Kill Chain Approach


You’ll hear me speak about a Kill Chain approach. I’d like to share what I mean — We use “kill chains” to help decide how we should invest our time, money, and other resources to build our capabilities and gain an advantage over our adversaries.  For example, to execute a successful attack, you have to:

Kill Chain Approach

1) Find the target;

2) Determine target’s location, course and speed;

3) Communicate that information coherently to the platform launching the weapon; and,

4) Launch the attack using anything from a kinetic weapon to electromagnetic systems to cyber.

For our own capabilities, we use this model to determine the most efficient and effective way to complete our kill chains. In particular, we emphasize chains we know the adversary will have difficulty breaking. A good example of this is undersea warfare. Not many of our potential adversaries are good at anti-submarine warfare..

To defeat our adversaries’ attacks, we look for the links where the adversary has a vulnerability and we have an advantage. When we break one of these links, if not all of them, we disrupt the kill chain and successfully defeat an adversary’s attack.  A good example of this is using electronic warfare and jamming to prevent an adversary’s radar from seeing us. That disrupts the first link in the enemy’s kill chain – Find the target. Once that link is broken, the enemy has trouble completing the rest of the chain and attacking us.

So when we build a new weapon or improve an existing system, we need to understand how the kill chain will be affected or implemented.

I hope this helps you understand an aspect of our investment strategy as we work on today’s and tomorrow’s capabilities. I feel this kill chain approach, from end to end, will ensure our Sailors operating forward have the best capabilities they need to remain the preeminent maritime force.

Thanks, see you out there in the Fleet!

Admiral, U.S. Navy

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  • Michael Crabtree

    Before being critical, I do find the basic mechanisms sound and true. And these of course are only my opinions and perspective to what is being implemented. That being said, there seem to be a few problems with this approach in my opinion. First, there is nothing to indicate or determine what other policies this function may effect. For example, what if you are implementing an Emissions Control policy in order to alter your electronic signature to the enemy. There is nothing more apparent then an active weapon system. So the ability to locate and track an enemy may break another policy or standard in effect. The next is the positioning and selection of the weapon of choice. We communicate to the shooting platform, but what about Electronic Warfare. There are a multitude of conditions that generate ideal defensive patterns. The position, speed, and other atmospheric conditions of the potential target. Selecting the weapons of choice is critical because positioning for a missile defense, may not be ideal for a gun defense, and may not take point defense systems into consideration, not to mention Electronic Warfare systems that not only include a multitude of active jamming selections, but mechanical means such as chaff or flares.
    Launching the attack is great, but what happens when it doesn’t work. An Aegis equipped ship always thinks in hard kill using missile first. An Electronic Warfare defense is not always apparent as to it’s effectiveness until the last moments. That is too arbitrary for most, and a hard kill even if not the optimal weapon is selected for comfort and feedback. Speaking of feedback, where is it in this plan. What if the threat defeats the first defensive attack, when and how do alternate methods go into affect? This baseline of weapons release on a target is valid in an offensive nature, but what happens when it’s for defensive measures. Not to mention multiple and varied attacks. What if there is a torpedo threat, an airborne missile threat, and an electronic warfare threat all at once? I loved the capability of Aegis, but was always disappointed in defensive exercises because of course the Aegis weapons system was always selected, and we never considered a failure. Simple, just like the kill chains. The problem in the real world we may not want to kill everything, and what happens when the plan doesn’t work. How are we monitoring for effectiveness, and adjusting for the new and changing threat? It is a good core, but runs the risk of not considering all aspects of methods available. It doesn’t seem to constantly evaluate effectiveness, and implement needed adjustments. It doesn’t set up for the next level, if the main missile fails then what? Are we in a position to effectively implement the other weapons to defeat the threat. And are we constantly on watch and effective for other threats? I realize that to simplify the concepts the core ideas are only defined, but I believe a little more detail would be better.

  • Bernard

    Nice course correction, my man! Bernard