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Ensign Jim Catina, USN, a native of Strouds burg, PA, is a 2016 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. He is currently a student in the Undersea Warfare Academic Group at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, obtaining a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. Upon his graduation in June of 2017, Ensign Catina will report to the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command in Charleston, SC to begin his training as a submarine officer.

Over the last 100 years, the U.S. Navy has been the epicenter of innovation for fighting and winning the wars of tomorrow. From the Revolutionary War through Operation Iraqi/Enduring Freedom, the U.S. Navy has constantly prepared for the conflicts of the future and ensured that its officer corps attain the highest levels of competency in those critical warfighting domains prior to these conflicts.This force-wide knowledge base has allowed the Navy to achieve the monumental asymmetric advantage of unsurpassed preparation.But with new warfare domains quickly entering the picture and the conflict of tomorrow shaping into a war unlike any seen before, the Navy has apparently lost its educational advantage.

It is no secret that the conflict of tomorrow will be waged from the undersea and cyberspace domains, two areas of great intrigue both from war-planning and research perspectives.Great strides have been made in order to strengthen the war-fighting capabilities in these areas within the United States military, and the Navy is filling a critical role in both domains.With the establishment of the 10th Fleet, the Cyber Warfare Centers at both the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) and the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA), the new Virginia-class submarine, and the development and integration of unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), the Navy certainly seems on its way to winning the conflict of tomorrow in a similar fashion as the conflicts of the past.

But, upon closer inspection, it is very clear that the Navy has been derelict in its duty to educate young officers on the threats of the undersea domain, seeming to neglect its importance for the more hot-button topic of cyber warfare.Though this is not to insinuate that the Navy should eliminate the education of cyber warfare for junior officers (JOs), a significantly greater effort must be made to prepare JOs, and ultimately all officers, regardless of their warfare community, for the threats the undersea domain poses and what can be done tomitigate our adversaries’ capabilities.This paper will show that education for JOs in the undersea domain is a critical necessity and that the current situation does not provide our JOs the knowledge they need to be successful in this warfare domain.Furthermore, it will present a plan to increase our officer corps’ capability to both understand and act in the undersea domain.

Warfighting and Training in the Past

Before an in-depth discussion of future conflicts can commence, it is important to understand the conflicts of the past and what role training and preparation played in the U.S. Navy’s successes and failures. Understanding these conflicts is critical to understanding the current state of the U.S. Navy and its path towards future conflicts.

One of the most prominent failures of the U.S. Navy in modern history is the disaster at Wonsan Bay during the Korean War in 1950.The North Koreans, supported by the Soviet Union, set up a blockade of mines in Wonsan Bay in an effort to prevent U.S. forces from attempting amphibious landings.When these mines were discovered by U.S. forces prior to an attempted landing, mine countermeasures ships were deployed with the intent of sweeping the mines quickly in order to proceed with the amphibious landings.However, because of what can only be described as a general mine countermeasure ineptitude, the U.S. Navy took over five days to clear the mines, preventing the amphibious landings at Wonsan from occurring in a strategically advantageous manner, causing great embarrassment for the U.S. Navy (McElroy 1). In his report on the incident, the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Admiral Arthur Radford, was very blunt in his assessment of the situation, stating “Mine warfare has long been a low priority training subject for general consumption in the U.S. Navy…The sweeping of mines by most naval officers is remembered only as a tactical problem which any line officer should be able to do”1.In other words, a lack of emphasis on the required training and education in the undersea domain, in this case mine warfare, cost the U.S. Navy control of the seas, its main tenet.

Another example of the role that training plays in the effectiveness of U.S. Navy operations occurred in Operation Desert Shield/Storm.During this operation, the U.S. Navy was able to maintain unmatched dominance of the seas by leveraging many of its developing technologies in strike and mine warfare.These efforts complemented revitalized multinational cooperation to deliver an unrecoverable blow to Iraqi forces.In his report on Operation Desert Shield/Storm in 1991, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Frank Kelso II, stated that“The most significant contributor to our decisive victory was our motivated, dedicated, and well-trained volunteers.”Because of the many months that the U.S. Navy had to prepare for the conflict, and the years prior to acquire the appropriate assets, the U.S. Navy was able to train and educate its sailors for the assumed conflict of the future, and this strategy showed its benefits through its results.

From discussion of these two major conflicts, one important and rather obvious trend stands out: a well-trained force will greatly outperform an untrained force.To go even further, having a force that is untrained for a future conflict could result in mission failure and cause great embarrassment to the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, and the United States at large.

The Conflict of Tomorrow: The Necessary Preparation

To many civilian and military experts, the domains of the conflict of tomorrow are clear: cyberspace and undersea. In many respects we have already seen what a cyber conflict could look like from acts in recent history.In June of 2010, a cyber attack known as Stuxnet, was unleashed on Iranian nuclear refinement facilities. Without any kinetic action or boots on the ground, 954 centrifuges were broken in over 15 different facilities across the country, equating to roughly one-fifth of all of the centrifuges operated by Iran (Kelley 1). This ability to produce kinetic effects without a kinetic means is unquestionably powerful.

At the same time, the United States has been vulnerable to cyber attacks itself.U.S. officials have testified to Congress regarding a number of major cyber-espionage operations conducted by the Chinese in recent years and have stated the breaches are significant.These breaches have included the compromise of design information for major programs to include the F-35C, the P8-A, and both the F/A and E/A-18 aircraft (Dewey2). If such sensitive data can be obtained in peacetime, there is no telling just how potent the cyber threat can be during war time.

However, an even larger opportunity and potential vulnerability may exist in the undersea domain.Unbeknown to many individuals, the undersea realm is directly responsible for many of the luxuries of the modern age.For example, 99% of the world’s international data travels via undersea cables (Brown 1). Much of the world’s oil reserves are sent from drill platforms in the ocean to home nations via undersea piping and, of course, a vast majority of the world’s international trade arrives at its destination via shipping over water, which can be greatly compromised by enemy undersea activity (Wethe 1). Thus, it is very clear that maintaining control of the undersea domain is critical to maintaining the way of life to which many people across the globe have become accustomed.

From a military perspective, the undersea domain also contains great strategic promise.With the technological advances in aircraft-tracking RADAR, the undersea domain has become the only warfare area in which assets are truly “stealthy” (Mujumdar 1). This gives the United States, and any country with an undersea capability, the ability to launch strikes from undersea platforms against targets on land or at sea without notice.Additionally, due to advances in weapons technology, an undersea asset like a submarine could be hundreds or thousands of miles away from its target, undetected by the intended target,before launching its offensive weapon.The undersea domain also provides a trove of intelligence gathering opportunities, due to its stealth nature, and remains the United States’ only survivable nuclear launch platform.(Huessy 2).

With the many risks and opportunities of both the cyber and undersea warfare domains, it is clear they will form the basis for the conflict of tomorrow.This determination then leads to an important question: What must the United States do in order to prepare for this conflict?Besides the traditional preparatory stalwarts of manning and equipping the United States military, a deep commitment to training and education of its officer corps must be instilled.When U.S. forces have veered away from this commitment to training and education, the results in combat have been poor.For example, during the Civil War, the Union Navy was decimated by the undersea domain, particularly mines, because of a lack of knowledge within its officer corps on the potency and capabilities of mines (Melia 16). The same lack of training and education was also a major contributing factor to the decimation of the British fleet and merchant shipping during the First World War and again for the Americans at Wonsan.This education and training must not only take place, but it must be instilled early and upgraded regularly, regardless of the communities in which officers are a part.If this is done, officers will have a strong base knowledge of these key warfare areas so that when the time comes to engage in such a conflict, they will be prepared to make decisions involving these realms as it applies to their particular warfare specialty.

Warfare Education Today

There are two main pipelines through which JO education is accomplished: the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and the USNA. Both programs have their unique education requirements, but the focus of this discussion will center on how both programs educate their midshipmen in both cyber and undersea warfare.

To begin, USNA has been a national leader in undergraduate cyber warfare education.All midshipmen are required to take two cyber-related courses.These courses cover basic cyber-attacks, defenses, computer architecture, and threats in the cyber and electronic domains (USNA). This education succeeds in providing midshipmen a base knowledge of the threats associated with the cyber domain.

However, there is a major lack in the education of midshipmen in the undersea domain.The only time that the undersea domain is mentioned, with a lenient definition of mentioned,is during a senior-level course entitled Naval Weapons Systems in which students briefly learn about some of the technical nuances of SONAR and how torpedoes sink ships (USNA). This certainly does not amount to a base knowledge of undersea warfare, and does not rival the amount of education provided to midshipmen in the cyber domain.

ROTC midshipmen are in an even worse position than their USNA brethren.After an analysis of many of the nation’s top ROTC units, none of them require midshipmen to take a class in either undersea or cyber warfare.This formula for education is most certainly not conducive to producing officers who are capable and educated leaders in both the cyber and undersea domains.

Fixing the Problem: Undersea Education

With such a major gap in the education of JOs with regard to the undersea domain, action must be taken as soon as reasonably possible to remediate this deficiency.To fix this problem, learning from a model that currently provides education on the undersea domain would be extremely beneficial.The Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey, CA provides such a model.At NPS, the Undersea Warfare Academic Group educates naval officers from various communities and nations on the importance and nuances of undersea warfare at the graduate-level.Students enrolled in this curriculum receive a wide variety of education in “modeling and simulation for undersea warfare, non-acoustic sensor systems, and sonar systems engineering” (Stein 1). The curriculum begins with a broad overview of the current issues facing undersea warfare through two separate courses, “Undersea Warfare: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” (taught by RADM Jerry Ellis, a former COMSUBPAC) and “The History of Mine Warfare,” (taught by RDML Rick Williams, a former PEO Mine Warfare). Although the NPS program only reaches a small percentage of the students at the institution, NPS provides the most diverse and in-depth knowledge bases for undersea warfare in the Department of Defense today.

Using the NPS curriculum as a model, particularly the introductory courses, the most logical place to begin this educational transition is the USNA.As it currently stands, midshipmen must take three semesters of basic navigation, with the curriculums greatly overlapping (U.S. Naval Academy).This current system is seen as unnecessary by many midshipmen and does not greatly improve their knowledge of navigation by requiring three courses in navigation.The requirement for second class navigation should be replaced with a course in undersea warfare, discussing the history, basic tactics, and threats in this critical warfighting domain, in the model of the introductory undersea warfare courses at NPS.There are many individuals stationed at USNA who have experience in the undersea domain, to include submariners, surface warfare officers and aviators, who all bring their unique perspective to undersea warfare.Also, by offering this class during second class year, the timing aligns directly with a midshipman’s first Top Secret brief from the submarine community, allowing them to see the knowledge they are learning in class applied to current real-world situations.In addition, undersea warfare should be directly integrated into every midshipman’s community-specific practicum class to understand the importance of their community in supporting the undersea mission.This more tailored approach will allow midshipmen to commission as officers in their specific warfighting community with an understanding of how their job influences the particular requirements of the undersea domain.

ROTC units must take a similar approach to integrating under-sea warfare into their coursework, as well as including cyber warfare.ROTC units have a different challenge in that they have a much smaller contingent of officers able to teach classes.Amongst the ROTC units analyzed, each curriculum required second class midshipmen to complete a two-course series over both semesters of their junior year in Naval Ship Systems,covering a wide range of topics to include propulsion plants for different naval assets and weapons systems, similar to USNA’s Naval Weapons Systems(Virginia Military Institute). Both Naval Ship Systems classes should be replaced with one class in cyber warfare taught by that institution’s computer science department and one class in undersea warfare taught by the unit officers.Both of these courses should align to the USNA course curriculum as much as possible.This strategy allows for the greatest amount of continuity in background knowledge between the two commissioning sources and also ensures that the curriculum is relevant to the Navy at-large.


It is evident that there is a significant need for JOs to have a base knowledge of the warfighting domains of tomorrow to maintain U.S. military dominance.There is no doubt that the conflict of tomorrow will largely be waged in the undersea and cyber domains and the military must prepare their officers accordingly to make decisions to win in these critical areas.If officer sare not prepared, the possibility of history repeating in the form of a Wonsan Bay-type scenario could be well within reason.By implementing a curriculum at both the Naval Academy and at Reserve Officer Training Corps units across the country that emphasizes the unique requirements of these critical warfighting domains, the U.S. Navy can increase the overall knowledge base of its officer corps and prepares the military for sustained short and long-term success.

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