We will be masters of the undersea domain, able to achieve undersea superiority at the time and place of our choosing. We will be the experts for all matters in undersea warfare.
The Design for Undersea Warfare”” clearly lays out the way ahead for the Submarine Force for the foreseeable future. The three lines of effort all have inherent challenges, both technical and non-technical that we as a force need to meet. All will require prudent investment of our limited fiscal resources to make the Design a reality. But one area spans all three lines of effort: human capital. Executing the Design for Undersea Warfare at the operational and tactical level will require well-trained officers and crews who understand their mandate and how to best employ their boat. But, as the recent budget discussions within the Department of Defense have alluded to, people are the most expensive resource we have. Providing additional education and training to our officers to meet the high standards of the Design for Undersea Warfare could be potentially very, very expensive.
As with many solutions in the Department of the Navy today, it will require doing more with our existing equipment and less money. But providing more theoretical education and training seems diametrically opposed to conserving our limited fiscal resources. However, we can leverage our existing infrastructure, institutions, and people to provide a graduate-level education to ur officers and create better trimming opportunities aimed at building experience and enhancing our professional development with a modest investment.
Framing the Problem
The Experience Gap
Each Community Status Brief released by PERS-42, the Submarine Officer Community detailers, contains a few telling statements that should worry the Submarine Force leadership:
- Commanding officers are dissatisfied with the experience level of their reporting department heads
- Division officers expressed displeasure with never operating the ship
- Divisions officers stated that they are finally fully qualified and want to hone their submarining skills, but are at their projected rotation date.
As a recent division officer, I can certainly attest to the final point. Lengthening division officer sea tours has been thoroughly vetted by PERS-42 and is not a good solution for the Submarine Force. We train almost continually in a wide variety of areas. So where is the disconnect between training, operations, and acquiring sufficient experience?
Current Training Requirements
Improve the effectiveness of the officer career training pipeline, providing a more coherent, career approach towards developing a submarine Commanding Officer.
I contend that the way we train and educate our officers and crews is the disconnect. The cliche of “train smarter, not harder,” has fallen on deaf ears within the Submarine Force. The myriad of training requirements in the Continuing Training Software System (CTSS), the rigidity and amount of continuing training proscribed by Naval Reactors, and the mentality of simply adding more training requirements following sub-par results on an inspection or valuation makes it extremely difficult to produce quality, effective training for our submarine crews. To borrow a current catch phrase from the Chief of Naval Operations, it is time to undertake a 360-degree review of our officer education and training programs.
Currently, most crews struggle to meet all the training requirements, especially in CTSS, the Submarine Force’s computer-based tool for tracking all training requirements onboard with the exception of the nuclear training program. Keeping CTSS green has become a nearly impossible task to achieve. The administrative burden of record keeping within the system is a job in itself, and one that I had to contend with, both as the Ship’s Diving Officer and as the CTSS lackey for the wardroom training program. Under the present system, meeting the topical attribute involves some sort of training followed by an exam, from the Force Exam Bank, if available. But there are caveats. It is very difficult to account for the volumes of on-watch training that takes place, both fore and aft-CTSS doesn’t govern the nuclear training program either. The CTSS interface is the antithesis of user-friendly. It is time consuming to create training plans, edit them, assign people, and correctly annotate the types and lengths of training conducted. Additionally, it will not reflect the additional training that many crews do beyond meeting the periodicity of the particular attribute.
CTSS, while a well-intentioned tool, needs significant improvement to become a useful product for achieving the required ends commensurate with the Design for Undersea Warfare. First, CTSS topical attributes lack a complete connection to a warfighting requirement. These knowledge areas, skill sets, and team exercises are not necessarily tied to the big picture. Many sailors balk at the amount of training we as a Force are required to do. Communicating the reason for the training will go a long way in helping to prepare crews for wartime service. Second, the system must be revised to account for all training administered within a topical area, including on-watch training. CTSS should not simply show that a crew or individual has trained on a particular topic within the required periodicity. It should and needs to reflect the trends and volume of training. Boats should be trends and volume of training. Boats should be able to document all training and testing that occurs, which will help inspection teams determine the effectiveness of a boat’s training program and the areas that the boat is focused on. For example, on an SSBN, I would expect this revised CTSS system to show every strategic training session that the wardroom conducted, including the applicable training points, from the weekly ship-wide exercises, officer training, and externally generated exercises. Third, the user interface must become friendlier to users. A short range training plan, say for a strategic deterrent patrol or period of overseas movement (POM) workup, should be able to be entered as a complete plan. At present, these plans must be entered into CTSS as individual training sessions for individual topics. Nowhere in the system can a user view a long-range training plan encompassing multiple topical areas.
Education: A Fundamental First Step to Mastering Our Domain
Drawing Nuclear Parallels
A nuclear-trained officer will spend a year in the nuclear power training pipeline. The Naval Nuclear Power School officer curriculum is now worth half of a master’s degree at the Naval Postgraduate School, Old Dominion University, or Catholic University. Officers completing the training will have received a graduate-level education in nuclear reactor operations, and are expected to build on this theoretical expertise with operational knowledge, culminating in their qualification as prospective nuclear engineer officers (PNEO).
Given the emphasis on being the undisputed masters of the undersea domain, outsiders would probably think, given the above statements, that submarine officers also receive such focused and high-level education in topical areas critical to dominating the undersea environment. But the reality is quite the contrary; officers spend a scant ten weeks in the Submarine Officer Basic Course (SOBC). Completion of that curriculum gamers the recommendation from the American Council on Education for a six lower-level undergraduate credits in military science and naval engineering, and in upper level undergraduate, three credits in management. All officers already have an undergraduate degree.
The situation does not improve after reporting aboard a boat. With the renewed emphasis on engineering qualifications during the six months and the somewhat-warranted sense of urgency to qualify as an officer of the deck, the foundation of theoretical submarine knowledge in oceanography, ocean acoustics, search theory, sonar design, and weapons design and employment never really develops unless the individual officer expends the effort to learn on their own. Once an officer qualifies in submarines, the drive to learn more generally diminishes rapidly. The Design for Undersea Warfare mandates that all officers become experts in undersea warfare. To do this, the Submarine Force must fundamentally restructure the way it trains its officers.
We, as a Force, demand perfection in nuclear operations. Our officers are held to a higher standard on their nuclear knowledge. We take pride in this, and rightly so. We should be expecting the same level of knowledge on undersea operations and warfare from these same officers. The SOBC curriculum should be revised to provide officers with the graduate-level education in our undersea warfare core competencies. At present, the curriculum teaches officers how to operate a periscope, the fundamentals of target tracking, and the basics of submarine systems, among a few other courses. What is missing is a rigorous treatment of the following topics: physical oceanography, acoustic propagation, weapons employment theory, sonar system design and employment, and tactical security. All officers entering SOBC have a college education. Nuclear-trained officers will have had a basic foundation in technical education in college if they have not been through nuclear power school already. Why do we hold them to such a low standard?
Officers graduating from SOBC should have the theoretical background to holistically understand submarine operations and think creatively about undersea warfare problems, not just a rudimentary understanding of how to use a periscope and track a loud, cooperative contact. Just as the nuclear power pipeline provides the basis for understanding plant-specific operations and casualty procedures, so too should the SOBC curriculum provide the skills necessary to understand how to integrate their knowledge and employ an SSN or SSBN in a wartime environment.
Likewise, our Submarine Officer Advanced Course (SOAC) should be revised to give prospective department heads a graduate-level education in tactical oceanography, search theory, intelligence gathering, and more. These officers have proven they are capable of performing at the next level, so we should be educating them to build on their previous education and operational foundations in order to fully exploit the undersea environment.
I am not advocating that ensigns graduating from SOBC or lieutenants graduating from SOAC have short-range tactics or fire control system operations memorized. What I am advocating is that the Submarine Force thoroughly prepares its officers to understand how these systems generally work or get employed so that when the learning of tactics, for example, does begin, their theoretical knowledge informs and enhances their comprehension of them. This idea is not new; the nuclear navy has operated in this manner for more than half a century.
Education on the Waterfront
While this article focuses primarily on officer-level education and training, the courses in place for our sailors warrant a comprehensive review to ensure that they meet or exceed the standards set in the Design for Undersea Warfare. Mastering our undersea domain requires more than just the commitment of smart, dedicated officers. It requires subject matter experts in the rest of the tracking party as well. Continuing training for the waterfront should leverage the experience of our Direct Support Element (DSE) teams and the academic knowledge from other Navy institutions, such as the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), to produce better-educated undersea warriors.
NPS currently offers a certificate program, available via distance learning, in anti-submarine warfare (ASW). This is an excellent first start in providing more education to our officers. However, the time and knowledge requirements of the program make it inaccessible to, undoubtedly, a large portion of our officer corps. The time when this training would be most beneficial is when the officer has the least amount of free time: on sea duty. Qualifications take up, on average, about half of the average junior officer’s sea tour. Add in the duties and responsibilities of a division officer, the ship’s schedule, and the myriad of requirements that force our officers to multi-task and prioritize means that a yearlong distance education program does not sound as appealing. As these officers move to shore duty, they will likely be more focused on completing a master’s degree, pushing undersea warfare education further down the list. The knowledge given in the ASW certificate program is extremely valuable for professional development, but cannot replace the value of a master’s degree for promotion within the larger Navy framework. This means that we, as a Force, must find more innovative ways to educate our officers and crews.
The DSE teams, well known to many submarine crews, form the core of our corporate knowledge in many subject areas. These experts in electronic intelligence, acoustics, and more have improved the quality and education of the crews they deploy with. A highly successful program at NPS, the Regional Security Education Program (RSEP), provides an excellent model for a waterfront education effort to support the Design for Undersea Warfare when combined with the DSE teams. RSEP teams brief prior to deployment or deploy with a carrier or expeditionary strike group for approximately ten days to educate the crew on the regions they will be operating in-broad strokes for the crew and graduate-level seminars for the senior leaders. Lieutenant Jeremy Wagner, a targeting officer with Carrier Air Wing ELEVEN, commented after an RSEP program given in 2009, “Decision-makers and operators really need and appreciate this kind of research, expertise and assessment. Having a variety of perspectives and insights can help us better understand our mission.”5 A similar program would likely prove extremely beneficial for submariners as we continue to open datum from our competitors.
Undersea warfare education teams would be comprised of a professor or two from the NPS Undersea Warfare Academic roup and a few members of a DSE team and would preferably brief a boat prior to a scheduled deployment. The NPS contingent would be able to provide the latest in research and an assessment of the undersea domain, with an emphasis on the regions that the boat or squadron operates in. The DSE team, a group of exceptionally knowledgeable chief petty officers, would be able to take time, off-mission, to help enhance the education and training of sonar shacks, fire control system operators, and electronic systems measurement personnel in a low-key environment. Programs could be delivered to an entire squadron, with adequate time to focus specifically on each wardroom and tracking party. Such a program would enable the submarine community to continually learn and improve our mastery of the undersea domain.
Validating the Process
Changing the way in which we educate our officers cannot be complete without a method to measure the success or failure of that education. While I am sure the next suggestion would result in a unanimous vote of censure and removal from the Junior Officer Protection Association by many of my fell ow junior officers; nevertheless, it must be made. The Commander of Naval Submarine Forces (CNSF) and PERS-42 should alter the way in which we screen officers for department head. At present, the selection looks at an officer’s record: fitness reports, awards, and completion of PNEO, among others. The selection should remain with PERS-42, but an additional criterion should be added: completion of a prospective department head exam.
Akin to the PNEO process, which includes a comprehensive written exam and oral interviews at Naval Reactors, the prospective department head exam would provide a clearer signal to the Submarine Force leadership about the readiness of an officer to serve at the next level. The inclusion of a crucible event in the submarine qualification process is a good first step, since it provides an opportunity for a senior officer other than the ship’s commanding officer to evaluate a junior officer’s readiness to wear the coveted gold dolphins. But these events vary widely in their content and duration in the absence of a standardized metric. Such an examination would ensure that officers retain their theoretical knowledge, understand the various aspects of submarine warfare, and can demonstrate the advanced thinking that will be required for service as a department head.
The new qualification should be completed as an intermediate stop on the way to shore duty-most officers get their first look for department head not long after this point now anyway. It should involve both a comprehensive exam and interviews with senior submarine officers. As with the current department head process, the goal would be to select all officers who are eligible, not simply select the required number to fill department head billets in a few years; many officers opt to leave the naval service before then anyway.
Providing significantly improved education, continuing professional training, and a metric to ensure officers are ready to be department heads should help alleviate some of the concerns voiced by commanding officers around the fleet regarding the lack of experience of division officers. Additionally, it will provide junior officers the ability to better understand submarine operations and employment earlier in their qualification process, allowing them to benefit more from experiences gained during and after that time. Nothing can replace the at-sea classroom to educate officers. But in keeping with the nuclear tradition, having a theoretical understanding before going to sea greatly improves the quality and abilities of our sailors to meet the challenges ahead of them.
Defining and Defining the Officer Career Path
The formal guidance for submarine officers on career progression and development amounts to a one-page message and a checklist. The message, from Commander, Naval Submarine Forces in July 2006, needs updating to reflect the goals set forth in the Design for Undersea Warfare. The checklist-the quintessential nuclear solution-lays out all the milestones that need to be met for a career in the Navy and Submarine Force:·· So what’s missing? The depth.
Commensurate with the changes proposed above and below, PERS-42 and CNSF should issue new, detailed guidance for submarine officers regarding their career path. The Design for Undersea Warfare calls for a “more deliberate emphasis on the developmental role of sea tours.”6 Published concurrently with the Design for Undersea Warfare, Undersea Warfighting provides a good portion of the traits required for submarine officers. However, it lacks the specificity needed to ensure that officers understand what they should be learning on each tour. The nexus of these three documents should be a guide for what skill sets, knowledge, and experience officers should have at each step in their career, why they need it, and the common ways we give it to them. Knowing ahead of time what evolutions or operations provide the requisite training that the Submarine Force requires will allow officers to go into that evolution with a different mindset, one that is more conducive to learning.
Training Crews for Wartime
This article, up to now, addressed education as a means to improve our ability to execute the Design for Undersea Warfare. However, education does not translate into experience, meaning that it does not solve the problem reported by PERS-42 earlier when we framed the problem. Educating our officers can lead to higher-quality experiences if we utilize the tools at our disposal correctly.
Revising the Containing Training Requirements
As an SSBN officer, our pre-deployment training periods (PDTP) were maddeningly routine. After the first PDTP, each officer knew exactly what to expect for the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that-nothing changed. We would have the same trainers each PDTP, where basically the same problem would be given. The week spent in the attack center, for example, would mostly be an exercise in stepping through the same problem over and over again. Rarely did the scenario administered challenge the tracking party beyond keeping team dynamics and communication smooth. The environment was always perfect, sensors completely operational, contact cooperative, and merchant ships rarely left a designated transit lane. Other trainers would be more of the same.
But these exercises did little more than show that we could keep ourselves safe in a peacetime environment and follow procedures. Not much in these scenarios would have prepared us for the challenges of wartime service. Indeed, Admiral King’s prescient remarks in early 1941 should remind us why we train:
If subordinates are deprived -as they now are -of that training and experience which will enable them to “act on their own” -if they do not know, by constant practice, how to exercise “initiative of the subordinates” -if they are reluctant (afraid) to act because they are accustomed to detailed orders and instructions -if they are not habituated to think, to judge, to decide and to act for themselves in their several echelons of command -we shall be in a sony case when the time of “active operations” arrives.
However, our training regimen today seems aimed at checking boxes and proving to higher echelons that we can be safe in the most basic of peacetime tasks, and, possibly, establishing a paper trail to fall back on or hide behind should something go wrong at sea. Our training regimen should be refocused to help us prepare for wartime environments, not amiable peacetime cruises. In doing so, I contend that we can simultaneously still certify crews to be safe when not at war and challenge our crews to think creatively to solve wartime problems, gaining valuable experience in the process.
For example, the conscious decision by one of my commanding officers to drive under a merchant ship (at a very safe depth) in pursuit of the contact of interest during an attack center training session sparked a heated debate between him and the training staff. Most of the training staff would have evaluated us as below average on submerged contact management for that training session because of that decision. However, the conscious, informed decision of the commanding officer to do this really indicates that he and the tracking party had an excellent understanding of submerged contact management-we knew exactly what we were doing and where the merchant ship was.
Rethinking How We Use the Attack Center Trainers
We lose sight of the fact that warfare is a human-centric problem. Insufficient emphasis is given to developing creativity and initiative, both of which are essential to the practice of decentralized command upon which effective undersea warfare is based.
I offered that anecdote with the intention of showing how we train to peacetime metrics. However, it serves a second purpose as well. Most crews that I worked with would have maneuvered to avoid the merchant ship by a comfortable margin, while likely opening range or even losing the contact of interest in the process. When I saw the debate between the training staff and my commanding officer begin, I was a bit taken aback-I was too junior to fully understand what was going on. In retrospect, I understand now that my commanding officer was employing his boat as he would have in war. In recalling the pyramid of safety, stealth, mission, he was thinking beyond the confines of our procedures and looking toward mission accomplishment, knowing the boat was physically safe and would remain undetected. He was executing his role in the Design for Undersea Warfare before it was written: “[emphasizing] CO ability to distinguish acceptable risk from undue risk.
As a Submarine Force, we faced a hard learning curve at the beginning of World War II. Indeed, “[w]ithin three years the age of the youngest U.S. submarine commanders dropped by a decade, and younger officers boldly charged into situations that leaders would never have countenanced before the war.”IO We learned some very hard lessons at the expense of several submarines and their crews. We have the opportunity now to realistically train for war without having to jeopardize the lives of the sailors or the watertight integrity of our boats. The attack center trainers at each submarine homeport have the necessary equipment to produce realistic wartime scenarios that can challenge our crews to take risks and operate outside what our doctrine says we should be able to do; most of our modern doctrine has been the product of Cold War experience, where shots were never fired, and peacetime exercises where we always have a tactical advantage over our adversary.
The normal week spent in the attack center trainer during a PDTP cycle should be focused mainly on presenting wardrooms and tracking parties with difficult scenarios. Spend a day or two training personnel in new positions and dusting off the cobwebs. After that, the crew should be challenged in each session with scenarios that involve contacts shooting back, close and unplanned encounters, no-win situations, battle damage, and a host of other complex problems. The often-mentioned Star Trek reference to a Kobayashi Marzt scenario seems quite apropos here. Crews should learn to operate their ships with battle damage: sensors knocked offline, propulsion limitations, depth limitations, and more. In these scenarios, sinking should be possible, aggressive behaviors encouraged, and learning allowed. Out of these tests, I believe, will come more experience. We should be thankful that we are not trying to learn these lessons in a wartime environment as the “Greatest Generation” did. We should be trying new things in our trainers, where sinking means resetting the problem and trying something else, not casualty calls by the chaplains.
Fighting with the Whole Boat
The nirvana per se, of this realistic training, would be expanding the attack center proposal to all of our trainers and connecting them so that a crew can fight with the whole boat. In war, the tracking party will not be working in a vacuum in control. How would the commanding officer and tracking party respond to a hot bearing on a main engine or a sudden hot run in a torpedo tube? Incorporating casualties from other trainers into the warfighting problem centered in the attack center will help train our crews to think about the whole boat as a warfighting platform, not simply the combat systems, and to think through them.
If it operationally feasible, this concept can even be stretched to include combining the Tactical Readiness Evaluation and Operational Reactor Safeguards Examination into a single large, short-notice inspection to avoid the current pitfall of “cyclic and temporary excellence instead of excellence which is sustained and broad.”11 The logistics and details of implementing such an inspection need not be discussed here, as it would entail long, heated discussions that could fill volumes. However, the advantages in doing so should be apparent. Crews would now have to be ready to fight the ship across the spectrum of operations while still being charged with mission accomplishment. Propulsion casualty drills can be run, forcing the tracking party to figure out how to continue the problem. The boat could be challenged to break contact while being speed and depth limited. The possibilities are endless!
Our professional education as submariners should be a force multiplier against any threat that we are technically at parity with. To grasp the mandate given to us in the Design for Undersea Warfare, the submarine community should take the steps necessary to bring our undersea warfare education up to graduate-level standards and rethink how we utilize our existing trainers during the PDTP or POM workup cycle to exploit the opportunities to create new experiences.
Though speaking of the soldiers at Gettysburg, President Eisenhower wrote a statement that can easily be applied today:
Of course, major decisions were the responsibility of a few. But their execution depended on the initiative, the fidelity, the strength of many thousands of individuals, known only to their immediate comrades in battle, their names forgotten today.
Our leaders in the Submarine Force have made the decision to continue our dominance in undersea warfare and extend our reach. The execution of that decision relies on the individual captains, and their officers and crew. But the mantle of training and development should not be completely passed to them as well; our leadership can provide a solid foundation for the captains to build on by providing better education and training opportunities. Doing so will yield a more knowledgeable force ready to seize and maintain the advantage in the undersea domain.