Category Archives: Flotilla Tactical Notes

The Navy Must Redefine Risk in Combat Training

Flotilla Tactical Notes Series

By Tom Clarity

The U.S. Navy needs to radically rethink its consideration of risk during tactical training events to prepare the force for war. Many of the tools and frameworks it currently uses are adaptable for use in a more risk tolerant approach to training.

At the major tactical level, it is common to quantify risk under two broad descriptors: risk to force and risk to mission. We typically consider these categories solely at the local level and at a near-term time horizon. The safety and welfare of individuals is prioritized (General Quarters drills held after robust walk-throughs and pre-coordination meetings to mitigate injury, for example) at the cost of the ship’s overall readiness to fight through realistic, intense, and more spontaneous training.

This risk paradigm was logical enough when the United States Navy operated in a unipolar world after the end of the Cold War. In a multilateral world, risk must be considered against the backdrop of major combat operations against a peer Navy. While serving as director of intelligence for PACFLT, Capt. Dale Rielage highlighted how the Chinese Navy approaches risk in combat training: “It is notable that where official PLAN media sources mention risk in training, it is always commending a commander who deliberately chose to increase the risk associated with a training event…The clear impression is that the PLAN is more willing to accept risk in its training evolutions than its U.S. counterparts.”

Local- and individual-focused risk assessment induces risk to the ship and larger force. Risk to mission must also be considered more broadly. Ships should be encouraged to innovate to the point of failure at the local level to derive lessons learned that benefit the broader force. Anticipated risks to either force or mission must be accepted and underwritten by senior leadership. This is not intended to give a blank check to subordinate commanders. If anything, their consideration of risk must become more well-developed and carefully considered.

It is easy to put safety measures in place to prevent slips and falls, or to limit the minimum lateral separation of two aircraft at the merge. It is far harder to consider what risks are additive to the Navy’s overall warfighting readiness, but it is a crucial source of developing warfighting advantage.

Captain Tom Clarity is assigned to the Naval War College. He has previously served as the operations officer for the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and commanding officer of Electronic Attack Squadron 131, an EA-18G Growler squadron based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington.

Featured Image: MARIANA ISLANDS RANGE COMPLEX, Guam (Aug. 30, 2022) EA-18G Growlers from the “Star Warriors” of Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 209, simultaneously fire two AGM-88 High Speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARM) during a training exercise near Guam. (U.S. Navy photo by Cmdr. Peter Scheu)

Flotilla Tactical Notes Series Kicks Off on CIMSEC

By Dmitry Filipoff

A year ago CIMSEC launched an expansive new initiative the Warfighting Flotilla. In the Flotilla, warfighters and navalists come together to discuss naval warfighting, force development, and the naval profession. Over the course of the following year, this new naval professional society grew to more than 300 members and hosted dozens of virtual discussions on naval force development. Visit the Flotilla homepage to join our growing membership and learn more about this community, its activities, and what drives it.

To celebrate the first anniversary of the CIMSEC Flotilla, we posed the following prompt to our membership:

What are your thoughts on what navies can do to improve tactical learning? How can navies do more to create skilled tacticians, advance tactical development, and prioritize warfighting needs above all else? 

This week CIMSEC is running a special series of short notes and responses from Flotilla members that address these questions. We thank these authors for their contributions, listed below.

The Navy Must Redefine Risk in Combat Training,” by Tom Clarity
The Cost of Delaying Wartime Tactical Adaptation,” by Jamie McGrath
Building Sailor Toughness and Combat Mindset: What worked on USS JOHN S. McCAIN and USS VICKSBURG,” by Charles “Chip” Swicker
Bring Back the Warfighting Flash Cards,” by Alan Cummings
Starting with a Step: Creating Professional Incentives for Continuous Tactical Learning,” by Benjamin Clark

Developing Technical and Tactical Skill for Warfighters,” by Ed Kaufmann
Make Wargaming Central to Naval War College Education Once Again,” by Robert C. Rubel
Invest in Tactical Shiphandling for Crisis and Combat,” by Chris Rielage and Spike Dearing

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content and Community Manager of the Flotilla. Contact him at

Featured Image: SOUTH CHINA SEA (July 13, 2022) An F/A-18F Super Hornet attached to the Diamondbacks of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 102 launches from the flight deck of the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Gray Gibson)