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A New U.S. Navy Planning Model for Lower-Threshold Maritime Security Operations, Part 1

By Andrew Norris


The new U.S. tri-service maritime strategy, Advantage at Sea, which refers to the three maritime services (Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard) collectively as the single Naval Service, largely focuses on great power competition at sea against peer or near-peer competitors.1 However, although the Naval Service has to be configured and trained to prevail in high-intensity armed conflict, unless and until such conflict occurs, this competition at sea will play itself out through interactions short of war across what the strategy refers to as the “competition continuum.” By increasingly and successfully engaging in activities short of war against maritime competitors and other malign actors, the Naval Service will accomplish a central pillar of Advantage at Sea, which is to “prevail in day-to-day competition.”

In addition to being built, equipped, manned, and trained to compete in operations short of war, the Naval Service also has to be able to plan for campaigns and major operations in this space to ensure the most effective and efficient employment of scarce resources—not only to achieve the United States’ strategic goals, but also to assist allies and partners in achieving their own goals and objectives. This ability to plan at the operational level will increasingly include operations at the lower, “constabulary” end of the competition continuum (see Figure 1), an area of far less familiarity to the U.S. Navy than to the U.S. Coast Guard. Operations at this level, which promote a rules-based international order at sea, are “increasingly being seen as a crucial enabler for global peace and security, and therefore something that should command the attention of naval planners everywhere.”2

This article asserts that the U.S. Navy will increasingly be called upon to operate in the constabulary end of activities short of war and proposes a 4-part constraints, restraints, enablers, and imperatives (C-R-E-I) analytical model for preparing the staff estimate to inform the mission analysis phase of the Navy Planning Process (NPP),3 when utilized to plan for such activities. In doing so, it builds upon the scholarship of Professors Milan Vego and Ivan Luke of the U.S. Naval War College.

Professor Vego, in his recent article “Operations Short of War and Operational Art,” discusses the precepts of operational art (which are embedded into the NPP) as they apply to operations short of war.4 While a masterful Vego product as always, the article’s focus on operations at the higher end of the spectrum of violence involving the kinetic application of military force to achieve higher end political objectives—such as Operation Allied Force in Kosovo (1999), Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan (2001-2002), and Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya (2011)—leaves unaddressed the question of how operational art, as embedded in the NPP, needs to be adapted to account for the unique aspects of maritime operations with a constabulary derivation. This article attempts to fill that void.

The other theoretical inspiration for this article is Professor Luke’s approach to understanding operations short of combat at sea, as set out in his article “Naval Operations in Peacetime: Not Just ‘Warfare Lite’.”5 His underlying thesis is that:

[t]he things the U.S. Navy and other navies of the world are doing in peacetime today are fundamentally distinct from naval warfare, and they are important enough to demand an expanded naval theory that incorporates their unique aspects. Continued reliance on naval warfare theory alone puts the [U.S.] Navy at risk of not doing its best to meet the challenges of, or not capitalizing on the opportunities present in, the maritime domain today.

In recognition of the “broad and growing array of legal regimes, treaties, and sources of authority that need to be fully appreciated, understood, and leveraged” to achieve success in operations short of armed conflict, Professor Luke proposes a theory of legitimacy as being more appropriate than the theory of naval warfare to such operations.6 This article endorses the centrality of legitimacy, grounded on underlying authority, as a unifying theoretical construct of the authority mechanism for success of operations short of armed conflict, and “operationalizes” it by providing a mechanism—constraints, restraints, enablers, and imperatives—for thoroughly accounting for the factors that collectively constitute the authority and legitimacy of an intended operation.

Before arriving at the proposed analytical model, this article will first discuss operations short of war on the competition continuum and distinguish between those with an armed force derivation and those with a constabulary derivation. It will then demonstrate how the Naval Service, and most importantly, the Navy, will increasingly be called upon to perform lower threshold constabulary missions as part of the day-to-day competition in the maritime domain. It will then examine the need to perform those missions as part of a campaign or major operation, instead of haphazardly and situationally in response to malign activities at sea.

It will conclude by reviewing the Navy Planning Process overall, by identifying mission analysis (as informed by staff estimates) as the proper place to account for the “unique aspects” of operations short of war, and by demonstrating the inadequacy of existing doctrine to guide proper mission analysis for such operations. It is in the context of this discussion that the 4-part analytical tool will be presented and discussed.

Operations Short of War Defined and Discussed

1. Maritime security operations versus operations short of war

Professor Luke uses the term “operations short of armed conflict” to denote “naval operations in peacetime;” other commentators such as Professor Vego use the term “operations short of war.” As we have seen, Advantage at Sea, by defining the competition continuum to include day-to-day competition, competition in crisis, and competition in conflict, and by using terms such as “war” and “destroying enemy forces” to illustrate what competition in conflict means, implies that operations not rising to the level of conflict are operations short of “war.” The NPP and a host of official U.S. government products use the term “maritime security” synonymously with “operations short of war.”7 While Professor Till also employs the term “maritime security,” which he equates to the term “good order at sea,” to describe such operations, he acknowledges their ambiguity, and states that such terms must be used with caution.8

The bottom line is that a hodgepodge of terms are in common use to describe maritime operations short of war. While some may dispute the equivalency, for purposes of consistency, this article will use the terms “maritime security operations (MSOs)” and “operations short of war” interchangeably to refer to all operations short of “combat operations”—which is another term used in Advantage at Sea to denote operations during conflict.

Figure 1 – Till’s Depiction of MSOs Arrayed Along a Spectrum of Violence (Click to expand)

2. Maritime security operations with a law enforcement versus an armed force derivation

In addition to settling on consistent terminology amongst a welter of options, this article also distinguishes between higher-threshold maritime security operations that have an armed force derivation and a political-military purpose, and lower-threshold9 maritime security operations that have a law enforcement derivation and typically a constabulary purpose. The former must be conducted by members of the armed forces of a state operating from a warship10 and are governed by the law of armed conflict. In the latter, the use of force is governed by rules for the use of force deriving from human rights law, and operations may be undertaken not only by “warships or military aircraft,” but also by “other ships or aircraft clearly marked and identifiable as being on government service and authorized to that effect.”11

The U.S. Navy will increasingly be expected to perform lower-threshold MSOs

According to Advantage at Sea, the Naval Service will partner, persist, and prevail across the competition continuum, employing Integrated All-Domain Naval Power through five lines of effort:

  • Advance global maritime security and governance, which means operating with allies, partners, other U.S. agencies, and multinational groups12 to maintain a free and open maritime environment, and to uphold the norms underpinning our shared security and prosperity.
  • Strengthen alliances and partnerships, with the ultimate aim of modifying bad behavior in the maritime domain.
  • Confront and expose malign behavior by rivals, with the ultimate aim of holding them accountable to the same standards by which others abide.
  • Expand information and decision advantage, which provides superiority in coordinating, distributing, and maneuvering our forces while simultaneously removing adversary leaders’ sense of control, inducing doubt and increased caution in crisis and conflict.
  • Deploy and sustain combat-credible forces, which enables all lines of effort, deters potential adversaries from escalating into conflict, and ensures that naval and joint forces will defeat adversary forces should they choose the path of war.

As can be seen, though prevailing in the event of war is and always will be a core objective of the Naval Service, the lines of effort largely and properly focus on activities at the lower end of the competition continuum as the best means for prevailing in day-to-day competition. Effective competition at this level upholds the rules-based order, denies our rivals’ use of incremental coercion, and creates the space for American diplomatic, political, economic, and technological advantages to prevail over the long term.13 In short, it helps achieve the aim of line of effort 1, which is the promotion of maritime security and good maritime governance.

Examples provided in Advantage at Sea of “activities short of war” conducted by Navy and Coast Guard ships as part of day-to-day competition include:

  • freedom of navigation operations globally to challenge excessive and illegal maritime claims;
  • Coast Guard cutters and law enforcement detachments aboard Navy and allied ships exercising unique authorities to counter terrorism, weapons proliferation, transnational crime, and piracy;
  • enforcing sanctions through maritime interdiction operations, often as part of international task forces;14
  • crucial peacetime missions, including responding to disasters, preserving maritime security, safeguarding global commerce, protecting human life, and extending American influence; and
  • underwriting the use of global waterways to achieve national security objectives through diplomacy, law enforcement, economic statecraft, and, when required, force.

Such activities support day-to-day competition in a diverse threat environment that includes potential adversaries such as Russia and China, but also additional state competitors, violent extremists, and criminal organizations, all of which exploit weak governance at sea, corruption ashore, and gaps in maritime domain awareness. Furthermore, “[p]iracy, drug smuggling, human trafficking, and other illicit acts leave governments vulnerable to coercion. Climate change threatens coastal nations with rising sea levels, depleted fish stocks, and more severe weather. Competition over offshore resources, including protein, energy, and minerals, is leading to tension and conflict. Receding Arctic sea ice is opening the region to growing maritime activity and increased competition.”15 These forces and trends create vulnerabilities for adversaries to exploit, corrode the rule of law, and generate instability that can erupt into crisis in any theater.16

If, as Advantage at Sea posits, the Naval Service will be called upon on a day-to-day basis to conduct operations short of war, the traditional functions assigned to the Coast Guard and Navy, respectively, as depicted in Figure 1, will become more integrated and homogenized.17 The Coast Guard will increasingly be called upon to conduct MSOs in the political-military realm, such as freedom of navigation operations, sanctions enforcement through maritime interdiction operations (often as part of international task forces), and providing specialized capabilities, to include Port Security Units or Advanced Interdiction Teams to augment operations in theater.18 The Navy, by contrast, will increasingly be called upon to conduct operations in the lower-threshold, “softer” constabulary realm. We know this to be so because: (1) Advantage at Sea and other strategic documents tell us so, and (2) as by far the largest seagoing service in an era of ever-shrinking platforms available to “employ All-Domain Naval Power to prevail across the competition continuum,” no other realistic alternative exists.19

For a variety of structural and other reasons, adaptation by the Navy to operate in the constabulary realm is much more challenging than the adaptation necessary by the Coast Guard to conduct higher-threshold political-military operations.20 Principal among the many challenges is the fact, as Professor Luke identifies, that legitimacy of operations short of war is the ultimate “measure” of their lawfulness. Legitimacy brings into play the vista of “legal regimes, treaties, and sources of authority that need to be fully appreciated, understood, and leveraged,” both individually and interrelatedly, to ensure the success of a contemplated lower-threshold operation. The unique nature of operations at this level, and the Navy’s capacity to adequately plan for them, is the subject of the next section in part 2 of this article.

Capt. (ret.) Andrew Norris works as a maritime legal and regulatory consultant, and has been retained to create and teach a new five-month maritime security and governance course for international officers at the U.S. Naval War College. He retired from the U.S. Coast Guard in 2016 after 22 years of service. Prior to attending law school and joining the Coast Guard, Capt. (ret.) Norris served in the U.S. Navy as a division officer aboard the USS KIDD (DDG-993) from 1985-1989. He can be reached at +1 (401) 871-7482 or anorris@tradewindmaritimeservices.com.


[1] Tri-Service Maritime Strategy “Advantage at Sea,” 17 December 2020.

[2] Geoffrey Till, Seapower: A Guide for the Twenty-First Century: Fourth Edition (New York: Routledge, 2018), 97.

[3] Navy Warfare Publication 5-01, Navy Planning (Ed. December 2013).

[4] Milan Vego, “Operations Short of War and Operational Art,” Joint Forces Quarterly 98 (3rd Quarter 2020): 38-49.

[5] Ivan Luke, “Naval Operations in Peacetime: Not Just “Warfare Lite,” Naval War College Review 66, no. 2 (Spring 2013): 10-26.

[6] See Figure 3, Appendix, in part 2 of this article.

[7] See, e.g., the mission statement of the State Department’s Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs (https://www.state.gov/bureaus-offices/under-secretary-for-economic-growth-energy-and-the-environment/bureau-of-oceans-and-international-environmental-and-scientific-affairs/office-of-ocean-and-polar-affairs/); Presidential Policy Directive (PPD)-8 (Maritime Security) and the underlying National Strategy for Maritime Security; and the 2019 Maritime Security and Fisheries Enforcement Act (or Maritime SAFE Act), a component of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act.

[8] Professor Christian Bueger at the University of Copenhagen eponymously devotes an entire article to the issue of “What is Marine Security,” Marine Policy 53 (2015) 159–164.

[9] References to “threshold” and “spectrum” refer to the spectrum of violence as depicted in Figure 1, which also equates to the spectrum of activities across the competition continuum in Advantage at Sea.

[10] Article 29 of The Convention on the Law of the Sea, Dec. 10, 1982, 1833 U.N.T.S. 397 (UNCLOS) defines a “warship” as “a ship belonging to the armed forces of a State bearing the external marks distinguishing such ships of its nationality, under the command of an officer duly commissioned by the government of the State and whose name appears in the appropriate service list or its equivalent, and manned by a crew which is under regular armed forces discipline.”

[11] UNCLOS, Article 111.

[12] In general, “naval, coast guard, marine police, coastal and maritime forces are joined by ground and air elements of the joint armed forces, other departments and agencies, including oceanographic and fisheries services, the intelligence community, and international partners” to conduct maritime security operations.” James Kraska and Raul Pedrozo, International Maritime Security Law (Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff, 2013), 3.

[13] Advantage at Sea, 10.

[14] While forward-looking overall, in this respect, Advantage At Sea reflects existing realities: “Over the past decade, the Security Council has authorized the naval pursuit of rogue states, nuclear proliferators, pirates, and migrant smugglers with unparalleled frequency. From 1946 to 2007, the Security Council adopted approximately thirty-six resolutions with a direct or indirect impact in the maritime environment. In the following decade, from 2008 to 2017, the Security Council approved more than fifty such resolutions. What previously occurred about once every 1.7 years at [the United Nations] for six decades—the adoption of a resolution with a direct or indirect maritime impact—now is routine, transpiring every 2.5 months.” Brian Wilson, “The Turtle Bay Pivot: How the United Nations Security Council Is Reshaping Naval Pursuit of Nuclear Proliferators, Rogue States, and Pirates,” Emory International Law Review 33, issue 1 (2018): 1-90.

[15] Advantage at Sea, 5.

[16] Advantage at Sea, 5.

[17] For an excellent analysis of U.S. Navy versus U.S. Coast Guard functions, see Odom J.G. (2019) The United States. In: Bowers I., Koh S. (eds) Grey and White Hulls. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-9242-9_11.

[18] Advantage at Sea, 13-14.

[19] Advantage at Sea implicitly recognizes this by its reference to the Coast Guard integrating its unique authorities—law enforcement, fisheries protection, marine safety, and maritime security—with Navy and Marine Corps capabilities (including the availability of assets) as a means of providing options to joint force commanders for cooperation and competition. Advantage at Sea, 7.

[20] The Coast Guard always has a focus toward higher threshold operations since, by law, it can be and has been (most recently, during World War Two) subsumed by the Navy in times of war. Thus, for example, the Coast Guard Atlantic and Pacific Area commanders continuously exist within DOD as Commander, Coast Guard Defense Force (CGDEFOR) East and West, respectively; federal law requires the Coast Guard to engage in training and planning of reserve strength and facilities as is necessary to insure an organized, manned, and equipped Coast Guard when it is required for wartime operation in the Navy; and Coast Guard doctrine recognizes the need to employ its authorities to support National Defense Strategy (NDS) objectives. See Coast Guard Strategic Plan 2018-2022.

Featured Image: May 2, 2021 – USCGC Hamilton (WMSL 753) and Georgian coast guard vessels Ochamchire (P 23) and Dioskuria (P 25) conduct underway maneuvers in the Black Sea. Hamilton is on a routine deployment in the U.S. Sixth Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national interests and security in Europe and Africa. (Credit: U.S. Coast Guard)

Sea Control 265 – Building Islands and Influence with Nitya Labh

By Jared Samuelson

Nitya Labh joins CIMSEC’s Jared Samuelson to talk about her recent article in Australian Defense Magazine, “Building Islands and Influence: Chinese Land Reclamation in the Southwest Pacific.” In this shorter episode she covers China’s land reclamation capability and how it can be used to leverage influence with Pacific nations.

Download Sea Control 265 – Building Islands and Influence with Nitya Labh


1. “Building Islands and Influence: Chinese Land Reclamation in the Southwest Pacific,” by Nitya Labh, Australian Defense Magazine, May 6, 2021. 

Jared Samuelson is Executive Producer and Co-Host of the Sea Control podcast. Contact him at Seacontrol@cimsec.org.

Back to the Future: Routine Experimentation with Prototypes

By John Hanley

Broad agreement exists that the Department of Defense’s, and thus the Navy’s, acquisition system is bound like Gulliver by Lilliputian processes, resulting in an inability to adapt. This inflexibility threatens to increase the risks to operating forces as they face a growing number of adaptive adversaries, ranging from China and Russia, North Korea and Iran, to the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, and others.1 Well-intended legislation and increasing reliance upon computer modeling to inform the selection of future platforms and systems are major contributors to the current situation. Greater reliance on experimenting with prototypes at sea could provide a large improvement.2


Congress passed the Goldwater-Nichols legislation in 1986 to promote joint operations and provide more civilian control by creating an Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and reducing the role of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) and other Service Chiefs in acquisition decisions. This legislation added joint duty requirements to the already-packed career paths for line officers, even as it added new educational and experience requirements for acquisition professionals.3 The Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act in 1990 further created mandatory requirements for a more professional acquisition force. Line and acquisition professionals “had completely different chains of command and, consequently, were situated in different performance evaluation and promotion structures.”4 Having little appreciation for an increasingly complex acquisition process, line officers had trouble articulating their needs to an acquisition workforce that was itself increasingly isolated from the operational environment.

Though the Packard Commission that informed Goldwater-Nichols legislation called for more prototyping to gain experience with new platforms and systems before making major investments, the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Navy increasingly turned to computer-based combat and campaign simulations as a cheaper and more flexible way to inform acquisition decisions.5 This had the effects of further separating the experience of fleet operators from Navy acquisition, and removed an important source of data for ensuring computer-based simulations were accurate.6

In their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath highlight the value of bright spots; examples of projects that work well to make a case for needed change.7 This article suggests some bright spots, and continuing challenges, in acquiring capabilities the Navy needs to adapt to rapidly emerging security opportunities and challenges.

A Virtuous Prototype Cycle

As a junior officer, I was privileged to be assigned to the USS Guitarro (SSN 665) in San Diego in 1973. The Guitarro played a major role in developing tactics for prototype combat systems deployed to the Pacific submarine fleet, in particular the new Submarine Towed Array Sensor System (STASS) along with its BQR-20 series digital sonar displays. In the mid-1970s, Guitarro also installed the first digital submarine combat system (BQQ-5 sonar and Mk-117 fire control system) and participated in the development of submarine-launched Harpoon and Tomahawk cruise missiles.8

Following my service on the Guitarro, I became an operations analyst supporting several programs. The Naval Electronics Systems Command (PME-108) was sponsoring the Coordination in Direct Support (CIDS) program developing technology and techniques for communicating with submarines to operate in direct support of carrier battle groups, and the Over-the-Horizon Targeting (OTH-T) program was developing technology and techniques for targeting ships with Harpoon and Tomahawk missiles at ranges beyond the line of sight. These programs integrated their efforts with the Tactical Development and Evaluation Program sponsored by the OP-953 on the Navy staff. My next job involved working with the Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group where I witnessed the speed with which a small team of intelligence specialists, engineers using the latest technology, and Navy leadership could deliver cutting edge capabilities to the fleet very rapidly.

My experience in these programs taught the value of providing prototypes to the fleet early. Working with prototypes allowed us to develop tactics and techniques that the system developers never considered, and highlighted operational limitations and misperceptions of those developing the systems. Fleet analysis data contributed directly into operations analysis, computer simulations, and war games. The experience also demonstrated the limitations of tightly-coupled integrated systems as opposed to systems with modules that could adapt and change easily. As my career continued, I observed revisions to the DoD acquisition system that diminished the role of prototyping and extended times to demonstrate new capabilities to the fleet, usually exceeding cost estimates and requiring modifications as operators discovered what they could, and could not do.

Sonar Towed Arrays and Digital Displays

STASS was a long, linear array of hydrophones deployed behind the submarine on a cable. This kept the array’s sensors away from the towing submarine’s radiated noise, significantly improving the signal-to-noise ratio needed to detect faint signals. It could detect contacts behind the submarine that were screened from the hull-mounted sensors in the bow. Its length provided a larger aperture to detect lower frequencies at longer ranges. This sonar system made submarines more effective.

However, the new system had its challenges. Initially, a sonar operator could monitor only one of the array’s 16 beams at a time, by listening and/or monitoring the BQR-20’s digital display.9 The display would provide a waterfall of illumination if a signal was detected on that beam. Low frequencies required several minutes of integration time to process signals from the ambient noise. Thus it could take more than an hour to search though all of the beams. The submarine also had to travel at slow speed to prevent the noise from water flowing over the hydrophones from masking signals from other vessels. Even with the slower speeds, the longer detection ranges provided the new sonar system significantly increased the search rate in deep ocean areas.

The principal tactic for estimating a targets range using passive sonar was developed by Lieutenant John Ekelund in 1956.10 Ekelund’s approach significantly improved upon target motion analysis techniques that involved only plotting bearings to a target over time. His method involved calculating the rate of change of the relative bearing of the contact as the host submarine maneuvered on two courses. The time to do the calculation affected the accuracy of the estimate. Slow maneuvering with the STASS was frustrating.

Our sister ship, USS Drum (SSN 677), was the first ship in the Pacific fleet to receive the new STASS. To reduce the time maneuver to a new course, Drum tried a tactic of speeding up through the turn, then slowing to reduce the flow noise. Unfortunately, the sub slowed faster than the array, resulting in the array’s cable wrapping around the horizontal stabilizer on the sub.

Guitarro then had its opportunity to develop tactics for employing the STASS. Our efforts focused on three areas: maneuvering the ship, sonar search procedures, and plotting contacts. I had the lead on plotting. Current practice used a “compressed” time-bearing plot along with “strip” plots. The time bearing plot provided bearing rates needed to compute Ekelund ranges. Speed strips marked with various speeds were manually aligned across bearings to a contact’s for estimating its range, course, and speed. Given the time required to generate contact bearings with the STASS, we developed an “expanded” time-bearing plot.

A big innovation occurred when Dr. Ted Molligen (a ship rider from Analysis and Technology, Inc.) noted that the array’s beams were cones and the sea bottom was a plane. The intersection of a cone and a plane is a hyperbola. Therefore, when the contact’s signal bounced off the bottom, which occurred frequently in the Pacific, we were dealing with lines of bearing along a hyperbola. Within a day, we manufactured templates of hyperbolas out of plexiglass for strip plotting using bottom bounce signals. Without measuring bearing rates, the intersection of two hyperbolas provided a contact’s estimated position quickly after our maneuver.

Another unanticipated effect was the ability to observe the contact’s Doppler signal shift in near-real time. Thus we could observe not only the contact’s bearing change during maneuvers, but also whether it was opening or closing us. Reconstructed plots of our target clearing its baffles (simulating “crazy Ivans”) during exercises showed our depiction of the target’s motion to be very accurate.

The next breakthrough occurred when we received the BQR-22 a couple of months later. The BQR-22 could process two beams simultaneously. We discovered that, with some regularity, we would receive both direct path and bottom bounce signals from the contact. The different signals would arrive on different beams because of their paths through the water. The intersection of a direct path line of bearing with a bottom bounce hyperbola produced an estimate of the target’s range without having to maneuver. Exercise reconstruction showed our estimates to be within a few percent of the target’s range.

Under the leadership of our superb Executive Officer, Lieutenant Commander Dan Bacon, we documented the tactics we had developed for maneuvering the sub, conducting the sonar searches, and plotting in a tactical memo and submitted it to Commander, Submarine Forces Pacific. He replaced our cover with his, and distributed it as a Tactical Memorandum to the fleet.

Within a year, we received the BQR-23 that processed four beams simultaneously. We then deployed with this sonar system, and other prototype sensors and processors, for operations in the western Pacific. Deploying with prototype equipment was routine in the submarine force.

During World War II U.S. submarines could attack only surfaced enemy submarines.11 In 1949, the submarine force created Submarine Development Group 2 and tasked it with antisubmarine warfare (ASW) as part of an effort to preserve the submarine force structure during demobilization. Within twenty years, the U.S. submarine force went from having essentially no ASW capability to becoming the dominant ASW force in the world. Following their motto of “Science, Technology, Tactics”, the Group employed a program of designing, conducting, and reconstructing exercises to develop tactics for prototype systems, and reconstructing submarine performance during operations using extensive data collected during patrols.12 Using the Group’s methodology, we were able to exploit the STASS and the BQR-20 series digital displays and document proven tactics for the fleet that significantly improved the U.S. advantage over Soviet submarine forces within an 18 month period.

In contrast, installing the first submarine digital combat system in the shipyard demonstrated challenges that occur when developing systems without prototyping. The system had no feature for entering bearings directly from the periscope. Apparently, the engineers thought that all approach and attack would use sonar only. We also were told that adding hyperbolic ranging to the software in the central computer complex, which serviced the sonar and fire control system, would take at least a decade. Stand-alone computers came to support search planning and target motion analysis since the integrated system was incapable of rapid change.

Coordination in Direct Support

Admiral Rickover had pushed through the development of the Los Angeles-class submarines by arguing that their higher speed would allow them to screen a carrier battle group.13 The major problems were communicating with submarines to keep them on station as the battle group maneuvered, to direct them to prosecute contacts detected by other battle group platforms, and to prevent other battle group ASW forces from attacking them. Also, based on the way that the U.S. targeted German U-boat radio transmissions during World War II, our silent service routinely disabled its radio transmitters while on patrol to prevent detection. Standard submarine communications involved the submarine getting an antenna to the surface for broadcasts that were repeated for eight hours on a two-hour cycle. The submarine restricted its speed to a few knots when at communications depth, both to prevent anyone seeing the wake of the periscope and to keep its floating wire antenna on the surface. Thus the submarine could best communicate at scheduled intervals, and could not transit at battle group speeds while communicating.

Rear Admiral Guy H.B. Shaffer took the methods he had used commanding Submarine Development Group 2 with him to the Naval Electronic Systems Commands program office PME-108.14 He established the Coordination in Direct Support (CIDS) program to develop means to communicate with submarines providing direct support to carrier battle groups.

The Submarine Analysis Notebook provided the methodology and data required for assessing submarine ASW performance. The first step in the CIDS program was to develop a Fleet Exercise Analysis Guide that provided a conceptual battle group ASW process and performance metrics.15 PME-108 then worked with the Tactical Development and Evaluation (TAC D&E) Program and the numbered fleets to schedule participation in their exercises, and invited the Navy laboratories to provide prototype communications systems for submarine communications. The prototypes included everything in the electromagnetic spectrum from blue-green lasers to Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) radios and a variety of acoustic communication methods.16 For each exercise a team would work with relevant commands to design the exercise and develop data collection plans. The team would then ride key ships in the exercise providing advice on accomplishing exercise training and tactical development objectives, and overseeing the data collection. Following the exercise, the team would reconstruct and analyze the event in full, including documenting the timelines for each ASW interaction and every ASW communication over every communications path.

This approach allowed prototypes to be evaluated not just as stand-alone systems, but demonstrated their value both in enhancing communications as part of a suite of systems operating simultaneously and in accomplishing the mission of protecting the carrier from submarines attacking with torpedoes and cruise missiles.

Occasionally a laboratory would offer a prototype that was operationally unsuitable. One such system was a shaped buoy weighing several thousand pounds to be towed behind a submarine at depth and speed to push an antenna to the surface. Had the buoy hit a surface vessel, or submarine at shallower depth, it would have had the impact of a torpedo without the explosion.

Documenting every step of the communications path demonstrated the delays created by communications controlled by the submarine operating authority ashore. This led the submarine force to provide Submarine Element Coordinators (SEC) at sea with the battle group. The exercises explored many operational schemes with these SECs adjusting submarine broadcast schedules and using ELF or acoustic “bell-ringers” to call the submarine to communications depth for higher data rate communications.

After 10 fleet exercises conducted over a three-year period involving all the numbered fleets, the CIDS program demonstrated that the tactical concept for using submarines as an outer screen moving with the carrier battle group was infeasible. This led to alternative schemes for employing submarines supporting task groups. The communications data proved valuable and was incorporated in the Navy’s Warfare Environment Simulator which allowed teams playing task group platforms on different terminals to receive information with realistic time delays.17 Over time, this became the Navy Simulation System, but lost its original purpose of focusing on command and control issues using fleet data.

Over-the-Horizon Targeting

Shortly after the command and control fleet exercises, the Navy began deploying Harpoon and was getting ready to deploy Tomahawk missiles to the fleet. So RADM Shaffer established an Over-the-Horizon Targeting (OTH-T) program within PME-108. The approach followed the CIDS program; developing a fleet exercise analysis guide, designing exercises to incorporate prototype systems and tactics, collecting data, and conducting analyses. The Mediterranean, with its high shipping density and many islands, provided the most challenging environment for OTH-T.

The exercises were again successful in demonstrating that the technology and tactics were insufficient to support the proposed concepts for anti-ship Tomahawk use. This and the abundance of targets ashore were major factors in emphasizing land attack versus anti-ship versions of the Tomahawk missile.

Advanced Technology Panel

By the late 1970s, Navy efforts to develop special intelligence sources provided deep penetration of Soviet Navy thinking and practices.18 The CNO repurposed the Navy’s Advanced Technology Panel (ATP), created in the 1970s, to become the main customer for this highly restricted intelligence.19 The ATP was a small group of the senior admirals on his staff, his top ‘thinkers’, who were cleared primarily to review special programs, but did a lot more.20 Working closely with the Navy laboratories, the leadership could deliver counters to what the Soviets were deploying within months to a year or two of having firm intelligence on their systems.

CNO Admiral Tom Hayward, on the advice of then Under Secretary of the Navy Robert Murray, formed a Strategic Studies Group of six promising Navy officers selected personally by him and two Marines at the Naval War College in 1981. Murray characterized the SSG as changing captains of ships into captains of war, employing terms that Winston Churchill used when he said that he needed more of those in World War I.

That fall, the ATP led by Vice CNO Admiral Bill Small was looking for ways to game using new, sensitive intelligence. In January 1982, the SSG was asked to develop concepts employing the new intelligence. The SSG held an extensive war game in April 1982. Admiral Small brought the ATP to Newport for two days at the conclusion of the game to review the results. The concepts used in the game became the foundations for the 1980s Maritime Strategy and rapidly changing war plans. The ATP was able to focus special programs on providing capabilities tailored to executing the new war plans.21

Two Different Paths: Nuclear Submarines and Distributed Surface Combat Power

Prototyping should not be restricted only to the payloads on vessels. In 1951, then Captain Hyman G. Rickover received authorization to build nuclear powered submarines. USS Nautilus (SSN 571) was commissioned in 1954 with a pressurized water reactor. The Navy then commissioned:

  • The USS Seawolf (SSN 575) with a liquid metal cooled reactor in 1957. This design presented too many risks and was quickly replaced.
  • The USS Triton (SSRN 586) in 1959, a large radar picket submarine with two reactors.
  • The USS Tullibee (SSN 597) in 1960, a very small, quiet submarine with a small reactor.
  • The USS Jack (SSN 605) in 1967 with direct drive and counter-rotating shafts and propellers.

These submarines, along with the small classes of SSNs built between the prototypes, explored the design space, adapted design features, and informed the building the following classes of nuclear submarines.22 The large capacity of the USS Hallibut (SSGN 587), designed to shoot Regulus nuclear cruise missiles, allowed it to adapt to different missions over its service life.

In 1996, the CNO Strategic Studies Group briefed its concepts for dispersed and distributed surface power to the CNO.23 The Group had in mind fast, stealthy ships of several hundred tons capable of mounting modular payloads for different missions. They anticipated that the Navy would explore the design space with prototypes, as it did with nuclear submarines. Instead, DoD acquisition processes led to the Littoral Combatant Ship. Rather than using a range of small and large prototypes using differing propulsion concepts, the Navy ended up with two much larger ship classes that have had many early difficulties.


The DoD acquisition system has come to believe that we must precisely predict the threat decades into the future, optimize designs by spending many million dollars on computer analysis, and then commit billions of dollars for procurement, without any of the experience and operator feedback provided by prototypes. This developmental approach incurs major cost, schedule, and performance risks because the future remains stubbornly uncertain – just as it always has been.

A better alternative is to prototype operational systems and platforms rapidly, providing agility to adapt to emerging threats and take advantage of emerging technology. Programming, budgeting, and contracting processes present major hurdles. Though routine acquisition procedures do not support such agility, Other Transaction Authority and similar processes authorized by Congress should be employed to their maximum extent. However, to do so effectively will require reinvigorating experimenting with prototypes in fleet exercises in ways similar to Submarine Development Group 2, the CIDS and OTH-T programs, and early nuclear submarine force development.

Captain John T. Hanley, Jr., USNR (Ret.) began his career in nuclear submarines in 1972. He served with the CNO Strategic Studies Group for 17 years as an analyst and Program/Deputy Director. From there in 1998 he went on to serve as Special Assistant to Commander-in-Chief U.S. Forces Pacific, at the Institute for Defense Analyses, and in several senior positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense working on force transformation, acquisition concepts, and strategy. He received A.B. and M.S. degrees in Engineering Science from Dartmouth College and his Ph.D. in Operations Research and Management Sciences from Yale. He wishes that his Surface Warfare Officer son was benefiting from concepts proposed for naval warfare innovation decades ago. The opinions expressed here are the author’s own, and do not reflect the positions of the Department of Defense, the US Navy, or his institution.


  1. For example see Barber, Arthur H. “For War Winning Innovation, Fix the Process.” Naval Institute Proceedings, October 2016 and National Academy of Sciences-Engineering-Medicine. “The Role of Experimentation Campaigns in the Air Force Innovation Lifecycle.” Washington DC: National Academies Press, 2016.
  2. This type of experimentation involves trying out concepts and technology at sea, and learning from the results. Attempts by the former Joint Forces Command to restrict the concept of experimentation to hypotheses without control cases were inappropriate, misused, and misguided.
  3. U.S. Code Title 10 Chapter 87.
  4. Charles Nemfakos, Irv Blickstein, et. al. The Perfect Storm: The Goldwater-Nichols Act and Its Effect on Navy Acquisition. Santa Monica: RAND, 2010.
  5. David Packard, President’s Blue Ribbon Commission Defense Management, A Quest for Excellence: Final Report to the President, Washington, D.C., June 30, 1986.
  6. John T. Hanley, Jr. “Changing the DoD’s Analysis Paradigm: The Science of Wargaming and Combat/Campaign Simulation.” Naval War College Review, Winter 2017.
  7. Chip Heath, Dan Heath. Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard. (New York: Broadway Books, 2010).
  8. The first installation of the BQQ-5 and Mk-117 was not called a prototype at the time. However, the submarine museum adjacent to Sub Base New London now characterizes it as a prototype.
  9. A story on the waterfront was that the BQR -20 resulted from a sonar Chief in San Diego who observed a mechanic using a digital processor when diagnosing his car engine. He obtained a device and connected it into his sub’s system, demonstrating an ability to see distinct frequencies.
  10. Ekelund’s story is a classic example of junior officer innovation. See http://www.public.navy.mil/subfor/underseawarfaremagazine/issues/archives/issue_15/ekelund.html .
  11. Captain Gene Porter, USN (Retired) informed me of an action on Action of 9 February 1945 where the Royal Navy submarine HMS Venturer sank the U-boat U-864 in the North Sea off the Norwegian coast. This action is the first and so far only incident of its kind in history where one submarine has intentionally sunk another submarine in combat while both were fully submerged.
  12. For a comprehensive account see “Submarine Warfare and Tactical Development: A Look – Past, Present, and Future: Proceedings of the Submarine Development Group TWO & Submarine Development Squadron TWELVE 50th Anniversary Symposium 1949-1999,” U.S. Naval Submarine Base Groton, Connecticut: Submarine Development Squadron TWELVE, 1999.
  13. The Los Angeles or 688 class had twice the shaft horsepower of the proceeding 637 class, and cost about twice as much. It originally sacrificed under ice and electronic surveillance capabilities to keep the costs down. The submarine force was under the gun from Secretary of Defense MacNamara’s Systems Analysis Office to demonstrate that the benefits of about 20% more speed were worth the cost. In fact, since both classes had the same sonars and weapons, the tactical speeds for detecting targets attack ranges were the same, and the 637 could conduct under ice and electronic surveillance missions. Captain Gene Porter, USN (Retired) provided oversight from OSD’s Systems Analysis Office. Studies demonstrated that the extra 688 speed was most useful in evading enemy torpedoes, but not worth twice the cost of the submarine.
  14. Submarine Development Group 2 became Submarine Development Squadron 12 in the mid-1970s. The Naval Electronics Systems Command is now the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR).
  15. The author contributed to writing the CIDS Fleet Exercise Analysis Guide and wrote the OTH-T Fleet Exercise Analysis Guide.
  16. ELF frequencies are 3-30 Hertz, corresponding to wave lengths 10,000 to 100,000 kilometers. The data rate is a few characters per minute. ELF energy penetrates seawater to a greater depth than higher frequencies, allowing the submarine to remain at depth and receive communications. The prototype ELF transmitter was on the order of 100 miles long, located in upper Michigan and required the submarine to tow a long antenna. The program used a bull under the transmitter to monitor any biological effects.
  17. The author also used this data in 1982 to model and analyze the first Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group Combined Arms ASW concept for rapidly gaining forward sea control and attacking Soviet submarines in their bastions. This work resulted in quickly changing U.S. naval war plans. Over their careers, Admiral William A. Owens expanded the original SSG concept into his Systems-of-Systems ideas and Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski into his Net Centric Warfare concepts. John T. Hanley, Jr. “Creating the 1980s Maritime Strategy and Implications for Today.” Naval War College Review, 2014: 11-30 provides more details.
  18. Christopher Ford and David Rosenberg, The Admirals’ Advantage: U.S. Navy Operational Intelligence in World War II and the Cold War (Annapolis; MD: Naval Institute Press, 2005), p. 84.
  19. John B. Hattendorf, The Evolution of the U.S. Navy’s Maritime Strategy, 1977–1986, Newport Paper 19 (Newport, R.I.: Naval War College Press, 2004), pp. 32-33.
  20. Admiral William N. Small, U.S. Navy (Retired), “Oral History.” Interviewed by David F. Winkler, Naval Historical Foundation, 1997, p. 56.
  21. Ibid. Hanley 2014 and Petrucelli, Joe. 2021. “John Hanley on Convening the Strategic Studies Group and Assessing War Plans.” CIMSEC. March 23. Accessed April 26, 2021. https://cimsec.org/john-hanley-on-convening-the-strategic-studies-group-and-assessing-war-plans/.
  22. The principal argument against such prototypes is the cost of maintaining one-off designs. Space in this article does not permit an exploration of how technologies such as 3D printing could change this calculus.
  23. The author was Deputy Director of the CNO Strategic Studies Group at this time.

Featured Image: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Shawn Halliwell monitors a waterfall display on his sonar system during a battle drill aboard the strategic missile submarine USS Maryland, Feb. 16, 2009. (DoD Photo).

Announcing the 2021 U.S. Naval Institute-CIMSEC Fiction Contest

By the Editorial Staff of CIMSEC and U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings

The Challenge

Fiction is a powerful means for exploring hypotheticals and envisioning alternatives. CIMSEC and the U.S. Naval Institute are partnering to invite authors to share their visions of the future in the second joint fiction essay contest. View the top 20 stories from last year’s contest on CIMSEC here.

Authors should probe the future of international maritime security and conflict, in this world or another. Explore the future and flesh out concepts for how potential discord may play out, or use alternative history to comment on issues that will affect that future. Authors are invited to submit their stories along these lines and more.

Submission Guidelines

  • Open to all contributors.
  • Essay must be no more than 3,000 words maximum (excludes endnotes/sources).
  • Include word count on title page of essay but do not include author name(s) on title page or within the text.
  • Submit essay as a Microsoft Word document online at www.usni.org/fictionessay by 15 September 2021.
  • Essay must be original and not previously published (online or in print) or being considered for publication elsewhere. 
  • Only one entry per contributor. 

Selection Process

The Naval Institute and CIMSEC staffs will evaluate all entries submitted in the contest and provide the top essays to a select panel of military novelists for judging. All essays will be judged in the blindi.e., the judges will not know the authors of the manuscripts.

Finalists will be judged by August Cole, Peter Singer, Kathleen McGinnis, Ward Carroll, David Weber, and Larry Bond.

First Prize: $500 and a 1-year membership in the Naval Institute and CIMSEC

Second Prize: $300 and a 1-year membership in the Naval Institute and CIMSEC

Third Prize: $200 and a 1-year membership in the Naval Institute and CIMSEC


The winning essays will be published in Proceedings magazine and on the Naval Institute and CIMSEC websites. Some non-winning essays may also be selected for publication.

We look forward to receiving your submissions and partnering with the U.S. Naval Institute to enhance the conversation around maritime security.

Featured Image: “Sci-fi submarine – Barotrauma fanart,” by Aleksandre Lortkipanidze via Artstation