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SSGN
Deployed and Special Forces Ready
(above)Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force leadership participate in a video conference.
Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Barry Hiramaya
.

by Jason W . Cronin

In 2006, the Joint Command and Control for War on Terror Activities (JC2WTA) Joint Test (JT) was chartered to develop tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) that enable an embarked commander to command & control (C2) special operations forces (SOF) from an SSGN. The TTP developed by the JC2WTA were refined and fully tested during the project’s final field test onboard USS Ohio (SSGN-726). The field test was conducted during Exercises KEY RESOLVE / FOAL EAGLE (KR/FE 08), in February-March 2008. KR/FE 08 was an operational-level U.S./Republic of Korea (ROK) training event held peninsula-wide to ensure operational readiness in the Korean theater. These exercises demonstrated U.S. resolve to support the ROK against external aggression while improving combat readiness and joint/combined interoperability.

KR/FE 08 provided a realistic backdrop for demonstrating the viability of a SOF Commander and his battle staff operating aboard an SSGN. These exercises tested the abilities of a trained Combined/ Joint Special Operations Task Force (CJSOTF) and a Naval Special Warfare Task Group (NSWTG) to exercise operational and tactical control from Ohio. Brig. Gen. Simeon G. Trombitas, Commander, Special Operations Command Korea (COMSOCKOR), along with his battle staff, embarked aboard Ohio for over a week. His experienced staff of Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and ROK Liaison Officers (LNOs) exercised both joint and coalition missions during KR/FE 08. In addition to Ohio’s regular crew complement, over 100 additional riders showcased the SSGN’s ability to support an embarked CJSOTF battle staff, Naval Special Warfare Task Group battle staff, a Navy SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team Detachment, and an Army Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) team. By all accounts, the exercise was a resounding success.

Numerous issues regarding the integration of submarine operations with SOF operations came to light during the course of the KR/FE 08. Capt. Gardner Howe, Commodore, Naval Special Warfare Group THREE (NSWG-3) commented from a SOF Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) perspective that, “...I want all the antennas up and communicating unless I have to go down. Historically, the previous operating mind-set would be everything down unless I have to go up.” Ohio’s commanding officer, Capt. Andy Hale, reiterated the stealth versus communications paradigm stating, “I’ve had to retrain my officers to be more sensitive to communication (connectivity) than they would normally.” KR/FE 08 provided Ohio and SOCKOR the opportunity to allow these differing philosophies to work together and ensure “open pipes” in support of SOF and information operations while maintaining 24/7 tactical stealth.

“I believe we can operate in this environment because I successfully operated with less bandwidth as a Special Forces team leader... during the 1980s.”

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Special Operations Forces (SOF) personnel prepare for a mission topside aboard Ohio.
Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Barry Hiramaya
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Brig. Gen. Trombitas’ past experience with working in restricted bandwidth situations helped put the operating environment into perspective. “I believe we can operate in this environment because I successfully operated with less bandwidth as a Special Forces team leader in Central America during the 1980s. We will certainly have less bandwidth than we do at our landbased headquarters, but we must look at our procedures to determine exactly what information we need to be successful.”

The ability of Brig. Gen. Trombitas and his battle staff to communicate continuously with higher headquarters, coalition nodes, and SOF units was exceptional and specifically noted as effective at the higher Combined Unconventional Warfare Task Force (CUWTF) headquarters. The few communications outages that did occur were, on average, only three minutes in duration. SOF C2 was tactically effective and bandwidth availability was not an issue based on over 7,000 staff emails, and even more collaborative chat conversations in support of SOF missions, teleconferences, and daily VTCs.

A new chapter in the submarine force/SOF history was written during KR/FE 08. While coordination between the submarine and SOF communities has been ongoing for over 60 years, a deployed SSGN now enables this relationship to grow substantially. Brig. Gen. Trombitas stated it well when he said “...this must be the first step in a larger evolution; we can’t view this as a complete test in and of itself. Board the platform with an open mind and look for what you can do, not what you can’t do.”

Mr. Cronin is a senior analyst with Scientific Research Corporation.

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