Tag Archives: Tactics

How the Fleet Forgot to Fight, Pt. 3: Tactics and Doctrine

Read Pt. 1 on Combat Training. Read Pt. 2 on Firepower.

By Dmitry Filipoff

Introduction

“…changes in tactics have to overcome the inertia of a conservative class; but it is a great evil. It can be remedied only by a candid recognition of each change, by careful study of the powers and limitations of the new ship or weapon, and by a consequent adaptation of the method of using it to the qualities it possesses, which will constitute its tactics. History shows that it is vain to hope that military men generally will be at the pains to do this, but that the one who does will go into battle with a great advantage—a lesson in itself of no mean value.” –Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783

Tactics are fighting techniques, and how to effectively employ the tools of war to win battles. Arguably the Navy’s largest obstacles to tactical innovation come from its lack of essential tools such as anti-ship missiles as well as the nature of its recent operations and training.

It should be fair to say that training and tactics are not developed for tools that are not equipped, and a history of scripted exercising means refined training and tactics have yet to come for much of what the Navy already has. The character of a power projection focus has divided the warfare communities of the Navy and fostered operating norms that directly inhibit the development of a network-centric warfighting doctrine.

The only U.S. military warfare community that has any history of devoting serious thought to sinking warships at more than 100 miles away using missiles is the carrier aviation community. They were the only ones with the required tools and doctrinal mandate. For everyone else the Navy violated one of the most fundamental maxims of naval warfare – to fire effectively first – by not providing serious offensive firepower to so much force structure that could have readily fielded it.1

The surface fleet is a prime example of the tactical deprivation that can come through lack of anti-ship weapons and the offensive roles they enable. Even with Harpoon and the first introduction of the anti-ship Tomahawk in the 1980s the surface Navy’s defensive focus in fleet combat remained consistent since WWII. For decades throughout the Cold War the surface fleet’s high-end warfighting proficiencies focused on anti-submarine warfare and protecting capital ships from aerial threats such as missiles. The job of sinking surface ships then mostly fell to submarines and carrier aviation. The tactical execution of the surface fleet’s primary anti-air mission became increasingly automated, a trend best exemplified by Aegis. However, a defensive, reactive, and highly automated mission focus makes for a poor foundation for learning how to fire effectively first.

The Navy’s firepower is about to experience a serious transformation in only a few short years. Comparing firepower through a strike mile metric (warhead weight [pounds/1,000] × range in nautical miles × number of payloads equipped) reveals that putting LRASM into 15 percent of the surface fleet’s launch cells will increase its anti-ship firepower almost twentyfold over what it has today with Harpoon.2 New anti-ship missiles will cause the submarine community and heavy bomber force to also experience historic transformations in offensive firepower.

The widespread introduction of these new weapons will present the U.S. Navy with one of the most important force development missions in its history. This dramatic increase in offensive firepower across such a broad swath of untapped force structure will put the Navy on the cusp of a sweeping revolution in tactics unlike anything seen since the birth of the aircraft carrier a century ago. How the Navy configures itself to unlock this opportunity could decide its success in a future war at sea. The Navy needs tacticians now more than ever.

Doctrine in Networked Warfighting

“I am here to encourage and support a new type of officer, one who is naturally inclined to operational experimentation and innovation. I foresee officers who view doctrine as a dynamic adaptive process rather than a refuge for the uninformed.”–Vice Admiral Arthur K. Cebrowski

Doctrine is a common vision of warfighting, and an understanding of how to skillfully employ tactics and procedure. Naval Doctrine Publication 1, Naval Warfare, offers insight into the nature of doctrine, where “It is not a set of concrete rules, but a basis of common understanding throughout the chain of command…Doctrine is the underlying philosophy that guides our use of tactics and weapons systems to achieve a common objective….Our training and education are based on doctrine.”3 Doctrine does not culminate in a publication but in the refined intuition of the warfighter.

Doctrine aims to produce both a strong sense of independent decision-making at the unit level as well as the ability to connect as a member of a team. Net-centric warfighting is especially dependent on doctrine because of how networked capability has affected individual and group relationships. Net-centric operations are based on networked connections between many actors, yet units face the risk of losing those links. Units can be forcibly cut off from one another through electronic attack, and often need to impose silence on themselves for the sake of tactics and survivability. Connected units can call on all other sorts of actors to provide capability and information. Networked warfighting can leave one completely in the dark on the one hand and connected to a multitude on the other. Net-centric doctrine can then focus on developing common understanding for those two major types of relationships and situations.

Being effective while cut off requires an independent sense of what to do without outside help. Refined doctrine will allow a unit under emissions control to handle itself in the dark and remain faithful to commander’s intent while also knowing when it makes sense to break silence. 

With doctrine a connected unit will have a common understanding with the many actors it can leverage through networked relationships. Being connected to a multitude of other actors requires having some sense of what their thought process is like, and what sorts of conditions affect their ability to contribute to the fight.

The many relationships of a networked force can easily result in congested information pathways and communications overload. This means more emissions, greater lag times, and more people requesting information or calling for help. An issue is the scale of naval warfare given how sensing and weapons can go for hundreds of miles. The area of interest for an individual warship can cover tens of thousands of square miles which promises a significant amount of overlap with many others.

Refined doctrine is absolutely necessary to streamline networked relationships and deconflict actors. Many units will be connected to the broader network, but they must resist the urge to leverage the network for every problem within their immediate area of responsibility. Command by negation and the initiative of the subordinate for a networked force could easily devolve into chaos if taken to its fullest extent. Doctrine will provide that key degree of discretion that helps a frontline unit know when its immediate situation is important enough to tap the network and call for attention from the greater force. Doctrine aims to distill what is of importance, and will help keep communications brief because networked units will have a good sense of one another’s thinking without having to ask for it.

Commander’s intent is supposed to be succinct, but the less doctrine there is the more the higher-echelon commanders can find themselves micromanaging their subordinates. The degree of refinement for doctrine can then be directly measured by how little a commander needs to convey to subordinates to successfully fulfill their intent. In his seminal “The Role of Doctrine in Naval Warfare,” published in 1915, Lieutenant Commander Dudley Knox used the example of how doctrinal development was able to shrink an operations order from 1200 words to 44 words for a 20-ship, six-hour night maneuver.4 How many words would it take that many warships to do the same thing today?

The present culture of a command and control system heavy on reporting requirements has given the Navy an unwieldy doctrine of information overload.5 This excessive reporting culture is built in part on a level of openness and ease of communication that comes with operating in the uncontested environments of the power projection era. Being micromanaged from higher headquarters feels like the norm in today’s U.S. Navy, and where a risk-averse culture is prone to micromanaging at the expense of trust-building. But doctrine can only work to condense complex operations into simple instructions if there is a high degree of trust.

Consider the challenge of command and control for a distributed force in both an offensive and defensive context, and how doctrine could shape the nature of trust. The speed of aircraft and incoming missiles compared to the range of defensive weapons means a distributed fleet will rarely be able to mass defensive firepower from across the force in a timely way. Commanders of dispersed units will likely need to have the authority to independently prosecute their local air defense missions with great initiative in order to avoid defeat in detail.

When it comes to anti-ship firepower the relatively slow speed of warships can provide much more opportunity to network effects. If a fleet commander discovers a concentration of hostile ships he or she can use networking to generate the firepower overmatch needed to overwhelm their defenses. A fleet commander could launch and collect anti-ship firepower from a variety of platforms across the distributed fleet using engage-on-remote networking. In-flight retargeting could then be used to better concentrate salvos, ensure their accuracy, and create multi-axial angles of attack. Doctrine that seeks to make this concentration of firepower possible for a distributed force would have to take some authority away from individual units when it comes to using their anti-ship missiles. The doctrine of a distributed fleet is therefore likely to keep the release authority for anti-ship weapons at a higher level of command than defensive anti-air weapons because of key differences in the feasibility of timing and concentration. 

However, even with networking, tactics should be humble in their design. The expansive nature of networked capability can produce a strong urge to develop elaborate tactics that operate on more assumptions and dependencies, such as on close coordination and timing. But tactics and operations that are too complex could easily fall apart when put to the test. The nature of low-risk scripted exercising can cause tactics and concepts of operation to suffer from this runaway complexity. Capable opposition forces are absolutely indispensable for forcing humility on the developmental process and for identifying what is reasonably simple to execute. Resilience through simplicity is an ultimate goal of doctrine.

The Navy is itself a joint force involving aviation, surface fleet, and submarine communities. But power projection missions and training have divided the Navy’s communities from one another, and where these missions allowed units to act more independently. While effective independent execution is a primary goal of doctrine the nature of low-end missions meant that independent execution was not often directed toward a common operational goal. Carrier aviation could be focused on air-to-ground strikes, surface warships could be patrolling or conducting security cooperation, and submarines could be executing ISR missions. Low-end operations and training events often require little in the way of harmonized tactics or doctrine across communities, unlike net-centric concepts.

Slide from presentation by Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence (PEO C4I) and Program Executive Office Space Systems, NDIA San Diego Fall Industry Forum, October 24, 2017.

The Navy’s current system of training and operating can hardly allow the individual communities to say they are familiar with the full breadth of capability of even their own platforms, let alone those of other communities. Every community’s training has been heavily shaped by the power projection era at the expense of high-end skills and inter-community relations.U.S. naval officers Fred Pyle, Mark Cochran, and Rob McFall wrote of the poor connection between the surface fleet and aviation communities with respect to anti-surface warfare in “Lessons Learned from Maritime Combat”:

“Although Navy tactical literature frequently speaks to the use of air power in SUW, there doesn’t appear to be any formal training provided to the surface warfare community…Much like the SWO community, aviators are deploying without a basic understanding of surface-combatant capabilities or missions. Generally, aviators don’t know the differences in capability between cruisers and destroyers, or the variants of the standard missile used to augment the fleet air defense mission that they train for so often…The naval aviation community states that AOMSW (air operations in maritime surface warfare) is a primary mission set—yet only minimal training is conducted in flight school and in the fleet. The majority of squadron sorties are focused on air-to-air intercepts and air-to-ground weapons…The Navy as a whole has very limited access to sea-based opposition forces (emphasis added), and the tactical aviation community is afforded only limited integration opportunities with the surface Navy…With the number of other demands in the schedule and limited underway steaming days, DDGs cannot easily go to sea for daily integrated training missions with the air wing…AOMSW is by default a distant third priority behind air-to-air employment and strike warfare.”7

This points to a significant issue within the Navy’s workup cycle. The amount of time a strike group actually trains as a strike group before deploying is a very small minority compared to how much time individual ships and squadrons train at the unit level.8 If the Navy is to heal the divide between its communities and better prepare for the high-end fight then integrated training needs to take on a far greater share of time within the workup cycle’s training phase compared to individual training.

It is hard to imagine the Navy’s warfare communities would work well to network their capabilities together if they have a poor understanding of one another’s tactics and doctrine. Unprecedented cross-community understanding is necessary if a networked doctrine is to come alive. But the great divide between the Navy’s communities will stand as a tall obstacle to any net-centric vision.

Sea Control Tactics in the Age of Missile Warfare

As a matter of tactics I think that going out after the Japanese and knocking their carriers out would have been much better and more satisfactory than waiting for them to attack us…” –Admiral Raymond Spruance9 

Many of the possibilities of combat can be dictated by relationships between time, distance, and concentration. Fundamental characteristics such as weapons range, flight profiles, and magazine capacity outline tactical options for the application of force. War at sea is especially attrition based where tactical outcomes can quickly turn based on how firepower overmatch plays out between offense and defense. Knowing how certain platform attributes and tactics influence the nature of attrition is central to designing favorable tradeoffs. By focusing on how to best optimize critical factors such as endurance, survivability, and firepower overmatch one can begin to see a framework of tactics and operations.

While there is some merit to the current construct of focusing ships on air defense and using aircraft to sink ships at range the nature of modern war at sea may preference different roles. The Navy’s scripted style of training may also suggest that tactical risk is not well-understood despite the fact that naval combat in the missile age is a staggeringly vicious form of warfare.

Any warship must account for the immutable obstacle posed by the curvature of the Earth’s surface. Radar, being a line-of-sight system, can see things further away the higher they are. But the horizon as the limit of direct sight creates a large space beneath it that cannot be sensed by a ship’s radar (unless enhanced by certain environmental conditions). This effect is known as the radar horizon. The distance from the average warship’s radar and the horizon is barely under 20 miles.10 

For decades anti-ship missiles have had the ability to execute low-altitude flight profiles, often described as sea-skimming flight, to take advantage of the radar horizon for the sake of greater effectiveness. By paying a price in fuel, range, and endurance, low-flying aircraft and missiles can exploit this space to lower detectability, increase survivability, and earn the element of surprise. 

It is remarkable that the words “firing from a position of minimum uncertainty and maximum probability of success” could ever be used to describe training for modern naval warfare when just 20 miles away from a ship lies a long, near-invisible space missiles can exploit to achieve surprise.11 No matter how powerful a warship is it can be forced to wait until those final moments before it can bring most of its defensive firepower to bear. The curvature of the Earth itself is one of the deadliest things to a warship.

Visualization of the radar horizon limitation. (Source: Aircraft 101 Radar Fundamentals Part 1)

Once a sea-skimming missile salvo breaks over the horizon it will only be tens of seconds away from impact. Defensive firepower will be reactively fired soon after an attacking salvo crosses the horizon. But by the time that first wave of defensive firepower clashes with supersonic anti-ship missiles they can already be a third of the way to their target ship.12 And anti-ship missiles can still be lethal even when they are shot down within those final miles.

As defensive firepower is brought to bear powerful missiles will be detonating against each other at thousands of miles per hour not far from the ship. Exploding missile shrapnel will spray out, often in the direction of the ship, easily shredding radar arrays and degrading the ship’s ability to defend itself. Many sensors cannot be effectively armored without diminishing their performance. The close-in weapon systems and electronic warfare suites that are critical to a ship’s last line of defense could also be easily shredded by missile shrapnel. Weapons mounted on the deck such as Harpoon missiles and torpedoes may also pose risks. This shrapnel factor is already recognized in test and evaluation where supersonic test missiles are intercepted at a minimum offset of several miles away from test platforms to help avoid flying missile debris.13 This may be one reason why it is unrealistic to think a warship can sustain high kill ratios against missiles in the close-in engagement zone. Because of this exploding shrapnel factor ships should be concerned about how many nearby missile shootdowns they can withstand.

SM-6 anti-air missile intercepts a relatively small, 600lb AQM-37C test missile. Note the shrapnel. (Source: U.S. Missile Defense Agency Multi-Mission Warfare Flight Test Events)

The range advantage anti-ship missiles often enjoy over defensive firepower gives the offense a better ability to fire effectively first in the age of missile warfare. This also makes it more difficult to deal with launch platforms before they fire their payloads, otherwise known as the more preferable tactic of dealing with archers before arrows. This offensive range advantage can also convert into greater lethality and survivability for the missile salvo by allowing for more sea-skimming flight. The more a launch platform can get inside the range of its anti-ship missile, the more a payload can maximize its time flying at sea-skimming altitude to stay below the radar horizon of defending warships. Some anti-ship missiles like Harpoon sustain a sea-skimming flight path throughout their flights, but many missiles in the hands of competitors have more flexible flight profile options.14 The range advantage anti-ship firepower often has over defensive firepower therefore increases the probability of ships being forced to face sea-skimming missiles in the lethal close-in engagement zone.

The deadliness of confronting sea-skimming salvos just after they break over the horizon adds urgency to early detection and to targeting platforms before they fire their missiles. It also makes it necessary to have the capability and tactics to defeat sea-skimming missile salvos long before they break over the radar horizon of defending warships.

This makes aviation indispensable to missile defense when many anti-ship weapons intentionally fly below the radar horizon of warships in spaces only aircraft can see from above. A certain amount of airpower would have to be kept on hand just to deal with sea-skimming missiles that have the potential to travel beneath the radar horizons of defending warships. For the sake of fleet defense air wings must be very proficient at shooting down sea-skimming missile salvos, including weapons capable of flying supersonic speeds. This will also require a refined doctrinal relationship between the aviation and surface fleet communities to coordinate the air defense mission, a relationship the abovementioned authors suggest barely exists.

Only now are warships able to shoot below the radar horizon limitation using revolutionary capabilities like NIFC-CA, but this requires networked dependencies on other platforms like aircraft. NIFC-CA could prove to be a very burdensome kill chain to manage with Captain Jim Kilby describing it as “operational rocket science” and that it requires “a level of coordination we’ve never had to execute before.”15 Using aircraft to shoot missiles below the radar horizon of ships may be a much simpler kill chain to manage compared to NIFC-CA. The Navy also has probably yet to develop refined tactics and training for NIFC-CA given how new and sophisticated it is. However, using aircraft to cue shipborne firepower in any case could help keep warships relevant to the fight even with shredded radar arrays.

Defensively using the air wing to focus on defeating missile salvos may prove extremely favorable, especially from an attrition standpoint. Aircraft should be able to conduct this mission with some altitude and thus retain greater endurance. They could also likely be more proximate to the carrier rather than be asked to strike ships far forward which also converts into extra endurance. They would be able to maximize their anti-air loadout which is thousands of pounds lighter than a full anti-ship loadout, earning still more endurance.16 

A squadron of F-18s fully equipped with anti-air weapons can carry over 100 anti-air missiles which is comparable to the anti-air firepower of a large surface warship. Through speed and altitude aircraft will also have far more time and opportunity to shoot down sea-skimming missiles compared to warships. Perhaps best of all, anti-ship missiles, at least for now, can pose no threat to aircraft. The cost exchange should be distinctly one sided.

An underside view of an Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 4 (VX-4) F/A-18C Hornet aircraft in-flight. The Hornet is armed with eight AMRAAM air-to-air missiles on four wing pylons and two missiles on the fuselage. The Hornet also carries two AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, one on each wing tip. (Wikimedia Commons)

The tactical characteristics of the air wing’s anti-ship mission are quite the opposite in many respects, yet this is what the carrier-centric U.S. Navy has long committed itself to.

Besides endurance, one of the greatest limiting factors of airpower is its resilience. Losing only a few aircraft per sortie could leave a carrier with a fraction of its strength after a hard day of high-end combat. Losing only four percent of aircraft per mission will result in losing 70 aircraft out of 100 over the course of 30 missions.17

Just like missiles, anti-ship aircraft will likely have to fly at sea-skimming altitudes to earn surprise and preserve survivability, but pay a severe price in range, endurance, and fuel. However, unlike aircraft, missiles are only interested in making a one-way trip. Anti-ship aircraft may also have to strike far forward of the fleet which also incurs a greater price in fuel and endurance. Low-altitude flight and closing with enemy ships can also lead to more restricted emissions.

Aircraft have to be concentrated in order to deliver large enough salvos to overwhelm the powerful anti-air defenses of modern warships. A large surface warship can carry dozens of anti-air missiles and feature many layers of defensive capability in the form of electronic warfare, close-in weapon systems, and decoys. Attacking a surface action group of a few modern destroyers could take a squadron of aircraft to field enough firepower to overwhelm shipboard defenses. This anti-ship squadron may also have to be further augmented with more aircraft dedicated to jamming, refueling, and scouting roles. A single attack on a surface action group of several large surface warships could plausibly tie up a quarter of a carrier’s strike fighters, leaving gaps in coverage elsewhere.

Using carrier aircraft to prosecute the anti-surface mission with a short-ranged anti-ship weapon such as Harpoon makes it easier for modern warships to shoot down archers instead of arrows. The shorter the range of the air-launched anti-ship missile the less attacking aircraft can disperse from one another to mass firepower effectively. This in turn dictates the extent of possible concentration and bears an effect on survivability if more aircraft find themselves within the envelope of defensive fire. 

For now, the Navy’s current carrier-based anti-ship tactic could easily turn into sending concentrated groups of aircraft into the teeth of modern shipborne air defense while bleeding fuel at low altitudes and across great distances. Survivability could be substantially improved with the air-launched version of LRASM that has better range than many anti-air weapons, but it will not do as much to ease concerns over endurance and fuel. The tactic of using carrier aircraft to sink modern warships with the short-ranged Harpoon is far less favorable with respect to survivability, endurance, and attrition compared to having the air wing focus on defeating anti-ship missiles in a defensive role.

Putting long-range anti-ship missiles on warships allows the logic of attacking archers in the form of ships to extend to most of the fleet beyond the carrier. Shifting more missile defense responsibility to the air wing frees up more shipboard launch cells for anti-ship fires and other payloads of interest. Ships can provide a solid and steady wall of firepower compared to the more transient presence of aviation. The transient presence of aviation for the anti-ship mission may at first suggest a more favorably discrete operating posture for the carrier. However, the need to maintain a screen of airpower to intercept scouts and bombers for the outer air battle would still bind the disposition of aircraft to a degree.

With respect to attrition anti-ship firepower can see a far greater proportion of its missiles wasted away against defenses compared to anti-air firepower focused on shooting down missiles. This can necessitate follow-on attacks on ships. Even though ships may discharge a large portion of their anti-ship firepower in a salvo they could readily leverage their deep magazines to launch another attack rather than be forced to wait for another anti-ship squadron to make a fresh attempt. This key distinction is where the staying power of warships can prove superior to the transience of airpower with respect to sustaining attacks on well-defended ships.

A closer team between warships and aviation along the lines of these roles can be more favorable with respect to information management. Aircraft can better manage the risks of emitting through speed and maneuver, and air defense is an especially emissions-intensive fight. A ship can preserve emissions if it has aircraft to support local awareness. By conducting air defense for forward units aircraft would also be well-poised to cue offensive fires from ships, conduct in-flight retargeting as needed, and perform battle damage assessment.

Anti-ship missile fire from submarines can be an especially powerful tactic, though it may be more dependent on outside cueing. Unlike most other platforms undersea forces can easily bypass defensive screens of ships and aircraft to get in close. Putting anti-ship missiles on submarines would also significantly enhance platform survivability. Submarines would be able to fire from a distance that far outstrips torpedo range which would make their attacks much more difficult to attribute. If a ship comes under sea-skimming missile fire it may not know which sort of platform launched the attack, but if a ship finds itself under torpedo fire then it could easily reckon a submarine is close by. From a defensive perspective the threat of missile submarines unleashing sea-skimming salvos from unexpected directions and at close range could tie down more airpower for missile defense across a broad space.

A considerable amount of the fleet’s ability to manage the fight would be centered around the E-2 aircraft whose powerful radars and communications make it the Navy’s “carrier-based tactical battle management, airborne early warning, command and control aircraft.”18 A carrier fields very few of these critical command and control aircraft, usually close to half a dozen.19 Despite the fact endurance is one of the most important attributes that governs the operations of airpower the crucial E-2 command and control aircraft will finally be getting an aerial refueling capability in 2020.20 This upgrade comes over 50 years after the aircraft was introduced and despite the fact in-flight refueling was already commonplace in the aviation-centric U.S. Navy since the Vietnam War. Israel purchased the E-2 aircraft from the U.S. during the Cold War and installed an in-flight refueling capability at some point in their service lives. Now after decommissioning these aircraft an E-2 Hawkeye capable of in-flight refueling rests at the Israeli Air Force Museum. 

Israeli E-2C Hawkeye with refueling probe. (Wikimedia Commons)

Distributed Lethality

“Sound strategy depends on a knowledge of all forces and their tactics sufficient to estimate the probabilities of winning. Thus…it will not do to study strategy and offer strategic plans without first studying in detail the forces and tactics on which those plans depend. Strategy and tactics are related like the huntsman and his dog. The hunter is master, but he won’t catch foxes if he has bought and trained a birddog.” Capt. Wayne P. Hughes Jr., (ret.), Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat 

The Navy is looking to move to a more distributed warfighting construct, otherwise known as distributed lethality or distributed maritime operations.21 A major tactical and operational advantage distributed warfighting hopes to achieve is diluting the firepower and sensing of the adversary across a larger space. With respect to great power adversaries that enjoy steep land-based advantages for sea control these constructs are based in part on the hope that distribution will hurt opposing anti-access/area-denial forces more than they will hurt expeditionary forces. Like so much else in the U.S. Navy these distributed warfighting constructs hope to achieve greater effectiveness in part through affecting efficiency. The tactics suggested above are certainly guilty of this to an extent. While affecting the timely concentration of effects is a fundamental principle of warfighting, especially in attrition-centered naval combat, these distributed warfighting constructs are fundamentally incomplete without more specific techniques at the tactical level.

The tactics suggested above envision a closer relationship between carrier aviation and warships where they leverage one another’s platform advantages. It argues that the deep capacity of surface warships is better put to use for the offensive anti-ship mission, and that aviation’s speed and maneuverability is better focused on defending against missiles. This is the opposite logic of what the Navy has long subscribed to. 

But the tactical analysis above is still very rudimentary. It does not attempt to account for things like electronic warfare, cyber effects, and space-based capabilities where each can be very critical in its own right. So much decisive space in a future war at sea could lie within circuits, algorithms, and computer code. These tactical ideas may be nothing more than mere speculation, and perhaps some variable that was left unaccounted for could make it all fall apart. But one couldn’t know until they tried.

The question remains as to what are the tactical deficiencies of a carrier-centric Navy that chose to starve the vast majority of its force structure of the ability to sink ships at range, and instead chose to focus perishable aviation on one of its most difficult missions. Aircraft would already be split between conducting major scouting functions, maintaining an outer screen to intercept enemy scouts and bombers, and guarding against sea-skimming threats. Concentrating airpower to sink ships at range would add enormous strain to the air wing.

The force structure of competitors is far more wholesomely armed with anti-ship weapons, but the carrier-centric U.S. Navy chose to confront these threats with offensive missile firepower coming from a sole, central source. This echoes a now familiar theme. By forcing the air wing to take on so many kinds of missions – scouting, counterscouting, outer air battle, defeating sea-skimming threats, and attacking ships – the U.S. Navy inflicted distributed lethality against itself.


Part Four will focus on Technical Standards.


Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at Nextwar@cimsec.org

References

1. The maxim comes from Fleet Tactics, Theory and Practice, U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1986, first edition, by Capt. Wayne P. Hughes, Jr. (ret.)

2. Total Harpoon strike mile lethality for surface fleet comes is about 13,708. Total strike mile lethality for LRASM using 15 percent of the surface fleet’s launch cells is about 267,000.

For more on strike mile metric: Alan Cummings, “A Thousand Splendid Guns: Chinese ASCMs in Competitive Control,” U.S. Naval War College Review, Autumn 2016. https://digital-commons.usnwc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=http://cimsec.org/?p=37357&preview_id=37357&preview_nonce=33a19394d2&post_format=standard&_thumbnail_id=37675&preview=true&httpsredir=1&article=1143&context=nwc-review

3. Naval Doctrine Publication 1, Naval Warfare. U.S. Department of the Navy, March 1994. http://www.iwar.org.uk/military/resources/aspc/pubs/ndp1.pdf

4. Lieutenant Commander Dudley Knox, USN, “The Role of Doctrine in Naval Warfare,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, March-April 1915. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/1915-03/role-doctrine-naval-warfare

5. For more on the Navy’s current command and control culture with respect to micromanagement and risk aversion see:

Lieutenant Commander Colin Roberts, USN, “In the Long Calm Lee of Midway,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, January 2018. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2018-01/long-calm-lee-midway

Admiral Scott Swift, USN, “Master the Art of Command and Control,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, February 2018. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2018-02/master-art-command-and-control

Lieutenant Commanders Kit de Angelis and Jason Garfield, USN, “Give Commanders the Authority,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, October 2016. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2016-10/give-commanders-authority

6. For power projection training focus for submarine force see: Megan Eckstein, “Navy Wants More Complex Sub-on-Sub Warfare Training,” U.S. Naval Institute News, October 27, 2016. https://news.usni.org/2016/10/27/navy-wants-complex-sub-sub-warfare-training

For aviation see: Captain Fred Pyle, Lieutenant Commander Mark Cochran, and Lieutenant Commander Rob McFall, USN, “Lessons Learned for Maritime Combat,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, January 2016. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2016-01/lessons-learned-maritime-combat

For helicopter community see: Commander Ben Reynolds, USN, “Time to Think Tactically,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, September 2013. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2013-09/time-think-tactically

For surface fleet see: Vice Admiral Thomas Rowden, Rear Admiral Peter Gumataotao, and Rear Admiral Peter Fanta, USN, “Distributed Lethality,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, January 2015. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2015-01/distributed-lethality

For a more general description of changed training see: Captain Pete Pagano, USN (ret.), “Have We Forgotten How to Fight?,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, February 2018. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2018-02/have-we-forgotten-how-fight

7. Captain Fred Pyle, Lieutenant Commander Mark Cochran, and Lieutenant Commander Rob McFall, USN, “Lessons Learned for Maritime Combat,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, January 2016. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2016-01/lessons-learned-maritime-combat

8. COMNAVAIRFORINST 3500.20D CH4, Chapter 3: Training Cycle. http://elearning.sabrewebhosting.com/CVnTraining/tramanfiles/chapter3.pdf

For balance of time between integrated and other forms of training see pg. 11 of: Bryan Clark and Jesse Sloman, “Deploying Beyond Their Means: America’s Navy and Marine Corps at a Tipping Point,” Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, November 2015. https://csbaonline.org/uploads/documents/CSBA6174_(Deploying_Beyond_Their_Means)Final2-web.pdf

9. This quote from Spruance is followed by the qualifier: “but we were at the start of a very important and large amphibious operation and we could not afford to gamble and place it in jeopardy” and was made in reference to the Battle of the Philippine Sea and defending the Saipan invasion force. However, even in its unqualified form, the quote still suffices to make a key point “as a matter of tactics.”

10. For 18nm radar horizon see: Lee O. Upton and Lewis A. Thurman, “Radars for the Detection and Tracking of Cruise Missiles,” Lincoln Laboratory Journal, Volume 12, Number 2, 2000. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/e603/f87c32337e5feb7a0b9995356d5bbe8748c1.pdf

Caveat: Over the Horizon-Backscatter radars are not limited by the horizon by reflecting radar energy off of the ionosphere. These radars are land-based, and while they can detect contacts of interest at a great distance the fidelity is much more poor compared to line-of-sight radar systems. To see operating principles of various radars and sensors see: Jonathan F. Solomon, “Defending the Fleet from China’s Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile: Naval Deception’s Roles in Sea-Based Missile Defense,” Thesis Defense submitted to Faculty of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences of Georgetown University, April 15, 2011. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.454.8264&rep=rep1&type=pdf

11. Admiral Scott Swift, USN, “A Fleet Must Be Able to Fight,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, May 2018. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2018-05/fleet-must-be-able-fight 

12. This figure is based rough calculations using supersonic missile speed, defensive missiles featuring a speed of around Mach 3 such as Standard Missile, and to discern the point they would first meet once the former crosses over the horizon. A key advantage attacking missiles will likely have is coming over the horizon at maximum speed and where defensive missiles would have to accelerate to full speed once they are reactively launched.

13. Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, “DDG 51 Flight III Destroyer/Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR)/Aegis Combat System,” FY17 Navy Programs. http://www.dote.osd.mil/pub/reports/FY2017/pdf/navy/2017ddg51.pdf

Excerpt: “Use of manned ships for operational testing with threat representative ASCM surrogates in the close-in, self‑defense battlespace is not possible due to Navy safety restrictions because targets and debris from intercepts pose an unacceptable risk to personnel at ranges where some engagements will take place.”

Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, “DDG 51 Flight III Destroyer/Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR)/Aegis Combat System,” FY15 Navy Programs. http://www.dote.osd.mil/pub/reports/FY2015/pdf/navy/2015ddg51.pdf

Excerpt: “In addition to stand-off ranges (on the order of 1.5 to 5 nautical miles for subsonic and supersonic surrogates, respectively), safety restrictions require that ASCM targets not be flown directly at a manned ship, but at some cross-range offset, which unacceptably degrades the operational realism of the test.”

14. For variable flight profiles of anti-ship missiles see:

Dr. Carlo Kopp, “Killing the Vampire,” Defence Today, 2008. http://www.ausairpower.net/SP/DT-Vampires-2008.pdf

Dr. Carlo Kopp, “Evolving Naval Anti-Ship Weapons Threat,” Defence Today, 2010. http://www.ausairpower.net/SP/DT-ASBM-Dec-2009.pdf

15. For quotes see:

Sam LaGrone, “The Next Act for Aegis”, U.S. Naval Institute News, May 7, 2014. https://news.usni.org/2014/05/07/next-act-aegis

Captain Jim Kilby, USN, “Surface Warfare: Lynchpin of Naval Integrated Air/Missile Defense,” Center for International Maritime Security, April 4, 2014. http://cimsec.org/surface-warfare-lynchpin-naval-integrated-airmissile-defense/10748  

16. AMRAAM missile weighs 356 lbs, Sidewinder missile weighs 188 lbs (See U.S. Navy AMRAAM fact file, Sidewinder fact file), max load of ten AMRAAM plus two sidewinder: 3936 lbs.

Harpoon weighs 1,523 pounds (See U.S. Navy Harpoon fact file), full load of four Harpoons: 6092 lbs.

For max F-18 Harpoon load see: “F/A-18F Super Hornet take on a full load of Harpoons Anti-ship missiles for the first time,” http://www.navyrecognition.com/index.php/focus-analysis/naval-technology/1346-video-fa-18f-super-hornet-take-on-a-full-load-of-harpoons-anti-ship-missiles-for-the-first-time.html.

17. John Stillion and Bryan Clark, “What it Takes to Win: Succeeding in 21st Century Battle Network Competitions,” Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2015. https://csbaonline.org/uploads/documents/What-it-Takes-to-Win.pdf

18. “E-2 Hawkeye Early Warning and Control Aircraft,” U.S. Navy Fact File. https://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=1100&tid=700&ct=1

19. Seth Cropsey, Bryan G. McGrath, and Timothy Walton, “Sharpening the Spear: The Carrier, the Joint Force, and High-End Conflict,” Hudson Institute, October 2015. https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.hudson.org/files/publications/201510SharpeningtheSpearTheCarriertheJointForceandHighEndConflict.pdf

20. Valerie Insinna, “Northrop to Begin Cutting in Aerial Refueling Capability in E-2D Advanced Hawkeye Production this year,” Defense News, April 11, 2018. https://www.defensenews.com/digital-show-dailies/navy-league/2018/04/11/northrop-to-begin-cutting-in-aerial-refueling-capability-in-e-2d-advanced-hawkeye-production-this-year/

“E-2D Conducts Successful Aerial Refueling Tests,” Naval Aviation News, March 21, 2018. http://navalaviationnews.navylive.dodlive.mil/2018/03/21/fuel-factor/

21. Vice Admiral Thomas Rowden, Rear Admiral Peter Gumataotao, and Rear Admiral Peter Fanta, USN, “Distributed Lethality,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, January 2015. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2015-01/distributed-lethality

Navy Warfare Development Command, “CNO Visits Navy Warfare Development Command,” April 2013, 2017. https://www.nwdc.navy.mil/PressRelease/9.aspx

Excerpt:

“Specifically, the CNO was updated on NWDC’s development of the Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) Concept, a central, overarching operational concept, that will weave together the principles of integration, distribution and maneuver to maximize the effectiveness of the fleet Maritime Operations Centers to synchronize all-domain effects.

“DMO will describe the fleet-centric warfighting capabilities necessary to gain and maintain sea-control through the employment of combat power that may be distributed over vast distances, multiple domains, and a wide array of platforms,” explained Mark Coffman, DMO concept writing team lead, “The concept’s action plan will drive the development of these new capabilities so that fleet commanders will be able to distribute but still maneuver the fleet across an entire theater of operations as an integrated weapon system.”

Featured Image: ARABIAN GULF (Dec. 6, 2017) – The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) transits the Arabian Gulf. Theodore Roosevelt and its carrier strike group are deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners and preserve the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Anthony J. Rivera/Released)

Sea Control at the Tactical Level of War

Sea Control Topic Week

By LT Adam Humayun, USN

From the dawn of naval war through the mid-twentieth century, sea control served political ends only indirectly. A force that exercised sufficient control of waterways could bombard, assault, withdraw, and feint from the sea, but could not (unless fighting an island enemy) produce war-ending consequences, absent victory on land.1 Witness Britain’s numerous post-Trafalgar conventional and guerilla campaigns against Napoleon. Even in the vast oceanic reaches of the Second World War’s Pacific theater, the Allies chose to seize key nodes in Japan’s island defensive network rather than simply suppress them. In the industrial era of warfare, comparatively few such nodes could be destroyed by fire, and new aircraft and ships could be made quickly available if destroyed. Sea control was an indispensable prerequisite to victory, but by itself did not win wars.2

In modern maritime war between great powers, sea control equates to leverage for war termination and the shape of post-war international relations. The late twentieth century saw two paired technical-tactical developments the – prevalence of missiles as the primary weapon at sea and the dawn of the post-industrial production era. As such, offensive power is no longer proportionate to the price or size of a combatant, and mass production can no longer be expected to replenish combat losses in time.3

Sea control is about sinking these ships and aircraft, platforms that are growing in vulnerability and are harder to replace than their predecessors. A force that performs well in attrition will weaken, and in many dimensions of military power, perhaps even disarm an adversary. Destroying military assets that cannot be effectively replaced for years, and only after the political issues at hand have been resolved, grants sea control today a value well beyond its immediate military effects. The battlespace, concrete and conceptual, in which contenders will struggle for sea control thus needs to be carefully defined.

This article explores sea control at the tactical level of war in an age defined by precision-guided munitions and post-industrial production. It opens by defining sea control in terms of objective, means, and effect, and proceeds to identify the capabilities key to achieving it. After discussing how to exploit and maintain sea control once won, it concludes by reflecting on the best path to effective training. Ultimately, sea control depends on attriting enemy sensors and shooters through superior scouting and decision-making – both processes complicated by the fog of war and by enemy interference. The review here is cursory, and further exploration of this general topic and the subtopics broached will be constructive.

Sea Control in the Missile Age: The Scouting and Network Battles

Modern combat at sea remains sudden, violent, and shrouded in uncertainty. The increasing speed, range, and autonomy of precision-guided munitions (PGMs) and their associated sensors lends an advantage to the attacker.4 The fog of war persists: even when targeting information is available, uncertainty and human psychology often prevent its efficient exploitation. Electronic Warfare (EW), Cyber, deception, and anti-scouting capabilities will all play a role in expanding the fog of war, contra all predictions of “dominant battlespace knowledge.”5 Even superficial observation of trends in EW shows modern militaries are prepared to target sensors extensively.6

Sea control can be partial and is geographically defined. Objectively, it lasts only as long as the force and any defended assets remain outside the effective range of enemy PGM shooters; subjectively, only as long as the force believes this to be the case.

The net-centric force structures of modern great power militaries nest different types and levels of capability in different launch and scouting platforms. These networks may degrade gracefully under fire, but not in linear fashion.7 First, partial sea control can be said to exist when some platforms have been attrited (or when their force inventory is exhausted). Second, partial sea control can be said to exist when critical scouting capabilities have been denied, whether through attrition or (perhaps less likely, depending on the scenario) through non-kinetic fires. Either condition eases the problem of defending amphibious ships, merchants, and fixed sites on land by reducing options available to the attacker, conversely allowing air defense units to assume optimal dispositions against one or a few threats.

Sea control is about attrition. The long-range offensive power of nearly every platform in the missile age dictates this. The reconnaissance-strike complex composed of sensors –whether organic to the shooter or offboard – and missile systems of all kinds is increasingly able to reach out to hundreds of nautical miles of effective range.8 A place- (vice time- or method-based) maneuver warfare approach is not going to stop modern PGMs – only blinding the sensor or killing the shooter will do so.9

Sea control entails attrition; attrition in turn entails rapid and effective threat detection, combat ID (CID), targeting (inclusive of ROE), engagement, and battle damage assessment (BDA). In U.S. military parlance, this process is termed F2T2EA (Find, Fix, Track, Target, Engage, Assess). Whatever their name, all these processes will be opposed by an adversary seeking to slow one’s own Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act (OODA) loop.10 Given these underlying conflicts within the broader struggle at the tactical level, we can best understand them cut into two parts – a scouting battle for acquisition of targeting information, and a network battle for its exploitation.

The scouting battle entails the competition between reconnaissance-strike complexes –be they SAGs, carrier strike groups, aircraft, or any combination of these – to acquire targeting information. Electronic warfare, deception, and conventional weapons could all contribute to anti-scouting campaigns. Effectiveness in scouting relies on coordinating multiple platforms and techniques to maximize probability of detection and communication while minimizing the vulnerability of one’s own assets.11 Effective anti-scouting entails dispositions that are difficult for scouts to detect or to classify, early warning, rapid combat ID, and sufficient firepower at the right time and place to attrit reconnaissance platforms.

The network battle consists of the competition between reconnaissance-strike complexes for the use of targeting information. It is a race to make and communicate decisions, one where sabotage is also possible. A force well-postured for the network battle will rely on mission command, including austere C2 and pre-planned responses, emphasizing rapid and seamless transition between the paradigms of “structured battle” and “melee” that were well-identified by CAPT (Ret.) Robert Rubel in a 2017 article.12 At the same time, the force will use all available means – including communications jamming, deception, and other information operations – to slow the adversary OODA loop, delaying and diluting the impact of its discovery and targeting.

These twin lines of effort pay dividends for sea control. The force that “wins” the scouting battle – all other things being equal – will be in a better position to contend for sea control, winning timely and accurate targeting information while denying the same to the enemy. Advantage in the network battle allows a force to quickly respond to changing conditions, maximizing firepower – and, perhaps, surprise – through quick reaction, as well as maximizing resiliency through reducing dependence on top-down, unitary, and vulnerable C2 nodes.

Winning and Maintaining Sea Control: Lethality versus Shaping

The discussion thus far has centered on attrition – what one might term the lethality approach to sea control. But why not seek to win or maintain sea control through less violent means? An alternative to the lethality approach to sea control is at least conceivable. This alternative can be termed shaping – a reliance on unit-level deterrence. Where a lethality approach continues the emphasis on attriting adversary scouts and shooters, a shaping approach targets the perceptions of threat platform COs, adjusting their perception of risk and reward to deter aggressive action. In the abstract, it seems the lethality approach would be applicable against challenges to sea control that fall under CAPT Rubel’s structured battle and melee combat paradigms. At least against a modern naval threat the shaping approach has good prospects only against challenges that rely on Rubel’s sniping paradigm.13

The tactical dynamics of the missile age undermine the shaping approach. Substantial advantage accrues to the side that “attacks effectively first;” where anti-missile defenses of all types and ship survivability are sufficient if effective attack blunts counterattack.14 Several countries have made substantial investments in advanced ship- and aircraft-launched anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), and consistently train for their employment.15 The highly centralized C2 seen in some navies also might reduce the scope of decision-making authority available to unit commanders.16 During a crisis with a peer competitor, it appears unlikely that either side could muster sufficient force to absorb a first strike should shaping fail.

Even against isolated PGM snipers, however, the shaping approach has significant drawbacks. Unlike the submarines of World War II, modern warships and submarines have effective firing ranges measured in hundreds of miles. Particularly the latter have likely improved their relative ability to avoid detection, if not to escape prosecution. Not all COs will be as easily intimidated as the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Admiral Kurita at the Battle Off Samar.  The forces needed to deter a professional and determined adversary would be better employed hunting that same adversary. Even once sea control is won, a lethality approach that emphasizes attrition remains primary.

Training for Sea Control: Nested Competition

A Tactical Action Officer (TAO) on watch at night onboard a destroyer acting as SAG commander (SAGC) confronts two empty large screen displays, their blue monotony broken only by the occasional merchant or commercial aircraft track. In searching for the enemy SAG, the TAO and the watchteam must be able to pick out the foe from environmentals and neutrals, satisfy rules of engagement (ROE), match weapon to target, win concurrence from the Commanding Officer and other appropriate legal authorities, and do all this quickly enough to “attack effectively first.”17 When this is done, the salvo away, the force must quickly conduct battle damage assessment (BDA) to determine if reengagement is needed. This is sea control in practice: a realm of ambiguity where human factors, especially level of knowledge, presence of mind, and sangfroid, are decisive in tactical effectiveness.

Training for sea control ought to reflect the reality of sea combat in the age of PGMs: that despite all technical developments, human factors continue to define war. The importance of winning the scouting and network battles, of blinding the enemy, of working inside his OODA loop, of deceiving him – all to the end of delivering the first effective attack – all of these pieces can be seen in “lessons learned” from SAG vs. SAG and similar free-play events in many U.S. and multilateral exercises. The extent they confront participants with the experience of the totality of combat – psychological and technical – will mean these events can prepare trainees well.

From a U.S. Navy standpoint, progress is evident. Scripted firing events are gradually being supplanted in favor of Live Fire With A Purpose (LFWAP) events mimicking real-world weapons employment conditions. A comprehensive and usable standard ruleset for SAG vs. SAG and freeplay events, and the explicit, fleetwide understanding that these mock combat events – vice scripted certification evolutions or PHOTOEXs – are the “main course” in major exercises would facilitate planning and maximize training value.

Conclusion

The tactical dynamics and political-military impact of combat at sea are mediated by technological trends, but human factors remain central to its actual conduct. Topics deserving further exploration include, among many others: to what extent does the OODA loop model so ingrained in U.S. and Western forces remain valid at sea in an age of semi-autonomous weapons? What capabilities and which tactics, techniques, and procedures provide the greatest leverage for the scouting and network battles? Which C2 constructs do so? Are there elements of the “dominant battlespace knowledge” concept that are not fatally flawed on their assumptions? The force that is prepared to ask these questions, answer them, and then incorporate lessons learned into training and practice will have the advantage in a near- to-medium-term struggle for sea control.

Lieutenant Humayun, a native of Madison, New Jersey, graduated summa cum laude from The George Washington University with a B.A. in International Affairs (Conflict and Security Studies) in 2012. He commissioned in December 2013 from the U.S. Navy Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. Onboard USS SHILOH (CG 67) he has served as CF Division Officer and Turbines Officer, and onboard USS MUSTIN (DDG 89) as Fire Control Officer.

He participated in multiple Strike Group patrols, Combined, and Joint Operations in the SEVENTH Fleet AOR, coordinated successful live SM-2 firing exercises in 2017 and 2018 and led planning for MUSTIN’s role as SAG commander in MULTISAIL 2018. Lieutenant Humayun is a qualified Tactical Action Officer who has stood the watch both at Condition III and for Special Evolutions in a high-threat OPAREA.  

Lieutenant Humayun’s decorations include the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, and various unit and service awards. 

All opinions expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not represent those of the U.S. Navy, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Government, or any of their subcomponents.

References

1. See generally Corbett, Julian S. Some Principles of Maritime Operations (1911 ed.). Accessed 9/2/18 <https://www.gutenberg.org/files/15076/15076-h/15076-h.htm>

2. For the Pacific Campaign, see Toll, Ian W. The Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944. New York: W.W. Norton, 2016.

3. See Hughes, Wayne P. “Missile Chess: A Parable,” in Hughes, Wayne P. ed. The U.S. Naval Institute on Naval Tactics. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2015 (181-190).

4. An excellent general introduction is Watts, Barry. The Maturing Revolution in Military Affairs. Report. Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Washington, D.C., 2011. Accessed 9/2/2018 <https://csbaonline.org/uploads/documents/2011.06.02-Maturing-Revolution-In-Military-Affairs1.pdf>

5. For examples of confident predictions of dominant battlespace knowledge, see Stewart E. Johnson, “DBK: Opportunities and Challenges,” in Libicki, Martin and Stewart  E.Johnson, eds. Dominant Battlespace Knowledge. Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 1995. For anti-scouting, see Hughes, Fleet Tactics, pg. 193.

6. Gordon, Michael R., and Jeremy Page. “China Installed Military Jamming Equipment on Spratly Islands, U.S. Says.” The Wall Street Journal, April 9, 2018. Accessed September 2, 2018. https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-installed-military-jamming-equipment-on-spratly-islands-u-s-says-1523266320.

7. Hughes, Wayne P. Fleet Tactics, Table 11-1 (First Strike Survivors).

8. Watts, “Maturing Revolution,”pg. 21-25.

9. Surprise and deception are not unique to maneuver warfare approaches, but are inherent in the maneuver paradigm. For comparison of various (mostly pre-missile age) approaches to deception, see Whaley, Barton. Stratagem: Deception and Surprise in War. Artech House, 2002.

10. Implicit in John R. Boyd’s presentation, “Patterns of Conflict,” accessed 9/2/18 <https://www.dnipogo.org/boyd/patterns_ppt.pdf>. See especially slides 101-117

11. An excellent discussion is Kline, Jeffrey E., “A Tactical Doctrine for Distributed Lethality,” Center for International Maritime Security, February 22, 2016. Access 9/2/18 <http://cimsec.org/tactical-doctrine-distributed-lethality/22286#_edn7>

12. Rubel, Robert C. “Mission Command in a Future Naval Combat Environment.” Naval War College Review Vol. 71 No. 2 (Spring 2018), 110-113. Accessed 8/23/18 <http://digital-commons.usnwc.edu/nwc-review/vol71/iss2/8>

13. Rubel, “Mission Command,” 110-113.

14. Hughes, Fleet Tactics.

15. Gormley, Dennis M. et al. “A Potent Vector: Assessing Chinese Cruise Missile Developments.” Joint Force Quarterly No. 75 (September 2014). Accessed 9/2/18 <http://ndupress.ndu.edu/Media/News/News-Article-View/Article/577568/jfq-75-a-potent-vector-assessing-chinese-cruise-missile-developments/>.

16. Erickson, Andrew S. and Michael S. Chase, “Informationization and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy,” in Saunders, Philip et al., eds The Chinese Navy: Expanding Capabilities,Evolving Roles. Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 2011, pgs. 265-268.

17. Hughes, Wayne P., Jr. Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2000.

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 24, 2018) An E-2C Hawkeye, with Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 117, sits chocked and chained on the flight deck aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). John C. Stennis is underway conducting routine operations in the U.S. 3rd Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class William Rosencrans)

Time Out For Tactics

By Lieutenant Commander Miles A. Libbey, III, USN

Nobody’s arguing that inspections aren’t important. Heaven only knows what the beam of a flashlight might find under the bunk of a warship during a zone inspection. But there must be some way to reduce the 80 or so inspections a combat unit is subjected to every 18 months and use some of that time for the study of tactics.

Why have we let our concern for tactics slip away? How can we continue to call ourselves naval officers when our attention is being constantly drawn away from what should be our main interest—besting po­tential adversaries in war? As a naval officer, I am by definition a person who is capable of waging and winning a war on the high seas. I have trained and studied diligently, but is it for the next conflict or the next helpful inspection? We must refocus our at­tention on tactics.

If the inspections themselves do not indicate a lack of faith in the system, they seem to be part of the diminishing importance of tactical thought at all levels of command. The junior officer does not per­ceive that his senior pays attention to tactics as a matter of routine. If a junior commanding officer is delayed from returning to home port for some tacti­cally significant reason, he can normally still expect to have to meet all his visits, assist teams, and in­spections despite the crew’s inconvenience. The commanding officer does not see a routine emphasis on tactics, and, therefore, he tends not to pass any concern down to the members of his wardroom. How often does one see the immediate superior in com­mand stay after the most recent inspection and talk about his philosophy of the wartime employment of his units? During the last year, how much has the immediate superior, type commander, or fleet com­mander contributed to the fleet officers’ thought pro­cess of winning an engagement? And if progress is being made, as it is in the Sixth Fleet, it rarely starts with or is emphasized at the unit level. Of all the reports and inspections conducted, how many can a junior officer reasonably link to combat thinking?


The above is excerpted from an article originally featured in USNI Proceedings, finish it here. Reprinted from U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings magazine with permission; Copyright © U.S. Naval Institute/www.usni.org.


Featured Image: U.S. 5TH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS (Aug. 10, 2018) Operations Specialist 2nd Class Alexandra Allen monitors air activity in the combat information center aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) during a general quarters drill. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay/Released)

Learning War and The Evolution of U.S. Navy Fighting Doctrine with Author Trent Hone

By Christopher Nelson

Author Trent Hone joins us today to talk about his new book Learning War: The Evolution of Fighting Doctrine in the U.S. Navy, 1898-1945. This is a great book. And as others have noted, it’s a fine compliment to John Kuehn’s work on the Navy General Staff, Scott Mobley’s book Progressives in Navy Blue, and I would add, Albert Nofi’s To Train The Fleet For War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923-1940.

We talk about everything from Admiral Frank “Friday” Fletcher to “safe-to-fail” systems vs. “fail-safe” systems. And stick around to the end. Trent Hone offers some advice to the CNO on how we can build a better learning organization.

Nelson: For the readers, could you tell us briefly what your book is about?

Hone: My book investigates how the U.S. Navy of the early twentieth century learned to innovate. I explore how the Navy invented new technologies, created new tactics, and found ways to rapidly evolve its combat doctrine based on peacetime exercises and wartime experience. Today, we would describe the Navy of that era as a “learning organization.” I explain what that means and describe the mechanisms the Navy used to effectively learn and innovate. I believe there are lessons from that time that are very relevant for today’s organizations, both military and civilian.

Nelson: Why did you want to write this book?

Hone: I’ve been interested in naval tactics for a long time. I remember reading Wayne Hughes’s Fleet Tactics when it first came out in the 1980s and being fascinated (It’s a great book now on its third edition). In the 1990s, I decided to explore the Navy’s surface warfare tactics before and during World War II. I wanted to know what Admiral Husband E. Kimmel might have done if Pearl Harbor hadn’t been attacked. That research led to a series of articles on the development of Navy tactics—including a prize-winning one in the Naval War College Reviewand, ultimately, began to overlap with other work I was doing. 

I started my career as a software engineer. As I assumed positions of greater responsibility, what became most interesting to me was not the development of the software, but how teams organized to create software and do innovative work. I studied various techniques and methods to improve the teams I supervised and eventually transitioned into advising and coaching organizations to help them get better at learning and innovating. 

As I continued looking at the evolution of the Navy’s tactical doctrine in the early twentieth century, I saw patterns that resonated with today’s most-effective learning techniques. The language was quite different, and the specific processes were different, but some of the underlying principles were remarkably similar. I realized it was a story that had to be told. I describe an arc of innovative creativity that stretches back decades by charting the evolution of surface warfare tactics.

Nelson: Early in the book you talk about “fail-safe” systems and “safe to fail” systems. The latter, you say, are best for a culture that encourages innovation. With this in mind, what would you say Rickover’s submarine culture consisted of? Is he a rare exception in the case of a system that is “fail-safe” yet innovative?

Hone: I’m glad you brought this up. Alicia Juarrero’s term “safe to fail” gives us a new way to think about failure modes and how to account for them. The key difference between the two is that with “fail-safe” we attempt to anticipate possible failure modes and design ways to mitigate them. With “safe to fail,” we recognize unanticipated failure modes will occur and organize to ensure survival when they do. This has relevance to organizations because when we want to learn and innovate, we are going to fail. A “safe to fail” organization finds ways to explore new ideas and experiment with them without endangering its long-term survival. The Navy was good at that in the early twentieth century. 

I’m less familiar with Rickover’s time, but from what I understand, it would be inaccurate to describe the culture he developed as primarily “fail-safe.” Certainly, it used procedures with rigidly prescribed steps in order to prevent known failures, so in that sense it was “fail-safe.” However, he recognized that unanticipated failure modes can and will occur. Defined procedures are inadequate to account for these circumstances. Instead, it’s essential to rely on the collective skill and experience of people, so the culture integrated crewmembers together. Layers of human observation and experience became the means to identify, anticipate, and address unforeseen circumstances. In that sense, the culture has a “safe to fail” component. Things will go wrong; people will make mistakes. But trust and experience become the means to identify and resolve them. 

As it turns out, that’s the most effective way to deal with problems in complex environments. Standard procedures and automated routines free our mental capacity so that when unforeseen circumstances arise, we can quickly identify and address them. That’s what made the Combat Information Center (CIC) and its successors effective: the artful integration of standard processes, technology, and human judgment. I worry that with the increasing emphasis on automated systems, we might be taking the talents of our people too far out of the loop. There’s no substitute for human experience and skill when the unanticipated occurs. 

Nelson: What is the “edge of chaos” and why does it matter to any organization that is trying to be innovative?

Hone: The concept of the “edge of chaos” is easily misunderstood, so I’ll try to explain it succinctly. In any complex system—like a corporation or a military service—there are processes, procedures, and rules. In the language of complexity, these are called “constraints.” They channel and limit behavior. When constraints are restrictive, they inhibit the ability of people to experiment and try something new. Obviously, that’s a problem if you want to innovate. But the other end of the spectrum is problematic also. If constraints are too loose, there’s no coherence; it becomes difficult to assign cause and effect or make sense of an experiment. The “edge of chaos” is located between these two extremes. It is a space where constraints are sufficiently loose to allow room to explore new ideas and concepts but also rigid enough to focus that exploration and provide feedback on its effectiveness. 

Many of us intuitively understand this from our own experience. Software teams, for example, are most innovative (and generally most effective) when they’re given a clear objective and the creative freedom to determine how best to accomplish it. The objective serves as a constraint and focuses their energy. They use their initiative to explore several potential solutions, often arriving at the best combination of technologies that addresses the need. That’s why there’s been such an emphasis on moving away from rigidly detailed requirements documents; they overly constrain teams and limit their creativity. The parallels to military command, and the importance of well-written orders that foster the initiative of subordinates, are obvious. 

Nelson: What was the importance of the 1921 Destroyer Instructions?

Hone: The Atlantic Fleet’s 1921 Destroyer Instructions were important for two reasons. It was the first Navy doctrinal manual produced by a deliberately created system of learning. Immediately after World War I, the Navy was transitioning back to peacetime. Many valuable lessons had been learned during the war and officers set out to capture them. Two “colleges” were established, one in the Atlantic Fleet and another in the Pacific Fleet. They combined exercises at sea, wargames ashore, and experience from the recent war to devise new approaches. A regular correspondence was maintained between these two fleet colleges and the Naval War College. The result of their collective learning was incorporated into the Destroyer Instructions. 

The Destroyer Instructions were also important because they assumed individual commands—each destroyer squadron—would develop their own specific doctrines that reflected the strength of their ships and men. The Instructions were deliberately written to foster creativity within subordinate commands and avoid being overly prescriptive. The War Instructions of 1923 took the same approach, so Navy officers spent the interwar period exploring a variety of options for how to coordinate and employ their forces, leading to new and innovative techniques.

Nelson: Who was Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher? What were his battle instructions? And why are they an important milestone in naval history?

Hone: Frank Friday Fletcher led the intervention at Veracruz, Mexico, in April 1914 and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his conduct. In September 1914, he became commander of the Atlantic Fleet, which contained the Navy’s most modern ships. The Atlantic Fleet had been regularly conducting exercises to work out how best to operate in battle, and Fletcher continued that practice. By May 1916, he and his staff had gained enough experience to issue a set of Battle Instructions. 

Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher.

Fletcher’s Instructions marked a departure from previous approaches. He assumed battle was fundamentally uncertain and that centralized control would likely be impossible; this led him to emphasize two things. The first was the use of a plan that would outline objectives for subordinates. Fletcher wanted to encourage their individual initiative and creativity without overly constraining them. Second, Fletcher stressed the coordinated use of all weapons. Previous battle plans had emphasized battleship gunnery. Fletcher recognized that other weapons were coming into their own, particularly destroyer torpedoes. He planned to use his destroyer squadrons very aggressively. These two concepts—the use of a plan and coordinated employment of all arms—remained central to Navy tactical doctrine through World War II.  

Nelson: I enjoyed your comment about “type commanders.” You note in your book that during World War II that minor actions were neglected.  This mattered. And type commanders were born in light of these shortcomings. What were these “minor actions” and how did the type commanders address them?

Hone: The Navy’s primary focus in the interwar period (1919-1939) was a trans-Pacific campaign. It was expected to culminate in a “major action”—a large fleet battle—somewhere in the central Pacific. Accordingly, most of the fleet-level tactical doctrine focused on “major action.” Tactics for “minor actions”—engagements between smaller task forces—were left to subordinate commanders. It was assumed that these lower-level commanders would have time to develop doctrines for their forces, and, during peacetime, this assumption was largely correct. 

However, there were shortcomings. This led to the introduction of the type commands in 1930.

Type commands became responsible for identifying and capturing new tactical approaches for each various type—destroyers, cruisers, battleships, etc.—and there is evidence that new approaches were more rapidly developed after that date. The real problem, though, was the assumption that subordinate commands would be able to develop specific doctrines for their forces. 

In 1942, that process fell apart during the battles off Guadalcanal. Ships and commanders moved about too rapidly to develop cohesion. “Scratch teams” were formed and they often performed poorly, as you might expect. The Pacific Fleet addressed the problem by applying some of the same techniques used for “major tactics” to “minor tactics” and leveraging the type commands to rapidly share and disseminate lessons. 

Nelson: During World War II, how did the Fleet quickly inform commanders with updated doctrine? This is a problem throughout history, is it not? We make some assessments on what will or will not work in war, and inevitably we will be surprised. What would you recommend to a staff today on how to prepare for such things?

Hone: I love this question because when I first started my research decades ago, I thought that manuals—published doctrinal materials—would be the key to understanding tactical doctrine. I learned very quickly that’s not the case. Doctrine is a set of assumptions and mental models. The documentation provides a backdrop, but what really matters is how individuals think about problems and work together. During World War II, the Navy effectively used personal connections, like in-person conversations and conferences, to rapidly share and disseminate new ideas. There were formal means to do this (like Joseph C. Wylie being brought back from the South Pacific to help develop the CIC) but informal mechanisms were at least as important. Published doctrine tended to lag behind the information shared through these informal networks.

USS SAN FRANCISCO (CA-38) At the Mare Island Navy Yard, 20 May 1942. (Photo via Naval History and Heritage Command)

If I were making recommendations, I’d stress the importance of informal mechanisms. Staffs can easily create mountains of briefings and other documentation. What’s more difficult is creating an environment where subordinates can readily exchange information, learn together, and build on the knowledge of their colleagues. I think a staff should actively work on enabling that. It’s not just about creating space and time; it’s about introducing the appropriate constraints to enable creativity to flourish. Then, once that is in place, the staff needs to keep tabs on what’s happening. New, more effective ideas will arise. When they do, the staff needs to act quickly to exploit them and make them available to the entire command. 

Nelson: How does the size of a navy – the number of ships and sailors – affect innovation? Quick growth, during World War II, for example, and steep reductions – ship numbers from the 80s to today for instance, do these affect innovation in different ways? How?

Hone: I think both offer serious challenges. The rapid growth in World War II made it very difficult to maintain the effective culture the Navy had nurtured during the early twentieth century. Rapid “scaling” (as we call it in the software world) tends to increase centralization, reduce flexibility, and inhibit innovation. That happened to the Navy as it grew during the war. 

The challenge I see with steep reductions is overburdening. Organizations often reduce their size without an equivalent reduction in their commitments. This leads to overwork: people become spread too thin; maintenance gets delayed; and equipment is overutilized. Individuals may still be able to sustain the pace of operations, but they frequently lose the ability to experiment with new ideas. Innovation slows as a result. When commitments are reduced along with reductions in size—as with the Navy after World War I—this can be avoided. 

Nelson: Trent, to close, if you had ten minutes with the Chief of Naval Operations and he asked you what he needed to do to create a learning organization – what would you say?

Hone: I had about thirty seconds with Admiral Richardson last year when he presented me with the second-place award for his Naval History Essay Contest, and in those thirty seconds, I encouraged him to read my book. If I had ten minutes, I’d urge him to introduce a set of integrated feedback loops that couple regular experimentation regarding the nature of future war (tactics, technology, etc.) and OPNAV’s programming process. The goals would be twofold. First, officers need to be encouraged to regularly experiment to vary their tactical approaches to discover new, more effective techniques. They need to become accustomed to adjusting to unanticipated circumstances and leveraging the creativity of their commands. Second, the lessons from their experimentation need to revise and guide the Navy’s program so that force structure and procurement reflect—and ultimately anticipate—the new learning. 

We’re all familiar with the interwar Fleet Problems. What made them really powerful—what allowed them to transform the Navy—was the way they were integrated into the Navy’s planning and procurement processes. The second CNO, Admiral Robert E. Coontz, was primarily responsible for that. He created the feedback loops that allowed the Navy to not just experiment with new tactical doctrines, but to evolve force structure and war plans in light of emerging lessons. If Admiral Richardson wants “high-velocity learning,” if he wants to fully leverage the skills of the Navy’s officers, he needs to devise a set of similar mechanisms. Given the organizational changes since Coontz left office in 1923, a new set of structures and interfaces would have to be introduced. I have faith Admiral Richardson could do that, if he sets his mind to it. 

Trent Hone is an award-winning naval historian and a Managing Consultant with Excella in Arlington, VA. He is an expert on U.S. Navy tactics and doctrine. His article, “U.S. Navy Surface Battle Doctrine and Victory in the Pacific” was awarded the U.S. Naval War College’s Edward S. Miller Prize and the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Ernest M. Eller Prize. His essay, “Guadalcanal Proved Experimentation Works” earned second place in the 2017 Chief of Naval Operations Naval History Essay Contest. He regularly writes and speaks about organizational learning, doctrine, strategy, and how the three interrelate. His latest book, Learning War: The Evolution of Fighting Doctrine in the U.S. Navy, 1898–1945, was published by the U.S. Naval Institute in June 2018.

Christopher Nelson is a U.S. Naval Officer stationed at the U.S. Pacific Fleet Headquarters. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and the Maritime Advanced Warfighting School. He is a regular contributor to CIMSEC. The questions and views here are his own.

Featured Image: USS Indiana (BB-58) fires a salvo from her forward 16″/45 guns at the Kamaishi Plant of the Japan Iron Company, 250 miles north of Tokyo.