Surface Warfare Magazine
Sharing stories and news from Sailors across the U.S. Navy’s Surface Forces
Forward, Visible, Ready - The Surface Force

The timely release of the Surface Force Strategy: Return to Sea Control comes at a turning point for the Navy. With increasingly congested sea lanes and recent attempted missile attacks against U.S. ships, the approach outlined by Vice Adm. Tom Rowden reemphasizes the call for sustained sea control – at the time and place of our choosing – and puts the Surface Force on a path toward a more lethal and distributed fighting force.

This makes it an exciting time to be a part of the Surface Navy. And from the warfighter perspective, we can make some immediate changes on the waterfront to do our part in executing the Strategy.

The way ahead is spelled out explicitly: enhanced combat power will ultimately result from a renewed emphasis on tactics, talent, tools, and training (T4). While we have always tried to balance these force attributes, the lens through which we look at them has changed. We will no longer work in warfare stovepipes on the tactical level. Now, more than ever, the tools the Navy are advancing will include systems capable of producing effects chains across several warfare domains.

Where the Strategy calls for the “right mix of resources to persist in a fight”, we are making investment decisions that will allow for Adaptive Force Packages—deployment packages that allow assets to split off from a group of ships without commanders stressing a capability loss based on the weapons load or sensor package in any single unit. We will soon see a synergy that until now was unachievable, because we lacked cross-domain weapons and the interoperability that allows for a more netted force.

While net-centric warfare and the ideas of leveraging information sharing have been discussed in Navy academia and executive documents for decades, an articulable end-state with the right mix of tools and tactics has been elusive. We are finally pivoting to allow for those concepts to emerge with the concentration on T4. We are moving toward an operational baseline where almost any sensor can be paired with multiple weapons systems for cooperative tracking and targeting. This will be a force multiplier and makes the objectives of a more lethal, disaggregated surface force a reality.


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Warfighters are just starting to get the tools to carry out the Distributed Lethality concept, and we have taken significant steps to retain top talent in the Surface Warfare officer (SWO) community. However, the Strategy is a call for our community to ensure the tactics and training also continue to follow closely.

The various Warfare Development Centers are pushing to introduce and refine new tactics to improve our Fleet’s warfighting capability. To take advantage of the work being done by the centers, it is crucial we leverage the current Basic and Advanced Training Phases to transform into a more effective fighting force. The priority on training must be the primary driving force to meet the intent of our Surface Force leadership and ensure the Strategy works in concert with lines of effort laid out in the CNO’s “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority” – warfighting, learning faster and strengthening our Navy team.

With the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) fully stood up, the tactics will be ready and accessible to our combat teams. The Strategy requires that we continue to press for more intense training and the application of those tactics under stressful and complicated warfighting scenarios. The introduction of SMWDC’s Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) into the training cycle is an important step in achieving those goals.

Understandably, the 36-month timeframe of the Optimized Fleet Response Plan is based on global security requirements and current Fleet size so the duration cannot easily be altered. However, the correct level of attention on tactical training events and the planning, briefing, execution and debriefing process is a variable in our control and it cannot be stressed enough.

All too often, a ship may move through the training cycle where the goal is not technical system mastery, effective drills, or procedural understanding, but rather a mindset to just get through the event. This basic approach may allow us to meet minimum standards to attain readiness for major combat operations, but the Strategy calls on us to take training a step further if we are going to deter and deny aggressors in a complicated, denied warfighting environment. Winning teams are never content on just getting by with the minimum standard. Instead, they seek excellence in every facet of the game.

What the Strategy should mean to warfighters is that we can only win with true tactical excellence despite our adversaries continually advancing at a rapid pace. The warfighting and combat capability of a unit and strike group may be realized to some degree during an integrated phase of training. However these advanced events only provide opportunities to near-term deployers, with little time to refine skills.

Ship’s not only need to take part in SWATT, but they also must take it upon themselves to make realistic and more frequent tactical training a priority regardless of what phase of training they are in. The SWO Boss can provide the tactics, help to retain the talent, and provide the tools, but it’s on the ships to take a hard look at how effectively they are training within their own unit’s to bring it all together.

It may be too drastic to say that our force has gotten soft over the past twenty years of relatively unchecked operations throughout the world, but it is fair to say that a complete generation of SWOs and Sailors has advanced without the need to worry about truly opposed naval operations. The desired end-state explained in the Strategy is likely not a surprise to any SWO or Sailor: “to achieve and sustain sea control at the time and place of our choosing to protect the homeland from afar, build and maintain global security, project the nation power of the United States, and win decisively.” We’ve embraced the spirit of this objective for quite some time, but our Navy has not been challenged in decades.

The Strategy ought to serve as a necessary reminder and call to action for our community to make sure we are ready, for the possibility of peril exists as we face technologically advanced adversaries who are fielding new weapons at a rapid pace. The Strategy provides us with clear objectives and an avenue to achieve success. Now it’s on us to put warfighting first and be ready on arrival. Surface Warfare Magazine

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