Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate


Dr. Wetzel-Smith is a Senior Research Psychologist at the Naval Command, Control and Ocean SurveUlance Center, San Diego and is currently involved In analysis of Battle Group procedures. 7his anicle Is a follow-on to a presentation she gave at the Submarine Technology Symposium held at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in May.

Dominant maneuver is an essential operational concept of Joint Vision 2010. The increased advantage in battle will be gained through “multidimensional application of information, engagement, and mobility capabilities to position and employ widely dispersed joint ¬∑air, land, sea, and space forces to accomplish the assigned operational tasks … and will require forces that are adept at conducting sustained and synchronized operations from dispersed locations.”

JV-2010 envisions a wide range of potential obligations-peacekeeping through warfighting-that could occur at nearly any point in the world and with highly variable notice. For the submarine community, this means maintaining tactical readiness in the traditional missions of anti-submarine warfare (ASW), antisurface warfare (ASUW), and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (JSR) as well as executing tactical missions specific to the littorals, support of expeditionary forces on land, and clandestine strikes against critical targets ashore. These operations may be conducted independently, in combined forces, or with international coalitions and could last weeks, months or perhaps even years.

Even a casual reading of JV-2010, with its extreme emphasis on communication, coordination and precision engagement among joint forces, provokes a response from those who grew up during the Cold War and were used to a more traditional use of naval forces: it certainly is a bold plan and very many things must work to make it succeed.

Some of the things that must work are tactical systems that need to be invented, refined or simply bought in large supply and integrated into the combat workplace. These systems will make up the infrastructure of communications, sensors, and weapons capability. Clearly, state-of-the-art technology is critical to the development of that infrastructure and it is unlikely that we could meet the 2010 challenge without substantial investment in those technologies.

Our sailors must work at least as well as the systems. They may be less amenable to invention or quick refinement; and are sometimes very difficult to simply buy up in large supply for the workplace. These people will make up the infrastructure of system users: tacticians, operators, analysts, communicators, decisionmakers, and system integrators. They will perform operations, coordinate outcomes, resolve ambiguities, make intelligent decisions, execute with best knowledge, and then respond to evolving events.

The partnership between the sailors and the high end tactical systems will, in large part, determine how well we translate the vision in JV-2010 to the pragmatics or the battle pace. Systems will be engineered to handle much of the situational monitoring, analyzing, and even some of the higher level decision-making. Tactical programs will be designed to reduce much of the procedural tasks, memory drills, and administrative requirements that currently add to an operator’s workload. Data fusion capability will help coordinate the detection, track, and classification data from multiple onboard systems or from of the board platforms. Communication systems will provide the timely exchange of critical information absolutely necessary to effect dominant maneuver.

But .. .systems don’t run the tactical problem; people use systems to support their tactical decisions. And, for all of the expert assistance provided by these systems, people are still responsible for tactical interpretation, prioritization, and execution of their mission. If the expert algorithms embedded in the system are stymied by the range and variety of contacts, frustrated by the harsh acoustic or electromagnetic environments, or confused by non-traditional or unexpected threat signatures … then, the system operators and their tactical officers will be most intimately involved in resolving those localization and classification problems. If the offboard cueing is inaccurate or the threat assessment is incorrect, it will be up to the tactical crews to reason their way to a better understanding of the situation. If the C41/communication process fails or is tactically inaccessible, then the crew will have to perform their mission as an independent operation using their best judgement.

The submarine community has a legacy of excellence built on the partnership between sailors and the systems that support them. Submarines have always had the best selection of available and recruited talent; many in other communities have said perhaps more than their fair share. Submariners have always been able to retain the best and provide reward for demonstrated work ethic and accomplishments; sometimes the biggest problem was having too many good people and having to choose among them.

However, the last several years have presented a challenge to the Navy and the Submarine Force. Difficulties in meeting recruiting and first, second, and even third tour retention goals place substantial burdens on the current crews to maintain high levels of tactical readiness. It is likely that a higher proportion of both officers and enlisted personnel will embark on deployments with limited real-world experience against the non-cooperative opponents they may engage. Many with experience measured in years of service may still be challenged by executing complicated tactics in rapidly changing conditions that they have only practiced in fleet exercises. And, since JV-2010 places so much importance on shared cueing and coordinated performance, an uneven distribution of tactical proficiency across assets in the joint forces may have a much greater impact on required collective performance than in the unit level combat of the past.

It may be that these recruiting and retention problems will be resolved in some way in the near future; the projection of the quality and quantity of recruiting and retaining officers and technicians in the future is often inaccurate at best. The one thing we do know, however, is that the real competition both within the Navy and among the other services will largely be after the really smart and well-prepared recruit or officer candidate. Retaining a substantial number of these kinds of people to sustain and build the collective expertise, to refine the collaborative tactics, and to train and supervise the future Navy will require a culture that attracts and supports the very best.

JV-2010 stresses a highly flexible and responsive force that can effectively shape the battlespace to our advantage. Inherent in this requirement are the people who have sufficient knowledge, practice, and experience to make this happen. Nearly all of the current commander and/or senior enlisted personnel acquired their experience through many years of apprentice, journey, and master level jobs. Task proficiency and the ability to train and supervise junior people was gained through hard work and hard gained understanding. The initial gaining of skills grew, through practice, to expertise. In certain special people, expertise transitioned to good judgement; and, in a very few, grew to wisdom. The submarine crew that could respond predictably and proficiently to almost any operational requirement had a mix of skills, expertise, judgement, and perhaps that touch of wisdom which made the critical difference in the mission outcome.

The people who will enter the Navy to take their place in our nation’s defense in the year 2010 are very young now; the first tour enlisted are currently finishing 1th and 2th grade, while the officersto-be are somewhat older-they’re getting ready to start the 6th grade. We think of them as computer literale and believe that the skills they are gaining and the way they interact with graphic displays will be very helpful in acquiring requisite combat proficiency. Those capabilities will undoubtedly make learning the systems easier and the mastery of the operating procedures occur faster. The question is how to get those young sailors and officers to combine their system interaction skills with a profound understanding of the problem at hand so that they become the highly flexible and effective battelspace shapers we read about.

In the past 25 years, the Navy has largely relied on a balance between schoolhouse instruction and at-sea training and experience to transition people from apprentice to journey level capabilities. Technical training pipelines absorbed a great deal of the initial introductory training for technical knowledge, system operation, and elements of team coordination. Following that introduction, people transferred to their fleet jobs and learned how to integrate their school-gained procedural skills into real-world operational utility. The first deployment provided not only much needed experience, but gave the first tour officer or enlisted person their first real taste of life on a submarine. Follow-on deployments, additional schools, and exposure to situations and knowledgeable people were the most commonly followed route to acquiring seasoned skills and good judgement. Almost everyone in the Navy that managed to get senior enough to be granted supervisory or command positions learned their craft that way.

The number and complexity or new systems, increased missions, and potential operating areas with the substantial emphasis on multi-platform/combined force coordination, precision engagement, and run spectrum dominance certainly could stress the people side of the partnership. Assuming the new systems not only do what they were designed to do, but are acquired and installed on all of the platforms needed for the coordination, they must be there in enough time to allow for people to learn how to use them, practice in some reasonable fashion, and have enough opportunity to acquire experience from both successes and failures. The battlespace will be stressful enough without adding newly installed equipment or upgraded computer programs to the mix.

If we are facing a highly variable set of operational requirements with the potential of limited formal preparation or real-world experience for any specific operation, then the people and the systems will have to be very good indeed. If the systems cannot support the tasks-whether command and control, communications, intelligence, sensors, or weapons-then the people will have to figure out the offsets. If the people are less experienced, then the systems will have to be designed well enough to offer significant help in achieving the tactical win.

As difficult as it is to try and imagine what the world will be like in a decade or so, it is sometimes even harder to remember what it was like to be that young sonarman, fire control technician, or officer of the deck. How it felt to be part of a tactical team for the first time. What that first deployment was like. How grateful you were that there were many aboard that seemed to know exactly what to do next so you could learn by doing in the company of an experienced crew.

We need to keep those young people in mind when we design the systems, integrate the platform tactics, and commit to operational tasking. The partnership must be real. For those of us involved in the next decade planning for JV-2010, we need to remember that the technology we design and implement to support this bold plan will be largely or our making-but the war will be theirs to fight.

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League