“When things happen in combat, they happen fast. It’s chaotic and it can be violent. The only thing that we have to fall back on when we’re placed under such conditions, is our procedures and our training,” said Rear Adm. John Wade, commander, Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC).
Recalling his time in command of a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan, Wade drew from his experiences to illustrate the similarities of combat in both the ground and maritime domains. The comparison was used to punctuate the importance of tactics and training during his presentation at the 29th annual Surface Navy Association (SNA) National Symposium, Jan.10 in Arlington, Virginia.
Wade highlighted the role WTIs play in support of the 2017 Surface Force Strategy, and stated “SMWDC has reached initial operational capability (IOC), and we’re already making a difference in the fleet,” he said. “Our most important progress is in our WTI program. This past year we stood up our Anti-Submarine/Anti-Surface and Amphibious WTI programs. We produced 72 WTI, [in 2016] and now have 125 WTIs in our Surface Navy.”
Warfare Tactics Instructors
Referring to SMWDC’s “tactical center of gravity,” Wade spoke of tactically-advanced junior surface warfare officers (SWO), trained by SMWDC to be the best of the best in advanced training and tactical development. They are taught at one of SMWDC’s four divisions for 12-19 weeks, where they specialize in amphibious warfare, anti-submarine/anti-surface warfare, or integrated air and missile defense. WTIs are the engines that enable SMWDC’s four lines of effort: Advanced Tactical Training; Doctrine and Tactical Guidance Development; Operational Support; and Capabilities, Assessments and Experimentation. Pronounced ‘witty’, these officers are combat force multipliers who mentor combat watch teams—from live fire missile events, to amphibious ready group exercise planning. According to Wade, 84 percent of the current WTI inventory is serving in production tours at SMWDC, Afloat Training Groups, Center for Surface Combat Systems, Surface Warfare Officer School, and other warfighting development centers. He said, “We’ll train approximately 90 WTIs in 2017, and are on track to meet our goal of training 110 WTIs, every year, starting in 2018.” Wade also said SMWDC selection boards maintain a selection rate of 75 percent with a focus on quality over quantity.
Advanced Tactical Training
SMWDC expanded its reach with advanced tactical training to the Surface Fleet in fall 2016. The young command embarked 13 WTIs on six ships to conduct the Navy’s first underway Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) exercise with USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group in the Southern California operating area. The exercise included several live fire events for the participating ships. “Last fall we executed our first cruiser/destroyer SWATT with over 100 events with a crawl, walk and run methodology,” said Wade. “WTIs were onboard in all mission areas providing training, and also allotting time in the sequence of events to do debriefs with visual reconstruction tools, courtesy of Naval Surface Warfare Center, Corona.” Additionally, SMWDC piloted a Mine Warfare SWATT with USS Gladiator (MCM 11) – led by the command’s Mine Warfare Battle Staff based in Point Loma, California. The Mine Warfare SWATT yielded a “threefold increase in (Gladiator’s) capacity to identify, classify and neutralize mines” said Wade.
WTI’s deployed in late 2016 to in support of operational commanders for exercise Valiant Shield. According to Wade, 10 WTIs from all three disciplines trained deployed combat watch teams in support of Commander U.S. Seventh Fleet, Commander Task Force 70, Destroyer Squadron 15 and its ships. “We now have the capacity for WTIs to get out and support strike group commanders to help, train, prepare and execute live fire missile exercises”, he said.
Doctrine and Tactical Guidance Development
From SWATT exercises to operational support, WTIs are charged with ensuring high velocity learning is implemented. This allows sailors, ships and strike groups to receive immediate feedback, measure progress, and increase proficiency through sets and repetitions. Emphasizing the plan-brief-execute-debrief (PBED) process, WTIs conducted training based on tactical publications – authored, revised and validated by WTIs. “We have 170 tactical publications in the Surface Force that I’m responsible for. In the past year we’ve introduced and refreshed 23 tactical documents; that’s a fivefold increase over the preceding six years, said Wade.”
Capability, Assessments and Experimentation
While WTIs are improving the Surface Force today, Wade highlighted how they are also involved with generating the requirements for the fleet of the future. “Our WTIs are involved in war-gaming; and conducting modeling and simulation. WTIs are involved in the Concept of Operations for USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), Joint Strike Fighter, littoral combat ships and more, he said.”
SMWDC was formally established June 9, 2015 at Naval Base San Diego with four subordinate individual warfare divisions in Virginia and Southern California. The new command reached IOC in 2016, yet Wade believes, “We have a lot of work to do. My intentions are to continue to build capacity in 2017 – not only in quantity, but in quality.”
Wade, a former commodore and SWO of 26 years, explained how SMWDC is dedicated to holistically improving the Navy as the command maturates past IOC. “This isn’t parochial; if we’re better, the aviators are better, the submariners are better, and the information warfare professionals are better. Sea control cannot be assumed. This is exactly what we need to do to increase our lethality, to increase the tactical proficiency of our force, and to ensure sea control. Ladies and gentleman, tactics and training really do matter.”
SNA was incorporated in 1985 to promote greater coordination and communication among the military, business and academic communities, which share a common interest in naval surface warfare and support the activities of surface naval forces.