The Royal Australian Navy has successfully tested a new Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) that its SEA 4000 Hobart class destroyers will be equipped with.
The tests were conducted in March and early April aboard HMAS Hobart and NUSHIP Brisbane in the Gulf of St Vincent south-west of Adelaide.
CEC is designed to enhance the capability of a surface fleet by combining ship-borne radar and fire control data into a common picture, allowing one ship to engage an adversary based on the other ship’s data. Australia is only the second nation to integrate CEC after the US.
“The new Cooperative Engagement Capability is a significant step-change for Australia as we face increasing threats from cruise missiles and advanced aircraft,” Defence Minister Marise Payne said in a statement. “Together Hobart and Brisbane bring revolutionary air defence capabilities – not by adding new radars or weapon systems, but by utilising existing sensors and weapons in a more effective manner.
“Not only does this capability enable us, for the first time, to share targeting data in real time between ADF assets, it will also enable us to share it with United States assets, providing new levels of interoperability within a coalition force.”
The ADF will also integrate CEC with other assets such as the RAAF’s E-7A Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft, its future AIR 6500 Integrated Air and Missile Defence (IAMD) program, and the SEA 5000 Future Frigate’s Aegis combat management system to provide a long-range, cooperative and layered air defence.
“As the combat system integrator for Australia’s Air Warfare Destroyers, Raytheon Australia considers this announcement a critical milestone for the AWD program and the Royal Australian Navy, with Australia as the first international partner outside of the United States to gain access to this technology,”
Michael Ward, managing director of Raytheon Australia said in a separate statement. CEC has been described as a system that “promises to transform naval surface warfare”, one that has been enabled principally by the introduction and evolution of the Aegis combat system.
In his paper The Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) – Transforming Naval Anti-air Warfare published in 2007, William D O’Neil says “…the key to CEC is the ability to move from track-telling to transmitting complete radar data, dwell by dwell.” A ‘dwell’ is described as a “single radar ‘look’ at a target, which may involve multiple pulses in rapid succession but at the same beam position.”
O’Neil said this has been enabled by advances in computer speed from the use of faster digital components in radar receivers, and by computerised digital communications which permit faster transmission speeds without the need of greater bandwidths or increased power. These advances have effectively seen the first distributed lethality utilised by naval platforms.
The concept of CEC goes back to the 1970s when the US Navy became more aware of the proliferation of advanced high-speed anti-ship missiles, and the limitations of a ship’s radar mast-mounted radar which gives a radar horizon in the low tens of miles.
The US Navy’s concept of operations at the time was to engage an attacking force as far away as possible from the aircraft carrier around which a task group was commonly structured, hence the development of the Grumman F-14/Hughes AWG-9/AIM-54 long-range interceptor combination and the SM-2 SAM in the 1960s and 70s, and the first generation of Aegis combat systems in the 1970s and 80s.
Vessels currently communicate with other vessels and defending aircraft primarily via Link-11 and Link-16 to share track and early warning information. But these links come with a high level of latency which does not readily allow for reliable fire control solutions to be developed when sensor data is shared.
Where CEC differs is, it is not reliant on these systems and instead uses an organic network which shares raw data, not tracks. The system is sensor-ambivalent, so it builds a composite track from any number of airborne and surface sensors, thus giving the ship a much greater ‘horizon’ than that offered by the radar on its own mast.
Further, if one of those sensors is destroyed or disabled, it has a ‘self-healing’ ability to seek other sources of information from other sensors in order to retain its air picture, and thus retain an accurate fire control solution on any approaching threat.
The US Navy says CEC’s two major system functions consist of a Cooperative Engagement Processor (CEP) for sensor networking, and a Data Distribution System (DDS) for real-time communications amongst cooperating units (CU). It says each CEC-equipped unit uses identical sensor data processing algorithms resident in its CEP, resulting in each unit having the same display of air tracks.
But while CEC has been integrated successfully with Aegis and other common sensors of US-origin, it’s not an automatic ‘plug-and-play’ if new sensors of non-US origin were to be added. The CEC software needs to be matched to the sensor, and that’s not a trivial exercise – regardless of what ‘language’ a sensor speaks, it needs to be understood by the receiving CEC node in order to be integrated with the air picture.
For example, sensors such as the new CEA phased-array radar being integrated with the SEA 5000 Future Frigates will likely need to undergo a period of analysis and testing in order to work with CEC.
Any vessel or aircraft that has a CEC capability becomes a node in the network. While ships were originally thought of only as CEC nodes, this can now be applied to land-based aircraft, especially those which have advanced digital sensors such as the E-7A. Possible future airborne nodes could also be carried by the P-8A Poseidon or even something like a KC-30 MRTT.
Smaller aircraft such as the F-35, EA-18G Growler or the MH-60R Romeo Seahawk can feed their sensor data into the nodes and thus the wider CEC network, but cannot carry the cabinet-style ‘boxes’ required to act as a node themselves. Importantly in the joint-force scenario, land-based sensors such as those planned to be acquired under Project AIR 6500 can also be integrated with a CEC network, especially when deployed in the littorals in proximity to a friendly surface fleet.
CEC manages the sensor resources it has at its disposal, and can task disparate sensors appropriately if a threat is detected in order to build the clearest possible kill-chain. Jane’s has reported that in a US Navy demonstration conducted with 11 platforms or nodes, the CEC was capable of tracking more than one thousand targets over a two million square kilometre range area.
Another characteristic of CEC is that it has very short transmit and receive periods, so combined with its self-healing abilities, it is therefore resistant to jamming and cyber effects.
Apart from a few boxes, CEC is not a physical thing which floats or has wings or wheels, so getting funding to develop such a system and equip your forces appropriately can be challenging. But when considered in the whole, it is far greater than the sum of its parts. The RAN and the Australian government appears to have recognised this opportunity and has wisely committed to it.
“Most cases of notably transformative technologies are associated with vehicles, weapons, and/or sensors,” says O’Neil. “CEC is none of these things and yet figures on every list of major transformative innovations by virtue of its ability to increase the utilisation and effectiveness of existing and future sensors and weapons.”
This feature story appears in the May-June 2018 issue of ADBR.