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January 2014

Tactical Paradigm Shift

By Vice Admiral Thomas H. Copeman III, U.S. Navy

No matter what the future surface force might look like, the Navy first needs to invest in educating its people. The best place to start is a Naval Surface and Expeditionary Warfare Command.

The budget charts on which we try to plot the future force structure of the surface Navy are all stamped “Dangerous Ground.” We simply do not know what its size will be in the coming years. Regardless of the force structure we have, we must be able to skillfully fight our ships to meet our Title X obligation to be prepared to conduct prompt and sustained combat operations at sea. Indeed, we can expect the demand for naval forces to continue unabated, regardless of that structure, so it is more important than ever that the officers and crews of our ships be the best trained, most tactically proficient in the world. Put another way, the best place to invest is in our people.

It may be hard to believe, but the U.S. Navy, widely recognized as the greatest Fleet the world has ever known, lacks an organization tasked with development, training, and assessment of the full scope of tactics for the warfare community on which it was founded 238 years ago—surface warfare. This is going to change. We are building such an organization, the Naval Surface and Expeditionary Warfare Command (NSEWC). It is charged with creating tactical experts in the Fleet, developing and assessing new tactics for increasing threats, and training and evaluating surface warfare individual and unit tactical performance based on tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP). These have been developed and vetted by professionals dedicated to this single purpose. We had elements of such a group during the Cold War, when we were focused on developing tactics to defeat the Soviet threat. At that time the Surface Warfare Development Group (SWDG) and Surface Warfare Officers School (SWOS) developed tactics and taught them, but these organizations were not tasked with the full mission of establishing, maintaining, and assessing tactical standards throughout the Fleet.

New threats have emerged and evolved since the Cold War, and these deserve respect and focused attention. For too many years, our community has operated under the belief that tactical knowledge somehow grows based on age and experience alone, with young officers today spending very little time studying, critiquing, training in, or even discussing tactics. Developing them must be a core function, not an afterthought.

This is not to say the surface force has been standing still. We have implemented the Surface Force Readiness Manual ( SFRM ) and have paid for additional manning for our afloat training groups (ATGs) to beef up our unit-level instruction. The Naval Air and Missile Defense Command (NAMDC) and Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Warfare Command (NMAWC) have begun training weapons and tactics instructors (WTIs). What is needed, however, to most effectively meet the warfighting challenges we face, is a single organization to improve tactical competence across the full range of missions and environments in which the surface force operates—from outer space, to the ocean floor, to 1,000-plus miles inland—and improve the community’s ability to maintain warfighting superiority in an ever-changing world.

Getting in Front of the Problem

We do not have to start with a blank sheet of paper. The aviation community already has such an organization in the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center (NSAWC), which leads a centrally managed tactical training program driven by the Air Combat Training Continuum (ACTC), the vehicle for standardized aircrew tactical training. The fundamental concept of the ACTC is that individual tactical competence drives overall capability, so the focus is on training individuals to be more effective members of the team. We can learn much from this model.

The surface Navy has long focused on ship readiness above all else, which is quite understandable, since surface warriors view the unit—the ship—as the all-important factor in our professional lives (“Don’t Give up the Ship!”). We have long believed the sum of individual knowledge in a team overcomes the weakness of one person.

But this model of readiness is based on a naval warfare structure that no longer exists. The threats we face, both from potential peers and regional powers, is not linear and time-phased. Rather, it is multidimensional and simultaneous. More important, our ships have evolved from vessels with large teams conducting similar functions, such as the old gun-turret crew, to small crews with individuals executing specialized functions that contribute to the combat effectiveness of the ship. The ACTC establishment and focus on the individual was a major shift in culture for naval aviation, and it is one the surface Navy must embrace as well.

This is not to say that unit effectiveness will take care of itself if we just train individuals. We still recognize the need for training and certifying ships as combat units. In this area, we are well-placed for success with our SFRM . The deliberate building-block approach to education, training, assessment, and certification is delivering more crews proficient at the basics of operating warships, in addition to improved material readiness as we move our ships through the full cycle of Total Ship Readiness Assessments.

As we continue working to man our ATGs to fully execute the SFRM , we have a structure in place to make a quantum leap in our ability to fight our ships. The missing training piece is the system by which our individuals are trained over a career, and their proficiency is factored into the overall readiness of the unit. To use a sports analogy, scrimmaging will not prepare a team if the players aren’t good at blocking and tackling. But by improving the blocking and tackling skills of the players, scrimmaging becomes far more effective at preparing the team to win.

Multiple organizations exist in the surface force to perform some degree of tactical training, but all of it is done independent of a community tactical training strategy that focuses on advanced warfighting. Individual tactical knowledge is gained in schools, but these organizations do not develop, vet, or validate TTPs. We have the building blocks for a comprehensive tactical development and training organization, but we are missing the one command that can provide leadership, continuity, and consistency for the surface force.

The NSEWC will consolidate tactical development and provide capabilities to address advanced-warfare training gaps not covered by existing organizations. Further, it will establish and centrally maintain the Surface Warfare Combat Training Continuum (SWCTC), which will be an overarching training and assessment curriculum for individuals—from basic to advanced warfare—as they progress through their careers.

The command will generate, test, and promulgate TTPs for the full array of surface-warfare mission areas. It will be more than a place to write tactics; it will be a means for instilling uniform tactical excellence as a cultural standard. The SWCTC will lay out what individuals on a ship will be required to know with regard to advanced tactics. With this definition in place, we will become better warfighters and better understand the true readiness of our ships. The new paradigm will be that individual tactical competence drives measurement of overall unit capability for warfighting. The focus will be on whether the individuals on board at a given time have the training and experience to meet potential tactical challenges, and this will drive our ships’ readiness ratings. The result will be ships and crews entering Fleet-led intermediate and advanced training ready to conduct high-end warfighting scenarios.

Establishing the NSEWC

The positive cultural change the new command will bring to the surface-warfare community cannot be over-emphasized. Our junior officers, in particular, join the Navy to be warfighters, and we must provide them a culture in which tactical excellence is developed and maintained throughout a career, and where it is an explicit discriminator of who gets promoted. Nothing else we can do will have a more positive impact on the surface-warfare ethos. The staff at Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (SURFPAC) has already taken the first steps in the process of converting concept into reality. We have had several conferences with other type commanders and the fleet commanders to determine what tactical centers of excellence should and will look like and how they will operate.

In the initial phase, we are working through the vital decisions of missions, functions, and tasks, and where the new command will be located and how it will be staffed. At present, we are carefully working through the following decisions:

  • Definition of command-and-control/governance structure
  • Designation of an appropriate flag officer as its commanding officer
  • Location and dedication of facilities
  • Identifying and detailing appropriate staff

The goal is to establish a core team with the proper experience, vision, and perspectives necessary to develop the institution and get it started.

To execute our Title X requirements and ensure the surface Navy is properly trained to conduct prompt and sustained combat operations, the command and control of NSEWC will be executed by COMNAVSURFPAC. For the new command to be able to dictate tactics standards throughout the surface fleet, we also must form a “tactical standards domain” around NSEWC, to consist of commands that play a part in surface-force tactical training, such as SWOS, Centers for Surface Combat Systems (CSCS), the Expeditionary Warfare Training Groups (EWTGs), the ATGs, Navy Air and Missile Defense Command (NAMDC), and the other warfare centers in a supporting role.

Creating a tactical-standards domain is critical for a number of reasons. First, we cannot talk about raising the standard of tactical performance across the force without a standard in place. Right now, we wrestle with different ones for each ship in each warfare area. Second, some warfare areas are more advanced than others, so we need to bring up the standards for those areas that lag. For example, NAMDC already focuses on integrated air and missile defense (IAMD), so we are making good progress in improving our tactical IAMD performance. On the other hand, no command is currently focused on surface warfare, a core competency since 1775. Third, such a domain will make the surface force more capable of inter-community, joint, and combined warfare. NSEWC staff planning is in full force. We are using the Surface Tactical Development Group and NAMDC as templates for staffing requirements. The majority of the staff will be uniformed personnel, but they will be complemented as appropriate by civilian talent. NSEWC’s staff is to be the Fleet’s standard-bearer for warfighting tactics, so it is imperative that only the best and brightest are assigned. These billets will be some of the most career-enhancing—hence, most competitive—in the Fleet.

A critical function of NSEWC will be to coordinate with tactical standards and training organizations to manage tactics development. Further, it will work to prevent or close gaps between the surface force and other warfare communities. As NSEWC evolves and coordination between and among all warfare communities progresses, the warfighting performance of the entire Navy will improve. In this coordination role, NSEWC will fill what is now a critical void. The surface force is deeply involved in every warfare area conducted by the Navy, with the arguable exception of special operations. With NSEWC, we will bring the proper level of expertise and focus to collaborating with all of the other naval warfare communities to ensure the Navy has the most effective coordinated solution to our tactical challenges.

At the integrated level, NSEWC will assist in training carrier and expeditionary strike-group surface combatants to carry out combat missions as an integrated force up to the major combat operations (MCO) surge-ready level. This will include training on joint and Navy missions that conform with current MCO plans, as well as tactics and techniques of potential real-world adversaries. At the unit level, the new command will coordinate the efforts of the organizations in the surface tactical-standards domain to improve the level of performance of our ships in integrated-level training. This will be done by first ensuring that our ships meet a higher training standard prior to entering the integrated phase. Much as a carrier air wing must complete a training event at NSAWC prior to the integrated phase, our ships will also be required to complete a similar event at that same level. Next, NSEWC will coordinate training on board all surface-force ships during integrated training periods to maximize the value of those events and work with the Fleet certifying authorities to ensure that the surface combatants in each strike group are quantitatively evaluated against the tactical standard and assigned a performance rating.

Individual-level advanced-tactics training will be conducted in accordance with the SWCTC mentioned previously and the WTI program. NSEWC will develop a cadre of WTIs, who will focus on execution of the SWCTC, ensuring standards are met for tactical employment and integrated naval and joint operations.

Establishing an SWCTC

The continuum will be the centerpiece of the cultural change in the surface community and the driving force behind NSEWC. It is at the SWCTC level that the true paradigm shift in the community will occur. The vision is that the training continuum will serve as the mechanism for individual standardized tactical training and evaluation of an officer’s (and selected enlisted) tactical proficiency. This process continues throughout one’s career, serving as a guide and an assessment of individual readiness for more senior positions. The focus of the community will then be on individual readiness, the improvement of which will drive overall unit capability.

NSEWC will manage the SWCTC to codify the training and experience standards that our officers and certain enlisted will be required to meet as they progress through their careers. It will establish basic and advanced tactical training requirements that will be used as part of the training continuum to evaluate individuals, units, and composite units. The approach will be to augment the SFRM ’s unit-readiness measurements with a continuum that trains and evaluates an individual’s ability to contribute to broader combat capabilities, overlaying them onto the broader process of training and evaluating unit tactical readiness.

The SWCTC will be constructed on three pillars: Surface Warfare Weapons and Tactics (SWWT) syllabus, Surface Warfare Training System (SWTS), Weapons and Tactics Instructors (WTI).

  • The SWWT syllabus will provide a comprehensive courseware, classroom simulator, and at-sea training program. The syllabus will also provide a framework for individual tactical training at post-basic phase levels and set the standards for tactical proficiency and combat readiness for various levels of watch-stander qualification.
  • The SWTS will contain the administrative functionality, interactive courseware, and computer-aided instruction lessons, including classified web-based applications, designed to support WTIs and Fleet operators both ashore and afloat.
  • The WTI program will provide a cadre of formally trained instructors tasked with implementing and administering the SWWT syllabus in each mission area throughout the Fleet.

The WTI program is the cornerstone of the SWCTC. The instructors will be post-division officers who have been recommended by their commanding officers and screened by the Navy Personnel Command. Ideally, they will be the highest-performing, most qualified officers in the Fleet. They will provide the hands-on individual training that is currently lacking. The WTI will be the tactics expert, training and evaluating the combat team on a given ship or staff.

Underlying these pillars are two layers of assessment. The first is performance within units. How well did the ship or staff do, and what needs to be done to improve? From these unit assessments, and combined with intelligence assessments of our potential adversaries and global trends, NSEWC will provide an overall assessment of tactical training, doctrine, and material requirements for the surface force.

We have already made a down-payment on this new investment by training our first WTIs. Our new antisubmarine warfare and integrated air- and missile- defense WTIs are starting to reach the Fleet. These officers are being armed with the knowledge and skills to have immediate and substantive impact on the tactical proficiency of their individual commands. Over time, we will populate the surface force with WTIs on all of our ships and tactical staffs, and they will be responsible for ensuring we meet the standards codified in the SWCTC.

Investment in People

The cultural change and challenges associated with this undertaking will require years, perhaps decades, of commitment. It will require a paradigm shift in the way surface warriors train ourselves, and fulfilling this vision will require adjustments to nearly every aspect and dimension of the human-resource elements of surface warfare—from training to career management.

Finally, creating a Naval Surface and Expeditionary Warfare Command and raising our tactical performance as discussed here will require financial investment in a time when resources are becoming more scarce. That is exactly why we need to invest in improving our tactical development and training. We cannot simply pay for material solutions to every tactical challenge. The best place to invest is in our people.

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