By Alan Cummings
One simple, even quaint recommendation: bring back the widespread distribution of flash cards for recognizing allied and adversary platforms and their capabilities. Will this create instantaneous tactical brilliance? No. But it will start giving every Sailor a basic literacy of the threats they are liable to face and the allies they hope to fight beside. On one level, this is simply foundational knowledge in the profession of maritime arms. The more fundamental purpose is to drive a culture and discussion focused on what it means to fight a war at sea.
It is a tried-and-true study method. The front of the card is simple: a profile silhouette of the vessel paired with an actual photo or two. The reverse side contains information like the operating country, primary and secondary missions, armament, top speed, etc. The contents should be robust, but they do not have to be, and indeed should not be, exhaustive.
This is a vastly scalable concept. The simplest version is a single deck of the most common platforms. The alternatives are a wide variety of decks based on country, domain, or region. An unclassified version should be the baseline for widest dissemination and study, while a classified version could incorporate additional or more accurate information. A standard deck can be issued once or, like baseball cards, the collection can be refreshed or expanded annually or some other periodicity. One ambitious approach could entail creating a competitive game with each platform card carrying points for offense, defense, damage control resilience, etc.
There is nothing to guarantee a warm or resounding reception in the fleet. Like any learning resource, these flash cards are a tool—one that offers deckplate leaders a tangible and flexible way to cultivate warfighting mindset and know-how. It will depend on unit commanders and their subordinate leaders to make use of it. If they allow the flash cards to gather dust on the command’s bookshelves, then clearly there will be little benefit. If, instead, they use the cards to engage with their Sailors and get them thinking in terms of friendly and enemy capabilities, then the return on investment offers to be worth it. And especially if those conversations advance to discussions of tactics and warfighting doctrine.
Alan Cummings was an active duty naval officer for ten years in the surface warfare and intelligence communities. He continues to serve in the Navy Reserve. The views expressed here are solely his and do not reflect the official positions of any organization with which he is affiliated.
Featured Image: ARAFURA SEA (Sept. 16, 2022) Royal Thai Navy frigate HTMS Bhumibol Adulyadej (FFG 471), Royal Malaysian Navy frigate KD Lekiu (FFG 30), and Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Charleston (LCS 18) sail in line-astern formation to conduct anti-aircraft firing serials during Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Exercise Kakadu 2022 (KA22). (Photo courtesy of Royal Australian Navy LSIS Jarryd Capper)