Technologies, procurement strategies, and operational approaches that speed up operator decision-making and maximize the impact of technology are critical factors shaping current operations and capability investment, according to naval commanders at a major new naval conference in Paris, France.
This, in particular, is a critical lesson learned from the Ukraine conflict, they added.
The inaugural “Paris Naval Conference,” hosted by the French Navy, took place on January 18 at IFRI (the French institute for international relations), and was opened by the heads of the French Navy, US Navy (USN), and UK Royal Navy. The three commanders discussed the lessons learned from Ukraine for their respective navies and related technology investments.
“What is decisive are technologies that are relevant to accelerating the OODA loop,” said Admiral Pierre Vandier, French Navy Chief of Staff, in reference to the observe/orient/decide/act (OODA) process.
“This is one of the biggest lessons […] Between our navies, the core is data interoperability because, if we want to act together, it is the OODA loop that is decisive. So, it is sharing this data, this process, and this software that makes us efficient in warfighting, much more than weapons.”
He went on to add, “You need 1,000 NLAWs to kill 1,000 tanks – but if you have a proper OODA loop, you will send two HIMARS munitions to strike the depot […] This is what Ukraine is [doing], with good success.”
Admiral Michael Gilday, the USN’s Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), underscored the need to capitalize on technology to optimize navies’ existing force structures:
“Given the fact that we’re going to fight with what we have, it’s important we make investments now in those game-changing technologies and training aids that will make us more capable and more lethal. What’s changed over the past few years is that the problem is not the availability of the platforms […] Everybody has the platforms: the magic is the artificial intelligence (AI) software. AI is what really brings that platform alive, and gives it operational relevance,” said Gilday.
He went on to emphasise, the importance of allowing the operator to integrate software into systems to provide the required outputs, which is supported by micro-processing applications that can speed up this integration.
“I want to be the integrator. I want those sailors at the tactical edge making the decision on what’s the best software patch matched against that platform to produce what they need with respect to useful information,” said CNO.
Adm Gilday stated that applications such as those found in commercial smart phones can assist in tapping into the large ‘data lake’ of information collected by unmanned systems.
“Users at the tactical edge say ‘I want to make these changes to this application’: some of them can [write] code, and they can make that change themselves; we can test it and then apply it very quickly,” said the CNO.
“So, the ‘development operations’ cycle we’re in right now with unmanned systems has allowed us to learn very quickly, and make informed decisions about what we’re going to invest in.”
Admiral Sir Ben Key, the UK’s First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, also emphasized the significance of the learning process itself.
“What we’re discovering is that the learning is the investment,” said Adm Key.
“How we create that environment within our structures will allow us to leverage the technology at the speed of relevance […] We need to create an environment in which the practitioners feel permission to ‘fail fast’ and move on.”