On May 26th 2016, nine graduated from the first convening of the Navy Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center’s Amphibious Warfare Tactics Instructor (AMW WTI) Program. This course formally marked the Surface Navy’s expansion into tactical excellence by design for the Amphibious Warfare mission, adding diversity and value to the Surface Warfare Tactics Instructor portfolio. Taking our place alongside the Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) WTIs and Anti-Submarine Warfare/Anti-Surface Warfare (ASW/SUW) WTI programs, our seedling group of graduates are poised to collaborate with our counterpart WTIs in building a cadre of amphibious warfare tactical experts that will train the fleet, develop tactics and techniques, and prepare our amphibious task forces to fight and win as they deliver combat power ashore both today and in the future. Over the course of the twelve week curriculum, these we were immersed in lessons and practical applications that covered a wide spectrum of amphibious capabilities, planning, doctrine, and tactics.
Need for the AMW WTI and Amphibious Warfare Knowledge.
For many of us in the Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) community, amphibious warfare involves a small and relatively specialized portion of the fleet. With only 31 commissioned amphibious ships, a majority of SWOs will never serve on an amphibious ship and have only a basic understanding of amphibious warfare. This problem is compounded by a training and deployment model that provides only limited integration with Carrier Strike Groups and Cruiser/Destroyer escorts. However, in the face of an increasingly complex maritime environment and information domain, amphibious ready groups (ARGs) are being asked to do more than simple ship-to-shore movement and find themselves at the focal point of challenges requiring integrated solutions across the spectrum of Navy task force, and even joint or Special Operations Forces, capabilities. The proven performance and range of the MV-22 Osprey and the emerging capability of the F-35B only add to this dynamic. The time has never been better to create Amphibious Warfare Tactics Instructors who can help bridge the gaps of knowledge and experience to enable the amphibious force in its current and future missions. As a consequence of the shape of the amphibious force command billet structure and the sharing of amphibious commands between the surface warfare and aviation communities, it is not uncommon for amphibious ships and squadrons to be led by senior officers who have rich and successful operational backgrounds, but often are not experienced in the details of amphibious warfare. We as AMW WTIs can help round out these edges as well.
Scope of the AMW WTI
Amphibious warfare is a broad and constantly transforming discipline that places critically important emphasis on effective planning in addition to the need for crisp and safe execution. Whether it is from the capabilities and limitations of amphibious assets, ship-to-shore movement, air operations, sustaining marine and expeditionary forces ashore, defending the amphibious task force in the littorals and chokepoints, the challenge for the AMW WTI community is defining the scope of knowledge needed to be an amphibious warfare expert and balancing it against the multitude of enabling missions sets that are expected of the amphibious force. Across the Navy and Marine Corps, leaders have expressed many different ideas of how an AMW WTI should be trained and then employed for maximum effect. Unquestionably, the AMW WTI must balance tactics and planning. For the AMW WTI pilot course, the guiding vision was to present the material and knowledge that would be needed to conduct operational planning and think on an Amphibious Squadron staff with an understanding of what is happening two levels up (CTF and Fleet) and one level down (inside the lifelines of the ships). Overall, the AMW WTI has a sturdy foundation in the following:
- Carrier Strike Group/Composite Warfare Concept integration with AMW
- Understand and anticipate Commander Amphibious Task Force tasks and information needs
- Understand and anticipate Navy support to Commander Landing Force
- Blue/Green integration areas
- Tactical employment of Ship’s Self Defense System (SSDS)
- Functional knowledge of C5I, Intel, and Cryptologic capabilities in an Amphibious Task Force
- Special Operating Forces liaison and interoperability
During the course, select AMW WTIs specialize in a variety of “Subject Matter Expert” areas with the aim of evolving the future AMW WTI curriculum and the underlying body of knowledge in these areas. AMW WTIs will continue to mature their specialty areas during their subsequent production/operational tours. The five focus areas are:
- Ship to Shore (air and surface)
- AMW Aviation
- ATF Defense
- Missions of State
As the AMW WTIs continue in their SWO career path, they will continue to provide AMW training and exposure across the fleet.
How We Got There
The rigorous twelve week course was completed in seven learning sections:
- WTI Baseline Course – 1 week
- AMW Capabilities and Planning fundamentals – 2 weeks
- Joint Maritime Tactics Course (CWC) – 2 weeks
- “L” class combat systems / SSDS – 1 week
- Fleet Immersion (Beach Group, ship tours, Camp Lejeune, Fort Eustis) – 2 weeks
- AMW Concept Integration – 3 weeks
- Final Battle Problem – 1 week
The Baseline Week brought both our AMW and Integrated Air and Missile Defense WTI classes together in Dahlgren, Virginia for an introductory week to indoctrinate the future WTIs classes into the Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center’s standards and expectations. Putting the WTI classes together built camaraderie and networks for future collaboration across the Surface WTI community.
The second and third weeks we were at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek/Fort Story attending Expeditionary Warfare Training Group Atlantic’s Amphibious Warfare Indoctrination, Expeditionary Warfare Staff Planning, and Amphibious Air Operations courses. Since each of us possessed varying degrees of AMW knowledge and experience, the courses were intended to level the most current AMW knowledge in re-instill the basics of AMW doctrine, tactics, and planning.
The fourth and fifth weeks were completed at Tactical Training Group Atlantic at Dam Neck Annex attending the Joint Maritime Tactics Course comprised of classroom lectures, seminars, and war games to reiterate the fundamentals of Navy’s CWC concept and expand understanding of maritime warfare theory. This is an important foundation to develop academically in light of the relatively scarce practical opportunities for integrating amphibious ships into Strike Group and complex Fleet exercises or operations.
During the sixth week of instruction, SSDS Instructors from Center for Surface Combat Systems (CSCS) Dahlgren provided a week long course on amphibious ship combat system capabilities and limitations and SSDS Mk2 operation and employment. As ships continue to transition to SSDS Mk2, it is vital for AMW WTIs to have an useful understanding of amphibious ships’ combat systems and how they can be employed tactically in both defense of the ship, ARG, and conducting amphibious operations in the littorals.
Weeks seven and eight concentrated on “Fleet Immersion,” to provide first-hand on location training with amphibious entities to observe and discuss their operations and equipment. A week was focused on instruction and interaction with Naval Beach Group TWO and their subordinate forces. The week included the NBG 2’s First Lieutenant’s Course, tours of assault and landing craft, interaction with Beach Masters, and an Amphibious Construction Battalion. We also observed landing craft operations from the beach and conducted surface tide observations to formulate a modified surf index. The following week involved tours of Navy Expeditionary Combat Command units (including the Riverine Force’s Mark VI Boat) and discussions on future integration, such as Mine Countermeasure Operations. Fleet immersion also brought us down to Camp Lejeune as guests of II Marine Expeditionary Force for tours and discussion of U.S. Marine Corps equipment, operations, and integration points. Lastly, immersion included a tour of the U.S. Army’s amphibious landing craft at Fort Eustis to better understand amphibious capabilities and operational employment across joint lines.
The closing few weeks of the program tied together many of the concepts learned over the preceding weeks into practical application through lectures, discussions, and presentations. The time included lectures from Fleet Electronic Warfare Center on amphibious roles in Electronic Maneuver Warfare, Maritime Prepositioning Force/Sea Basing, OPTASK AMPHIB and Primary Control Ship Intentions Message development, Joint Mission Planning System-Expeditionary (JMPS-E) training, and Amphibious Operating Area geometry and control training. Expeditionary Training Group Atlantic provided training on support fires, naval gunfire, and boat control procedures and equipment. We were also provided training on Foreign Humanitarian Assistance and Defense Support to Civil Authorities, a key capability amphibious ships provide but receive little training.
During the final week of the program, we conduct a weeklong final battle problem run by a combined team from SMWDC and Tactical Training Group Atlantic meant to put the information learned over the course of the program into practical use. In addition, each student was assigned a capstone project to further understanding of certain aspects of AMW and begin a path for subject specialties.
Who We Are
Our class consisted of nine Junior Officers, including three post-Department Head Officers and six post-Second Division Officer Tour Officers. We were strategically selected based on our fleet and shore amphibious experiences to provide feedback and future development of the course and program. All of us have some degree of experience in amphibious warfare during our careers. Our previous billets included: LPD Combat System Officer, LPD Operations Officer, LSD First Lieutenant, Expeditionary Strike Group staff, two U.S. Marine Corps Expeditionary Warfare School (EWS) graduates, LHD Weapons Officer, LHD Assistant Navigator, LSD Auxiliaries Officer, LSD Communications Officer, LPD Navigator, and Amphibious Squadron staff. Additionally, most of us have experience with at least one tour on CRUDES or FFG, which enabled the discussion of broader amphibious integration in a complex warfighting environment. We will continue our development at production tours at training commands, such EWTG and EWS or at operational billets, such as ESG-7 staff. Roughly half of the class remains at NSMWDC Detachment Little Creek as staff to continue to build and teach the next iterations of the AMW WTI course.
Figure 2 AMW WTI Pilot Class from left to right: LTJG TJ Topercer, LT Tyler Rasmussen, LT Bobbi Becker, LT Sarah Nagy, LTJG Brianna Frazier, LT Kerry Dahlberg, LT Courtney Brayman, LCDR Dirk Sonnenberg, and LCDR Doug Brayton.
Amphibious warfare is an exceptionally wide-ranging discipline, from understanding Navy amphibious capabilities & limitations (including SSDS Mk2), USMC capabilities & limitations as they relate to amphibious warfare and increasingly integration into typically blue operations, appreciation of the fundamentals of MCPP/R2P2, to a solid mechanics of STS/STOM movement. The current 12 week curriculum is hard pressed cover the breadth and depth of amphibious operations. As with any new program the next iterations of the course will evolve and mature to meet the desired outcome of the level of knowledge an AMW WTI will require to fulfill their duties to SMWDC and the Fleet. Most importantly, the program is taking eager, motivated officers and is off the ground producing AMW WTIs who are applying their knowledge and creativity to enabling the Navy and Marine Corps team in an exciting future for amphibious warfare.