Tag Archives: Tactics

Vice Admiral Hank Mustin on Naval Force Development

Vice Admiral Hank Mustin earned a reputation as a hard-charging commander and a cunning tactical innovator. At the apex of his career in the 1980s Cold War U.S. Navy, Admiral Mustin played a critical role in the Navy’s force development. From developing new tactics to organizing large-scale fleet exercises, to introducing new weapons and drafting requirements for future warship types, Mustin was at the very forefront of naval force development in an era of great power competition. 

Vice Admiral “Hammerin Hank” Mustin (right), shown here discussing the details of a Second Fleet exercise with Captain Frank Lugo (left). (USNI Proceedings)

His legacy still lives on, and his work helped inspire the current Pacific Fleet’s “Fighting Instructions.” Below are select excerpts from Admiral Mustin’s Oral History, conducted by Dave Winkler of the Naval Historical Foundation and republished with permission. In these excerpts, Mustin shares his experiences and insights on leading naval force development, experimenting with new weapons, and how generating fresh tactical insight can make friends and foes in some of the most powerful places. 

The great majority of the time was put into the development of this whole new bag of anti-air warfare tactics. There was not a lot of attention paid to anti-surface tactics or naval gunfire support because the feeling was that they would be handled by carrier aircraft…

…the fleet commander’s role in this stuff was essentially limited, because he was concerned with the operation of the force that he had, not the generation of a bunch of new tactics for new ships. So the majority of the tactical development at the time was done by the type commanders. That changed later on to be the fleet commanders bag, for the good reason that as we got into this stuff we found that, in particular, AAW was not the private purview of the surface Navy. You had to be able to integrate. As our own and the Soviet missile ranges got longer and longer your chances of shooting down your own airplanes, blue on blue, correspondingly increased. So the interplay between the surface ships and the carrier air wings got to be a very significant and difficult part of that equation. That was beyond the scope of the surface type commander’s authority. Because now you had two type commanders: the aviation type commander and the surface guys. So the fleet commander had to referee all those issues…

…Then the Arab-Israeli crisis of ’73 erupted. And to our amazement the Soviets put ninety-nine ships in the Mediterranean. There was no NATO involved in this so it was a U.S.-only operation. The first phase of the operation that involved the U.S. was the resupply of fighter aircraft to the Israelis. No cooperation from Spain, no cooperation from NATO. The replacement aircraft would TransLant and then go to ports in Italy. The function of the Sixth Fleet was to make sure that they could do that without the Soviet Navy interfering.

The Soviet Navy was an amazingly powerful unit—submarines, cruisers, all of whom were equipped with varying degrees of anti-surface missiles. It became apparent very quickly as we surge deployed our own forces that we had no tactics to deal with the defense of the fleet against these modern anti-surface missiles, because we’d been spending the last decade doing nothing but shooting at the Vietnamese ashore, and flying air strikes at Haiphong and Hanoi with no opposing fleet to stimulate fleet-on-fleet tactics. The whole body of tactics and weaponry and the modus operandi of the fleet was really in its formative stages. It caught both the aviation and the surface communities very, very much short…

…Luckily for the U.S. and for NATO, that [Arab-Israeli ’73] crisis tamped itself down without any shots being fired. What we got out of that was a huge bag of lessons, most of which showed how prescient Bud Zumwalt and Worth Bagley’s views about the rise of the Soviet Navy had been. Nobody believed them before all of this, in particular how important the rules of engagement were, the fact that we were not oriented or trained or properly indoctrinated to deal with fleet-on-fleet engagements, and how we had been way, way behind in the game of how to deal with these anti-surface missiles, largely because the aviators had just said: ‘Hey, we’ll sink everything before they have a chance to shoot at us,’ which of course ignored the rules of engagement…

…So really, after we got them up to those stages we started to work seriously on this bag of tactics that was so inadequate. The operations officer of the Sampson was a lieutenant named Neil Byrne. He had invented a dice game that you played on the wardroom table with ship models. He outlined all the capabilities, as we knew them, of the Soviet ships and ours, and you played tactical games. It’s called NavTag. Later on, when I was Op 35, we brought Neil back to OpNav, automated his game, and installed one of them at the Naval Academy and one at the War College. So that people started playing it. But at this time it was played on the wardroom table with dice. We started first as a competition between the ships. The wardrooms ate it up; they loved it.

Then we started a project where we played all the Type Commander’s TacNotes, and eighty percent of them were no good at all. We very carefully documented why we said this, and sent all this stuff to the Type Commander’s staff, who did not really welcome them in the spirit intended. Then we played ComSixthFlt’s anti-tattletale tactics, which is where we reached the fundamental but previously overlooked conclusion that you couldn’t get there from here if you tried to deal with the tattletales solely with carrier air…

…I learned in that tour in OpNav, particularly as Op 35, the tremendous potential of the whole new family of weapons systems that were on the verge of entering the surface Navy. They included the Tomahawk missile and the Harpoon, guided projectiles, electronic warfare systems such as the SLQ-32, and towed arrays for ASW. All these things were poised to enter the fleet.

But the fleet is not an experimental unit. Because the fleet has to maintain proficiency with the weapons that it has, and not play imaginary games with death rays from outer space and things like that. So while we were on the verge of providing this hardware, which in my view would change the nature of surface warfare forever, we were not doing anything in the fleet to develop the new tactics to use these weapons. So I determined when I got my orders, thanks to Jim Doyle, to be a CruDes Group commander, that I would focus very heavily on the tactical development, and the things that you could do as these new weapons were introduced.

At the same time, I could see that there was an enormous infrastructure built up to deal with the engineering status of the fleet. The PEB, that I think I told you I had been responsible for initially, had grown into an enormous bureaucracy, but there was no counterpart in the area of weapons or weapons development. So there was no clearinghouse for any of these tactics, the maintenance procedures were not established, and so we were really starting off from ground zero. The organization of the type commanders’ staffs, the capabilities and the imagination and the knowledge of the people in the staff structure had to be developed from the bottom up, because all these weapons were being introduced from the top down…

…I was able to focus more and more on the tactics, because the innovations of the PEB had now brought the engineering readiness of these ships up to a status where we didn’t have to worry so much about whether they could get underway, but rather what they would do after they got underway. So I started to work on the Tomahawk tactics and the AAW tactics as my highest priority.

I was more and more aware about how much resistance there was to the Tomahawk in surface ships. The CNO was resistant. He thought it was an unnecessary drain on naval aviation. Admiral Holloway, whom I dearly love, had referred to the Tomahawk as a silver bullet that we just didn’t need, in Congressional testimony. This is not conducive to high morale if you are a Tomahawk advocate. Anyway, I went out to work on Tomahawk tactics, which involved a lot of pretending. The trick was to work on maintaining proficiency with the things that we had, but at the same time incorporating into each exercise some of this “Let’s pretend we have Tomahawk” stuff, so we can see what we’re doing.

The first time we did this, I had a carrier down in the Caribbean working, and we were going to go down and join them for a FleetEx. I arranged with the CarGroup commander that on the way down we would conduct a force opposition drill. The carrier would come out and try to sink my flagship, and we would try to locate and sink the carrier. Everybody said: Great; great exercise. So we went out in Bill Peerenboom’s ship, and took five ships to go down for this. We went down in electronic silence and along the coast. The carrier couldn’t find us. In the meantime we had sent a couple of submarines down, and they located the carrier. So they were keeping us informed of the carrier’s position and we were still in silence. The carrier air wing was searching all over the Atlantic Ocean and couldn’t find us, because we had very carefully gone in one of these merchant routes.

When we reached Tomahawk range we fired not only on the submarine-reported position, but on electronic signals that we received from the carrier at long range. We fired what we called six Tomahawks; then we rolled the dice and said: Okay, two of them hit. Then we found out what the carrier had been doing at that time, and it turned out that they’d had a bunch of airplanes on deck, and things like that.

When we got down there I went over and saw the admiral on the carrier, and I said, “Hey, here’s the way the exercise worked out, as I see it. We fired these simulated missiles, and rolled the dice. Here’s what we had for your position.” He checked it, and said, “Hey, you had us.”

So I wrote up a personal message to ComSecondFlt, Tom Bigley, and told him all this. I said, “I think that we’re on the verge of something here that’s really going to change naval warfare. It shows that surface combatants now will have the capability to engage at long range a vastly superior force.” At the time we were worried about the Kiev, the Soviet nuclear-powered cruisers, and the Soviet carriers, which were coming into their inventory. I worded this very carefully. I put in the message that the CarGroup commander concurred with this message, after he’d said that he did, and sent it off to ComSecondFlt. Tom Bigley thought it was great. He was a surface warfare guy. A few weeks later a couple of officers came down from OpNav. They had heard about this. One of them was in OLA, the Office of Legislative Affairs, liaison with Congress. I told them about the exercise, and they asked me for a copy of this message. I made a mistake and gave it to them.

The message ended up on the Hill, in the hands of Tony Battista, who was running the R&D for, I think the House Armed Services Committee, or Senate Armed Services Committee—one of the authorization committees. He was on the civilian staff. That message came back to really bite me later on, because it really irritated the CNO, who wanted to spend more money on aviation programs than on cruise missiles, and who also was very sensitive to issues of carrier vulnerability…

About this time Ace Lyons was Commander Second Fleet. He said that he wanted to run a little exercise, carrier versus carrier, when the Forrestal out-chops from the Med. He would run this exercise so that the Eisenhower, the newest of our carriers, and the Forrestal will have a carrier-versus-carrier exercise when the Eisenhower’s on her way to northern Europe. And he would like me to take my staff and fly back over to Rota, get on board the Forrestal as she left the Med, and run the Forrestal air wing. So I said: Great. I flew back over in a C-5 with the staff and we picked up the Forrestal when she left the Med, now out of Sixth Fleet’s bailiwick and under CinCLantFlt’s bailiwick, and Com Second Fleet, Ace. 

I gave my staff the following guidance: “What we’re going to do is, operate in total electronic silence.” This exercise had to be weapons that you had—you couldn’t pretend you had any new stuff. “We’re going to take our Harpoon escorts and we’re going to peel them off, three of them; send them way up north to the GIUK gap; and then, in electronic silence, just have them drift down with the merchant traffic as it comes down out of the gap into the central Atlantic; and we will see if, through electronic deception: number one, we can remain hidden in the Forrestal from the Ike’s aircraft, and number two, if you shooters, by mingling in with the fairly heavy merchant traffic and remaining silent, can get close enough to the Ike to shoot Harpoons at them.” Well, it worked like a champ. The carrier-versus-carrier exercises in the past had just been a bunch of guys revealing their positions, launching strikes at each other, and then saying, “Hah, hah. I bagged you…’”

The Ike’s aircraft couldn’t find us in the Forrestal. We weren’t flying. We were just drifting along near the coast. They were looking for us coming out of the Med, and not for this group coming down from the GIUK gap. And they were looking for a battle group, and not a bunch of scattered single contacts that were camouflaged in the pretty heavy traffic. So before they found us, two of our Harpoon shooters got in and launched simulated Harpoons at the carrier, from point-blank range in the middle of the night…

…And rolled the dice and said, “Okay, here’s how many times we bagged you,” and your airplanes were on deck. Well, wrote that report up and sent it off to ComSecondFlt, Ace.

That became a very contentious exercise, because the Ike was brand new and the funding for the new carriers was at issue. This was deemed by senior aviators to be a very inflammatory exercise, because it highlighted the vulnerability of the carrier to a determined enemy who was going to employ electronic deception and use anti-ship missiles. So Ace delayed and delayed and delayed the exercise report. The drafts would come back and I would keep changing them to say we hit and severely damaged the carrier, and it would have been out of action for x hours. Those remarks kept getting deleted from the final report of the exercise.

And I kept hearing these rumors that were getting stronger by the minute that I was going to retire. It turned out, and I didn’t know this, that Dave Johnson, who was SurfLant, and Harry Train, who was CinCLantFlt, were told by the CNO that he didn’t have a job for me. When he says that, you’re finished…

…But that’s the fine line that you walk. Really, people around very senior people— and you see this not just in the Navy or other Services but in the White House—the rumor mills poison the well for you. You walk a very difficult line, particularly when you’re at the front edge of innovation. You find a lot of guys who get ahead to very senior positions by never making any waves and by perpetuating the status quo. That’s the easy way, because while you don’t make powerful advocates, you don‘t make powerful enemies either. All it takes is a couple of those powerful enemies when you’re in the rarified atmosphere of the flag business, and you’re out of there…

…One of the things I found, for example, was that no one in the Second Fleet, and by extension in the Navy, was really working on how to do war-at-sea strikes against modern Soviet forces. The aviation type commanders essentially were concerned, properly, with aviation safety. So that when you were a carrier skipper, AirLant’s principal concern was that you got everybody into the air and then you got them back on board safely. Once they were airborne and they went off to drop their bombs and do their things, that was not really the type commander’s concern. So each of the carrier air group commanders had his own set of tactics.

All of the tactics, for example, in the war-at-sea strikes started off with the assumption that they knew where the enemy was. Well, I was mindful that in the Battle of Midway, and in the tactical preparations before that battle, in the late thirties, the aviators developed a bunch of tactics which essentially said that the torpedo planes went in low and the dive bombers came in high at the same time, and the enemy was forced to split his battery and couldn’t figure out where to put his combat aircraft patrol. So he was either going to be dive-bombed or torpedoed, and everybody got his Legion of Merit and they loved these tours.

Well then at the Battle of Midway they didn’t really know where the enemy carriers were. As a result, the torpedo planes got there first. So I used to say that if you want to talk about the efficacy of that particular assumption, that you know where he is, let’s get hold of Ensign George Gay and discuss it with him. Because he’s the only guy left out of Torpedo Squadron 8. So we’re going to change all these tactics. You’re going to start off with the assumption that you don’t know where he is, and you’re going to combine search and attack tactics.

Well that changed everything. Then we took all of their tactics—by this time I had gotten Neil Byrne, the inventor of NavTag on my staff and he had automated it, put it in the computer—and we played all of the aviators’ war-at-sea strike tactics in the computer, to figure out which one of these eight carrier air group commanders had a set of tactics that made any sense against Soviet modern SAM defenses. We picked the best tactic, which not surprisingly was the one developed by Commander Art Cebrowski. That became the Second Fleet war-at-sea tactic. So we did all that kind of stuff, an awful lot of it. The aviators loved this. It was an interesting viewpoint from which to be able to watch how the surface type commander and the aviation type commander and the submarine type commander stayed within their own little pookas until somebody mixed them all. That’s the role of the fleet commander…

…We had the first two-Aegis ship exercise. There was a big debate about how you use Aegis—whether you used it away from the carrier to manage what was then called the outer air battle, or you used it in close to the carrier just to shoot at incoming missiles. My view was that if you used it in close to the carrier you weren’t using an Aegis ship, you were using an SM-1 ship. So it ought to be used to manage the air battle, because we had determined that, to handle massed Backfire raids, you had to engage these guys essentially before they fired. That meant that you had to engage them at a couple of hundred miles.

I went back to my Vietnam experience. The big concern about the Seawolf helicopters had been that their legs were too short. But what happened on every occasion was they went out and they expended all their ammunition long before they ran out of fuel. So there are all these tactics that had these carrier air patrol stations out at hundreds of miles, and the aviators were looking at these as a problem of keeping them re-tanked and refueled. But in these NavTag war games we showed that that wasn’t the problem at all. The problem was they shot up their load of Sparrows and Sidewinders instantly, and then they had to come back a couple of hundred miles, and you had to have more airplanes with weapons on the way, and there was no way to tank weapons. So a whole set of tactics flowed from that that were very different from the existing long-range engagement tactics. In order to do what I just said, you needed the capabilities of something like Aegis to manage the problem, with the Spy system. So we worked on that. We then, at the same time, were working on these long-range air strikes.

I set up a four-carrier exercise off the east coast and one down in the Caribbean. This was to show what carrier air power could do, and it was a very high visibility exercise in the political arena. We had a map of the east coast and we would hit targets up and down the east coast, widely separated, so that it would be impossible for an enemy to target them all, let alone find them with enough accuracy to launch missiles. The idea was that all four carrier air wings’ strikes would occur within a five-minute window. One of them was a thousand miles long. Dick Dunleavy was the CarGru commander who was in overall charge of this.

Anyway, we ran this wonderful exercise. We took it over to Congress and showed how we could have gone into St. Louis, Missouri, and made a couple of statements which really caught their eye. Four carrier air wings now possess the ordnance strike capability of 800 B-17s. I’d go over to Congress and say: You guys all remember these newsreel photos of World War II where the skies are full of B-17s going over Germany. Well, we can do that with four carriers. And nobody can target multiple carrier locations, so the carrier vulnerability issue is way over-exaggerated. So don’t cut the carrier forces. Interestingly, as a surface warfare officer, I was becoming the Navy’s principal spokesman in support of aircraft carriers.

But anyway, management of the outer air battle with the Spy-1 and the Aegis was magnificent. It changed everything. It impressed Jim Watkins so much, because he was having a big flailex with Aegis funding at the time, that he asked me to write him a personal letter. So I wrote him a letter and said, “This is so spectacular that I’m taking the unusual step of writing you personally. The detailed reports of these exercises will follow.” Then I wrote about a two-page letter that was deliberately designed to be Unclass and understandable, in language that a layman could understand. He entered that in the Congressional Record, and Aegis sailed through, for that and other reasons.

Henry C. Mustin was born in Bremerton, Washington on 31 August 1933, the son, grandson, and great-grandson of distinguished naval officers. (The Guided Missile Destroyer DDG 89 has been named for the Mustin family.) He graduated from Coronado High School, Coronado, California, in 1950 and attended the University of Virginia for one year prior to entering the U.S. Naval Academy. He was graduated and commissioned an Ensign 3 June 1955. He retired 1 January 1989.

Vice Admiral Mustin, a destroyerman, served at sea in the Pacific and Atlantic Fleets in USS Duncan (DDR 874); as Commanding Officer USS Bunting (MHC 45); as a plankowner in both USS Lawrence (DDG 4) and USS Conyngham (DDG 17); as Commanding Officer USS Henry B. Wilson (DDG 7); as Commander, Destroyer Squadron 12, homeported in Athens, Greece; as Commander, Cruiser Destroyer Group 2; and as Commander, U.S. Second Fleet and NATO Striking Fleet Atlantic (225 ships and 2100 aircraft over 45 million square miles from the Arctic Ocean to the Equator.)

He served ashore in Vietnam with the Delta River Patrol Group; as Flag Lieutenant to the Commander-in-Chief Pacific; as Executive Assistant to the Commander-in-Chief U.S. Naval Forces Europe; as Director, Surface Combat Systems Division in the Office of Chief of Naval Operations; as Deputy Commander Naval Surface Force, Atlantic Fleet; as Naval Inspector General; and as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Plans, Policy, and Operations).

He was responsible for the development of requirements and fleet introduction of the Tomahawk missile, the Standard missile (SM 2), LAMPS helicopters, and the Ticonderoga-class AEGIS cruisers. He was instrumental in defining the initial requirements for the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

Vice Admiral Mustin directed all U.S. Navy arms control planning, including the START negotiations with the Soviet Union. He led high level U.S. interagency delegations to Moscow, London, Paris, Lisbon, Oslo, and Seoul. He also served as the Senior U.S. Military Representative to the United Nations.

He was married to the former Lucy Holcomb of Alexandria, Virginia. They have three sons, a daughter, and nine grandchildren. He passed away on 11 April 2016.

Featured Image: The U.S. Navy aircraft carriers USS Enterprise (CVN-65) and USS Midway (CV-41) underway in the Pacific Ocean with their task groups in 1982.

The Strategic Need for Tactical Excellence: Raising the Surface Navy’s Combat Capability

By Rear Adm. Dave Welch

The recent online republication of a 1993 Proceedings article from Capt. Christopher H. Johnson, “The Surface Navy: Still in Search of Tactics,” by the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) in July 2018 can be interpreted two ways. The reprint either suggests that Capt. Johnson’s cautionary tale of 25 years ago went unheeded and the Surface Forces are substantially unchanged in our approach to the development of tactical proficiency, or it serves as an invitation to examine what has changed.1,2 As the Surface Warfare community prepares to gather for the annual national symposium of the Surface Navy Association, I choose the latter interpretation and offer that there have been significant changes, particularly in the last five years.

In 1993 Capt. Johnson argued that training cycles focused on administrative tasks – a check-in-the-block approach – to build readiness, and that workups lacked a meaningful, deliberate focus on the development of tactical proficiency and expertise in a ship and crew. This critique was not without merit. By 1993 the Cold War had ended, the Soviet Union was dissolved, and the United States Navy enjoyed uncontested access to the open oceans. Focus was shifting to the littorals. Over the next two decades Surface Forces concentrated on power projection and support for the Joint fight ashore, with little impetus to hone our tactical skills in sea control mission sets. That period has ended, however, and the United States Navy is again in the midst of great power competition. Potential adversaries are developing capabilities that challenge our ability to operate in the deep blue, and with that comes an imperative to develop and master tactics that will translate into effective combat power at sea – tactics that take into account the current threats, and developing capabilities of potential adversaries. Fortunately, in contrast to the Surface Navy described by Capt. Johnson, we now have the ways and the means to advance lethality and tactical proficiency in the Surface Navy.  

The establishment of Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) in 2015 was a decisive development in our community, perhaps the most important development in a generation.

Lessons Truly Learned

In 1993, Capt. Johnson cast a vision of a Surface Warfare community that provided the latest in advanced tactical training and doctrine and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) to the Fleet to keep it ready, capable, and lethal. Such a vision was not new– it had been developed before in naval aviation. During the Vietnam War, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Thomas Moorer ordered a commission to examine the precipitous drop in naval fighter squadron combat kill ratios since World War II and the Korean War. The Ault Commission made sweeping recommendations, including the establishment of the Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) – a seminal step that took place in March 1969.3 This led to a systemic shift in tactical development and training. Over the following decades this approach expanded to all facets of carrier-based aviation, which now sits as a core mission for the most mature of SMWDC’s counterparts, Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Command (NAWDC).

Critical mass for the expansion of the Fighter Weapons School model into the Navy’s other warfare communities – including Surface Warfare – came in 2014 when Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert provided Warfighting Development Centers (WDC) Implementation Guidance to the Fleet.4 This was quickly followed by joint Pacific Fleet and Fleet Forces Commanders’ guidance from Admirals Harris and Gortney that began the internal reorganization of authority and responsibility in the Fleet to achieve the WDC mission.5


SMWDC efforts, including the introduction and growth of a Warfare Tactics Instructor (WTI) program, means that the surface community now moves with purpose to develop tactical expertise. We no longer rely upon personal initiative to cultivate tactical excellence.

SMWDC has grown rapidly since Rear Adm. Jim Kilby took charge as its first commander at the command establishment ceremony in 2015.6 In an early 2016 Proceedings article, he outlined the command’s initial four lines of operations: the development of WTIs, plans for a Surface Warfare Combat Training Continuum (SWCTC), the introduction of Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) exercises into the readiness generation cycle, and the standardization and growth of doctrine and TTP led for the community by the command.7 He also laid out plans for three WTI programs in the areas of anti-submarine/surface warfare (ASW/SUW), integrated air and missile defense (IAMD), and amphibious warfare (AMW).

A 2017 Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) article by then-SMWDC Commander Rear Adm. John Wade and his training and operations officer, Capt. Jeff Heames, highlighted the continued growth of the command and also outlined SMWDC’s updated lines of operation: advanced tactical training; doctrine and TTP development; operational support; and capability assessments, experimentation, and future requirements.8 The removal of the WTI program and SWCTC from the updated lines of operation may have surprised the casual observer, but within command lifelines, we clearly understand that WTIs remain the critical enabler to deliver results in these lines of operation.

Today, SMWDC develops WTIs in the three disciplines envisioned. There are currently more than 275 “patch-wearing” Warfare Tactics Instructors, either in production tours to deliver on the four lines of operation, or in post-production tours where they have returned to the Fleet, carrying with them knowledge, expertise, and connections to “WTI Nation.”

VIRGINIA CAPES (Nov. 9, 2018) Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Downing, right, an Anti-Submarine Warfare/Surface Warfare (ASW/SUW) Warfare Tactics Instructor (WTI) from the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC), mentors Lt. Cmdr. Kris Yost, the guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf’s (CG 55) chief engineer (CHENG), during a Fast Attack Craft / Fast Inshore Attack Craft (FAC/FIAC) training event from the ship’s combat information center as part of a Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) exercise. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jesse Marquez Magallanes/Released)

We have evolved in our shipboard training “reps and sets.” During exercises on both coasts, watch teams are challenged to grow through the use of replay tools that highlight where errors in planning and execution have occurred. While feedback may seem uncomfortable at first, watch teams and warfare commander staffs quickly understand that some of the best lessons come through mistakes, followed by detailed debrief, with opportunities to immediately apply those lessons to rework a plan, rebrief it, then conduct another round of exercises at increased levels of pace and complexity. Watch teams that initially needed the watchful eyes of senior mentors and WTIs to help guide them are operating at such a high level at the end of the exercise that they need little oversight, and begin to hold themselves accountable and teach younger crew members.

Live Fire With a Purpose (LFWAP) is another critical aspect to the Surface community’s advanced tactical training. LFWAP is an enhanced missile exercise program which provides warships the opportunity to develop watch team performance using updated tactics against live, increasingly realistic targets.9   

ATLANTIC OCEAN (Nov. 18, 2018) A Standard Missile 2 (SM-2) is launched from a forward vertical launching system aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) during a Live Fire with a Purpose (LFWAP) exercise. (U.S. Navy video by Seaman Nikita M. Custer/released)

Classroom and at-sea training are essential, but the doctrine and TTP required to operate effectively are equally as fundamental to the execution of sea control. SMWDC’s doctrine and TTP teams have reviewed and updated more than 80 tactical publications since 2015. The guiding principles for all SMWDC-reviewed, renewed, and developed doctrine and TTP is that it must be readable, understandable, teachable, and executable. Doctrine and TTP provide warships with the opportunity to read, think, plan, and execute in a more cohesive way.

Ships and afloat staffs can access the latest TTP updates on SMWDC’s collaboration-at-sea account (CAS) webpage, and they can also make inputs to the command’s Tactical Observations Lessons Learned (TOLL) portal. This tool allows the waterfront to provide inputs to SMWDC’s doctrine and TTP branch for consideration and possible implementation into Fleet-wide publications.

Surface Force Life Blood

The cultural shifts represented by SMWDC are rooted in talent accession, training, and development as Warriors, Thinkers, and Teachers, embodied within the Warfare Tactics Instructor (WTI) cadre. SMWDC’s development as a driving force behind a culture of excellence within the Surface Fleet will ensure that the deliberate development of tactical expertise flourishes in the Navy.

The value of the WTI is not solely within the individual. It is in the character traits that are emphasized to WTI candidates: humility, credibility, and approachability. These are carried through SMWDC’s day-to-day lines of operation, the training that WTIs provide in production tours, and the continued influence they have when they return to the Fleet.

Admiral Christopher Grady, Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces, highlighted the significant impact that SMWDC and WTIs have already made in their early years of existence:

“SMWDC continues to drive a rapid and sustainable increase in the warfighting proficiency and capability of the Surface Fleet and our Navy as a whole. There is an insatiable appetite in the Fleet for the training, TTP and doctrine updates, and direct operational support this team provides reliably in all fleet concentration areas. In just a few short years, SMWDC has become the place to be in the Surface Navy when it comes to the profession of arms in the maritime domain.(emphasis added)10

The two most recent Commander Command Screening Board results are reflective of his remarks. On the FY19 board, ten WTIs were eligible on their first-look and six were selected (60 percent). Nine officers were eligible for their second-look on that board, and all screened for a milestone tour – three XO/CO, four XO Afloat, and two XO special mission. On the recently released FY20 board, 19 of 23 WTIs were selected (82.6 percent) for milestone tours and 8 of 11 WTI-selects screened for a milestone. For any program – especially a young one – these are outstanding numbers.


SMWDC’s vision is to mature into an elite (not elitist) organization that continues to learn while accomplishing our mission with enthusiasm and innovation. We strive to maintain humble attitudes as we approach each event, exercise, or engagement within our mission set. SMWDC’s maturation continues as this critical return on investment is realized throughout the Fleet.

The WTI program will expand in 2019 to include a Mine Warfare (MIW) WTI program.11 Similar in design to the other three WTI programs, MIW WTIs will attend the WTI baseline course at SMWDC headquarters, but will continue training at Ecole de Guerre des Mines (EGUERMIN), otherwise known as the NATO Naval Mine Warfare Centre of Excellence in Belgium. The first MIW WTIs will then play a leading role in the development of a group of naval professionals who are steeped in mine warfare tactics.

As growth continues, it means that difficult decisions must be made to ensure that we effectively manage our talented SMWDC enablers and WTIs. The command works closely with the team at PERS-41 to develop strategies to recruit top talent, and to seek professional development opportunities for WTIs, including some of the Fleet’s most prestigious programs. Many WTIs are completing coursework through the Naval Postgraduate School, and recently an ASW/SUW WTI was selected for the Fleet Scholars Education Program and will attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Charting a New Course

In closing, I would like to return to Capt. Johnson’s article, and offer an alternative vignette that demonstrates where we are today – a construct that offers great value to current readiness generation processes, with great potential for continued improvement.  


Two weeks into the warship’s post-deployment stand down the captain of the guided missile cruiser – having just complete a full deployment as “Whiskey” – quietly took a moment to reflect on his team’s progress over the last two years as a ship and warfare commander team. He was already thinking about how his team would approach their next training cycle, and what improvements needed to occur.  

The deployment had been challenging, but also richly satisfying from Day One. The captain remembered what he felt like pulling away from the pier, knowing that his ship and Strike Group team had completed a training process that left him and his crew knowledgeable of the threats they faced, and confident in their procedures and tactics. It was a good feeling to know that he and the ship were prepared – in fact, more tactically astute than any ship he previously served aboard in in his career.

After completing all basic phase certification requirements, the strike group warships and warfare commanders completed Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) – a period of in-port academics to review current tactics, techniques, and procedures in detail, directly followed by an at-sea period in which he and his teams stepped through those TTP – all under the watchful eye of WTIs. They did their reps and sets, followed by a debrief… always a debrief… in which the WTIs highlighted good performance and objectively pointed out missed steps, mistakes, or just items that needed more attention. They launched weapons in an enhanced missile exercise program called LFWAP, against realistic and challenging targets. They weren’t simply complying with regulations – they learned to drive excellence within their teams and across the ship by breaking down traditional barriers often raised by ego and pride.

He learned that the advanced training he and his team experienced in 2017-18 enabled a higher level of combat readiness.12 But he also knew that his ship operated in an era in which improvement must continue.

The United States Navy was once again in a competition – a competition for sea control.

At that moment Chief Warrant Officer Troy Woods and Lt. Cesar Mize, IAMD and ASW/SUW WTIs respectively, walked into his cabin to discuss their training plan and combat system modernization. Capt. Joe Cahill’s apprehension faded as he listened to these two young officers with expertise steeled by experience lay out a plan for raising the combat capability of the warship and the warfare commander assets under their charge.

The captain smiled at his shipmates, and listened carefully to their observations and recommendations.


We still have much work to do to develop the talent, write the tactics, train our crews, and field the tools that will enable the Surface Force to continue to control the sea and project power. But I am confident we are on the right path. What remains is to execute the plan, hold the line, and own the fight. Let’s get to work.

Rear Admiral Dave Welch is the third commander of Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC).


1. Johnson, C. H. (1993, November 9). The Surface Navy: Still in Search of Tactics. Retrieved from https://www.usni.org/document/professional-notes-1993-119-9-1087pdf?magazine_article=69636.

2. Johnson, C. H. (2018, July 11). The Surface Navy: Still in Search of Tactics. Retrieved from http://cimsec.org/the-surface-navy-still-in-search-of-tactics/37080.

3. Ault, F. W. (1968). Report of the Air to Air Missile System Capability Review (pp. 1-58, Issue brief). Naval Air Systems Command. Retrieved from https://www.history.navy.mil/content/dam/nhhc/research/histories/naval-aviation/aultreport/sections1-4.pdf.

4. United States of America, Department of the Navy, Chief of Naval Operations. (2014). Warfighting Development Centers Implementation Guidance (N00/100078, pp. 1-5).

5. United States of America, Department of the Navy, United States Fleet Forces Command / United States Pacific Fleet. (2014). Warfighting Development Centers (COMUSFLTFORCOM/COMPACFLTINST 3501.4, pp. 1-26).

6. Ingle, D. M. (2014, June). Official U.S. Navy website – Commander Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet. Retrieved from https://www.public.navy.mil/surfor/nsmwdc/Pages/Naval-Surface-and-Mine-Warfighting-Development-Center-Activates-at-Naval-Base-San-Diego.aspx.

7. Kilby, J. (2016, January). USNI. Retrieved from https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2016-01/tactical-excellence-design.

8. Wade, J., & Heames, J. (2018, February 04). Warfare Tactics Instructor: A Unique Opportunity for Junior Officers. Retrieved from http://cimsec.org/warfare-tactics-instructor-unique-opportunity-junior-officers/35421.

9. Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center. (2018, August 08). Navy.mil Home Page. Retrieved from http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=106665.

10. Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center. (2018, June 27). Navy.mil Home Page. Retrieved from http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=106143.

11. Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center. (2018, September 14). Navy.mil Home Page. Retrieved from https://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=107063.

12. Eckstein, M. (2018, March 29). Deployed Surface Forces Benefitting from SMWDC Training, Technologies. Retrieved from https://news.usni.org/2018/03/29/deployed-surface-forces-benefitting-smwdc-training-technologies.

Featured Image: 170310-N-FV739-154 WATERS SOUTH OF JAPAN (March 10, 2017) Ships participating in MultiSail17 sail in formation during a photo exercise (PHOTOEX). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher A. Veloicaza/Released)

On the Cutting Edge of U.S. Navy Exercising: Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training

By Dmitry Filipoff

CIMSEC had the opportunity to ask leaders at the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) and the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) Carrier Strike Group about the first East Coast Carrier Strike Group (CSG) Cruiser-Destroyer (CRUDES) Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) exercise. This SWATT exercise involved the Norfolk-based Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Gonzalez (DDG-66), USS Mason (DDG-87), USS Bainbridge (DDG-96), USS Gravely (DDG-107), and USS Nitze (DDG-94), as well as the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG-55).

CRUDES SWATT exercises are unique in that they provide a dedicated advanced tactical training period for surface combatants and their crews to focus on sea control and maritime warfare before integrating with other elements of the strike group. 

Live Fire With a Purpose (LFWAP) exercises took place during the same time period. SMWDC is Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command and Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet’s executive agent for the LFWAP program. Commander, USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) Carrier Strike Group, provided leadership of LFWAP execution in real-time. 

Primary respondents include both trainers and the training audience, including CAPT Joe Cahill (JC), Division Director of SMWDC’s Sea Combat Division, and CAPT Grady Musser (GM), commanding officer of USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55). Collaborators include CAPT Paul Hogue, prospective Division Director of SMWDC Integrated Air and Missile Defense Division, and CAPT Sean Anderson, commodore of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 2.

The Trainers

Could you describe the structure of the event as far as what happens in those several weeks?

JC: SWATT provides warships and warfare commanders advanced tactical training at sea designed to raise the combat capability they provide the nation as integrated elements of a Naval Task Group. SWATT builds on the work those warships and warfare commanders conduct during the basic phase portion of the combat readiness generation cycle and positions them to move into the final phases of training prior to deployment.

Specifically, SWATT provides a crawl-walk-run approach to advanced tactical training in Integrated Air & Missile Defense (IAMD), Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW), Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Amphibious Warfare (AMW), Mine Warfare (MIW), and Information Warfare (IW). SWATT exercises include in-port academics followed by underway training. Underway training scenarios culminate in live fire exercises based on current threats from the 5th, 6th, and 7th Fleets.

A critical element of SWATT, which can include both Carrier Strike Group (CSG) Cruiser-Destroyer (CRUDES) and Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) constructs, includes teaching the plan, brief, execute, debrief (PBED) process. Embarked SMWDC senior mentors and Warfare Tactics Instructors (WTI) work closely with shipboard leaders and teams, as well as members of the technical community, to create an enhanced learning environment where true learning and team growth can take place.

First, the teams develop plans for each of the events throughout the exercise for the training audience. Second, the training audience teams work together to brief the plan to their teams before executing the event, and to ensure that the manning, resources, and capabilities are in place to execute the event as planned. After that is complete, the team executes the event with SMWDC senior mentors and WTIs actively engaged in mentorship of the training audience during the exercise. At the end of each event, the teams leverage the talent and expertise of the technical community to reconstruct the days’ events, creating a “replay” of the day that enables a review of the team’s performance, and to determine where improvement can be made in the next training event of the exercise.

November 18, 2018 — The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) launches a Standard Missile 2 during a Live Fire With a Purpose (LFWAP) event. (U.S. Navy video by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jesse Marquez Magallanes/Released)

While teams are initially reticent to participate in this process because it takes a significant upfront investment in time, this changes as they go through the PBED experience. The investment of time to plan and to debrief requires a significant behavioral shift at both the warship and warfare commander levels. However, as the warfighters experience improved combat performance they become actively engaged in the process, grow a great deal, and leave SWATT with an ability to be much more objective about their own performances. This objectivity leads to higher levels of combat power and increases the commander’s ability to measure the degradation of combat power over time. This is exactly what the strategic environment mandates for us to face our competitors.

How do the scenarios become progressively more complex throughout the event, and how much of the training could be described as mostly free-play and open-ended?

JC: The events become more challenging throughout the exercise, and it is inspiring to watch the growth of teams throughout. The key is for leadership at all levels to be engaged throughout the process from the warfare commander on down to the lowest levels. These are the teams we see make the greatest gains throughout training. SWATT exercises are an essential element of our ability to turn readiness and capability into combat power.

Does SWATT take the form of a certification event or is it different in nature?

JC: This is a great question! Warships that participate in SWATT have basic requirements they need to meet in order participate in SWATT. However, SWATT is not a certification event. It is a learning and training environment for warfare commanders and warships. While we implement the planning, briefing, executing, and debriefing processes, humility and team growth is at the center of the exercise. We cannot grow if we aren’t hard on ourselves, and removing a “certification” element to the exercise allows us to best achieve the highest levels of learning.

How do you handle failure, and how is the learning experience different for a crew that fails versus one that succeeds?

JC: It is important that we take the word failure out of the mix when we talk about SWATT.

The way we handle growth, errors, and misjudgment in SWATT is with honesty and humility. Humility is the touchstone of growth in the process, and if we cannot be honest with ourselves in a training environment, then we certainly aren’t going to be honest with ourselves and our performance in theater during routine operations or in a combat scenario. It’s a bit cliché, but we don’t rise to our aspirations in war – we fall to our lowest levels of training. That’s why we do SWATT.

From SMWDC’s perspective, the difference between teams that learn and grow to their maximum potential during SWATT are those that are totally engaged and those that simply go through the paces. It’s fairly straightforward – those that take it seriously learn and grow as warfighters. Those that don’t will still learn, but just not as much.

The tremendous value in this is that teams and leaders who learn to be truly humble through this process, and those that take advantage of the learning tools that we provide, do become self-starters when it comes to learning. That is the goal of this process. We also see similar results on ships that have Warfare Tactics Instructors (WTI) as part of their teams when they complete their production tours. They harness the value of the principle and process and move out with a purpose.

Is there a way for Sailors to view the results of previous SWATT exercises and learn from the experiences of other Sailors? 

JC: Absolutely. Before SWATTs, our planners work with the teams that will be the next participants to bring them up to speed on observations on the most recent SWATTs to help them optimize the training experience.

Further, there is an opportunity for the Fleet to stay engaged by staying up to date with the latest doctrine and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) through the SMWDC online collaboration portal. Additionally, they can stay engaged by providing observations and lessons learned from their own experiences into the Tactical Observations Lessons Learned (TOLL) portal which provides a venue for the Fleet to ensure that what is happening at the tactical level enters the broader Surface Fleet’s consciousness and future iterations of TTP.

How can the training audience remain connected to tactical development and continue to follow what SMWDC is doing?

JC: I encourage surface warfare junior officers to learn about the Warfare Tactics Instructor (WTI) program and apply. WTIs are tactical subject matter experts and increase the proficiency, lethality, and warfighting capabilities of the Surface Force.

By becoming a WTI they earn greater-than-normal tactical classroom training followed by a production tour where they support SMWDC’s lines of operation – including advanced tactical training – throughout the Fleet. Additionally, they become a part of the cadre of WTIs that comes together once a year for a Re-Blue event where they re-baseline tactical expertise within their specific warfare area – Anti-Submarine Warfare/Surface Warfare (ASW/SUW), Amphibious Warfare (AMW), Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD), or Mine Warfare (MIW).

This is by far the most effective way to stay actively engaged in the process. Of course, keeping an eye on message traffic, tactical bulletins, tactical memoranda, and other warfighting updates is an excellent way to stay up-to-date, though becoming a WTI is the number one choice for tactically-minded junior officers who want to be tactically engaged and strategically relevant.

The Training Audience 

What was it like to go head-to-head against other ships in the more complex, multi-mission area scenarios?

GM: Having SWATT built into the schedule is a perfect opportunity for us to come together as warship COs and warfare commanders to develop our unit and warfare area expertise and tactical proficiency. This process is similar in some ways to what the aviation community does in Fallon during their training cycle, and we’re excited to have a similar opportunity.

It is also very helpful to have a command that is dedicated to warfighting development in the Surface Community, and that provides alignment regardless of where Fleet ships operate. While our assigned mission sets may be different when we chop into theater, the tactical skills needed by each ship to execute effectively in a contested environment don’t change too much. It’s all about how you use those tactics to your competitive advantage.

VIRGINIA CAPES (Nov. 8, 2018) Capt. William G. Musser, commanding officer of the guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55), addresses his crew on their performance during an all-hands call on the ship’s flight deck while the Leyte Gulf completes a Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) exercise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jesse Marquez Magallanes/Released)

What was it like to go through the WTI-led Plan, Brief, Execute, Debrief (PBED) process, and how is this an evolution in reflecting on a training experience?

GM: There hasn’t been anything specifically like this in our community since I’ve been in, and to see how far we’ve come since the WDCs were established a few years ago is really incredible. The support of the technical community and their integration with SMWDC to ensure that we have rapid, ground truth feedback is exceptional, and allows our teams to learn and grow rapidly.

Let’s be honest. Nobody likes to do something wrong. And certainly, nobody likes to be told that they could do something better. But what we do like is being good warfighters and an important part of our nation’s defense and warfighting team. Unfortunately, you can’t do one without the other. You absolutely have to eat your vegetables, you have to do your homework, and you have to do your pushups. That’s what SWATT is. It isn’t about getting it perfect, it’s about learning.

As a leader, that’s perhaps my biggest challenge, to get my team ready and in the mindset that this isn’t a test – we’re here to make mistakes and grow. That isn’t always the case when we do certifications and other events, but it’s a critical leadership challenge for ship COs to sort through.

I’m very proud of our team and what we’ve accomplished, and I know we’re a more valuable asset to our Strike Group Commander today than we were before we completed SWATT. 

As far as training goes, what is something you think the crews will be able to do better on their own after experiencing SWATT and receiving tailored instruction from the WTIs?

GM: All of us have to learn how to learn. It isn’t an easy thing to do, and when you’re a professional, it can be easy to trick yourself into thinking that you have the market cornered on smarts. The truth is that we have to continue to learn throughout our careers if we hope to stay ahead of our strategic competitors.

The team that came aboard was impressive, knowledgeable, and helpful. My team learned a great deal about each of the warfighting areas trained on during SWATT. They also learned about ways that they can access training and support to continue to sharpen their tools and provide feedback to the enterprise after SWATT. There’s no doubt that this was a great opportunity for my team to learn and grow as warfighters.

After going through SWATT and learning about potential areas that have room for improvement, what will you do to continue to improve the tactical proficiency of the crew going forward?

GM: Keeping our team engaged in tactical development through drills, advanced training schools for our teammates, and staying engaged with the WDCs through providing feedback and staying up-to-date with doctrine and TTP updates are critical ways that we can keep growing.

Thank you.

Capt. Cahill is currently the director of SMWDC Sea Combat Division. At sea he has commanded USS MONSOON (PC 4), USS PREBLE (DDG 88) and USS BUNKER HILL (CG 52). Ashore he has served on a number of COCOM and OPVAV Staffs.

Capt. Musser is a career Surface Warfare Officer who has served in a cruiser and multiple destroyers. A former commanding officer of USS Farragut (DDG 99), he is the commanding officer of USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55). He is a 1996 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated with distinction from the Naval Postgraduate School with a Master’s degree in National Security Affairs.

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

Featured Image: WATERS OFF THE KOREAN PENINSULA (Oct. 11, 2018) The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG 62), front, steams alongside the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) during a pass-in-review as part of the Republic of Korea navy to help enhance mutual trust and confidence with navies from around the world. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Elesia Patten)

Sea Control Through The Eyes of the Person Who Does It, Pt. 2

The following article originally appeared in The Naval War College Review and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here. It will be republished in three parts, read Part One here

By Christofer Waldenström 

The Field of Sensors

To determine whether the field of safe travel is receding toward the minimum safety zone, the commander must be able to observe the objects present in the naval battlefield. Today, the naval battlefield comprises more than just the surface of the sea. Threats of all sorts can come from either beneath the surface or above it. The driver of a car determines from the pertinent visual field whether the field of safe travel is receding toward the minimum stopping zone.22 For a commander, however, it is not possible to perceive directly the elements of the operations area—the naval battlefields are far too vast. Instead, as noted above, the objects present have to be inferred, on the basis of sensor data.23

Thus, there exists a “field of sensors” that the commander uses to establish whether the field of safe travel approaches the edge of the minimum safety zone. The field of sensors is an objective spatial field the boundaries of which are determined by the union of the coverage of all sensors that provide data to the commander. The importance of the sensor field is also emphasized in one theory of perception-based tactics that has been advanced (though without discussion of its spatial dimensions).24 As the sensors that build up the field have different capabilities to detect and classify objects, the field of sensors will consequently consist of regions in which objects can be, variously, detected and classified with varying reliability. (These regions could be seen as fields in their own right, but for now we will leave them as is.) Nevertheless, to establish the boundary of the field of safe travel and determine whether it is receding toward the minimum safety zone, the commander must organize the field of sensors in such way that it is possible both to detect contacts and to classify them as nonhostile before they get inside the minimum safety zone.

Factors Limiting Detection

Several factors limit the detection of enemy units. First, terrain features can provide cover. Units that hide close to islands are difficult to detect with radar. In a similar way, a submarine that lies quietly on the bottom is difficult to distinguish from a rock formation with sonar. The weather is another factor: high waves make small targets difficult to detect; fog and rain reduce visibility for several sensors, such as visual, infrared, and radar; and temperature differences between layers in the atmosphere and in the water column influence how far sensors can see or hear. Yet another factor is stealth, or camouflage, whereby units are purposely designed to be difficult to detect with sensors. Sharp edges on a ship’s hull reflect radar waves in such ways that they do not return to the transmitting radar in detectable strength. Units are painted to blend into the background, propulsion systems are made silent, ships’ magnetic fields are neutralized, and exhaust gases are cooled—all to reduce the risk of detection. Being aware of these factors makes it possible for commanders to use them to advantage. Units might be positioned close to islands while protecting the field of safe travel, or the high-value units might select a route that will force the enemy units to move out at sea, thus making themselves possible to detect.

Factors Limiting Classification

To avoid being classified, the basic rule is to not emit signals that allow the enemy to distinguish a unit from other contacts around it. Often naval operations are conducted in areas where neutral or civilian vessels are present, and this makes it difficult to tell which contacts are hostile. To complicate matters, the enemy can take advantage of this. For example, an enemy unit can move in radar silence in normal shipping lanes and mimic the behavior of merchants, so as to be difficult to detect using radar and electronic support measures. Suppressing emissions, however, only works until the unit comes inside the range where the force commander would expect electronic support measures to classify its radar—no merchant ever travels radar silent. To detect potential threats the commander establishes a “picture” of the normal activities in the operations area. Behavior that deviates from the normal picture is suspect and will be monitored more closely. Thus, contacts that behave as other contacts do will be more difficult to classify.

The Field of Weapons

As mentioned above, the commander has three choices for handling a detected threat: move the high-value units away from the threat, take action to eliminate the threat, or receive the attack and defend. In the two latter cases the threat can be eliminated either by disabling it or by forcing it to retreat. Either way, the commander must have a weapon that can reach the target with the capability to harm it sufficiently. It is immaterial what type of weapon it is or from where it is launched, as long as it reaches the target and harms it sufficiently. Thus, the weapons carried by the commander’s subordinate units, or any other unit from which the commander can request fire support, create a “field of weapons” in which targets can be engaged. Like the field of sensors, the field of weapons is a spatial field, bounded by the union of the maximum weapon ranges carried by all units at the commander’s disposal. The field of weapons is further built up by the variety of weapons, which means that the field consists of different regions capable of handling different targets. For example, there will be regions capable of engaging large surface ships, regions capable of destroying antiship missiles, and other regions capable of handling submarines. Nevertheless, to prevent the high-value units from being sunk, the field of weapons must be organized in such way that it is possible to take action against hostile units and missiles before they get inside their corresponding minimum safety zones. For example, the threat posed by air-to-surface missiles can be dealt with by protecting two minimum safety zones. The commander can take out the enemy aircraft before they get a chance to launch the missile—that is, shoot down the aircraft before they enter the minimum safety zone created by the range of the missile they carry. If this fails the commander can take down the missiles before they hit the high-value units—that is, shoot down the missiles before they get inside the minimum safety zone created by the distance at which the missile can do damage to the high-value units.

It is now possible to specify how the fields of sensors and weapons work together: the field of sensors and the field of weapons must be organized in such a way that for each field of safe travel hostile units can be detected, classified, and neutralized before they enter the corresponding minimum safety zone. One scholar of naval tactics and scouting touches on what can serve as an illustration. Closest to the ships that should be protected is a zone of control where all enemies must be destroyed; outside the zone of control is a zone of influence or competition, something like a no-man’s-land.25 Outside the zone of influence is a zone of interest where one must be prepared against a detected enemy. Scouting in the first region seeks to target; in the second, to track; and in the third, to detect. Important to notice is that the field of sensors and the field of weapons are carried by, tied to, the commander’s units, which simultaneously bring the fields to bear with respect to all pairs of fields of safe travel and minimum safety zones. This complicates matters for the commander. As the fields of safe travel and minimum safety zones are stacked, actions taken to tackle a threat to one minimum safety zone may create problems for another. The competition of units between the pairs of minimum safety zones and fields of safe travel may lead to a situation where a managed air-warfare problem creates a subsurface problem. This bedevilment is not unknown to the naval warfare community: “The tactical commander is not playing three games of simultaneous chess; he is playing one game on three boards with pieces that may jump from one board to another.”26

To illustrate the problem, suppose that the situations in figure 3 occur simultaneously; there is both a surface and a subsurface threat to the high-value unit. In this case the field of sensors has to be organized so that contacts can be detected and classified in a circular field with a radius of a hundred kilometers (for the antiship missile, figure 3a) and also within a smaller and elliptical field (figure 3b, in the torpedo case). For example, radars and electronic support measures have to be deployed to detect and identify surface contacts, while sonar and magneticanomaly detection have to be used to secure the subsurface field. Accordingly, the field of weapons has to be organized so that contacts can be engaged before entering the respective minimum safety zones—antisubmarine weapons for subsurface threats and antiship weapons for surface threats.

Not only weapons can be used to shape the field of safe travel; another means to influence it is deception. Deception takes advantage of the inertia inherent in naval warfare. First, there is the physical inertia whereby a successful deception draws enemy forces away from an area, giving an opportunity to act in that area before the enemy can move back. Second, there is the cognitive inertia of the enemy commander. It takes some time before the deception is detected, which gives further time. Deception can, thus, be seen as a deliberate action within the enemy’s field of sensors to shape the field of safe travel to one’s own advantage. For successful deception it is necessary that commanders understand how their own actions will be picked up by the enemy’s field of sensors and that they be aware of both the enemy’s cognitive and physical inertia. The commander has to “play up” a plausible scenario in the enemy’s field of sensors and then give the enemy commander time to decide that action is needed to counter that scenario (cognitive inertia) and then further time to allow the enemy units to move in the wrong direction (physical inertia). The central role of inertia will be further discussed later.

Having defined the fundamental fields it is now possible to formulate what is required from commanders to establish sea control. The skill of securing control at sea consists largely in organizing a requisite set of pairs of correctly bounded minimum safety zones and corresponding fields of safe travel shaped to counter actual and potential threats, and in organizing the field of sensors and field of weapons in such way that that for each field of safe travel, hostile contacts can be detected, classified, and neutralized before they enter the corresponding minimum safety zone.

Factors Limiting the Field of Safe Travel

So far it has been said that it is the enemy that limits and shapes the field of safe travel. This is, however, not the whole truth. The field of safe travel is also shaped by other physical and psychological factors.

Terrain Features That Reduce Capability to Detect and Engage Targets

To be able to sink the high-value unit the enemy must detect, classify, and fire a weapon against it. All this must happen in rapid succession, or the high-value unit may slip out of the weapon’s kill zone. This means that to fire a weapon against the high-value unit the enemy must organize its field of sensors and its field of weapons so that they overlap the high-value unit at the time of weapon release. In this way the field of safe travel is built up by all the paths that take the high-value unit outside the intersection of the enemy’s field of sensors and the enemy’s field of weapons. This further means that the boundaries of the field of safe travel are determined in part by terrain regions where high-value units can go but enemy weapons cannot engage them—for example, an archipelago that provides protection against radar-guided missiles. The boundaries are also determined by the enemy’s capability to detect the high-value units, and thus terrain features can also delimit the field of safe travel in that they protect the high-value units from detection. For example, the archipelago mentioned above also provides protection against detection by helicopter-borne radar, as long as the ships move slowly. (If they start to move quickly, however, they will stand out from the clutter of islands.) It is also important to notice that a minimum safety zone is resized in the same way as the corresponding field of safe travel—if the enemy cannot see the high-value unit or has no weapon that can engage it, the enemy unit can be allowed closer in.

Terrain Regions Where Enemy Units Can Hide

Like enemy units, potential threats also throw out lines of clearance. One such potential threat is a terrain feature where the enemy might have concealed units and from which attacks can be launched (see figure 4a). Such regions—for example, islands where enemy units can hide close to land—contain potential threats. There may or may not be actual threats there, the objective field of safe travel may or may not be clear, but since commanders can only react to their subjective fields, the latter are properly shaped and limited by these barriers.

Terrain features that serve as good attack points for the enemy also radiate lines of clearance, and they shape the field of safe travel (a); enemy units may or may not be present. In (b) the field of safe travel is impinged by the potential location of enemy units. When an enemy unit slips out of the field of sensors, it creates an area of potential threat that grows as time passes. These potential threat areas also determine the boundaries of the commander’s subjective field, although here the enemy never encroached on the objective field and is now well clear of it.

Enemy Units That Are Spotted and Then Lost

Another potential threat that will radiate clearance lines arises from the movement of enemy units. It is possible for a contact that has been detected and classified to slip out of the field of sensors —for instance, by turning off its radar after being tracked by electronic support measures. The potential movement of such a unit shapes the field of safe travel. Suppose an enemy unit was detected at position p at time t (see figure 4b). As the enemy is outside the field of safe travel, it does not pose a threat to the commander at this time. Now, the contact slips out of the field of sensors, and contact with it is lost. As time passes and the commander fails to reestablish contact, the region where the unit can be is a circle that grows proportionally to the maximum speed of the enemy unit. Eventually the region grows to such a size that it is not possible for the force to pass without the minimum safety zone intersecting with it. In figure 4b the subjective field of safe travel is correctly shaped by the potential threat, but the objective field of safe travel is clear—the enemy unit has turned around and is heading away.

Legal Obstacles and Taboos

 The field of safe travel is also limited by international law. One such legal obstacle is the sea territory of neutral states. A neutral state has declared itself outside the conflict the commander is involved in, and this prohibits the parties of the conflict from using its sea territory for purposes of warfare. Such regions delimit the fields of safe travel and thus restrict where the commander’s units can move. On the other hand, they do not pose a threat to the high-value units and can safely be allowed to encroach on the minimum safety zone.

Neutral Units in the Operations Area

Today, as noted, naval operations take place in areas where neutral shipping is present. Like the sea territory of neutral states, neutral shipping is protected by international law. A consequence of this is that neutral shipping in the area also influences the shape of the field of safe travel. The commander is of course prohibited from attacking neutral merchants. This is not a problem in itself—if a certain contact is classified as neutral, we cannot engage it. Nevertheless, it has implications for where high-value units are allowed to move. As neutral shipping cannot be engaged, we are forbidden to use it for cover—for instance, to move so close to a merchant vessel as to make it difficult for the opponent to engage without risk of sinking the merchant. This means that neutral shipping creates “holes” in the field, where combatants are not allowed to move. If the commander does not track the merchant vessels continuously, these holes grow proportionally to the merchants’ maximum speed, as they do for enemy units spotted and then lost.


Mines shape the field in the same way that ships do. They can be seen as stationary ships with limited weapon ranges; the minimum safety zone for a mine would be the range at which a ship could pass it without being damaged if the mine detonated. Laying mines shapes the commander’s field, and the commander must react, either by taking another route or by actively reshaping the field—that is, by clearing the mines. Clearing mines has the same effect as taking out enemy ships; the field of safe travel expands into the area that has been cleared. Of course, the enemy can use this for purposes of deception, pretending to lay mines, sending a unit zigzagging through a strait, and making sure that the commander’s field of sensors picks this up. If the deception is successful, the commander’s subjective field is shaped incorrectly.

Dr. Waldenström works at the Institution of War Studies at the Swedish National Defence College. He is an officer in the Swedish Navy and holds an MSc in computer science and a PhD in computer and systems sciences. His dissertation focused on human factors in command and control and investigated a support system for naval warfare tasks. Currently he is working as lead scientist at the school’s war-gaming section, and his research focuses on learning aspects of war games.


22. Gibson and Crooks, “Theoretical FieldAnalysis of Automobile-Driving,” p. 457.

23. Intelligence reports from higher command are also included when constructing this operational view of the battlefield. This operational view of the battlefield is compiled by exchanging and merging sensor data, a partly manual and partly automatic process well known in all navies. The result is usually displayed as a map of the operations area overlaid with symbols representing the objects present in varying stages of classification— detected, classified, or identified.

24. T. Taylor, “A Basis for Tactical Thought,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings (June 1982).

25. Hughes, Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat.

26. Ibid., p. 196.

Featured Image: MEDITERRANEAN SEA (July 25, 2012) A plane captain signals to the pilot of an F/A-18C Hornet assigned to the Blue Blasters of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 34 on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Joshua E. Walters/Released)