The American Wolf Packs: A Case Study in Wartime Adaptation

This article originally featured on Joint Force Quarterly and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Dr. F.G. Hoffman

To paraphrase an often ridiculed comment made by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, you go to war with the joint force you have, not necessarily the joint force you need. While some critics found the quip off base, this is actually a well-grounded historical reality. As one scholar has stressed, “War invariably throws up challenges that require states and their militaries to adapt. Indeed, it is virtually impossible for states and militaries to anticipate all of the problems they will face in war, however much they try to do so.”1 To succeed, most military organizations have to adapt in some way, whether in terms of doctrine, structure, weapons, or tasks.

USS Steelhead (SS-280) refitted with 5.25-inch deck gun, April 10, 1945 (retouched by wartime censors) (U.S. Navy)USS Steelhead (SS-280) refitted with 5.25-inch deck gun, April 10, 1945 (retouched by wartime censors) (U.S. Navy)

The Joint Staff’s assessment of the last decade of war recognizes this and suggests that U.S. forces can improve upon their capacity to adapt.2 In particular, that assessment calls for a reinvigoration of lessons learned and shared best practices. But there is much more to truly learning lessons than documenting and sharing experiences immediately after a conflict. If we require an adaptive joint force for the next war, we need a common understanding of what generates rapid learning and adaptability.

The naval Services recently recognized the importance of adaptation. The latest maritime strategy, signed by the leadership of the U.S. Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard, defines the need to create “a true learning competency,” including “realistic simulation and live, virtual, and constructive scenarios before our people deploy.”3 History teaches that learning does not stop once the fleet deploys and that a true learning competency is based not only on games, drills, and simulations but also on a culture that accepts learning and adaptation as part of war.

This lesson is ably demonstrated by the Navy’s refinement of wolf pack tactics during the Pacific campaign of World War II. The tragic story of defects in U.S. torpedoes is well known, but the Navy’s reluctant adoption of the German U-boat tactics against convoys is not often studied.4 There are lessons in this case study for our joint warfighting community.

The success of the U.S. submarine force in the Pacific is a familiar story. The Sailors of the submarine fleet comprised just 2 percent of the total of U.S. naval manpower, but their boats accounted for 55 percent of all Japanese shipping losses in the war. The 1,300 ships lost included 20 major naval combatants (8 carriers, 1 battleship, and 11 cruisers). Japanese shipping lost 5.5 million tons of cargo, with U.S. submarines accounting for almost 5 million tons.5 This exceeded the total sunk by the Navy’s surface vessels, its carriers, and the U.S. Army Air Corps bombers combined. By August 1944, the Japanese merchant marine was in tatters and unable to support the needs of the civilian economy.6 The submarine campaign (aided by other joint means) thoroughly crippled the Japanese economy.7

This critical contribution was not foreseen during the vaunted war games held in the Naval War College’s Sims Hall or during the annual fleet exercises in the decades preceding the war. Perhaps the Navy hoped to ambush some Japanese navy ships, but the damage to Japanese sea lines of communication was barely studied and never gamed, much less practiced. A blockade employing surface and submarine forces was supposed to be the culminating phase of War Plan Orange, the strategic plan for the Pacific, but it was never expected to be the opening component of U.S. strategy. Submarines were to be used as scouts to identify the enemy’s battle fleet so the modern dreadnoughts and carrier task forces could attack. Alfred Thayer Mahan had eschewed war against commerce, or guerre de course, in his lectures, and his ghost haunted the Navy’s plans for “decisive battles.”8

The postwar assessment from inside the submarine community was telling: “Neither by training nor indoctrination was the U.S. Submarine Force readied for unrestricted warfare.”9 Rather than supporting a campaign of cataclysmic salvos by battleships or opposing battle lines of carrier groups, theirs was a war of attrition enabled by continuous learning and adaptation to create the competencies needed for ultimate success. This learning was not confined to material fixes and technical improvements. The story of the torpedo deficiencies that plagued the fleet in the first 18 months of the Pacific war has been told repeatedly, but the development of the Navy’s own wolf pack tactics is not as familiar a tale. Yet this became one of the key adaptations that enabled the Silent Service to wreak such havoc upon the Japanese war effort. Ironically, a Navy that dismissed commerce raiding, and invested little intellectual effort in studying it, proved ruthlessly effective at pursuing it.10

Learning Culture

One of the Navy’s secret weapons in the interwar era was its learning culture, part of which was Newport’s rigorous education program coupled with war games and simulations. The interaction between the Naval War College and the fleet served to cycle innovative ideas among theorists, strategists, and operators. A tight process of research, strategic concepts, operational simulations, and exercises linked innovative ideas with the realities of naval warfare. The Navy’s Fleet Exercises (FLEXs) were a combination of training and experimentation in innovative tactics and technologies.11 Framed against a clear and explicit operational problem, these FLEXs were conducted under unscripted conditions with opposing sides. Rules were established for evaluating performance and effectiveness, and umpires were assigned to regulate the contest and gauge success at these once-a-year evolutions.

Torpedoed Japanese destroyer IJN Yamakaze photographed through periscope of USS Nautilus, June 25, 1942 (U.S. Navy)Torpedoed Japanese destroyer IJN Yamakaze photographed through periscope of USS Nautilus, June 25, 1942 (U.S. Navy)

Conceptually framed by war games, these exercises became the “enforcers of strategic realism.”12 They provided the Navy’s operational leaders with a realistic laboratory to test steel ships at sea instead of cardboard markers on the floor at Sims Hall. Unlike so many “live” exercises today, these were remarkably free-play, unscripted battle experiments. The fleet’s performance was rigorously explored, critiqued, and ultimately refined by the men who would actually implement War Plan Orange.13 Both the games and exercises “provided a medium that facilitated the transmission of lessons learned, nurtured organizational memory and reinforced the Navy’s organizational ethos.”14 Brutally candid postexercise critiques occurred in open forums in which junior and senior officers examined moves and countermoves. These reflected the Navy’s culture of tackling operational problems in an intellectual, honest, and transparent manner. The Navy benefited from the low-cost “failures” from these exercises.15

Limitations of Peacetime

The exercises, however, had peacetime artificialities that reduced realism and retarded the development of the submarine. These severely limited Navy submarine offensive operations in the early part of World War II.16 With extensive naval aviation participation, the exercises convinced the fleet that submarines were easily found from the air. Thus, the importance of avoiding detection, either from the air or in approaches, became paramount. In the run-up to the war, the Asiatic Squadron commander threatened the relief of submarine commanders if their periscopes were even sighted in exercises or drills.17 This belief in the need for extreme stealth led to the development of and reliance on submerged attack techniques that required commanders to identify and attack targets from under water based entirely on sound bearings. Given the quality of sound detection and sonar technologies of the time, this was a precariously limited tactic of dubious effectiveness.

Technological limitations restricted the Navy’s appreciation for what the submarine could do. The Navy’s operational plans were dominated by high-speed carrier groups and battleships operating at no less than 17 to 20 knots for extended periods, but the Navy’s interwar boats could not keep pace. They were capable of 12 knots on the surface and half that when submerged. They would be far in the wake of the fleet during extended operations. This inadvertently promoted plans to use submarines for more independent operations, which eventually became the mode employed against Japanese commercial shipping in the opening years of the war.

Though they were a highly valuable source of insights at the fleet and campaign levels, the FLEXs had not enforced operational or tactical realism for the submarine crews at the tactical/procedural level. In fact, a generation of crews never heard a live torpedo detonated, proving a perfect match for a generation of torpedoes that were never tested.18 Nor did the Navy practice night attacks in peacetime, although it was quite evident well before Pearl Harbor that German night surface attacks were effective.19 Worse, operating at night was deemed unsafe, and thus night training was overlooked before the war.20 The submarine community’s official history found that the “lack of night experience saddled the American submariners entering the war with a heavy cargo of unsolved combat problems.”21 Once the war began, however, the old tactics had to be quickly discarded, and new attack techniques had to be learned in contact.

Overall, while invaluable for exploring naval aviation’s growing capability, the exercises induced conservative tactics and risk avoidance in the submarine world that were at odds with what the Navy would eventually need in the Pacific. As one Sailor-scholar observed:

Submarines were to be confined to service as scouts and “ambushers.” They were placed under restrictive operating conditions when exercising with surface ships. Years of neglect led to the erosion of tactical expertise and the “calculated recklessness” needed in a successful submarine commander. In its place emerged a pandemic of excessive cautiousness, which spread from the operational realm into the psychology of the submarine community.22

Unrestricted Warfare

Ultimately, as conflict began to look likely, with a correlation of forces not in America’s favor, students and strategists at Newport began to study the use of the submarine’s offensive striking power by attacking Japan’s merchant marine.23 During the spring semester of 1939, strategists argued for the establishment of “war zones” around the fleet upon commencement of hostilities. These areas would be a type of diplomatic exclusion zone, ostensibly to support fleet defense during war. However, the proponents’ intent was to conduct unrestricted warfare aimed at Japan’s long and vulnerable shipping lines.24

Yet there was a gap between what submarines could do and what the emergent plans to conduct unrestricted warfare were calling for. Well before Pearl Harbor, the Navy’s senior leaders understood that unrestricted warfare was a strategic necessity. However, the implications of this change were not acted upon at lower levels in the Navy in the brief era before Pearl Harbor. Doctrine, training, and ample working torpedoes were all lacking. This created the conditions for operational adaptation under fire later.

The Campaign

Due to an insufficient number of boats, limited doctrine, and faulty torpedoes, the submarine force could not claim great success. By the end of 1942, the Pacific Fleet had sent out 350 patrols. Postwar analyses credit these patrols with 180 ships sunk, with a total of 725,000 tons of cargo.25 Although this sounds impressive, over the course of the year, the Navy had sunk the same amount as the German U-boats had in just 2 months in the North Atlantic. This level of achievement was against a Japanese navy that had limited antisubmarine warfare (ASW) expertise and little in the way of radar. The damage inflicted had no impact on Japan’s import of critical resources and commodities, and the campaign could not be seen as a success. The war’s senior submariner, Vice Admiral Charles Lockwood, admitted that the submarine force was operating below its potential contribution.26

Tasked with the ruthless elimination of Japanese shipping, the Pacific Fleet was not producing results fast enough. Some of this shortfall was the result of faulty weapons, and some was attributed to the cautious doctrine of the interwar era. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest King directed a new approach. He wrote to Admiral Chester Nimitz at Pearl Harbor on April 1, 1943, noting that “effectiveness of operations and availability of submarines indicate desirability, even necessity, to form a tactical group of 4 to 6 submarines trained and indoctrinated in coordinated action for operations such as now set up in Solomons, to be stationed singly or in groups in enemy ship approaches to critical areas.”27 Nimitz immediately directed the implementation of King’s suggestion.28 Interestingly, despite his experience combating U-boats in the Atlantic and protecting the vital sea lines of communication to Europe, King was still oriented toward the employment of submarines against Japanese naval combatants. But in line with the pre–Pearl Harbor vision of unrestricted warfare, the U.S. submarine force was following a strategy of attrition against Tokyo’s merchant shipping, and the Navy submarine force continued to emphasize individual patrols and independent command. They had not been successful in dealing with Japanese warships in critical battles such as Midway. King apparently believed that if they could be properly “trained and indoctrinated in coordinated action,” this shortcoming might be rectified.

At the same time, King was fully engaged with responding to German Kriegsmarine wolf pack tactics, or Rudeltaktik. He was painfully aware how effective they were and was being strongly encouraged by both President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill to adopt defensive measures since the U-boats critically impaired Great Britain’s war effort.29 Moreover, King was aware that the U.S. Navy was not generating the same aggregate tonnage results as the German navy, and he may have concluded that emulating the Germans could produce better results.30 Lockwood, the commander of Submarine Force Pacific (COMSUBPAC), was certainly well aware of the comparisons; in mid-1942, he wrote that “Germans getting 3 ships a day, Pac not getting one ship.”31 Furthermore, his predecessor as COMSUBPAC issued a five-page summary of German wolf pack tactics via a widely distributed bulletin in January 1943.32

Comparisons between theaters may have driven King to propose the shift, but he may have also detected trends in Japanese ASW that would eventually weaken U.S. submarine effectiveness if changes were not put in place. The operational and tactical context facing the submarine force was increasing in complexity. By 1943, Japanese convoys were becoming larger, more organized, and better protected. The escort command was employing more airplanes and newer techniques for detection and attack.

As Lockwood noted in his memoir, collective action was not unknown to the submarine force. Before the war, experiments had attempted simultaneous attacks by several submarines, but communications between boats were not good enough to ensure safety in peacetime operations. These tactics were cursorily explored late in 1941 but were abandoned due to fears of blue-on-blue incidents and limited communications capabilities.33

Now, however, conditions were different, radar had been perfected, high-frequency radio phones were installed, and communications were vastly improved.34 Coordination could be achieved, but the American submariners had little practice at it. The submarine force would have to investigate new tactics on the fly in the midst of the war. (Somewhat ironically, King called for emulating German submarine tactics just as that force was passing the apex of its operational effectiveness. May 1943 was considered the blackest month for the U-boats in the cruel Battle of the Atlantic.35)

King’s message eliminated debate, but the Pacific submarine fleet took its time to interpret fully the doctrinal and tactical implications of the new approach. As a result, the U.S. Navy did not employ the same approach as the Germans. U-boat wolf packs in the Kriegsmarine were ad hoc and fluid. When Admiral Karl Dönitz received intelligence about the location and character of a convoy, he would direct a number of boats to converge on an area where he expected the convoy to be. He would thus direct the assembly of the wolf pack and coordinate its attack from long distance. There was no on-scene commander or collective attack.36 The U-boats were simply sharks, swarming and attacking at will, or swarming to designated areas when directed. The Atlantic convoys were rather large (30 or more ships), encompassing a relatively wide area. A convergence could bring together as many as a dozen boats swarming around a big convoy but without any on-scene battle management.37 A single U-boat would be easily driven off, but a pack would not be. They would stalk the merchant shipping and pick off the slowest quarry every time.

King’s intervention about collective action proved timely. The Japanese navy did eventually enhance its ASW efforts, employing land-based surveillance, better radars, and more coordination. As the U.S. boats were drawing closer to Japan’s home islands, their targets were hugging closer to shallow waters and staying within air coverage. This raised the risk that American submarines would be identified and attacked.

Concerted action by the submarines could offset these changes in the operating context. Singular attacks would draw all the attention of an escort, ensuring that the U.S. boats were driven deep and away from their wounded targets. Coordination by multiple boats would allow continuous pressure on a Japanese shipping convoy and increase the strangulation that Lockwood was aiming to achieve. Multiple threats would distract the convoy’s protective screen and generate more opportunities out of each convoy that was found.

The U.S. Navy did not embrace German wolf pack doctrine or terminology; the accepted term for the tactic was coordinated attack group (CAG). An innovative submariner, Captain Charles “Swede” Momsen, developed the tactics and commanded the initial U.S. wolf pack in the early fall of 1943.38 American CAGs would initially have a senior commander on scene, but it would not be one of the boat’s skippers, as Lockwood desired to have his older division commanders get wartime experience on boats.39

The investigative phase was exhaustive and deliberate over several months. Experienced submarine commanders, not staff officers, developed the required tactics and communication techniques. In an echo of prewar Newport, discussions evolved into small war games on the floor of a converted hotel, which conveniently had a chessboard floor of black and white tiles. The officers who would conduct these patrols developed their own doctrine and tactics.40 The staff and prospective boat captains tested various ways both to scout for targets and then to assemble into a fighting force once a convoy was detected. War games, drills, and ultimately at-sea trials were conducted to refine a formal doctrine. Momsen drilled his captains in tactics, planning to have three boats attack successively—one boat making the first attack on a convoy, then acting as a trailer while the other two attacked alternately on either flank. He also developed a simple code for use on the new “Talk Between Ships” system so that boats could communicate with each other without being detected or intercepted by the Japanese.

The American approach rejected the rigid, centralized theater command and ad hoc tactical structure of the Germans.41 Consistent with its culture, the U.S. Navy took the opposite approach. CAGs comprised three to four boats under a common tactical commander who was present on scene. Unlike the Germans, these attack groups trained and deployed together as a distinctive element. They patrolled in a designated area under a senior commander and followed a generic attack plan. Other than intelligence regarding potential target convoys, orders came from the senior tactical commander on scene and not from the fleet commander. This tactical doctrine called for successive rather than swarming attacks.42 Subsequently scholars have been critical of these deliberate and sequential attack tactics, which negated surprise and simplified the job of Japanese escorts.43

Strangely, there seems to have been little urgency behind COMSUBPAC’s doctrinal and organizational adaptation. This top-down direction from afar (from Admiral King) appears to have been resisted until met with bottom-up evidence derived from experienced skippers. In the records of this period, Lockwood appears to be guilty of delaying tactics, but captains John “Babe” Brown and Swede Momsen convinced him to have “a change of heart.”44

Lockwood and his team at Submarine Force Pacific did not merely take King’s directive and implement it. He and the commander of U.S. submarines based in Australia, Rear Admiral Ralph Christie, were not in favor of the change in tactics. In his memoirs, Lockwood noted in a single sentence that he was directed to conduct wolf pack tactics by King. He did apply groups of four to six boats in his packs. And while he did develop the doctrine King tasked them to create, he did not apply it as King desired, against military shipping or approaches to critical operational areas. Instead, Lockwood deployed the CAGs to his ruthless campaign of attrition against Japanese commerce. The developmental process was entirely consistent with bottom-up adaptation. Lockwood was permitted to develop the command and control process, tactics, and training program on his own. Centralized command from Pearl Harbor was rejected, which reflected both the traditional Navy culture of command responsibility and autonomy and Lockwood’s appreciation for how Allied direction finding and signals intelligence in the Atlantic were fed by Dönitz’s centralized control and extensive communications.

Even after his change of heart, Lockwood and the submarine force took their time to work out the required doctrine and tactics in an intensive investigatory phase. The first attack group, comprised of the Cero (SS-225), Shad (SS-235), and Grayback (SS-208), was not formed until the summer of 1943. Momsen, who had never been on a combat patrol, was the commodore and rode in Cero. The pack finished its preparations and deployed from Pearl Harbor in late September on its combat patrol from Midway on October 1, 1943, exactly 6 months to the day from King’s message. This was hardly rapid adaptation, given the lessons from both the German success story in the Atlantic and the lack of success in the Pacific.

The initial cruise was deemed a success. Momsen’s CAG arrived in the East China Sea on October 6, 1943. It made a single collective attack on a convoy and was credited with sinking five Japanese ships for 88,000 tons and damaging eight more with a gross tonnage of 63,000 tons. While this met the measures of success that Lockwood wanted, the commanders involved were less than enthusiastic. The comments from the participating captains were generally mixed, with many indicating they would prefer to hunt alone rather than as a member of a group. They believed that the problems of communication were technologically unsolvable and that the risk of fratricide was unavoidable. Moreover, commanders preferred operating and attacking alone—consistent with the Navy’s traditional culture and the community’s enduring preference for independent action (and the rewards that came with it). Momsen, perhaps reflecting an appreciation of the complementing role high-level intelligence could play, recommended centralized command from Pearl Harbor rather than an on-the-scene commander, something Lockwood immediately overruled.45 But various packs were planned and began training. Ingrained conservatism and fear of firing on a friendly vessel framed the emerging tactics. These in practice emphasized “cooperative search” over collective attack.46

Figure 1.

The need to explore innovative tactics was directed from the top, but the Navy leadership was patient in letting local leaders figure out the “how.” The validity of coordinated action grew on commanders such as Lockwood. Whatever reservations they might have held, the American wolf packs continued during the remainder of the year and were a common tactic during 1944. Unlike Dönitz’s Operation Paukenschlag(Drumbeat) in the Atlantic in early 1943, Lockwood’s force began to win the war of attrition in the Pacific. The success was likely due to the combination of finally having defect-free torpedoes and employing new search tactics. But as Lockwood noted in a tactical bulletin, for the first time, tonnage totals between the German effort and that of the American submarine force “now compare favorably.”47

One dramatic case gives an example of how effective CAGs could be. In late July 1944, Commander Lawson “Red” Ramage commanded the USS Parche, part of a wolf pack labeled “Park’s Pirates” after Captain Lew Parks, also aboard the Parche. The Pirates included the USS Steelhead, skippered by Lieutenant Commander Dave Whechel, and the USS Hammerhead, whose skipper was Commander Jack Martin. After a patch of bad weather and poor radio reporting, the Pirates found their quarry. Although frustrated by miscommunications, Martin identified a large Japanese convoy on the evening of July 30. Although it was a long shot, Parks ordered Ramage to give chase, and for 8 hours the Parche chased down the fleeing convoy.

What happened next was a maritime melee. Ramage surfaced inside the convoy in the dark and began a methodical attack, slicing in and around the larger tankers and setting up shots that ranged from only 500 to 800 yards. Ramage’s boat passed within 50 feet of one Japanese corvette on an opposite tack that could not depress its guns enough to strike it.48 The Parche was almost rammed once and was subjected to fire from numerous vessels as it raised havoc with the 17 merchant ships and 6 escorts of Convoy MI-11.

Within 34 minutes, Ramage fired 19 torpedoes and got at least 14 hits. Lockwood credited Parche with 4 ships sunk and 34,000 tons, while the Steelhead got credit for 2 ships of 14,000 tons. Ramage’s epic night surface attack earned him the Medal of Honor.49 His daring rampage was a perfect example of a loosely coordinated attack relying on individual initiative (not unlike a classic U-boat commander’s approach in its execution) rather than formal tactics or a set piece approach that failed to overwhelm the escorts.50

After mid-1944, there were no major adaptations in submarine warfare during the remainder of the Pacific campaign. Ships, doctrine, training, and weapons were highly effective. In a sense, the U.S. submarine war did not truly begin until the CAGs went to sea in late 1943. Until then, it “had been a learning period, a time of testing, of weeding out, of fixing defects in weapons, strategy, and tactics, of waiting for sufficient numbers of submarines and workable torpedoes.”51 Yet within a few months, Japan’s economic lifeline was in tatters.

Exploiting an increased number of boats and the shorter patrol distances afforded by advanced bases in Guam and Saipan, U.S. patrol numbers increased by 50 percent to 520 patrols in 1944. These patrols fired over 6,000 torpedoes, which had become both functional and plentiful. They sank over 600 ships for nearly 3 million tons of shipping. They reduced Japan’s critical imports by 36 percent and cut the merchant fleet in half (from 4.1 million to 2 million tons). While Japanese oil tanker production increased, oil imports dropped severely (see figure).52

Lockwood took wolf packs to a new level in 1945. Now a firmly convinced advocate, he carefully planned an operation with nine boats, operating in three wolf packs, that would traverse the heavily mined entrances of the Sea of Japan.53 The development of an early version of mine-detecting FM sonar allowed boats to detect mines at 700 yards and bypass them. Submarines could now enter mined waters such as the Straits of Tsushima surreptitiously and operate in areas the Japanese mistakenly believed were secure, cutting off the crucial foodstuffs and coal shipments transiting from Korea to Japan. Lockwood’s staff meticulously planned this operation, partially motivated by his desire to avenge the loss of the heroic Commander Dudley Morton and the USS Wahoo in the northern Sea of Japan in fall 1943. Each of the U.S. boats was fitted with FM sonar, and the crews received detailed training in its use. Once they had made the passage and were at their assigned stations in the Sea of Japan, the submarines, working in groups of three, were scheduled to begin a timed attack throughout the area of operations at sunset on June 9. This collective action group was unique in that, instead of gaining an advantage by concentrating their combat power on a single target or convoy, the Hellcats concentrated as a group for their entrance through the narrow Tsushima and then disaggregated. Their simultaneous but distributed attack was designed to shock the Japanese and overwhelm their ability to respond.

In Operation Barney, nine boats led by Captain Earl Hydeman successfully surprised the Japanese and sank 27 vessels in their backyard.54 But it cost Lockwood one of his own boats, as the USS Bonefishunder Lieutenant Commander Lawrence Edge was lost with all hands.55

Without King’s top-down intervention, the adaptation to the use of CAGs may not have been initiated. The success of its adoption, however, was a function of letting local commanders develop their own doctrine. By the end of the war, Lockwood was more enthusiastic about the prospects of the American wolf packs. A total of 65 different wolf packs deployed from Hawaii, and additional groups patrolled out of Australia as well.56 Ironically, they never focused on King’s original intent of serving as ambushers against naval combatants. Instead, the packs remained true to Lockwood’s guerre de course against Japan’s economy.

Cross-Domain Synergies

The historical requirement to adapt in the future may be complicated by the evolving character of modern conflict and the expectation that the joint force will need to gain and exploit cross-domain synergies. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Capstone Concept for Joint Operations (CCJO) is predicated upon creating cross-domain synergies to overcome operational challenges. Another element is to seize, retain, and exploit the initiative in time and across domains.57 Some of this synergy will no doubt be gained in peacetime through concerted efforts to improve interoperability. But if cross-domain synergy is to “become a core operating concept,” as suggested by former Chairman General Martin Dempsey (Ret.) in the CCJO, then we need to also expect to seek out new synergies in wartime.58 Here again, the submarine case study—with its numerous technological adaptations (surface and air search radars, sonars, and improved torpedoes) and cooperation with signals intelligence and the Army Air Corps—is evidence that trans-domain learning is both necessary and feasible, even in combat conditions.

This raises a set of critical questions about joint adaptation in tomorrow’s wars. In future conflicts, how prepared will the joint community be to establish test units and create synergistic combinations on the fly? How prepared are we to actively adapt “under fire” as a joint warfighting community? Do we have the right learning mechanisms to create, harvest, and exploit lessons horizontally across the joint force during combat operations? Such horizontal learning has been crucial in successful examples of adaptation in the past.59 Based on this case study, and several others conducted in a formal case study of U.S. military operations, the following recommendations are offered.

Leadership Development. Senior officers should understand how enhanced operational performance is tied to collaborative and open command climates in which junior commanders can be creative, and plans and tactics can be challenged or altered. The importance of mission command should not excuse commanders from oversight or learning, from providing support, or from recognizing good or bad practices for absorption into praxis by other units. Professional military education (PME) programs should develop and promote leaders who remain flexible, question existing paradigms, and can work within teams of diverse backgrounds to generate collaboration and greater creativity. Case studies in military adaptation should be part of PME strategic leadership syllabi.

Cultural Flexibility over Doctrinal Compliance. Joint force commanders should instill cultures and command climates that embrace collaborative and creative problem-solving and display a tolerance for free or critical thinking. Cultures that are controlling or doctrinally dogmatic or that reinforce conformity should not be expected to be adaptive. Commanders should learn how to create climates in which ideas and the advocates of new ideas are stimulated rather than simply tolerated. If institutions are to be successful over the long haul or adaptive in adverse circumstances, promoting imaginative thinking and adaptation is a must.

Learning Mechanisms. Commanders should be prepared to use operations assessments to allow themselves to interpret the many signals and forms of feedback that occur in combat situations. If needed, they may elect to create special action teams or exploit formalized learning teams to identify, capture, and harvest examples of successful adaptation. These teams or units might have to be created to experiment with new tactics or technologies. Commanders should codify a standard process to collect lessons from current operations for rapid horizontal sharing. They have to be prepared to translate insights laterally into modified praxis to operational forces and not just institutionalize these lessons for future campaigns via postconflict changes in doctrine, organization, or education.

Chief Torpedo man Donald E. Walters receives Bronze Star for service aboard USS Parche (SS-384) (U.S. Navy/Darryl L. Baker)Chief Torpedo man Donald E. Walters receives Bronze Star for service aboard USS Parche (SS-384) (U.S. Navy/Darryl L. Baker)

Dissemination. Commanders should invest time in ensuring that lessons and best practices are shared widely and horizontally in real time to enhance performance and are not just loaded into formal information systems. The Israel Defense Forces are exploring practices that make commanders more conscious about recognizing changes in the operating environment from either their own forces or the opponent.60 There may be something to practicing learning in this way and making it the responsibility of a commander instead of a special staff officer.


As Ovid suggested long ago, one can learn from one’s enemies. The U.S. Navy certainly did. The Service did not just emulate the Kriegsmarine; it improved upon its doctrine with tailored tactics and better command and control capabilities. To do so, Navy submarine leaders had to hold some of their own mental models in suspended animation and experiment in theater with alternative concepts. Lessons were not simply harvested from existing patrols and combat experience and plugged into a Joint Universal Lessons Learned System, as is done today. The submarine force had to carve out the resources, staff, and time to investigate new methods in a holistic way from concept to war games to training against live ships.

Because the eventual role of the Silent Service was not anticipated with great foresight, the Americans had to learn while fighting. They accomplished this with great effectiveness, learning and adapting their tactics, training, and techniques. But the ultimate victory was not due entirely to the strategic planning of War Plan Orange. Some success must be credited to the adaptation of the intrepid submarine community.

Ultimately, the U.S. Navy’s superior organizational learning capacity, while at times painfully slow, was brought to bear. The Navy dominated the seas by the end of World War II, and there is much credit to assign to the strategies developed and tested at the Naval War College and the Fleet Exercises of the interwar era. However, a nod must also be given to the Navy’s learning culture of the submarine force during the war. The Service’s wartime “organizational learning dominance” was as critical as the foresight in the interwar period.61 To meet future demands successfully, the ability of our joint force to rapidly create new knowledge and disseminate changes in tactics, doctrine, and hardware will face the same test. 

Dr. F.G. Hoffman is a Senior Research Fellow in the Center for Strategic Research, Institute for National Strategic Studies, at the National Defense University. The author would like to thank Dr. T.X. Hammes, Dr. Williamson Murray, and Colonel Pat Garrett, USMC (Ret.), for input on this article.


Theo Farrell, Military Adaptation in Afghanistan, ed. Theo Farrell, Frans Osinga, and James Russell (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012), 18.

Joint and Coalition Operational Analysis, Decade of War: Enduring Lessons from the Past Decade of Operations, vol. 1 (Suffolk, VA: The Joint Staff, June 15, 2012).

A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower (Washington, DC: Department of the Navy, March 2015), 31.

For a good overview, see Anthony Newpower, Iron Men and Tin Fish: The Race to Build a Better Torpedo During World War II (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006).

Theodore Roscoe, United States Submarine Operations in World War II (Annapolis, MD: U.S. Naval Institute, 1949), 479.

Wilfred Jay Holmes, Undersea Victory: The Influence of Submarine Operations on the War in the Pacific (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), 351.

James M. Scott, “America’s Undersea War on Shipping,” Naval History, December 2014, 18–26.

Ian W. Toll, Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941–1942 (New York: Norton, 2012), xxxiv.

Roscoe, 18.

10 Joel Ira Holwitt, “Unrestricted Submarine Victory: The U.S. Submarine Campaign against Japan,” in Commerce Raiding: Historical Case Studies, 1755–2009, ed. Bruce A. Elleman and S.C.M. Paine (Newport, RI: Naval War College Press, October 2013).

11 Albert A. Nofi, To Train the Fleet for War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923–1940 (Newport, RI: Naval War College Press, 2010).

12 Michael Vlahos, “Wargaming, an Enforcer of Strategic Realism,” Naval War College Review (March–April 1986), 7.

13 Nofi, 271.

14 Craig C. Felker, Testing American Sea Power: U.S. Navy Strategic Exercises, 1923–1940 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2007), 6.

15 Stephen Peter Rosen, Winning the Next War: Innovation and the Modern Military (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994), 75.

16 Nofi, 307.

17 Holmes, 47.

18 Clay Blair, Silent Victory: The U.S. Submarine War Against Japan (New York: Lippincott, 1975), 41; Ronald H. Spector, Eagle Against the SunThe American War with Japan (New York: Free Press, 1985), 484.

19 Charles A. Lockwood, Sink ’Em All: Submarine Warfare in the Pacific (New York: Dutton, 1951), 52.

20 I.J. Galantin, Take Her Deep! A Submarine Against Japan in World War II (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2007), 18.

21 Roscoe, 57.

22 Felker, 62.

23 See J.E. Talbott, “Weapons Development, War Planning, and Policy: The U.S. Navy and the Submarine, 1917–1941,” Naval War College Review (May–June 1984), 53–71; Spector, 54–68, 478–480.

24 Joel Ira Holwitt, “Execute Against Japan”: Freedom-of-the-Seas, the U.S. Navy, Fleet Submarines, and the U.S. Decision to Conduct Unrestricted Warfare, 1919–1941 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2009), 479.

25 Blair, Silent Victory, 334–345.

26 Lockwood, Sink ’Em All, 27.

27 Steven Trent Smith, Wolf Pack: The American Submarine Strategy That Helped Defeat Japan (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2003), 50; Lockwood, Sink ’Em All, 87.

28 Smith, 51.

29 Ibid.

30 Galantin, 126.

31 Library of Congress, Lockwood Papers, box 12, folder 63, letter, Lockwood to Admiral Leary, July 11, 1942.

32 National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), RG 313/A16 3 (1), Commander, Submarine Forces Pacific, Tactical Bulletin #1-43, January 2, 1943.

33 Roscoe, 240.

34 Charles A. Lockwood and Hans Christian Adamson, Hellcats of the Sea (New York: Bantam, 1988), 88.

35 Peter Padfield, War Beneath the Sea: Submarine Conflict During World War II (New York: Wiley & Sons, 1995), 308–336; Michael Gannon, Black May: The Epic Story of the Allies’ Defeat of the German U-boats in May 1943 (New York: HarperCollins, 1998).

36 Blair, Silent Victory, 360.

37 Clay Blair, The Hunters, 1939–1942 (New York: Random House, 1998); Michael Gannon, Operation DrumbeatThe Dramatic True Story of Germany’s First U-Boat Attacks Along the American Coast in World War II (New York: Harper & Row, 1990), 89–90.

38 Blair, Silent Victory, 511–516; Roscoe, 240.

39 Library of Congress, Lockwood Papers, box 13, folder 69, letter, Lockwood to Nimitz, May 4, 1943.

40 Galantin, 124–129.

41 Padfield, 85–130.

42 Galantin, 129.

43 Padfield, 404–405.

44 Blair, Silent Victory, 479–480.

45 Roscoe, 241.

46 Ibid., 341.

47 NARA, RG 38, Naval Command Files, box 357, Commander, Submarine Forces Pacific, Tactical Bulletin #6-43, November 22, 1943.

48 Stephen L. Moore, Battle Surface: Lawson “Red” Ramage and the War Patrols of the USS Parche (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2011), 116.

49 Ibid., 110–116.

50 Padfield, 433. On the engagement, see Moore, 101–118. See also War Patrol Report #2, August 1944, available at <>.

51 Blair, Silent Victory, 524.

52 Ibid., 791–793; Roscoe, 432–433.

53 The operation is covered in detail in Peter Sasgen, Hellcats: The Epic Story of World War II’s Most Daring Submarine Raid (New York: Caliber, 2010).

54 Holmes, 459–461.

55 NARA, RG 38, Naval Command Files, box 358, “Operation Barney” in Submarine Bulletin II, no. 3 (September 1945), 10–16.

56 See the list at <>.

57 “Chairman Releases Plan to Build Joint Force 2020,” new release, September 28, 2012, available at <>.

58 Cross-domain synergy is a key concept in joint concepts such as the Joint Operational Access Concept and the Chairman’s Concept for Joint Operations. See Capstone Concept for Joint Operations, Joint Force 2020 (Washington, DC: The Joint Staff, September 10, 2012), 13.

59 Robert T. Foley, “A Case Study in Horizontal Military Innovation: The German Army, 1916–1918,” Journal of Strategic Studies 35, no. 6 (December 2012), 799–827.

60 Raphael D. Marcus, “Military Innovation and Tactical Adaptation in the Israel-Hizbollah Conflict: The Institutionalization of Lesson-Learning in the IDF,” Journal of Strategic Studies 38, no. 4 (2014), 1–29.

61 R. Evan Ellis, “Organizational Learning Dominance,” Comparative Strategy 18, no. 2 (Summer 1999), 191–202.

Featured Image: USS Cuttlefish submerging. (Official USN photo # 80-G-K-3348)

Little Men in Black: The Frogman Threat in Maritime Hybrid Warfare

By Ben Ho Wan Beng


Maritime hybrid warfare is upon us, so proclaimed James Stavridis, a retired United States Navy admiral. “(I)t will sail out to sea and prove a formidable challenge,” he contended in a December 2016 Proceedings article. According to security analyst Frank Hoffman, a hybrid opponent is one that “simultaneously and adaptively employs a fused mix of conventional weapons, irregular tactics, terrorism, and criminal behavior in the battlespace to obtain desired political objectives.” Indeed, Beijing’s use of its maritime militia, or “little blue men, in the South China Sea (SCS) and similar measures by Teheran in the Persian Gulf are worrisome signs of hybrid warfare taking on a nautical slant.

Several commentators have visualised scenarios of how maritime hybrid warfare, or MHW in short, might unfold. Stavridis spoke of unidentified men in small boats wreaking havoc with rocket and machine-gun fire on SCS shipping in his Proceedings piece. In the same vein, defense writer Colum Hawken conceived of “Q-ships” attacking merchantmen at busy waterways near Singapore and in the Baltic Sea.

These scenarios and most other works on the subject matter delve largely on the use of irregular forces such as militiamen and terrorists to conduct such operations at sea. As for waging MHW beneath the waves, the role played by unmanned underwater vehicles has been recognized as well. What is overlooked perhaps is the utility of “regular” naval special operations forces (SOFs), more specifically combat swimmers, for MHW in the sub-surface realm and this needs to be addressed. It is worth noting that a recent Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) study on maritime domain awareness in northern Europe described frogmen as “arguably the most effective force for maritime hybrid operations.”

Covert and High Level of Deniability

So what is it about combat divers that makes them so suited for MHW? A key feature of hybrid warfare is deniability. As such, “gray-zone” actors often turn to clandestine means to prevent attribution and retaliation by the targeted party, and the low signature of frogman operations is arguably what makes them so suitable in this regard. After all, covertness is the watchword of SOF units, whether they be maritime- or land-centric ones. Indeed, the popular image of them is one of a United States Navy SEAL emerging from the depths of the water to eliminate an unwary sentry or a British Special Boat Service team making a stealthy landing on a hostile beach.

The deployment of frogmen under various conditions accounts substantially for their low signature. Two of such conditions are not unique to these forces but apply to another SOFs as well: deployment in relatively small numbers and during the wee hours where defenses are least alert. To further protect their cover, the frogmen can operate from a Q-ship masquerading as an innocuous commercial ship in the targeted nation’s waters. To be certain, a submarine is also an option for combat-swimmer deployment. However, compared to the Q-ship, the sub simply does not have the same degree of non-attribution that is so central to gray-zone warfare.

Matters for the targeted nation are not helped by the area of operations the combat divers and their motherships would be in – the littorals, with its significant background clutter. As the naval analyst Geoffrey Till wrote: “The littoral is a congested place, full of neutral and allied shipping, oil-rigs, buoys, coastline clutter, islands, reefs and shallows, and complicated underwater profiles.” The ability to detect and identify threats would be a premium in such waters, and this accentuates the frogman threat given its already minuscule signature. This low detectability invariably also means that combat-swimmer missions have a great element of surprise, which is another integral element of MHW.

Navy divers and special operators attached to SEAL Delivery Team (SDV) 2, perform SDV operations with the Ohio-Class nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine USS Florida (SSGN 728) for material certification. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Andrew McKaskle)

All this is not say that divers cannot be picked up at all by sensors – they can be detected by sonar and countered by various measures, including marine mammals and other anti-frogman techniques. That said, if the commandos were to be compromised, their government could deny any association with these “little men in black” like how Moscow distanced itself from the “little green men” who created military facts on the ground in Crimea. After all, the black wet suits worn by combat swimmers are typically unmarked and this helps to some extent in putting up the veneer of non-attribution around these forces.

Kinetic Missions

Combat swimmers can execute a wide range of tasks in maritime hybrid warfare. The kinetic threat they pose is especially ominous as they can create disproportionate strategic effects. Using weapons like limpet mines, divers can carry out attacks on a nation’s maritime interests, whether they be offshore hydrocarbon installations, merchantmen, or even warships.

There have been a number of noted successes in this regard with the December 1941 Alexandria raid being conceivably the most famous. During this operation, six Italian frogmen crippled two British battleships moored in the Egyptian base, changing the naval balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean albeit temporarily. In three groups of two, the divers attacked at night and only one group was detected by the British during the attack – but only after they had attached explosives to the bottom of HMS Valiant.

What is illuminating about this episode is that the Italian commandos pulled off the attack on a highly protected base under wartime conditions. In an MHW environment, however, the opponent’s defenses would not be as vigilant given that they are not operating under a state of war. To be sure, modern naval bases would invariably have anti-frogman measures in place, but many such systems are largely unproven, at least from what is known from open sources. More importantly, commercial ports and other civilian maritime interests that are prime targets for MHW are probably not as heavily guarded as military ones. Indeed, should frogmen be utilized in the vignettes that Stavridis and Hawken have presented in their writings, the situations would probably be more chaotic given the insidious nature of such forces.

Non-kinetic Missions

Frogmen can also perform various non-kinetic tasks in support of a maritime hybrid warfare effort. These include placing eavesdropping sensors on the seabed a la Operation Ivy Bells, where American naval divers wiretapped the Soviet undersea communications system at the height of the Cold War. Another non-kinetic task in the MHW sphere for combat swimmers would be the tampering of the undersea cables so crucial to the Internet and communications services of a nation.

Experts believe that seabed operations – of which divers can play a role in – is likely to gain greater significance with time. As a matter of fact, British Air Chief Marshal Stuart Peach has warned of Russia – a leading hybrid warfare practitioner – cutting and disrupting his country’s submarine cables. The British defense chief noted that such a move could “immediately and potentially catastrophically” hit his country’s economy, adding that it poses a “new risk to our way of life.”

It is worth noting that these non-kinetic missions would have an even lower level of attribution compared to kinetic ones given that no explosions or casualties would be involved. The targeted nation may not even know it has been subjected to MHW techniques until much later, and this no doubt increases the extent of non-attribution so crucial to the success of gray-zone warfare.

Final Thoughts

All in all, the frogman is of considerable utility in the waging of both kinetic and non-kinetic maritime hybrid warfare. The CSIS report mentioned earlier acknowledges this fact vis-à-vis Russia in the Baltic and Norwegian Seas and recommends a technology-centric solution with the development of capabilities for low-signature detection. This is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, and countries outside of northern Europe facing up to such threats would do well to follow suit.

Addressing the challenge cognitively is just as important, if not more so. What is needed is thus a greater recognition of the frogman threat that has somewhat been understated in the discourse on maritime hybrid warfare. With this, “simple vigilance,” which is what one writer deemed as the final line of defense against the threat, could hopefully be strengthened.

In the final analysis, while naval divers constitute a potent threat in the MHW scheme of things, a hybrid actor worth its salt would not use them in isolation. They would likely be deployed in concert with other tools from the hybrid operations playbook like cyber-attacks, (dis)information campaigns, as well as small-scale kinetic action on land. Prussian king Frederick the Great once said that “he who defends everything defends nothing,” and therein lies the enduring challenge of countering hybrid warfare – how best to deal with a threat that is at once multi-faceted and insidious.

Ben Ho Wan Beng is a senior analyst with the military studies program at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. He writes primarily on naval affairs, and his work in this area has been published in the likes of the Naval War College Review, Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, The National Interest, and The Diplomat.

Featured Image: German Navy combat divers Kommando Spezialkräfte Marine (KSM)

The Growing Dragon: The Radical Reorganization of the PLA

By Pawel Behrendt

Two years ago, President Xi Jinping announced the reorganization of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the implementation is gaining momentum. The changes, which go far beyond administrative restructuring and equipment modernization, will make the world’s most massive fighting force more modern and flexible. The reorganization gives Xi and his team an opportunity to purge political opponents within the military and address many of the problems that have plagued the military for decades.

During his speech to the National People Congress in 2012, Hu Jintao announced the modernization of the PLA, seeking a modern armed force, able to “win local wars under informationized/hi-tech conditions.” Under Xi Jinping, these modernizations began to materialize. The first noticeable change was the restoration of political officers in the PLA, a clear sign of turbulent relations between the new leadership and the generals. Next, Xi announced a wide-reaching anti-corruption campaign. Most notably, former deputy chairmen of the Central Military Commission, Generals Xu Caihou, and Guo Boxiong, were among those accused of corruption. Their fate was settled in 2016 – Xu died of cancer while under arrest and Guo was sentenced to life in prison.

With the backdrop of the anti-corruption campaign, a real military reform was afoot – in 2014, a reorganization of the command structure was announced. The number of military regions was reduced from 7 to 5, and a joint operation command was established to coordinate actions of ground, air, and naval forces in each area. There was also an increase in the role of the Air Force and Navy, both of which are more prominent in a state with global ambitions as opposed to an Army-dominated system that has long characterized China’s military. In celebration of the 70th anniversary of World War II, Xi Jinping announced the reduction of the PLA by 300,000 soldiers to 2 million standing troops. On the last day of 2015, amid overall personnel reduction, new military branches were established – the Rocket Force and the Strategic Support Force.

2016 brought about important, but less flashy, changes. Specifically, the creation of a DARPA-equivalent research lab was announced in March 2016. The agency was operational in July 2017. In April 2016, military education reform was announced and, as a result, departments related to land forces reduced the number of freshmen by 24 percent and the departments of logistics and support shrunk by 45 percent. Conversely, the number of students admitted to courses related to aviation, Navy, and missile technologies was increased by 14 percent. An increase of 16 percent was planned for departments related to space technologies, radars, and drones.

Further, closer cooperation between universities and training units was also announced. This was the result of increasingly louder complaints that soldiers cannot take full advantage of the increasingly modern equipment. Overcoming this gap is now considered one of the most critical tasks to the PLA. Xi Jinping stressed several times a great need for officers who have a broad knowledge of advanced technologies. Most concerning is the shortage of IT specialists. Like many other countries, Chinese IT companies offer much better compensation and work conditions, robbing the military of talent. Higher military income and attractive career paths are being implemented to prevent the talent bleed. Further, to attract talented college graduates, the draft was aligned with the college graduation season.

In September 2016, the activation of the Joint Logistics Support Force was announced. This step aims to improve the decentralized PLA logistics system. Within each of the military regions, a Regional Joint Logistics Support Center was established with headquarters in Wuxi, Guilin, Xining, Shenyang, and Zhengzhou. Of note, the Joint Logistics Support Force is not subordinate to the PLA HQ, but to the Central Military Commission.

Starting in 2017, even more radical changes were made. In mid-March, a five-fold increase in the size of the Marine Corps was announced. The force now numbers 20,000 soldiers organized in two brigades, but the goal is as many as 100,000 troops in six brigades. The greatly expanded Marine Corps is dedicated primarily to the protection of the maritime thread of the One Belt, One Road, and defense of the overseas interests of the Middle Kingdom. The Chinese Marines will be permanently stationed in Gwadar, Pakistan, and in Djibouti. The African garrison is rumored to have as many as 10,000 soldiers. It is important to mention that, according to media sources, the first Type 075 amphibious assault ship was laid down in March 2017. Specifics on the ship design and numbers are still unknown. The Chinese Admiralty wanted LHDs similar to the American WASP-class but opted for a smaller ship – based on the French Mistral-class – due to financial constraints. Recent information suggests that “something in between” has been chosen.

Amphibious assault ships are necessary if China wants “American style” power-projection capability. The Chinese are well aware of the unique requirements of the Marines, and outdated PLAN Marine Corps equipment is discussed openly. The force has spent years preparing for an invasion of Taiwan and operations in the nearby waters of South and East China Seas requires a thorough reorganization.

The marine brigades of the PLAN are not the only amphibious assault units of the PLA. There are also four amphibious mechanized infantry divisions (AMID) that are part of the PLA Ground Force. These units are essentially mechanized divisions equipped with more amphibious vehicles and river crossing equipment. In effect, the divisions are more suited to crossing rivers and lakes than in taking part in actual seaborne operations. Under the reorganization of the PLAN Marines Corps, the future of AMID is unclear.

Chinese marines storm a beachead (AFP 2018 / Xinhua)

Around the same time that the PLAN Marine Corps reports emerged, PLA Ground Force restricting was also announced. From 1949 through the mid-1980s, the Ground Force was organized into 70 corps. Then, during one of the previous reorganizations, the number was halved and later reduced to 24. At the same time, the corps were renamed “group armies.” During subsequent reductions in the 1990s and 2009, their number fell to 21 and, eventually, to 18 corps. Now, the group armies are returning to corps and further decreased in number to 13. This change, however, has a deeper meaning. Specifically, the 16th and 47th Group Armies will be disbanded. Both are large units and were closely linked to the aforementioned Generals Xu and Guo. According to social media, not all soldiers from disestablished units will leave the military – some may be reassigned, even to the Air Force, Navy or Rocket Force. Some of the other units that will be disbanded are the 14th, 20th, 27th and 40th group armies.

In April 2017, further information was officially disclosed by the Ministry of Defense, when it revealed an even more drastic reorganization. The entire PLA will be divided into 84 corps that will comprise all military branches, as well as garrisons, reserves, military academies, and research units. This means an interruption of historical continuity, cultivated mainly in the Ground Force, in which new army corps will have numbered from 71 to 83. Most of them will be located in northern and western China, opposite the U.S. forces and Japan, but also Russia and North Korea.

Airborne units have also undergone serious organizational changes. Until 2017, there had been three airborne divisions (43rd, 44th, and 45th), organized into the 15th Airborne Corps, subordinate to the PLAAF. Each division consisted of two airborne regiments, a special forces group, an air transport regiment, and a helicopter group. After the recent reorganization, the PLA Airborne Corps was created, and separate divisions were disbanded. Airborne regiments were reclassified as brigades (127th, 128th, 130th, 131st, 133rd, and 134th), and special forces and transport groups were organized into separate brigades. Confusingly, signal, chemical and engineering troops have been assigned into a single brigade. This solution is perceived as the next step in the development of a robust Chinese airborne force and their transformation from light troops into heavily armed units modeled after Russian paratroops.

The large-scale reorganization of the armed forces has also brought about some unexpected personnel problems. Public protests by active duty servicemen and veterans have become common, and the primary cause of dissatisfaction is not only the reduction of posts. Unlike previous cuts, the severance pay program and employment efforts for former military personnel failed. In fact, pay and military pensions sometimes arrived late or in reduced sum. Veterans are particularly embittered, and they accuse the government of ignoring their needs and problems. In October 2017, more than 1,000 vets protested at the Ministry of Defense singing military songs and waving party flags. Police and security officers were confused and surrounded the protesters with buses and police vehicles. On October 11, another protest lasted late into the night, resulting in several arrests. According to human rights organizations, protests are not rare, with over 50 occurring in 2016 alone. As a result, a special Ministry of Veterans Affairs was established in March 2018. The new institution will help veterans to find jobs, lodging, and ensuring their status of “revered members of society.”


A reorganization of a structure as big and complex as the PLA is never an easy task and it is compounded by resistance from active and veteran military personnel. Unlike the USSR, there is no clear division between party, military, and security force. Further, the military has always had a strong influence on the state apparatus. During his second term, Hu Jintao warned about the negative consequences of this system. Despite silencing the most hostile officers whose status and influence were endangered by the reform, protests by lower ranks and veterans show that the Communist Party of China has to be very careful. From the military point of view, the reform aims to convert the force designed primarily to defend Chinese territory into one prepared for expeditionary operations.

Pawel Behrendt is a Political Science Ph.D. candidate at the University of Vienna. He is an expert at the Poland-Asia Research Center and is the deputy chief-editor of Find him on Twitter @pawel_behrendt.

Featured Image: Chinese marines (Xinhua)

A Deckplate Review: How the Submarine Force can Reach its Warfighting Potential, Pt. 1

By LT Jeff Vandenengel, USN

Bottom Line Up Front

The submarine force is highly capable but not near its full warfighting potential. Several factors limit submariners’ ability to prepare for safe deployments during peace and combat-effective operations during war. These factors include:

  1. Massive time obligations
  2. Limited training resources
  3. Extensive deployment administrative burdens

This two-part article outlines options to address these problems and thus enable submarine officers and crews to better prepare for the job only they can perform: at-sea operations and combat.


Training for at-sea operations and combat has always been a primary concern in the U.S. Navy, and today those missions are more important and more difficult than they have been for decades. The recent fatal mishaps involving USS Fitzgerald, USS John S. McCain, and ARA San Juan, along with potential adversaries’ rapid technological advances, underscore the importance of training in the naval profession.

Warfighting training and preparations are especially crucial in the submarine force, which the Navy will rely on heavily in war. Today’s force of just fifty-three fast attack (SSN) and four guided-missile (SSGN) platforms are accomplishing vital missions during peacetime and will play a disproportionately important role in wartime.1 That outsized role will be accomplished by submarine wardrooms comprising less than two percent of all active duty naval officers and by crews comprising approximately three percent of all active duty sailors.2 With so much riding on so few, the submarine fleet must ensure its officers and crews are trained and ready to employ the warships the Navy has worked so hard to build and maintain.

Unfortunately, massive time obligations, limited training resources, and extensive deployment administrative burdens are severely impairing submariners’ ability to conduct effective training. As a result, the submarine force is not near its full warfighting potential, despite incredible technology, excellent material readiness, and the best people the country has to offer. Fortunately, there are numerous personnel and administrative solutions that would significantly improve each boat’s warfighting ability.

The Navy recently completed two excellent analyses of recent fleet mishaps: the Comprehensive Review3 and Strategic Readiness Review.4 These meticulous, constructive products closely analyzed the fleet’s problems to make substantive recommendations. To complement those high-level studies, this bottom-up “deckplate review” is submitted as an analysis of the Navy’s challenges from the viewpoint of an operational warship, with recommendations that would enable that ship to operate more safely and effectively.

It is important to note that the author and his fellow officers made these recommendations with a limited frame of reference and without complete knowledge of the Navy’s status with regards to personnel, budgets, training facilities, equipment, certification processes, logistics, and legal requirements. However, as the end users of all those lines of effort, it seems this feedback should be worth some measure of consideration.

The Navy and submarine force’s leadership have wisely instructed the fleet to focus on warfighting above all else. This paper details recommendations that would enable operational warships to meet that commander’s intent. Part One focuses on time constraints affecting the submarine fleet’s ability to focus on training. Part Two focuses on other problems that arise once submariners find time to train, both in their homeports and while deployed.

Factor 1: Time Constraints

“The ships, aircraft, and men and women of the Navy are finite resources. Those who man our ships are limited in the amount of time they have to perform equipment maintenance and build their warfighting skills…The core and primary competence of sailors must be mastery of naval warfighting skills.”– ADM Gary Roughead, USN (Ret.), and the Hon. Michael Bayer Secretary of the Navy Strategic Readiness Review5

The single largest factor limiting submarine warfighting training is officer and crew time. With numerous demands on their time, submariners are too often prevented from focusing on the job only they can do —tactically employ their warship — because they must accomplish tasks that supporting commands can assist with or perform more effectively.

The wardroom is the best example of a submarine training group limited in its ability to prepare because of time constraints. As the only group to span the nuclear and non-nuclear worlds, the officers have numerous responsibilities that occupy almost the entirety of their workweek. Assuming an eleven-hour workday in port, officers spend an estimated 28 percent of their time standing duty, 30 percent of their time completing administrative and miscellaneous tasks (meetings, monitors, planning, etc.), and 14 percent of their time fulfilling divisional and collateral duties, leaving 28 percent of their time to complete training and qualifications.6 However, this time encompasses a vast array of training topics and requirements which span the tactical, nuclear, divisional, and maintenance areas, in addition to simulators and qualification interviews for junior personnel. This in-port time allocation is summarized in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Submarine Officer Inport Time Allocation

What results is a strapped wardroom running from event to event, regularly working into the night and on the weekends to catch up. Despite carefully planned schedules, it is rare for all officers to attend all mandatory events because of overlapping demands. Even when an officer finds him or herself with free time, it is often in small blocks and rarely coincides with the rest of the wardroom, limiting the training he or she can effectively accomplish.

When the Navy assigns an officer to a task, part of that decision is based on the importance of the task and a lack of faith that someone else — a Chief Petty Officer (CPO) or non-ship’s force individual — could execute it properly. These many tasks help the ship improve its combat potential, either through improving its material condition, finding and fixing deficiencies, or developing the crew. While the importance of these tasks is not up for debate, the ability for someone besides an officer to accomplish them is debatable in every single instance except one: combat. No other group on a submarine has the training, holistic ship knowledge, access to information, and experience to fight the ship. However, when the vast majority of officers’ time is accounted for, the unintended consequence is that there are fewer opportunities for concentrated training on the numerous important warfighting topics that only they can perform. With so much information to teach officers and so little time to do it, most warfighting training is stuck at the basic level.

Fortunately, three categories of officer and crew time — in-port watch-standing, divisional and collateral duties, and administrative responsibilities — have opportunities for improvement that would allow for more focus on the fourth category of training and qualifications.

In-Port Duty

Standing duty, both as the Ship’s Duty Officer (SDO) and Engineering Duty Officer (EDO), undoubtedly improves the ship’s material condition and warfighting readiness. However, with a limited number of qualified officer watchstanders available, each officer must stand on average more than one duty day per workweek. Swamped with work controls, maintenance execution, inspections, and administration, there is little hope of study or training on those days. The amount of time spent on watch in port increases when ships use work control production officers or enter shiftwork, periods that can last days or weeks at a time. Throughout the author’s recent four-month dry-docking maintenance availability, an average of 29 percent of available qualified officers were on watch at any one time.7

The challenge is to reduce the time officers stand duty, allowing them to conduct more effective training together, without causing a reduction in the maintenance execution, security, or professionalism onboard. To meet those requirements, some basic ground rules were used when developing these options. There should always be at least one ship’s force unrestricted line officer onboard, either as SDO or EDO. There cannot be a reduction in watchstanding ability, as both SDO and EDO are challenging positions pivotal to fixing the ship and getting it back out to sea. Additionally, the use of duty alternatives should only occur during the day when needed to support training, with the wardroom resuming its normal duty roles at night to minimize the effect on supporting commands and individuals. Ship’s force would still stand most of the watches during the workweek and all of the watches outside normal working hours.

Engineering Duty Officer

For EDO alternatives, the submarine force could train and qualify Limited Duty Officers (LDOs), officers from the Engineering Duty community, submarine junior officers (JOs) on shore duty, Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) civilian Shift Test Engineers (STEs), or nuclear-trained CPOs. Most of these options are already being executed in different parts of the submarine fleet.

LDOs, with their years of nuclear training and experience, are already standing duty on pre-commissioning submarines. Similarly, members of the Engineering Duty community are already heavily involved in maintenance planning and execution onboard ships, with many of their officers laterally transferring from the submarine community. Another easy option would be to use submarine JOs on their shore duty as “duty augment officers.” Submarine JOs are already standing 24-hour watches on their shore duty, such as Shift Engineers at the Nuclear Power Training Units (NTPU) or as duty officers on pre-commissioning units, and so it is likely that many would be interested in being “duty augment officers” where they are only required to stand duty on weekdays during normal working hours. Alternatively, submarine JOs who have transferred to the Reserve Component (RC) could also be activated to perform this function.

In addition to using different officers for EDO, the submarine force could employ the highly trained STEs of NAVSEA’s Nuclear Engineering and Planning Department.8 During major availabilities, these dedicated civilians, with more than two years of nuclear training and an in-depth knowledge of the engineering plant, work with the EDO to complete numerous complex evolutions. The EDO and STE literally stand next to each other throughout the entire day, giving orders that they must both concur on before executing. The submarine force should authorize STEs to relieve as EDO in order to not duplicate supervision, allow the STE to lead the complex engineering evolutions that he or she knows best, and allow the submarine line officer more time to focus on the warfighting task that only he or she can execute.

The final option for EDO alternatives are nuclear-trained CPOs. This is also a proven model, as CPOs are already successfully standing EDO at the NPTUs. However, with a limited number of nuclear-trained CPOs on board SSNs and SSGNs, there are not enough of them available to support their watch bill plus the EDO position without changing their manning.

None of these options—LDOs, Engineering Duty community officers, shore duty JOs, STEs, or CPOs—would be attached to the ship. Rather, they would work from squadrons and be shared amongst the boats, ready to relieve as EDO during the day as needed, granting the ship’s force officers much-needed time to conduct training. This way, just a few augment options could serve an entire squadron, assisting whichever boats are in port.

Ship’s Duty Officer

There are also numerous options to augment SDOs, with the right controls in place. Currently, SDOs must be qualified Surfaced Officer of the Deck (OOD) so that they are ready to get the ship underway in the event of an emergency. However, there are many days that it would be impossible for the ship to get underway in any reasonable amount of time, such as when in drydock or during major engineering maintenance evolutions, negating the need to keep an OOD continuously onboard. If the submarine fleet relaxes this requirement as a function of the ship’s readiness condition, then there are alternatives to making the ship’s force officers always stand SDO. Additionally, augmenting SDO instead of EDO has the added benefit of avoiding the extensive although necessary certification and administration associated with standing watch on a naval nuclear power plant.

Shore duty JOs would be an attractive option for SDO just as it is for EDO. Some of these officers could be from the Naval Reserve, serving a year of obligated service before retirement. If the ship is not going underway and there is a line officer standing EDO, then Supply Officers should qualify and stand SDO to ease the duty rotation, as they are already doing on surface ships. Finally, CPOs could qualify SDO to temporarily relieve during the workday. This option is more attractive for SDO than EDO because of the larger number of non-nuclear vs nuclear CPOs available to flex to watch-bill burdens.

Enlisted Duty

Enlisted duty also stands in the way of better tactical training. Sonar, Fire Control, Torpedo, Navigation, and Radio Divisions would all greatly benefit from more in-port time to focus on their advanced skillsets. However, when they are manning a three- or four-section duty rotation, it becomes very difficult to free a majority of the division for any extended period while also completing necessary maintenance.

Most in-port watches require ship’s force sailors due to the level of knowledge required, but topside security watches could easily be outsourced to supporting commands. These watches are vital to protecting the ship, but do not require extensive training or certification. This off-hull support could come from Masters at Arms, Naval Reservists, or sailors on their shore duty attached to squadrons, again ready to support whatever boats are in port. Just as with officer support, ship’s force sailors would still stand the majority of the watches, but would receive assistance from these augment alternatives. Reservists have already assisted with SSGN security watches while overseas, and this model should be expanded to SSNs in their homeports during normal working hours.

Making Tough Choices About In-Port Duty

There are numerous options for standing SDO and EDO: ship’s force officers, LDOs, Engineering Duty community officers, augment shore duty JOs, NAVSEA STEs, and CPOs. However, only the ship’s officers can stand OOD, Contact Manager, and Engineering Officer of the Watch at sea and in battle. Similarly, there are numerous options for standing enlisted security watches in port, but only the submarine’s sailors can stand Fire Control Technician of the Watch, Torpedo Room Watch, and Passive Broadband Operator underway. Shifting a small portion of the in-port duty burden to these alternatives would free up desperately needed time for the ship’s officers and sailors to focus on the jobs that only they can perform. 

Collateral Duties

Common themes when the Navy assigns collateral duties to submariners:

  1. Smart, hard-working submariners will put in the time and energy to tackle the challenge
  2. Those submariners will be completing their collateral duties at a steep opportunity cost: preparing for at-sea operations and combat
  3. In many cases, supporting commands can accomplish those collateral duties more effectively and efficiently

When submariners are not on watch, they have an array of collateral duties that again occupy their time and inhibit an at-sea focus. Responsibilities such as Quality Assurance Officer (QAO), Scuba Diving Officer, Radiation Health Officer, and Cryptologic Security Manager all make the submarine a more capable warship. However, significant parts of these jobs can be more effectively completed by specialized supporting commands, freeing submariners to focus on their primary functions.

The many shore commands and organizations that task submarines each rightfully strive to execute their respective programs. Most designate a ship’s force officer to be responsible for those programs knowing that it will maximize their chances of administrative success. Many of these programs are not individually overwhelming, and so the external commands apply moderate pressure to ensure the officers properly execute them. However, the cumulative effect of these various commands’ dictated programs is a culture in which submarine officers are constantly pulled in all directions except training for safe and combat-effective operations at sea.

To the junior sailors and officers on the deckplates, the Navy’s decisions to implement many new programs or requirements can seem to be made in a vacuum and without consideration of the reality of shipboard life. Each task is a good idea by itself, but crammed into already full workdays they rob those sailors and officers of time to focus on what matters.

Lots of good ideas with lots of unintended consequences are improving the submarine force’s collateral duties while distracting it from its primary function.

When everything is important—Audit and Surveillance Programs, Radiation Health Programs, Full Speed Ahead Training, Lessons Learned messages—nothing is important, including warfighting.

Procedure Development and Quality Assurance

Properly researched and written maintenance procedures are key to the ship’s material condition. While most of these are provided to the fleet, there are still numerous maintenance evolutions that have no provided procedure. This forces sailors and officers to research, write, review, and approve their own procedures, typically as Formal Work Packages (FWPs) or Controlled Work Packages (CWPs).9 This is a challenging process that requires numerous technical manuals, access to parts research, and a significant amount of time to do an adequate review. During a maintenance period, petty officers, divisional CPOs, division officers, department heads, and at times even the commanding officer (CO) must write, review, or approve several of these each week, with much of this effort duplicated on each boat in a class. Incorrect FWPs and CWPs can lead to critiques, rework, lost underway days, personnel injury, equipment damage, or loss of the ship in extreme cases.

Many of these maintenance packages are reviewed by the QAO, a JO who has attended a two-week school. Because that JO is dedicated to his submarine’s success, he will devote significant time and energy to properly execute the QA program. He will dig into the technical manuals, carefully review the Joint Fleet Maintenance Manual (JFMM), and conduct thorough parts research to ensure the work is done correctly and the ship can safely get to sea. Despite his intelligence and diligence, his lack of experience and time will prevent him from ever being as proficient in Quality Assurance (QA) as the people running the squadrons’ and regional maintenance centers’ QA offices. These administrators are typically retired CPOs and LDOs working full time on QA, able to draw on their expertise to produce quality products without the distractions of submarine life.

To both alleviate a time demand on the QAO and numerous other submariners and to ensure they execute maintenance correctly the first time, more procedures should be written and approved off the ship. These could be standardized as Reactor Plant Manual (RPM) procedures and Maintenance Requirement Cards (MRCs) or provided as FWPs and CWPs. This will reduce the duplication of administration across boats, improve the quality of procedures, and allow the ships to focus on their execution. This will not work for all procedures, as many will still have to be tailored to a ship’s unique conditions or equipment.

The newly developed Automated Work Package Generator (AWPG) is a great start to combating this problem. Retired QA experts research and write CWPs and periodically provide them to the fleet for use. However, boats are not allowed to simply use these quality packages, but must still complete the full review process. Additionally, the AWPG only covers a small fraction of all the procedures submarines must write on their own.

Maintenance and engineering organizations off the ship are better at writing and approving technical procedures than submariners are. Submariners are better at employing their warships at sea. To produce a submarine fleet that is both in better material condition and more effectively trained for sea, the submarine fleet should transfer as many procedure writing responsibilities from the boats to supporting commands as possible.

Scuba Diving

SSN’s Scuba Diving Divisions perform important functions including hull inspections, component cleanings, and serving as rescue swimmers. They are also another example of a program that makes the ship more capable but at a cost.

To meet the required number of personnel in Dive Division, submarines must send an officer and several sailors to Dive School. During this six-week period they are lost to the ship and completely unable to train on their primary warfighting duty. When they return, they must perform all the required maintenance, training, dives, and inspections in addition to their normal duties.

POLARIS POINT, Guam (April 7, 2011) Navy Diver 3rd Class Kyle Fox, of the submarine tender USS Frank Cable (AS 40), assists Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Jason Kantorik with an air hose check before a dive. Frank Cable maintains and supports submarines and surface vessels deployed in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class David R. Krigbaum/Released)

The Supplemental Preliminary Inquiry on USS Fitzgerald’s June 2017 collision contained numerous examples of astonishing courage exhibited by the crew as they struggled to save their ship. It also contained a statement likely surprising to many submariners: Fitzgerald and surface ships “have no dive equipment aboard, nor do they have trained and qualified divers.”10 If surface warships and SSBNs are not required to man Dive Divisions, then the rest of the submarine fleet, with smaller crews and less space for gear stowage, should follow their example.

All SSN homeports have specialized divers that perform all the boats’ advanced maintenance and inspections, and these could be used to accomplish the dives currently being done by ship’s force. These specialized divers are highly trained, well equipped, and dive as their primary responsibility, making them a more proficient and safer alternative than submariners fulfilling a collateral duty. When pulling in for deployment port calls, most US Navy ports again have divers that could perform required inspections or maintenance. Additionally, flyaway teams could support boats when in foreign ports without U.S. Navy diver presence, a model the surface fleet is already employing. In war, port calls would all likely be at U.S. Navy ports, negating the need for those flyaway teams. Boats at sea could employ Search and Rescue (SAR) swimmers as surface ships already do, ready to respond in case of a man overboard. Transforming the ship’s divers into SAR swimmers would greatly cut down on the time lost to school, administration, maintenance, and inspections.

Just like QAOs, Scuba Diving Officers are going to work tenaciously to lead a safe and effective program. However, with their schedule so packed, the time they spend focusing on Dive Division is time they do not spend studying the Nautical Rules of the Road, how to safely proceed to periscope depth, or how to recover the reactor in the event of a scram at sea. Finally, just as with QA, there are supporting organizations off the boat that will always be better at the task because of their experience, specialized equipment, and singular focus.


There are numerous other collateral duties that follow a similar theme of being important to the submarine, but more effectively performed by someone not aboard that submarine. The Navigation and Operations Officer, as the security officer, initiates Secret security clearances for everyone onboard when it comes time for their renewal. However, squadron Special Security Officers (SSO) could easily take on this task and free the Navigator to focus on the safe planning and operation of his ship. SSOs already initiate Top Secret clearances for submariners, as well as all Secret clearances when the boat is out of contact on deployment. SSOs should continue that support when boats pull back in.

The Radiation Health Program, led by the executive officer (XO), helps ensure the crew’s long-term health by tracking their radiation exposure. However, the administratively burdensome program detracts from the XO’s ability to fulfill his primary duty of Training Officer. To refocus XOs—and prepare them to be the next Dick O’Kane under the next Mush Morton—much of the Radiation Health programs should be outsourced to squadron Undersea Medical Officers or squadron Independent Duty Corpsmen. These specialists are better suited to yield a quality product, allowing the XOs to focus on crew training. At sea, XOs would still be responsible for the Radiation Health program, but in port they would be relieved of these duties.

Maintaining proper inventories and controls of cryptologic keys are an obviously vital task for the submarine and the entire fleet. Because it is a painstaking process that the fleet is obviously concerned with, a CPO and JO are tasked with leading the program with a great deal of oversight from the CO. However, there are options to shift the administration off the boats by making them simple end-users, significantly cutting down on the time and paperwork associated with the program. The Navy should fully implement this proposal to free a CPO and JO from yet another task and, more importantly, give the CO more time to focus on what only he can accomplish.

Other tasks such as the Safety Program, Ship Systems Manual (SSM) page updates, gauge calibration, and painting could all be partially outsourced to a combination of shore duty sailors, reservists, specialized supporting teams, or civilians. Each task is small, but when sailors are sleeping at work for duty every third or fourth day, accomplishing incredible amounts of maintenance, and pushing to accomplish numerous qualifications and training sessions, every little bit helps.


“In many cases, our biggest challenges and opportunities for improvement are at [the junior officer and chief] scale of the command. By virtue of piling on meaningless collateral duties and programs that contribute little to operational and warfighting excellence, we have confused these leaders, making it hard for them to see through the chaff and to prioritize the personal and professional development of their people.”-  ADM John M. Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations Message on Navy-Wide Operational Pause11

None of these tasks — maintenance procedure development, scuba diving, radiation health, security investigation initiation, cryptologic security management— are by themselves a huge burden on the ship. Together, they are a constant pull on submarine officers and crews, minimizing the time they can devote to what truly matters — warfighting.

The submarine force can continue to use ship’s force officers to stand SDO and EDO, to demand they write and review numerous FWPs and CWPs each week, and to expect them to execute numerous collateral duties. That would be the simplest option because it is how the undersea fleet has operated for decades and because it is the safest choice for when the submarine is in port. However, the unintended consequence is that once the submarine returns to sea, its officers and crew will be less safe and tactically adept than they could be if they were given the time to properly prepare.

Part Two of this article will focus on other problems that arise once submariners find time to train, both in their homeports and while deployed. 

LT Vandenengel is the Weapons Officer on USS Alexandria (SSN 757). He developed this paper with a working group of submarine officers. The views expressed here are those of the author alone and do not represent those of the Department of Defense. You can reach him at


1.“Fleet Size,” Naval Vessel Register, last modified April 9, 2018, accessed April 15, 2018,

2. “Navy Demographics,” U.S. Navy Fact File, last modified September 29, 2017, accessed October 1, 2017, Assuming 53 SSN crews and 8 SSGN crews of 16 officers and 140 sailors each.

3. Admiral Philip S. Davidson, USN. “Comprehensive Review of Recent Surface Force Incidents.” (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Fleet Forces Command, October 26, 2017).

4. The Honorable Michael Bayer and Admiral Gary Roughead, USN (Ret.). “Strategic Readiness Review.” (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Secretary of the Navy, December 3, 2017).

5. Ibid, 78-79.

6. Assumes each officer stands six duty days per month, equating to 1.4 duty days per five-day work week. “Administrative and Miscellaneous Responsibilities” include monitors, audits, meetings, planning sessions, miscellaneous requirements (such as flag visits or one-time training sessions), a thirty-minute lunch, and 2.5 hours of unaccounted for time weekly.

7. Estimating twelve qualified watch officers, with two unavailable due to the Prospective Nuclear Engineer Officer (PNEO) course. Various engineering evolutions and testing periods required additional watches such as night-shift EDOs and SDOs, Senior Supervisory Watches, and production officers.

8. “Nuclear Engineering and Planning Department, Code 2300,” Naval Sea Systems Command, accessed November 25, 2017,

9. Executive Director SUBMEPP, “Joint Fleet Maintenance Manual,” Revision C Change 5. (Portsmouth, NH.: Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Department of the Navy, 11 August 2016), Part I Volume V Chapter 2.

10. “Supplemental Preliminary Inquiry and Line of Duty Determination Regarding Injuries and the Deaths of Seven Sailors Aboard USS FITZGERALD (DDG 62) On or About 17 June 2017.” (Yokosuka, Japan: Commander, Carrier Strike Group FIVE, 2017), 16.

11. Admiral John M. Richardson, USN. “CNO Richardson Message on Navy Operational Pause,” USNI News, October 6, 2017,

Featured Image: DIEGO GARCIA (Sept. 8, 2011) Sonar Technician (Submarine) 2nd Class Jeff Wiesmaier, left, Chief Fire Control Technician Johnathan Taylor, Missile Technician 2nd Class David Laymon, MachinistÕs Mate 1st Class Cody Henry and MachinistÕs Mate 3rd Class Christopher Smith secure the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Dallas (SSN 700) in Diego Garcia. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Chris Williamson/Released)

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.

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