by CDR Paul Mahosky, USNR
In the wake of the decision to convert four Ohio-class fleet ballistic-missile nuclear submarines to nuclear-powered guided-missile submarines (SSGNs), RDML Mel G. Williams Jr., Commander Submarine Group 9 (COMSUBGRU 9) became a key player in the development and validation of the operating concept for the new SSGNs.
To fully employ the talents of all the personnel involved in the development of the new SSGN CONOPS, RDML Williams has elected to emphasize a Total Force effort in conjunction with the Navy’s Reserve Component, and he will fully integrate reserve personnel into the COMSUBGRU 9 team. As RDML Williams noted, “We must continue to provide opportunities for all qualified people to contribute their talents towards improving the way we do business.”
In the course of its own Zero-Based Review, the submarine reserve leadership recognized the importance of the new SSGN mission area. Under the submarine reserve realignment that took effect at the start of FY05, the mission – and even the name – of what was formerly the COMSUBGRU 9 headquarters reserve unit was changed to emphasize a new focus on supporting the evolving SSGN mission area. In another step to promote effective coordination of reserve assets in support of the SSGN mission, RADM James Beebe, the Director of the Submarine Reserve, has designated CAPT Dave Schlagel, Commanding Officer of the COMSUBGRU 9 SSGN Detachment, as SSGN mission-area Reserve Lead for the Commander, Submarine Force U.S. Pacific Fleet (COMSUBPAC).
“It’s great to see how the Submarine Force – both the active and the reserve components – have embraced the Total Force concept,” said CAPT Schlagel. “Our reservists work side by side with the gaining commands, and we’re being challenged daily with new and exciting opportunities to meet the needs of the Submarine Force – our ‘customer’.”
COMSUBGRU 9 reservists are enjoying the chance to be on the cutting edge during the early stages of operational development for the SSGN platform. They have had a part in formulating the SSGN Operating Concept from the very start, dating back to Millennium Challenge ‘02, the initial Fleet Battle Experiment that assessed the capabilities of the proposed SSGN platform. Millennium Challenge, held at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Newport, Rhode Island, benefited from the wide array of analytical and technical skills resident in the reserve component. In fact, the COMSUBGRU 9 senior observer for that computer-based, virtual experiment was a reservist whose broad-based experience in the field of information technology was instrumental in the success of the event.
COMSUBGRU 9 has continued to leverage the expertise of the Navy’s Reserve in support of the ongoing SSGN CONOPS development. Reservists have participated in analyzing how the SSGN will support an operational commander’s mission objectives and in exploring employment tactics. They have conducted analyses of the applicability of particular Joint Operating Concepts (JOCs) and Joint Functional Concepts (JFCs) to the SSGN platform, as well as assessing which objectives can be uniquely accomplished by the SSGN.
Silent Hammer was a limited-objective experiment conducted as part of the process to validate the initial SSGN Operating Concept. The goal of Silent Hammer was to provide a rigorous, analysis-based evaluation of current and future SSGN capabilities within the context of a well-designed Sea Trial experiment. During the five-month period leading up to Silent Hammer, COMSUBGRU 9 reservists provided 116 man-days of analysis and planning support. Specifically, the reservists participated in developing and coordinating the Master Scenario Events List, devising the Water Space Management Plan for the entire experimental period, drafting the experiment’s OPORD, and supported logistics and liaison among all commands involved in the experiment. Additionally, reserve journalists were assigned continuously to USS Georgia (SSGN-729), the Silent Hammer platform, at sea and ashore, providing public affairs and photographic support during the three-month period immediately preceding the evolution.
To support submarine command and control functions for the experiment itself, reservists from both the Atlantic and Pacific commands served as Submarine Assistance Team Watch Officers. Senior reservists were tapped for high-visibility positions as Silent Hammer Liaison Officers (NLOs) on the USS Tarawa (LHA-1) and USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) Expeditionary Strike Groups (ESGs). Other reservists were employed as part of the experiment’s Red Cell, as well as providing expert support for the Joint Experiment Control Group on San Clemente Island off the coast of Southern California.
“It’s something special to know that you’re helping to define how the U.S. Navy will be employing a unique platform – the SSGN – in the battlefield of tomorrow,” said LCDR Tony Del Gianni, Training Officer for NR COMSUBGRU 9 DET 522. “For me, the experiment was a tremendous learning opportunity in how a joint command operates and measures success.”
Though the at-sea events have now been concluded, COMSUBGRU 9 continues to look to the Navy’s Reserve for Silent Hammer support, and reservists are immersed in the continuing process of documenting and analyzing “lessons learned” from the experiment.
“The SSGN concept is at the tip of the spear in Submarine Force innovation, and while we’re still in the analysis phase of the Silent Hammer experiment, I can vouch that the capabilities of the SSGN platform are tremendous,” explained CDR Tony Laberge, a senior reserve officer brought onboard the group staff for a three-month period. “My role in the process will help SSGN gain visibility before top-tier military and national decision-makers.”
As the SSGN conversion process moves toward its completion, the submarine reserve stands poised to help shape the developing capability as part of a unified Total Force team.
CAPT (Sel.) Mahosky is currently an action officer for Navy Reserve TCEM PACOM Detachment C. He previously served as Chief Staff Officer and Executive Officer of Navy Reserve COMSUBGRU NINE Det. 522.