by Capt. Kenneth A. Swann, USN

I had an opportunity to present at the 2009 Submarine Technology Symposium (SUBTECH 2009) in May. Sponsored by John Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL) and the Naval Submarine League, SUBTECH is a forum that examines current, emerging, and future technologies with an eye on applications for the submarine warfighter and enhancements to both current and future operational submarine force capabilities.

I was introduced at the symposium by Vice Adm. George Emery, USN (ret.), as “the training guy”; however, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the “real training guy”: Rear Adm. Arnold Lotring, the Chief Operating Officer of the Naval Education and Training Command and first Commanding Officer (CO) of the Submarine Learning Center (SLC).

The goals of my presentation and remarks, reproduced here, are to offer a glimpse into Submarine Force training’s evolving and always-changing world of roles and missions, a snapshot of the “here and now”, and a quick glimpse of what lies ahead. Hopefully, this will stimulate a discussion on the challenges, realities and strategies for deploying Submarine Force capabilities in the near term, detail the Submarine Learning Center’s engagement with system commands (SYSCOMs) and type commanders (TYCOMs) within a synergistic Modernization Training Team concept, and offer a shared vision of the future focused on warfighter performance.

The Submarine Force has a continuum of available training tools, both ashore and afloat, covering a broad spectrum of Submarine Force core competencies and challenging mission areas. (See figure 1.)

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Figure 1. The continuum of training tools available to the Submarine Force cover a broad spectrum of core competencies and mission areas.

These trainers include high-fidelity, information-age trainers. One example is the SMMTT-3 (now just called SMMTT, or Submarine Multi-Mission Team Trainer).

SMMTT runs the latest tactical sonar and fire control software, hosts electronic navigation, and integrates the automated information services (AIS). The trainer is capable of supporting all sensor sources, including high frequency sonar, in a realistic multi-path ocean. It features computing power able to run high contact-density management scenarios and support 72-hour continuous training events for SSGN certification and tactical development. SMMTT is now installed in all but one submarine homeport — Guam — which will receive SMMTT in Fiscal Year 2012.

This spectrum of devices and systems provides an integrated-training tool box to support skill-based training for individuals and teams from initial pipelines through shipboard qualification and continuing training programs. The training package culminates in full mission-profile proficiency training, including the insight of so-called “graybeards,” i.e., retired career submarine officers brought back as civilians to school houses, where their experience helps bring the human element to the training equation.

The April 2009 Submarine Review published the remarks of Cmdr. Marc Stern, USS Topeka (SSN-754) Commanding Officer, from the SUBTECH 2008 meeting. He recalled his pre-deployment training with one of the Graybeards, retired Capt. Ollie Oliver: “One of the scenarios we did during the week seemed a bit odd — it wasn’t the typical scenario I was used to seeing in the countless attack centers I had previously done throughout the years. But, we did the scenario, collected our lessons learned when complete, and moved on to the next event. Imagine my surprise when months later, while conducting real-world operations, we were faced with nearly the same situation. That operation went very well for us.”

Cmdr. Stern’s example demonstrates how training and capability meet to produce and enhance readiness. Acoustic Rapid Commercial off the Shelf (COTS) Insertion (ARCI) was highly successful because the operator was in the loop with the developer, using a BUILD-TEST-BUILD and rapid prototyping strategy. But unless the training community is inserted in the loop along with the development community and stays in the development loop, technology soon outpaces both the trainer and the operator. This results in modernized systems beyond the Submarine Force’s ability to grasp, to train with, and therefore fully employ.

Though today’s equipment is more capable, the operator is not. Equipment capability does not equal operational readiness unless the equipment is placed in the hands of a skilled, trained operator. The training community must meet the real and demanding challenge of deploying improved capabilities from new technology and rapidly modernized systems. Without training, the end result is reduced readiness at an increased cost of new equipment.

The Submarine Force has historically struggled at times to connect across the institutional boundaries of installation training (think SYSCOM), individual training (think schoolhouse), and team training (think TYCOM). The mandate for a radical departure from our historical processes was evident. To enable future success, timely and mature training needed to better support the pace of continued technology insertion and rapid modernization of complex systems. (See figure 2.)

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Figure 2. The Submarine Learning Center, TYCOMs, and SYSCOMs have partnered to form a combined group known as the Modernization Training Team.

Using a value chain approach, the Submarine Learning Center, TYCOMs, and SYSCOMs — including the Submarine Acoustic Systems Program Office (PMS 401); the Submarine Combat Systems Program Office (PMS 425); the Program Executive Office, Submarines (PEO SUB); and the Program Executive Office, Integrated Warfare Systems (PEO IWS) — partnered to form a combined group known as the Modernization Training Team (MTT). Several geographically diverse teams actually make up the MTT network. Together, they can deliver simultaneous modernization training to more than one ship in more than one homeport — a benefit to the SYSCOM. They also conduct at-sea training — a benefit to the ship and TYCOM.

Central oversight is provided by the Submarine Learning Center’s modernization training director, a senior Navy civilian who is a tactically current and technically savvy former senior submarine officer.

The modernization training director participates with the TYCOMs and SYSCOMs in the command, control, communications, computers, collaboration, and intelligence (C5I) conference. He coordinates SYSCOM, TYCOM and learning site schedules and resources to best facilitate a consistent, organized and efficient modernization training program. The program must simultaneously train both the individuals and submarine teams following modernization periods for and in every homeport, including Guam.

The Modernization Training Team process spans the advanced processor build (APB) cycle from beginning to end, looking across from left to right. (See figure 3.) The process delivers modernization training to submarines as a networked training force and engages the instructor with the developer — early and often — and provides Fleet feedback to the developer.

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Figure 3. The Modernization Training Team process spans the APB cycle from beginning to end.

Now note the right side of the graphic, which depicts the MTT jointly developing and deploying the approved curricula currently residing at local learning sites. This strategy allows for advanced preparation, in-time delivery, post-training event refreshes, and pipeline training updates.

The MTT process provides both officers and enlisted Sailors training for system operation and employment. The result is local military subject matter experts who are both a school and waterfront resource, and who eventually return to sea aboard a modernized submarine.

It follows, then, that for a world-class Submarine Force, there must be world-class human factor engineering. Training and human-machine interface (HMI) designs lead to capabilities and competencies enabling human performance. The result is mission execution — also known as readiness. Let me say it in a different way: it’s about the Sailor with his gear, not just about the box — which is exactly why we can’t pause for even a second in the training world.

With high-fidelity information-age trainers covering a spectrum of core competencies and mission areas, an engaged modernization training strategy spanning the value chain, and trainers keeping in the loop with the developer, there’s a temptation to be satisfied, but don’t!

In our collective zeal to rapidly provide capability and thereby enhance readiness today, the graphic depicts what the operator sometimes gets. Read the fine print note, written in black. (See figure 4.)

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Figure 4. Data is presented in a machine-readable format using a font called “3 of 9 BARCODE.”

There’s nothing wrong with this graphic; it’s not scrambled. In fact, it’s completely machine-readable. I used Microsoft Office’s capability of converting letters to a digital barcode by highlighting the words and selecting the font called “3 of 9 BARCODE” instead of “Arial” or “Times New Roman”.

Some might say that the SLC should train operators to read this barcode-converted text. After all, we are in the digital information age… but I disagree with that strategy. I would argue with the system developer that having this capability to convert text to digital barcode format — while interesting, unique and not without possible future potential applications — does not make today’s reader of this article any more ready to understand me, which is my mission.

I would further tell the developer to remember that equipment displays are just that, displays for humans — the operators. Equipment displays are not for communicating information from one machine to another machine — that’s done through a data port. Designs that place the human apart from the system levy an unintended and often unrealized tax upon ultimate system performance — a tax that is paid through additional time spent training, if paid at all.

Let me try a better design to share information. (See figure 5.)

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Figure 5. The same data shown in Figure 4 presented as plain text in a font readable to the operator.

That’s better. Now I can get to my point.

It is an undisputed fact that our Nation builds and equips highly capable submarines. Since our Navy delivers readiness by deploying these highly capable warships with well-trained Sailors, we must never forget that the critical link between capability and readiness is a team of well-trained Sailors. So, the question remains: how to bridge the gap from capability to readiness? The answer is, of course, warfighter performance — certainly including, but not limited to, training!

Following Commander, Submarine Force, Vice Adm. Jay Donnelly’s leadership in engaging the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and the science and technology communities, my predecessor, Capt. Hass Moyer, also engaged these groups. He focused on developing and improving existing and future human performance as warfighters. One of the ways Capt. Moyer did this was by serving as a co-chair of SUBTECH’s Warfighter Performance Integrated Product Team. The position afforded him an excellent opportunity to engage with both industry and academia. (See figure 6.)

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Figure 6. The Submarine Learning Center has focused on developing and improving existing and future human performance as warfighters.

We have enjoyed successes, but more hurdles remain as we endeavor to deploy capabilities that enable warfighter readiness.

My challenges as the Submarine Learning Center Commanding Officer are threefold:

First: If training is not in your development cycle, put it there, and keep it there by supporting SLC-SYSCOM-TYCOM partnerships and the Modernization Training Team.

Second: Invest in making technology simple and easy to use by always factoring the human operator into your design considerations.

And finally: Partner with Team Submarine and the SLC for future training solutions through the Warfighter Performance Integrated Product Team. We need your energy, ideas and resources.

Capt. Swann is the Commanding Officer of Submarine Learning Center. His previous assignments have included Commanding Officer, USS Tennessee (SSBN-734) (GOLD); Commanding Officer, Naval Submarine School; and Chief of Staff, Commander, Submarine Group TWO.