All posts by Dmitry Filipoff

Strategic Sealift Week Concludes on CIMSEC

By Dmitry Filipoff

For the past two weeks, CIMSEC featured writing sent in response to our call for articles on strategic sealift, issued in partnership with U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM). The response we received was outstanding and illuminating.

American military power remains heavily dependent on sealift to surge and sustain significant operations. Yet sealift is under significant strain. From aging vessels to manning shortfalls, the overall readiness and capacity of the sealift fleet is far from ideal. Authors put forth innovative concepts to mitigate shortfalls and improve sealift capability. But whether there is enough funding and flexibility to implement some of these solutions remains an open question. What is more clear is that sealift will be indispensable in any great power conflict, and will be a prime target of interest for any adversary seeking to slash U.S. strategic- and operational-level maneuver.

Below are the authors and their articles that featured during the topic week. We thank them for their excellent contributions.

The Fourth Arm of Defense: America’s Merchant Mariners,” by James Caponiti

“Throughout American history, the one constant has been that a strong commercial maritime capability enhances national security. This is as true today as ever. The Maritime Security Program remains the most important of the federal programs that assist U.S.-flag ships in foreign trade, and it should be supported, fully funded, and modified as necessary to keep pace with economic conditions affecting U.S.-flag shipping.”

Across the Expanse: The Sealift Dilemma in a War Against China,” by Major John Bowser, U.S. Army

“While the MSC and MARAD aim to ensure the U.S. military is prepared to win expeditionary warfare, they feature critical vulnerabilities with respect to competition with China. The DoD’s critical sealift vulnerabilities against China include fuel distribution capacity, operational security, and vulnerability to partnerships to establish seaports of debarkation and fleet logistics centers. By focusing on these areas DoD will become more able to prosecute expeditionary conflict against China should the need arise.”

Obsolescence, Chokepoints, and the Maritime Militia: Facing Primary Threats to U.S. Sealift,” by Nicholas Ayrton and Brandon Walls

“Challenges USTRANSCOM could face in this regard are threefold—the aging and inadequate nature of the American sealift force, the vulnerability of said forces to strategic chokepoints in the event of conflict, and the versatility and strength of the Chinese People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM).”

Recapitalizing Strategic Sealift Should Be DoD’s Number One Modernization Priority,” by Dr. Daniel Goure

“It is difficult to overstate the dependence of the U.S. military on strategic sealift to both reach the fight and sustain itself during a crisis or conflict. Personnel and some critical equipment and supplies can be moved by aircraft. But for any major deployment overseas, much less a high-end conflict, the U.S. military is and will remain dependent on sealift.”

American Strategic Sealift in Peer-to-Peer Conflicts: A Historical Retrospective, Pt. 1,” by Salvatore R. Mercogliano, Ph.D.

“…should the United States become engaged in another peer-to-peer conflict, they may lack the requisite sealift, merchant marine, and maritime industrial base to support the Department of Defense. Current plans include a sealift recapitalization scheme that provided funds for two used ships last year, and five more this year, but none have yet to be purchased. The current situation is unsustainable. An examination of the past can provide some alternatives and solutions to the current dilemma the United States finds itself in.”

For a Greener, More Lethal Force, Look to Strategic Sealift Recapitalization,” by Joshua Tallis and Ronald Filadelfo

“A greener merchant fleet, enabled by technology developed during the recapitalization of the aging sealift fleet (the vessels that bring US troops and materiel to foreign shores) would address an important source of climate change and increase the sustainment reach of the logistics fleet (the auxiliary vessels that keep warships on station). Such a maritime green revolution might even improve lethality.”

Solutions to Revitalizing America’s Strategic Sealift,” by Todd M. Hiller, P.E.

“With a bi-polar hegemonic world, the U.S. needs to take an immediate and serious deep dive into guaranteeing commercial cargoes for U.S.-flag carriers. This is not a new idea, but one worth revisiting. This proposal, if enforced by treaty or legislation, would have negligible impact on shippers while significantly improving the capacity and number of both the U.S.-flag fleet and U.S.-mariners.”

American Strategic Sealift in Peer-to-Peer Conflicts: A Historical Retrospective, Pt. 2,” by Salvatore R. Mercogliano, Ph.D.

“The challenge for the United States in a fourth peer-to-peer conflict would be the same in the previous three: to ensure that there was a requisite force of merchant ships to support their maritime strategy…based on history, it appears that the United States is ill-prepared to sustain a large military force overseas, across a contested sea. “

One Fleet, One Fight: Four “Fs” to Give About Sealift,” by Benjamin Clark and Gregory Lewis

“MSC’s ships are too big and too tired – and those are the ships that work, but they must fight with the fleet they have, not the fleet they want. It is time for Congress and the Defense Department to build a sealift force capable of handling the multiplicity of challenges presented in competition, crisis, and conflict by giving MSC warfighters, a fleet, fuel, flexibility, and friends.”

Sealift Forces for the Future Operating Environment: An Airlifter’s Perspective,” by Phillip Amrine

“…no one can deny that the environment in which U.S. forces operate is fluid and unpredictable; counting on the threats to remain at their current level would be both foolish and irresponsible. As the long arm of American military power, USTRANSCOM must have the capability to deliver forces anywhere in the world at lightning speed. Maintaining this capability means deliberately monitoring competitors’ capabilities and countering them when they threaten the ability to deploy military force.”

Strategic Sealift is Broken: Which Direction Are We Headed?” by David Sloane

“It is very clear that the current model is not working. The continued use of the current model will only lead to a fleet that is less ready with fewer mariners who are capable of operating and maintaining this critical defense capability. A change in direction must be made soon and the clock is ticking.”

Beyond MSC and Amphibs: Unconventional Sealift,” by Benjamin DiDonato

“…warships can provide sealift support for EABO forces. This would naturally have to fit in with other tasking for these ships, so it generally won’t provide predictable resupply, especially when using high-demand assets, but it would still provide additional sealift capacity at essentially no cost.”

Strategic Sealift’s Merchant Mariner Problem,” by Geoffrey Brown

“Rear Adm. Buzby stated publicly that the Merchant Marine is at least 1,800 officers short of what would be necessary in wartime. Furthering the problem is the lack of places on a dwindling number of ships, leaving 1,100 merchant marine academy graduates worrying about their future job prospects. Given that the average age of a merchant mariner is 47, it is clear that this manpower problem will only get worse if left alone.” 

Don’t Overlook the Medical Fleet in Distributed Maritime Operations,” by Misty Wilkins

“The medical fleet is often overlooked in discussions about Distributed Maritime Operations (DMOs). The goal of DMO is to keep warships in the fight and use all available means necessary to prevail in a modern conflict against a near-peer adversary. But what happens when all available means are simply not enough and fleet assets suffer losses? How will the U.S. Navy get personnel out of the water, into the appropriate medical care, and back in the fight when faced with an impermissible environment and large numbers of potential casualties?”

The Future of Sea Basing for U.S. Army Transportation,” by Mike Canup, Tim Fitzgerald, and Tim Owens

“Shrinking the gap between early entry forces and the buildup of more robust forces will require the Army to develop innovative approaches to surface and vertical sea basing connectors. Doing so will allow US forces to seize, maintain, and exploit the initiative.”

The Glutted Mariner Shortfall,” by LCDR Adena Grundy

“From the perspective of the individual U.S. mariner seeking a reliable career path, there is no real shortfall. Within the economically-driven mariner job market, there is actually a glut of mariners in the current workforce, especially in the officer ranks. Without recognizing this current condition, attempts to increase pool size could initiate a vicious circle of issues that will actually drive people from the Merchant Marine, thereby exacerbating the problem.”

Clandestine Cargo: Hiding Sealift in Plain Sight,” by Christian Morris and Heather Bacon-Shone

Secretly loading containerized military equipment among the millions of TEUs processed annually at key U.S. ports such as Los Angeles/Long Beach, New York/New Jersey, Houston/Galveston, and Savannah could help military sealift hide in plain sight.”

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

Featured Image: USS KITTY HAWK, Pacific Ocean, (June 26, 2008) The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) receives fuel from USNS Guadalupe (T-AO 200) while steaming through the central Pacific Ocean. (U.S. Navy photograph by Mass Communication Seaman Anthony R. Martinez)

Strategic Sealift Week Kicks Off on CIMSEC

By Dmitry Filipoff

Strategic sealift week is now underway. For the next two weeks, CIMSEC will be featuring writing sent in response to our call for articles on strategic sealift, issued in partnership with U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM). The command conducts globally integrated mobility operations, leads the broader Joint Deployment and Distribution Enterprise, and provides enabling capabilities in order to project and sustain the Joint Force in support of national objectives.

Strategic sealift is a critical foundation upon which U.S. military power rests. As a maritime nation separated from most of the world by vast oceans, any robust and sustained projection of U.S. military power must ride upon the sealift fleet. But as the sealift fleet ages and great power competition intensifies, the fleet is being increasingly stressed as it is becoming ever more indispensable. 

Below are the articles and authors featuring during the topic week. This listing will be updated with further submissions as Strategic Sealift week unfolds.

The Fourth Arm of Defense: America’s Merchant Mariners,” by James Caponiti
Across the Expanse: The Sealift Dilemma in a War Against China,” by Major John Bowser, U.S. Army
Obsolescence, Chokepoints, and the Maritime Militia: Facing Primary Threats to U.S. Sealift,” by Nicholas Ayrton and Brandon Walls
Recapitalizing Strategic Sealift Should Be DoD’s Number One Modernization Priority,” by Dr. Daniel Goure
American Strategic Sealift in Peer-to-Peer Conflicts: A Historical Retrospective, Pt. 1,” by Salvatore R. Mercogliano, Ph.D.
For a Greener, More Lethal Force, Look to Strategic Sealift Recapitalization,” by Joshua Tallis and Ronald Filadelfo
Solutions to Revitalizing America’s Strategic Sealift,” by Todd M. Hiller, P.E.
American Strategic Sealift in Peer-to-Peer Conflicts: A Historical Retrospective, Pt. 2,” by Salvatore R. Mercogliano, Ph.D.
One Fleet, One Fight: Four “Fs” to Give About Sealift,” by Benjamin Clark and Gregory Lewis
Sealift Forces for the Future Operating Environment: An Airlifter’s Perspective,” by Phillip Amrine
Strategic Sealift is Broken: Which Direction Are We Headed?” by David Sloane
Beyond MSC and Amphibs: Unconventional Sealift,” by Benjamin DiDonato
Strategic Sealift’s Merchant Mariner Problem,” by Geoffrey Brown
Don’t Overlook the Medical Fleet in Distributed Maritime Operations,” by Misty Wilkins
The Future of Sea Basing for U.S. Army Transportation,” by Mike Canup, Tim Fitzgerald, and Tim Owens
The Glutted Mariner Shortfall,” by LCDR Adena Grundy
Clandestine Cargo: Hiding Sealift in Plain Sight,” by Christian Morris and Heather Bacon-Shone

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

Featured Image: SOUTH CHINA SEA (Sept. 17, 2015) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen (DDG 82), right, receives fuel from the Military Sealift Command dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Amelia Earhart (T-AKE 6) during an underway replenishment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Corey T. Jones/Released)

A Conversation with Capt. Tom Culora (ret.) on Leading Naval Warfare Studies

By Dmitry Filipoff

Captain Tom Culora (ret.) served as the Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies (CNWS) at the Naval War College for seven years (2014-2021). CNWS is the primary research organization of the Naval War College. CNWS conducts independent and sponsored unclassified and classified research on issues of war, peace, national security, and international law, with particular attention to issues related to the maritime domain and naval warfare. CNWS comprises several departments, including the Strategic and Operational Research Department (SORD), the Wargaming Department, the Stockton Center for International Law, and the Naval War College Press. Each has its own mission and study and research groups.

In this conversation, Capt. Culora discusses the value of directed student research, how the fleet can leverage hybrid research groups, and how to identify what is most worth studying.

How can a hybrid research group be employed to address the needs of the fleet?

Today’s fleet is facing a set of “wicked hard” problems and complex challenges. Addressing and solving these challenges requires a level of creativity and a blended intellectual approach that can best be addressed through hybrid research. This means bringing together diverse subject matter experts (SMEs) who possess deep knowledge with researchers coupled with analysts who can apply a range of established research methodologies to gain insight into these complex challenges. Enlisting SMEs who can effectively collect and translate diverse and complicated information allows the research team to approach these problems from different perspectives and provides opportunities to apply undiscovered or non-traditional solutions. Teaming these SMEs with researchers who can apply a range of analytical methodologies and who also possess specialized information of their own, provides a potent way to devise, test, and confirm these solutions. The output that emerges from this marriage of detailed information and expert methodology delivers to leaders expanded knowledge and insights that they can have confidence in and that they can act upon.

How can civilian researchers without operational experience complement servicemembers, and vice versa?

Given the research construct outlined above, civilian researchers bring top-tier analytical skills and nearly all are experienced in multiple methodologies. Moreover, civilian researchers also possess knowledge in domains relevant to military operations, strategy, international law, and defense issues that complements the information possessed by servicemembers. Servicemembers, for their part, bring a deep understanding of the profession of arms and firsthand experience in operating in complex environments. This blending of civilian researchers with servicemembers is a powerful formula for getting after these “wicked hard” problems and in developing and testing multiple solutions.

How would you describe the particular value of directed student research?

The Naval War College has multiple ways students can get involved with directed research. Within the Center for Naval Warfare Studies (CNWS), three Advanced Research Project (APRs) groups recruit students who volunteer to engage in directed research through individual academic efforts and group projects. Currently, the three ARPs: Halsey Alfa, Halsey Bravo, and the Holloway Group each look at a different region of the world and are led by civilian and military faculty members with knowledge and experience in these areas. The value of this directed student research is fourfold.

First, most military students arriving at the Naval War College for JMPE Phase I have minimal academic experience or knowledge in national and grand strategy, national security decision-making, and complex joint and combined operations—the broad areas covered by the core curriculum. There are of course exceptions, but most are novitiates in these areas. Conversely, when they join one of the ARPs from the fleet, they arrive with a mid-career professionals’ specialized subject matter expertise in their principal warfighting specialty—essentially the SMEs of the research construct outlined above. The value is that they actively and critically provide up-to-date information and experience from the fleet and force. Moreover, they can relay and translate specialized and complicated information that is used directly in the ARPs’ ongoing research.

Second, these select students produce analytical products that contribute to the overall research of the ARP groups themselves. As part of their curriculum in these advanced groups, they are required to individually research and analyze systems, intelligence, operations, and strategies. Unlike the War College’s core curriculum, which is taught at the unclassified level, the content that is presented and research output in the ARPs is mostly classified. Students matriculating through the ARPs contribute to a classified body-of-knowledge that is used by both the fleet and the Navy staff.

Third, students participating in the ARPs are exposed to range of research methodologies while sifting through and evaluating primary and secondary sources. However, the prime methodology used by the APRs is a form of wargaming that examines key operational problems and uncovers best practices through iterative gaming, testing, and analysis. Through this process, students are often conducting original research and discovering new and novel approaches to complex issues and problems. They come away from their time in the APRs with a journeyman’s understanding of the iterative wargaming process and a baseline appreciation of operations analysis methodologies.

Lastly, students become immersed in the issues and details in the theater of operations that their respective ARP group is focused on. They emerge from this experience with an expanded and sophisticated understanding of the entire theater of operations and return to fleet units and senior staffs where they apply this broadened knowledge to plan and execute the missions of their new organizations.

How do you view the relationship between theory and practice, and what are the related implications for making research relevant to the fleet?

The relationship between theory and practice is cyclical. In the best of circumstances, ideas and theories are developed from research and analysis that would not otherwise emerge elsewhere. Some theories emerge from well-grounded and detailed information and data where the distance between theory and practice is small. However, other theories emerge from conjecture and creativity—here the distance between theory and practice is usually much greater. Regardless of their origin, by definition, theories are untested and only represent a notional approach to solving a complex problem. Through the process of wargaming, modeling and simulation, concept development, and fleet experimentation a theory is “operationalized” where it can then have practical application for planners and warfighters.

But the process cannot stop here. Ideally, through experimentation and the practical application of theories and ideas, lessons are developed and data is collected that is then fed back into the cycle to refine existing theories and ideas—and to develop new ones as well. In a large and dispersed organization like the Navy, this virtuous cycle can be messy and sometimes illusive. But efforts have been underway for some time now to converge the theory and practice cycles into an Analytic Master Plan (AMP) for the Navy where the individual activities and outputs in these cycles are codified, organized, aligned, and shared.

Among the many demands and interests that can occupy the attention of a dean or research group director, how can you determine what is most worth studying?

As a former dean, for me there are two components that determine what is most worth studying—interest and impact.

First, the best research and analysis is accomplished by folks who are immediately and deeply interested in the topic. High quality research takes a level of energy and commitment that can only be sustained through keen interest and curiosity—and the best researchers are those who have an almost obsessive interest in the topic they are examining. Moreover, I know many talented and skilled researchers, polymaths really, who are often interested in multiple topics. Yet even here, the trend is that they are deeply immersed and interested in the immediate topic at hand. This is where the best research emerges. An essential role of a dean is finding and aligning researchers with relevant topics they are most interested in to produce high-quality analysis.

The second component is impact—and there are two avenues to follow here. The first is responding to a request for research into a particular topic or issue. This “demand” aspect of the research is where the CNO, a senior commander, or other DoD leader asks for analytical support. By design, this avenue is primed to have impact as the person or entity requesting this support has one of those “wicked hard” problems that they need the Center’s professional research help to solve. The findings from this research have a ready-made audience and often the impact is immediate and noticeable. However, if an organization like CNWS only waits to be told what to research by senior officers and officials, we are not really doing our job. This is where the second avenue of impact “speculation,” or spec-work as I like to call it, comes in.

There is a general misunderstanding that CNWS only conducts directed research for the Navy and other DoD stakeholders. While in any given fiscal year roughly 60 to 80 percent of the research conducted is the result of someone requesting analytical support— the remaining 20 to 40 percent is spec-work. This research emerges from researchers and analysts anticipating and identifying questions and challenges before the fleet or staffs recognize them. If the first time we hear of a wicked hard problem is from a senior decision-maker or leader asking for help—we are already woefully behind. Our fundamental role is to anticipate problems—and there are multiple examples at the Naval War College where the research faculty were prescient in identifying an emerging challenge, quickly developed a program of research to examine the challenge, and were ready to provide detailed information and analysis when the first call for assistance was received. It is often this intellectual preparedness and anticipation that has had the most impact and influence on the fleet and within the service.

It is the confluence of interest and impact, either from demand or speculation, that shapes the research roadmap and drives decisions on where to put resources—faculty, time, and funding—on what is most worth studying.

What do you hope students who attended the Naval War College and participated in CNWS activities take away from their experience?

I know from experience serving in an operational unit, on a senior warfighting staff, and as a member of a joint or service staff that the demands on servicemembers’ time, energy, and headspace can be severe—with scant opportunity to reflect and absorb everything that is going on around you and minimal space to dig deep into issues and ideas. Nearly all of our students will return to this environment when they leave CNWS and the College. My hope is that they will have used this opportunity to reflect on their profession, taken the time to deeply explore issues and challenges that have interested them, and leveraged the very talented and committed faculty to increase their knowledge and critical thinking skills.

I also hope they have made lasting connections with their peers and the faculty. Alumni of our research programs often reach back to the Center where they find faculty members willing to aid them in their fleet and staff responsibilities by providing advice and input, and serving as a sounding board for ideas and concepts. Moreover, the faculty also benefits from these relationships as it is an indispensable way to stay connected to the fleet.

Lastly, my ongoing hope as I finished my term as Dean of CNWS is that the organization can continue building thinkers and warfighters who will lead effectively and intelligently into what looks to be a very challenging future.

Professor Culora served as dean, Center for Naval Warfare Studies from 2014 until 2021. He is currently on sabbatical finishing a graduate degree in counseling psychology. A retired Navy captain and naval aviator, he served in operational billets including commanding officer of helicopter maritime strike squadron (HSM-47) and commanding officer of USS Boxer (LHD-4). His staff tours include the Joint Chiefs of Staff where he helped shape and coordinate national and military policy to expand NATO. He has also had fellowships at Harvard University and at the Council in Foreign Relations. He will return to the campus in 2022 to teach and research in NWC’s College of Leadership and Ethics. He holds a BFA and maintains an active career as an artist. His work can be found at

The views presented by Professor Culora do not reflect official positions of the Naval War College, DON, or DOD.

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

Featured Image: SOUTH CHINA SEA (May 22, 2021) Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) transits the South China Sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Zenaida Roth)

Pat Roll on Tactics of the Maritime Strategy and Cover and Deception Operations

1980s Maritime Strategy Series

By Dmitry Filipoff

CIMSEC discussed the 1980s Maritime Strategy with Captain Pat Roll (ret.), who served as a staff tactician for Admirals Ace Lyons, Joe Metcalf, and Hank Mustin. In this conversation, Capt. Roll discusses how tactical development fleshed out the execution of the Maritime Strategy at sea, the Navy’s use of cover and deception operations to move battle groups undetected, and the core relationship between strategy and tactics.

In what sort of roles did you contribute to the tactics undergirding the Maritime Strategy?

My work on the Maritime Strategy started when I met first Ace Lyons in the 1970s, who was at the time the chief of staff of Commander Carrier Group 4 staff, embarked on America. I was a fresh-caught lieutenant commander and I had just graduated from the Tactical Action Officer school. I came aboard the staff as the staff tactician. My background was electronic warfare, that was my subspeciality. Included there was of course cover and deception. So I came aboard the staff as the tactician and he came as a warfighter and that’s what he did, he put together a small cadre of folks when he was Captain James “Ace” Lyons, and I was one of his people.

And then we sort of split to the four winds and he was promoted to rear admiral and sent to the Pacific. The years passed, and then in 1981 when John Lehman became Secretary of the Navy (he and Admiral Lyons were friends), he asked Admiral Lyons if he wanted to take 2nd Fleet. At that time Lyons was in OP-06 in the Pentagon. He then took 2nd Fleet in the summer of 1981.

At the time I was the combat systems officer on the new construction USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). So he called me to the flagship Mt. Whitney and he said, “I want you to sail with me on an exercise (Ocean Venture) we are going to have here shortly, and bring some modern tactics with you.” I was a commander at the time. I said, “Yes, sir, but I really am gainfully employed, I’m putting together the combat center for Carl Vinson.” And he said, “Well I’m sure you can find somebody to cover for you.” Well, whatever you say, Admiral. And so I sailed.

We were gone for three weeks in the North Atlantic, and it was just a regular 2nd Fleet exercise at the time. After the exercise he said to me, “I want you on the staff. I want you to be the tactician.” And I said, “Okay, I’ll do it, just let me finish up the work on Carl Vinson.” Which I did. And then the winter of 1981-1982 after contractor sea trials for Carl Vinson I was released to work for Ace Lyons.

At the time the component commanders of the 2nd Fleet, all of the CARGRUs and the DESGRUs, they all had their own TACMEMOs, tactical memoranda, tactical notes, air wings especially, on how to employ the F-14, A-6, and the EA-6B Prowler, and how to do it effectively. All these different tactical notes were floating around, but they were platform-specific, disjointed, and not always written with the same language.

So he got a couple of us together and said, “Look, we’ve got to make rhyme and reason out of all this paper that’s out there. And train in its accordance with what’s required of the Maritime Strategy.” We took a careful look at what came out of the Pentagon and thought we had a lot of material here that could be distilled into a publication that would outline how to fight the 2nd Fleet. More importantly, how to fight the Striking Fleet Atlantic.

These were the Fighting Instructions.

That’s exactly right. So we started working with the CARGRUs and the DESGRUs to assemble these tacnotes and tactical memoranda, make rhyme or reason out of these things, and put it into a publication with common language. And with applicability to all platforms, not just platform-specific, although some of them were of course.

So we put it all together and sent it to the Center for Naval Analyses. Phil DePoy was the director at the time and he gave it to his people and they blessed it. They sent it back, said it looks good, and we published it. And it became a war-at-sea sourcebook for all component commands within the Striking Fleet.

How was it implemented, how was it used?

It was distributed as a directive. It was almost like a 2nd Fleet instruction: you will digest this, and you will incorporate electronic warfare and cover and deception into your tactical planning. And all tactical plans will be submitted to the commander of the 2nd Fleet, commander of the Striking Fleet Atlantic, for approval.

There is another component here: Anti-Submarine Warfare Group 2. That’s a British command, it was Rear Admiral Derek Reffell. He put together the outline for force disposition, it was a large grid, and he started work on decentralized command and control, which would allow for a large force to deploy to the GIUK gap and into the Norwegian Sea.

So we began to train for deployment with the anti-submarine warfare group, with the NATO vessels, although to be honest, it was 2nd Fleet that was driving the train, not the Striking Fleet. We did a successful exercise called Ocean Venture. Which was, in fact, executing the Maritime Strategy. And we went into the Norwegian Sea in the summer of 1982 on Northern Wedding. John Lehman’s book Oceans Ventured outlines what happened. They were successful exercises.

What we learned was that it was very difficult. The intent was to transpose the Norwegian Sea from a Soviet lake into a 2nd Fleet stomping ground. But what we found was it was impossible to stay away from the TU-95 Bear. The reconnaissance planes. They were all over us. We also learned that the Norwegian Sea is not friendly toward surface warfare, not by a longshot.

Later on I was Admiral Lyons’ tactician when he was CINCPACFLT and he asked me to join him as flag secretary, but in fact I was a tactician. His first move was to get the 3rd Fleet to sea, to become a warfighting entity, and operate in a similar mold that he had made the 2nd Fleet into. When Ace Lyons had taken over the 2nd Fleet, it had been a training command preparing ships and staff for deployment to the 6th Fleet. He had changed all that, saying this isn’t a training command, it is a fighting force. And he had made it into a fighting force. Sure, a lot of guys had to fall by the wayside for that, but that’s just how that happens.

When Ace came out to the Pacific, the first thing he did was get Vice Admiral Ken Moranville to move his 3rd Fleet from Ford Island to a flagship and then become a fighting force. Ace made cover and deception a household word in PACFLT. He gathered all the CARGRUs and DESGRUs from all over the Pacific, brought them into Pearl Harbor, and gave them marching orders. He said, “We are not going to be spread out here and there just maintaining presence. We’re going to fight the Maritime Strategy in the Pacific.” That was oriented on the Kuril Islands. He would run mirror exercises like we were going to take the Kuril wedge, to include amphibious forces, and then at the last minute would turn away. It was stressing the Soviets out.

Previously when Ace Lyons had finished up his tour at 2nd Fleet, Vice Admiral Joe Metcalf took over. Metcalf took a look at the readiness index and he liked it. But he was really antsy on command and control, and he was right. We didn’t have digital communication yet, we were still in the analog world. HF was not reliable. And we didn’t have the satellites that we have today. So we had to rely on decentralized command and control, which was where the Fighting Instructions came in.

The Fighting Instructions were instructions on how to operate, and of course they were dynamic, they were not chiseled in stone. But the Fighting Instructions allowed for support of operations for ASW and AAW, which was where our concern really was. So we were in the Norwegian Sea and we fleshed all the difficulties out, including command and control.

Admiral Metcalf was there for a little less than two years. Then Hank Mustin came in. And Hank Mustin came in like a tidal wave.

Of all the admirals I have worked for, if we were going to go to war, we needed Hank Mustin. As the custodian of the Fighting Instructions and the staff tactician, I got close to Mustin. We played racquetball every morning before work at the piers on Norfolk. I got to know him pretty well.

He took the Fighting Instructions to a new level. For him they became the bible. And they were already dynamic, but what he did (which none of the other guys did) was establish the Tactics Board. It was very clear that he wanted anybody who was not deployed to travel to Norfolk once a month, sit down, and take a careful look at how to implement the Maritime Strategy tactically.

I was the recording secretary of the Tactics Board. After these monthly meetings, after the decisions, points of discussion, and the hard spots were worked through, I made sure these got on paper. I authenticated and Hank Mustin signed. We were pretty confident we could execute whatever task was given in the name of the Maritime Strategy in the north Atlantic.

Because we were so concerned with the TU-95 reconnaissance planes, we thought to ourselves, what if we operated in the fjords? What if we took a carrier group into the Saltfjorden fjord out of Bodø, Norway, or the fjords by the North Cape before you go into the Barents Sea. We operated in pretty good water, but not a lot of sea room.

RDML Paul Ilg went into the fjords and did a really in-depth study, especially into the Saltfjorden fjord, on how effective flight operations could be, and at the same time, remain concealed from the TU-95s, which would have to be right on top of you to see you. We were really attracted to operating out of the fjords and the plan was to get into the fjord with a full complement of an air wing, and you could then conduct strikes across the Baltic into Kaliningrad, Leningrad, and some of their big shipyards. The only downsides that Paul Ilg came back with was sea room and weather. Weather was a constraint, it was always a consideration.

Our reconnaissance flown out of Rota, Spain kept a pretty good tab on what the Soviet Navy was doing in those shipyards, their exercises, and testing and development. We had great intelligence support.

Hank Mustin was faced with fuel constraints. He didn’t have a lot of bucks for fuel. So he established what he called the Battle Force In-Port Training (BFIT). We would run these exercises in Charleston, in Norfolk, Mayport, and King’s Bay, and run these Maritime Strategy-oriented exercises without anybody leaving port. It was a thing of beauty. And everybody not deployed would get trained up on aspects of the Maritime Strategy and not use any fuel. The readiness dividends were incredible. These boats would button up like they’re getting underway and they would carry out the tasks assigned.

If I was to identify the most important contribution to fleet readiness that I’d seen, it would be the Battle Force In-Port Training exercises. We loved it. It was Hank’s brainchild.

The communities each had their own sets of tactics but didn’t often interact with one another. How did you bring them together and make sure they were on the same sheet of music and socialize these tactical concepts?

The communication between the fleet commander and the subordinate DESGRUs and CARGRUs was excellent then, it was really dynamic. Every subordinate knew what Hank was thinking. He made the statement, “If you take the first hit, and you survive, I will fire you.” Everybody understood that.

So with that kind of emphasis and that kind of urgency, everybody had their ears up and their lights on. Before each exercise, he would gather everybody aboard Mt. Whitney and they would plan the exercise together. After the whole thing was over there would be a hot washup, maybe a day or two, and all the weaknesses and nuances would be fleshed out and addressed. Those kinds of working relationships between the communities were there. No independent steaming, no independent operations, it was cohesive and focused on whatever aspect the Maritime Strategy demanded.

How would you describe the difference between strategy and tactics, and how do they relate to one another?

Simply stated, strategy is force employment structured to accomplish a theater-level mission or portion thereof considering enemy composition, geographic location, logistics, force availability, etc. Strategic planning and execution usually resides within the battle force staff in collaboration with the theater commander. Tactics in its basic form is centered on fighting the ship or air wing. More to the point, tactics is fighting the ship/air wing as part of the battle group warfighting doctrine in support of an assigned task.

Without a strategy, putting together tactics is like the sound of one hand clapping. Unless you have a strategy in place as to what it is you want to do, unless you understand that, then all the effort in the world may or may not accomplish what you want to do. You have to have a strategy, you have to have a concept. If you don’t have a strategy, how can you put together fleet tactics to support something that doesn’t exist?

Three times a year we would take Mt. Whitney up to the Naval War College and we would run those modules and exercises. We would have a red cell, and we would have all the other ships, and we would run these exercises at Sims Hall. I was on loan to the red cell because they sometimes didn’t have tactically-oriented people to run the enemy, so that’s what I did. We’d finish up these exercises and everybody would learn. Everybody understood what was required.

Electronic warfare wasn’t appreciated originally, if you could speak more to that.

Electronic warfare was never attractive. It didn’t explode, it wasn’t a rocket, you didn’t sink ships. It was a higher level of warfare that was more of a force multiplier than a lethal weapon. Because of that the Navy never really invested heavily in electronic warfare. It was a mindset.

But you had guys like Ace Lyons and Hank Mustin, and they think well wait a minute, for minimal expense I can double my force. I can move my battle group without the Soviets knowing it. And we did it.

For example, it didn’t take long in 1986 to determine that the Persian Gulf was awash with Soviet mines and that the Kuwaitis were losing tankers. The State Department said we needed escorts for our tankers to move out into the Arabian Sea without running into mines. The word went out that they really needed help. CJCS Admiral Crowe told CINCPACFLT Admiral Lyons they needed minesweeping capability in the Gulf. So we moved a battle group to the Arabian Sea from the middle of the Indian Ocean in Diego Garcia without anybody knowing about it. It was the swiftest, coolest thing we’d ever done. We played the satellite game, we did total radio silence, and with high speed. That was cover and deception at its best. And that is a tactic, not a strategy.

There’s another thing to consider: logistics. It takes two weeks for a unit to go from San Diego to Hawaii. And then it takes another two weeks to go from Hawaii to the South China Sea or East China Sea. I didn’t realize this until I got out to the Pacific, but I didn’t really have an appreciation for distance. Maintaining the logistics to keep a ship out at sea with at least 70-80 percent of its fuel and other necessities, that’s a challenge. Logistics are always the big concern. All you have to do is read any of those historians that did the Pacific War and see what they had to say about support, the incredible amount of support that is needed to keep a force of several battle groups operating at sea for an extended period of time.

I was the CO of the Fleet Deception Group in Norfolk for three years. We had a lot of electronic warfare players that would support the 2nd Fleet. We would disguise ships, such as take a destroyer and make it look like an oiler, or take a cruiser and make it look like a carrier, things like that.

Sometimes folks don’t like having their sensors and comms jammed in combat exercises. How did they respond to that?

We would put these vans aboard that would simulate the communications you would expect out of a battle group, but it was on just a destroyer, and the CO would have to put up with that. Some received it well. The warfighters certainly did, but not everyone at sea is a warfighter. Not everybody in the War College is a warfighter. And a lot of them, the guys at the CARGRUs and the DESGRUs, a lot of them are administrative types. They didn’t know any more about naval warfare than they did about growing tomatoes. It was disappointing.

But Hank Mustin still took them aboard. And he would say, “You will fight. And if you take the first hit and survive, I’ll fire you.”

Captain Pat Roll (ret.) served for 31 years in the Navy. Specializing in fleet tactics and electronic warfare, he served in a variety of EW assignments, including as Commanding Officer, Fleet Deception Group Atlantic. While attached to Commander, Second Fleet, he was responsible for compiling, editing, and publishing the Second Fleet Fighting Instructions. He served as flag secretary and staff tactician to the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, Admiral Ace Lyons, and as Assistant Chief of Staff for Battle Force Command and Control to Commander, Second Fleet, Vice Admiral Hank Mustin. Capt. Roll retired in 1993.

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Featured Image: March 19, 1983 – A left side air-to-air view of a Soviet Tu-95 Bear maritime reconnaissance aircraft, top, being escorted by a U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcat aircraft as the Soviet aircraft approaches the Readex 1-83 battle group. (Photo by LT J.G. Thomas Prochilo via the U.S. National Archives)