All posts by Dmitry Filipoff

RDML Christopher Alexander On Accelerating Surface Navy Tactical Excellence

By Dmitry Filipoff

CIMSEC had the opportunity to discuss the evolution of the Surface Navy’s tactical development with Rear Admiral Christopher Alexander, commander of Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC). In this discussion, RDML Alexander covers new initiatives on measuring tactical experience, the increasing demand for Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) exercises, and how SMWDC is transforming to accelerate tactical skill across the surface fleet.

How would you describe the value of SMWDC’s restructuring, such as the creation of the Surface Advanced Warfighting School (SAWS), the Fleet Training Directorates, the Technical Reachback Divisions, and other related changes?

Restructuring SMWDC from a mission-area focused organization (AAW, ASW, etc.) to an organization structured along functional lines creates efficiencies for SMWDC’s most valuable asset, the Warfare Tactics Instructor (WTI). The reorganization will improve how WTIs are trained, how they train the fleet, and their involvement in the development of future capabilities with the highest tactical benefit to our customer, the fleet.

The reorganization to the specific functional lines of WTI Production, Training Directorates, and Fleet Technical Reachback Divisions facilitates consolidation of all the WTI courses of instruction (COI) in one location with the establishment of SAWS in San Diego. SAWS will standardize training across all WTI COI, cultivate innovation and collaboration across the WTI disciplines, and drive an all-domain approach to training and Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP) development.

Fleet training directorates will manage SWATT resourcing requirements, planning and executing SWATT exercises on the East and West Coasts, and Forward Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF). With the increasing number of advanced training events each year across the globe, Fleet Training Directorates — Pacific and Atlantic — are designed to leverage and build expertise on the geographic training differences of ranges and training resources of each SWATT location while allocating more WTI time and effort for the planning and execution of the training for the ships.

Finally, SMWDC intends to bring WTI warfighters closer to the combat system, weapon system, and platform developers. We are doing this by repurposing our IAMD Division in Dahlgren to a technical support division. Currently, Dahlgren is focused on training IAMD WTIs. The transition to a technical support division allows Dahlgren to focus on developing technical solutions to tactical problems and will enable us to integrate WTIs in the weapons system development process from conception. Our goal is to field systems with approved TTP and concepts the fleet can immediately use for tactical advantage against our pacing threats.

How are the SWATT exercises becoming more intense and challenging? How are the training audiences responding to these experiences and making the most of them?

When SWATT initially kicked off six years ago, we envisioned conducting approximately four a year for Carrier Strike Groups. However, SWATT proved to be very successful, and subsequently the demand for SWATT has increased to most surface ships participating prior to a deployment. As a result, around 8-10 SWATT events are now conducted annually, with nine completed in FY21.

The blue-to-blue integration provides the opportunity for ships and staff (Air and Missile Defense Commander and Sea Combat Commander) to work together and practice TTP execution, post-Basic Phase, and before Group Sail and Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX). As SWATT develops, we want to find the right mix of basic, intermediate, and advanced events, part of the Crawl, Walk, Run concept of progression. This mix ensures SWATT provides training for the high-end fight while addressing foundational proficiencies for the common operator and watch team, such as radiotelephone communications, link operations, risk identification, and systems setup.

SWATT is becoming more challenging as we increase Information Warfare integration, unmanned vehicle integration, leverage more complex Live, Virtual, and Constructive (LVC) training events, Live Fire With A Purpose (LFWAP) events with emphasis on offensive surface warfare. We also integrate warfighting concepts such as Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO), U.S. Marine Corps Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment (LOCE), and Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO). These challenging training events build watchteam cohesion, introduce warfighting concepts, and increase the performance of the participating units.

Then shortly after SWATT execution, our new Final Performance Reviews (FPR) provides feedback that is actionable prior to COMPTUEX. The FPR also allows SMWDC to improve SWATT by incorporating fresh lessons learned and feedback from the training audiences into future training events.

What is SMWDC doing to better measure and track the tactical skills and experience of individuals, such as through the Surface Warfare Combat Training Continuum (SWCTC)? How could this data be used?

SMWDC continues to improve a holistic and focused approach to generating the advanced tactical skills necessary to fight our ships and win the high-end fight. Foundational to that effort is better understanding the measures and drivers of proficiency of key tactical watchstanders. SWCTC will codify the training and experience standards Surface Warfare Officers (SWOs) will be required to meet through their careers, recognizing the individual’s contribution to combat capability. By capturing training data at the individual level, the surface force will better understand performance trends and leverage data to help systematically produce the best tactical watchstanders.

A pilot program is underway to collect tactical experience data for SWOs standing tactical combat watches to understand how much tactical experience an officer gains throughout different phases of the Optimized Fleet Response Plan.

SMWDC is also developing grade sheets to assess a watchstander’s knowledge and aptitude. The grade sheets, divided into three parts, comprise:

  • A skills assessment (general skills based on the watch station and specific skills based on the scenario requirements).
  • A survey portion that is the assessor’s opinion of the watchstanders’ performance.
  • An overall assessment that gives the assessors’ confidence level in the watchstanders’ overall ability.

A framework is under development to allow SMWDC to collect tactical assessment data from the schoolhouses to measure an individual’s performance in various areas and how those translate into indicators of tactical prowess on a warship.

As data is collected it will provide SMWDC the tactical competency data needed to align warfighting training across the numerous training organizations, and identify gaps and seams in warfighting training to inform risk calculations and resource decisions.

SMWDC integrates various Surface Navy functions that before were often stovepiped, functions such as tactical development, doctrinal experimentation, schoolhouse instruction, and advanced training events with operating forces, to name several. How does SMWDC manage a connected learning environment that helps these integrated areas evolve together?

Creating a more cohesive learning environment is central to the SMWDC reorganization. Since SMWDC’s formation, we have taken pride in leveraging the synergy between TTP developers, instructors, and trainers. Along with consolidating all WTI training under one roof, SAWS now hosts our TTP department. By co-locating the TTP shop with the schoolhouse Subject Matter Experts (SME), we can utilize the SMEs who are teaching the future WTIs to also write and update TTP. Similar to our TTP-SAWS relationship, our N8/9 (Experimentation and Advanced Concepts) Branch is co-located with our Fleet Training Directorate in San Diego which allows for easy integration of fleet experimentation into advanced tactical training (SWATT, LFWAP, etc.).

A practical example of this advantage is when ships and SMWDC discover an urgent change is required in a weapons system’s TTP during SWATT. The embarked WTI comes ashore and coordinates with the SAWS SME to begin working on the TTP change. When the change is complete, it is pushed to the Fleet Training Directorate (FTD) to include in a future underway event to validate the update. Once the TTP is validated, the updated publication is released to the fleet, and schoolhouse instructors begin teaching the updated curriculum, which then propagates out to the fleet. Before SMWDC, this process could take years to accomplish; in 2021, SMWDC reduced this time to weeks. We are constantly striving to improve the TTP update time, which is an added benefit to SMWDC consolidation.

SMWDC regularly solicits comprehensive feedback. As a result, we have created and implemented processes to capture lessons learned and integrate them into future TTP and training updates. Some examples include our FPR, WTI Re-Blue — our yearly gathering of WTIs to keep them fresh on TTP and fleet developments — and our SMWDC ENGAGEMENT QUEUE, a classified tactical newsletter where fleet authors can share lessons learned.

How does SMWDC emphasize the culture of being a learning organization, of pushing beyond limits, and constructively harnessing failure in the drive toward tactical excellence?

Everything we do at SMWDC centers on tactical improvement and learning. One of our main goals is to inculcate a culture of tactical learning across the Surface Force to create an effect where SMWDC’s influence lasts well after we work directly with a ship’s crew. The emphasis we place on the Plan, Brief, Execute, Debrief (PBED) process is an excellent example of harnessing the value in lessons learned. During each event in a SWATT underway period, WTIs lead the crew through a deliberate process where they learn tactics and emphasize the importance of critical self-assessment. Some of the best learning experiences these crews have had are during debriefs where the execution at times was less than optimal. Through advanced playback technology, WTIs can show the “ground truth” of an event and use voice circuit recordings, chat logs, and input from the watch team to review where execution could improve. The crew then plans for a more advanced scenario and attempts to apply those lessons from the previous event’s debrief. Each crew goes through dozens of PBED cycles during SWATT with the goal of the crew assuming a lead role in that process from the WTIs. This way, the crew can continue to grow and improve without SMWDC’s direct involvement.

Internally, SMWDC emphasizes critical assessment of the SWATT process, the WTI COI, and TTP development. All of these interconnected elements have the overarching goal of increasing the tactical proficiency of the surface fleet. As new systems or platforms come online, new potential adversary technology or tactics change, or national security concerns evolve, SMWDC constantly assesses if we are providing the right tactical training to the right people at the right time. In this era of great power competition, we need to remain a step ahead and anticipate the next fight, not just react to it.

Two great examples of this are LFWAP and TTP validation, which occur in conjunction with an underway SWATT. LFWAP not only increases the confidence of our crews in their capabilities and the system they are operating, but each event provides valuable information about our weapon systems for improvement during follow-on assessments. Likewise, when we draft a new TTP, we build it into SWATT scenarios to test and validate the TTP, which keeps crews involved in the innovative force development process and provides efficacy of the new TTP.

Pacific Ocean (April 27, 2018) A Standard Missile (SM) 2 launches from USS Spruance (DDG 111) during a Live Fire With a Purpose (LFWAP) event during an underway Cruiser-Destroyer (CRUDES) Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) exercise. (U.S. Navy video by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jeffrey Southerland/released)

How can WTI culture and education become more mainstream across the Surface Navy? Could there come a time where all SWOs receive this kind of instruction?

Our goal remains to increase the tactical proficiency and lethality of the Navy, and the best way to do it is by spreading the education and culture of WTIs through our current and future initiatives. WTI culture and education becomes more mainstream each year across the Surface Navy as we see more WTIs in Department Head, Executive Officer, and Commanding Officer positions.

In order to improve the tactical proficiency of the fleet we need to produce more WTIs and fill the follow-on production tours. Those two ingredients, WTI COI and a production tour, are needed to produce a cadre of officers whose “Day-Job” is to think critically about how we should tactically employ our weapons systems. By filling production tour billets we also increase the number of times a ship and crew interact with WTIs as they move through the phases of training. These interactions are where the cultural shift we seek comes to fruition. The WTIs help the crews see the right way of doing things and the tactical advantages in maintaining that standard when the WTIs are not embarked. The combination of WTIs in at-sea leadership billets and increased fleet interactions with WTIs through training events is leading a cultural change for the better.

The training investment in each WTI is extensive and not likely to be replicated across all SWOs. However, the WTI investment and the improved use of metrics previously discussed will very likely drive improvements in the broader SWO training pipelines for various tours, resulting in sustained combat proficiency as the fleet reaches new and higher standards. WTI production, SWCTC, and SMWDC are all part of that long-term drive toward a higher standard in the tactical performance of the Surface Force.

Rear Admiral Christopher Alexander, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School, assumed the role of Commander, Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center in May 2021. Alexander commanded USS Sampson (DDG 102), USS Princeton (CG 59), and the Surface Warfare Schools Command.

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

Featured Image: NORFOLK (Oct. 15, 2021) The guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage (DDG 61) sits pierside next to the Navy’s newest guided-missile destroyer, the future USS Daniel Inouye (DDG 118), at Naval Station Norfolk. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jeremy Lemmon Jr.)

Flotilla SITREP: Airborne ASW and Cyber Damage Control, Plus Upcoming Surface Navy Sessions

By Dmitry Filipoff

Happy New Year to all our readers and members! We hope you had a safe and healthy break going into the exciting new year. We have a lot in store for our new naval professional society.

Last month the CIMSEC Warfighting Flotilla held sessions on airborne anti-submarine warfare and cyber damage control. These candid conversations revealed opportunities and shortfalls to be addressed, and helped connect like-minded individuals focused on advancing naval warfighting. 

Down below is a sneak peak at the invites for our January sessions, which will focus on the Surface Navy. Matters of tactical excellence in the surface fleet have always precipitated especially spirited discussion in prior Flotilla sessions, and we anticipate these next sessions to be no different.

If you haven’t already, sign up through the form below to become a Flotilla member and receive invites to our upcoming off-the-record January sessions. Feel free to visit the Flotilla homepage to learn more about this community, its activities, and what drives it.

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Upcoming January Sessions

How to Measure Tactical Skill and Experience in the Surface Fleet

The Surface Navy, with the Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) in the lead, is trialing a new system of measuring tactical experience and skill— the Surface Warfare Combat Training Continuum (SWCTC). What sort of criteria should be used, and what sorts of experience should be tracked? How should this data be used to inform shipboard management and career tracks? Join us to discuss how the surface fleet can better measure tactical skill and harness the data.

Read Ahead: “Surface Navy to Kick Off Program to Track, Assess Sailors Combat Skills,” by Megan Eckstein
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New Shipboard Organizations for Surface Warships

The shipboard organization of surface ships has a direct bearing on leaders’ ability to cultivate tactical proficiency. Could new shipboard organizations and delineations of duties allow leaders to focus more deeply on developing warfighting skills? What could such reorganizations look like and how can they be trialed? Join us to discuss these questions and more as we consider the relationship between shipboard organization and tactical focus in the surface fleet.

Read Ahead: “Time for a New Shipboard Organization,” by Lieutenant Colin Barnard
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Embracing Failure in Warfighter Culture

Failure is a critical part of learning and development. But within certain cultures and organizations, failure can carry a stigma that inhibits its effective use. How can warfighters better embrace failure as a force of learning and progress? How can aversion to failure mask important shortfalls and sideline opportunities to innovate? What is the role of leaders in setting a constructive tone around the value of failure? Join us to discuss these questions and more as we consider the role of failure in furthering warfighting excellence.

Read Ahead: “Embrace the F-Word,” by Captain Roger G. Herbert Jr., U.S. Navy (Retired)
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Previous December 2021 Sessions

Airborne Anti-Submarine Warfare

Airborne ASW witnessed atrophying skillsets and declining platform counts in the immediate post-Cold War era. Now airborne ASW could prove decisive in addressing growing undersea threats posed by great power rivals, and others. How can airborne ASW improve its combat readiness with respect to modern threats? How can airborne ASW work with other communities to enhance the overall ASW readiness of the fleet? Join us to discuss these questions and more as we consider the state of airborne ASW.

Read Ahead: “Rebuild Air ASW,” by CDR Nicholas Woodworth
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Cyberspace Damage Control

Cyberspace undergirds much if not most modern naval capability. Cyberattacks are expected to feature predominantly in modern high-end conflict, but are warships prepared to weather the effects? Are shipboard crews and shore-based support organizations effectively trained and organized to handle cyber damage control? Join us to discuss these questions and more as we contemplate damage control with respect to cyber.

Read Ahead: “We Need Cyberspace Damage Control,” by CDR Damien Dodge
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Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content and Community Manager of the Warfighting Flotilla. Contact him at Content@cimsec.org.

Fiction Contest Week Concludes on CIMSEC

By Dmitry Filipoff

Last week CIMSEC ran the top 10 stories submitted to the USNI-CIMSEC Fiction Contest.  The top finishers were ultimately selected by our esteemed panel of judges, which included August Cole, David Weber, Larry Bond, Kathleen McGinnis, Peter Singer, and Ward Carroll.

Authors explored future hypotheticals of maritime security and naval conflict through narrative storytelling. Unconventional outcomes and methods were often the result of modern concepts and capabilities that seem familiar. Through these fictional short stories, we may gain insight into how the future of maritime security may evolve, or go awry.

Below are the top finishers and stories featured during CIMSEC’s Fiction Contest Week. We thank the judges, our partners at USNI, and all submitting authors for their excellent contributions.

1st Place: Security by Obsolescence,” by Captain James Schmitt, USAF

“Sleazy laughed. The Reaper was many things, but it wasn’t intimidating. A low pass over the ships wasn’t going to scare off the China Coast Guard. If the MQ-9 was going to scare the Chinese, it wasn’t going to be with its speed.”

2nd Place: Bone Daddy,” by Michael Barretta 

“DF-26B ballistic missiles split the sky with their hypersonic screams. Guam Killers rained down and Andersen Air Force Base burned. Greasy, black smoke, illuminated by bright flashes of primary detonations, billowed violently into the sky. War was loud, very loud, thought Lieutenant Andrew Cohen as he strapped into the right seat of Bone Daddy, a B-1B Sea Control Bomber. He was first to the aircraft and had hit the alert button at the base of nose gear to start the engines before climbing up to the cockpit.”

3rd Place: Reality Hack,” by Robert Williscroft

“The seafloor was a hundred feet below, and the water was crystal clear. A thousand feet above, the sun shined brightly over the South China Sea, but not a single ray penetrated to where we were, on the seafloor, some forty nautical miles southwest of the Hainan Island coast. We were in international waters but very much inside the Chicoms’ exclusive economic zone. Somewhere below, yet nearby, was a Chicom acoustic array that allowed their intelligence people to identify and track every American submarine in the South China Sea outside the continental break. Our job was to take it out.”

#CancelMolly,” by Major Brian Kerg, USMC

“‘Thank you, Senator,’ Molly said. ‘If you will, allow me to step to the past to help understand the future. I joined the Corps just as Force Design 2030 was reaching maturation, and I saw firsthand what the fight was like under that model. And a lot of Marines died because we still had to ‘fight to get to the fight.’” She let that hang, giving the comment extra time by taking a sip from her glass of water.”

First Move,” by Dylan Phillips-Levine and Trevor Phillips-Levine

“I remembered the HMS Defender’s ‘innocent passage’ last year; I flew as the aircraft commander. The situation escalated to the point where my SU-24 dropped 4 x OFAB 250kg bombs in its path after repeated warnings from violating Russia’s sovereign territorial waters. However, despite the bombs, she refused to alter course. Since then, the West brazenly increased their FONOPs and ‘innocent passage’ transits.”

Task Force Foo Fighter,” by Jon Paris

“The missiles glided to their targets at supersonic speeds and lanced into the waiting enemy. Explosions washed out Burner’s screen. She peered outside and saw several orbs remained. They bolted in the direction of the cruiser. Burner put her jet on its wingtip and yanked into a body-crushing turn to follow, but they were too fast and sped out of view.”

The Baffin Bay Turkey Shoot,” by Mike Matson

“Lt. Larsen, taking local command of the swarm, sent a burst transmission, and the formation seamlessly shifted in the dark. ISR and jammers climbed to 5,000 meters. The HARMs moved to the tips on the flanks, and the two heavy weapon Raiders moved to the center. The swarm formed a crescent, with the tips farthest forward, HARMs waiting for the first electronic signs of its prey.”

Fishbowl in a Barrel,” by Keith Nordquist

“In an SCS, a crew of two could handle an entire New Panamax container ship on their own. From pinpointing a micro-mechanical problem in the turbine assembly to coordinating the additive manufacturing of repair parts at the next port-of-call, the system could do it all. Such impressive technology led Damocles Logistics’ CEO to call the SCS ‘a revolutionary tool for seamless and global logistics.’ The small cadre of SCS mission commanders and mission engineers preferred instead to call their little revolution a scuzz-bucket. Semantics aside, the system made autonomous, large container ship movements possible. Until it didn’t.”

The Dream of Russia: The Events of September 23rd, 2024,” by Billy Bunn

“Aboard the Kolpino, Kastonov and his crew had already moved on to their next mission: proceed west towards Crete, positioning outside of Souda Bay, Greece, and wait for further orders. As the largest NATO naval base in the Mediterranean, he prayed those orders didn’t include engaging hostile American ships. But Russia had just unleashed a surprise attack on a NATO member, and he knew that Article 5 impelled a response. Hopefully, his superiors had crafted a plan that would keep the U.S. and her allies from fulfilling this commitment.”

Any Clime and Place,” by Karl Flynn

“First Lieutenant Liu, USMC, looked north out to sea toward the Luzon Strait. The sky was turning amber and orange as the sun sank toward the horizon. He knew Taiwan lay beyond the horizon 200 kilometers away. As he often did, he began to wonder what was happening there. As a platoon commander, he was not privy to strategic level actions. Even if he had had internet access, it would have been impossible to discern the truth from news sources, much less social media. Both sides were pushing as much deception as possible. Liu knew he probably wouldn’t find out until well after the war concluded, which, as far as he knew, could last for a very, very long time.”

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

Featured Image: “J-15 Flying Shark (with J-15S),” by Jeffbearholy via Artstation

Flotilla SITREP: Surface Navy Tactical Excellence, Bonhomme Richard Fire, and Carriers

By Dmitry Filipoff

The CIMSEC Warfighting Flotilla, our new naval professional society, is off to a strong start. After last month’s public launch, new signups prompted the membership to more than triple to nearly 200 members, an exciting start for the Flotilla.

Our first round of post-launch discussion sessions were well-attended, insightfully candid, and further illuminated the exciting potential of this new community. Our November session topics, their prompts, and the recommended read aheads are listed down below for reference.

Sign up through the form below to become a Flotilla member and receive invites to our upcoming off-the-record December sessions. Feel free to visit the Flotilla homepage to learn more about this community, its activities, and what drives it.

We hope to see you at a session soon!

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The State of Tactical Excellence in the Surface Navy

The Surface Navy is looking to improve its tactical skillsets to meet the demands of high-end warfighting. But after decades of focusing on power projection missions, extensive checklists, and significant maintenance demands, the state of tactical excellence in the Navy could have room for improvement. What is the state of tactical learning today in the Surface Navy, and how are things trending? How can the Surface Navy better organize for enhanced tactical learning, especially with respect to great power threats? Join us to consider these questions and more as we consider the state of tactical excellence in the Surface Navy.

Recommended Read Aheads:

“The Surface Navy: Still in Search of Tactics,” by Captain Christopher H. Johnson, U.S. Navy, CIMSEC (republication), July 10, 2018.

“What Got Us Here Won’t Get Us There,” by Vice Admiral Roy Kitchener, Rear Admiral Brad Cooper, and Rear Admiral Paul Schlise, U.S. Navy, Proceedings, January 2021.

Warfighting Lessons from the Bonhomme Richard Fire

The loss of the Bonhomme Richard, according to the Navy’s investigation, was the result of “repeated failures [that] allowed for the accumulation of significant risk and an inadequately prepared crew, which led to an ineffective fire response.” What warfighting lessons can the Navy take from the loss of the Bonhomme Richard? Are there implications for damage control readiness, training, and organization? Join us to discuss these questions and more as we consider what can be learned from the Bonhomme Richard fire.

Recommended Read Aheads:

Long Chain of Failures Left Sailors Unprepared to Fight USS Bonhomme Richard Fire, Investigation Finds,” by Sam LaGrone and Gidget Fuentes, USNI News, October 19, 2021.
Fire, Fire, Fire: How Navy Failures Destroyed the Bonhomme Richard,” by CW4 Michael Carr (ret.), gCaptain, October 26, 2021.

How To Use The Carrier in the High-End Fight

The role of the aircraft carrier in high-end warfighting is under intense scrutiny as peer competitors develop ever more powerful capabilities. What could the role of the aircraft carrier be in modern, networked fleet combat? How could the aircraft carrier figure into Distributed Maritime Operations? Join us to discuss these questions and more as we consider future warfighting roles for the aircraft carrier.

Recommended Read Ahead: “Use Carriers Differently in a High-End Fight,” by Captain Robert “Barney” Rubel, U.S. Navy (ret.), Proceedings, September 2018.
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Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content and Community Manager of the Warfighting Flotilla. Contact him at Content@cimsec.org.