Helping to Build the Future
An Interview with Outgoing Surface Warfare Officers School Commanding Officer Capt. David Welch

Captain David Welch turned over command of the Surface Warfare Officers School (SWOS) to Capt. Scott Robertson in Newport, Rhode Island, Sept. 9. He oversaw a number of changes during his time there, and he took the opportunity to speak with Surface Warfare Magazine a few weeks before the change of command.

Q: What are you proudest of at SWOS during your command tour?

A: A lot!

I am very proud of the incredible work of the SWOS staff in restoring enlisted engineering and navigation training in our “A”, “C” and “F” schools. SWOS developed a five year strategy to systemically improve enlisted training, and Surface and Expeditionary Warfare Training Committee (SEWTC) has provided over 260 million dollars in recent budget cycles to fund those improvements. To date SWOS has delivered 40 new or extensively revised courses, with another 90 courses currently in development. That is an unprecedented amount of change!

At the same time, SWOS has implemented a continuum of professional training for Surface Warfare Officers. We now provide formal schoolhouse training prior to every career milestone tour, starting with the Basic Division Officer Course (BDOC) in Norfolk and San Diego, and extending all the way through the Major Commanders Course taught in Newport.

I am also very proud of the close partnerships we have cultivated. Our program office at PMS 339 provides support support. Captain Bill McKinley has been my close friend and partner in training; and together with the Center for Surface Combat Systems we have worked to ensure there is no gap between SWOS and CSCS. The Afloat Training Groups have been constant supporters, and I am impressed with the close coordination from our resource sponsors at N96 and N95 down through the Type Command staffs on both coasts.

Of course SWOS is able to do so much only because of the incredible talent we have resident in our staff – from the military instructors to the government civilians, who provide consistency and resilience to what we do.


 Personnel Readiness


 Combat Readiness


 Material Readiness


 Heritage & Recognition




Q: How has SWOS partnered with key stakeholders to lead improvements associated with Ready, Relevant Learning initiatives as the Navy transitions to Sailor 2025?

A: I understand the vision of Sailor 2025, and believe it is am imperative if we are going to continue to assess, develop, and retain talent in the United States Navy. My description of the investment in enlisted engineering and navigation training restoration above means that SWOS and Surface Warfare are poised to lead the way to Ready Relevant Training. In our strategic investment plan, we are focused on delivering the right training at the right time with efficient, impactful “A” and “C” schools backed by short “F” schools in Fleet homeports, creating a continuum of training in each rate, using updated, modern training systems. This includes the introduction of virtual reality and simulators with high fidelity, physics-based models, where appropriate. Of course, we still use “hands on” labs as well. SWOS has worked very closely with the Center for Surface Combat Systems (CSCS), another key Surface community schoolhouse, to keep our investments on track and aligned with the Sailor 2025 vision. We also coordinate very closely with our resource sponsors in OPNAV N96 and N95, and most especially with the Surface Type Commanders, to ensure we continue to deliver the right training to the waterfront without transferring burden for training coordination to the Fleet.

Q: Can you explain the importance of the PBED foundation and practical implementation in integrated tactical simulators?

A:PBED – which stands for Plan, Brief, Execute, and Debrief – is a simple concept that encapsulates a consistent, common approach to how we must approach all manner of operations. In my career, I have not seen a strong emphasis on a repeatable cycle to support planning and decisions. And in my career I think the Surface community has been particularly weak in the “debrief” phase – we would “get ‘er done” then quickly move to the next task, without regard to lessons learned. We can learn so much from a more rigorous and transparent approach to the debrief phase

Q: What prompted the return to celestial/Surface navigation and why is it important to teach our officers and QMs?

A: Following some well-publicized navigation errors – most notably the former USS Guardian (MCM 5) grounding – the Surface Navy took a very hard look at our navigation training wholeness. A series of recommendations were put forward following this wholeness study, which were approved by the Fleet Commanders Readiness Council. Some of those recommendations included a reinvigoration of celestial navigation training – to support the Navy’s ability to navigate in the absence of reliable satellite or electronic navigation aids.

Q: I understand there is SWOS U at Great Lakes...what is that and why is it Great Lakes and not Newport?

A: The Center for Naval Engineering merged with SWOS in 2011. As a result, SWOS assumed responsibility for training of all seven conventional engineering rates (DC, EN, GSE, GSM, HT, MM, MR). In 2014 SWOS also assumed responsibility for the QM rating. This means, in turn, SWOS has learning sites far beyond Newport. In fact we are located in Great Lakes, Norfolk, Mayport, San Diego, Pearl Harbor, Bangor, Yokosuka, Sasebo and Fort Leonard Wood. Since the merger we have executed a methodical and comprehensive update to all enlisted training, with a goal of creating a continuum of professional training in each of these rates. SWOS Unit Great Lakes is our subordinate command, led by Cmdr. Eric Williams – a superb LDO Engineer. Cmdr. Williams and his staff of 250 professionals teach all of the “A” Schools and most of the “C” Schools in the eight rates that we are responsible for training.

Q: Tell me about the visit by the People's Liberation Army (Navy) CNO and your visit to China. How did that come about and what came of those meetings?

A: CNO Greenert and his counterpart in the People's Liberation Army (Navy) Admiral Wu Shengli agreed to develop strengthened military-to-military ties. SWOS interactions with counterparts from the PLA(N) have been part of this initiative. We hosted Admiral Wu at SWOS in September 2014 when he was in Newport for the International Seapower Symposium. He toured our training facilities, then sat and took questions from a dozen prospective commanding officers who were here for training. In February 2015, we hosted a delegation of PLA(N) commanding officers, prospective commanding officers, and various staff officers for two and a half days. We provided a series of briefs on how the United States Navy trains and develops its surface warfare officers, which led to extensive interactions between operators from both navies. The visit culminated with a series of maneuvering exercises in our shiphandling trainers, with bridge teams manned by both American and Chinese deck officers. The bridge teams used the Code for Unalerted Encounters at Sea (CUES) and practiced a variety of communications and maneuvering exercises.

Most recently, in October 2015, I led a delegation of commanding officers and prospective commanding officers on a reciprocal visit to China. We visited the aircraft carrier Liaoning and the Submarine Naval Academy in Qingdao, visited their Naval Command College in Nanjing, and met with Admiral Wu in Beijing. Admiral Wu took questions for over two and a half hours from our delegation. We were also able to visit the Forbidden City, the Great Wall at Mutanyu, and enjoyed an evening of free time in Beijing.

I am hopeful that SWOS will continue to be involved in future engagements with the PLA(N).

Q: We’ve read Vice Adm. Rowden using the term, Warfighting First. How does the realignment of the SWOS staff to support the Distributed Lethality and SMWDC WTI incorporation along specific warfighting areas of expertise support this?

A: Great question! Vice Adm. Rowden has certainly reinvigorated our community with his emphasis on honing our tactical skills, and the necessary return to Sea Control as a central tenet for how the United States Navy must operate. SWOS has made some important changes that will provide the platform to teach these concepts.

The work currently underway within our community, led by the Surface and Mine Warfare Development Center, will provide improved doctrine and tactics to be taught at SWOS and in other locations. The introduction of warfare tactics instructors(WTIs) at SWOS and other production centers will provide an important method of bringing that renewed tactical skill to the podium. While I was very pleased with the content of the courses and the quality of instruction, the introduction of three WTIs to SWOS has already improved what we teach and how we teach it. There is still work to be done, and as various community initiatives come to fruition, SWOS must be prepared to adapt to the positive changes that will follow. As I prepare to turn over command of SWOS in September, I am energized by what I see coming in the next 3-4 years!

Q: What message would you like to leave the readers about SWOS?

A: If readers have not been to SWOS in several years, it has changed – I believe very much for the better. We are not fixated on the past, though we certainly use past experiences to inform our assessment of the current situation, and will seek to apply previous lessons learned as part of the decision making process. Rather, SWOS looks to the future. We seek to build on the solid foundations in both enlisted and officer training. For example, we have in place a continuum of professional training in our officer community and will soon have the same continuum in each enlisted rating. SWOS has that solid foundation established in material readiness training and in navigation, seamanship and navigation training, from E1 to O6. We must advance training on tactics and operations in a similar fashion. That won’t happen in a vaccum at SWOS, but rather in cooperation with NMWDC, CSCS and other stakeholders. And as we develop tactics and the subject matter experts, SWOS provides a great platform to deliver that training.

For those who would consider an assignment at one of the many SWOS learning sites, SWOS is a dynamic, fast-paced and rewarding assignment. A tour at SWOS provides Officers, Chiefs and Sailors with the opportunity to cultivate and deepen their professional knowledge while training the next generation.

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