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Did We Learn Anything From That Exercise? Could We?

The following article originally featured in the 1982 July-August edition of The Naval War College Review and is republished with permission.

By Frederick Thompson

Exercises are a source of information on tactics, force capabilities, scenario outcomes, and hardware systems effectiveness. But they distort battle operations in ways which prevent the immediate application of their results to real world situations. For example, because they are artificial, the force capabilities demonstrated need not exactly portray capabilities in actual battle. Further, our analysis process is imperfect. Our data can be incomplete or erroneous, the judgments we make during reconstruction and data refinement may be contentious, and our arguments linking the evidence to our conclusions may be incorrect. Still, exercises are among the most realistic operations we conduct. Our investigations of what really happened in an exercise yield valuable insights into problems, into solutions, and into promising tactical ideas.

The Nature of Exercises

How do naval exercises differ from real battles? Clearly the purpose of each is different. Exercises are opportunities for military forces to learn how to win real battles. During exercises, emphasis is on training people and units in various aspects of warfare, practicing tactics and procedures, and coordinating different force elements in complex operations. Ideally, the exercise operations and experiences would be very much like participating in a real battle. For obvious reasons, exercises fall short of this ideal, and thereby distort battle operations. These distortions are called “exercise artificialities.” An understanding of the different kinds of exercise artificialities is essential to understanding exercise analysis results. The exercise artificialities fall loosely into three classes: those which stem from the process of simulating battle engagements; those which stem from pursuit of a specific exercise goal; and those stemming from gamesmanship by the players.

Engagement Simulation. Obviously real ordnance is not used in an exercise. As a result, judging the accuracy of weapon delivery and targeting, force attrition, and damage assessment become problems in an exercise. If a real SAM is fired at an incoming air target, the target is either destroyed or it is not. There is no corresponding easy solution to the engagement in an exercise. Somehow, the accuracy of the fire control solution must be judged, and an umpire must determine whether the warhead detonates and the degree of destruction it causes.

What is the impact of this simulation on battle realism? Suppose the SAM is judged a hit and the incoming target destroyed. The incoming target will not disappear from radar screens. It may, in fact, continue to fly its profile (since it won’t know it’s been destroyed). So radar operators will continue to track it and the target will continue to clutter the air picture. A cluttered air picture naturally consumes more time of operators and decision makers. Now suppose the SAM misses the incoming target. If time permitted, the SAM ship would fire again, thereby depleting SAM inventories. However, the judgment process is not quick enough to give the SAM ship feedback to make a realistic second firing. In fact, AAW engagement resolution may not occur until the post-exercise analysis.

Now suppose the SAM misses the incoming missile, but the missile hits a surface combatant. Then the problem is to figure out how much damage was done to the combatant. An umpire will usually role dice to probablistically determine damage; a real explosion wreaks destruction instantaneously. As a result, there will be some delay in determining damage and even then that damage may be unrealistic.

It is easy to see how the flow of exercise events may become distorted, given the delay between engagement and engagement resolution during an exercise. Other examples of distortion abound. For example, it may happen that a tactical air strike is launched to take out an opposing surface group armed with long-range antiship missiles, but only after those missiles have already dealt a crippling blow to the CV from which the air strike comes. In another case, aircraft will recover on board CVs with simulated damage as well as those CVs still fully operational. In general, it has so far been impossible to effect in exercises the real-time force attrition of an actual battle so that battle flow continues to be realistic after the first shots are fired.

Such artificialities make some aspects of the exercise battle problem more difficult than in a real battle; others make it less difficult. Because destroyed air targets don’t disappear from radar screens, the air picture becomes more complicated. On the other hand, a SAM ship will seldom expend more than two SAMs on a single target and therefore with a given inventory can engage more incoming missiles than she would be able to in reality. Further, the entire AAW force remains intact during a raid (as does the raid usually) as opposed to suffering progressive attrition and thereby having to fight with less as the raid progresses. It is unclear exactly what the net effect of these artificialities is on important matters like the fraction of incoming targets effectively engaged.

Safety restrictions also distort exercise operations and events. For example, the separation of opposing submarines into nonoverlapping depth bands affects both active and passive sonar detection ranges, especially in submarine vs. submarine engagements. Here realism is sacrificed for a reduced probability of a collision. For the same sorts of reasons, aircraft simulating antiship missiles stay above a fixed altitude in the vicinity of the CV, unless they have prior approval from the CV air controller, which distorts the fidelity of missile profiles. In other examples, surface surveillance aircraft may not use flares to aid night time identification. Tactical air strike ranges may be reduced to give the strike aircraft an extra margin of safety in fuel load. The degree of battle group emission control, especially with regard to CV air control communications and navigation radars, is determined partially by safety consideration. Quietness is often sacrificed in favor of safety.

The point is that safety is always a concern in an exercise, whereas in an actual battle, the operators would probably push their platforms to the prudent limits of their capabilities. These safety restrictions impart another artificiality to exercise operations. By constraining the range of Blue operational options, his problem becomes more difficult than the real world battle. By constraining Orange operational options, Orange’s problem becomes harder, and hence Blue’s problem easier, than in the real world.

Another source of distortion is the use of our own forces as the opposition. US naval ships, aircraft, and submarines differ from those of potential enemies. It is probable that enemy antiship missiles can be launched from further away, fly faster, and present a more difficult profile than can be simulated by manned aircraft in an exercise. The simulated antiship missile in an exercise thus presents an easier target in this regard. Customarily, Orange surveillance has fewer platforms with less on-station time than do some potential enemies, say the Soviets. In ASW, there maybe differences between US submarine noise levels and potential enemy submarine noise levels. All these differences in sensors and weapon systems distort detection, identification, and engagement in exercises and thereby make aspects of exercise operations artificial.

A more subtle distortion occurs when US military officers are cast in the role of enemy decision makers. The US officers are steeped in US naval doctrine, tactics, and operating procedures. It is no doubt difficult to set aside these mind-sets and operate according to enemy doctrine, tactics, and procedures. Add to this the fact that one has only a perception of enemy doctrine, tactics, and procedures to work from, and the operating differences between an actual enemy force and a simulated enemy force become more disparate. With this sort of distortion, it is difficult to identify exactly how the exercise operations will be different from those they try to simulate. But the distortions are real, and are at work throughout the exercises.

Exercise Scenarios.The goal of an exercise can drive the nature of the exercise operations; this is a familiar occurrence in all fleets. The degree of distortion depends upon the nature of the goal. Consider two examples.

First, consider an exercise conducted for the express purpose of examining a particular system’s performance in coordinated operations. It is likely to involve a small patch of ocean, repeated trials in a carefully designed scenario, dictated tactics, and most importantly a problem significantly simpler than that encountered in a real battle. At best, the battle problem in this controlled exercise will be a subtask from a larger battle problem. Participants know the bounds of the problem and they can concentrate all of their attention and resources on solving it. Now such exercises are extremely valuable, both in providing a training opportunity to participants and in discovering more about the system in question. But the exercise results apply only in the limited scenario which was employed; in this sense the goal of the exercise distorts the nature of the operations. Exercise operations in these small, canned, controlled exercises are artificially simple as compared to those in a real battle.

Next consider a large, multi-threat free-play exercise which is conducted partially for training, perhaps the most realistic type of exercise conducted. The exercise area will still have boundaries but will probably include a vast part of the ocean. Commercial aircraft traffic and shipping may well be heavier than would be the case in a hot war environment. As the exercise unfolds there will be a tendency for the controlling authority to orchestrate interactions. By doing this, the options are constrained unrealistically for both sides. Blue or Orange may not be able to pick the time and place to fight the battle. Both sides know that a simulated battle will be fought, and higher authority may hasten the interaction so that the participants can fight longer. Clearly this is a case where trade-offs must be made and it is important to understand this when exercise results are being interpreted.

In both kinds of exercises, artificialities are necessary if the goals are to be met. Partly as a result the operations are not exact duplicates of those likely to occur in the same scenario in a real battle. Aside from recognizing that forced interactions distort an exercise battle, little work has been done to learn more about how these distortions affect the resulting operations.

Gamesmanship and Information. A separate class of artificialities arise when exercise participants are able to exploit the rules of play. Consider a transiting battle group. It may be possible to sail so close to the exercise area boundary that from some directions the opponent could attack only from outside the area, and that is prohibited. Thus, the battle group would reduce the potential threat axes and could concentrate its forces only along axes within the operating area. Clearly, the tactical reasoning which leads to such a decision is valuable training for the participants, and exploiting natural phenomena such as water depth, island masking, and so on are valid tactics. But exploiting an exercise boundary to make the tactical problem easier distorts operations in the scenario and is a kind of gamesmanship.

Consider another situation. In exercises, both sides usually know the opposition’s exact order-of-battle. So participants have more information than they are likely to have in a real battle, and that information is known to be reliable. Blue also knows the operating capabilities of the ships stimulating the enemy, and may be able to deduce associated operating constraints from them. For example, he knows more about US submarine noise levels and operating procedures than he does about likely opposition submarines. He also knows how many Orange submarines are actually participating in the exercise, and as he engages them, he may be able to estimate the size of the remaining threat by examining time and distance factors.                           

Classes of Exercise Artificiality

I. Battle Simulation Artificiality

  • No Real Ordnance
  • Safety Restrictions on Operations
  • Simulate Opposition Platforms
  • Imperfect Portrayal of enemy doctrine, tactics, and procedures

II. Scenario Artificiality

  • Forced Interaction
  • Focus on Small Piece of Battle Problem

III. Gamesmanship and Information

  • Exact Knowledge of Enemy OOB
  • Exact Knowledge of Enemy Platform Capabilities
  • Exploitation of Exercise Rules
  • Tactical Information Feedback Imperfections

A final exercise artificiality is the poor information flow from battle feedback. With real ordnance, undetected antiship missiles hit targets, explode, and thereby let the force know it is under attack. This does not occur in exercises. A force may never know it has been located and has been under attack. As a result, the force may continue to restrict air search radar usage when in a real battle, all radars would have been lit off shortly after the first explosion. The force may never be able to establish a maximum readiness posture. In a real battle, there would have been plenty of tactical information to cue the force that it is time to relax emission control. This kind of exercise artificiality affects both the engagement results and the flow of battle events.

In spite of these artificialities, exercises still provide perhaps the only source of operational information from an environment which even attempts to approximate reality. Though artificial in many ways, exercises on the whole are about as realistic as one can make them, short of staging a real war. This is especially true in the case of large, multi-threat, free-play fleet exercises. The only time a battle group ever operates against opposition may be during these exercises. So for lack of something better, exercises become a most important source of information.

The Nature of the Analysis Process

The analytical conclusions drawn from examining exercise operations are the output of a sequence of activities which collectively are called the exercise analysis process. While there is only one real analytical step in the process, it has become common to refer to the entire sequence as an analysis process. The individual steps themselves are (1) data collection, (2) reconstruction, (3) data reduction and organization, (4) analysis, and (5) reporting. It is of immense value to understand how the body of evidence supporting exercise results and conclusions is developed. We will examine the activities which go on in each step of a typical large, multi threat, free-play fleet exercise, and end with some comments to make clear how the analyses of other kinds of exercises may be different.

Data collection. The first step is to collect data on the events that occur during an exercise. Think of the exercise itself as a process. All the people in the exercise make decisions and operate equipment and so create a sequence of events. The data which are collected are like measurements of certain characteristics of the process, taken at many different times during the exercise. The data are of several different types.

One type is keyed to particular events which occur during the exercise: a detection of an incoming missile, the order to take a target under fire, the act of raising a periscope on a submarine, a change in course, and so on. This sort of data is usually recorded in a log along with the time of its occurrence. Another kind of data is the perceptions of various participants during the exercise. These data are one person’s view of the state of affairs at one point in time. The individual could be an OTC, a pilot, or a civilian analyst observer. Another type of data is the evaluative report of a major participant, usually filed after the exercise is over. These provide the opinions of key participants on the exercise, on a particular operation and what went wrong, on deficiencies, etc. Finally, the memories of participants and observers also are a source of data. Their recollections of what went on during a particularly important period of the exercise may often be valuable.

There are two kinds of imperfections attendant to all this. The first is imperfections in the data collected: they don’t reflect accurately what they were intended to reflect. That is, some data elements are erroneous. The second imperfection stems from having taken measurements only at discrete points in time, and having only partial control over the points in time for which there will be data. A commander in the press of fighting a battle may not have the time to record an event, or his rationale for a crucial decision. An observer may likewise miss an important oral exchange of information or an important order. After the exercise is over, memories may fade and recollections become hazy. So the record of what went on during the exercise, the raw data, is imperfect.

Once most of the raw recorded data are gathered in one place, reconstruction begins. In general, gross reconstruction provides two products: geographical tracks of ships and aircraft over time, and a chronology of important exercise events: time and place of air raids, submarine attacks, force disposition changes, deception plan executions and so forth. Tentative identification of important time periods is made at this time. These periods may become the object of finer grained reconstruction later as new questions emerge which the gross reconstruction is unable to answer. The table below lists the primary products of gross reconstruction. The major event chronology includes the main tactical decisions such as shifts in operating procedures, shifts in courses of action, executions of planned courses of action, and all others which might have affected what went on.

Reconstruction is arguably the most important step in the exercise analysis. Many judgments are made at this level of detail which affect both the overall picture of what went on during the exercise as well as the validity of the results and conclusions. It is much the same kind of laboratory problem scientists face in trying to construct a database from a long, costly series of experiments. The basic judgments concern resolving conflicts among the data, identifying errors in data entries, and interpreting incomplete data. Judging each small case seems minor. However, the enormous number of small judgments collectively have a profound effect on the picture of exercise operations which emerges. The meticulous sifting which is required demands knowledgeable people in each area of naval operations as well as people possessed of a healthy measure of common sense. Judgments made during reconstruction permeate the remainder of the exercise analysis process. These judgments constitute yet another way for errors to enter the process.

Data Reduction and Organization. The line between reconstruction and data reduction and organization is blurred. At some point, most of the reconstruction is done and summary tables of information begin to emerge. In anti-air warfare for example, tables will show the time of the air raid, raid composition, number detected, percent effectively engaged, and by whom. An antisubmarine warfare summary table might show contacts, by whom detected, validity of detection, attack criteria achievement, and validity of any attacks conducted. Other products based upon the reconstruction are tailored to the specific analysis objective or the specific question of interest. For example, in command and control, a detailed history of the flow of particular bits of information from their inception to their receipt by a weapon system operator might be constructed. In surface warfare, the exact sequence of detections and weapon firings are other examples.

Two important acts occur during this step. First certain data are selected as being more useful than other data and then the individual bits are aggregated. Second, the aggregate data are organized into summary presentations (in the form of tables, figures, graphs, and so on) so that relations among the data can be examined. Obviously, the way in which data is aggregated involves judgments as to what data to include and what to exclude. These choices and the selection of the form of the presentation itself involve important judgments. As before, the judgments comprise another potential source of error.

Analysis. Analysis is the activity of testing hypotheses against the body of evidence, constructing new hypotheses, and eventually rejecting some and accepting others according to the rules of logic. While reconstructing, reducing, and organizing data, analysts begin to identify problem areas, speculate upon where answers to questions might lie, and formulate a first set of hypotheses concerning exercise operations. It is now time to examine systematically the body of evidence to ascertain whether the problems are real, whether answers to questions can indeed be constructed, and whether the evidence confirms or refutes the hypotheses. Arguments must be constructed from the evidence, i.e., from the summary presentations already completed, from others especially designed for the hypothesis in question, or from the raw data itself. The construction of such logical arguments is the most time­-consuming step in the process and the most profitable. Yet the pressure from consumers for quick results, a justifiable desire, may severely cut down on the time available. In such situations, hypotheses may emerge from this step as apparently proven results and conclusions, without the benefit of close scrutiny. This is an all too common occurrence.

One kind of shortcut is to examine only evidence which tends to confirm a hypothesis. The analyst uses the time he has to construct as convincing an argument as he can in support of a contention. Given additional time, an equally persuasive argument refuting the contention might have been developed, errors may also enter the analysis in the course of judging the relative strength of opposing bodies of evidence. Where such judgments are made, conventional wisdom would have both bodies of evidence appear along with an argument why one body seems stronger. In these ways the analysis step may introduce additional uncertainty into the analysis process.

Reporting. The final step in the analysis process is reporting. It is during this step that analysts record the fruits of their analytical labors. There are four basic categories of reports, some with official standing, some without. It is worth defining them, both to give some idea of the amount of analysis which under underlies the results and to present the reports most likely to be encountered.

One kind of exercise report is for a higher level commander. It details for him those exercise objectives which were met and those which were not. It is a post­-operation report to a superior. Customarily it will describe training objectives achieved (i.e., did the assigned forces complete the designated training evolutions?), the resulting increase in readiness ratings for individual units, and an overview of exercise play and events. There is little if any analysis of exercise events to learn of problem areas, tactical innovations, or warfighting capabilities.

Another kind of exercise report is a formal documentation of the product of the analysis process. It concentrates on the flow of battle events in the exercise instead of the “training events.” These reports may or may not include word of training objectives achieved and changes in unit readiness. A report might begin with a narrative description of battle events and results for different warfare areas. Summary tables, arguments confirming or refuting hypotheses, and speculations about problems needing further investigation form the bulk of the warfare sections. Conclusions and supporting rationale in the form of evidence from exercise operations may also be present. Bear in mind that the analysis process preceding the report may have been incomplete. In this case the report will include the narrative and customarily a large collection of reconstruction data and summary tables. The report will fall short of marshaling evidence into arguments for, or against, hypotheses. These reports are really record documents of raw and processed exercise data.

It can be difficult to distinguish between these two types of report if the latter also includes items called “conclusions.” Beware if there is an absence of argumentation, or if great leaps of faith are necessary for the arguments to be valid. Sometimes one gets the reconstruction plus analysis, other times just the reconstruction.

Units participating in exercises often submit their own message reports, called “Post-ex Reports” or “Commander’s Evaluation.” These reports seldom include any analytical results or conclusions. They do venture the unit commander’s professional opinions on exercise events and operations. These opinions, tempered by years of operational experience, as well as firsthand operational experience during the exercise, are a valuable source of information. They provide the perspective of a particular player on perceived problems, suspected causes, reasons for tactical decisions, and possibly even some tentative conclusions. Statements in these reports should be tested against the data for confirmation. Sometimes the messages also contain statements entitled “Lessons Learned.” Since such judgments are based upon the limited perspective of one unit, these lessons learned require additional verification, too. The unit CO probably will base this report on some of the data collected by his own unit. So the CO’s post-exercise report is a view of the exercise based upon a partial reconstruction using one unit’s data.

Finally, the Navy Tactical Development and Evaluation (TACD&E) program sanctions reports of exercise results and analyses as a formal Lessons Learned. NWP-0 defines a Lessons Learned as “…statements based on observation, experience, or analysis which indicates the state of present or proposed tactics.” Note that a Lessons Learned is specific to a tactic or group of tactics. Evidence developed in an exercise often provides the analytical basis for such statements. NWP-0 goes on to state that “…the most useful Lessons Learned are brief case studies which tell what happened and why certain key outcomes resulted.” Exercise operations can often provide the “cases” and exercise analysis can provide the “why” certain things happened. Again it is necessary to examine carefully the argumentation in Lessons Learned, to be sure the analysis process applied to the individual cases hasn’t been curtailed after the reduction and organization step.

Variations. The analysis process for a small specialized exercise has a slightly different manifestation from that in a large, free-play fleet exercise. Consider an exercise designed to test tactics for the employment of a new sonar and to train units how to execute those tactics. It might involve three or four ships outfitted with the sonar pitted against a submarine in a controlled scenario. If there is high interest in innovative ways to employ the system tactically, data collection might be better than average, since many hands can be freed from other warfare responsibilities for data collection. The operating area might be an instrumented range on which very precise ship tracks can be recorded automatically. If the planning is thorough, the design of the exercise (the particular pattern of repeated engagements with careful varying of each important factor) enables just the right data to be collected which will enable analysts to sort among the different tactics. The data which is collected would then leave fewer holes, relative to the exact questions which are of interest. So, one might end up with fewer errors in the data, and simultaneously, less missing data.

The quality of reconstruction will still depend on the skill of the reconstructors. With only a few ships to worry about and good data, however, not many people are required to do a good job; the job is small. If the exercise was designed carefully to shed light on specific questions, data reduction and organization work smoothly toward pre-identified goals: specific summary tables, graphs, or figures. In fact from the analytical viewpoint, the whole exercise may as well have been conducted to generate reliable numbers to go into the tables and graphs. The analysis step is more likely to proceed smoothly too, since the evidence has been designed specifically to confirm or deny the questions of interests.

The analysis process of other exercises will likely fall between these two extremes. The degree to which exercise play is controlled and constrained by the operating area’s size and by various units’ tactical autonomy will determine the ease with which the analysts and data collectors can finish their work. Normally, the analysis is best in the small, controlled exercises designed to answer specific questions or to train units in specific tactics. As the exercise grows in size and more free-play is allowed, it is harder to collect data to answer the host of questions which may become of interest.

Limitations on the Use of Exercise Analysis

The reason for analyzing exercise operations is to learn from them. One learns about tactics, readiness levels of units and groups, hardware operational capabilities, and advantages or disadvantages we may face in certain scenarios. Let us see how exercise artificialities and an imperfect analysis process limit what we can learn.

Hardware operational capabilities can be dispensed with quickly. Special exercises are designed to measure how closely systems meet design specifications. The measures are engineering quantities such as watts per megahertz, time delay in a switching mechanism, sensitivity, and so on. As the human element enters either as the operator of the equipment or in a decision to use the system in a particular way, one moves into the realm of tactics.

Warfare Capabilities. One problem in learning about warfare capabilities from exercises lies in translating the exercise results into those one might expect in an actual battle. Setting aside the measurement errors which may crop up in the analysis process, consider the exercise artificialities. Suppose a battle group successfully engages 70 percent of the incoming air targets. This does not mean that the force would successfully engage 70 percent of an air attack in a real battle. Assuming identical scenarios and use of the same tactics, some artificialities make the exercise problem easier, others make it harder than the real-world battle problem. There is no known accurate way of adjusting for these artificialities. In fact only recently has there been general acceptance of the fact that the artificialities both help and hinder. A second problem is the lack of a baseline expected performance level for given forces in a given scenario. A baseline level would describe how well one expected a specific force to do, against a given opposition in a given scenario on average. One would compare exercise results with baseline expectations to conclude that the exercise force is worse or better than expected. But no such baseline exists; that is there are no models of force warfare which can predict the outcome of an exercise battle. Thus, we don’t know what the “zero” of the warfare effectiveness index is; neither do we know the forms of the adjustments necessary to translate exercise results into corresponding real-world results.

One might speculate that it would at least be possible to establish trends in warfare effectiveness from exercises. However, this too is difficult. The exercise scenarios as well as the forces involved will change over time. In any particular exercise, the missions, the geography, the forces (e.g., a CV rather than a CVN), and the threat simulation are likely to be different from those in any other exercise. Some scenarios may be particularly difficult, while others are easy. Comparing across exercises requires a way of adjusting for these differences. It requires knowing how a given force’s capabilities change with each of these factors, and right now we don’t know how. Of course, solving the problems of adjusting for exercise artificialities and of establishing an expected performance level for given battle problems would be a move in the right direction. But imperfections in the steps of the analysis process compound these conceptual difficulties. Recall that the data are imperfect to begin with, and errors enter during reconstruction and data reduction and organization. The numbers built from these data then have some error associated with them. These are the numbers which appear in summary tables and graphs depicting warfare effectiveness during an exercise. They are imprecise. This means that changes over time, even in exercises with roughly equivalent scenarios, must be large to be significant. Otherwise, such differences might only be statistical variations. Exactly how large they have to be, is still not clear but “big” differences bear further investigation.

What then is the usefulness of such numbers? They are useful because they result from examining the exercise from different viewpoints, and they allow judgment to he employed in a systematic manner. Without them one is completely in the dark. Clearly it is better to merge many different perspectives on how the operations went, than to rely on just one. The analysis process does this by examining objectively data collected from many different positions. It provides a framework for systematic employment of professional judgment concerning the effect of artificialities on exercise results. Recognizing each artificiality, professional judgment can be applied to assess the influence of each individually as opposed to the group as a whole. While obviously imprecise, the numbers appearing in the summary presentations, together with an understanding of the artificialities, the contextual factors, and the measurement errors, are better than a blind guess.

Evaluating an individual unit’s warfighting capability (as opposed to a group’s) is not easy either. The normal measures of unit readiness which come out of an exercise are at a lower mission level. An air squadron may have high sortie rates, and may be able to get on and off the carrier with ease, but the question of interest may be how effectively they contributed to the AAW defense. The link between task group AAW effectiveness and high sortie rates or pilot proficiency is not well understood. So while measurements at that level may be more precise than those at a higher level, and while the individual actions are more like actions in a real battle, it is not clear how measures of effectiveness at this level contribute to success at the group or force level. There is a need to research this crucial link between unit performance of low level mission actions and group mission effectiveness.

Tactics. As a vehicle for evaluating tactics, exercise analysis fares pretty well. Exercise artificialities and the analysis process still limit what we conceivably could learn and, practically, what we do learn.

The main artificiality to be careful of is threat simulation. Generally there are situations of short duration in an exercise which closely approximate those occurring in real battles, some in crucial respects. It is possible, then, to test a tactic in a specific situation which, except for the threat simulation, is realistic. The tactic may work well in the situation, but would it work against a force composed of true enemy platforms? This may be more problematic.

The limitations due to the analysis process stem more from improper execution rather than flaws in the process itself. To date, exercise analysis has failed to distinguish regularly between problems of tactical theory and those of tactical execution. If the analysis concludes that the employment of a tactic failed to achieve a desired result it seldom explains why. There is no systematic treatment of whether the tactic was ill-conceived, or employed in the wrong situation, or executed clumsily. The idea of the tactic may be fine, it may only have been employed in the wrong situation or it may have been executed poorly. In the event that a tactic does work, that is, the overall outcome is favorable, scant explicit attention is paid to the strength of the tactic’s contribution to the outcome. The outcome might have been favorable with almost any reasonable tactic because, say, one force was so much stronger than the other. Remember too that the data upon which the tactical evaluation is based is the same imperfect data as before. It is true that in some evaluations, the conclusion may be so clear as to swamp any reasonable error level in the data. Even if the error is 30 percent (say in detection range, or success ratio) the conclusion still might hold.

There are certain analytical standards which are achievable for tactics evaluation in exercises. The tactic or procedure should be defined clearly. The analysis should address whether the tactic was executed correctly and whether it was employed in the appropriate situation. It should answer the question of whether the influence of other contextual factors (aspects of the scenario for example) dominated the outcome. It should identify whether the tactic will only work when some factor is present. It should address whether the tactic integrates easily into coordinated warfare. Even if all these conditions are satisfied, the exercise may only yield one or two trials of the tactic. Definitive tests require more than one or two data points.

Scenarios. Judging how well Blue or Orange does in a scenario depends on the accuracy of the warfare capability assessments, the fidelity of the threat simulation, and the skill with which exercise results can be translated into real world expectations. It is clear from previous discussions on each of these topics that there are problems associated with each. Consequently, what we can learn about a scenario from playing it in an exercise is limited.

At best one can make gross judgments; an example might be “a CVTG cannot long operate from a Modloc in this specific area of the world without more than the usual level of ASW assets.” The exercise will provide an especially fertile environment for brainstorming about the scenario, and in a systematic way. The kinds of tactical encounters which are likely to cause problems will surface. Those engagements or operations which are absolutely crucial to mission success may also become clear. Serious thorough consideration of many courses of action may only occur in the highly competitive environment of an exercise. This can lead to the discovery of unanticipated enemy courses of action.

There are pitfalls of course in making even these gross assessments. For example, care must be taken to recognize very low readiness levels by exercise participants as a major contributor to the exercise outcome. But on the whole it should be possible to identify scenarios which are prohibitively difficult and should, therefore, be avoided. It may be possible to confirm what forces are essential for mission success and the rough force levels required.

What kinds of things might one reasonably expect to learn from exercises? First and foremost, the product of exercise analysis is well suited to correcting misperceptions about what happened during the exercise. It provides a picture of the exercise which is fashioned logically from data taken from many key vantage points instead of just one or two. As such, it is likely to be closer to the truth than a sketchy vision based on the experience of a single participant in the exercise. Second there is a capability to make some quantitative comment on warfare effectiveness. All the caveats developed earlier in the essay still apply, of course. It is safest to assume that there is a large error in the measures of effectiveness which are used. And a single exercise usually provides but a single data point of warfare effectiveness; extrapolation from a single such point is very risky.

Exercises are a very good vehicle for identifying any procedural difficulties which attend tactical execution. The exercise and analysis also provide a fertile opportunity to rethink the rationale underlying a tactic. More definitive evidence can be developed on ill-conceived tactics if the tactic was executed correctly and employed appropriately. The exercise and analysis also present an opportunity to observe the performance of the people and the systems. Examination may uncover areas where more training is needed, where operating procedures are not well understood, or where explicit operating and coordination procedures are absent.

Sweeping conclusions and strong, definitive judgments of capabilities, tactical effectiveness, and scenario advantages should be warning flags to exercise report readers. The reader should reassure himself that the exercise scenario, the exercise goal, and the tactical context are amenable to drawing such conclusions. For example, battle group tactical proficiency cannot be easily investigated in small, controlled exercises. Nor do capabilities demonstrated in easy battle problems imply like capabilities in harder, more realistic battle problems. The message is to read exercise reports with caution, continuously testing whether it makes sense that such results and conclusions could be learned from the exercise.

Dr. Thompson was the CNA field representative to the Commander, Sixth Fleet, from 1981 to 1984. He is currently a principal research scientist at CNA.

Featured Image: At sea aboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) Mar. 18, 2002 — Air Traffic Controller 1st Class Michael Brown monitors other controlmen in the ship’s Carrier Air Traffic Control Center (CATCC) as aircraft conduct night flight operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Travis L. Simmons.)

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Maritime Strategy for Great Power Competition Week

By David Scott


On 30 May 2018, Admiral Harry Harris, the retiring chief of the newly renamed U.S. Indo-Pacific Pacific Command (IndoPacom), noted that “China remains our biggest long-term challenge” and “a resurgent and revanchist Russia, remains an existential threat to the U.S” – and that consequently “Great Power competition is back.” Such competition brings Russia and China together as political partners, and is echoed in their increasing naval cooperation. Such naval cooperation provides one another with tacit support in their respective areas of geopolitical interest.

Straight balancing imperatives against the U.S. bring Russia and China together. This was first evident in their 1997 “Joint Declaration on a Multipolar World and the Establishment of a New International Order,” which was followed by a Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation signed in 2001, and proclamation of a “strategic partnership.” Joint military exercises were initiated in 2005, with maritime exercises starting in 2012. Their military cooperation has clear “geopolitical signaling” to the U.S.-led order, reflecting their maritime strategies.

Russia’s Maritime Strategy

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, the Russian Federation suffered a decade of chaos under Boris Yeltsin during the 1990s and with it a sharp decline in maritime power from the preceding Soviet period. Vladimir Putin has sought to establish Russia as a major power again, and to push back the advancing influence of the U.S., NATO and the EU. Military power and military assertiveness has been a feature of Putin’s presidency.

This renewed Russian pushback was reflected in the Maritime Doctrine of the Russian Federation, released in 2015, which sought to restore Russia’s position “among the leading maritime powers,” and concluded in its final sentence that it aimed to make Russia “a great maritime power.” It stressed that as an “instrument of foreign policy […] naval activities are the highest state priorities.” The navy had a global remit:

“The Navy is intended to ensure protection of the national interests of the Russian Federation and its allies on the World Ocean by military means, maintaining military and political stability at the global and regional levels […] ensures the naval presence of the Russian Federation; shows the flag and demonstrates military capabilities on the World Ocean.”

Russia’s areas of strategic interest were recast on a wider scale again; “the Russian Federation identifies the Atlantic, Arctic, Pacific, Caspian, Indian Ocean and Antarctic areas as the main regional priority areas of the National Maritime Policy.” To reverse the Yeltsin-period of industrial collapse of the 1990s, a naval shipbuilding program was announced.

Chinese Military Strategy

The current rise of China is a process where economic modernization is now feeding into military modernization. This military modernization includes naval advancement, where China’s navy is moving from a local coastal activities to oceanic-going “far seas operations” (yuanhai zuozhan). China’s 2013 Defense White Paper announced its intent “to accelerate the modernization of its forces for comprehensive offshore operations, develop advanced submarines, destroyers and frigates […] blue-water capabilities.” Faced with U.S. naval strength in the West Pacific, China has adopted a naval strategy of penetrating the “first island chain” (dì yi dao lian) running from Japan down the Ryukyu chain to Taiwan, establishing naval presence in its “core interests” (hexin liyi) claims to most of the South China Sea, and in a “two-ocean strategy” (liang ge haiyang) of establishing ongoing naval presence in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Like Russia, China is accelerating its naval shipbuilding program, including aircraft carrier capabilities.

Bilateral Naval Exercises 2012-2018

A significant development in the China-Russia relationship has been their series of large-scale naval exercises held since 2012. At a time when both powers have been under growing criticism from the West, their overt readiness to publicly operate militarily side-by-side has been an act of political solidarity. They continue to claim that these drills are “not aimed at third parties,” but in reality pointed messages are being sent to third parties like the U.S. and others with whom Russia and China are in competition with.

The geographic scope of the Russia-China naval exercises has been wide ranging, with each country hosting in different waters.

Three of the exercises have taken place in Russia’s backyard – the Mediterranean (2015), Black Sea (2015), Baltic (2017), and Okhtosk Sea (2017). One has been in mutual areas of interest – the Sea of Japan (2013, 2015, 2017). Three have been in China’s backyard – the Yellow Sea (2012), the East China Sea (2014) and the South China Sea (2016). The 2018 exercises are scheduled to be held in the Yellow Sea, coming full circle back to the start of the cycle of exercises that commenced in 2012.

Russia’s Strategic Backyard

2015: Mediterranean

With this exercise, Russia was sending a very explicit message to the U.S. and NATO. This was at a time when Russia was reinserting itself back into the Mediterranean as a permanent maritime presence, through re-setting up in September 2013 the “5th Operational squadron” for operations in the Mediterranean, to be serviced and repaired at Tartus in Syria. This was again made up of ships from the Black Sea Fleet and Northern Fleet, which of course participated in the Russia-China naval exercises in 2015.

Tartus had operated under a Soviet-Syrian agreement concluded in 1971, with a view of supporting the Soviet Navy’s 5th Operational Squadron in the Mediterranean, in its rivalry with the U.S. 6th Fleet based in Italy. This Soviet squadron had been disbanded in 1992, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Tartus was subsequently the focus, along with Hmeymim airbase, for the flow of Russian military supplies into Syria from 2012 onward. This growing Russian military role in Syria, on the side of Assad, attracts increasing criticism from European states, the U.S., and NATO, but China’s readiness to exercise with Russia in the Mediterranean in 2015 gave Russia extra support. Direct Russian military intervention quickly followed in September 2015. Russia’s maritime presence in the Mediterranean was further strengthened on 18 January 2017, when Russia and Syria signed an agreement, whereby Russia was allowed to expand and use the naval facility at Tartus for 49 years on a free-of-charge basis and enjoy sovereign jurisdiction over the base, with full immunity from Syrian jurisdiction for Russia’s personnel and material at the facility. The treaty also allows Russia to keep 11 warships at Tartus, including nuclear vessels.

China’s implicit message in the 2015 exercise was to show its assertion of its blue water capabilities. A more subtle message was to accustom Europe to China’s presence and emerging maritime interests in the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean has come into the purview of the Maritime Silk Road (MSR) initiative pursued by China since 2013. In particular, the main Greek port of Piraeus has increasing “geopolitical” importance to China, a “bridgehead” into Europe; the so called “dragon head” from the MSR route coming through the Indian Ocean, up the Red Sea, via the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean. Greece’s troubled relationship with the EU had seen China stepping in with financial aid, including the running of the Piraeus port by the state-owned China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) since 2008. In July 2014 China and Greece agree to make the year 2015 the “China-Greece Maritime Cooperation Year.” Consequently, China strengthened its Mediterranean presence by COSCO’s acquisition of a majority stake (i.e. moving from administering to owning) in the Piraeus Port Authority in April 2016.

2015: Black Sea

Technically speaking the Black Sea was not the focus of the bilateral China-Russia naval exercise program. However, immediately following the bilateral 2015 Mediterranean exercise, the Chinese missile frigates, the Linyi and the Wei Fang, proceeded into the Black Sea, to take part in World War Two commemorations at Novorossiysk on the Russian Black Sea coast.

Russia’s context was simple, growing assertion in the Black Sea littoral. This had first been seen in its ongoing presence in Trans-Dniester since the 1990s, then followed with intervention in Abkhazia in Georgia in 2008, and particularly manifested in  2014 with the occupation of the Crimea, and with it securing full control of the deep water facilities of Sevastopol. China’s deployment to Russia’s Black Sea coast in May 2015 in effect gave unofficial support to Russian actions in the Ukraine in February 2014, which caused outrage across the rest of Europe, and with it sanctions and cutting of various political, economic, and military links.

2017: Baltic Sea

The Chinese destroyer Hefei, the frigate Yuncheng , and the replenishment ship Luomahu sailed to the Baltic to carry out Maritime Interaction 2017 exercises with 18 other Russian ships from the Baltic Fleet from 21-28 July 2017. They first met in the waters off the Kaliningrad enclave, currently a “fault line of East-West tensions,” carried out exercises including live fire exercises, before the Chinese vessels sailed right up the Baltic to Russia’s St. Petersburg for a friendly port call. This represented a particularly far-reaching deployment of Chinese naval presence, but the context was very much Russian reassertion of military power in the Baltic, where Kaliningrad is not only the headquarters for the Russian Baltic Fleet, but is also a forward point for various missile deployments.

Rising confrontation has been a feature of the Baltic. Cyber-warfare attacks have been carried out by Russia against Estonia in 2016, and NATO exercises had immediately preceded the Russia-China naval exercise – the Suwalki Gap exercises in June 2017 and the Tobruq Legacy 2017 exercises in Lithuania in early July 2017. The Russia-China naval exercises in late-July were in turn followed and reinforced by the Russian-Belarusian military exercise Zapad 2017 held in September in the vicinity of Kaliningrad, which was the largest Russian exercise since the end of the Cold War. For Russia, the Baltic Sea exercises with China were one of several shows of strength with the purpose of sending a signal not only to the Baltic States, but also NATO, which had increased its presence in Poland and the Baltic states. China in itself presented no particular military danger to the Baltic States, but its very visible presence alongside Russia sent a signal of tacit support to Moscow.

2017: Okhtosk Sea

The Okhotsk Sea lies between the Kurile chain of islands and the Kamchakta peninsular. It is very much Russian waters, facing the northern Pacific and the U.S. Aleutian islands, with naval facilities at Petropavlovsk. The 2017 Russia-China exercises in the Sea of Japan were extended northwards into the Okhtosk waters in September 2017. From Russia’s point of view such military exercises support its increasing grip on the Okhtosk Sea, demonstrated with how it closed down these waters to outside shipping and fishing in 2014, which some argued will “embolden” similar Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea.

Common Backyards

2013, 2015, 2017: Sea of Japan

The Sea of Japan lies between the Japanese archipelago, the Russian island of Sakhalin and Far Eastern province, and the Korean peninsula. Vladivostok is the home of the Russian Pacific Fleet, currently recovering from the decay witnessed in the 1990s. Naval exercises between Russia and China were carried out in the Sea of Japan in July 2013, August 2015, and September 2017. The 2015 exercises included joint amphibious landing drills, of relevance for China and Russia in their respective island disputes with Japan.

The Kurile island chain is administered by Russia, but territorial disputes remain with Japan over the four southernmost islands which Japan calls the “Northern Territories.” Russia has continued to reassert its continuing grip on this chain, with increased naval strength a signal to Japan.

Disputed features of the Kuril Islands (DW.com)

China has no direct frontage onto the Sea of Japan, but it continues to seek access to the Pacific Ocean through the “first island chain” running down through the .U.S Aleutian islands down through the Japanese archipelago. Naval exercises in the Sea of Japan send a message from China to Japan, the more so following the 2013 exercise where five Chinese naval vessels conducted their first known passage of the Soya Strait located between Hokkaido in northern Japan and Russia’s Sakhalin Island. The 2013 exercises were preceded by live fire joint U.S.-Japanese naval exercises in the Eastern Pacific. Comments in China were pointed: “all military drills have imaginary enemies, otherwise it’s just a game. For the U.S. and Japan, their joint drills in San Diego targeted China. And the upcoming Sino-Russian exercises will obviously target Japan or even the U.S. in response.” The five Chinese vessels participating in the 2015 exercise sailed from the Sea of Japan into Aleutian island territorial waters, a message to the U.S.

China’s Backyard

Three venues for the China-Russia exercises have been in China’s backyard, namely the Yellow Sea (2012), the East China Sea (2014), and the South China Sea (2016).

 2012: Yellow Sea

The Yellow Sea is bounded by China, running up from Shanghai on the one side and the Korean peninsula on the other side. It in turn runs into the Bohai Sea, the maritime gateway to Beijing. A degree of naval “competition” is apparent with the U.S., which continues to deploy into these waters and carry out naval exercises with South Korea. The immediate context for the China-Russia 2012 exercises in April were the U.S. joint naval exercises with South Korea in March, as well as those in November 2010 which had attracted much Chinese criticism. Another set of exercises with South Korea and Japan took place in the Yellow Sea in June 2012; complete with the USS George Washington nuclear-powered aircraft carrier; with the state media warning that “U.S. in position to strangle China’s maritime lifelines.”

2014: East China Sea

These exercises were launched by both Presidents Xi and Putin at Shanghai in May 2014. Russia’s motives were secondary, i.e. tacitly supportive of China’s increasing naval presence in the East China Sea where “core interests” are at stake for Beijing. These revolve around the Senkaku islands controlled by Japan but which China claims as the Diaoyu islands, disputed exclusive economic zones between China and Japan in the East China Sea, and disputed airspace above these waters. Chinese actions in 2012 and 2013 provide the immediate context for Beijing’s decision to operate with Russia in the East China Sea. Firstly, increasing deployments of Chinese naval units in the waters immediately around the Senkaku/Diaoyu have been rising since 2012. The Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) proclaimed in November 2013 was a further sign of China’s push to establish jurisdiction over the East China Sea. Moreover, from the East China Sea, China seeks to penetrate Japan’s Ryukyu island chain into the Pacific, with naval deployments becoming a regular pattern through the Miyako and Ishigaki straits since 2008. The 2012 deployment through the Miyako Strait was particularly significant as China told Japan that “with the expansion of China’s maritime transport lines and interests, the Chinese navy will inevitably extend its combat forces to the Pacific.

2016: South China Sea

The two sides conducted their annual naval exercise, Joint Sea-2016, in the South China Sea with a focus on “island-seizing.” This is a key arena for China, a so-called “core interest” (hexin liyi) in which China’s “9-dash line” encloses most of the South China Sea, including the Paracels (occupied by China since 1974 but disputed with Vietnam) and the Spratlys (some land holdings occupied by China but disputed with Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, as well as waters disputed with Brunei and Indonesia). The China-Russia naval exercise in September 2016 was preceded in July 2016 by the ruling at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague which had seriously undermined China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, since it held that China’s so-called historical rights gave no validity for claims for Exclusive Economic Zones, and that none of the land features were proper “islands” under the UNCLOS categorization which could generate exclusive Economic Zones, and criticized Chinese creation of artificial concrete land features. It was significant that immediately before the start of the exercise Putin affirmed “we stand in solidarity and support of China’s position – not to recognize the decision of this court.” Given that China’s militarization of these artificial holdings had attracted widespread regional and international criticism, Russia’s readiness to then conduct military exercises with China, particularly involving South China Sea amphibious “island-seizing” operations, in effect provided tacit support for China’s maritime reinforcement of its position. 

Looking Forward

The 2018 exercises to be held in the Yellow Sea returns their cooperation to Northeast Asia, at a time when both China and Russia are moving to strengthen involvement in the Korean peninsula, and shape developments in their favor. These naval exercises have become a well-established feature in China-Russia military cooperation, which are in turn part of their wider strategic cooperation.

David Scott is an independent analyst on Indo-Pacific international relations and maritime geopolitics, a prolific writer and a regular ongoing presenter at the NATO Defense College in Rome since 2006 and the Baltic Defence College in Tartu since 2017. He can be contacted at davidscott366@outlook.com.

Featured Image: In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, Rear Adm. Du Xiping, front right, deputy commander of China’s Beihai Fleet, shakes hands with Captain First Rank Sergei Yuriyevich Zhuga of Russia’s Pacific Fleet during a welcome ceremony at a naval base in Qingdao, east China’s Shandong Province, Saturday, April 21, 2012. A China-Russia joint maritime drill is scheduled from April 22 to 27 on the Yellow Sea, Xinhua said. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Zha Chunming) 

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 <http://issuu.com/hnsa/docs/ss-384_parche>.

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 <www.valoratsea.com/wolfpacks.htm>.

57 “Chairman Releases Plan to Build Joint Force 2020,” new release, September 28, 2012, available at <www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=118043>.

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)

The PLA Navy in the Baltic Sea: A View from Kiel

By Sebastian Bruns and Sarah Kirchberger

On 19 July 2017, after a long transit through the Indian Ocean and around the European continent, a three-ship People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) task group entered the Baltic Sea to conduct exercises with the Russian Navy (RFN). The flotilla reached Kaliningrad, the exercise headquarters, on July 21st. While hardly the first time that China’s naval ensign could be spotted in this Northern European body of water (for instance, a Chinese frigate participated in Kiel Week 2016), “Joint Sea 2017” marks the first ever Russo-Chinese naval drill in the Baltic Sea. The exercise raised eyebrows in Europe, and NATO members scrambled to shadow the PLAN ships on their way to the Baltic and carefully monitor the drills.

The timing in July was not a coincidence, given that relations between the West and East – however broadly defined – increasingly have come under strain. Mirroring a decidedly more robust maritime behavior in the Asia-Pacific, this out-of-area exercise also signals an increasingly assertive and maritime-minded China. The PLAN has been commissioning advanced warships in higher numbers than any other navy during 2016 and 2017, and is busy building at least two indigenous aircraft carriers. Earlier this summer, the PLAN opened its first permanent overseas logistics base in Djibouti, East Africa. The maritime components of the Chinese leadership’s ambitious “Belt & Road Initiative”– which includes heavy investments in harbors and container terminals infrastructures along the main trading routes – furthermore demonstrate the Chinese intent to play a larger role in global affairs by using the maritime domain. Is the Chinese Navy’s increased presence in the Indian Ocean and in European waters therefore to become the “new normal”?  

In the following essay, we argue that context matters when looking at these bilateral naval drills, and we seek to shed some light on the particulars revolving around this news item. In our view, it is important to review the current exercise against the general trajectory of Chinese naval modernization and expansion in recent years on the one hand, and of steadily deepening Russo-Chinese cooperation in the political, military, military-technological, and economic spheres on the other. We seek to offer some talking points which give cause for both relaxation and concern, and conclude with policy recommendations for NATO and Germany.

The Current Drills and Their Background

The July 2017 naval exercise with Russia in the Baltic Sea is the PLAN’s first ever excursion into this maritime area for a formal deployment. For China, it’s an opportunity to showcase the PLAN’s latest achievements in naval technology and shipbuilding prowess, which is perhaps why the Chinese task force includes some of its most advanced and capable surface warships: the PLAN’s Hefei (DDG-174), a Type 052D guided-missile air warfare destroyer featuring the “Chinese AEGIS”; the Yuncheng (FFG-571), a Type 054A guided-missile frigate; and a Type 903-class replenishment oiler from China’s Southern Fleet, the Luomahu (AOR-964). Originally the destroyer Changsha (DDG-173) had been scheduled for this exercise, but had to be replaced by its sister ship the Hefei after it suffered an apparent engine malfunction in the Indian Ocean while on transit from Hainan.

PLAN warship Hefei (DDG-174), a type 052D destroyer (Wikimedia Commons)

Simultaneous Excursions into Northern and Southern European Waters

It is probably not a coincidence that China has sent another three-ship task group to the Black Sea during the exact same timeframe. There, the PLAN’s Changchun (DDG-150), a Type 052C destroyer capable of carrying 48 long-range HHQ-9 missiles, the Jingzhou (FFG-532), a newly-launched Type 054A frigate, and the logistics support vessel Chaohu (AOR-890) have docked at Istanbul over the weekend under heavy rain. This excursion comes on the heels of the 17th Sea Breeze maneuvers that saw Ukrainian, Romanian, Bulgarian, and NATO warships exercise together between July 10-22. Similarly, the Russo-Chinese Baltic Sea war games were scheduled to be held just four weeks after BALTOPS, a large annual U.S.-led multi-national naval exercise which until 2013 had included Russian participation under the Partnership for Peace (PfP) arrangements.

Just two weeks earlier Germany, the Baltic Sea’s largest naval power, had hosted the G-20 talks in Hamburg. When Australia hosted the G-20 summit in 2014, the Russian Navy deployed its flagship Varyag to the South Pacific. It is therefore sensible to assume a deliberate timing of the Chinese-Russian Baltic exercises, which are intended as a signal to NATO members and to the Baltic Sea’s coastal states. Russia, after all, sent two of its mightiest warships to “Joint Sea 2017”: The Typhoon-class Dmitry Donskoy, the world’s largest submarine, and the Russian Navy’s largest surface combatant, the Kirov-class nuclear powered battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy, both highly impractical for the confined and shallow Baltic Sea.

Regular Russo-Chinese naval exercises commenced in April 2012, when the first-ever joint naval drills were held in the Yellow Sea near Qingdao. Bilateral naval exercises have since been conducted every year.

As Table 1 shows (at bottom), the scope and complexity of these drills have steadily increased. Jane’s Defence Weekly reported that during the 2016 exercises, a joint command information system was used for the first time to improve interoperability and facilitate shared situational awareness. This is remarkable given that China and Russia are not formal military allies as of yet. What does this development indicate?

Ambitious Naval Modernization Plans in Russia and China

In terms of naval capability, China and Russia are aiming to recover or maintain (in the case of Russia) and reach (in the case of China) a true blue-water proficiency. After decades of degradation, the Russian Navy hopes to enlarge its surface fleet, retain a minimum carrier capability, and maintain a credible sea-based nuclear deterrence capability. So far, Russia talks the talk but fails to walk the walk. The PLAN is meanwhile hoping to transform itself into a fully “informationized” force capable of net-centric operations; it is planning to operate up to three carrier groups in the mid-term, and is developing a true sea-based nuclear deterrent for which submarine incursions into the West Pacific and Indian Ocean (and maybe even into the Arctic and Atlantic) will be essential, since China’s sub-launched missiles can’t threaten the U.S. mainland from a bastion in the South China Sea. 

Apart from developing, producing, and commissioning the necessary naval hardware, these ambitious goals require above all dedicated crew training in increasingly frequent and complex joint operations exercises in far-flung maritime areas. For Russia, the Joint Sea exercise series can function as a counterweight to the U.S.-led annual BALTOPS exercises (where they are no longer a part of) and a replacement for the FRUKUS exercises conducted during the 1990s and 2000s with France, the U.K., and the U.S. China has been slowly building experience with out-of-area deployments through its naval patrols off the Horn of Africa, which culminated in the establishment of China’s first overseas logistics hub in Djibouti earlier this year. So far China’s footprint in the world is nevertheless mainly economic, not military, as China still lacks military allies and does not have access to a global network of bases that could facilitate a truly global military presence. In the context of protecting Chinese overseas investments, installations, personnel deployments and trade interests, a more frequent naval presence in European waters can nevertheless be expected.

Potential Areas of Concern

From NATO’s and Europe’s vantage point, one thing to monitor is the prospect of a possible full-blown entente between Russia and China following a period of increasing convergence between Chinese and Russian economic, military, and strategic interests. Traditionally, relations between both countries have been marred by distrust and strategic competition. Russian leaders likely still fear China’s economic power, and are wary of a possible mass migration movement into Russia’s far east, while China is dependent on Russian cooperation in Central Asia for its ambitious Belt & Road Initiative. Russia is militarily strong, but economically weak, with resources and arms technologies as its main export products, while China is an economic heavyweight, but has lots of industrial over-capacities and is in need of importing the type of goods that Russia has to offer. Especially after the Western sanctions kicked in, Russia needs Chinese capital to continue its ambitious minerals extraction projects in the Arctic, while China continues to rely on some Russian military high-technology transfers, e.g. in aerospace and missile technologies. Cash-strapped Russia has ambitious naval procurement plans of its own that were hampered by its loss of access to Ukrainian and Western arms technologies, while China, having faced similar Western arms embargo policies since 1989, is now on a trajectory of significant fleet enlargement and, unlike Russia, has the financial resources to pay for it. Possible synergies in the naval area include diesel submarine design and construction, given China has reportedly expressed interest in acquiring Russian Lada- or Kalina-class subs.

Furthermore, both governments have strong incentives to cooperate against what they perceive as “Western hegemonialism.” Both reject the universal values associated with the Western liberal order and reserve the right to “solve” territorial conflicts within their periphery that are deemed threatening to their “core interests” by military means. Both governments are furthermore keen to preserve their power to rule by resisting urges from within their societies to transform, and they invariably suspect Western subversion attempts behind any such calls. Since both are subject to Western arms embargoes that have in the past caused disruption of large-scale arms programs, including in the naval domain, the already strong arms trade relationship between China and Russia has been reinforced through new deals. One side-effect of this long-standing arms trade relationship is a technological commonality between both militaries that furthers interoperability.

Enhancing bilateral mil-tech cooperation and cooperating more strongly in natural resources development therefore offers Russia and China multiple synergies to exploit, and the results can already be seen: After the Western shunning of Russia in the wake of the Crimea crisis in 2014, several large-scale arms and natural resources deals have been concluded between Putin’s Russia and Xi’s China, and the cooperation projects between China and Russia in the Arctic (mostly related to raw materials extraction) have now officially been brought under the umbrella of the vast, but somewhat diffuse Chinese Belt & Road Initiative. The recently concluded Arctic Silk Road agreement between China and Russia seems to indicate that China has somehow managed to alleviate Russian fears of Chinese naval incursions in the Arctic waters.

In sum, the longstanding Western arms embargo against China, combined with Western punitive sanctions against Russia since 2014, as well as unbroken fears in both countries of Western subversion through a strategy of “peaceful evolution“ (as employed during the Cold War against the Soviet Union), plus the perceived threat of U.S. military containment, creates a strong set of incentives on both sides to exploit synergies in the economic, diplomatic, and military realm. “Russia and China stick to points of view which are very close to each other or are almost the same in the international arena,” Putin said during a visit to China in 2016. The fact that Chinese internet censorship rules were recently amended to shield Putin from Chinese online criticisms, the first time a foreign leader was extended such official “protection,” further indicates a new level of intimacy in the traditionally strained relationship. It can therefore be assumed that both countries will continue their cooperation in the political and diplomatic arenas, e.g. within the U.N. Security Council. 

Russian battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy 099 (Peter the Great) joined the most recent exercise from the Northern Fleet (Wikimedia Commons)

Finally, both countries face a structurally similar set of security challenges. Internally, they are mainly concerned with combating separatism and internal dissent, and externally they fear U.S. military containment and Western interference in their “internal affairs.” The latter is addressed by both countries in a similar way by focusing on asymmetric deterrence concepts (A2/AD bubbles) on the one hand and nuclear deterrence on the other. Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave, the headquarters of the current “Joint Sea 2017” exercise, is the cornerstone of the major Russian A2/AD bubble in Northern Europe. Furthermore, Russia’s traditional Arctic bastion concept for its strategic submarines is now likely echoed in Chinese attempts to make parts of the South China Sea into a bastion for the Chinese SSBN force. It should also be noted that both countries have also recently resorted to somewhat similar hybrid strategies in their dealings with smaller neighboring countries within their “spheres of influence” – a curious commonality. Russia’s “little green men” find their maritime counterpart in China’s “little blue men,” government-controlled maritime militia-turned-fisherman who are staging incidents in the South China and East China Seas.

To sum up, the steadily deepening mil-tech cooperation on the basis of past arms transfers have by now resulted in a certain degree of technical commonality, and regular joint exercises have recently been conducted with the explicit aim of adding a training component in order to achieve better interoperability. Their similarities in threat perception mean that both countries can benefit from exchanging information and experiences in areas such as hybrid warfare, A2/AD (or “counter-intervention”) strategies, and AAW and ASW missions. Even in the absence of a formal military alliance, these developments merit closer watchfulness by NATO and the Western navies, especially when seen in context with the common political interests and matching world perception shared by these two authoritarian countries.

What Challenges does this Pose to NATO in Particular?

While the exercise is not as such problematic and takes place in international waters that are open to any navy, there are some implications for NATO to consider. If this emerging naval cooperation deepens further, and bilateral Russo-Chinese drills in NATO home waters should become more frequent, then this could mean that NATO’s limited naval resources will increasingly come under strain. Shadowing and monitoring Chinese and Russian vessels more often implies dispatching precious vessels that would be needed elsewhere. This could in fact be one of the main benefits from the point of view of Russia and China. Some NATO navies have in the past expressed a willingness to support the U.S. in the South China Sea, which China considers to be part of its own sphere of interest. Putting up the pressure in NATO’s own maritime backyard could therefore serve the purpose of relieving U.S. and Western pressure on China’s Navy in its own home waters. In that sense, to adapt an old Chinese proverb, the Baltic exercise could be seen as an attempt to “make a sound in the West and then attack in the East.” On the other hand, Russian-Chinese exercises give NATO navies a chance to observe Chinese and Russian naval capabilities more closely, which can over time contribute to alleviating some of the opacity surrounding China’s naval rise. It will also help propel fresh thinking about the future of NATO maritime strategy and the Baltic.

Policy Recommendations

First, the exercise should be interpreted mainly as a form of signaling. As James Goldrick pointed out,

“A Chinese entry into the Baltic demonstrates to the U.K. and France in particular that China can match in Europe their efforts at maritime presence in East Asia (…) and perhaps most significant, it suggests an emerging alignment between China and Russia on China’s behavior in the South China Sea and Russia’s approach to security in the Baltic. What littoral states must fear is some form of Baltic quid pro quo for Russian support of China’s artificial islands and domination of the South China Sea.”

Second, the possibility of Russia and China forming a military alliance of sorts should be more seriously analyzed and discussed, as such a development would affect the strategic calculations surrounding a possible military confrontation. China has long been concerned with the problem of countering the U.S.-led quasi-alliance of AEGIS-equipped navies on its doorstep (South Korea, Japan, Australia, and the U.S. 7th Fleet), and some noted Chinese intellectuals (such as Yan Xuetong) have publicly argued in favor of China forming military alliances and establishing military bases in countries it has an arms trade relationship with. It is not hard to see that such remarks could have been made first and foremost with Russia in mind, China’s most militarily capable arms trade partner. Remote as the possibility might seem to some, the potential of such a development alone should concern NATO and all European non-NATO states, especially given Europe’s strong economic involvement with China.

Third, while it is hard to see how the arms embargoes against Russia and China could be lifted in the near and medium term, given both countries’ unwillingness to accept the right of smaller countries in their respective “sphere of interest” for unimpeded sovereignty, Western countries should more seriously analyze the impact that these sanctions have so far had in creating incentives for an entente, and find ways to engage China and Russia constructively in other areas to provide an alternative to a Russo-Chinese marriage of convenience.

Fourth, the German Navy and other Baltic forces should use this and future Chinese excursions into the Northern European maritime area mainly as an opportunity to gather intelligence, and to engage the Chinese Navy in the field of naval diplomacy. For Germany, it is also high time to start planning in earnest the replacement of the Oste-class SIGINT vessels, to expedite the procurement of the five additional Braunschweig-class corvettes, and to properly engage with allies in strategic deliberations regarding the Baltic Sea in a global context.

The authors work for the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University (ISPK), Germany. Dr. Sarah Kirchberger heads the Center for Asia-Pacific Strategy & Security (CAPSS) and is the author of Assessing China’s Naval Power: Technological Change, Economic Constraints, and Strategic Implications (Springer, Berlin & Heidelberg 2015). Dr. Sebastian Bruns directs the Center for Maritime Strategy & Security (CMSS) and is editor of the Routledge Handbook of Naval Strategy & Security (London 2016).

Table 1: Major PLAN-RFN bilateral exercises

Designation/ Timeframe

Region Major Units

Type of missions

“Sino-Russian Naval Co-operation 2012” (April 22-27) Yellow Sea / near Qingdao China: 5 destroyers, 5 frigates, 4 missile boats, one support vessel, one hospital ship, two submarines, 13 aircraft, five shipborne helicopters

Russia: Slava-class guided missile cruiser Varyag, 3 Udaloy-class destroyers.

‘Joint Sea 2013’

(July 7-10)

Sea of Japan / Peter the Great Bay near Vladivostok China: Type 052C (Luyang-II class) destroyer Lanzhou; Type 052B (Luyang I-class) destroyer Wuhan; Type-051C (Luzhou-class) destroyers Shenyang and Shijiazhuang (116); Type 054A (Jiangkai-II class) frigates Yancheng and Yantai; Type 905 (Fuqing-class) fleet replenishment ship Hongzehu.

Russia: 12 vessels from the Pacific Fleet.

air defence, maritime replenishment, ASW, joint escort, rescuing hijacked ships


‘Joint Sea 2014’

(May 20-24)

East China Sea / Northern part China: Russian-built Sovremenny-class destroyer Ningbo; Type 052C (Lüyang II class) destroyer Zhengzhou

Russia: Missile cruiser Varyag plus 13 surface ships, 2 submarines, 9 fixed-wing aircraft, helis and special forces.


anchorage defense, maritime assaults, anti-submarine combats, air defense, identification, rescue and escort missions

‘Joint Sea 2015’ Part I’ (May 18-21) Eastern Mediterranean China: Type 054A frigates Linyi  and Weifang, supply ship Qiandaohu

Russia: six ships including Slava-class destroyer Moskva , Krivak-class frigate Ladny , plus 2 Ropucha-class landing ships

Navigation safety, ship protection, at-sea replenishment, air defense, ASW and ASuW, escort missions and live-fire exercises
‘Joint Sea 2015’ Part II (August 24-27) Sea of Japan / Peter the Great Gulf near Vladivostok China: Type 051C Luzhou-class destroyer Shenyang, Sovremenny-class destroyer Taizhou, Type 054A Jiangkai II-class frigates Linyi  and Hengyang, amphibious landing ships Type 071 Yuzhao-class (LPD) Changbaishan  and Type 072A Yuting II-class (LST) Yunwunshan, Type 903A Fuchi-class replenishment ship Taihu; PLAAF units: J-10 fighters and JH-7 fighter-bombers

Russia: Slava-class cruiser Varyag  and Udaloy-class destroyer Marshall Shaposhnikov, two frigates, four corvettes, two subs, two tank landing ships, two coastal minesweepers, and a replenishment ship.

ASW, AAW, amphibious assault, MCM
‘Joint Sea 2016’ (September 12-20) South China Sea / coastal waters to the east of Zhanjiang China: Luyang I-class (Type 052B) destroyer Guangzhou, Luyang II-class (Type 052C) ; destroyer Zhengzhou; Jiangkai II-class (Type 054A) frigates Huangshan, Sanya and Daqing, Type 904B logistics supply ship Junshanhu,  Type 071 LPD Kunlunshan, Type 072A landing ship Yunwushan, 2 submarines; 11 fixed-wing aircraft, eight helicopters (including Z-8, Z-9 and Ka-31 airborne early warning aircraft) and 160 marines with amphibious armoured equipment.

Russia: Udaloy-class destroyers Admiral Tributs and Admiral Vinogradov; Ropucha-class landing ship Peresvet; Dubna-class auxiliary Pechanga and sea-going tug Alatau plus two helicopters, 96 marines, and amphibious fighting vehicles.

SAR, ASW, joint island-seizing missions, amphibious assault, live firings, boarding, air-defense


‘Joint Sea 2017’ (July 21-28) Baltic Sea / off Kaliningrad China: Type 052D destroyer Hefei, Type 054A frigate Yuncheng, Type 903A replenishment ship Luomahu

Russia: 2 Steregushchy class corvettes, one support tug, naval Ka-27 helicopters and land-based Su-24 fighter-bombers as air support.

SW, AAW, ASuW, anti-piracy, SAR

Featured Image: In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, officers and soldiers of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy hold a welcome ceremony as a Russian naval ship arrives in port in Zhanjiang in southern China’s Guangdong Province, Monday, Sept. 12, 2016.