by Capt. Anthony Carullo

From the Editor: This series continues to highlight the importance of a warfighting culture and mindset aboard our submarines. On shore, our commands will conduct warfare with charts, maps, and operational plans, but at sea our submarine COs and their crews will be required to engage in the actual combat—a more dangerous, personal, and visceral endeavor in the profession of arms. Capt. Carullo continues the theme of developing a crew that is ready to fight. You can read part I, “A Fighting Ship of the Highest Order—Procedural Compliance: The Bedrock for Bold and Deliberate Action,” and part II, “A Fighting Ship of the Highest Order—Dicta of Submarine Attack,” in the Winter 2013 and the Winter 2016 editions of UNDERSEA WARFARE Magazine.

The U.S. Submarine Force is a profession of arms, a lethal and asymmetric force that must stand ready to answer the nation’s call to deliver swift and destructive violence from the depths. Though the bulk of a Submariner’s career is spent deterring conflicts by accomplishing the myriad of peacetime missions, our force, our commanding officers, and their crews must be ready to fight. All the decades of training, preparing, and deploying will be recorded in the annals of history as a complete waste if we are not ready for combat. Combat readiness must transcend everything we do.

Success in battle rests solely on the CO’s ability to establish a combat culture on board his ship well before it will ever be tested in battle. No amount of just-in-time training, motivational speeches, or patriotic call-to-arms will prepare his crew for battle unless he has instilled a battle-ready culture well before the first torpedo homes for attack. His ship, torpedoes, and supporting weapon systems are only a means to an end. It is only with a trusted CO, a disciplined crew, and the confidence that both will be tough in battle, can our Force take on a capable adversary, be victorious, and stand proud as we are judged in the history books.

To build a combat culture necessary for a fighting ship of the highest order, the CO must establish, develop, and maintain these three decisive cultural and critical elements on board his ship. Without all three the CO risks failure when attempting to unleash his submarine and untested crew on an enemy that may have already developed these elements on his ship. The CO may face an apparently less capable adversary, but if the adversary has honed the skills of his crew and has gained the trust of his men, the CO may be up against a more confident and lethal opponent that has overcome the weakness of his ship and weapon systems to be victorious in the engagement. No amount of boldness can overcome the shortfalls of these three critical elements.

Trust and Vision
Too often leaders unduly emphasize the need to trust their subordinates over the trust his Sailors must have in him. Although the importance of trusting his Sailors is crucial—which is what the awarding of Submarine Dolphins represents—COs sometimes take for granted that their subordinates trust them. Since the CO is the only decision maker with the skills and experience necessary to press an attack well past what the crew would safely endure on their own, the trust the crew has in their CO—the only thing they may have to cling to when enduring banging decks, smoking equipment, and the visible wounds of their fellow shipmates—is of greater importance.

The CO must develop, hone, and demonstrate his own combat skills so that his crew has the confidence that he will deliver them safely through the battle. The crew must have confidence in battle that the CO will keep them from the brink of defeat. His demonstrated confidence is their confidence, his combat skills are theirs. If they have this confidence, his Sailors will rally around his leadership and trust his orders. So when the CO asks for the last drop of blood and sweat, they will be ready and capable to deliver. They trust he will only ask for their sacrifice when he truly needs it.

The trust the CO seeks is not through bravado, bluster, or swagger. Instead it is built on a solid foundation of confidence, humility, and unswerving dedication to ready his ship and crew for the attack. The trust our Sailors have in their CO allows the CO’s vision of perfection, strict demand of discipline, and call for toughness in the face of the enemy to be realized. The CO knows that this culture has been established aboard the boat when his crew sees all of their peacetime endeavors through the lens of combat.

Disciple in Battle
As any world class athlete knows, individual skills must be developed and strengthened, and weaknesses wrung out. It doesn’t matter if he or she stands alone on the field of battle or is part of a larger team, individual skills are necessary to effectively integrate into a highly functioning larger organism. Discipline is the manner in which both the individual and the team achieve greatness. The CO must tenaciously develop his Sailors to fully support his combat team.

Discipline comes through thousands of hours of perfect practice—training, planning, repetition, correction until the desired skills are perfected, being both right and fast, to achieve the CO’s expectations necessary for the fast-paced, stressed-filled conditions of battle.

As our battle-hardened COs of WWII learned, today’s COs must constantly and aggressively gun-drill their routines until his expectations are met to perfection. It is more than becoming proficient, it is the strive for perfection that may be necessary to deliver the ship and the crew out the other side of battle. Good enough may not be good enough in combat.

The third crucial element in developing a combat culture aboard a fighting ship of the highest order is developing Sailors who are tough. Toughness starts with readiness—mental, physical, and virtuous toughness. Our Sailors must be mentally tough to be able to handle the stresses that come in battle—fear, fatigue, and the demoralizing failure that comes when their shipmates are hurt, their equipment malfunctioning, and the exhausting push by their CO to perform in the face of a fierce enemy.

The crew’s mental toughness is forged with strong individual character. Virtue, integrity, and a devotion to a higher cause is the only firm foundation to build tough Sailors on. The misbelief that bravado and mistreatment will build tough Sailors will only lead to a hollow crew unwilling and unable to stand tall in the hell-fires of combat. Character and toughness are complementary, not in conflict with each other, and the CO must take ownership of both.

The CO’s Ultimate Responsibility
These critical elements of a fighting ship of the highest order must be singularly owned by the CO, and his responsibility to prepare his ship for combat cannot be delegated. His officers and chief petty officers must prudently support his responsibility to develop his Sailors. Any dissent, any misalignment, will be fatal.

In the heat of battle only the CO will know when to fight it out, when to fight through, and when, if necessary, to not fight at all. No school, no examination, and no peacetime stress will come close to simulating combat conditions. Combat will require tenacity, boldness, and quick decision making to overcome its inherent fatigue and stresses of combat. The best protection against the recklessness of entering into combat without a tested crew is to have a trusted CO, a well- disciplined ship, and a tough crew.

Not only will these critical elements pay off in battle, but they will pay dividends during all our peacetime operations. With a combat culture, our Submarine Force will be victorious and uphold the same fighting spirit of those that were tested in the crucible of WWII.

Captain Anthony Carullo is currently the Chief of Staff and Deputy Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He previously commanded USS Greeneville (SSN 772) in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and TASK FORCE 69 in Naples, Italy.