Watch: US Navy tests strike group combat systems interoperability

The U.S. Navy recently put together an entire strike group to test the group’s gun weapon systems, combat systems, and unmanned vehicles’ interoperability with surface and air assets while firing on targets at the 2016 USS Dahlgren demonstration on August 30.

According to the Navy, this was the first time an entire Navy strike group was brought together in a land-based environment spanning the entire kill chain – plan, detect, control, engage and assess.

“This demonstration integrated capabilities across multiple laboratories, utilizing unmanned and manned sensor platforms, engaging a hostile swarm threat of surface craft attacking a virtual naval battlegroup consisting of a Nimitz class aircraft carrier, an Aegis class cruiser and an Independence class Littoral Combat Ship,” said Neil Baron, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) scientist for combat control.

At one point, senior Navy officials – flag officers, commanding officers, and two-dozen senior executives – watched engineers fire a 30 millimeter gun on the Potomac River Test Range from their Littoral Combat Ship’s (LCS) – surface warfare (SUW) mission package command and control laboratory several miles away.

The test – made possible by a cybernetic laboratory called USS Dahlgren – conducted engagement coordination with virtual and hardware representations of systems on the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), USS Bunker Hill (CG 52), and USS Independence (LCS 2) during live fire destruction of surface threats utilizing the LCS 30 millimeter, Aegis MK 46 gun system’s 5-inch guns, and simulated Hellfire missiles.

“This has been five to six years in the making and couldn’t come at a better time as we see real-world events such as the recent small boat incursions in the Middle East, highlighting the need for the fleet,” said Capt. Brian Durant, NSWCDD commanding officer.

Druggan, Durant and their counterparts watched as actual combat system equipment from the aircraft carrier and two surface combatant laboratories directed live fire on the Potomac River Test Range as fictitious surface threats attempted to attack.

The live fire engagements continued throughout the scenario, demonstrating integration of currently fielded capabilities – from MH-60R and MH-60S Seahawk helicopters to the Aegis Combat System and the Ship Self-Defense System – with new technologies such as Virtual Automatic Scoring System (VASS).

The NSWCDD-patented VASS calculates gunfire miss distances and adjusts targeting for gunners to converge gunfire onto a target without risking the lives of forward observers.

The event’s first scenario featured simulated engagements on maneuvering targets, proving the Navy’s ability to use manned and unmanned platforms for early over-the-horizon detection and tracking as well as future unmanned surface vehicle engagements.

USS Dahlgren facilitates this mission with high fidelity testing that leverages both hardware-in-the loop and virtual combat systems.

“All testing occurred within the fence in an environment that does not impact Navy ships or crew members,” said Steven Shannon, USS Dahlgren tactical operations lead. “The testing normally required aboard a Navy ship and other high demand sites can be now accomplished through USS Dahlgren including capability at other warfare centers.”

Its integrated testing capabilities ensure that test and evaluation resources can rapidly adapt to changing warfighters’ needs.

In this case, USS Dahlgren created a land-based air and surface representation of a strike group. In the future, the goal is to bring in additional undersea capability through collaboration with other warfare centers.

“The level of complexity shown in this demonstration directly reflects the complexity our operational units see in theaters of operation today,” said Melissa Smith, USS Dahlgren lead investigator and Integrated Lab Council lead. “This land-based ability to recreate the complexity of naval surface warfare helps us to find new technologies and repurpose current technologies and equipment. This is the primary mission of our laboratory environment across the nation –maintaining technological advantage for our surface fleet.”