A couple weeks ago I wrote a blog piece that asserted that the naval conversation has lost a vital piece, tactics. We as a naval service have focused the professional dialog on the strategic level while the tactical level has largely been neglected. I got a good response to the piece but one frequent criticism that I received was that many believe the discussion of tactics belongs in the classroom and wardroom, but not the open forum. I disagree. The navy has many schools that focus on sharpening tactical skills. These schools, in combination with vibrant discussions in wardrooms and ready rooms around the fleet can effectively cover the tactical baseline for each community; however, the connective tissue, that forms the bridge between communities, known as Fleet Tactics, is left completely void.
“Trackin Devil Dog, Good to go, Err, Hoorah.”
The Marine Corps perhaps is the best example of a cohesive fighting force. Because every Marine is a rifleman and all the officers went through TBS, they are able to speak the same language and anticipate the actions of their fellow Marines, whether they are in the air or on the ground. This is a trait that distinguishes them and makes them a much more deadly force than they would be as individual units. By contrast, we as a naval force speak different languages and have no common experience or training to connect us. Each community studies its own tactics, some more than others, but none fully understand what to expect from our brethren in the other communities.
As a SWO I would love to say that every Naval Officer should be a ship driver but that is impossible for many reasons, least of which that we do not have enough ships to facilitate it. However, there does need to be some common thread, some common tactical language that can be fused together so that the Navy, if required, could move forward as one Fleet and know exactly what to expect from the other units in the force, without having to have them explicitly stated in a 300 page OPORD.
It starts with a Conversation
I believe that void, that deficiency in training, can and should be filled in part by a robust professional tactical discussion that could occur fleet wide. Not only can we as a naval service step up and have a more robust conversation that brings in junior and senior officers alike, but can come together as one so that aviators understand and predict what the SWOs are going to do in a tactical engagement, and SWOs understand what the Submariners are going to do etc.
This dialog does not have to be in Proceedings or on a blog. I would argue that at one point in naval history this void might have been filled by discussions that happened around a pint in the officer’s club. Whether this dynamic discussion happens in print, in symposiums, around the wardroom, or in a new school, the crossing of those barriers is vitally important and is something to be aspired to. Now that the money is drying up, we have to be more effective with what we have, and the best way for us to be more tactically effective is to be a more cohesive fighting force. That means that we need to double down on Fleet Tactics.
LT Robert McFall is a Surface Warfare Officer that did two tours on USS WINSTON S. CHURCHILL. He is currently the Vice Chairman of the Editorial Board of the United States Naval Institute and on the Board of Directors of the Surface Navy Association.