Archive for the 'Navy' Category
How do we build the future surface fleet to ensure our forces maintain the ability to access to all regions of the world’s oceans that our vital to our national interests?
Our guest to discuss this and the broader issues related to our surface forces will be Bryan Clark, Senior Fellow at Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA).
A basis for our conversation will be his recent study for CSBA, Commanding the Seas: A Plan to reinvigorate U.S. Navy Surface Warfare, where he articulates the operational concept of “offensive sea control” as the new central idea to guide evolution of the U.S. surface force. This idea would refocus large and small surface combatant configuration, payloads and employment on sustaining the surface force’s ability to take and hold areas of ocean by destroying threats to access such as aircraft, ships and submarines rather than simply defending against their missiles and torpedoes.
Prior to joining CSBA in 2013, Bryan Clark was Special Assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations and Director of his Commander’s Action Group.
He served in the Navy headquarters staff from 2004 to 2011, leading studies in the Assessment Division and participating in the 2006 and 2010 Quadrennial Defense Reviews. His areas of emphasis were modeling and simulation, strategic planning and institutional reform and governance. Prior to retiring from the Navy in 2007, he was an enlisted and officer submariner, serving in afloat and ashore including tours as Chief Engineer and Operations Officer at the Navy’s nuclear power training unit.
Mr. Clark holds a Master of Science in National Security Studies from the National War College and a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and Philosophy from the University of Idaho.
Please join us at 5pm EST on 9 Nov 14 for for Midrats Episode 253: “The Fleet we Have, Want, and Need – with Jerry Hendrix”
What is the proper fleet structure for the USN as we design our Navy that will serve its nation in mid-Century?
Join us for a broad ranging discussion on this topic and more with returning guest, Henry J. Hendrix, Jr, CAPT USN (Ret.), PhD.
Fresh off his recent retirement from active duty, Jerry is a Senior Fellow and the Director of the Defense Strategies and Assessments Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).
A Naval Flight Officer by training, his staff assignments include tours with the Chief of Naval Operation’s Executive Panel (N00K), the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy (Force Development) and the OSD Office of Net Assessment.
His final position in uniform was the Director of Naval History.
Hendrix also served as the Navy Fellow to the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. He has a Bachelor Degree in Political Science from Purdue University, Masters Degrees from the Naval Postgraduate School (National Security Affairs) and Harvard University (History) and received his doctorate from King’s College, London (War Studies).
He has twice been named the Samuel Eliot Morison Scholar by the Navy Historical Center in Washington, DC, and was also the Center’s 2005 Rear Admiral John D. Hays Fellow. He also held the Marine Corps’ General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr. Fellowship. He authored the book Theodore Roosevelt’s Naval Diplomacy and received a number of awards, including the United States Naval Institute’s Author of the Year and the Navy League’s Alfred T. Mahan Award for Literary Achievement.
The USS Ingraham (FFG-61) just completed her final successful sea and anchor detail as she transited in from the Pacific Ocean, through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, returning to her homeport in Everett, Washington. After being greeted with homecoming fanfare, she will prepare for a much less exciting event, her decommissioning ceremony. On November 12th, the flag will be lowered for the last time and in January she will be struck from the battleforce inventory.
The Ingraham is one of the very last Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates remaining in the fleet. These ships were known for their steadfast performance, executing critical missions around the globe. Much like Ingraham’s last deployment to the waters of Central America, these ships have been stalwarts in the U.S. anti-drug efforts. Many are now lamenting the loss of this versatile class of ship, declaring that missions will go unfulfilled once the class has completely decommissioned next year. Demands are growing louder for a ‘next generation surface combatant’ to replace the frigates, bringing more firepower, survivability and offensive capability than the current littoral combat ships have to offer.
Yet we must be careful not to be too nostalgic when reviewing the capabilities of the frigates and demanding a better armed new surface combatant to fill their void. Certainly, the Navy needs a next generation surface combatant to fill the gaps that the workhorse guided missile destroyers cannot cover alone – there is simply no debating that our destroyer fleet is over-stretched. But, when it comes to covering the missions being carried out by frigates, we have ships that can perform at the same or higher levels – we just need to work on incorporating them.
Though it’s been a while, I distinctly recall hours spent memorizing ‘Ships and Aircraft’ as part of the standard Naval Academy plebe professional knowledge requirements. Frigates were easy…there wasn’t a lot to memorize in terms of armament. Especially since the removal of the Mk13 ‘one-armed bandit’ missile launcher. The nickname we learned was ‘missile sponge,’ due to the lack of significant offensive and defensive weaponry. Even the Mk75 Oto Melara gun onboard could only be fired when the ship presented a stern aspect to the target due to firing cut-outs. The CRU/DES advocates would joke that frigates could only fire the sole remaining offensive weapon, a mere 3-inch gun, while running away. Aviators quipped that the only real weapon onboard was the embarked LAMPS helicopter.
But it didn’t matter. Though I opted for the CRU/DES world, plenty of classmates went to frigates, where they became exceptional ship-handlers and learned how to conduct critical maritime security missions by thwarting drug-runners off our coasts and in the waters to the south, learning from the Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDETs) that often embarked. They pulled into ports around the globe with shallow draft requirements, to the envy of those of us on cruisers at the time. They operated with the nascent coastal navies of partners around the world and didn’t tower over their counter-parts in terms of size or weaponry, making for more successful engagements.
These roles can all be filled exceptionally well by our newest generation of ships – the littoral combat ships, and even innovative platforms like Austal’s Joint High Speed Vessel. While the LCS is not a perfect ship – far from it, but that’s been covered rather extensively in the press – it can easily fill the niche role recently occupied by frigates. The speed, versatility and shallow draft of LCS make it well suited to coastal patrol missions and working with partnership navies. The Joint High Speed Vessel is an even more innovative platform, and the USNS Spearhead (JHSV-1) has demonstrated its worth on its maiden deployment this year. The MSC-run ship has operated in three different Fleet AORs, conducting missions with numerous partner nations and US Navy assets, proving its exceptional capabilities.
Maritime security missions will continue to be a critical aspect of the Navy’s mission – just as they have for the past 239 years. Worth noting, however, is that most maritime security missions do not require high-end Aegis ships like the destroyers commonly filling the tasks today. It may be reassuring to have destroyers tasked to anti-piracy missions off the Horn of Africa (or, in the case of the Maersk Alabama incident, an entire Amphibious Readiness Group), but it isn’t necessary. Instead, platforms like the LCS and JHSV are well-suited to conduct low end missions like countering piracy, illicit trafficking and weapons proliferation and can do so at a much lower cost than sending a Strike Group or a couple of destroyers. The security situation we will face demands a robust, well-trained maritime security force. Our CRU/DES platforms should be reserved for missions requiring their exceptional weapons and radar systems. With the projected build of thirty-two LCS and ten JHSV, these ships are well-poised to perform vital maritime security roles that the frigates will no longer be around to fulfill. There is no dispute that maritime security is – and will continue to be – a core mission, but we already have the right ships to ensure success while being cost-efficient.
We must be careful not to embellish the past and demand that the frigates’ replacements have significant offensive and defensive capabilities. We need to be realistic when examining the missions needing to be fulfilled and let the void left by the frigates be filled by the newer, more innovative ships that are well-suited to the missions. The next generation surface combatant can be better utilized elsewhere.
The STEM bias towards officer education is long documented, defended, and argued – but on balance the pro-STEM argument holds the high ground in our Navy. Good people can argue both sides, but it is clear that the Mahanian ideal of the intellectual training of an officer has been out of favor for a very long time.
Is this technical bias simply a habit born or archaic assumptions towards intellectual development as out of touch with the needs of the 21st Century as Mad Men is toward gender roles in the workplace? Are the greatest challenges in our wardrooms, staffs, and intellectual debates 85% technical in nature? Are the challenges our nation and our military are facing that threaten our national security best addressed by people who made it through thermodynamics and mumble DiffyQ in their sleep?
Why would some of the most successful technical civilian organizations value a liberal arts education? Those with an extreme pro-STEM bias (CNO, I’m blogg’n to you) should take some times to digest what Elizabeth Segran over at FastCompany recently wrote on the topic,
So how exactly do the humanities translate into positive results for tech companies? Steve Yi, CEO of web advertising platform MediaAlpha, says that the liberal arts train students to thrive in subjectivity and ambiguity, a necessary skill in the tech world where few things are black and white. “In the dynamic environment of the technology sector, there is not typically one right answer when you make decisions,” he says. “There are just different shades of how correct you might be,” he says.
Yi says his interdisciplinary degree in East Asian Studies at Harvard taught him to see every issue from multiple perspectives: in college, he studied Asian literature in one class, then Asian politics or economics in the next. “It’s awfully similar to viewing our organization and our marketplace from different points of view, quickly shifting gears from sales to technology to marketing,” he says. “I need to synthesize these perspectives to decide where we need to go as a company.”
Danielle Sheer, a vice president at Carbonite, a cloud backup service, feels similarly. She studied existential philosophy at George Washington University, which sets her apart from her technically trained colleagues. She tells me that her academic background gives her an edge at a company where employees are trained to assume there is always a correct solution. “I don’t believe there is one answer for anything,” she tells me. “That makes me a very unusual member of the team. I always consider a plethora of different options and outcomes in every situation.”
Look again at what the critical thinking skills a well rounded education gave Yi and Sheer, and ask yourself – are these skills we value and need?
If so, why do we actively discourage them?
By Mark Tempest
Believe it or not, this week is our 250th Episode of Midrats.
In celebration, we’re clearing the intellectual table, going to open the mic and see where it takes us.
From Kobane, to Coastal Defense, to Ebola and everything in between and sideways that’s been in the national security news as of late, plus whatever else breaks above the ambient noise – we’ll be covering it.
As with all Midrats Free For Alls, we are also opening the phone lines for our regular listeners who want to throw a topic our way.
Come join us Sunday as we try to figure out how we got to 250.
Tiago Alexandre Fernandes Maurício, associate editor for our Forgotten Naval Strategists Week, joins us from Tokyo to discuss Fernando Oliveira and our other Forgotten Naval strategists – as well as how these strategists become “forgotten.” There’s a bit of Peloponnesian War thrown in too… just because.
Note: Thanks to Sam LaGrone for the kickin’ new tunes.
Power projection, sea control, access, denial, and the ability to impose your will on the enemy from the sea – or depending on your perspective – prevent them.
If the comparative advantage of American military power includes the use of the world’s oceans as a basing area from projecting power and national will, how can other nations design systems and tactics to trump that advantage? What are in place now, and what can we expect to see in the near future?
Our guest for the full hour will be Sam J. Tangredi, a defense strategist whose studies of future warfare prompted Defense Department officials to label him “the Navy’s futurist.” His thirty-year naval career included command at sea, service in key strategic planning positions in the Pentagon and overseas, earning a PhD in international relations, and research fellowships at two think tanks.
His over one hundred publications—which include four books–have won awards, including the U.S. Naval Institute’s Arleigh Burke Prize and the U.S. Navy League’s Alfred Thayer Mahan Award. He is currently the director of San Diego operations for the planning/consulting firm Strategic Insight.
By Jon Paris
In both Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I compared various naval counterparts – laying the groundwork for discussing what the U.S. Navy’s Surface Warfare Officer community is getting right, and what areas could use improvement. It is easy to complain. Surface Warfare Officers are notorious for it. I am infamous for it, as my peers and superiors alike will attest. Combine our penchant for complaining and our ingrained inferiority complex and it is no wonder that so many SWOs think that everyone else is “doing it better.” This time, though, it is not typical-SWO wanking: they aredoing it better, and we must pull our heads out of the sand and catch up. Royal Navy Warfare Officers, U.S. Naval Aviators and nuclear trained officers are specialists and are unmatched masters of their trade. They must train endlessly and they feverishly adhere to standards written in blood to remain at the top of their respective callings. They are role-models and could teach us a thing or two about being the best. As for Surface Warfare Officers – weare good, and that is the problem.
It appears that there is nothing wrong here. As a Surface Warfare Officer myself, I can get onboard with most of the above. There is a seedy underbelly to all of this, though. It thrives on a couple of points: that our greatness has not been tested by an opponent in decades, and that the perspective of greatness is naturally skewed from the top down. If not by desire, doctrine, or intent – then surely through practice – the Surface Warfare Officer community accepts mediocracy.Surface Warfare Officers – and the ships we drive, fight, and lead – guarantee the free flow of commerce across the world. We deliver critical readiness to the Geographic Combatant Commanders and we send a powerful message to both overt and would-be enemies. What we do, works. Our ships deploy and our navy projects unparalleled power around the globe. As an inherently expeditionary force, we ply the world’s oceans, go where we please, and influence international events as a matter of course. We conduct prompt and sustained combat operations like no other nation can. Our ships are leaving port and returning safely, they complete the widest variety of operational tasking of any military community, our personnel are advancing, and finally, as one senior community leader put it to me, “We are pretty damn good… I would take our top 50% Department Heads and put them against the top 10% of PWO (RN, Principle Warfare Officers) or Snipes (engineers) and bet on our people.”
Tom Skerritt’s Viper stood in front of a room filled with the elite – “the best of the best,” and told them deadpan: “we’ll make you better.” In this fictional portrayal, which is representative of the real-life attitudes found in the previously featured communities, good enough, wasn’t. Surface Warfare Officers are undoubtedly the best in our business. Unfortunately, context matters, as the same can be said when a Major League club steps into a Little League park. We need to be better. We have ill-defined core-competencies, which leads us to becoming Jacks-of-all-Trades. Our habit of recoiling in horror at the thought of specialization causes us to become plug-and-play officers; ultimately figure-heads and placeholders with little value added to a respective sub-unit. Finally, we do not deliver professionals to the Fleet. One Surface Warfare Officer with multiple commands under his belt conceded, “We should be more deliberate. Success and mastery occur by happenstance.” Another community leader said, “We have good tacticians, but that is mostly by personal choice, and a little bit about your ship’s schedule and how interested your Commanding Officer was in tactics.” This series is not about career advancement. It is about a profession. It is about war. It is about winning! Our nation does not deserve victory by happenstance. It deserves an ocean-roiling, awe-inspiring, burned-into-the-history-books slam of Thor’s hammer upon our enemies. I do not think we are there yet.
Getting there is not simple. It is not as easy as adopting all of the policies and culture of the Royal Navy or Naval Aviators or nukes. Surface Warfare Officers should be the best because we train to be the best, not because we happen to be a part of the American Navy. We should be the best because we retain the best, not simply because our kit is better than everyone else’s. Under some fantastic leaders, the community is getting the right idea. The introduction of the Basic Division Officer Course, the Advanced Division Officer Course, the Surface Navigator’s Course, the Command Qualification Exam, and rigor added to the Department Head Course are all aimed at developing professionals. Weapons Tactics Instructors – previously a rice-bowl of the aviation community – will invigorate tactical awareness and proficiency throughout the Fleet. The SWO Clock concept – another idea poached from Naval Aviators – which gets “beached SWOs” back to the waterfront, shows a tilt towards valuing production in the upwardly-mobile. We are making good efforts to improve our community in an environment that naturally builds anti-bodies to culture change. That said, we are not doing enough; our profession, our competencies, our reputation, and our retention suffer due to this slow trod down the middle-of-the-channel. As is evidenced by both the Naval Aviation and nuclear communities, it really comes down to what a community accepts in, and for, itself. Do we continue to accept mediocracy, or do we stand up and say that “good enough” is not good enough?
One admiral opined, “I think it is good we SWOs have this institutional ‘inferiority complex,’ as it keeps us from getting complacent…like naval aviation did in Vietnam and later years.” I am not nearly the first to question the level of professionalism in our force. In a 2009 Proceedings article, LT Mitch McGuffie discussed his shock at how much more professional Royal Navy Warfare Officers were than SWOs. This topic and topics like it pop up on Sailor Bob – the definitive forum for SWO discussion – all the time. We do have a questioning attitude and that does make us better. While I readily acknowledge that we are the best Surface Warriors on the block, I am not satisfied with a 10:1 or 50:1 advantage. Like Viper and his pals, and real-life naval professionals who recognize that “there are no points for second place,” I am not satisfied with us being the best – I want us to be the best of the best.
To be the best of the best, we must deliver professionals to the Fleet at all levels. To measure one’s professionalism, we must establish community-recognized core competencies. We must define what it means to be a SWO and prove that our pin is worth more than the money we pay for it. For the sake of brevity, I propose that our core competency be ship-driving. Imagine, if you will, a room full of mid-grade Hornet pilots: 20% of them openly admit to each other that they have no clue how to fly Hornets, and another 30% who are less open about their weakness demonstrate their ineptitude in the simulator. The remaining 50% range from barely capable to superstars. While quality spreads are a reality in any group, this scenario is un-imaginable. Naval Aviators with more than 8 years of service that do not know how to fly? Rubbish! This is a reality for Surface Warfare Officers, though. Lieutenants that do not know how to drive ships are commonplace. They exist because they were never trained, nor tested, much less held to a standard, in the first place. They were never trained, tested, or held to a standard because ship-driving – again, if not due to desire, doctrine, or intent, then through practice – is not recognized as a core-competency of the U.S. Navy’s ship drivers. As is demonstrated in the excellent film, Speed and Angels, Naval Aviators consider carrier operations to be a core-competency – if a student pilot cannot land on the boat, then he will not become a Naval Aviator. Why can’t Surface Warfare Officers take the same approach to our profession?
We need a flight school for Surface Warfare Officers. The name is not important at this point – rather, the purpose ought to be the focus: building ship drivers. We must stop accepting mediocracy in this venue! While the Basic Division Officer course is a fantastic concept meant to bolster our young ensigns, it lacks focus and does not zero in on core-competencies. The lessons taught in the Basic Division Officer course are important – being an effective small-unit leader is vital, and I do not propose that we scrap the current construct. Rather, I propose – nay, I implore – that we first recognize ship-driving as a core-competency, and second, require our officers to be competent ship drivers.
SEALs do not accept sub-par. Neither do Naval Aviators, nor nuclear-trained officers, or Marines. While I applaud our most recent Commander, Naval Surface Forces for his outstanding efforts to instill meaningful training, we are still accepting sub-par, and are using the re-creation of half-way schooling as a security blanket. Under our current system, young SWO candidates are flooded onto ships in an effort to make future retention goals – an indictment of our culture’s impact on retention. They then fiercely compete for time on the bridge to gain experience – and hopefully competency – as ship drivers. On most ships, this is not a recipe for success. The Professional Qualification Standard books, which drive progression, are signed with unpredictable integrity, imparting sometimes-dubious knowledge on young minds. To cap it off, Officer of the Deck and Surface Warfare Officer qualifications, granted by Commanding Officers, are determined using two-hundred some different standards. Some candidates sit for gut-wrenching, rigorous tests of their skills and knowledge, and others chat with their Commanding Officers at local watering holes after a command event. The evidence of the disparity in knowledge is on display in Newport, Rhode Island – home of Surface Warfare Officers School – where junior officers return for the Advanced Division Officer Course, and later, the Department Head Course. Some officers were obviously put to the test during their professional development, and others were obviously not.
I propose that we start a Deck Watch Officer School – our flight school - in Newport, which all ensigns will attend, and must pass, prior to reporting to BDOC and ultimately, the Fleet. As with aviators, this school would not be a second thought or a 60% solution, but rather would be a proving ground for our nation’s future ship drivers. The length of this notional school can be figured out later; what is important is that SWO candidates shall qualify;ashore. We must have one standard, one organization responsible for enforcing that standard, and must require those desiring entrance into our community to meet it – otherwise, seek life elsewhere. We should not be ashamed of upholding a standard and of telling some people that they are not cut out for this business. At this school, candidates would receive in-depth, hands-on instruction in seamanship and navigation, basic-through-advanced ship handling, meteorology, bridge resource management, and a variety of other skills required for the competent mariner.
Integral to this process would be the move of the Yard Patrol Craft fleet – the U.S. Navy’s only training ships – from Annapolis to Newport for the exclusive use of the Surface Warfare Officers School. During the pipeline, ensigns would log hours and prove their skills in simulators and on the water. They would complete classwork, learn from case studies, and would be continually tested, remediated, and attrited, as required. If they successfully made it to the end of this program, they would sit for a SWOS-run and community-sanctioned Officer-of-the-Deck board, ensuring that all ensigns are held to the same standard. Earning one’s OOD letter – like the pilots and their wings – would be a culminating event, and those unable to meet the mark would not be sent to the Basic Division Officer Course or the Fleet. If we could implement this plan, we would then send Captains competent, qualified ship drivers, immediately useful to their commands. Like in the Royal Navy, newly reported officers would then complete their platform endorsement, signifying both their grasp of their new ship and the trust their Commanding Officers have in them.
To be the best of the best, we must be good at our jobs. If Surface Warfare Officers are going to continue to be both professional watch standers, and small unit leaders, we must stop accepting the notion that plug-and-play is an effective way of doing business. Imagine a Naval Aviator spending his junior officer tours flying F/A-18’s, his department head tour in a P-8 squadron, and finally, growing up to command an MH-60 squadron. This progression would never happen in the aviation community because they are not plug-and-play pilots. Yet, a Surface Warfare Officer may indeed spend a tour in Weapons Department, followed by Operations Department, followed by Engineering Department, followed by eventual command. The issue as I see it is that the community views this as a positive – exposing officers to a variety of shipboard functions – but in reality, it ensures that we never become truly good at our jobs. We become personnel and administrative gurus, irrespective of our assigned department, perched to jump into a different role at a moment’s notice.
Instead of our current system, I propose that U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officers matriculate into the community with a billet specialty: engineering, operations, or combat systems. Anathema! Rather than wandering from department to department as figure-heads, I want us to have a vested interest, and subject matter expertise, in the Sailors we lead and the systems we are responsible for. An Infantry Officer leads infantry units. Armor Officers lead armor units. F/A-18 pilots fly Hornets. Today, a Surface Warfare Officer can become a Weapons Officer, and in theory, an Engineer Officer, without prior experience in those respective departments. Imagine, though, the benefits of the following: a new officer enters the community as a Surface Warfare Officer-Engineering, graduates the OOD School and BDOC, completes basic engineer training, serves two division officer tours in Engineering Department, completes shore duty, graduates Department Head School, and returns to the Fleet as an Engineer Officer. This officer has received specialized training along the way and has walked the walk and talked the talk at sea prior to stepping foot into what is acknowledged as the most challenging tour of a SWO’s career. They are no longer a figure-head, but rather: they are an engineer. Or a Combat Systems Officer. Or an Operations Officer. Their title means something. They are good at their job. To ensure preparation for command and to keep some semblance of well-roundedness, Surface Warfare Officers of all flavors would continue to earn the qualifications and stand the watches that the community currently holds dear: on the bridge, in the Combat-Information-Center, and in the engineering plant. Finally, the XO/CO fleet-up model would ensure that specialists are appropriately rounded-out before taking command.
I want Surface Warfare Officers to push ourselves “right to the edge of the envelope.” I want us to be proud of our community. I want our Surface Warfare Officer pin to mean something – to the military, to the service, and most important of all, to us. I want us to be professional watch standers and experts in our respective jobs. The Surface Warfare Officer community is known for being the dumping ground of Unrestricted Line Officers who could not hack it, and this happens because we do not establish, much less uphold, standards. No more! We should honor our heritage, establish a role in our force that is both respected and admired, and strictly and unabashedly police ourselves as consummate professionals who accept nothing less than the best of the best.
By Jon Paris
U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officers have a Napoleon complex. The community is often described as inherently self-conscious and hyper-competitive. Though SWO’s often sell themselves short, in reality, they are in the highest demand at all levels of our service and throughout the joint world. Commanders want Surface Warfare Officers because they can be counted on to get any job done – regardless of past experiences or training. The community can be a meat grinder, and those with upward mobility possess well-earned street credibility. How do they get to that point, though? In Part 1 of this series, we compared the training pipeline, billet structure, and shipboard priorities of the Surface Warfare Officer and Royal Navy Warfare Officer communities. Now let us delve into the mysterious world of the Fleet Nugget. This piece will compare the products that the Naval Aviation, nuclear, and conventional Surface Warfare communities deliver to the Fleet on Day One.
Surface Warfare Officers and Naval Aviators – the Jets and theSharks. While there is no more fearsome combat team in the world, the communities are notorious for their sibling rivalry. Though we train fiercely to integrate our forces and work extremely well together to the detriment of the enemy, the professional blueprints of each community are oceans apart.
A Nugget is a first-tour Naval Aviator or flight officer, especially applicable during their first deployment. The origin of the term absolutely belongs to aviators, but it does have cross-over appeal, and its connotation paints a faithful picture of a new officer in his first unit, regardless of designator. The general insinuation of the term is that the officer has little to offer their unit and must be taken under someone’s wing – pun intended. Is an F/A-18 Nugget equal to a SWO Nugget, though? What does each community really provide to their Fleet Squadrons and ships when they deliver a new batch of officers?
Student Naval Aviators in the Advanced Strike pipeline spend approximately two years learning everything from aerodynamics and physiology to air combat maneuvering and carrier qualification. During the training pipeline, they spend nearly 250 hours in the air testing their skills on three different airframes and refine those skills over the course of 75 simulator hours. Earning one’s Wings of Gold does not spell the end of training. The new Naval Aviator’s final stop before hitting the Fleet is the Fleet Replacement Squadron, where they perfect their art in their assigned airframe, spending another 175 hours in the air and in the simulator. When a Naval Aviator executes his orders to his first fleet squadron, he has spent at least 500 hours in hands-on training scenarios.
What is expected of a new Naval Aviator? What do wings mean on Day 1? Wings only come after an officer has demonstrated that they are able to meet a well-defined standard. When seasoned pilots accept a Nugget into their ready room, they see a pilot who can safely operate their aircraft, manage their respective mission and flight administration, and serve as a competent and safe wingman.
Aviators are well-trained before reporting to the Fleet and we have established the practical meaning of wings. What is the true nature of the product, though? On Day 1, the Naval Aviator Nugget will already have demonstrated proficiency at landing aboard a carrier during day and night operations. During his initial weeks in the squadron, he could be entrusted to conduct mid-air refueling, air-to-ground strike, strafing, and close-air-support missions, carrier qualifications, or high-value air-asset escort duties. With these baseline skills, the new aviators are immediately useful to their squadrons and are able to jump into the rigorous Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor-lead curriculum.
Like aviators, Nuclear Surface Warfare Officers also use the train-to-qualify method. After they complete a conventional division officer tour, they spend 6 months at Nuclear Power School where they master advanced mathematics, chemistry, physics, and nuclear theory. This school is widely acknowledged as the most demanding academic program in the U.S. military. They continue their pipeline with an intensive 6 months of hands-on watch-standing training and examinations at one of two Nuclear Power Training Units, or Prototype. Their community’s methods are known internally as the “Gold Standard.” This standard is rigid, unquestioned, and unabashedly enforced. When an officer graduates Prototype, they report to their aircraft carrier as a proven, and more importantly, qualified watch-stander. Shortly after reporting, a SWO Nuke Nugget earns their platform endorsement and re-qualifies on their ship as a Plant Watch Officer, immediately contributing to their department’s watch organization while also leading their respective division.
Newly commissioned Surface Warfare Officer candidates notionally attend an 8-week course known as the Basic Division Officer Course, or BDOC, prior to reporting to their respective ships. Keeping with the community’s focus on generalists, BDOC covers a wide-range of topics, including: basic damage control, Navy pistol qualification, basic SWO engineering, Maintenance University, maritime warfare, division officer leadership and fundamentals, basic navigation, seamanship, and ship-handling. Students take numerous exams and are held to the community standard of a 90% passing grade on their Navigation Rules (Rules of the Road) exam. It is a demanding school and was established to rectify the absence of any such schooling that existed for nearly a decade. During their time at BDOC, the ensigns spend 24 cumulative hours in the ship-handling simulators where they get a taste for everything from pier work to harbor transits and man-overboard recoveries.
After graduating BDOC, our SWO Nuggets report to their ships and take over their first divisions. Unlike their aviator brethren, they do not wear a warfare pin when they report to the Fleet, nor do they possess any watch-standing qualifications. What then is the product that we are delivering to our ships? Our new ensigns – our Nuggets – are confident leaders and are capable of taking over the responsibility for people and gear from the get-go. They board their ships with a basic familiarization with shipboard systems, service policies, and standard commands (used to drive a ship). SWO Nuggets are not qualified to stand watch on their own, much less to lead an entire watch team, but they are prepared to step onto the bridge and take over as a Conning Officer – learning the finer details of ship handling from their fellow junior officers, enlisted specialists, and the ship’s leadership. Though they are not flying a Hornet solo over Afghanistan, they are standing tall in front of their divisions, as well as on the bridge, issuing commands to the helm and engines of their billion-dollar warships, increasing their competency and savvy exponentially during every watch.
There is no doubt that the aviation and surface warfare communities have different demands, different priorities, and nearly polar-opposite cultures. An aviator must know what he is doing when he enters the Fleet, lest he crash his aircraft on the flight deck or drop his bomb on the wrong people. The Death-and-Destruction Factor is certainly relevant and is often used as an excuse for why Surface Warfare Officers do not have a similar training mindset. In other words, the argument is that young SWO’s can afford to be inexperienced because their mistakes are far less likely to cause catastrophe and because they operate with a safety-net of sorts made up of other watch standers. While I recognize the inherent danger of Naval Aviation, I disagree with this argument as a way to justify short-changing Surface Warfare Officer training. The culture and doctrine of the aviation community would not tolerate – much less conceive of – squadron skippers in the Fleet being burdened with building an aviator from scratch, yet our service puts that same burden on our ships’ captains, taking away from their crew’s overall combat-effectiveness. We are doing the world’s most fearsome warships an injustice. Surface Warfare Nuggets should report to the Fleet with know-how and qualifications, ready to drive and fight at the pointy-end from the moment they cross the brow.
After comparing the lives, methods, and priorities of Royal Navy Warfare Officers, Naval Aviators, and Surface Warfare Officers, I want to take the opportunity in the final piece of this series to analyze where the SWO community is getting it right, and where we could improve, as well as put forth two proposals that would fundamentally alter how the community trains and operates. In an era where fiscal uncertainty, regional conflict, and increasing operational tempos reign supreme, we must put our very best on the front lines – our country and our crews deserve it, and our enemies must fear it.
In a time of budgetary pressure, a shrinking fleet, and an ongoing discussion of their relevance, how are we keeping out legacy Aircraft Carrier’s in shape for the regular demands for extended deployments while at the same time bringing the new FORD Class CVN online?
What are some of the lessons we have learned in our decades of operating nuclear powered aircraft carriers that we are bring forward to serve the Fleet in the coming decades so we always have an answer to the question, “Where are the aircraft carriers?”
To discuss this and more, our guest for the full hour will be Rear Admiral Thomas J. Moore, USN, Program Executive Officer for Aircraft Carriers and is responsible for life cycle management for In-Service Carriers as well as the design and construction of the Future Class Carriers.
A second generation naval officer, Rear Adm. Moore graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1981 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Math/Operations Analysis. He also holds a degree in Information Systems Management from George Washington University and a Master of Science and an Engineer’s degree in Nuclear Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
- On Midrats 23 November 14: “Episode 255: Commanding the Seas -the Surface Force with Bryan Clark from CSBA”
- A Magical Metrical Mystery Tour of Ineffective U.S. Drug Policy
- On Midrats 16 November 14, “Episode 254: John A. Nagl: 13 Years into the War”
- Gabe’s Gambit: Celebrating the Marine Corps Birthday and Reflecting on Talent Management
- On Midrats 9 November 14 Episode 253: “The Fleet we Have, Want, and Need” – with Jerry Hendrix