When is the last time you sat down and discussed tactics? Whether it was regarding your individual DDG or employment of Air Wing strike capabilities, I bet it has been awhile. I recently discussed these issues with Junior Officers and enlisted sailors at our Junior Leaders Innovation Symposium here at NWDC, and later with Aviation Flags at our annual training symposium. In both cases, the results were the same – there is a real concern that tactics development has slid down our list of day to day priorities.

I know it was a long time ago, but as a JO, I remember having tactical discussions all the time. What’s the best way to do X? Did we consider Y? Have you seen Z…? We stayed up late in wardrooms and ready rooms sharing the experiences and best practices that made us better tactical aviators. The threat and type of operations in those days drove us to discussions about tactics. We shared lessons and made near-continuous improvements to the tactics we employed, because we understood that the operational environment required us to create and maintain operational sanctuaries to mitigate the tactical risks.

LT Rob McFall wrote the following in his blog on USNI a couple of months ago, What the Professional Naval Conversation is Missing… Tactics:

The conversation on tactical innovation is especially important for the Junior Officers but it should not be limited to them. Senior Officers and those that have gone before us have a wealth of knowledge on tactics. They have been there and know where the sinkholes are. Only by learning what has been done before can we keep from making the same mistakes over again. We have the forums. Once again it is time for us to read, think, speak and write about tactics.

I couldn’t agree more with LT McFall. Not only should we get better at sharing the lessons, knowledge and tactics from our more senior officers, we have an obligation to continue to develop tactical solutions that counter the myriad of multi-faceted threats. We have lost the comfort of operating from our traditional maritime sanctuaries. Due to advances and proliferation of weapons technology, the anti-access/area denial capability of our potential adversaries has increased significantly in recent years. We need to identify our capability gaps and prioritize development of tactics that help create and maintain the sanctuaries required to mitigate risk in this new environment.

Earlier this year, Navy Warfare Development Command (NWDC) launched the Carrier Strike Group (CSG) Advanced Tactics Initiative – or “CATI” – to enable the rapid development of training and tactics. “CSG” includes the Carrier Strike Group staff, CVN, CVW, and DESRON elements. CATI is an integrating function designed to synchronize tactics and training development efforts with identified gaps in tactical capability. It will formalize a collection process to capture, document and pass-on CSG lessons, tactics and best practices. Aligned to the Strike Force Training Community assessment process, CATI will socialize the identification and prioritization of emerging CSG employment gaps. Another key element of CATI is the new interactive NWDC CATI SharePoint tool that provides access to developmental projects, operational guidance documents and tactical material while enabling an ongoing discussion of ideas and best practices. It’s all about preparing ourselves, again, to be challenged at sea.

Tactics development has played a major part in the Navy and Marine Corps’ capability to fight and win wars in the past. We intend to breathe new life into tactical discussions to effectively counter future threats and leverage tactical innovation. Tactics are back – jump in and join the conversation!




Posted by RADM Terry Kraft in Navy, Tactics


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  • Robert_K

    I attended the innovation symposium for old folks at NWDC – it was a very worthwhile event. For the most part, excellent guest speakers discussed the historical aspects on naval innovation and innovation in the private sector. I (and many others) left there with an appreciation for the “buzz” the event created but thought “now what?”

    It’s great to see some follow-up from the two innovation events at NWDC and to see the linkage between NWDC and the ONR/war college/NPS – this could evolve into a virtual naval think tank if managed properly. Given the inevitable cutbacks in the contractor/consultant work force, this type of forum could prove extremely important in the future… In sourced thinking?

    Hopefully these efforts will move the big thinkers in the navy to get beyond the problem identification stage and move towards actionable solutions. I pretty sure most understand there are problems with acquisition programs, the personnel system, PME, this, that, and the other but is anyone actually pitching new affordable ideas to fix these problems??? It’s easy to be a critic but it takes a pair (of frontal lobes) to put forth an idea and take the heat that comes with it. Given the fiscal circumstances facing the nation, we are now in a time to fix longstanding tactical, organizational, and administrative problems.

  • Walrus_45

    In my squadron, tactics discussions are limited to the required Personal Qualification Standards (PQS), and the line items/computer based training software associated with them. Any deviations from PQS or tactics directed to current events not already well established in the training syllabus are quickly squashed. Typical response being “if you want to nuke this, get orders to the weapons school” – with a swift refocusing on the navy objectives and learning goals powerpoint slide. Heaven help the foolish JO that describes how obsolete our tactics are in the face of modern ROW weapons systems and platforms.

  • just a swo

    With endless data calls, situation reports on when we are going to send in our situation report, and the message just released by CNSL, we are continually reminded of our leaderships’ priorities – and they have nothing to do with tactics. This isn’t a cynical JO viewpoint – this is reality. Walrus is an aviator and experiences many of the same situations that SWO’s do when dealing with PQS. I don’t think this is what our ship and squadron CO’s want, but they are painted into a corner. I’m sure if asked, higher headquarters would INSIST that tactics were important to them. But they never prove it. Data points, inspections, and assessments ARE important, and they prove that constantly. If this is not reality – then it sure as heck is perception. And we know how that phrase goes. As a SWO, I can’t even think of where an extended conversation or demonstration of tactics would fit into the schedule at sea. When people are up for 20+ hours a day doing their jobs, and that does NOT include instruction on how to be better warfighters, we have our priorities mixed up, in my opinion. Again, I’ve never held this against my CO’s or DH’s. Some of them have tried. I have seen a handful of “war councils,” and certainly learned a lot going around to talk to watch standers in the wee hours of the morning. But today’s culture – or more accurately, the demands placed on today’s Fleet Sailors do not include how to be better at war. We play around with antiquated and non-stressful synthetic scenarios (which crash half the time anyways), we are handled with kid gloves during exercises, we self-assess watch stander adequacy by the widest margins imaginable, and we berate those who don’t pop out on the other side as tactical experts. It’s great that we have CO’s now who talked tactics – eventually we’re going to have Captains who spent their first years at sea standing Deputy Assistant Conning Officer with 6 of their closest watch standers and logging sexual assault training and motorcycle awareness (while on deployment), and fighting for “stick” time in between deployments during the 5 steaming days they were allowed per quarter. Of course we focus on the line items on the quals – that’s what we are trained to do.

    We need more than innovation to solve this problem. We need a re-assessment of our priorities, and a wake up call to leadership to look ahead to who will be sitting in the starboard chair in a decade and leading the service not long after that. We will have professionals extremely proficient at writing messages, sending in chat reports, and waiting for permission. I’m glad that there is this push to bring tactics back from NWDC and other places – I hope the conversation gets started, and that we can regain proficiency of the past, and carry it into the future.

  • Rich B

    Some of the best tactical challenges/training occurred while participating in joint exercises overseas; Joint Warrior; FOST; BALTOPS provided much more open ended scenarios than anything offered stateside.

    Work ups stateside merely provide a check in the box for qualifications vice any real tactical challenge while in contrast the multiday 24/7 nature of working with our allies actually gave junior officers a chance to hone skillsets and put their ideas to the test. Stateside it is an inspection mindset; everything is TORIS/TFOM and pass/fail. It is not rooted in victory or defeat; it’s not rooted in mission objective as much as, “I lost 3 points for failure to comply with step 37a within 60 seconds.”

    Having a CO that would think out of the box; station a navigational detail and hide within shallow harbors, or pass through a narrow strait to ambush an enemy force taught them more about warfare than any canned scenario. His trust to depart the bridge and say, “find them, don’t let them find us and don’t get us killed” and then watching from the shadows empowered a whole generation of warfighters. The simple ability to fight the ship at the OOD/TAO level lead to some great life lessons of coordination, communication and foresight. Watch teams would gather after watch not because of some contrived debrief but because they “wanted” to plan for the next watch.

    Often these scenarios provide a freedom to employ systems that has been lost in home waters. Simply given the ordnance to fire upon a foreign range; engage a target drones; to have your mastheads split by a Tornado you failed to ID or even the ability to go active without 87 messages, helicopter marine mammal observation, and 17 hours of GMT was refreshing.

    Not only was there freedom but a sense of competition between forces. You saw the scores daily; who was damaged by whom. What systems did they lose; how long would the repairs take and forced to adapt.

    We have operational areas where the CO is not authorized to choose his direction of fire based upon time of year… because of errors by ONE ship in the past. Nothing to do with the hundreds that fired correctly before her.

    We have become such a risk adverse culture we have taken the danger inherent to our tools and instantiated rules which limit our ability to practice with them. How can you train in warfighting when the warfighters are taught to fear (not respect) their arsenal?

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