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. 

Posted by LT Rob McFall in Marine Corps, Maritime Security, Naval Institute, Navy, Tactics

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  • J. Wells Hamilton

    The Marine Corps unity is so strong because we have a single core tactical doctrine–“maneuver warfare”, as described in MCDP-1 “Warfighting.” Also, Marines typically expect a few things: expeditionary circumstances, and integration of ground and air forces. Finally, we have a common purpose, reemphasized daily: to protect and serve the infantry rifleman.

    With a Naval fleet so diverse strategic uses and missions, can there be any common tactical thread? Also, what’s the need for SWOs to intuitively know what a tactical pilot is planning, and vice versa?

  • Col Phil Ridderhof USMC

    J. Wells Hamilton Says:
    “With a Naval fleet so diverse strategic uses and missions, can there be any common tactical thread? Also, what’s the need for SWOs to intuitively know what a tactical pilot is planning, and vice versa?”

    I agree that the Navy is diverse, but I also think it’s not acceptable to just throw up hands and declare that the problem is too complex. All the Navy elements (and USMC landing forces)come together really only at the Fleet, or JFMCC level. In order to have the Naval discussion that I believe LT McFall wants, there must be some attempt to produce a coherent doctrine for fleet operations (or to steal Hughes’ title, fleet tactics). The current fleet level doctrine, NWP 3-32 “Maritime Operations at the Operational Level of War” is really good on describing how a JFMCC or Fleet can integrate into the joint force and provide very broad direction to subordinates. However, it gives no idea how to marry up Carrier Groups with amphibious groups, or with theater-ASW, or with Navy Expeditionary forces. The next “combined arms” doctrine below NWP 3-32 is Composite Warfare Commander Doctrine (NWP 3-56), which drops all the way down to operations within Strike Groups, or relationships between Strike Groups using CWC.

    We need fleet-level doctrine; it doesn’t need to be prescriptive or constraining. It can provide a focus around which Navy leaders of all communities can engage in vibrant debate and experimentation on tactics.

  • Hi LT McFall,

    You said:

    “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.”

    You are spot-on, but how many O-clubs remain? One of the best ways to exchange information is over a drink or a meal. One reason a properly instituted Wardroom has been such a success—and Goat Lockers. Properly instituted, intellectual exchange is expected/encouraged. My first CO held “mental gymnastics” three times a week while underway—usually after the noon meal.

    Good post!

  • Ken Adams

    “Also, what’s the need for SWOs to intuitively know what a tactical pilot is planning, and vice versa?”

    Take an engagement in the anti-surface warfare mission as an example that illustrates this need. We have surface, air, and submarine assets that each could have the opportunity to engage a particular target. Should these opportunities present themselves near-simultaneously, then the TAO on the ship, the pilot in the Hornet, and the skipper of the sub each need to know when and how the others will engage that target. They don’t need laborious coordination during the attack, if they have an understanding up front. Without that understanding and without the expensive ability to coordinate those three platforms in real time, we have a greater risk of wasting multiple weapons on a target where one would do.

  • hokie_1997

    I’ve often wondered why the Navy doesn’t attempt to mimic the USMC concept of The Basic School – which every officer attends immediately after commissioning.

    It wouldn’t have to be as physically strenuous or even as long, but it could provide a common ‘experience’ for all newly commissioned ensigns. And lessons could be structured to ensure basic understanding of Navy doctrine & operations across the various communities (SWOs, aviation, subs, etc.)

  • Dave Schwind


    I truly enjoy reading your posts. Here are a couple of my thoughts:

    First, in your previous post, you say: “As a Junior Officer, we should be reading, writing, and studying to perfect our knowledge of the tactical employment of whatever platform we are on. That is what the JO discussion should focus on and we as a community are not fostering that discussion.” In this current post, you say: “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…” I agree on the premise of both statements. However, the former has to exist before the first glimpse of the latter can be seen on the horizon.

    The problem, as I see it, is this: tactical skills aren’t getting taught, and the discussions aren’t happening, as I mentioned in my comments to your previous blog post. Of course, I am writing this from the position of having been a SWO for many years, and I am aware pilots (and I would assume submariners) spend much more time devoted to specific tactical training. I don’t want to seem SWO-centric here, but I will opine the surface warfare community may have a greater need for tactics on a routine basis than their fellow unrestricted line brethren. It’s the SWO who can shoot down aircraft, sink surface ships, track submarines, conduct anti-drug and anti-piracy operations, do VBSS–I can keep going down the list–and nearly every deployment overseas for a SWO means using at least some of these skills. Unless a ship’s commanding officer takes direct responsibility for training his or her wardroom in tactics, the training is sadly lacking in this most vital area (and no, I don’t consider the “whack a mole” style of training conducted during the training cycle as real tactical training by any stretch).

    In order to get the broader, cross-designator discussions happening, SWOs need to be proficient first. Until the culture changes that embraces a real warfighting ethos (going around shouting “Go Navy” and reciting the Sailors Creed isn’t what being a warfighter is all about, sorry to say), an emphasis is put on tactical know-how and prowess, and (most importantly) commanding officers are held accountable for the tactical ability of their warship (note I said “warship” vice “command”), no one can get to the next, broader, step in training.

    Second, once these discussions happen, the next hurdle is getting people familiarized with the warfighting tools of the other designators. It’s one thing to sit in a classroom and hear a pilot talk about ASW tactics, but it’s another thing entirely to actually see them in action. This is one area where many USNA and ROTC officers have a leg up on their OCS graduate contemporaries and enlisted tactical watchstanders: in the latter two groups, many have never even seen a submarine up close, or visited a squadron and sat in a ready room, much unlike the former two groups who may well have spent the better part of a summer with similar units during their summer cruise. (I can say I was an O-4 before I ever set foot on a submarine, and that was only because I was working for a Marine O-9 who wanted to see one!) Some sort of cross-pollination needs to take place–perhaps regular TAD assignments to other Navy commands outside of one’s own designator during exercises, part of a deployment, or while the parent command is on standdown or in the yards? I can envision a plethora of ways to make it work; it just needs to become a priority and be given the due diligence needed.

    Rob, thank you for your posts and keep pushing the issue! The Navy needs more officers who believe the same way you do.

  • The author is describing doctrine (as opposed to tactics) – a set of planned responses to an anticipated scenario. For example, how do surface ships deal with a swarm of small craft? Each ship Captain should know how every other ship will behave.

    As an outsider, I don’t know what doctrine exists within Navy circles that is not discussed publicly, if any. Conversations with active duty Servicemembers suggest that they have not been exposed to much in the way of doctrinal training.

    Again, from an outsider’s perspective, the Navy seems much more focused on procurement than training, maintenance, doctrine, and tactics. One can’t help but worry that the Navy’s priorities are out of whack.

  • To build off what ComNavOps is saying, doctrine first, then tactics.

    One could note that the reason the US Army struggled in Iraq wasn’t a tactical problem, rather the absence of doctrine maintained following Vietnam to inform what tactics were more effective and important under conditions where the population became the center of the conflict.

    The Navy today would not appear to have tactical deficiency, rather a deficiency in doctrine that organizes tactical level anticipation and cohesion. I would also suggest tactical evolution is challenging in a networked force without that doctoral foundation by which to evolve from.

    As an outsider I admit I may be off base with this comment.

  • Dave Schwind

    In response to ComNavOps and Gahlran’s posts: Things may have changed dramatically since I packed my bags and headed off into the civilian world last June (13 years of Navy fun was enough) but based on my last two tours, first 3 years as a DDG department head, followed by a flag staff, doctrine is out there, but it’s neither genuinely adhered to nor embraced. More importantly, no one is held accountable for conducting their warfighting skill in the manner specified. “Do what you can do to pass the training cycle” is the sentiment most often heard, yet the assessors are not experts in doctrine nor tactics. Their world is one of checksheets and metrics, and they judge on how well a unit can “play the game” in an artificial scenario vice determining the depth of technical knowledge, clear understanding of ROE, and tactical proficiency of the watchstanders presented by the unit. The surface warfare community has further exacerbated this problem by standing down SWDG (unless they decided not to at the last minute, but that was pending when I left). Perhaps SWDG’s duties have been assumed by NWDC–I am not familiar with what the goings on have been in the last year.

    There are three knowledge bases that come to play in fighting a warship in an ideal world: technical, legal, and tactical/doctrinal.

    First, tactical watchstanders (enlisted and officer) would have a fluent understanding of not only the capabilities of their unit, but the capabilities and limitations of those units (both allied and enemy) they encounter–as well as the armaments carried by the same. That is the “technical” knowledge base.

    Second, watchstanders and the chain of command (this includes the commanding officer and XO) need to be absolutely clear on their knowledge and understanding of Rules of Engagement (ROE). ROE always tends to get the “short shrift” as it’s rarely enforced and even less likely to be trained upon. I’ve been in plenty of exercises where the group JAG (advising the admiral) makes the call on ROE and everyone else blindly follows. That works great until the ships without a JAG present are on patrol, alone and unafraid, and the commanding officer has to make a call based on ROE that he or she–let alone their tactical watchstanders–aren’t fully aware of or well versed in. In my opinion, ROE is just as important as technical and tactical knowledge.

    Third, but by no means last, is the tactical/doctrinal knowledge base. This is what provides the transition of technical and ROE knowledge into fighting action.

    It is impossible to be a competent warfighter without being knowledgeable in all three areas. Without ROE, a watchstander could destroy the enemy by striking their enemy’s weakness with tactical aplomb–but if done at the wrong time, it becomes an international disaster. Without knowing capabilities and limitations, a watchstander may strike the wrong point of the enemy, even though legally authorized by ROE, and still lose the battle. Finally, without knowing how to work with other units and know how to attack the enemy, the same watchstander will fail.

    I’ll beat the drum again: Culturally, there’s no priority on knowing these bases of knowledge and this will not change until commanding officers are held accountable for making it happen. Unfortunately, I fear this priority won’t change until we take the first hit and our gaps in knowledge are plainly evidenced for the world to see.

    I am extremely grateful for LT McFall and the USNI for fostering this timely and vital discussion.

  • wayne hughes

    When I was commissioned in 1952 into a destroyer we practiced fleet tactics, governed by doctrine (ATP-1), every time we went to sea. It caused us to fight in a united way with adequate room for initiative. The tactics were the residue of World War II and so was the doctrine for a HUK group or air defense operations. Then I went to the mine force and as CO saw how NEW tactics were being developed with new technology after the minesweeper failures at Wonson. For a short time the mine force was on center stage and the Navy cared.

    I saw combat doctrine for fighting at sea adapt as we had new responsibilities against the Soviet Union. Meanwhile interest, doctrine, and competence for fighting at sea slowly eroded because, first, of the focus on the Vietnam War and, second, after the fall of the Soviet Union, emphasis on projection of power (air & missile attacks, and forces on land in many unopposed landings) from essentially a safe sanctuary at sea.

    I think LT McFall is right in asking the surface navy (and the rest of the Navy) to get ready with 21st Century tactics and fleet doctrine to fight at sea. We are now the missile age of naval warfare and increasingly will be a robotics age accompanied by the exploitation of friendly and enemy cyber war capabilities.

    Whether or not destroyer wardrooms are equipped to develop the tactics, there are plenty of reasons to organize some sessions to discuss what you need to know.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Good topic, valid concern.

    “Doctrine” is not a notion native to the subculture, err, naval services, at least in the sense Galrahn understands it. It’s pretty much, err, doctrinal to how the Army thinks (when it does). Navy folk do it mostly differently, it’s all about upbringing. Sorta.

    Doctrine is (or was, in my day) something reduced to writing that refers to how fight a main space fire, or other procedural matter, which takes general, tested principles and applies them to the nuts, bolts, and sequence of required actions for a particular ship or system. Which is kind of through the wormhole in the other direction from what Galrahn so ably describes, which is the Army doctrine on Doctrine. It’s what gets into the joint staff college curriculum, because any Army Officer has been raised to view the whole structure as absolutely fundamental.

    It’s more of a subcultural imperative. Similarly, the Air Force regards anything not specifically authorized as forbidden, as an example.
    The Marines are closer to theological about all Marines supporting the rifleman, which is where the whole doctrine idea comes from (theology, not Marines).

    Not that I’m dogmatic about the above.

    In peacetime, penny-ante priorities usurp time and warp judgement. Tactical training and proficiency suffer, mostly from lack of time on task. Across the whole spectrum of tactical proficiency, from individual qualifications to team training to ship/unit exercises to larger formation simulations or large scale stuff (war games, fleetex’s).
    Time/money/fuel/range operations are going to be a lot scarcer real soon now. Then there is ugly fact that there is a war on. Still. Which is not going all that well, in spots.

    Answers? Sorry. Fresh out. Particularly when we do little if any out of type interaction while assigned to the ship/RON/battalion, much less interservice stuff. Although blogs help (Lex was a real loss).

    One small suggestion. Work on getting the NWP’s/NWIP’s locked in the safe read more often than they are inventoried. Per book per officer assigned.

    But I’m old and out of the loop, so I easily could have it all wrong.

  • Pags

    Maybe it’s just the JPME talking, but when we start talking fleet level, I think it would be more accurate to call that the operational level of war vice tactical. A fleet could have multiple units each doing a distinctly different tactical mission that contributes to the overall operational goal. For instance, one DDG could be conducting ASuW while another conducts ASW or MIO. Meanwhile, a CG could be conducting AW for a CVN conducting Strikes. At the same time, an MCMRON could be conducting MCM operations. At the intermediate levels staffs would be involved in ensuring that assigned tasking for each group was being met and the appropriate tactics were being utilized. At the far end of the spectrum, JOs would be involved in carrying out their individual piece of the mission.

    These conversations are happening, just not always at the operational units. NWPs and NTTPs have update cycles with conferences. These pubs model managers should be continually updating tactics based off of after action reports from exercises and real world experiences, intel, and changing capabilities. I know from the Aviation side of the house that the tactical discussion is alive and well in the Weapon Schools, NSAWC, and Test Squadrons. For other platforms there’s NMAWC and other warfare commands. These efforts are supported by analysts working for AIREM, MIREM, and SHAREM that provide the dedicated analyst support that modern tactics need.

    Are JOs not utilizing their enlisted leadership properly to handle the day to day of the shop to allow the JOs to focus on developing their warfighting skills? JOs who spend their time doing the chief’s job aren’t doing their job.

  • Dave Schwind

    Grandpa Blue and Pags:

    Things might have had a dramatic change in the last year (actually 11 months) since I left the Navy, but I doubt it. Based on the experience I had, you are both right in your thoughts.

    Grandpa Blue, your comment is right on target: “In peacetime, penny-ante priorities usurp time and warp judgement. Tactical training and proficiency suffer, mostly from lack of time on task. Across the whole spectrum of tactical proficiency, from individual qualifications to team training to ship/unit exercises to larger formation simulations or large scale stuff (war games, fleetex’s).” This gets back to the drum I’ve been pounding about priorities. Until tactics become a priority, the “little” stuff will overtake it in priority. I don’t want to seem like I’m not stressing the importance of the day-to-day activities on a warship, but there is a warped sense of priority in the culture of the waterfront. Depending on the commanding officer’s perspective, everything from painting the ship to fixing “stuff” to liberty all overtakes the study of how to competently fight the ship. I was looked at like I had three heads when I suggested setting hard-and-fast working hours and scheduling drills and no-joke training on the ship while it was in port. “And take away people’s chance for liberty?!?!?” I was asked on several occasions. Yup, absolutely. Same thing with command PT, when it was mandated to have it “within working hours”. Apparently that’s more important than fighting the ship too, especially with the newfangled PT uniforms. My suggestion to either 1) have command PT prior to the start of working hours or 2) let people work out on their own (I get up at 4AM to work out, and I can do it just fine on my own) were both met with intensive gnashing of teeth. Yes, PT and liberty overtook learning how to fight the ship. But, those were the commanding officer’s priorities…and warfighting wasn’t. Is that the right way to command a warship? I dunno…he did just fine and is off to major command, so apparently the SWO community thinks it is.


    You brought back memories of my time at the Naval War College and the operational art course of instruction from Milan Vego. You are spot on with your thought about that as the proper terminology for fighting at the fleet level. You mention the aviation community–they have always done a fantastic job of tactical development, and from what I’ve heard (I have no experience in this area though) the submariners do as well. Both communities have dedicated tactical training and development units. The development unit for the SWO community went the way of budget cuts and SWONet.

    I want to make a comment about your last line/question: “Are JOs not utilizing their enlisted leadership properly to handle the day to day of the shop to allow the JOs to focus on developing their warfighting skills? JOs who spend their time doing the chief’s job aren’t doing their job.” The answer, at least from my limited experience of being a JO for seven years of sea duty: Yes. I know that’s not shocking, but it’s entirely cultural. I routinely lost leave days (53 days one year) because I was routinely told: “you’re too valuable to go on leave”. Not that it takes leave to go to an event to discuss tactics by any means. However, culturally, most “leadership” gets uncomfortable when they can’t pick up the phone or radio to have the you-name-it junior officer do tasking at a moment’s notice. Blame the rate of information transfer (e.g. CO gets an e-mail from the commodore with a task that needs to get done and now it needs to get done YESTERDAY! SWO spin-up time!) or blame the fact that many of the people in senior shipboard billets are Gen-X and Gen-Y and are used to not waiting for results (after all, we’ve become a society of instant-everything) but the straight fact is that it is tough for the JOs in some commands to break away from the bone-sucking routine of unimportant stuff to actually apply their brains to learning about things that could make them a better warfighter. Sad, but true. I know it’s not like that at every command, and past/present/former commanding officers reading this might be in complete disagreement, but it happens more often than not. Most often, it is completely unintentional…unless the junior officers are actually ORDERED to go, they won’t, as the established culture dictates otherwise. Is there a problem trusting the Chiefs to run the show while the JOs are gone? No, I know plenty of competent Chiefs who get more work done without their JOs present…but once again, I pound the established culture drum…if tactical training isn’t a PRIORITY for the commanding officer, it won’t be a priority for anyone else on the ship either.

  • LT Dan McIlvaine

    Grandpa Blue,

    Excellent point; I don’t believe you could be more right in identifying the missing piece as lack of discussion on doctrine rather than discussion of tactics. As a restricted line officer, I’m bringing a slightly different perspective to the discussion. The contrast between discussion of doctrine at my current assignment at a COCOM (excuse me, CCMD) HQ and my previous assignment as ship’s company couldn’t be more severe. As an RL, I am getting the joint experience earlier and will probably have it more often than my URL counterparts coming through to get their ticket punched at the senior O-4 level.

    As you said, with the Army and Air Force, doctrine is basically canon. Want to write a new task into an OPORD? Can’t do it, it’s not doctrinal. Want to change the structure of the JTF J2? Can’t do it, it’s not doctrinal. Although it results in sometimes comical inflexibility, the advantage our sister services gain is that they are always coming from a recognized starting point when assigned a new task. This couldn’t be more different than the “get a bunch of guys around a table” planning process I saw with the ship’s company and embarked staff, in which every new problem was precisely that: a brand new problem.

    I think the type of shared understanding that stems from a well thought out, broadly followed, flexibly enforced operational doctrine is what meets the need LT McFall is identifying. The TAO onboard the ship doesn’t need to know how the helo pilot maneuvers his aircraft or how many flares he deploys to evade a missile; he needs to know broadly how the helicopter weapon system is generally employed in a tactical situation to accomplish the mission.

    Finally, Dave Schwind makes an excellent point about the contrast in professional development for USNA/ROTC officers and OCS and enlisted personnel. I believe the USNA and ROTC professional development programs largely fill the requirement for broad exposure to multiple communities, although certainly not in the standardized way that TBS does for the Marines. USNA summer programs are the reason I had been on DDGs, submarines, and SH-60s prior to ever putting on ensign bars, and I believe I benefited from that exposure. That said, the system as it stands is probably not expandable to include OCS candidates due to limited capacity and the OCS timeline. However, some sort of standardized universal entrance training would probably work wonders for building a shared awareness and sense of purpose (and not just within the URL lifelines either!).

  • Tom

    We already have a good place to have this conversation, and it comes complete with a good bar. Expand the SWO presence at NSAWC to address Fleet integration, particularly for fighting in the littorals, C2, and sensor usage. Send LTs from each hull type, one O-4, one O-5 for top cover. TOP SHOE may take place far from the water and have some challenges, but it’s workable.

  • Pags

    The battle of what to prioritize is nothing new. I’m sure John Paul Jones’ or Nelson’s gunner clamored for more time to practice the gun crews, his carpenter wanted more time to repair the hull, and all his officers were bedeviled by desertions of trained crewmen in every port only to have them replaced by yet another batch of lubberly volunteers or impressed crewmen.

    Sims may have developed gunnery techniques that were the envy of every other navy, but all of those tactics would have been for naught if the engineers and their steam plants weren’t given their due.

    And I’m sure that Naval Officers of all generations have found that crews that are happy: well rested and with adequate leave, recognition, and professional advancement, tend to perform better than crews that are worked to the bone.

  • This blog-string has been good to read. It touches on a nice range of important topics impacting JO’s and mid-grade officers.

    I’m currently serving in AFGH with a USMC unit. I just passed my FMFQO board last week (*whew, glad that’s done*). I’ve served around Army units too. I am very interested in the strengths and weaknesses of our Navy culture and how we carry out our part of the National Security Strategy. Thanks to our historical maritime traditions, we have been fantastic at allowing a considerable freedom of action for our leaders – despite our quite large size. One need look no farther than the headlines bemoaning the firings of dozens of our skippers to know that something has gone very wrong – and you can’t blame it all on Facebook.

    The upcoming, inevitable budget slashing has been eluded to, and it will make any discussions such as the ones here seem like rah-rah “esprit d’ corps” or “command climate enhancing” talk. In the coming lean years you can count on hearing things like, “How can we pay attention to niceties like doctrine and officer development when we can’t even afford to take our ships out of port”. However, we must not allow our Navy to lose its bearings.

    As I mentioned, I’ve been out here with the USMC. Their officer corps, to its credit, is fed a steady diet of top-level doctrinal knowledge. They have a true “baseline” from which to operate. They all know intimately how they fit into the MAGTF – and their bosses know that they know. Because officer leadership education is so standardized CO’s brook no BS in the execution of assigned duties. No quarter is asked, and none is given. I fully realize that they are a smaller force, so – yes its easier for them to herd their cats and keep them heading in one general direction; much easier than it ever could be for an organization the size of the USN. Regardless of the challenges, the Navy’s leadership cadre must become more robust, or the health of our nation’s premier sea-service will continue to decay.

    The answer to our problems has been alluded to above – we need a revamping of our officer education programs. Leaders of any organization need initial strong indoctrination to the culture AND periodic grey-matter resets. So, what the hell do I mean by that?

    It should start with a common accession program. Naval history, customs, and traditions – along with a cover-to-cover review of NDP-1 and overview of Naval Air, Surface, and Submarine mission sets. Many courses should be dynamic, be held on actual vessels and at airfields. Testing should be by both written evaluations and in oral boards, not unlike the PQS system. This is a big task and a significant investment – but it sets the new Naval Officer on a footing that parallels the indoctrination at the US Naval Academy. I am not of the opinion that every Naval Officer must understand the deck-seaman’s job inside-and-out, but there must be a baseline of knowledge from which we can all operate and understand the platforms and missions of our naval units.

    Next for intermediate and advanced education:
    Naval War College is seen as a blessing by many of its attendees (including me) – and is very often referred to as such…”A year to catch up on non-mandatory professional reading and a chance to contemplate where your Navy is going and how you fit into that picture (& etc.).” Sorry to say, but that is a crappy way to run an organization. Allowing 20% or so of your officers to leave their daily grind (jumping through burning hoops into vats of excrement for 10 hours a day) – to allow them to actually THINK for only one miniscule year of their career is beyond short-sighted for an organization with such a critical and complex a mission as the United States Navy. This mental exercise session should happen at least every 5 years. The break doesn’t have to be a year long; but it just needs to be protected from becoming a “training program” filled with sexual assault awareness powerpoints and information assurance awareness NKO courses.

    Many of the topics mentioned in this blog-string are symptoms of the larger problem. There can be no quick fix – but if we repair our officer development continuum we will grow our way out of it in time.

    Lastly – on the issue that Dave S. above alludes to above – CO’s taking care of extra liberty and placing other command morale building activities above being 100% mission capable. That is simply a poor leadership choice in my opinion. It may be a pragmatic one if the CO in question was handed a crew that had been abused by a prior skipper, hard to know without first-hand knowledge of the command. Awards & recognition of hard work are important, no doubt; but I think there is no better morale builder than having a drill or inspection go off without a hitch – accompanied by a 96 from the old man by way of thanks for a job well done. This issue of putting the mission first, and leading from the front is just one more thing that gets lost when our leadership corps (our Naval Officers) get a hodge-podge of mentoring and 2 week re-hashed PowerPoint training courses (or none at all of either in many cases). Let’s face it, the days when the XO would take a bunch of the LCDR’s to the O-Club and do some no-kidding straight-talk mentoring are over. That’s too bad, but there it is – we have to find some way to keep the Navy fire burning in our officers. So, once again – it boils down to fixing the officer development program from the ground up.

    If we are to talk the same “tactical language”; start by teaching what it means to “speak Navy” from day one. Follow it up with periodic “sabbaticals” where Naval Officers can assess their (and the Navy’s) progress.

    The coming “right-sizing” (Ugh.) of our Navy offers us a time to reset a great many of our programs and priorities. No doubt there will be a call to “do more with less”, which will require that we attract and keep a higher quality of leader. Now is a perfect time for us to attend to the way we mold our next generation of Naval Officers.

  • Rob McFall

    This past September, over three years after posting this, I attended a Weapons and Tactics Conference (WEPTAC) hosted by AFCENT in Al Udeid, Qatar. WEPTAC is a process that the Air Force uses integrate and update tactics that is unlike any that I have seen in the Navy. These conferences bring the best and brightest from each community and hash out tactical improvements. At the end of a week, the working groups brief a three star General who is able to make decisions on the spot on whether to accept or reject the changes. The next WEPTAC is being held at Nellis AFB, starting next week. The Air Force has an effective process to host the tactical cross pollination that we so desperately need, all we have to do is copy it.