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An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Recent changes within the OPNAV organization have bad  as one of its goals the removal of warfare branch parochi-alism.  Then Secretary of the Navy O’Keefe commented to this effect at the initial press conference when the reorganization was announced. One result of the reorganization bas been that the three star barons have been replaced by two star mini-barons and budgetary dollars, which used to be distributed to the warfare specialists for individualized spending, are now only done so after all warfare priorities are integrated. In support of this, the fleet bas been encouraged to take a much stronger role in determining future warfigbting requirements which should also lead to a more integrated approach to determining acquisition priorities. Addi-tionally, it is rumored that there is support in some camps to follow the Admiral Ike Kidd model and require flag officers to remove their warfare specialty pins when they attain flag rank. The mood is clearly one of barrier reduction in the best Deming manner (Point 9), putting the goals of the organization, (in this case, Navy) above the goals of the individual (in this case, individual warfare specialty). In this environment of increased professional integration, is it not time to consider assigning a submarine flag officer as a Battle Group Commander? A second but related question is, can this flag officer also be a Submarine Group Commander just as today’s Battle Group Commanders are Carrier Group and Cruiser-Destroyer Group Commanders?

In today’s world the Battle Group commands are restricted to surface warrior and aviator flags. It is evidently felt that the ships which comprise the Battle Group and/or the taskings assigned the Battle Group are sufficiently unique that officers reared outside the Battle Group main stream will not be capable of commanding such a force. It is clear that this kind of thought is old think and there are numerous examples to indicate this point. Additionally, assignment of a submariner would not result in a Battle Group neophyte as some might think. In the first place, submarines are now assigned as members of Battle Groups and whole wardrooms are thereby gaining first hand experience in Battle Group opera-tions. Their bosses must keep pace in order to properly train and equip them for this mission. The submarine community also fills supporting roles on the Battle Group staff with junior officers as Submarine Liaison Officers. We do likewise on numbered fleet staffs where Commanders/junior Captains serve as ASW officers and C’I officers. Additionally, for several years now submarine qualified Captains have served successfully as CARGRU or numbered fleet Chief Staff officers, working Battle Group issues day in and day out. Several of these officers have gone on to become flag officers, including Vice Admiral Emery and Rear Admirals Oliver and Clemins. Submariners have also served with distinction as Fleet Commanders. Looking only at those who have so served in the recent past, the list includes Admirals McKee, Kelso and Larson, and Vice Admirals Williams and Owens. In each case these officers directed fundamental Battle Group actions without the benefit of a prior Battle Group command. And who would argue that any of the other submarine three and four star officers over the years could also have performed well in the fleet commander role had the opportunity presented itself. It is there-fore a natural follow on question: Why not assign a submarine flag officer (possibly also a Submarine Group Commander) as a Battle Group Commander?

In fact, such an assignment would be a natural extension of the current assignment policies for it would plug a hole between the major command and fleet command positions if a submariner were to move into the Battle Group Commander slot. The submarine community is already integrally involved in Battle Group and numbered fleet supporting roles. Therefore, possibly a more germane issue would be whether the Submarine Group staff is structured as well as the Carrier Group staff or the Cruiser-Destroyer Group staff for running a Battle Group. And if not staffed as well, are they adequately staffed to perform this tasking?

Before this issue is undertaken though, it is instructive to first look at the differences in the missions and responsibilities between the Submarine Groups and the Carrier Groups and Cruiser-Destroyer Groups today. The Submarine Group is an administrative commander to one or more submarine squadrons as well as ships in related shipyards, responsible for conducting various operational and administrative certifications (e.g., supply manage-ment inspection. tactical readiness, communications readiness, post shipyard readiness for reactor operation. as well as at sea opera-tions, etc.) for the assigned submarines. In the case of Submarine Group TWO this has included 56 submarines in four submarine squadrons and four shipyards, with the operational examinations being conducted at an approximate 15 month interval. Submarine Group staffs do not deploy routinely (RADM Oliver deployed once to Alaska when he was SUBGRU FIVE) and are not in the operational chain of command for deploying submarines, but clearly stay current on operational matters by virtue of their certification responsibilities, as well as the frequent times they go to sea on assigned submarines to observe underway operations.

On the other band, Carrier Group staffs and Cruiser-Destroyer Group staffs do deploy (as part of their assigned Battle Group) and serve as the operational commander for the units assigned during that deployment. However, when not deployed, they do not routinely have ships assigned and devote the time between deployments to preparing the staff for the next deployment. Neither ship training, training certification nor maintenance responsibilities are vested in the Carrier Group staffs or Cruiser-Destroyer Group staffs during the periods not actually assigned to a Battle Group. In many respects then the Submarine Group, who spends time at sea year round, is as operationally prepared as its Carrier Group or Cruiser-Destroyer Group counterparts, and perhaps more so, when the Battle Group predeployment workup begins.

Recognizing the natural extension of the assignment process, COMSUBLANT (Vice Admiral Chiles) started to work with CINCLANTFLT (Admiral Mauz) in October 1992 to factor the Submarine Group Commander into rotation as Commander Task Group 4.1 (CTG 4.1), leading the Navy’s drug interdiction efforts in the Caribbean for Commander Joint Task Force FOUR (CJTF FOUR) (Rear Admiral Gee) in Key West. Although shifting priorities have recently deleted that underway flag assignment and directed CJTF FOUR to control the operation from ashore, it is instructive to review the span of control of CTG 4.1 , to examine how it might compare to a Battle Group.

CTG 4.1 was a joint command, routinely consisting of 8-10 Navy ships in the Caribbean and along the Pacific coast, possibly a U.S . and a Dutch ship, at least two Coast Guard cutters and about 40 Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard aircraft, including E2s, E3s, P3s, F15/Fl6s and EC130s. And, although not directly controlled by CTG 4. 1, the TG interfaced daily with the U.S. Customs Agency and their fleet of aircraft (P3s, Citations) in the AOR, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and various civil law enforcement agencies. It also interfaced frequently with foreign governments via the State Department (using a middle man), not unlike the Battle Groups and the numbered fleets, for that matter.

But is CTG 4.1 a Battle Group? It doesn’t have a carrier some might say, and therefore can’t be a Battle Group. However, these nay sayers must remember that the Sixth Fleet frequently doesn’t have a carrier, and the remaining Mediterranean assets are often diluted to numbers equal to or less than those assigned to CfG 4.1. It follows then that, although CTG 4. 1 did not have the same structure as a Battle Group, it could certainly pass as a reasonable facsimile of a Battle Group, but with joint responsibilities. In fact, some of our assigned Battle Group Commanders have never had the opportunity to deploy with their Battle Group over the past few years for one reason or another, and assignment as CTG 4. 1 was the only Banle Group deployment they or their staffs received.

Although COMSUBLANT had started to work the process to have a submariner assigned as CTG 4.1. success was not anticipat-ed until Spring-Fall 199T.-ooter staffs had already been scheduled to fulfill this commitment. However, in November 1992 an unexpected gap in coverage occurred. A replacement was needed. COMSUBLANT was tasked to fill in behind this loss and he assigned Commander Submarine Group TWO the responsibilities to prepare for and conduct this mission.

Earlier mentioned was the need to look at whether the Subma-rine Group staff was adequately prepared to perform as a Battle Group staff. Without going into excruciating detaiJ about each and every staff billet, let’s look instead at where holes might be on the Submarine Group staff. Intelligence, legal, messing, and adminis-trative support are comparable. Submarine Groups can even provide SEWC trained individuals. What is missing is coverage in the air operations area and the expertise to step in and immedi-ately assume the duties as the Staff Tactical Action Officer (STAO). These deficiencies are manageable with advanced planning. For example, the air operations job can be covered by assigning an aviation experienced officer(s) to the Submarine Group staff similar to those assigned to a Cruiser-Destroyer Group staff. Concerning the STAO job, it can really only be learned in situ, but a concentrated training regime at T ACTRAGRULANT (or PAC) with a professional TAO team on the flagship can make this transition imminently doable. This is not intended to belittle the extensive TAO qualification, which ultimately vests in this experienced individual weapons release authority. The STAO can be lesser qualified and certainly would not need to be a super TAO, although it would be nice. The six month Battle Group workup would upgrade the Submarine Group watchstanders significantly in this arena and thereby help mitigate the obvious lack of experience.

Some might think that the duties of surface operations would also confound the Submarine Group, but naval officers with experience in submarine routing can perform this function once the concern for fuel bum rates-not normally a consideration in the nuclear Navy-is integrated with the overall operational needs of the Task Group/Battle Group Commander. Clearly some learning would be required here. Unique characteristics/capabilities of various ship types needed to effectively fight the ships can be gleaned from an experienced Surface Liaison officer, similar to the Submarine Liaison officer. Again, the six month Battle Group workup would upgrade the Submarine Group staff significantly.

From a CTG 4.1 after action report type approach, the Submarine Group TWO staff met the basic mold and was therefore adequately prepared to assume the duties aboard the flagship for drug ops. To make up for the lack of unique Battle Group type experience and the fact that there was no workup per se (1-1/2 days at TACfRAGRULANT) members of the Carrier Group SIX staff were integrated with members of the Submarine Group TWO staff for the deployment, with Commander Submarine Group TWO as CTG 4.1. Heavy reliance was placed on the prior drug ops experience of the Carrier Group SIX officers for the first half of the deployment, with the Submarine Group TWO officers assuming the primary responsibilities on the second half. The Carrier Group SIX staff continued to provide the air operations expertise. There appeared to be no lapse in professionalism when the shift occurred. A POA&M had been prepared prior to the deployment to maximize the efficiency of preparation by the Submarine Group staff, as well as the implementation of a shortened STAO qualification card and syllabus intended to bring the submarine qualified officer up to speed on air contact tracking and coordination as rapidly as possible. As a result of superb cooperation between the two staffs and the flagship, USS DALE (CG 19), the deployment was successful. And because of a well qualified staff left behind, the Submarine Group TWO normal functions did not suffer during the deployment.

So, although CTG 4.1 was not exactly a Carrier Battle Group in the purest sense, since there was no carrier associated with the other forces, the span of control of CTG 4.1 was sufficiently broad that there was a very close resemblance to a Carrier Battle Group. The Submarine Group 1WO staff clearly required augmentation for the deployment to be successful and this augmentation served the dual purpose of enabling additional officers to be left behind to carry out the normal routine. Such augmentation on a permanent basis is an achievable event and would go a long way toward enhancing submariner cross training as well as preparing the Submarine Group staff for eventual Battle Group deployment. When this occurs, possibly we could do away with the terms Carrier, Cruiser-Destroyer and Submarine Group Commander and retitle the job as, for example, Commander Naval Expeditionary Task Group. Submariners have demonstrated the ability to perform well on both sides of the Battle Group spectrum, that is as members of a Battle Group and as junior officers on Battle Group staffs, as well as serving as numbered fleet staff officers and as numbered fleet commanders . The next natural extension is to assign a submarine qualified flag officer and his staff (augmented) to the Battle Group (Naval Expeditionary Task Group) role.  It is an idea whose time has come.

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