This past week CIMSEC featured a topic week offering ideas for the U.S. Navy’s Future Surface Combatant Program. In response to our call for articles authors shared insightful writings on potential new warships and how history should inform ship design. We thank the authors for their excellent contributions, listed below.
“The most compelling concept is the Black Swan Concept, proposed by the United Kingdom Ministry of Defense in 2012. It’s a modernized idea that traces its roots back to the Royal Navy and Royal Indian Navy Black Swan ships that served as convoy escorts in World War II.”
“History demonstrates the need to understand strategy, and a service’s role in that strategy, when modernizing a military force. In particular, a comparison of Britain’s largely successful naval modernization before the First World War can be compared to the less successful naval modernization and construction attempts in the U.S. from 1991 to the present. Comparing the underlying clarity of strategy in both modernization attempts offers major lessons to the modern policymaker that should be applied to the FSC’s development.”
“The joint development of frigates would deepen the U.S.-Japan security alliance and enhance the regional balance of power to offset China. Operationally, co-development of frigates will increase interoperability, reduce seams in existing naval strategy, and increase fleet size and presence.”
Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at Nextwar@cimsec.org.
Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (May 11, 2017) The guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG 97) participates in a simulated strait transit during a group sail training exercise with the Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Paul L. Archer/Released).
The Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) is a critical element of the Navy’s Surface Force Strategy: Return to Sea Control.The command’s four lines of operation are advanced tactical training and tactical guidance development, operational support to combatant commanders, numbered fleet commanders and task force commanders, and capabilities assessments, experimentation, and future warfighting requirements. A critical supporting element in each of these focus areas are the men and women who are trained as Warfare Tactics Instructors (WTIs).
In this interview, Sally DeBoer (SD) spoke with four WTIs who are on the cutting edge of the cultural shift taking place in the surface Navy. Our guests are Lt. Tyson Eberhardt (TE), who is an Anti-Submarine Warfare/Anti-Surface Warfare Tactics Instructor (ASW/SUW), Lt. Brittany Hubbard (BH), who is an Amphibious Warfare Tactics Instructor (AMW), Lt. Benjamin Olivas (BO), who is an Integrated Air and Missile Defense Warfare Tactics Instructor (IAMD), and Lt. Damon Goodrich-Houska (DGH), who is an ASW/SUW WTI. Read the transcript or download the audio below.
SD: Welcome back! On this episode of Sea Control, our guests today are four Warfare Tactics Instructors from the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) in San Diego, CA. Thank you all so much for taking time out of your schedule to join us today. Let’s begin by getting a little background on each of you. What did you do prior to coming to SMWDC, and what drew you to the command?
TE: I was the ASWO officer and navigator on USS Preble as a division officer, I really enjoyed the tactical aspect of getting to meet sonar technicians and finding submarines. As a division officer, the opportunity on shore duty to expand my knowledge base and help other ASWOs drew me to the command.
DGH: I served on USS Reuben James and as the training officer on the USS Rushmore, part of that tour was going through a training cycle where you get the crew and all the watchstanders up to the level they need to be to deploy. With that experience, I got to conduct drills, run through scenarios, and train sailors. What drew me to SMWDC was the opportunity to learn and implement advanced tactics, then train warfighters on how to fight more effectively, I really enjoy ASW especially.
BH: I spent my first division officer tour on the USS Green Bay, and then I moved to a destroyer, the USS Lassen, as the damage control assistant. What interested me in SMWDC was going back to my roots as an amphibious sailor. A lot of the mission sets we conducted with the Marine Corps taught me how to be a liaison and work on the relationships between sailors and our USMC counterparts. That is what interested me in joining this program.
BO: Before I came here, I was the communications officer on USS Paul Hamilton and then I was the training officer on USS Michael Murphy, both out of Pearl Harbor. I served as air warfare coordinator and I came from a background where most of my captains knew this domain really well; I truly enjoyed that billet. Working with sailors and teaching people was something I also found enjoyable. When I heard about SMWDC, I thought what better way to use all this knowledge I have accumulated, pass it on, and make a difference?
SD: What impact do you see from the work you have done at SMWDC?
DGH: One of the biggest things I have seen is a culture shift, and one of the main aspects is the PBED (Plan, Brief, Execute and Debrief) model. If you look at elite athletes, they don’t just go out and do their event, they will study, watch videos of themselves doing the actions, look over the minute details to improve, as well as watch competitors to adapt techniques and methods.
So we go out and do Surface Warfare Advanced Tactics and Training (SWATT) and have WTIs on each ship and, after doing various events, we will actually show the crew and the watchstanders a replay of the event, including voice recordings of reports. Walking through that, we start with the WTIs doing the majority of the presentation with the watchstanders and crew jumping in here and there, but by the end of the training, the watch teams are running things on their own and identifying issues themselves. So, seeing that training change hands from the WTIs to the ship’s crew, to where they are able to conduct their own training and self-improvement, is really great.
TE: We also conduct training ashore, so my primary job as an advanced sonar instructor is to provide this advanced tactical instruction to officers that will go out and conduct training. This classroom training is another important part of our mission. Getting to work with officers before they go to sea is another exciting part of our mission here.
BO: We tend to pride ourselves on not just conducting training but also building knowledge. One of the things that we have done is try to apply the same type of teaching approaches we learn from our counterparts. We put them through the ringer here in terms of making them go up and do a brief, do it well, and do it repeatedly to the point where they’ve put in so many hours, done so much research, taken and internalized these techniques…this goes for all of the schools here. So when you see a sailor give a brief, you know you will get a certain product because it’s been tailored a certain way. Since we have been doing it this way, we’ve seen a great payoff.
SD: How does the reported success of the WTI program in improving tactical proficiency translate to future training development for the Navy’s SWOs?
BH: I think that the three different schoolhouses that we currently have provide a good baseline for how we expect our future SWOs to participate in developing tactical proficiency. We take an elite cadre of junior officers and we put them through these schoolhouses and then, as we complete our production tour, which is anywhere from two or three years, those same officers then go back out to the fleet as department heads that will eventually be XOs and COs. So we are bringing our tactical proficiency to a new standard.
DGH: Another point is that as we develop new tactics and doctrine, we get a chance to take it out to sea with real world watchstanders to test it out and make sure that it is up to par, that it’s effective, and if not, we can make adjustments very rapidly.
SD: Is the emphasis more on teaching rigid existing doctrine or on allowing WTIs to develop and pursue new, original ideas?
DGH: It’s a little of both. We do rely on doctrine, but we also take our WTIs and ensure that we apply rigor, academic rigor, to our doctrine and tactics to make sure they are in fact reliable, and if there are issues, then again we identify them, correct them, and ensure the WTIs are empowered to enact changes and improve things.
TE: I think to Damon’s point, we have WTIs out at sea who have a responsibility to know the doctrine and the guidance, but have the opportunity to think critically and bring new ideas to the organizations. We’ve taken a more active role in events like the SCC (Submarine Command Course) where we have a chance to try out new tactics and see how effective they can be, then feed that back into formalized doctrine.
BO: One of the good things about being able to test out new TTPs and doctrine is also being able to apply those things earlier and develop that muscle memory. The more we internalize tactics, the more they are applied and become part of the ship. Out there on the water where officers are asked to make quick decisions, this muscle memory represents a force multiplier for the entire fleet.
SD: How do you see yourselves speeding up and improving the Navy’s ability to field new thinking and capabilities?
BH: A lot of what we do when we go out to ships and in the schoolhouse is not only study current doctrine but also evaluate new ways of utilizing that doctrine. We receive immediate feedback from the ships, and then we conduct workshops and working groups that take a really hard look at what we are currently teaching and make sure it is the best way to conduct that event.
BO: The other thing we’ve hit on in terms of improvement is the impact that we see in the classroom, the way we teach. Being able to sit down and listen to briefs and take them in has created a much better experience for the students, they take on a lot of what we’ve done and they “get it.” We have created these lessons so when they walk away from classrooms they’re ready to use what they have learned. We use the ARCS (attention, relevance, confidence, satisfaction) approach – we see that as a feedback loop for the students. Once we have their attention, we present relevant information. Confidence means that they can walk away feeling like they “get it,” and satisfaction (S) means they can go to their ships and into combat or an exercise and satisfactorily apply the things we’ve taught them.
DGH: To add on, in operational environments, the more we get WTIs out to the ships as DHs, especially once we hit that critical mass where there’s one WTI per ship, we will have already created a network of WTIs that all know how to get in touch with subject matter experts (SMEs) in various areas. Much of that reach back comes here (SMWDC HQ), and we have good communications with the aviation and undersea communities, etc.
As things change and real world events occur, we rapidly take in feedback and develop new tactics and doctrine as needed. We can model new systems going into the fleet, and any feedback from doctrine and tactics used in the real world can be brought into the classroom to make sure that the next set of WTIs that head out to train others have the most up-to-date information. We are not teaching out-of-date stuff, we are teaching the latest and greatest.
SD: What kind of collaboration and integration do WTIs have with one another and different communities (aviation, undersea, etc.)?
BH: So, one way that we do this is anytime we have a course that we are trying to teach or area of interest we need more information on, we reach out to that community. For example, we are participating in an SCC (Sea Combat Commander) course for various DESRONs and PHIBRONs working through training cycles. We recently reached out to the aviation weapons schools for input and participation to make sure we are as tactically proficient in the relevant areas we are teaching as they are.
TE: Along those lines, an important part of what WTIs do is that broad reach. While we train WTIs here at SMWDC, others are working for various other schools and groups and counterparts that have a specific focus. That allows us as a community of WTIs to try and foster cross-domain thinking about problems that don’t just affect one area, but affect the whole spectrum of naval warfare.
SD: How can you work to keep your skills current in an age of rapid change?
DGH: We have a lot of WTIs here that are traveling, going out and doing various events, training aboard ships, and getting a lot of great experiences, such as live fire events, things that previously were something an officer might get to do once or twice in a career, we have WTIs doing multiple times a year.
What we ended up starting was what we call “Tactical Taco Tuesday,” which we hold multiple times a month. It is a long working lunch where we cross-train between domains, IAMD folks, ASUW, ASW, and amphibious folks. We also pull in other warfare areas as well, such as CW or Intelligence, and get some good cross-training in a less formal environment that allows for really good quality discussion and in-depth questions – plus everyone brings food so it builds an esprit de’corps that keeps the WTI network strong.
When we go on to our next tours, we know who to talk to and who the experts are. The more formal way we do this is that when WTIs come back to the schoolhouse, which we call Re-Bluing, we conduct refresher courses where the latest and greatest TTPs are taught.
SD: What do you think is next for SMWDC and the WTI program? How do you envision WTIs being utilized five or ten years down the line?
BH: I think that as WTIs, this is simply a two or three year tour, but when we leave this production tour, we do not take off our patch, it is still up to us to continue remaining as tactically proficient as our patch would designate us to be. So in 5-10 years, the goal is to be DHs, XOs, and COs, all the while continuing to build that knowledge base that we started back during a WTI production tour.
DGH: As we have more and more senior leadership who are WTI-qualified, it’s going to push an overall culture change, much like the phrase “a rising tide raises all boats,” it’s that idea that as increasingly more senior leadership has experience as WTIs, they will maintain that emphasis on being the best, drilling hard, working on doctrine and tactics, and that will really shift our focus.
WTIs are supposed to be warriors and thinkers and teachers, so when we get out and stand tactical watches, those same WTIs will be thinkers and work on doctrine, tactics, and improving existing processes as well as developing new systems and ideas, while also serving as teachers, in that they will train watchstanders, crews, and even strike groups. Ultimately, this will improve our warfighting ability.
BO: One of the things that we really hammer home is that this command is primarily O-3s and O-4s, which in the grand scheme is very junior in rank, but we are the ones doing the homework and teaching people in ranks above and below. Ultimately, I think what we are trying to get at is that the tactical experts will be the gatekeepers and have the breadth of knowledge to build something great.
TE: The WTI program is an effort to put warfighting first among SWOs. As SWOs we have so many things we have to be proficient at, but the bottom line is we need to be warfighters, and this requires an advanced understanding of tactics. And by building this cadre of WTIs, for years down the line as DHs and beyond, we will be making an impact by bringing that to the fleet
SD: What is your message to aspiring surface warfare officers who are interested SMWDC?
TE: I think what most excites me about getting to be a part of this command is that the Navy is investing in my level of knowledge and in my ability to go out and lead sailors in the future. It is exciting to train others, to do these exercises. The bottom line is that every single day I come to work I learn something new, and the organization is committed to training me to a higher level of knowledge that will pay off for years as I have come to a whole new appreciation for expertise in surface warfare.
DGH: For aspiring SWOs, as a JO, as a non-qualified SWO working toward that pin, you have much to learn and focus on, but number one I would encourage young SWOs to learn as much as you can and focus on tactics, but communicate early with your chain of command that you’re interested in the WTI program if you have a passion for tactics and training. Of course, work on your qualifications and do your job well, but there are many opportunities to become qualified in warfare areas as a JO, whether it’s ASWE for a second tour or various air warfare qualifications on an Aegis platform. Focus on those and work toward being the best tactician you can in whatever position you are in – strive to be the “go-to” guy or gal in that position. So when you do apply to be a WTI, those recommendations will really help.
BH: For SWOs looking to come here, this is probably going to be a once-in a-career type of opportunity. Every day when I come to work, my job is to take research, take what we’re doing, take a schedule, and make it the best that I can for the fleet, event, or scenario. There wasn’t a time in the first four years of my career where someone asked me to research tactics or to figure out a problem – but for all SWOs this is your time. You’re two to three years out of your career that you can spend just focusing on making the warfare areas better, building relationships, and networking. In that way it is different from many tours you could do otherwise.
BO: Looking back on everything, I think all of us are close enough to our JO tours to realize that being a junior officer onboard a warship is not an easy task. It is a lot of sustained hard work that keeps you up many nights studying. We understand how hard you’ve worked for your pin. The shore tour is a time when many look to take some gas off the pedal and regroup. Here we have an opportunity to do that, but we also have a lot of work to do, but it’s good work. It is something that is going to make a difference.
Quite frankly, of all the people I have worked with in my career, there is no one I would rather work with. The people here are trying to make a difference, and that work will echo in the Navy for many years to come. My takeaway to you is, if you’re qualified in an area, pursue it rigorously, look at the pubs, talk to the watchstanders, and ask as many questions as you can, because one day you may be the one teaching others to do that and it is going to matter. That is why we were created.
SD: Thank you all so much for taking time out of your day to join us here on Sea Control and for leaving our listeners more informed about the work you’re doing and the mission of the Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center. We hope you’ll join us again! For our listeners – this has been another episode of Sea Control. Thanks for listening!
Lt. Benjamin Olivas is a native of El Paso, Texas and earned his bachelor’s degree in history from the United States Naval Academy in 2011. He received a commission in the Navy and was selected to be a Surface Warfare Officer. Olivas is an Integrated Air and Missile defense Warfare Tactics Instructor (IAMD WTI), and currently serves as the Standardization Officer at the Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) in San Diego, CA.
Lt. Brittany Hubbard is a native of Grand Chain, Illinois and earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from University of Illinois in 2012. Hubbard is currently at SMWDC Sea Combat Division as an Amphibious Warfare Tactics Instructor.
Lieutenant Damon Goodrich-Houska graduated from Indiana University in 2010 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Public and Environmental Affairs. Damon earned his commission through Officer Candiate School in 2010. Additionally, he earned his master’s degree in Cyber Security from National University in 2016. Lieutenant Goodrich-Houska is currently assigned to Navy Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center as N5 Anti-Submarine Warfare Assistant, N5 Doctrine & Tactics Branch. Damon completed the Legacy SuASW WTI course at the top of his class, and completed the ASUW/ASW WTI Pilot Course as the honor graduate.
LT Tyson Eberhardt is a native of Seattle, Washington and earned his bachelor’s degree in from Princeton University in 2008. He holds a master’s degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania. Eberhardt earned his commission through Officer Candidate School in 2013. He is currently an ASW/SUW Warfare Tactics Instructor at SMWDC Sea Combat Division specializing in active sonar systems and tactics. During his time at SMWDC he also served as the uniformed lead for SHAREM 188 with the ROK Navy.
Sally DeBoer is an Associate Editor with CIMSEC, and previously served as CIMSEC’s president from 2016-2017.
Matthew Merighi is the Senior Producer for Sea Control.
The development of the Future Surface Combatant (FSC) family of warships has widespread implications. These ships will form the backbone of the Navy’s surface force, and add sorely needed numbers to the fleet in general. They may also signal a reorganization of the Navy from its current strike group system to a more amorphous model. Additionally, the FSC’s projected service life indicates that it will encounter and employ technologies that today are only in the developmental stages. Creating requirements for this ship is obviously important.
However, proper assessment of the above factors in the FSC’s development is impossible without a broader conception of America strategy, the Navy’s role in that strategy, and the place of surface combatants within the Navy. New technologies may change the way wars are fought at the tactical and operational level, but policymakers and naval officers must organize those developments under a broader umbrella to understand their true application and effects.
History demonstrates the need to understand strategy, and a service’s role in that strategy, when modernizing a military force. In particular, a comparison of Britain’s largely successful naval modernization before the First World War can be compared to the less successful naval modernization and construction attempts in the U.S. from 1991 to the present. Comparing the underlying clarity of strategy in both modernization attempts offers major lessons to the modern policymaker that should be applied to the FSC’s development.
These lessons should reveal the primacy of sea control in orienting warship and fleet design. The FSC trio of ships should be designed to embody the surface Navy’s distributed lethality concept of operational warfighting against advanced A2/AD threats. These ships will take on specialized roles: the large combatant as an arsenal ship with numerous VLS cells to provide fires; the small surface combatant as an ISR-laden scout to probe the A2/AD envelope, hunt submarines, and retarget missiles; and the unmanned ship as a highly stealthy deception platform employing electronic warfare systems to lure and jam adversary assets. Together, these ships will provide a lasting sea control capability against an ever more challenging threat environment.
Strategy and Fleet Design
In particular, one can employ the idea of a “strategic concept” to connect national strategy with a service’s strategy and force structure. Samuel Huntington coined the term in a 1954 Proceedings essay entitled “National Policy and the Transoceanic Navy.” One can define a strategic concept as the way a specific service’s capabilities and missions fit into an overall national security strategy.
Huntington’s essay tracks the U.S. Navy’s development, contrasting the pre-1880s coastal and frigate Navy with the post-Spanish American War Mahanian Navy. In the former case, America’s primary objectives were located on land, giving the Navy the role of denying foreign powers access to the American coastline, protecting American international trade, and harassing enemy commerce and light warships during conflict. The Navy was subordinate to the Army, as most threats came from land, not sea. The Spanish-American War changed the U.S.’ strategic position, and changed the Navy’s role to defending American interests in the Atlantic and Pacific against European and Asian powers. Consequently, the Navy became the U.S.’ strategically important service. These differing strategic concepts created different fleets. The pre-1880s strategic concept necessitated a coastal navy with a handful of long-range frigates for blue ocean missions, while the post-Spanish American War concept required a battlefleet that could gain command of the seas.
Huntington’s argument specifically addresses the U.S. Navy’s strategic concept in the Cold War. A change in the international balance of power from multipolarity between states with land and naval power to bipolarity between a Eurasian land faction and an insular naval faction required a redefinition of the Navy’s strategic concept.
The present international balance of power has shifted from its 1991 state, and continues to shift as America’s adversaries expand their militaries. China approaches qualitative parity and quantitative superiority in the Pacific, while Russia and Iran can use long-range missiles and, in Russia’s case, a large submarine fleet coupled with a small but modernizing surface force. Each can challenge American sea control in their respective regions. For the first time since the Second World War, the U.S. faces adversaries in two hemispheres that are capable of not only denying it sea control, but also establishing sea control themselves. In the face of such a dramatic shift in the balance of power, understanding American strategy and the Navy’s role in that strategy is a prerequisite for sound fleet design.
The Scheme and Ship Design – Britain before World War I
This can best be shown by illustration of a situation in which a Navy had a clear strategic concept. The pre-First World War Royal Navy, dominated by Jacky Fisher and Winston Churchill, had a strong conception of Britain’s strategy and its own strategic concept. This enabled the success of “the scheme,” Fisher’s modernization program. Remarkably, this success occurred during a period when Britain’s government only loosely understood the implications of the policy choices, as Aaron Friedberg and Donald Kagan articulate.
Establishing the Royal Navy’s strategic concept during the pre-war period requires a brief review of British grand strategy from 1905 onward. Germany was slowly recognized as the primary threat to British power, particularly after the Russo-Japanese War. Britain’s desire to retain a free hand led to a reliance on its naval power, rather than a land army, to deter Germany. In the event that deterrence failed, Britain would use naval power to degrade the German economy through blockade while it mobilized resources to support its continental coalition partners.
This dictated a strategic concept for the Royal Navy that held sea control as its central objective. The concentration of a battle squadron in the North Sea would most effectively achieve this goal. Hunting down enemy raiding squadrons and protecting British and allied commerce was another a major component of the sea control objective. In addition, the Navy was expected to influence the land war through the aforementioned blockade of the Central Powers, impossible if Germany could operate freely at sea. Tangential to this were limited power projection attempts, including the Cuxhaven Raid and the much larger Gallipoli Campaign.
Fisher’s “scheme” is a reflection of this strategic concept, as demonstrated by its main components, the dreadnought battleship and the battlecruiser. The dreadnought fulfilled the need to deny Germany naval parity. The role of the dreadnought is not remarkable – a capital ship is inherently designed to destroy other capital ships. However, by leveraging technology, namely long-range gunnery advances and new propulsion techniques, Fisher and the Royal Navy were able to make all non-dreadnought battleships obsolete, forcing Germany to devote even more resources to its Navy in the pre-war period, or, as eventually occurred, surrender naval superiority to Britain.
The dreadnought’s development has strategic aspects, but the invention of the battlecruiser indicates the clear link between strategy and effective fleet design. Conceived by Fisher as “cruiser-killers,” the ships were armed with dreadnought-style guns, but eschewed the armor of a battleship for additional speed. As conceived, the battlecruiser could outrun anything powerful enough to destroy it, and catch anything lightly armed enough to fall prey to its heavy guns. When used in their intended role, such as at the Falklands, the ships excelled. Even the battlecruiser’s notable failures, such as at Jutland and Dogger Bank, had more to do with tactical handling than the inherent concept of the ship class.
After Fisher departed the admiralty in 1910, the new First Lord, Winston Churchill, continued the scheme’s progress, frequently taking advice from Fisher on fleet design and expansion issues. This continuity of thought up until the Great War began gave the scheme remarkable staying power. Indeed, the Fisher-Churchill fleet served Britain through both world wars. The Revenge and Queen Elizabeth-class battleships are two notable examples of this fact. The ships remained useful not only because of the quality of their construction, but also because they were designed with a specific role that remained strategically relevant for Britain over the entirety of their service lives.
Post-Cold War Strategic Malaise and Fleet Development
The same cannot be said of the U.S. Navy’s development projects since 1991. While America’s national security strategy shifted throughout the Cold War, the underlying political and strategic situation remained consistent, facilitating remarkable continuity in the Navy’s role. The 1982 Maritime Strategy and successive strategic documents were the clearest articulations of this approach, which one could term a strategic concept, to borrow from Huntington. In the event of a conflict, the Navy would use the Mediterranean as a staging ground for strikes against advancing Soviet forces while protecting allied convoys from submarines. Russia would need to divert attention from the central front, while the U.S. and its allies would gain operational flexibility. A 600-ship Navy of supercarriers; large and small surface combatants; attack and ballistic missiles submarines; and amphibious ships, emerged from this approach.
The Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 created a new strategic environment within which the Navy had difficulty articulating its purpose. The Navy published two operational and strategic documents during the 1990s: …From the Seain 1992 and Forward…From the Sea in 1994. Both rest on the assumption of absolute sea control, and indicated a shift in focus to littoral operations. One can derive the Zumwalt-class destroyer and LCS from this focus. The former was designed in part to replace the battleship in the naval gunfire support role while using stealth technology to avoid detection by enemy shore installations. The latter was intended to counter low- and medium-level littoral threats like diesel-electric submarines, mines, and, fast-attack craft.
The Navy’s post-Cold War missions did support this role. During the Gulf War, the Navy used 288 Tomahawk missiles to strike Iraqi ground targets, while the embarked MAGTF in the Persian Gulf combined with the First Marine Division’s frontal assault on Iraqi positions in Kuwait pinned Saddam’s forces in place for Schwarzkopf’s turning movement. The Navy played a critical facilitating role in the opening stages of the war in Afghanistan, providing air support for Special Forces and CIA operatives. During Iraq, the Navy played a similar role. However, the 700,000-strong ground force deployment during the Gulf War overshadowed the Navy’s strike role, while the counterinsurgency campaigns of the early 21st century further diminished the Navy’s public visibility.
Moreover, …From the Sea and Forward…From the Sea were based on assumptions that no longer hold true. The Navy can no longer assume universal sea control. This is most apparent in the Asia-Pacific. In 1991, the PLAN was unsuited for missions beyond China’s immediate coastline. It possessed no aircraft carriers, and had only one SSBN, precluding steady nuclear deterrence patrols. So pronounced was China’s naval inferiority that, during the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, an American aircraft carrier and amphibious assault ship were able to sail through the Taiwan Straits without fear of retaliation. The U.S. had achieved absolute naval supremacy in the Pacific, preventing China from isolating American regional allies, and constricting Chinese freedom of movement in wartime.
Today, the PLAN surface combatant fleet outnumbers the U.S. Navy’s, while the PLAN has nearly achieved numerical parity with the U.S. attack submarine force. It currently operates one ex-Soviet STOBAR carrier, will operate two STOBAR carriers by 2020, and will field an 85,000-ton CATOBAR carrier by 2022. Moreover, the PLA employs long-range anti-ship missiles like the DF-21 to create an anti-access bubble in the South and East China Seas, within which its surface fleet can operate relatively unopposed. Littoral operations and power projection are made less feasible in an environment where long-range missiles force American warships to remain hundreds of miles away from hostile coastlines.
Both the Zumwalt and LCS were built to field advancing technologies that, according to the transformation doctrine of the early 21st century, would revolutionize warfare. Transformation proponents may have been overzealous in predicting the initial operability of their technologies, but the general assertion that networked computing, combined with precision weapons, stealth, unmanned systems, and other weapons developments would indelibly change tactics and operations is being proven correct today. Indeed, the LCS and Zumwalt may been seen as test projects for the advances that will dominate warfare in the foreseeable future: automation, stealth technology, modularity, unmanned systems, and networking.
However, the transformation-RMA concept of warfighting did not translate into a coherent strategy that directed force structure, particularly in the context of the Navy. This was likely a historical accident. September 11th forced the Bush Administration, and the military as a whole, to entirely reorient its paradigm of war against a non-state enemy. The RMA, in contrast, was intended to revolutionize conventional warfare. Such a shift in threat perception did not translate well to naval development, and is in part responsible for the difficulties that the Zumwalt and LCS experienced.
Now, just as the military had adapted to the counterinsurgency framework of the early 21st century, it must return to a more traditional situation, albeit with persistent non-state threats. This strategic complexity and confusion can help explain the Zumwalt’s and LCS’ developmental difficulties. The Zumwalt may be an advanced ship, but its exact role is amorphous. The LCS’ modular nature appears to offer planners a greater breadth of employment options, but in reality decreases the overall lethality of the surface fleet.
An important lesson for the FSC’s development is that a solid conception of strategy, and from it the role each ship must play in an envisioned fleet, is paramount for effective acquisition and development. Therefore, a discussion of America’s national security strategy, and the Navy’s role in that strategy, is required.
American Strategy and the Navy’s Role
U.S. strategy is derived from the balance of power it currently faces internationally. Three sorts of threats undermine America’s international status. First, major state challengers like China and Russia threaten to undermine U.S. interests in the Pacific and Europe. China combines an expanding Navy with economic initiatives including the NDB, AIIB, and New Silk Road to create an independent Asian power bloc. Russia manufactures instability in Eastern Europe while using its foothold in Syria to wrap around the U.S. flank, and threaten the Balkans and Southern NATO. Second, medium challengers use traditional and non-traditional means to threaten American interests. Iran and North Korea fall into this group, with the former’s use of Shia militias in Iraq and Syria to increase its influence and the latter’s nuclear bullying, where both are designed to decrease American prestige and influence. Third, non-state actors, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, create pervasive instability in strategically important regions, while consistently attempting to strike American and allied citizens. These threats do not exist in isolation – multiple hostile actors operate within the same theater, as is the case in the Middle East.
The Navy’s role in responding to these threats returns to the Mahanian concept of “command of the seas.” The U.S. today faces a naval threat similar in effect to the great power fleets of the early 20th century. However, this threat is not expressed through battle squadrons intended for decisive fleet actions, but through an anti-access area denial (A2/AD) network. Each threat creates this network differently. As previously stated, China uses a more traditional fleet to establish sea control within the wider A2/AD bubble its long-range missiles create. On the lower end of the spectrum, Iran’s focus is on denying the U.S. sea control, rather than achieving its own regional command of the seas. Rather than investing in surface combatants and attack submarines, it uses missiles, fast-attack craft, and midget submarines for sea denial. Ironically, this bears greatest similarity to the situation …From the Sea and Forward…From the Sea initially envisioned, albeit with the added and pervasive element of advanced long-range missiles. Russian capabilities are more similar to Chinese ones, but Russia’s less advanced and smaller navy cannot achieve meaningful sea control in the same way that the PLAN can.
Regardless of the differences, RMA predictions enable all these A2/AD networks. America’s adversaries use long-range missiles and ISR architectures based on networked computing to counter the U.S. network of global super bases and forward deployed assets. A decade ago, the U.S. could reliably assume that, in the event of conflict, it could shuttle soldiers, aircraft, and other equipment to any point in the world without obstruction. Moreover, force deployments were relatively small – the Iraq War’s peak troop strength of 168,000 is dwarfed by Korea’s 325,000 troops, and Vietnam’s 500,000-plus-soldier commitment. Today, great power conflict is viable, creating the potential for larger force deployments, all while sea control is no longer guaranteed.
Ships must therefore be designed to combat the great power adversaries that field these A2/AD networks, rather than to focus on projecting power against land targets, or counter the low-tech littoral assets of rogue regimes. The Zumwalt and LCS will have a role in this new fleet architecture, but some of their original missions such as naval gunfire support and littoral dominance will have less relevance.
Nuclear weapons also complicate the Navy’s role. Russia, China, and North Korea are nuclear states, while Iran can obtain nuclear capabilities. Inland strikes against logistics and communications facilities could prompt a nuclear response and other forms of escalation. Using the Navy to blockade hostile nations and shifting its focus from power projection to sea control has military and political benefits, as it gives the U.S. greater control over a conflict’s escalation.
In modern conflict, applying decisive firepower is less dependent upon concentrating forces than before. Thus, although the Navy’s task will be more similar to the traditional role of a great power sea service than it has been since World War II, it will not need to seek out an enemy battlefleet in force in the traditional manner. Instead, its targets will be networked manned and unmanned air forces, ships, submarines, and land-based installations spread out over vast distances. The U.S. disposition is similar to this. The Navy can retain the CSG/ESG structure for certain operations, but the distributed lethality concept indicates the beginning of a concerted effort to network spread-out American warships.
The Role of Surface Combatants and the FSC
From an operational and strategic standpoint, one can identify many similarities between the A2/AD-network competition the U.S. will face in the near future and the First World War’s western front. Networking allows a broader distribution of forces, and decreases the need for, and effectiveness of, excessive target hardening. Nevertheless, one can envision a large-scale Sino-American conflict developing into a war of attrition in which China attempts to create an envelope within which it can establish uncontested sea control, and subdue American regional bases. Concurrently, the U.S. will use submarines and its own long-range missiles to punch through China’s A2/AD network, much like infiltration tactics and maneuver warfare schemes were used to break trench lines a century ago.
In this new environment, surface combatants can no longer be purely defensive ships as they are today. The Arleigh Burkes’ and Ticonderogas’ air defense capabilities will remain important, but surface combatants must have the means to strike enemy targets offensively, and not simply to protect American capital ships. Submarines will be the primary tool used to penetrate and degrade A2/AD networks, but surface combatants provide heavier capabilities in higher volumes than undersea assets in more domains. In addition to their strike role, surface combatants must be able to detect and destroy enemy submarines. The Pacific’s geography, combined with Russo-Chinese force structure, makes this an imperative. Outside of wartime, the FSC will also conduct presence missions in contested Asian and European maritime regions. Ideally, older ships like the Arleigh Burke could provide shore strike capabilities, while amphibious ships equipped with land-attack missiles would support naval landings. This overall structure would free up the FSC for greater sea control specialization.
The Navy’s overarching operational goal will clearly be to break down an A2/AD network. While submarines can avoid detection and hit critical nodes in this network, the FSC would best be used to provide sustained salvo fire against exposed targets, while delivering overwhelming firepower when a more significant target presents itself. In peacetime, the FSC’s components may operate independently while conducting presence or deterrence missions. However, during wartime, the best way to take advantage of networking and distributed lethality is to consistently use all three FSCs in tandem. Much as the Grand Fleet served as a blockade force and battlefleet in its station at Scapa Flow, these FSC SAGs would blockade China’s maritime space in the Asia-Pacific, while also forming the core of America’s Pacific battlefleet. Each FSC would have a specific role in fulfilling this strategy.
The large FSC would form the backbone of the SAG’s striking power. Much like the projected Arsenal Ship concept of the early 1990s, this ship must be maximized for its offensive firepower, using a low freeboard and long-range missiles to avoid retaliation. As envisioned, this ship would operate in two ways. First, it would receive targeting information from other assets deployed closer to enemy positions, launching strikes against those targets – like an advanced battleship relying on spotting aircraft to direct its ordinance. Second, the large FSC would launch its missiles and “hand off” retargeting control to other ships and aircraft more proximate to the target, serving as the SAG’s “quiver.” Considering its mission, the large FSC could be larger than a contemporary destroyer, and even approach the cruiser size of 15,000 tons.
The Navy should also consider nuclear propulsion for this FSC. This would enable the Navy to more quickly field directed energy weapons and railguns, likely for point defense against missiles, and would compliment the ship’s armament of long-range missiles by allowing for more launch cells to be allocated for offensive strike weapons rather than defensive anti-air munitions. Nuclear power will also provide critical advantages in endurance and logistics, allowing a smaller number of large FSC’s to service multiple SAGs. Underway VLS replenishment is critical for this ship, and for the Navy as a whole, if this SAG structure is to be used.
While the large FSC provides the bulk of the striking power, the small FSC serves as the envisioned SAG’s targeting ship,and ASW platform. Rather than fielding its own long-range missiles, the small surface combatant, which should be sized at no more than 5,000 tons (i.e. no larger than a small destroyer), would use unmanned vehicles to detect and target enemy A2/AD nodes. Several catapults, deploying Predator/Global Hawk style drones, would extend this ship’s ISR range. Rotary facilities are critical, as are point-defense anti-aircraft missiles. However, the small surface combatant should rely on its larger cousin for most air, surface, and land striking power. In return, the small surface combatant could use the extra space for a full ASW suite, augmented by UUVs to increase detection range. Short-range anti-ship missiles, similar to those envisioned on the fast frigate model LCS, would be the ship’s sole offensive armament. Networking’s most powerful effect will be seen here – independently or otherwise, the small surface combatant should rely on its larger cousin for long-range strike support while it scouts and penetrates the A2/AD bubble. The retargeting capability resident within the Block IV Tomahawk missile and LRASM would allow the small surface combatants closer to the target to redirect missiles launched from a stand-off position by the larger FSC.
Finally, the unmanned surface combatant should be used to jam and deceive enemy assets, while also supplementing the small FSC’s detection capabilities. Stealth is imperative for this ship, as it will operate closer to the enemy during combat than any other surface ship. While the large surface combatant provides firepower, and the small surface combatant detects threats, the unmanned surface combatant conducts electronic warfare schemes that misdirect and confuse enemies attempting to strike back at the SAG. This unmanned ship should be as small as possible, ideally no more than 1,200 tons.
Room for integration exists between the FSC-based SAG and the contemporary fleet. Arleigh Burkes can serve as makeshift arsenal ships, or as dedicated anti-air platforms, freeing up the large FSC for anti-ship missions. Regardless, the emphasis must be on networked integration, not only between the SAGs ships, but with the fleet more broadly, and with other armed services.
As described, the FSC would best be suited for interstate conflict, rather than for power projection against rogue regimes and non-state actors. This is a conscious choice – the Navy could use older ships and aircraft (or allied assets) in those contexts, freeing up advanced platforms for the most sophisticated threats. If constructed in this way, the FSC family of warships would help the Navy fulfill its future sea control mission requirements, while operating independently or as part of a strike group.
Military modernization requires an understanding of strategy. Absent this, new weapons and platforms become imperfect tools to use against growing threats. With it, new assets multiply the fighting effectiveness of the service in question, while reinforcing a nation’s objectives. Therefore, the most important lesson history provides for the FSC’s development is the primacy of strategy. Without an understanding of America’s strategy and the Navy’s role in achieving America’s goals tactical, operational, and technological discussions are groundless.
Harry Halem is an undergraduate at the University of St Andrews studying International Relations and Philosophy. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With contributions from Lieutenant Commander Loren M. Jacobi, USN, Lieutenant Commander James J. Moore, USN, and Lieutenant Robert J. Dalton, USN
The future of the Helicopter Sea Combat Community (HSC) community is at risk. HSC, which is made up of both carrier air wing (CVW) and expeditionary (EXP)squadrons that employ MH60S helicopters, struggles with its purpose to the fleet. Platform capabilities fail to keep pace with technological advancements and HSC warfighting relevancy is diminishing. A focused vision, careful risk mitigation, rebalanced mission priorities, and thoughtful platform acquisitions are needed in order to strengthen the fleet and secure the future of the HSC community.
What Does an HSC Vision for 2026 Look Like?
What is needed is will—the fortitude to recognize that we have to change the way we currently operate. –VADM Thomas Rowden, “Distributed Lethality.”1
The HSC community of 2026 has a renewed focus on maritime employment and a customer-focused concept of operations based on the needs of warfare commanders. This means pivoting to become the maritime mission experts, integrating into a Carrier Strike Group (CSG), Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), or Independent Deployer via the Distributed Lethality (DL) model:
“Distributed lethality is the condition gained by increasing the offensive power of individual components of the surface force (cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships [LCSs], amphibious ships, and logistics ships) and then employing them in dispersed offensive formations.”2
A pivot to distributed lethality requires alignment with warfighting requirements, focused funding along a revised community Roadmap/Flight Plan, and leveraging of existing naval aviation programs of record. The Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU) is a Naval Aviation Enterprise requirement that reviews and improves resources throughout the lifespan of platforms. The forthcoming MH-60S MLU presents a watershed opportunity for the HSC community. It offers the clearest path to match capabilities with warfighting requirements outlined in the CNO’s Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority while meeting the demands of an environment increasingly shaped by the need for network-enabled technology in constrained budgets.3 Assuming the current Service Life Extension Plan (SLEP) will deliver the first MH-60S in 2028, the MLU opportunities for warfighting upgrades, guided by HSC Roadmaps and aligned with a maritime pivot to DL, will enable the HSC community to provide warfare commanders with the capabilities they require to meet future maritime security challenges.
President Trump is calling for more ships in the Fleet and the Navy’s revised force structure assessment will likely drive an increase in demand for MH-60S missions. Now is the time for the HSC community to make the most of the MLU in order to recast itself in the mold of DL. Doing so will create a future comprised of more powerful, networked platforms combined with innovative tactics that enhance naval warfare capability and support developing requirements generated from national strategy.
HSC has assumed an injurious level of risk training to a broad range of specialized warfare competencies. The battle to maintain currency and proficiency in specialized overland missions has increased risk, resulted in mishaps, and has made warfare commanders reluctant to rely on the HSC community for overland personnel recovery (PR), special operations forces (SOF) missions, and direct action (DA) missions. Historical HSC community data reveals that over 50 percent of HSC mishaps occurred during controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), with the majority occurring during training in a degraded visual environment (DVE) or executing unprepared landings (UPLs), resulting in four Class A mishaps, three Class B mishaps, 22 Class C mishaps, and one Class D mishap.4
Compounding this data, the HSC community has relied on Seahawk Weapons and Tactics Instructors (SWTIs) as subject matter experts to teach the most challenging missions, but SWTIs have struggled to maintain minimum flight hour requirements themselves.5 The CNO’s direction to “guide our behaviors and investments, both this year and in the years to come” demands that the community’s plan for the future adheres to responsible risk/benefit analysis. To do so, the HSC community should consider tailoring Defense Readiness Reporting System-Navy (DRRS-N) requirements to focus on maritime missions that contribute to a DL model.6
Rebalancing Mission Priorities
Fleet Carrier Air Wing HSC Squadrons maintain 10 primary mission areas and four secondary mission areas encompassing 210 required operational capabilities.7 A visual depiction of HSC missions can be seen in the figure below.
Given constrained resources, the number of specialized mission areas (seen at the top of the figure) is inversely proportional to the ability to perform those missions well. When considering where to allocate future resources, the HSC community must prioritize the maritime domain. The current MH-60S, which makes up 275 of the 555 aircraft in the Navy’s MH-60R/S inventory, lacks adequate sensors, sensor integration, and long-range weapons systems that warfare commanders require. As a result, decision makers mainly rely on the MH-60R to perform anti-surface warfare (ASUW) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) missions focused on maritime dominance. The HSC community must obtain the systems that warfare commanders desire and focus training on the missions that utilize them.
According to the Master Aviation Plan (MAP), there will be an increase in HSC employment as more LCS enter the fleet. This will be a major driver for requirements and is consistent with the DL concept. Since USN units are expected to be lethal against a broad range of threats, the HSC community must use existing opportunities to ensure that MH-60S integrated sensors are absolute requirements in order to provide situational awareness for warfare commanders, augment networked targeting platforms, and become a relevant sea control platform.
“The more capable platforms the adversary has to account for, the more thinly distributed his surveillance assets will be and the more diluted will his attack densities become. The more distributed our combat power becomes, the more targets we hold at risk and the higher the costs of defense to the adversary.”8
Rebalanced HSC mission sets should prioritize SAR/LOG/HADR, AMCM, UAS & SSC, and ASUW, while carefully tailoring overland PR/SOF DRRS-N requirements.
SAR/LOG/HADR. Warfare commanders have historically demanded force-enabling mission sets from the rotary wing community and they will continue to be necessary core competencies operating aboard any surface platform. In addition to supporting daily operations, the HSC community has made significant strategic contributions executing SAR/LOG/HADR mission sets in times of crisis (e.g. tsunami relief operations, non-combatant evacuation operations, etc.). With the Trump administration demanding an increase in fleet size and publicly supporting a 350 ship Navy, it is logical to assume that there will be additional demand for force-enabling missions that require rotary support. The MH-60S is the platform of choice to meet increased demand for these mission sets and the HSC community should position itself accordingly.
AMCM. According to the Naval Aviation Vision 2016-2025, “effective mine warfare is a key tenet of the Navy’s anti-access/area-denial (A2AD) strategy, and AMCM plays an important role in executing that strategy,” yet the HSC community has fundamentally marginalized and underdeveloped this important capability.9 Already a Navy program of record, focusing on AMCM will address a significant challenge to U.S. maritime superiority. The MH-53E brings significant capability to heavy-lift contingency logistics requirements, while being a proven AMCM platform. With several MH-60S AMCM systems failing to meet requirements, a heavy lift replacement like the MH-53K would provide a baseline for LOG and AMCM missions. The MH-60S and unmanned HSC platforms like Fire Scout need to augment AMCM capabilities as soon as possible in order to counter this powerful asymmetric threat and contribute to the success of DL.
UAS & SSC. HSC is the first Naval Aviation community to significantly develop and integrate unmanned systems, which purports to be a force multiplier in DL operations. Becoming UAS experts positions the HSC community to become leaders in the SSC mission, providing greater range, sensor capability, and distributed lethality than manned rotary-wing assets, while simultaneously reducing human risk, cost, and impact to routine events such as CVN cyclic operations. Currently, UAS is a secondary requirement on FRS and Expeditionary squadrons. Flight crews and maintainers are required to maintain separate currency and qualification on diverse platforms. Unmanned systems are integral to the future of warfare and the HSC community should explore resourcing commands and crews that are devoted to unmanned platforms.
ASUW. Whether operating as part of a CSG, ARG, or Independent Deployers; offensive and defensive anti-surface capabilities offer warfare commanders a wide range of options while simultaneously adding complexity to the calculus of potential maritime adversaries. An HSC DL model can protect a high value unit (HVU), hold enemies at risk at range with a wide variety of unguided or precision guided munitions, and employ the MH-60S in conjunction with the MH-60R when required, all in the interest of defending Sea Lines of Communication and ensuring maritime security and superiority.
PR/SOF. Despite an increased focus on overwater missions, overland mission capability must still exist organically within the Navy Rotary Wing community. Overland capability must be maintained in a resource-constrained environment while implementing ways to mitigate risk. This could be accomplished by carefully tailoring training requirements for specific AORs beyond the current HSC Seahawk Weapons and Tactics Program 3502.6. Commands that are not projected to operate overland while deployed should be expected and even encouraged to report “yellow” or “red” in DRRS-N, reducing the risk associated with specialized overland mission sets and freeing up resources for other mission areas. This will permit the HSC community to “demonstrate predictable excellence in the execution of our maritime missions” and increase tactical relevance by seeking missions that are desired by warfare commanders.
While accepting some risk in the overland power-projection/PR missions, the HSC community needs to link squadrons to relevant NSW and other SOF units to be the customer of choice when doing SOF missions in the maritime domain. Missions should be trained to and executed on a sound risk/reward level to give SOF the reach needed to execute their effects from traditional and non-traditional surface platforms. A ship takedown executed from a Military Sealift Command (MSC) ship or LCS may be an emerging counter terrorism requirement in the globalized threat domain.
DoN budget challenges (Columbia-class SSBN, shipbuilding, TACAIR Inventory Management, etc.) will continue to pressure naval rotary wing funding. The MH-60 Service Life Assessment Plan (SLAP), beginning in FY17 and transitioning into SLEP in the early 2020s, provides a unique opportunity to incorporate key mission upgrades and capabilities in conjunction with MH-60 MLU. While MLU is still unfunded and currently outside the Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP), the HSC community should work with OPNAV N98 and the Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE) to support upgraded MH-60S capabilities that enhance Fleet DL.
Obtain RADAR capability. The HSC community is the aviation asset for LCS, but it has virtually no networked sensor capability. In a distributed threat environment, the MH-60S needs to be able to contribute additional sensor information to decision makers and shooters. The logical solution is a phased planar array RADAR, which gives HSC the ability to positive hostile identify (PHID) at range and use RADAR designation for the Joint Air to Ground Missile (JAGM). An LCS based SAG needs air-based sensor coverage, all-weather PHID capability, and the ability to hold the enemy at risk, at range. JAGM Block III (another Navy program of record), will virtually double the range of the HELLFIRE missile. Due to limitations of the current MH-60S MTS sensor at long ranges in humid overwater environments, the HSC community will face significant limitations in utilizing JAGM at ranges beyond legacy HELLFIRE capabilities. The MH-60R, with RADAR-based designation capability will be able to utilize the full range envelope of JAGM. Until this gap is bridged, only the 280 MH-60R helicopters out of the Navy’s 555 MH-60R/S inventory will be able to leverage the full capability of this weapon. Obtaining RADAR imaging and designation will enable the MH-60S to integrate into the overwater joint fires world of DL.
Approve the MH-60S “Torpedo Truck” concept for the Pacific Fleet. The “Torpedo Truck” concept multiplies warfighting effectiveness for any battle group by permitting HSC platforms to carry torpedoes that can be employed in conjunction with an MH-60R. Time on station is primarily determined by fuel load and aircraft weight limitations necessitate a choice of either additional fuel or expendables such as torpedoes. Outfitting an MH-60S “shooter” platform with torpedoes permits an MH-60R platform to take off with more fuel (instead of torpedoes) and remain on-station as the “designator” for longer periods of time. The MH-60S “Torpedo Truck” significantly increases ASW warfighting capability (particularly on LCS) and enhances DL. Additionally, to bring ASW capability to a broad range of Independent Deployers, the “Torpedo Truck” directly supports DL requirements. No matter what the ASW threat, a threat submarine needs to be close in to launch a torpedo against a ship. The DL concept applied to ASW in a non-traditional LCS SAG is only possible with the ability to employ organic weapons that can hold the enemy at risk, at range. The “Torpedo Truck” concept has already been endorsed by Carrier Air Wing FIVE (CVW 5) and requires further review from higher Pacific Fleet echelons. Commander DESRON 15, Commander NAWDC, Commander CTF 70, and Commander SEVENTH Fleet should consider generating an urgent operational needs statement based on current and projected submarine threats, and work with OPNAV for immediate approval.11
Obtain Ku-band HAWKLINK capability. The HSC community needs to connect HAWKLINK to warfighting requirements as they are currently written. HAWKLINK permits full motion multi-spectral targeting sensor (MTS) video feeds that are demanded by warfare commanders who desire real-time evaluation of potential ASUW threats. Additionally, the “Torpedo Truck” concept could drive the ASW requirement for HAWKLINK (in SEVENTH Fleet in particular). It is not possible to have pervasive, wide-area sensor coverage over the entire Pacific. It is possible, however, to use distributed sensors to localize threats in the form of ship-based towed arrays, submarine-based networking, and P-8 buoy brickwork. Having HSC detachment-based, LCS-organic capability to launch weapons allows networked sensor systems to continue search and localization without coming off-station to launch a weapon for both ASUW and ASW missions.
Procure MH-53K Heavy-Lift and AMCM capabilities. CSG logistics requirements are immense when operating continuous flight operations, particularly during a contingency that prevents or delays pulling into port. Sea basing for this environment without heavy lift support remains untested with smaller platforms like the MH-60S. With the growing asymmetric mine threat and unproven/failed MCM technology for smaller platforms, a heavy-lift replacement for the Helicopter Sea Combat HM squadrons would provide a sound baseline for both MCM and LOG warfighter capability while the MH-60S and Fire Scout augment via a more distributed model.
Now is the time to chart the future of the HSC community. Dogged adherence to the current HSC model may have negative implications for HSC aircrews and will likely result in the same warfighting triviality that has frustrated the community for years. However, if the HSC community is confident enough in its vision to adjust course and take advantage of existing opportunities with a renewed focus on maritime missions and well-planned, achievable warfighting enhancements that strengthen Fleet DL, it can and will be dedicated to safely executing mission sets that warfare commanders demand on a regular basis.
Michael Silver is a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy and an MH-60S pilot with more than 2,600 flight hours. He most recently served as the Operations Officer for Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Twelve as part of Carrier Air Wing Five, based in Atsugi, Japan. The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.
1. VADM Thomas Rowden, RADM Peter Gumataotao, and RADM Peter Fanta, U.S. Navy, “Distributed Lethality,” Proceedings Magazine, Jan 2015 Vol. 141/1/1,343, pp. 4
2. “Distributed Lethality,” pp. 1
3. ADM John M. Richardson, U.S. Navy, A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority 1.0, 2016
4. FY11-FY16 HSC Community Mishap Data
5. HSC Weapon School SWTIs struggled to maintain a tactical hard deck of 10 flight hours per pilot per month during FY16
6. CNO ADM John M. Richardson, A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority 1.0, 2016, pp. 4
7. OPNAV Instruction C3501.384, 17 May 2011
8. “Distributed Lethality,” pp. 1
9. VADM Mike Shoemaker, U.S. Navy, LtGen Jon Davis, U.S. Marine Corps, VADM Paul Grosklags, U.S. Navy, RADM Michael Manazir, U.S. Navy, RADM Nancy Norton, U.S. Navy, Naval Aviation Vision 2016-2025, pp. 44
10. CAPT B. G. Reynolds and CAPT M. S. Leavitt, U.S. Navy, 2016 HSC Strategy, 11 Jul 2016
11. CDR Jeffrey Holzer, U.S. Navy, MH-60S Torpedo Truck Point Paper, 18 Sep 2014
Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (April 30, 2013) An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 21approaches the flight deck of the amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18) during night flight operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gary Granger Jr./Released