Category Archives: Flotilla Tactical Notes

Senior Leaders Must Own the Lack of Warfighting Focus

Flotilla Notes Series

By CDR Paul W. Viscovich, USN (ret.)

Vale la pena (“It is worth the effort”) was the motto of Naval Special Warfare Group EIGHT when it was stationed in Panama some 30 years ago. It was an appropriate philosophy for a tip-of-the-spear warfighting unit, and they lived up to it in operations throughout the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility. Can these SEALs teach us how to prioritize warfighting, and can their unit-level lessons be applied throughout the fleet?

In order to prioritize one thing – warfighting – it is necessary to diminish the importance of conflicting requirements. Due to the unique nature of their mission, and with the unyielding support of their NAVSPECWAR chain of command, the SEALs are largely insulated from the administrative distractions that bedevil the other warfighting communities. Their maintenance, training, and security programs are all consciously vectored toward supporting their one priority – providing warfighting capability.

Two things allow the SEALs to accomplish this. First, their entire community is culturally focused on warfighting. Second, their senior leadership is uncompromising in eliminating anything that distracts from this priority.

This leadership doctrine is at such variance from the rest of the Navy that any immediate attempt to apply this model on a fleet-wide scale will fail. The eight-decade absence of deadly conflict with an enemy of equal or superior capability has eroded the warrior ethos in generations of naval officers and senior enlisted leaders. Its absence has caused perverse incentives to metastasize, such as an administratively-obsessed culture that often defines excellence in terms of passing rote inspections, and scripted drills that mask warfighting deficits but make for positive reporting. Although individual commanding officers may strive mightily to create a warfighting focus within their units, the chain of command’s overriding insistence that they check all the superfluous administrative boxes will continue to doom their efforts and overwhelm the time of warfighters on the deckplate. At best, unit leaders can only put warfighting first on the margins of an already thinly-stretched crew and schedule. Whether aviators, submariners, or surface warfare officers, U.S. Navy flag officers are now largely trained, groomed, and selected to perpetuate this bureaucracy that is top-heavy with administration.

In this environment, almost any program to refocus the fleet on warfighting is likely to be little more than window dressing. An institutional initiative to put warfighting first could easily result in even more required record-keeping and reporting on top of what has been accumulating for decades. Today’s culture will self-perpetuate until some major calamity pushes the fleet into an existential fight, and finally forces the Navy to sharply consolidate its priorities toward warfighting.

The crucible of combat quickly shines a light on incompetence. It is common for warring great power militaries to fire and replace numerous commanding officers after poor combat performance, whether they be unit-level leaders, or senior flag and general officers. Those who more effectively put warfighting first in peacetime may be the Halseys that replace the Ghormleys. The Navy should take great care to learn the difference before its next war, and develop better warfighting-focused incentives and criteria for promotion and fitness reporting.

The front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 25th, 1942, with the headline “Ghormley Replaced in Solomons Shakeup.”

If senior Defense Department civilian and military leaders do not seriously convert organizational priorities toward warfighting, any lower-echelon attempt to refocus fighting forces on their core responsibility will achieve only marginal effect. Senior leaders must grasp how deckplate-level reality has become suffocated by miscellanea accumulating from decades of poorly prioritized requirements. Senior leaders must take decisive ownership of the problem and return enough time and focus to warfighters so they can truly put warfighting first.

Paul Viscovich is a retired Commander and Surface Warfare Officer with 20 years active service. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1975 and earned a Master of Sciences degree from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1987. From 2013-2021, he authored a monthly political column published in a south Florida magazine, currently writes a current events newsletter on, and is working on an anthology of short stories, many with a nautical theme. He lives with his wife Christine in Weston, FL.

Featured Image: PHILIPPINE SEA (Sept. 19, 2016) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold (DDG 65) fires a standard missile (SM 2) at a target drone as part of a surface-to-air-missile exercise (SAMEX) during Valiant Shield 2016. (U.S. Navy photo illustration by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrew Schneider/Released)

Streamline Certification and Leverage Lessons Learned

Flotilla Notes Series

By Tony Carrillo

Management makes warfighting possible, but management that enables warfighting needs to be better managed itself. Namely, overlapping lines of reporting and the lack of a strong feedback mechanism to spread the best practices of successful ships are hampering the Navy’s ability to maintain its warfighting dominance.

A quick survey reveals no fewer than ten organizations are involved with preparing a ship and evaluating its readiness for war as part of its lifecycle.1,2,3 From the Congress, to the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), to the surface type commanders (TYCOMs) to the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), and the Naval Education and Training Command (NETC), each organization has a plethora of subordinates who have oversight of ships. Although these entities exist for rightful reasons, repeated redundant requirements for certifications slow down the process of qualifying ships to perform missions. Unifying all efforts will streamline this process and in turn free up more time to conduct training and exercises. It will allow ships to focus on sharpening warfighting skill instead of simply passing the next inspection. Leaders can do their part by keeping proficiency high with drills and by increasing drill complexity, rather than settling for simply demonstrating the minimum required proficiency. Yet caution must be exercised to ensure that the knowledge and skills that ships acquire do not spoil. This means periodic interventions to make sure that ships do not simply “brain dump” after passing an inspection or certification.

Currently, surface forces have a near-miss and critique reporting system that requires lessons learned to be submitted to self-report mistakes made.4 However, the level of severity that necessitates a critique or near-miss is too high to learn the day-to-day lessons that are needed to develop warfighters. Successes should also be recorded in the current lessons learned system. Implementing this feedback mechanism will enable ships to learn from the successes of other ships and not just their mistakes. While this may sound like an additional administrative burden, it can be undertaken as a core component of the formal debrief process that occurs at the conclusion of inspections and evaluations of ships. Once the “all severity” lessons learned system is in place with the fleet’s assessors, then the ship training teams should be directed to participate in it as well. This will allow ships to capitalize on the best practices of other ships. An important benefit is the possible recognition of the need for and initial development of new tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs).

To prioritize warfighting readiness, there must be a joint effort on the part of all organizations in preparing ships for war. Overlapping requirements should be streamlined to eliminate redundancy and buy back time that can be spent on additional training and tactical development. This should be supplemented by a lessons learned system that enables ships to learn from the successes of other ships. Making these changes is vital to the Navy’s ability to maintain maritime dominance.

LT Anthony Carrillo is a Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy. He is a prospective department head and served most recently as an instructor at Surface Warfare Schools Command Newport. A 2015 graduate of Texas A&M University, he commissioned through Officer Candidate School. These views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the official position or policy of the U.S. Government, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. Navy.


1. “Examination of vessels; striking of vessels from the Naval Vessel Register.” 10 USC 8674.

2. Department of the Navy, Naval Surface Force/U.S. Pacific Fleet, COMNAVSURFPACINST 3502.7C: Surface Force Training and Readiness Manual (18 November 2022).

3. Department of the Navy, Chief of Naval Operations, OPNAVINST 9220.3A: Propulsion and Auxiliary Plant Inspection and Inspector Certification Program (Non-Nuclear) (19 August 2015).

4. Department of the Navy, Naval Surface Force/U.S. Pacific Fleet, COMNAVSURFPACINST 3040.1A CH-1: Surface Force Critiques, (15 November 2021).

Featured Image: Philippine Sea (March 3, 2022) Sailors conduct an exercise in the combat information center of Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Higgins (DDG 76). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Arthur Rosen)

Focus Areas for Putting Warfighting First

Flotilla Notes Series

“Like war itself, our approach to warfighting must evolve. If we cease to refine, expand, and improve our profession, we risk becoming outdated, stagnant, and defeated.” –Commandant General A. M. Gray, USMC, MCDP-1, Warfighting

By CDR Paul Nickell

Perpetual administrative burdens, general military training, perfecting PowerPoints and quad charts, cataloged trackers for trackers, and continuous connectivity to every servicemember erodes the quality of the military’s preparation and conduct of warfighting. Few practical steps exist below the four-star level that can offer substantial relief from these numerous demands, but warfighters must still strive to exercise deliberate management and find ways to put warfighting first.

Despite being immersed within myriad administrative milieu, warfighting is our purpose. Denying this is to deny the immutable warrior ethos shared by every generation. While leaders have openly stated that warfighting is the top priority, this imperative has not been effectively translated into the deckplate reality of the warfighter’s workload. Their focus is thinly spread across many tasks, many of which are only indirectly connected to warfighting. Deliberate management is the means of leadership to address this challenge. Characterized by intentionality and firm commitment, the deliberate management of warfighting acknowledges that putting warfighting first is a constitutional aspect of service. Deliberate management therefore embraces the related leadership challenges of preserving the warfighting focus amidst the tide of lesser requirements.

Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication (MCDP) 1, Warfighting, offers practical steps to emphasize warfighting preparation that each servicemember can implement now. Some of these steps pertain to focus areas that include doctrine, professionalism, training, professional military education, equipping, and personnel management.

Doctrine contains the foundational beliefs and values of warfare communities on how they expect to operate and fight. Leadership must urge warfighters to learn doctrine, engage in discussions on it, and question its tenets. Professionalism compels these intellectual behaviors from practitioners of war. A cornerstone of effective military leadership is fostering a continuous learning culture with a growth mindset that necessitates coaching, mentorship, and counseling to attain competitive warfighting skill.

Training, distinct from readiness, propels us to take to the field, to steam underway at sea, to take flight, and to frequent simulators. Training encourages units to seek more opportunities for disciplined repetition and failure to garner invaluable experience, and to learn warfighting by actively practicing it.

The benefits of Professional Military Education (PME) encourages leaders to seize every educational opportunity to send personnel to schools, in-person or virtually. PME serves as the mechanism to foster a common language of warfighting through the study of service doctrines, wargame lessons, historical combat operations, and adversary literature. PME offers opportunities to study warfighting at broader levels that go beyond that of the tactical unit, such as fleet-level warfare and the operational level of war. PME affords warfighters some of the most expansive opportunities to deepen their warfighting expertise, where they can focus on their education without being encumbered by the numerous administrative and maintenance burdens that can dilute warfighting focus on the deckplate or at the squadron.

Equipping necessitates an investment in the right tools, but not just hardware for warfighting capability. It also means intellectually equipping warfighters for learning, including carefully curated unit professional libraries, warfighting journal subscriptions, and structured discussion time that incentivizes servicemembers to engage with one another on warfighting content.

Personnel management stands as the capstone of warfighting prioritization. Managing for warfighting is fundamentally about people, and cultivating their expertise and professional development as warfighters. Empower every servicemember with concrete imperatives to deepen their warfighting focus, within the allowable authorities and responsibilities, and then trust them to carry out those duties with unwavering accountability.

These six focus areas, when interwoven, develop the competitive warfighter. Ultimately, the prioritization of warfighting depends on prioritizing the servicemember. Operational plans, technology, and service capabilities are meaningless if leaders are unable or unwilling to invest in the training and education of their people. In a time of great power competition and rising global strife, a failure to prioritize warfighting first is irresponsible and a failure to those we lead.

Commander Paul Nickell is a PMBA student at the Naval Postgraduate School and a Senior Course student at the Naval War College. He is part of the naval aviation community having commanded a P-8A squadron, and facilitated learning at the Navy’s Leadership and Ethics Command for future Major Commanders, Commanding Officers, Executive Officers, and Command Master Chiefs. His academic focus has been on organizational learning, vertical development, and executive coaching as foundational aspects for learning organizations.

Featured Image: Philippine Sea (Oct. 4, 2023) The U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), steams in the Philippine Sea. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Caroline H. Lui)

Risk and Time: Calculating Tradeoffs in Warfighting Management

Flotilla Notes Series

By Barney Rubel

Management, defined as the effective use of resources, is a process and skill that permeates the preparation and execution of warfighting. Commanders can prioritize several specific areas to improve their warfighting management.

Time management is essential. As the CO of a strike fighter squadron, I practiced time management in terms of how much flight time I devoted to different mission areas. There were a limited number of flight hours available during the turnaround cycle based on budgets and the cost of fuel. A Hornet outfit had to be competent in both air-to-air and air-to-ground operations, and these skills were perishable. Of course, there was also carrier qualification, instrument qualification, and other areas that placed demands on time. As CO I had to balance all of these in the context of the individual capabilities, limitations, and idiosyncrasies of my pilots, and with due regard for safety. The goal was to produce a combat ready squadron by the time our carrier sailed on cruise.

In a real sense, all of this was an exercise in risk management. There was never enough time both in terms of actual calendar days and flight hours to bring everyone up to the highest level of capability. I had to decide where to take risks in mission area competency and make calculated tradeoffs. This usually resulted in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation down the line somewhere, but this is inherent to risk management in warfighting. This whole process works better if commanders go into it with a plan based on either direct operational experience, or at least a rational theory of how the unit will be expected to fight.

Naval aviation took decades to get risk management right with respect to mishaps. Prior to the late 1980s, mishap rates were brutal. In 1954 for example, the Navy and Marine Corps suffered 776 Class A mishaps, losing 535 personnel. When I transitioned from the A-7 world to the F-18 world I discovered “operational risk management.” The strike fighter community balanced risk and reward in terms of warfighting readiness at the type level, resulting in a more conservative approach to day-to-day operations. This did not mean that aggressiveness was sacrificed. It just meant that the criterion for accepting risk was grounded in preserving aircraft and crew for warfighting. The big lesson learned was the need to establish the right criterion for judgment in the management of risk. In my A-7 days the criterion was meeting the flight schedule at almost all costs. In my F-18 tour, it was preserving warfighting capability until needed.

We used to disparage management and extol leadership. After decades of naval aviation service, I learned that effective leadership at all levels requires competent management. Poor management increases what Carl von Clausewitz calls friction, which can take the form of dissipating effort down unproductive avenues, and by being forced to recover from messes caused by bad management in the midst of combat. Effective warfighting management will ultimately help minimize the friction experienced in war.

Robert C. Rubel is a retired Navy captain and professor emeritus of the Naval War College. He served on active duty in the Navy as a light attack/strike fighter aviator. At the Naval War College he served in various positions, including planning and decision-making instructor, joint education adviser, chairman of the Wargaming Department, and dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies. On occasion he served as a special adviser to the 31st Chief of Naval Operations. He has published over thirty journal articles and several book chapters.

Featured Image: ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 4, 2017) An F/A-18F Super Hornet, attached to the “Blacklions” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 213 and carrying U.K. Carrier Strike Group Commander Cdre. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Hank Gettys/Released)