Thursday, December 7, 2023

Command and Cruise Control Operations in American Defence

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Continue reading previous part

In the last four parts of this article we covered air defence warfare, electronic warfare (EW), under-sea warfare, strike warfare and air operations. In this concluding part, let us take a look at command and control (C2) operations as well as cruise control operations.

Radars—A revisit

All surveillance and navigation radars are situated high up in the mast. In the age of sail ships, observers used to sit high up in the mast. Who can forget the observers ringing the bell after seeing the iceberg in the movie Titanic? Radars sitting high up in the masts give a greater radar horizon. Radar horizon is the maximum range at which radar can detect a target against the curvature of earth.

cruise control
Fig. 30: Radars in the mast of the carrier. The reader may try to identify the radars present in the masts of the carrier. This image covers many radars and also an ECM module (Image courtesy: US Navy)

But presence of so many communication and detection equipment in the mast in interference. This requires certain systems to be turned off when another system is working. If the turned-off system is an important system, and if the enemy knowingly or by chance chooses to attack during this window, the result can be catastrophic.

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C2 operations

Whatever may be the strength of force, it is only the right commands given at right times can make the force lethal. The commander who commands the carrier strike group (CSG) must know what is happening around him, the strengths and the weaknesses of the group.

For example, what will happen if the commander issues a command to launch a surface-to-air missile (SAM) when stocks of SAM have been exhausted? He must know the threats and his capabilities, and must be present in the carrier to command the CSG.

For effective command, the commander requires an efficient C2 system. Backbone of C2 systems is the communication systems that include voice links and datalinks.

Communication systems

The mast of the carrier is littered with numerous antennae—protected by radomes—for various communication systems and datalinks present in the CSG. Almost all sorts of antenna systems are seen in the carrier right from whip antennae situated in the flight deck to wire-fed fan antennae present above the superstructure. A plethora of communication systems operating at various frequencies and following various techniques of transmission could be found in the CSG.

Terrestrial radio communication. It has both military and non-military radio communication facilities operating in MF, HF, VHF and UHF bands. Military communications are secured through encryption and are used to communicate with CSG members. Even if the enemy intercepts military communication, they will not be able to understand the message.

VHF is used for ship-to-ship or helicopter-to-ship communications. Military HF and MF have a range of around 300km. VHF and UHF, due to their high-frequency-induced attenuation, have a range of around 100km.

Non-military radio communication is not secure. It is used to communicate with harbours, ships and aircraft of civilian or neutral origin. Non-military UHF systems can be used up to a range of 50km; all other band systems have the same range as that of their military counterparts.

Satellite communication systems. Aircraft carrier, being the commanding ship of the CSG, has a variety of dedicated satellite communication systems for various purposes. Long-distance communications are carried out through the USA’s defence satellite communications system (DSCS), a dedicated satellite based communication network. This high-capacity global system uses SHF band geo-stationary communication satellites that orbit equidistantly around the world.

On the other hand, short-distance communications are managed by fleet satellite communication (FLTSATCOM). Typically, this type of communication is between two CSGs or intra CSG communication or shore-to-CSG communication.

Satellite communication is carried out in two modes: receipt and broadcast. Receipt mode requires the recipient to send an acknowledgement message for each message it receives. Whereas, broadcast method, also called do-not-answer mode, does not require an acknowledgement message.

In the latter mode, the CSG can keep on receiving the data that are sent to it. The great advantage is that the CSG can preserve radio silence. Because, the moment it sends an acknowledgement message, the enemy electronic support measure (ESM) systems can find the CSG’s location. Through this mode, the CSG can receive situational updates without revealing its position.

Tactical digital information links (TADIL)

These tactical datalinks are the bridge between C2 systems of individual ships. Through these datalinks, Aegis ships exchange data between them and also with the carrier, so that overall C2 is maintained.


Link-4A. When airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft detect incoming enemy bomber, F-18 aircraft on patrol are instructed to fly towards the general area of the incoming enemy bomber. On reaching the area, these are vectored (giving directional commands) to intercept the bomber.


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