Category Archives: Tactics and Warfighting

Make ASW Joint: Integrating the Joint Force into Full Spectrum ASW

By Jason Lancaster

Winston Churchill once stated that the only thing that scared him during the Second World War was the subsea aspect during the Battle of the Atlantic. Ant-submarine Warfare (ASW) was a paramount focus early in the war. Victory in the Atlantic required a whole of government effort from the Allied powers at the war’s strategic, operational, and tactical levels. At the strategic level, national shipbuilding industries designed ships like the Flower-class corvette and Liberty cargo ship for mass production. At the operational and tactical level, Allied air forces and navies were forced to operate jointly to hunt submarines and defend convoys.

During the Cold War, NATO maintained anti-submarine competency and internalized lessons learned during the Second World War. The collapse of the Soviet Navy during the 1990s shifted the U.S. focus to power projection ashore in the Balkans and the Middle East, and anti-submarine warfare competencies across the joint force atrophied. As the era of near-peer competition began, the Navy looked at ways to recapture the hard-fought competencies and lessons lost since the end of the Cold War. In particular, the whole government approach to anti-submarine warfare (ASW) was reintroduced, known as “full-spectrum ASW.” The Navy is the domain owner for undersea warfare. As such, the Navy must be prepared to educate and explain undersea warfare doctrine and its roles to the rest of the joint force so that lessons written in blood are not repeated.

A Disappointing Tale of Disjointedness

As a young lieutenant serving at Naval Forces in Korea, I received a frantic call from a United States Forces Korea staff officer to come over for a chat. Once there, an Air Force officer asked me how to make anti-submarine warfare a joint activity. Inadvertently, my recommendations aligned with the concepts of “full-spectrum ASW,” first described by retired Navy captain William Toti. During the meeting, I detailed several ways to accomplish anti-submarine warfare as a joint activity. A few hours later, I received a call from an Air Force officer stating that headquarters decided that anti-submarine warfare was a Navy problem, a position reminiscent of the historical friction between the Army Air Corps and the Navy in 1942. History has a way of repeating itself.

Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) is All-of-Government and Joint

Full-spectrum ASW breaks down the different ways to defeat a submarine threat. There are offensive and defensive lines of effort or threads. The threads cover the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of war. These threads require an all-of-government approach to recognize their full benefit and potential. Captain Toti was inspired by the Army’s combined arms tactics and use of kill zones to approach anti-submarine warfare. Using my previously mentioned conversation as an inspiration, this paper journeys through the different threads of integrating full-spectrum ASW into the joint force and not leaving it just to the Navy.

Strategic Threads

The joint force contributes variously at the levels of war for full-spectrum ASW. There are only two threads at the strategic level of war. If used aggressively by joint force commanders, those two threads can end a submarine threat before it has begun.

1. Discourage enemy submarines before leaving the harbor. Discouraging enemy submarines from leaving port occurs at senior levels of government and the combatant command through overt and covert means. Commanders and the government should conduct studies to determine enemy submarine force capability gaps to exploit. This should be all-encompassing and explore everything from adversary submarine force leadership, command and control, tactics, training, parts and maintenance, and morale. Discouraging an enemy submarine from leaving port would focus on deterring its leadership, disrupting command and control, and exploiting any issues with submarine force morale. Many of these efforts can be considered part of information operations or operations designed to influence the decision calculus of enemy leadership and crews to create favorable outcomes for the joint forces.

2. Defeat submarines in port. The adage is that the best time to eliminate a submarine is when it’s stationary alongside a pier. In 1982, the ARS Santa Fe was sunk alongside a pier on South Georgia Island by a Royal Navy helicopter. This reduced the Argentine Navy’s submarine fleet by a third before the amphibious landings in the Falklands began. The remaining two Argentine submarines proved troublesome for the Royal Fleet. The Royal Navy expended significant quantities of sonobuoys, torpedoes, aircraft sorties, and ships hunting the other submarines. On several occasions, Argentine torpedo failures proved to be the only thing that prevented successful submarine attacks on Royal Navy ships. Although the Royal Navy never located the other two submarines, their efforts proved it was easier to kill submarines in port than at sea.

Defeating submarines in port is more aggressive and highly escalatory if done during peacetime. However, diplomacy and sanctions can restrict the flow of required parts and supplies, affecting readiness and preventing a submarine’s departure from port. Such strategies are hard to implement for adversaries with strong indigenous supply chains. During wartime, special operation raids and time-sensitive targeting can help disable vessels in port.

Infrastructure strikes on piers, warehouses, fuel storage, ammunition magazines, and communication nodes can hobble sustainment capabilities. An enemy submarine can return to port but cannot be redeployed. Mining the entrances or approaches to harbors can quarantine the threat, at least temporarily. Defeating submarines in port simplifies theater ASW and enables logistics to flow into the theater with less risk.

Russian Navy nuclear-powered submarines at a base in Russia’s Murmansk region. (Photo via Lev Fedoseyev/TASS)

Operational Level of War

Anti-submarine warfare (ASW) is a resource-intensive fight. The time to learn and prepare is before hostilities break out. The combatant commander should support joint operations at the operational level of war by prioritizing and resourcing ASW as a key mission and emphasizing routine training requirements. ASW exercises illuminate the gaps in coverage within the operating area. Once those gaps are identified, the command can submit an urgent needs request to acquire additional capabilities to support the ASW mission. Urgent is relative to the budgeting time frame, so the joint force commander should identify these needs early to build a case for how these capabilities are required in the theater.

3. Defeat the submarines’ shore-based command-and-control (C2) capability. Severing leadership’s communications with their operational units ranges from destroying nodes, jamming channels, hacking command and control systems, and targeting leadership. Submariners embody mission command, but disrupting the command-and-control capability reduces the effectiveness of over-the-horizon targeting. If the enemy submarine does not have third-party sensor cues for the location of our ships, the submarine is forced to approach the strike group for organic acquisition. As a submarine draws closer to a protected entity, its advantages are eroded, and its chance of discovery is elevated. Disrupting communications also adds a layer of distraction, forcing adversarial crews to make efforts to restore communications.

4. Defeat submarines near ports and in denied areas. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, anti-submarine aircraft operated in spotter-killer groups. One carried the sensors, and the other carried the torpedo. Today, General Atomics builds the sensor-laden MQ-9B capable of carrying side-scanning maritime radars and 40 sonobuoys. Another unmanned aerial system, the T600, successfully launched a Stingray torpedo during a NATO exercise. While U.S. maritime patrol aircraft like the P-8A Poseidon are adept submarine hunters, there are too few of them.

British Aerospace’s T600 prepares for takeoff with a torpedo. (Photo via DroneXL)

Hunting submarines is an excellent area where the joint force can shine. The Marine Corps should invest in the MQ-9B to support their Marine littoral regiments’ domain awareness and anti-submarine warfare initiatives. These aircraft could operate from expeditionary advanced bases near a hostile country to detect, track, classify, and engage hostile submarines.

5. Defeat submarines in chokepoints. Chokepoints are dangerous for warring sides depending on who has the preponderance of forces and who can position first. Diesel-electric submarines are slow and cannot easily close on a maneuvering carrier strike group. Instead, diesel-electric submarines prefer to lie in wait. Chokepoints are key maritime terrain to funnel forces and favor ambush predators. This is an area where the Marine Corps littoral regiments and the Army multi-domain task forces can play a decisive role with the proper weapons.

The Marine Corps littoral regiments and multi-domain task forces expect to operate near chokepoints, providing sensors and fires for the maritime fight. Equipping them with weapons and sensors that support anti-surface and submarine warfare would increase their lethality and utility in chokepoints. Equipping these units with MQ-9B Sea Guardians would provide persistent maritime domain awareness for the joint force. The Department of Defense should develop an extended-range dual-use anti-submarine/anti-ship cruise missile for the joint force like the Russian SS-N-14 Silex. These units could rely on inorganic sensors or be equipped with periscope detection radars, sonobuoys, and sonar processing systems to direct their maritime fires.

These units are already equipped with anti-ship missiles such as the SM-6, Block V Tomahawk, and Naval Strike Missile (NSM). Increasing the variety of weapons and capabilities makes these forces more lethal and forces the enemy to develop countermeasures, diverting resources from offensive weapons.

Two towboats attached to a submarine flotilla under the PLA Northern Theater Command jointly tow a submarine off a port during a maritime combat training exercise on April 19, 2022. (Photo via by Shi Jialong)

6. Defeat submarines in the open ocean. There are two key ways that the joint force can support the open ocean ASW fight. One is through providing additional intelligence support. Cryptologic Task Group (CTG) 101 is collocated with the Air Force, Space Force, and other agencies. It provides timely, accurate, and relevant target quality data on dynamic targets to enable weapons engagement at range. If the next fight is maritime, CTG 101 mission priorities should be increased to provide improved targeting and tracking of opposing submarines.

The other way to support ASW in the open ocean is by utilizing MQ-9Bs to support long-range maritime patrols, and there is precedence. During the Second World War, the Army Air Corps utilized B-17s and other aircraft to support ASW patrols from Iceland to the Caribbean to deter German submarines from surfacing. Air Force battle management and other special mission aircraft could play a similar role in finding submarines. Air Force “Compass Call” aircraft could support jamming enemy submarine communications, targeting, and scouting channels. Most submarine over-the-horizon targeting comes from satellite communications. Without those communications, the range of a submarine-launched missile is reduced to the organic targeting distance. This potentially reduces the range from 300 nautical miles to under 50 nautical miles. At those ranges, a carrier strike group’s organic ASW assets have a chance at locating and defeating an enemy submarine.

7. Draw enemy submarines into ASW “kill boxes.” Drawing the enemy into “kill boxes” utilizes joint force capabilities. The theater anti-submarine warfare commander should design kill boxes based on chokepoints, bathymetry, acoustic profiles, and the location of ASW-equipped friendly forces. Integration should be based on sensor and weapons capabilities.

8. Mask our forces from submarine detection or classification. There are several ways that the Navy masks forces from submarine detection or classification. Some of the easiest ways include operating in areas of the ocean with a large amount of acoustic noise, in areas with poor acoustic conditions for the spread of noise, and operating the engineering plant to present different acoustic profiles. Air Force aircraft could drop large noisemaking decoys offset from naval assets to drive enemy submarines away from the naval force. These self-propelled noisemakers are already in the Navy’s inventory as training tools. Noisemakers could also be configured to serve as lures, mimicking the acoustic profiles of worthwhile targets to entice submarines into kill boxes for joint fires prosecution.

Tactical ASW

The joint force plays a role in tactical anti-submarine warfare. The joint force assets used to detect, classify, and track submarines in chokepoints, the open ocean, and kill boxes must also be able to engage the submarine. Equipping littoral regiments and multi-domain task forces to engage submarines is vital as it might represent the last opportunity before the submarine can break into the open ocean.

Task forces comprised of escort carriers played several roles during the Battle of the Atlantic, escorting convoys or participating in hunter-killer groups. World War II task forces utilized signals intelligence to locate and attack German U-boats. Modern reincarnations of the hunter-killer group might include allied frigates, destroyers, and composite squadrons specialized for ASW. For example, the Japanese Mogami class frigate and squadrons composed of MQ-9Bs or MH-60R helicopters operating from Navy flattops like amphibious assault ships or expeditionary sea bases. Queuing would be supported by the federated intelligence apparatus in addition to the organic scouting capabilities of the group.

9. Defeat the submarines in close battle. With the advent of anti-ship cruise missile-armed submarines, the close battle can be anywhere from a few hundred yards to over 300 nautical miles. Supporting the force with ASW-capable aircraft, deploying missile countermeasures, jamming submarine communication and datalink capabilities, or providing intelligence of a missile launch must not be overlooked as meaningful contributions by the joint force. This weaves into the next thread.

10. Defeat the incoming torpedo. This thread should be updated to include defeating incoming missiles and torpedoes. If all else fails, defend. This thread is primarily a local force action, but there are ways the joint force can still contribute. Mines and submarine nets deployed by littoral regiments and other forces around chokepoints or vulnerable waterways can complicate adversarial targeting. Utilizing soft kill options like decoys or tactical air defenses to engage a missile at range can help thwart a long-range missile attack. Lastly, the joint force can provide indications and warnings of adversarial weapon launches to help friendly assets prepare to defend.


The ten threads of full-spectrum ASW provide an excellent path for joint force integration into the ASW Fight. Some retooling may be required to become effective. As the joint force girds itself for a maritime fight, new units in development to support local sea control or denial should not overlook ASW and invest accordingly.

As in the Second World War, defeating the submarine threat would require a whole-of-government approach in close coordination with allies and partners. It is better to start communicating and training for anti-submarine warfare during peacetime rather than unnecessarily expending blood and treasure in wartime. As the military gears up to fight a maritime fight in the Pacific, every service is eager to play a role. There are roles for the joint force, and the U.S. Navy should take advantage by steering other service resources in ways that improve the Navy’s lethality and help win the ASW fight.

LCDR Jason Lancaster is a Surface Warfare Officer. He currently works at OPNAV N5. His last sea tour was as C5I Officer aboard USS AMERICA (LHA 6).  Afloat he has also served as a Destroyer Squadron Operations Officer, Weapons Officer on a DDG, with division officer tours aboard an LSD and an LPD.  Ashore, he has worked in the N5 at OPNAV and Commander, Naval Forces Korea. He is an alumnus of Mary Washington College and holds an MA in History from the University of Tulsa.

The views presented are his own and do not necessarily reflect the official view of the U.S. Government or the Department of Defense.

Featured Image: A PLA Navy submarine attached to a submarine flotilla under the PLA Northern Theater Command bears off a port for the maritime combat training drills on March 23, 2022. (Photo via by Wu Haodong)

The Evolution of Soviet Views on Fleet Air Defense, Pt. 2

The following originally appeared in the summer 1985 edition of the Naval War College Review and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here. Read Part One here.

By Floyd D. Kennedy Jr

Impact of the Falklands/Malvinas War

The Anglo-Argentine war in the South Atlantic initiated a barrage of Soviet articles. After an initial spate of polemics on British imperialism, the naval literature assumed a much more analytic tone, and a parade of distinguished Soviet authors addressed a variety of technical and operational issues, primarily in the pages of Morskoy sbornik. Most of these articles focused on electronic warfare and air defense.

As is the case of so many important issues elaborated in the pages of Morskoy sbornik, the first major article was a tutorial. In the November 1982 issue, Rear Admiral-Engineer G. Popov discussed the role of electronic systems in the activities of naval forces, the basic principles of electronic warfare, and their importance to air defense.21 He was followed in the same issue by Rear Admiral I. Uskov, who discussed the importance of surface ships to the operational success of the British effort. Uskov’s conclusions, however, focused not on the importance of surface ships but on the necessity to provide ship formations with reliable and effective air defense:

“The Anglo- Argentine conflict showed with full clarity. . . that under modern conditions no ship is capable of effectively carrying out assigned missions without reliable air cover. The lack of aircraft carriers with long-range radar detection and control aircraft in the English formations was the reason for large losses of ships and vessels.”22

Citing “foreign specialists,” Uskov continued, “. . . low-flying anti-ship missiles may be successfully combatted if ships are armed with short-range SAM systems with minimal reaction times and automated antiaircraft gun systems.” On his own authority, he asserted that electronic warfare was extremely successful in ASMD: “In all cases when English ship captains promptly used passive jamming, the attacks of Argentine anti-ship missiles were unsuccessful, as a rule.”23

Rodionov and Novichkov reappeared as authors in the December 1982 Morskoy sbornik, where they provided a detailed, though not totally accurate, account of Argentine air attacks and British air defense dispositions during the war.24 They were joined in the January 1983 issue by Captain Second Rank Ye. Nikitin in an extensive evaluation of the electronic warfare lessons learned from the conflict. The three authors contended that because the British had no AEW organic to their naval groupings, they were forced to make exceptionally wide – and, in the case of chaff, often wasteful – use of softkill capability to combat the Argentine anti-ship missile threat. This experience pointed to specific improvements that should be made to existing systems. The two most important being the adoption of automatic systems that can rapidly switch from one form of ASMD (against radar seekers) to another (against infrared or laser seekers), and the installation of completely automated antiaircraft missiles and guns with a high rate of fire.

Rodionov et al. concluded the article with their version of the Royal Navy’s own recommendations for improving British ASMD. These recommendations were as follows:

  • Equipping naval groups with AWACS [sic] aircraft
  • Creating an AEW remotely piloted vehicle or tethered aerostat to perform the AWACS mission
  • Improving active and passive ECM systems for countering ASMs
  • Equipping carrier groups with long-range, highly maneuverable interceptors to keep the enemy at great distances from their targets (the British Sea Harrier was effective only in close-in air battles)
  • Improving the ability of VTOL aircraft to intercept low-flying targets by modifying their air-intercept radars and equipping them with advanced air-to-air missiles (AAMs)
  • Developing more effective long-range, surface-to-air missiles (SAMs)
  • Deploying more antiaircraft gatling guns on ships
  • Improving shipboard damage control capabilities.25

Inasmuch as the Soviet fleet has systems similar to those in the Royal Navy, the above recommendations could apply equally to the Soviet development efforts. Particularly appropriate was the suggestion that VTOL aircraft be armed with AAMs – Forgers with AA-8 Aphid missiles on wing hardpoints were observed for the first time on board the VTOL carrier Minsk in the Indian Ocean in December 1982.

1986 – A Yak-36 Forger aircraft parked on the stern of the Soviet aircraft carrier Minsk. (Photo via U.S. National Archives)

In an article authored independently for the Soviet military newspaper Krasnaya zvezda (Red Star), Nikitin reemphasized the difficulties that confronted the British because they lacked AEW aircraft.26 The Baltic Fleet Commander in Chief Admiral I. Kapitanets echoed this theme in the February 1983 Morskoy sbornik, writing that NATO naval specialists had concluded that early warning about the air threat is basic to a successful defense against it. Using Western military surrogates Kapitanets also asserted that “‘the mission of antiaircraft and antimissile defense can be accomplished successfully only through the comprehensive employment of various means of electronic warfare and fully automated air defense, missile, and gun systems with a short ‘reaction time’ and high fire density.” He qualified this last statement with the observation that EW did not seem to deter “old” aviation tactics such as low-altitude bomb and rocket attacks.27

As if to provide historical underpinnings for Kapitanets’ assertions, Vice Admiral K. Stalbo, supposedly another ghost writer for the Soviet Navy’s commander in chief, reviewed in the same issue of Morskoy sbornik the performance of World War II fighter aviation in support of Soviet fleet operations. At one point Stalbo was critical about Soviet World War II resource allocations that could have a modern corollary,

“The air forces of the fleets did not possess special long-range fighters that to some degree would have compensated for the lack of carrier-launched fighter cover. Because of the absence of long-range fighters, the fleets were provided only with frontal aviation (tactical) fighters, and this fact greatly narrowed the opportunities for the combat employment of surface vessels.”28

He concluded that the experience of World War II correctly defined the role and place of Soviet Naval Aviation in general and by implication tactical fighter aviation within SNA, causing it to develop after the war as one of the main branches of the navy.

In a continuing equivalent of a Western “media blitz” N. Novichkovy, like his coauthor Nikitin, reiterated his Morskoy sbornik article’s main points in another publication, this time a two-part series in the February and March 1983 issues of Aviatsiya i kosmonavtika, the journal of the Soviet Air Forces. Novichkov again emphasized the British shortcoming in airborne early warning and paraphrased the prescriptions with which he, Rodionov, and Nikitin had concluded their January 1983 article. Novichkov also repeated the recommendation he and Rodionov had made in their May 1978 article for increased employment of helicopters in the ASMD role. He noted that the British had adapted some Sea King helicopters to the AEW mission, deploying them immediately after the Falklands crisis, and were discussing improvements to helicopter self-defense capabilities.29 Another naval author repeated these points in a March 1983 article in Zarubezhnoye voyennoye obozreniye (Foreign Military Review) in an apparent effort to reach a different segment of the military audience.30 The same issue carried an article on the American LAMPS helicopter system, emphasizing its ASMD role.31

In 1983, additional articles on ASMs or ASMD appeared in the April issue of Zarubezhnoye voyennoye obozreniye and the April and November issues of Morskoy sbornik. None provided additional insight into Soviet thinking on the subject, but the repetitious nature of the articles illustrated Soviet concern.32

The January 1984 Morskoy sbornik carried three articles on anti-ship missiles and fleet air defense. The first described the Israeli Gabriel air-launched ASM and noted that because the missile is compatible with the A-4 Skyhawk attack aircraft used by a number of nations, the Gabriel probably will “find wide distribution and markets.”33 Another article looked at the operational utility of employing helicopters as AEW platforms for ASMD, using the Falklands/Malvinas war as an illustration of what can happen without such a system.34

2005 – A Russian Navy KA-31 airborne early warning (AEW) helicopter. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

The most significant of the three January articles was the only one with a byline, that of Captain First Rank-Engineer A. Partala and Senior Lieutenant-Engineer N. Partala. Returning to the topic covered the previous January by Rodionov, Nikitin, and Novichkov, the Partalas justified this repetition by explaining that the information available to the earlier authors was often erroneous. In essence, the Partalas claimed that the South Atlantic war demonstrated that air defense weapons have very low effectiveness against ASMs, especially “with the mass missile strikes typical of modern warfare,” a situation that did not exist off the Falklands. “The possibility of providing reliable protection to combatants against strikes by a large number of missiles by the use of air defense weapons appears more and more doubtful to foreign authors in light of the Falklands experience.”

The solution to this dilemma, according to the authors, was the expanded employment of electronic warfare, because EW did not suffer from limitations such as rate of fire and missile saturation. They quoted foreign specialists as believing “that ECM capabilities can provide for the diversion of more than 80 percent of the attacking anti-ship missiles” no matter what the number. The Partalas then recommended, through their foreign surrogates,

“an acceleration in practical implementation of a number of measures that EW specialists pointed out long ago. They include in particular the equipping of ships of all types with active jamming capabilities, an improvement in means of passive jamming, increased speed of EW capabilities, and use of deck-based helicopters and aircraft equipped with radar and active and passive jamming warning gear for the protection of combatants.”35

The Partalas’ article, therefore, took issue with the earlier Rodionov et al. article that advocated a number of expensive weapon system improvements, as well as improvements in shipboard EW. The Partalas asserted that weapons may be fine for limited engagements, but only electronic warfare can be effective against massive missile attacks. The key to ASMD, according to the authors, was EW and AEW, not weaponry.

Only one more Morskoy sbornik article addressed ASMs or air defense through the middle of 1984, and it simply described Norwegian tactics for the airborne launch of the Penguin anti-ship missile.36 An article on trends in air defense in local wars in the February Voyenno-istoricheskiy zhurnal was directed to continental rather than maritime PVO. Nevertheless, some of its conclusions coincided with recommendations of naval authors for improving maritime air defense. According to the authors, the speed of warning about air attacks had acquired such importance that automation of the collection, processing, and distribution of intelligence was vital. Also, combat experience in local wars had confirmed the need for echeloned PVO in depth with antiaircraft artillery and EW for close-in and low-level defenses, surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and artillery for medium altitudes, SAMs for high altitudes, and fighter aviation beyond and in the spaces between SAM complexes.37 This preferred configuration for land-based PVO could well provide a model for naval officers like Rodionov, Nikitin, and Novichkov who advocate long-range ship-based interceptors and improved missile and gun defenses.

1980 – A Soviet Kashin-class destroyer underway. (Photo via U.S. National Archives)

Two distinct developments have influenced Soviet views on fleet air defense. The first is the steadily expanding operations of Soviet surface forces outside the air defense umbrella of land-based interceptors. The second is Western development of a qualitatively new class of weapons-small, sea-skimming cruise missiles.

The Falklands/Malvinas war demonstrated to the Soviets what could happen to their own navy if exposed to ASM attack while deployed. British deficiencies were remarkably similar to Soviet deficiencies in AEW and ASMD weaponry. But the British demonstrated an expertise in ECM that the Soviets do not have and successfully defended ships that would likely have been lost had they been Soviet. The war in the South Atlantic brought to life a threat that some Soviets had been concerned about since the late 1970s. As indicated by Soviet literature, the ASM threat received intensive high-level attention after 1982 as the primary fleet air defense problem.

Soviet authors agree unanimously on some methods of improving anti-ship missile defense, but not on others. Electronic warfare had no detractors. Automation of the collection, processing, and dissemination of information and self-defense weaponry was similarly popular. Most authors cited airborne early warning, preferably on a helicopter, as a prerequisite for any kind of ASM defense.

Disagreement appears to center on the requirement for long-range interceptors and AEW airplanes for fleet air defense. Stalbo’s allusion to an unfulfilled World War II need for long-range naval fighters as compensation for the absence of carriers in the Soviet Navy probably was a thinly veiled criticism of those who would deny the Soviet Navy modern carriers and accompanying air wings for fleet air defense. The earlier article by Tomokhovich seemed to argue that carriers were too vulnerable to provide effective bases for fleet air defense because they required enormous resources for their own self-protection. The two Partalas later implicitly supported this line of reasoning by arguing for increased ECM capabilities and against new weaponry for anti-ship missile defense. The argument over the existence of carriers in the Soviet fleet appears moot with the confirmed construction of a large-deck carrier in the Nikolayev shipyard near the Black Sea, but it may simply have shifted focus to the number of such carriers required.

1988 – A port view of the Soviet Kiev-class VSTOL aircraft carrier BAKU (CVHG 103) underway. (Photo via U.S. National Archives)

V’yunenko’s 1982 article on directed energy weapons in the fleet system of ASMD is intriguing in that the concept has not been discussed elsewhere in Soviet naval literature, even in passing. The same is true of Rodionov and Novichkov’s article on airships as AEW platforms for fleet air defense. Both of these concepts are viable and may be in development. The likelihood of the latter concept reaching production probably is considerably less than the former, because several competitors to airships (AEW helicopters and AEW airplanes operating from aircraft carriers) appear more popular among the authors reviewed. Directed energy weaponry, on the other hand, has little competition in its class of destruction potential.

Judging by the literature, the 1990s’ fleet air defense system of the Soviet Navy will include a multitude of new systems: a big-deck carrier with long-range fighters and AEW airplanes embarked, AEW and ASMD helicopters dispersed throughout the surface combatant fleet, enhanced and automatic ECM, and perhaps a rudimentary directed energy ASMD system. The Soviets are very much concerned about the Western anti-ship missile threat, and if they are to continue to employ their navy as an instrument of national power, such defensive systems are an absolute necessity. Countering them is no less a requirement for Western air and naval forces.

Commander Kennedy is a professional staff member of the Center for Naval Analyses and maritime editor for National Defense. He publishes widely on US and Soviet naval and aeronautical affairs.


21. G. Popov, “The Role of Electronic Systems in the Activities of Navy Forces,” Morskoy sbornik, November 1982, pp. 75-77.

22. Ibid.

23. I. Uskov, “Lessons of the Anglo-Argentine Conflict and the Role of Surface Ships in Conflict at Sea,” Morskoy sbornik, November 1982, pp. 87-92.

24. B. Rodionov and N. Novichkov, “The Tactics of Air Operations Against Ships,” Morskoy sbornik, December 1982, pp. 80-87.

25. B. Rodionov, Ye. Nikitin, and N. Novichkov, “Electronic Warfare in the South Atlantic,” Morskoy sbornik, JJanwary 1983, pp. 77-85.

26. Ye. Nikitin, “Colonial Adventure in the South Atlantic,” Krasnaya zvezda, 14 January 1983, p. 3.

27. [. Kapitaners, “The Navy’s Role in the Anglo-Argentine Conflict,”” Morskoy sbornik, February 1983, pp. 14-20.

28. K. Statbo, ”Experience in the Use of Naval Aviation in che Great Patriotic War,” Voyennoistoricheskiy zhurnal, February 1983, pp. 25-30, trans. in JPRS 83387 (Washington: 3 May 1983).

29. N. Novichkov, “Combat Aviation in the Anglo-Argentine Conflict,” Aviatsiya i kosmonaviika, February 1983, pp. 46-47 and March 1983, trans. in JPRS 84165 (Washington: 22 August 1983), and JPRS 84063 (Washington 8 August 1983), respectively.

30. Yu. Galkin, “Air Defense of British Expeditionary Forces (During the Anglo-Argentine Conflict),” Zarubezhnoye voyennoye obozreniye, March 1983, pp. 64-67, trans. inJPRS 83591 (Washington: 2 June 1983).

31. M. Panin, “LAMPS System,” Zarbezhnoye voyennoye obozreniye, March 1983, pp. 67-72, trans. In JPRS 83591 (Washingcon: 2June 1983).

32. B. Semenov, “Anti-Ship Missiles,” Zarubezhnoye voyennoye obozreniye, April 1983, pp. 64-69, trans. In JPRS 83735 (Washington: 22June 1983), A. Partala and N. Partala, “Electronic Warfare Capahilities of Guided Missile Patrol Boats,” Morskoy sbornik, April 1983, pp. 81-84; N. Partala, “U.K. Shipboard Missile-Attack Warning Station,” Morskoy sbornik, November 1983, pp. 75-76; N. Kabalin, “Using the Land-Based Tomahawk Against Ships,” Morskoy sbornik, November 1983, pp. 81-83.

33. “Gabriel Antiship Missiles (Naval Officer Reference Data),”‘ Morskoy sbornik, January 1984, pp. 29-31.

34. “Long-Range Radar Detection Helicopters in the Ship Antiinissile Defense System,” Morskoy sbornik, January 1984, pp. 86-87,

35. A. Partala and N. Partala, “Electronic Warfare Against Antiship Missiles,” Morskoy sbornik, ]January 1984, pp. 82-85.

36. “The Tactics of Aerial Use of Penguin Antiship Missiles,” Morskoy sbornik, March 1984, pp. 87-91.

37. A. Kozhevnikov and T. Mikicenko, “On Certain Trends in the Development ofAir Defense in Local Wars,” Voyenno-istoricheskiy zhurnal, February 1984, pp. 59-64, trans. in JPRS-UMA-84-036 (Washington: 7 May 1984).

Featured Image: 1986 – An aerial port bow view of the Soviet aircraft carrier MINSK (CVHG), center, and a Boris Chilikin class oiler during an underway replenishment. (Photo via U.S. National Archives)

The Evolution of Soviet Views on Fleet Air Defense, Pt. 1

The following originally appeared in the summer 1985 edition of the Naval War College Review and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Floyd D. Kennedy Jr

“Air Defense of Naval Forces: a set of organizational measures and combat operations to repel the attack of an airborne enemy and protect groupings of naval forces at sea and in bases, and also to protect shore installations against air strikes. Naval air defense helps gain and keep air supremacy in certain regions of a theater of operations. Air defense is used in all types of combat and operations, during a sea crossing (of formations or independent ships), and in the daily combat activity of naval forces…” —Rear Admiral S.P. Teglev, Chief of Naval Air Defense, Soviet Military Encyclopedia, 1978.

The Soviet Navy is constantly changing, evolving from a coastal defense force to a blue water fleet able to show the red flag in the far reaches of the globe. This evolution is evident in Soviet shipbuilding programs and peacetime operations. But nowhere is it more evident than in Soviet naval literature. This literature, more than any other indicator, reflects the attitudes and concerns of high-ranking Soviet naval officers. In the 1980s one of the prime concerns of the Soviet Navy’s leadership appears to be the air defense (protivovozdushnaya oborona, or PVO) of naval forces. This phenomenon is a relatively recent one in the literature. The change portends a new Soviet intention to operate naval forces outside the protective umbrella of shore-based air defense forces and, perhaps, to use those forces more aggressively in areas distant from Russian shores outside the context of a NATO/Warsaw Pact war.

Air defense issues of particular importance to Soviet authors appear to center on the threat posed by antiship missiles (ASMs) and the best method of countering that threat. Among the leading ASM defensive measures discussed are electronic warfare (EW) systems, missiles, guns, directed energy weapons, and, the most controversial of all, carrier-based airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft and long-range interceptors. These Soviet views on fleet air defense require close examination if the West is to gain insight into the Soviet Navy of the late 1990s.

Early Views on Fleet PVO

One indicator of the attention a particular issue is receiving, or has recently received, at the higher levels of the Soviet naval command structure is the frequency with which it is discussed in the military literature. In the 1960s PVO at sea was a prime subject in only four articles from the available literature, and only two of those articles were devoted exclusively to fleet air defense.1 All four articles generally agreed that air defense could be broken down into two elements: combat against missiles and combat against missile launch platforms. Action against missiles was the responsibility of the antiaircraft guns, missiles, and electronic countermeasures on board surface ships. Action against launch platforms appeared to be the responsibility of the land-based interceptor aircraft of PVO Strany, the Soviets’ air defense force. The Soviet authors considered this division necessary because missiles could be fired from beyond the range of shipboard defenses. An unspoken but obvious corollary to this argument was that the Soviets did not then plan to employ their surface warships beyond the protective umbrella of land-based interceptors in wartime.

1990 – A port bow view of the Soviet Slava-class guided missile cruiser Chernova Ukraina underway en route to the Pacific Ocean from the Black Sea. (Photo via U.S. National Archives)

The literature of the early 1970s contained virtually no mention of fleet air defense. In an otherwise extremely comprehensive article entitled, “Some Trends in the Development of Naval Tactics,” Captain First Rank N. V’yunenko did not once mention PVO at sea, although he touched on almost every other naval subject imaginable.2 Because V’yunenko enjoyed then (1975) – as he does now – a close relationship with the Soviet Navy’s highest decision makers, his omission of PVO from his otherwise comprehensive article appears significant, reflecting either a lack of high-level concern about the subject or, more likely, a division of official opinion on the matter.

The ASM Threat

In the early 1970s the Soviet press began to discuss a significant new airborne threat, the ASM. The first article on this subject in their navy’s professional journal, Morskoy sbornik, was entitled “The First Combat Use of Ship-to-Ship Missiles and Their Development.” The author, a civilian named Shaskol’skiy, discussed the sinking of the Israeli destroyer Eilat in October 1967 and the Western reaction to that event in the form of ASM development and countermeasures. The magazine gave no prominence to the article – it was buried in the back pages, the author was a virtual unknown, and the events he was discussing were almost three years old.3 Yet the difficulties Shaskol’skiy described as bedeviling Western engineers in the development of ASM defense (ASMD) systems presaged similar Soviet problems.

In the mid-1970s Morskoy sbornik followed Western ASM developments fairly closely and reported their developmental milestones in the magazine’s section on “Foreign Navies: Reports and Facts,” a compilation of brief, newsworthy vignettes on foreign naval developments. The first complete article devoted exclusively to a single ASM appeared in the July 1977 Morskoy sbornik and inaugurated a spate of writing on the ASM and the problems of defending against it that has continued to the present day. This initial article was written by Captain First Rank B. Rodionov and Engineer N. Novichkov, who have become prolific writers on the problems of fleet air defense. Entitled simply, “The Tomahawk Cruise Missile,” it contained a basic description of the land attack and anti-ship variants of the missile, along with a mild polemic on their arms control implications.4

The following year Rodionov and Novichkov published a more analytical article entitled, “Is the Missile Defense Problem Solvable?” Crediting ”foreign military specialists” with most of the analysis, the two authors recommended recruiting helicopters into the ASMD role to improve a ship’s detection range against missiles and their launch platforms. In addition, the helicopters were to be equipped with electronic countermeasures (ECM) to foil the missiles’ seekers and air-to-air missiles to knock down the ASMs. The authors suggested other improvements, including the automation of information collection, processing, and weapons control on board ship to compensate for the short warning time afforded by sea-skimming anti-ship missiles. With regard to the question posed by the title of their article the authors concluded that there “is no unequivocal answer . . . at present,” adding “Many foreign specialists are far from optimistic when evaluating the capabilities of combating anti-ship cruise missiles.” The two Soviet writers reached this conclusion despite the fact that they had just finished describing the unqualified success of Israeli ASMD against Soviet-made anti-ship missiles in the 1973 Yom Kippur war.5 It would appear that their pessimism over ASMD capabilities was their own and not of Western origin.

Kuz’min also had described the 1973 Israeli successes in the previous edition of Morskoy sbornik, as out of 50 ASMs fired by the Egyptians not a single one hit an Israeli target. Kuz’min had a more important point to make, however,

“Reconnaissance support of the combat employment of anti-ship cruise missiles is linked directly with reconnaissance directed at combating cruise missiles. This fact has caused foreign military specialists to express grave concern about the difficulties of detecting missiles. . . . It might turn out that the warning about incoming missiles will be their detection on radar screens, which could already be too late for the employment of air defense missiles for their destruction.”

Like Rodionov and Novichkov, Kuz’min recommended, through his “foreign military specialist” surrogates, the employment of helicopters for detecting incoming ASMs and the automation of intelligence processing and distribution.6

The sixth volume of the authoritative Soviet military encyclopedia Sovetskaya Voyennaya Entsiklopediya was published at approximately the same time as the above two articles. This volume contained an entry by Rear Admiral S. P. Teglev, Chief of Naval Air Defense, on “Air Defense of Naval Forces,” the first two sentences of which are quoted at the head of this article. Teglev continued his entry by describing the forces committed to naval air defense:

“This [defense] is accomplished with the antiaircraft weapons of ships and naval bases and naval fighter aviation in coordination with the National Air Defense Forces and the ground forces. Outside the reach of the weapons of the National Air Defense and the air defense forces of the ground forces, only a ship’s own antiaircraft missile complexes, small and medium-caliber antiaircraft guns, ship-based fighter aircraft, and equipment for naval reconnaissance and electronic warfare are used.”7

Later, Teglev specifically described how capitalist countries conducted naval air defense, implying that the above quotation described the Soviet method of PVO. This point is curious, because the entry was sent to press almost five years before the only Soviet ship-based fighter, the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) Forger, demonstrated an antiair warfare capability. This encyclopedia entry probably reflected Soviet naval planning, or even desire, rather than capabilities.

1986 – A Yak-36 Forger aircraft parked aboard the flight deck of the Soviet aircraft carrier Kiev. (Photo via U.S. National Archives)

ASM Defense

The Soviets published no major Soviet articles in 1979 on either fleet air defense or ASMs, although the ”Foreign Navies: Reports and Facts” section of Morskoy sbomik continued reporting on Western programs in both these fields. But the following year more than compensated for the lapse in 1979 with five major articles, four in Morskoy sbornik and one in Voyenno-storicheskiy zhurnal.

In February 1980 Captain First Rank Vasil’yev examined PVO at sea from the historical perspective. Vasil’yev asserted that in World War II fighter aircraft were “the most effective force in repelling an air attack,” but by the 1960s surface-to-air missiles had assumed “the first place among other air defense weapons.” At present and in the near future “aircraft and. . . winged missiles, which fly at very low altitudes, will effectively overcome the air defenses of ship formations.” The way to counter these systems, according to Vasil’yev, was with a deeply echeloned defense in four zones: “self-defense (up to 20 km), close-in (20-70 km), medium-range (70-180 km), and distant (more than 180 km).8 Probably not coincidentally, new Soviet SAM systems neatly fall into three of these zones: the SAM carried by the DDG Udaloy for self-defense, the SA-N-7 for close-in, and the SA-N-6 for medium range.9 All that remains is the distant zone, for which Vasil’yev implied – but never directly stated – ship-based fighter aviation would be the most suitable.

1987 – A port beam view of a Soviet Udaloy-class guided missile destroyer underway. (Photo via U.S. National Archives)

In the April 1980 Morskoy sbomik Captain First Rank-Engineer V. Grisenko published a detailed description of the American AN/ALQ-32 ECM system that was designed, according to the author, after a careful analysis of more than 50 variants of naval combat. The system ”embodies completely the basic views of the US Navy’s leadership with respect to the role of ECM equipment in the defense of surface ships against missiles, especially anti-ship missiles with radar homing systems.”10

In a general discussion of air supremacy in the July 1980 issue of the journal of military history, Voyenno-istoricheskiy zhumal, Major General of Aviation I. Tomokhovich included two paragraphs on air supremacy in sea and ocean theaters of operations, He made two points, the first being that carrier-based aircraft had played the chief role in World War II naval battles. This first point was tempered by his second,

“The great importance of carriers as floating airfields and, on the other hand, their vulnerability from the air, forced the command elements of the warring sides continuously to reinforce the air defense of carrier forces with fighter aircraft and air defense weapons. This fact is why the operations of carrier forces usually were accompanied by fierce air battles and engagements.”11

Thus, according to Tomokhovich, although carrier aircraft were essential to victory at sea in World War II, the ships on which they were based were extremely vulnerable to enemy action and needed enormous resources devoted to their protection. By inference the same logic could be applied to proposed Soviet carriers.

1985 – An aerial starboard bow view of the Soviet Kiev-class aircraft carrier Novorossiysk. (Photo via U.S. National Archives)

Rodionov and Novichkov appeared again in the August 1980 issue of Morskoy sbornik with a treatise on the employment of airships (dirigibles) as airborne early warning (AEW) platforms for naval formations. Ascribing support for such a concept to “US Navy specialists,” the authors presented a convincing argument for developing airships to provide non-carrier naval groupings’ early detection of anti-ship missiles and their launch platforms. They cited the tremendous endurance of airships, their ability to handle all the functions of E-2C Hawkeye aircraft, including control of interceptors, and their ability to provide over-the-horizon targeting support to ship-based ASMs. Again paraphrasing their unspecified American source, the authors provided the following scenario. ”Dirigibles perform surveillance and issue target designations; surface combatants serve as platforms for helicopters and as means of support, including fuel for the dirigibles; and coastal patrol aircraft and ship-based helicopters deliver attacks against targets detected by the dirigibles and lay sonobuoy fields over a large area.”12 This scenario seems more attuned to Soviet naval equipment and operational concepts than to American ones.

The final 1980 article on the subject of anti-ship missiles and anti-ship missile defense seemed to be an attempt to put the ASM threat in perspective and allay what may have been growing fears about those missiles within the Soviet Navy. Subtitled “‘Anti-ship Missiles: Strengths and Weaknesses,” the article by Captain First Rank A. Strokin described the warheads, performance, flight profiles, and platforms of Western ASMs. It then outlined their weaknesses, concentrating on their subsonic speed, vulnerability to shipboard fire, inadequate target selectivity, and susceptibility to ECM. He concluded with steps suggested by “NATO naval specialists” for improving ASMD. “Increase the range of detection of the missiles; reduce time required to convert all means of fire to full combat readiness; improve the performance characteristics of means of observation and destruction to the point of complete automation of all processes from detection to opening fire.13 Automation seems to be a key concept espoused by many Soviet authors for solving the ASMD problem.

1983 – An underside view of a U.S. Navy A-6A Intruder aircraft armed with four AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles. (Photo via U.S. National Archives)

In 1981 Soviet authors produced one article in Zarubezhnoye voyennoye obozreniye (Poreign Military Review) on NATO ASMD capabilities,14 one in Morskoy sbornik on the operation of attack aircraft and fighters from carrier decks,15 and another in the same periodical on the general theory of the navy. This last is significant for the subject of this paper because of one comment by its author, Rear Admiral G. Kostev, “The winning of sea supremacy practically is not conceived without the winning of air superiority.”16 Although obvious to most Western naval analysts, this concept of sea supremacy and the attendant necessity for air superiority had not previously been mentioned in the available Soviet literature and its articulation by Kostev implied a Soviet recognition of the requirement for deck-based interceptors and fighter aviation.

In the May 1982 issue of Voyenno-istoricheskiy zhurnal Chief of Naval Air Defense Rear Admiral S. Teglev traced the history of fleet PVO in the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945). While Teglev did not attempt to relate the specific PVO lessons of that war directly to the present day, he did keep returning to the theme that fighter aviation was an invaluable component of fleet air defense. He concluded the article by saying, “The experience of the Great Patriotic War showed that fleet air defense is an important factor that exerts considerable influence on the success of combat operations of warships and units.”17

Colonel I. Inozemtsev expanded on Teglev’s theme in the August issue of the same journal. In his article, subtitled “Airborne Defense for the Northern Naval Lines of Communication,” Inozemtsev was less reticent than Teglev about advocating the use of naval fighter aviation for future conflicts. His basic point was that air defense of the SLOCs would be a naval responsibility in any future war just as it had been in World War II, and that naval fighter aviation, with assistance from other services, was necessary to fulfill that responsibility.18 Because Soviet Naval Aviation (SNA) in 1982 had in its inventory only a few obsolescent Su-17 Fitter attack aircraft and the Forger, considerable additions of fighter aircraft to the SNA would be necessary to implement Inozemtsev’s recommendations. Inozemtsev carried the argument still further by repeating Fleet Admiral Gorshkov’s claim that all other services operating in maritime theaters should be subordinated to naval control for better coordination.19

Rear Admiral N. V’yunenko, supposedly one of Fleet Admiral Gorshkov’s  ghost writers, turned to an entirely new topic in the August 1982 Morskoy sbornik and examined American development of directed energy weapons. After describing the technical characteristics of such weaponry, V’yunenko discussed its possible application to naval warfare, especially against anti-ship missiles. Key to the potential of directed energy weapons against ASMs was the speed at which they could strike the target: ‘”While a conventional missile closes with the target at a speed commensurate with a Mach number, the destructive energy of a particle beam moves at the speed oflight.” V’yunenko stopped short of recommending – or having foreign military surrogates recommend – general adoption of directed energy weapons for anti-ship missile defense, but his generally positive treatment of the subject suggested that such a course was being taken by the Soviet Navy.20

Read Part Two.

Commander Kennedy is a professional staff member of the Center for Naval Analyses and maritime editor for National Defense. He publishes widely on US and Soviet naval and aeronautical affairs.


1. V.S. Sysoyev and V.D. Smirnov, “Antiaircraft Defense for a Force of Surface Combatant Ships,” Morskoy sbornik, March 1966, pp. 32-38; I, Lyubimov, “Coordination of National Air Defense Troops with the Navy,” Voyennaya myst, March 1969.

2. N. V’yunenko, “Some Trends in the Development ofNaval Tactics,”‘ Morskoy sbomik, October 1975, pp. 21-26.

3. N.V. Shaskol’skiy, “The First Combat Use of Ship-co-Ship Missiles and Their Development,” Morskoy sbornik, May 1970, pp. 94-99.

4. B. Rodionov and N. Novichkov, “The rTomahawk Cruise Missile,” Morskoy sbornik, July 1977, pp. 86-91.

5. B. Rodionov and N. Novichkov, “Is the Missile Defense Problem Solvable?” Morskoy sbornik, May 1978, pp. 96-103.

6. I. Kuz’min, “Reconnaissance in Support of Cruise Missile Firings,” Morskoy sbornik, April 1978, pp. 96-101.

7. S.P. Teglev, “Air Defense of Naval Forces” Sovetskaya Voyennaya Entsiklopedia (Moscow: Voyenizdat, 1978}, vol. 6, pp. 587-588.

8. V. Vasil’yev, “Developing the Antiaircraft Defense of Large Formations of Surface Ships,” Morskoy sbornik, February 1980, pp. 26-31.

9. See Jean Labayle-Couhat, ed., Combat Fleets of the World, 1984/85 (Aunapolis, Md.: Naval Insticute Press, 1984), p. 675 for unclassified descriptions of these systems.

10. V. Grisenko, “Shipboard ECM Equipment in the U.S. Navy,” Morskoy sbornik, April 1980, pp. 78-82.

11. [. Tomokhovich, “World War IT and the Postwar Period: The Character and Methods of the Struggle for Air Supremacy,”‘ Voyenno-istoricheskiy zhurnal, July 1980, pp. 26-34, trans. inJoint Publications Research Service (JPRS) 76824 (Washington: 14 November 1980).

12. B. Rodionov and N. Novichkov, “Dirigibles in the Defensive System of Task Forces,” Morskoy sbornik, August 1980, pp. 82-87.

13. A. Strokin, “Antiship Missiles: Strengths and Weaknesses, Morskoy ssbornik, November 1980, pp. 84-87,

14. V. Vostrov, “NATO Capabilities Against Antiship Missiles,”‘ Zarubezhnoye voyernoye obozreniye, January 1981, pp. 72-74, trans. in JPRS 78054 (Washington: 12 May 1981).

15. I. Beriyev and N. Naskanov, “Operating Tactics of Deck-Based Attack Aircraft and Fighters,” Morskoy sbornik, August 1981, pp. 80-89.

16. G. Kostev, “On Fundamentals of the Theory of the Navy,” Morskey sborrik, November 1981, p. 25.

17. S. Teglev, “Soviet Art of Warfare in the Great Patriotic War: Operational Art: Covering Fleets from Air Attacks,” Vopenno-istoricheskiy zhurnal, May 1982, pp. 27-33, trans. inJPRS 82628 (Washington: 12 January 1983}.

18. I. Inozentsev, “Soviet Art of Warfare in the Great Patriotic War: Airborne Defense for the Northern Naval Lines of Communication,” Voyentto-istoricheskiy zhurnal, August 1982, pp. 13-19, trans. In JPRS 82549 (Washington: 28 December 1982).

19. See Floyd D. Kennedy, Jr., “Soviet Doctrine for Mutual Cooperation: The Naval/Air Force Context,” Naval Intelligence Quarterly, December 1981.

20. N. Y’yunenko, “‘The U.S. Beam Weapon,” Morskoy sbornik, August 1982, pp. 81-85.

Featured Image: 1988 – An aerial port quarter view of the Soviet Kiev class VSTOL aircraft carrier BAKU (CVHG 103) underway. (Photo by LT P.J. Azzolina, via U.S. National Archives)

Changing Surface Warfare Qualifications: Better Incentives Make Deadlier Officers

By LTJG Chris Rielage and LCDR JR Dinglasan

“The young officer deals in tactics. That is what he cares about most. While he chafes against other duties, his first focus is meant to be the development of skills to bring combat power to bear on an enemy in circumstances of mortal danger.”–Vice Admiral Cebrowski1

“The disconcerting truth, however, is that the modern naval officer is buried in reports… that deal with everything but how to fight.”–Captain Wayne Hughes2

These quotes from classic naval thinkers underline what has been glaringly obvious for years – every American Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) knows that the community spends less time on tactics than it should. SWOs mainly conceive of their professional identities in terms of their administrative function, such as “I’m the Auxiliaries Officer” or “I’m the 1st Lieutenant,” instead of their tactical or operational roles. The CASREP instruction is more familiar to Ensigns than the classic work Fleet Tactics. These administrative duties take up a massive amount of time and energy, and with the surface fleet’s emphasis on program management and material readiness, tactics consistently fall by the wayside. To state it more bluntly, warships are more ready for inspection than they are for war.3

What if it could be different? Other services and communities fulfill the same duties to man, train, and equip without losing their warfighting ethos. Naval aviators identify themselves by what combat aircraft they fly, focusing on their ability to fight over the administrative role they serve within a squadron. Marines conceive of themselves as riflemen even in the heart of the Pentagon.

The Surface Navy needs to cut itself free of its extraneous entanglements and make concrete changes to how it improves warfighting skill. Our most urgent target for reform should not be improving individual tactics on a piecemeal level. Rather, we should be focusing on systematic changes to the personnel and training systems throughout the Surface Warfare community that will cultivate more tacticians.

The lowest-hanging fruit is in the junior officer detailing process. The fleet is missing a major opportunity to incentivize junior officers to be more lethal, but reform would be relatively simple. When assigning officers in the SWO community, detailers at the Bureau of Naval Personnel (BUPERS) reward extra points for attaining certain advanced qualifications. Officers who quickly qualify as Tactical Action Officer (TAO) and Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW), the top tactical and engineering watches on a ship, often receive first choice of their next assignment due to the number of “extra points” they receive when slating for their next tour. This is a great way to incentivize hard work, but the limited scope of this program is a missed opportunity. The detailing process should also assign point increments to more junior tactical qualifications.

The obvious candidates are Warfare Coordinator (WC) positions – the watchstations subordinate to the TAO that actually employ weapons in combat. It is not feasible for most junior officers to become a TAO – a position normally filled by Department Heads ten years their senior – in the few extra months between earning their SWO pin and transferring to a new command. It is feasible, however, for a hard-charging division officer to learn how to fight a single domain under the TAO’s direction. Giving JOs a point incentive by qualifying these watches would motivate them to go after these qualifications earlier. Detailers could begin rewarding the watchstations listed above right away – and include even more, like Anti-Submarine Warfare Evaluator (ASWE) or Tomahawk Engagement Control Officer (ECO), after changes to the school requirements.

Detailers should also reward qualified Antiterrorism Tactical Watch Officers (ATTWOs) with a small point bonus. While not required on most ships, the ATTWO position requires officers to demonstrate calm under fire in a way more academic qualifications fail to achieve. Officers need to confidently know their tactics – but they also need to be mentally prepared to make decisions with limited information, preserve order in chaotic situations, and if needed, order the use of lethal force. Only the ATTWO qualification, with its focus on real-world drills, regularly trains JOs in these skills.

Our proposed model is shown below. BUPERS currently gives 0.25-point bonuses for TAO and EOOW, which are then added to a value calculated off of Fitness Report (FITREP) scores. To minimize confusion – that calculation is fairly complex, and unnecessary for this discussion – our proposal describes fractions of the TAO/EOOW bonuses. When ultimately implemented, the exact scores will also need to be tailored to match those FITREP scores.

A proposed model for adjusting point values for specific SWO qualifications. (Author graphic)

This new model has three main advantages – it will make junior officers more lethal, it will create a deeper bench of experience among more senior officers, and it will incentivize retention.

Today’s SWO qualification process only touches on tactics in the Combat Information Center Watch Officer (CICWO) and Maritime Warfare qualifications. These are cursory quals that provide only the barebones foundation of modern warfare. They cover U.S. Navy capabilities and limitations, but leave major gaps when it comes to other great powers and their tactics and doctrine. Despite earning the qualification, a qualified CICWO has not yet been taught how to track and assess threats, launch missiles, or maneuver the ship in combat. In contrast, the warfare coordinator qualifications, with their emphasis on exact weapon employment, countering specific threat tactics, and coordinating with other tactical watchstanders and units, represent a more serious professional achievement in becoming a skilled warfighter. Incentivizing junior officers to go after these specific quals earlier will make them much deadlier and increase lethality on a fleet-wide scale.

These changes will also benefit more senior officers. Today, most officers in the surface fleet formally learn tactics for the first time when going through the TAO curriculum in Department Head school, after seven to nine years of experience. That is much too late for the complexity of today’s weapons and tactics. Incentivizing early tactical qualifications would give Department Heads a stronger foundation, setting them up for success when they assume the TAO role. A stronger foundation will also allow for more advanced tactical education and training to be administered at later career milestones, further elevating the lethality of the force. Given enough years, it will eventually create more lethal captains and admirals.

Finally, these point incentives would boost retention among junior officers. When interviewed, junior SWOs consistently say that they are not well-trained for combat.5 The current point system feeds that problem by only rewarding the qualifications – TAO and EOOW – that are prerequisites for command. Shifting to the new model would improve combat skills across the fleet, and would send a powerful signal that the SWO community values tacticians at all levels. Bonus points for tactical qualifications are not a silver bullet – but they are a step in the right direction, showing junior officers that the Navy sees their achievements as worthwhile in their own right, and not simply as stepping stones to command. By providing tangible professional incentives that directly strengthen the Navy’s core function – warfighting – the Navy will boost warfighter retention and morale.

The SWO community should keep its big point incentives to create high-quality captains – but recognize that the best ships are ones where top captains are backed by lethal, combat-ready O-2s and O-3s. Today’s JOs are starving for a foundation in tactics. Incentivizing them to pursue tactical qualifications early may be the first step in convincing them that the SWO community prioritizes warfighting, and in turn, convince them to stay and grow into more deadly department heads and captains.

LTJG Chris Rielage is a Surface Warfare Officer onboard USS BENFOLD (DDG 65) in the Western Pacific. His publications have previously appeared in USNI’s Proceedings and CIMSEC.

LCDR JR Dinglasan currently serves as the IAMD WTI course of instruction (COI) lead at the Surface Advanced Warfighting School (SAWS), Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC). He recently completed his second department head tour as the Combat Systems Officer aboard USS BENFOLD (DDG 65). He is a graduate of the surface warfare community’s IAMD WTI COI and previously served at SMWDC as an advanced tactical training planner and as the lead instructor/tactics developer for Standard Missile-6 surface warfare (SUW) tactical employment.


1. Captain Wayne P. Hughs Jr. and RADM Robert P. Girrier, Fleet Tactics and Naval Operations, Third Edition, U.S. Naval Institute Press, xxi, 2019.

2. Ibid, xxxi.

3. Senior Chief Gunner’s Mate Norman Mingo, U.S. Navy, “The Navy Is Prepared for Inspections, Not War,” Proceedings, March 2021,

4. This proposal is designed around an AEGIS cruiser or destroyer, as the US Navy’s most common surface combatant. Other watchstations, like a Naval Strike Missile (NSM) Planner on an LCS or Air Defense Warfare Coordinator (ADWC) on an LPD, could also be excellent candidates.

5. Lieutenant Judith Hee Rooney, U.S. Navy, “The State of the Warfighter Mentality in the SWO Community,” CIMSEC, August 22, 2022,

Featured Image: NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain (Dec. 6, 2021) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Roosevelt (DDG 80) departs Naval Station Rota, Spain, Dec. 6, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrea Rumple/Released)