost and performance modeling tools and simulation to provide traceable decision-space for leadership. At this point, the Navy AoA team has not down-selected any categories of alternatives from the analysis.

The final AoA report will provide Navy leadership a recommended solution concept (or sets of solutions). Down the road, the recommended solution concept or concepts will become more specific, with detailed requirements, engineering parameters, and system attributes for a recommended system or system of systems. The solution concept may also guide an acquisition strategy, program plan, structure, execution goals and timeline. For now, the analysis is focused on generating the best options for the Navy.

Meanwhile, the Air Force is preparing to conduct a similar study. Although both the Navy and Air Force are performing independent analyses, the efforts are synchronized. The AoA teams openly share perspectives to functionalize interoperability, improve efficiency and effectively leverage the knowledge base of both services. This includes the sharing of technologies, analysis, modeling and simulation, threat assumptions and operational scenarios.

The Way Ahead

As America’s first response team, the U.S. Navy cannot constrain itself to imagine only one potential future. It must be ready to adapt. The hallmark of Navy capabilities, and in particular Naval Aviation, is our flexibility to work across all spectrums of operations and all phases of combat to meet our nation’s needs. A well-trained team of Sailors, aviators and operators acting in disciplined-yet-flexible combination with reliable technology will continue to generate naval superiority across the air and maritime domains to enable freedom of action and answer our nation’s call.

Rear Adm. DeWolfe H. Miller III aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). (U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Lorelei Vander Griend)

Rear Adm. DeWolfe H. Miller III, became Chief of Naval Operations, Director, Air Warfare (OPNAV N98) in May. He hails from York, Pennsylvania, and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1981. He holds a Master of Science in National Resource Strategy from the National Defense University, is a national security management fellow of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, and is a graduate of the Navy’s Nuclear Power Program.

Miller’s command tours include Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 34, USS Nashville (LPD 13) and USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), and as a flag officer, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 2 providing support to maritime security operations and combat operations for Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Resolve.