All posts by Dmitry Filipoff

Emerging Tech Week Concludes on CIMSEC

By Dmitry Filipoff

In recent weeks CIMSEC featured submissions sent in response to our call for articles on emerging technologies, issued in partnership with the Naval Warfare Studies Institute and Lockheed Martin, for CIMSEC’s Project Trident.

The evolution of technology has been a driving force in how naval forces are developed and employed. Technology has been central to defining how naval platforms can contribute to the fight, what systems can constitute a naval asset, and how sailors interact with machines to exercise naval power in all its forms. 

Emerging technologies today constitute some of the greatest risks and most pressing opportunities that face naval forces. Artificial intelligence could transform the nature of naval command and control while augmenting what decision-making the warfighter can contribute to the fight. Autonomous undersea vehicles could broadly proliferate and pose widespread yet silent threats. Virtual reality could offer new avenues and methods of training warfighters and exploring future threat environments. 

Amidst all this change, the pursuit of emerging technologies and the drive to harness their warfighting potential is characterized by competition. A range of actors and great powers are in an accelerating race to explore these technologies, capitalize on their supposed advantages, and be best prepared to employ or guard against them.

Below are the authors and articles that featured during CIMSEC’s Emerging Technology week. We thank them for their excellent submissions.

The Influence of Technology on Fleet Architecture,” by J. Noel Williams

“It is critical that strategy-derived functions and missions, operating concepts to accomplish these missions, and technological opportunity guide the development of naval forces to realize a fleet fit for the purposes required by national, defense, and military strategies. Measuring the benefit of a new platform by comparing its performance to its predecessor or comparing a class of ship to an adversary’s like ship class does not answer the question.”

Leviathan Wakes: China’s Growing Fleet of Autonomous Undersea Vehicles,” by Ryan Fedasiuk

“Over the past decade, details have sporadically emerged about China’s unmanned (UUV) and autonomous undersea vehicle (AUV) projects, but questions linger about which kinds of vessels the Chinese defense industry may be developing, and how the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) might use them in a future conflict.”

Red Cell Analysis of a Mobile Networked Control System Supporting a Ground Force,” by Larry Wigington, Ruriko Yoshida, and Doug Horner

“Our analytical models correctly identified the ground force’s intended movements in both scenarios. The ground force’s predicted path deviated from the actual path by an average of only 39 meters. The implications of these results are far-reaching as DoD begins to focus on competing with near-peer adversaries in the Indo-Pacific Theater, and the Marine Corps identifies the need for reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance capabilities when conducting operations within the ‘weapons engagement zone.'”

A Roadmap to Successful Sonar AI,” by LT Andrew Pfau

“Recently, NORTHCOM has tested AI/ML systems to search through radar data for targets, a project that has received interest and participation from all 11 combatant commands and the DoD as a whole. Due to its niche uses, however, passive sonar ML systems cannot match this level of department wide investment and so demands strong advocacy within the Navy.”

Solving Communications Gaps in the Arctic with Balloons,” by Walker D. Mills

“Communications issues are a consequence of the polar operating environment and an obstacle for the military services operating there. But just because the environment is difficult does not mean that US forces have to go without persistent and reliable communications. High-altitude balloons could plug the communications gap not just for maritime forces but also for the Army and special operations units operating in these extreme latitudes.”

Cognitive Lasers: Combining Artificial Intelligence with Laser Weapon Systems,” by Dr. Bonnie Johnson

“In many cases, the human operators may be well-served with an automated decision support system that can quickly calculate preferred weapon options based on the situation, such as doctrine statements. The emerging capabilities of artificial intelligence can be leveraged to enable automated decision aids for laser weapons—thus creating a cognitive laser approach for laser weapon systems.”

Responding to the Proliferation of Uninhabited Underwater Vehicles,” by Andro Mathewson

“UUVs are becoming an important tool within the realm of international security. Naval forces across the world are quickly developing and acquiring a variety of UUVs due to their furtive nature, dual-use capabilities, and multifaceted functionalities. While the technology is still in relatively early development stages and leaves much to be desired, UUVs have quickly become an integral element of modern navies but also appear in the arsenals of lesser developed armed forces and non-state actors due to their utility as an asymmetric tool for sea denial.”

Human Factors Meets New Technology in 2025,” by John Cordle and Robert Sweetman

“The Navy has monitored the temperatures and pressures of its fluid systems, and the voltage and current of its electrical ones, for literally centuries; the idea of doing the same for its people was a long time coming. To assess his alertness, J.T. then looks into the eyepiece of a Psychomotor Vigilance Self-Test (PVT) machine, pressing the mouse with each flash of light, speaking into the voice machine, and after three minutes is cleared, by a series of proven technologies leveraged together, to take the watch.” 

Drones and Starlink: Combining Satellite Constellations With Unmanned Navy Ships,” by Brandon Wall and Nicholas Ayrton

“It is these two emerging technologies, maritime drone vessels and large satellite communication constellations, that could allow for the Navy to solve some of its ongoing issues and permit the creation of a more nimble, lean, and modern force able to better confront the rising security threats facing the United States in the years and decades to come.”

Use Virtual Reality to Prepare Maritime Crews For Terrorist and Piracy Attacks,” by Selina Robinson and Dr. Amy Meenaghan

“The future of VR has a rightful place in maritime security. Already, the use of VR has been implemented by armies around the world who are able to train in battlefield scenarios and normalize high stress situations, whilst improving a range of fundamental skills from effective communications to critical combat techniques. In the maritime industry, the unexpected and ongoing attacks at sea require a different way of thinking and a different point of view on safety and procedures.”

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

Featured Image: Lt. j.g. Sheryl Anne Acuna, assigned to the Freedom-class littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), plays Officer of the Deck during live-action, interactive virtual-reality training at the Littoral Training Facility, Naval Station Mayport, June 27, 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alana Langdon)

A Conversation with Steve Wills on the Decline of U.S. Navy Strategy

By Dmitry Filipoff

In this conversation on U.S. Navy strategy, Steve Wills discusses themes and lessons from his new book, Strategy Shelved: The Collapse of Cold War Naval Strategic PlanningFrom the effects of the Goldwater-Nichols act, to tensions between analysis and strategy offices in OPNAV, Wills discusses how Navy strategy and strategy development has changed over recent decades.

You point to several critical events that combined to affect Navy strategy: The passage of the Goldwater-Nichols Act, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the Gulf War. How did these events affect Navy strategy and strategy development?

The Goldwater-Nichols Act changed the Navy’s strategic outlook at the institutional and individual level of experience. The shift to a focus on the regional commanders vice the services tended to change the Navy’s outlook from a global force to one focused on providing forces to land-based regional commanders. It is difficult to think globally about the size and composition of naval forces when the focus is on satisfying regional demands.

At the individual level, the Goldwater-Nichols Act focus on filling joint positions tended to draw rising young officers away to joint positions as they offered more upward mobility than service staffs. I think the most significant of these changes however was empowering the regional commanders (COCOMs) at the expense of Washington-based service chiefs and their staffs. The legislation turned upside down the traditional U.S. system of centralized planning and decentralized execution of military operations.

In its place today we have regional commanders doing their own strategies separate of their fellow leaders while the JCS is trying to manage operational and even tactical levels of war through measures like the Joint Warfighting Concept (JWC). In World War II, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernie King set strategy, but he and Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall did not tell Admiral Chester Nimitz and General Douglas MacArthur how they should organize their forces or how they should fight in their theaters. Goldwater-Nichols is directly responsible for this unbalanced condition that is seriously damaging the ability of the U.S. to create global strategies for combating global rivals like China and Russia.

You reference the 1980s Maritime Strategy and the “…From the Sea” document as among the more influential Navy strategy products in recent decades. Among the many strategy documents referenced in the book, what made these stand out? How can we assess the influence and impact of a strategy document?

The 1980’s Maritime Strategy stood out for a number of reasons. It was directly tied to a specific Navy force structure (the 600-ship navy) unlike more recent strategies that do not have a specific ship requirement. The Maritime Strategy had broad, bipartisan support from Congress. It was also tied to the national strategy of containment and, if necessary, combat against the Soviet Union. Unlike most other strategic concepts, the Navy exercised Maritime Strategy concepts at sea in multiple regions as noted by former Navy Secretary John Lehman in his book Oceans Ventured.

Finally, the Maritime Strategy was easy to engage with whether the reader or recipient of the brief was a seasoned navy professional or a civilian with little naval knowledge. It included maps with specific forces and arrows depicting an outline of what the Navy planned to do, and when and most notably where it would act. Strategies since the 1980s Maritime Strategy have largely eschewed maps in favor of glossy images of ships and sailors doing their thing at sea. Nice, but not really helpful in explaining what the Navy is strategically trying to accomplish.

The 1992 “…From the Sea” white paper was not a strategy with maps and goals as was its 1980s predecessor, but was rather a white paper suggesting what concepts the Navy and the Marine Corps would employ in the post-Cold War era. Its central point that the Navy would be a supporting force for operations fought primarily on land around the Eurasian littoral became the central focus of the service for the next 25 years. In that regard, “…From the Sea” was more influential and long-lasting than the 1980s Maritime Strategy. The Navy’s primary focus since 1992 has been being a supporting force for conflicts with regional powers and non-state actors without significant naval forces of their own. Perhaps this is now why it has been challenging to get the service to return to a “war at sea” mentality where major combat operations would primarily be conducted against opponents with similar or even in some cases superior naval capabilities.

An important theme in the book is the evolving power differential between systems analysis and strategy. How did strategy development change when analysts were more influential than politico-military strategists, and vice versa? What should the analyst-strategist relationship look like?

I think the influence of different factions on the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) staff in terms of the creation of naval strategy matters a great deal. There was a relative balance between these two disciplines from the late 1960s through the mid-1980s until the advent of the Maritime Strategy and the 600-ship navy. The naval analyst discipline believed that the 600-ship navy was unsustainable in the long term and that the Maritime Strategy was too aggressive and dangerous in the face of the assumed Soviet threat. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral James Watkins and Navy Secretary John Lehman did not agree and subsequently severely reduced the size and scope of naval analyses offices supporting the CNO’s staff.

When the Cold War ended and the Navy had no opponent around which to organize either by geography or threat, the naval analyses community returned in the guise of the OPNAV staff element producing the Navy’s annual budget input. In a world without notable opponents the only long-range strategy document turned out to be the budget and as a result the analyses community prospered while the strategy community declined to low levels of influence. As a result of this decline, and analyses’ domination of OPNAV for over three decades, it is challenging for the Navy to think in terms of threats and geographic requirements that current budget levels do not support. The analyses community in return has labeled any strategy document that strays beyond current funding as “unsustainable,” ignoring the fact that any one CNO or SECNAV might be able to secure that additional funding if the strategy is well-conceived and well-argued.

The right choice is often a balance between these two communities that allows for innovative strategy concepts to meet the threat, but balanced by budget limitations. It cannot be “all or nothing” as it has been since 1991.

As the Navy faced budget cuts after the end of the Cold War the preservation of diminishing force structure became an overriding priority. How did this focus on force structure assessment affect strategy development? 

That is an excellent question. Being so focused on the preservation of the newest force structure, the capabilities it provided for present-day operations, and the math needed to sustain that effort caused the Navy to often ignore evolving threats. If your strategy is based only on your budget, then why think further afield? Force structure assessments used to be tied to the threat, but without a notable threat like a major competitor, the force then becomes a set of capabilities the navy has to argue for and defend against the needs of other services. The strategy starts to become about how to beat the other services for more of the budget and not about meeting an outside challenge.

The U.S. now faces two major outside challengers (China and Russia) so the force structure assessment needs to again be tied to combating a threat rather than just preserving a capability in the face of interservice rivalry. Goldwater-Nichols did not get rid of service “parochialism;” instead it created what some have called a “tyranny of jointness” where getting the joint balance right is seen as more important that getting the right services the right equipment for the task.

The book examines decades of critical reorganizations of the OPNAV staff. How did these reorganizations strengthen or weaken Navy strategy development over the years?

Reorganizations of the OPNAV staff are the prerogative of the CNO and done to support what that officer wants to accomplish. In the absence of an opponent since 1991, those reorganizations have placed more power and emphasis on the Navy’s budgetary and warfare roles rather than strategy. It is also difficult to return to a culture of strategy development after decades of what naval historian Peter Haynes calls a “strategy of means” where the budget became the de facto navy strategy.

How would you assess the quality of Navy strategy and strategy development today? Are there areas that have room for improvement? 

The Navy has always had a dedicated core of strategy experts; both uniformed and civilian (government and think tank personnel). The events I describe in the book (the end of the Cold War, the Goldwater-Nichols provisions, and the outcomes of the First Gulf War) have tended to make it more difficult for strategists to gain the ear of senior leaders.

I think that situation is changing. The United States again faces peer rivals at sea in China and Russia. The Tri-Service Maritime Strategy signed by the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard late last year was a good first step toward crafting an effective global strategy to address those adversaries in peace and war. The Naval War College and the Naval Postgraduate School are educating more naval strategy experts. There are many more sources on naval and maritime strategy than in the past, including books by John Lehman, John Hattendorf, Peter Haynes, Seth Cropsey, Jerry Hendrix, and of course my mentor Peter Swartz, whose many CNA works on naval strategy are now available on the CNA website. CNA itself has never stopped working on navy strategy products and continues to advise OPNAV on maritime strategy issues. Other voices including members of Congress such as Elaine Luria and Mike Gallagher who have called on the naval services to better explain the strategy behind their POM requests. These are all positive changes.

There are of course challenges and the provisions of the Goldwater-Nichols Act still create roadblocks to the traditional naval means of organizing strategy and operations. Traditionally, the Navy and Marine Corps have engaged in centralized strategic planning, but decentralized execution of those plans at the operational and tactical levels of war. This is how the Cold War unfolded with an overall strategy of containment of the Soviet Union as a baseline for both the strategies of regional commanders and those of the services to deal with naval-specific issues.

The provisions of Goldwater-Nichols have changed this over time. In the absence of a peer opponent around which to organize a global strategy, regional combatant commanders plan their own strategies and demand forces to execute them independent in most cases of the needs of their peers or service providers of forces. Instead of centralized planning, the Joint Staff now seeks to tell operational forces how to fight through documents like the Joint Warfighting Concept. While this problem was not as acute in the period after the Cold War when the U.S. did not have active peer rivals, the current situation of two peer rivals again demands a return to traditional practice. The Goldwater-Nichols Act stands in the way of such a return.

The Navy once produced detailed strategies such as War Plan Orange for Pacific operations before the Second World War and the Maritime Strategy for potential operations in the 1980s. CIMSEC recently covered the 1980s Maritime Strategy process in excellent detail. While many leaders today believe that the Navy and Marine Corps should not be producing strategies, where is the alternative, centralized global plan for operations against China and/or Russia? The JCS and Joint Staff don’t do strategy products. Who does, other than civilian authorities who potentially change every four years?

In conclusion, while the Navy has made great strides in understanding how it used to do strategy and how it might do so in the future, structural barriers such as the Goldwater-Nichols provisions that empowered regional commanders are impeding the naval services from again creating strategy.

Steven Wills is a Research Analyst at CNA, a research organization in Arlington, VA, and an expert in U.S. Navy strategy and policy. He is a Ph.D. military historian from Ohio University and a retired surface warfare officer. These views are presented in a personal capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views of CNA or the U.S. Navy.

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

Featured Image: CORAL SEA (July 19, 2021) A U.S. Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (Reinforced), 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), prepares for take-off aboard the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6), during Talisman Sabre. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. John Tetrault)

Emerging Technologies Week Kicks Off on CIMSEC

By Dmitry Filipoff

This week and next week CIMSEC will be featuring submissions sent in response to our call for articles on emerging technologies, issued in partnership with the Naval Warfare Studies Institute and Lockheed Martin, for CIMSEC’s Project Trident.

Emerging technologies have the potential to radically transform naval forces and how they are developed and employed. Yet emerging technologies also pose new risks that can lay undiscovered until an adversary seizes an underappreciated vulnerability. As navies and maritime forces advance in technological sophistication they must be mindful of both opportunities and the risks.

Below are the articles and authors being featured, which will be updated with further submissions as Emerging Technologies Week unfolds.

The Influence of Technology on Fleet Architecture,” by J. Noel Williams
Leviathan Wakes: China’s Growing Fleet of Autonomous Undersea Vehicles,” by Ryan Fedasiuk
Red Cell Analysis of a Mobile Networked Control System Supporting a Ground Force,” by Larry Wigington, Ruriko Yoshida, and Doug Horner
A Roadmap to Successful Sonar AI,” by LT Andrew Pfau
Solving Communications Gaps in the Arctic with Balloons,” by Walker D. Mills
Cognitive Lasers: Combining Artificial Intelligence with Laser Weapon Systems,” by Dr. Bonnie Johnson
Responding to the Proliferation of Uninhabited Underwater Vehicles,” by Andro Mathewson
Human Factors Meets New Technology in 2025,” by John Cordle and Robert Sweetman
Drones and Starlink: Combining Satellite Constellations With Unmanned Navy Ships,” by Brandon Wall and Nicholas Ayrton
Use Virtual Reality to Prepare Maritime Crews For Terrorist and Piracy Attacks,” by Selina Robinson and Dr. Amy Meenaghan

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

Featured Image: Lt. Jeff Kee explores the Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored Battlespace Exploitation of Mixed Reality (BEMR) lab located at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released)

Undersea Red: Captain Eric Sager on the Submarine Force’s New Aggressor Squadron

By Dmitry Filipoff

CIMSEC shared questions with Captain Eric M. Sager to discuss the Submarine Force’s new Aggressor Squadron (AGGRON). In this conversation, Capt. Sager discusses what AGGRON is doing to enhance undersea lethality, the vital importance of connecting adversary doctrine to submarine force development, and how a dedicated Red team makes for much more realistic high-end combat training.

How would you describe the role and mission of the aggressor squadron?

The U.S. Submarine Force stood up an Aggressor Squadron (AGGRON) in October 2019 as one initiative in support of the broader Department of Defense focus on strategic competition. AGGRON enhances all undersea forces’ training and readiness for potential conflict in every area of operations around the world, focused first and foremost on our strategic competitors in the maritime/undersea domain.

AGGRON is a team focused on high-end combat training through emulating competitors in all training and certification exercises. AGGRON serves as the undersea forces’ expert in employing competitors’ potential capabilities. AGGRON is also focused on improving undersea combat tactics, techniques, and procedures to ensure all doctrine is aligned against the continually evolving capabilities of our competitors. AGGRON personnel work with submarine crews at all stages of operational and training schedules and have drastically improved the Submarine Force’s ability to win in combat.

AGGRON Shirt Patch (U.S. Navy graphic)

How is the training experience different for Sailors who go up against the aggressor squadron compared to a blue-on-blue event?

AGGRON goes head-to-head with submarine crews to play the role of an active, thinking, and tactically engaged enemy force. AGGRON personnel engage with submarine leadership to ensure our forces are ready to predict and proactively position for expected adversary behaviors based on the close study of their capability and tactics.

This modeling of a capable competitor is geared toward driving the proper tactical decision-making by crews during combat operations and to develop muscle memory through repetition in combat training. AGGRON’s goal is to ensure our Submarine Force is always training against the highest fidelity. We have developed processes to refocus training and certification on higher-fidelity combat experiences and developed new tools and concepts to support high-end warfighting.

A Yasen-class nuclear-powered submarine of the Russian Navy (Photo via Lev Fedoseyev/TASS)

What are the core takeaways you hope Sailors gain from the experience? How can the Sailors use that experience going forward to independently improve their own warfighting skills?

Sailors leave every training event with a better understanding of how our competitors think and operate, with an emphasis on their current or near-term combat capabilities. Every training event better prepares each sailor to handle combat operations. We aim to produce winners and losers, just like there are in battle, and raise the force’s standards to ensure our sailors are continually more elite than the opponent. Sailors take these lessons forward, returning to the next exercise or training event more prepared to win.

What are the risks of mirror-imaging blue force methods in training and force development? What unique value and realism comes from being well-versed in adversary capabilities and doctrine? 

The risk is we will not train like we will fight; we would instead train against our own tactics, techniques, and procedures instead of that of our competitors. This methodology risks developing a false understanding of our capabilities and tactics as they relate to the competition, which would not maximize our lethality in combat.

Folding in OPFOR realism creates an entire force of warfighters that are experts on the nature of the competition. Each person is a link to success and when each person knows adversary capabilities and doctrine as well as the adversary themselves, there are less unforeseen circumstances in combat, therefore enhancing combat survivability and lethality.

Chinese Navy submarine recognition guide. Click to expand. (Graphic via Covert Shores by H I Sutton)

What are some key enablers for the learning experience surrounding AGGRON training? 

AGGRON has worked collaboratively with the Submarine Learning Center to ensure training on competitor capabilities, tactics, movements, and strategic objectives are all folded into each area of the schoolhouse’s integration with the waterfront. An adversary-focused culture has been inculcated in all pipelining schooling as well as deployment readiness training and certification.  AGGRON is intimately involved in the Submarine Force’s doctrine and tactical development processes, so that we are continually exploring and assessing existing and new tactics, techniques, and procedures to counter evolving threats.

How do you interact with other communities, including those with an ASW role, such as the surface and aviation communities?

The AGGRON is primarily resourced to train unit-level submarine crews, submarine squadron staffs, and Submarine Learning Site (SLS) staffs about what to expect from their potential opposing counterparts, and helps explore new tactics, techniques, and procedures to counter those threats. AGGRON fosters and cultivates relationships throughout the Intelligence Community to ensure that the most current and accurate intelligence is shaping training and simulation.

Standing aggressor or “opposing force” (OPFOR) units that are trained in the doctrine and tactics of potential opponents, or the “Red” force, are crucial for improving the realism of training exercises. A submarine aggressor force could certainly provide invaluable anti-submarine warfare training opportunities for the Navy’s surface and aviation communities as well.

Captain Eric Sager was commissioned in 1998, graduating from the United States Naval Academy. Sager’s operational assignments include division officer onboard USS HONOLULU (SSN 718) where he completed a Western Pacific deployment, serving as Engineer Officer on USS RHODE ISLAND (SSBN 740)(GOLD), completing four strategic deterrent patrols, and as Executive Officer on USS NORFOLK (SSN 714) completing an AFRICOM/CENTCOM deployment. Sager commanded USS CALIFORNIA (SSN 781), leading his crew on an unplanned surge deployment and a scheduled EUCOM deployment in 2016. He received the 2017 Vice Admiral Stockdale Award for Inspirational Leadership for his time in command. Ashore, Sager has served in various positions, including on the staff of Commander, Submarine Forces as the Tactical Readiness Evaluation Team Executive Officer, Deputy Commodore of Submarine Squadron Twelve, and as the Submarine Force Atlantic Prospective Commanding Officer Instructor. Sager is currently assigned as the Director of the Undersea Warfighting Development Center’s Aggressor Squadron.

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

Featured Image: English: NORFOLK (Oct. 28, 2011) Sailors assigned to the Virginia-class attack submarine Pre-Commissioning Unit California (SSN 781) board the boat as they “bring her to life” during a commissioning rehearsal ceremony the day before the Navy’s newest Virginia-class submarine is commissioned. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist John Osborne/Released)