Tactical Excellence by Design
Creating Competence, confidence, and Credibility
Among the Surface Warfighters

NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) -- While the adage "use it or lose it" has been applied to physical and mental skills, it is also applicable to the Navy's warfighting. After 15 years of ground wars, the surface Navy has been relegated to the background, a different role than it saw in the battles of World War II.

In recent years, top surface leaders have voiced concerns about naval war fighting becoming a lost talent. Tomahawk missile strikes, like those launched in late 2014 against Daesh, cross the headlines from time to time, but the surface fleet is designed to be capable of much more - these ships were designed for multifaceted and complex air, surface and anti-submarine warfare against a sophisticated enemy.


To counter this, the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) opened in June 2015. SMWDC is similar to the famous TOPGUN school for the Navy's elite pilots. SMWDC is on a mission to take the most tactically hungry junior surface warfare officers (SWO) and provide them with advanced tactics training and education. These newly designated warfare tactics instructors (WTI) will return to the fleet to spread updated knowledge and warfighting capability as a form of distributed lethality.

"It's time to shift the rudder," said Rear Adm. Jim Kilby, SMWDC's commanding officer, while talking to a group of officers aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). "Right now we're good at the inspections and evaluations, but we need to shift the emphasis to training."

WTIs will specialize in one of three mission areas: amphibious warfare, integrated air and missile defense (IAMD), or anti-submarine and surface warfare (ASW/SuW). They will attend a five-week baseline school, followed by 12-19 weeks of mission-specific training, ensuring the same level of competence, confidence and credibility between each of the specialties.

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"There's going to be attrition; not everyone will get a trophy," explained Kilby. "But that's a good thing. WTIs will know they truly accomplished something."

When WTIs return to the fleet, they will be easily recognizable, not only by their knowledge and expertise, but by a special patch they will wear on their uniforms. This too was modeled after TOPGUN's method of adding prestige and visibility to the most elite fighter pilots. The patch wearers will be a cadre of tactical rock stars within the SWO community; easily accessible subject matter experts able to transform the watch team and wardroom's combat potential into combat power.

Much like scouts from a professional sports team, Kilby and his team are on a campaign to go ship-by-ship to identify the best junior officers to fill the 100 seats they plan to graduate annually from SMWDC, to meet their goal of one WTI on every ship and at every command. Eventually, 20 percent of officers will become WTIs after their division officer tours. Additionally, 10 percent of WTIs will come from the limited duty officer program.

"It's like saving money; you invest, probably without thinking about it," said Kilby. "We're doing the same thing. The best place to invest is in our people; so we pay ourselves first, budget time to do it, and put the necessary people and resources toward our success."

It's not just the senior leadership that has seen the need for WTIs. Junior officers are excited about this new opportunity as well. By attending SMWDC after their second division officer tour, junior officers have the opportunity to learn a specialized trade, allowing them to truly achieve mastery of their specialty, and retain greater control over their career path.

"SWO life is all about being a 'jack-of-all-trades, master of none,'" explained Ens. Roy Bliss, the assistant administration officer aboard Wasp. "Through this program we can really delve deep into something we enjoy, and become subject matter experts."

Other junior officers, such as Lieutenant j. g. Jonathan Clark, first division officer aboard San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19), see excitement in the possibility to get first hand tactical experience.

"It's pretty unique," said Clark. "On the traditional SWO path, as first and second tour division officers, we don't really get the tactical experience so many of us join for. But this program gets us that training and experience. I think it will be a really good thing."

SMWDC is also addressing concerns about the ship's maintenance and training cycle in preparation for deployments.

With the current schedule, any unexpected delay can cause ships to enter the integrated phase without having fully completed the basic underway training phase. To better bridge the gap between the two phases and give strike groups a jumpstart on working together as a group, SMWDC has introduced Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training. SWATT is a three week program of simulator and real-world training.

During work-ups on a ship, "...it was like I went from 3 miles per hour to 10 miles per hour on the treadmill, and the crew was running to keep up," said Kilby. "I want to dampen that curve, so crews are walking before we start running."

In a world full of strife and uncertainty, the WTI program keeps warfighting first. From ensign to captain, SWOs will have access to relevant and cutting edge tactics and training designed to insure they are a capable and lethal force.

"This has been a long time coming for our community," said Kilby. "This is an exciting time to be a surface warfare officer."

For more news from Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, visit http://www.navy.mil/local/surflant Surface Warfare Magazine

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