“Gentlemen, we have run out of money. Now we have to think.”
– Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister

While the details of the budget cuts are still being debated, one thing is clear: the Department of Defense will face significant fiscal austerity. Accordingly, the Navy will face drastic cuts that mandate a reexamination of the way we do business.

Viewed another way, however, we are being presented with the opportunity to rethink the standard business rules governing the way we train, fight and prepare for future challenges – we should examine the best, most innovative ways to accomplish our strategic objectives. Given the tough budget and strategic challenges we are facing, “business as usual” just won’t work any more.

The surface fleet will be particularly hard hit. Surface ships will almost certainly see underway time for training and readiness cut. Deployments to engage in regions such as Central and South America are being curtailed. These decisions risk sending the message to our allies that we are no longer forward and present in the Central and South American region where we have provided a maritime presence for well over a century.

Yet the reduction in underway time and the elimination of planned deployments to SOUTHCOM may not necessarily spell doom for both training opportunities and engagements with our friends to the South. Although many view these two efforts as mutually exclusive, perhaps we can do both at once.

Typically, training days occur in operational areas (OPAREAS) off the coast of fleet concentration areas such as San Diego or Norfolk, with ships performing drills while driving mindless “circles in the ocean” and maintaining station in the OPAREA. After a few days or perhaps a week, the ships return to homeport. In the basic phase of the training cycle, the ship will operate alone, or perhaps rendezvous with an oiler to receive fuel and supplies. There is little interaction with other vessels; whales are often a greater concern than merchant traffic.

I would argue we could achieve more “return on investment” by combining training with actual operations. Drills could be run while in transit, or even in conjunction with allies. A US naval vessel conducting engineering drills off the coast of Guatemala provides a visible presence, interaction with local fishing and merchant vessels, and a reminder to potential drug smugglers that the US Navy is still watching – without actually engaging in complex counter-drug ops. Man overboard drills can be conducted just as easily off the coast of Costa Rica as in the San Diego OPAREA.

Heading south for training would require additional logistical considerations, such as stores, fuel, and advance coordination with allied nations if a ship desires to have joint drills, yet these obstacles are not insurmountable, given the resources are slated for training regardless of where the training actually occurs. Spending a couple of days transiting from San Diego to the waters of Central America would require careful management of fuel, but this would sharpen fuel conservation skills. Longer training periods could call on oiler support, possibly from those oilers that would no longer have to service the SOCAL OPAREA.

This approach of combining training with low-risk operational missions would provide more realistic training than sitting in an OPAREA that merchant and fishing vessels know to avoid, leaving the area largely devoid of contacts and providing artificiality to casualty response. As most mariners have experienced, Murphy’s Law suggests that casualties will occur at the worst possible time – perhaps when surrounded by a squid-fishing fleet or tankers transiting to the busy ports of Asia.

While it is necessary to ‘crawl’ before we run, there is no reason we can’t accomplish training in a low risk environment instead of a no risk environment. Crews would gain valuable experience in conducting emergency response operations in foreign waters, requiring them to deal with challenges such as merchant traffic, fishing fleets, language barriers, and unfamiliar territory – critical skills for deployment. “Train like you fight” should not just be a slogan, especially when we can achieve multiple strategic objectives at once by taking on just a bit more risk.

With the Navy looking to reduce deployments to Central and South America in favor of our rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, this operational training approach provides something for nothing. By combining training with operations we can assure our allies while better preparing for the challenges of deployment. Sure, we are assuming a bit more risk by conducting training a bit farther from home. But just as surely, drilling circles in the ocean off San Diego for a week before returning to homeport is a luxury we can no longer afford.

Posted by LCDR Rachael Gosnell in Navy
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    There are lots of reasons for this to be a good way to do business in the future, including: more time for maintenance, more time to get crew members trained at a variety of schools, and savings on steaming days.

    For the carriers and air wings, I can’t think of a better way to get some training during transit to 5th Fleet than to kill a bunch of pirates on the way. Some good work for the SEALs to mine pirate boats and harbors, maybe some targeted killings in port, etc. Carriers and air wings can use pirates as free moving target practice and gain some much needed proficiency prior to entering the AOR.

    One nice thing about pirates especially is that there’s an affirmative obligation for every nation to act to stop piracy, and the pirates aren’t covered under the Geneva Conventions, so they can be used for target practice as free training aids with no problem. Same for terrorists and drug runners. They’re just free uncooperative targets,

    Using pirates, drug runners, and terrorists for target practice is a fairly low risk and very inexpensive way to both train for harder targets and do some good on the international stage.

  • Phil Candreva

    Two of last four posts in this blog used the phrase “fiscal austerity”. I would like to see someone justify that term citing to actual numbers in the Navy and Defense budgets.

    The preponderance of budget cuts the DoD has taken in the last few years have been to future forecasts of continued growth or they have been linked to the decline in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The base budget is, and is currently proposed to remain, at an historically high level. Go to the DoD comptroller website, click on the link to Budget Materials for FY2014, click on the budget brief and turn to slide 9. The DoD base budget peaked in FY2012 at $530 billion. The budget for FY2014 is $527 billion and requests a steady rise to $569 billion by FY2018. (The Navy comptroller website has the budget brief for the DoN and you will see a consistent story on slide 6: a budget that has been growing and is forecast to continue to grow, albeit at a slower rate.)

    If the rhetoric of fiscal austerity continues, we run the risk of crying “wolf!” and deafening the ears of the public and Congress before the cuts actually start.

  • grandpabluewater

    Another summit level decision by the BOGSAT method.

    Try this: send a milgram to every budget holder (an officer legally responsible to see that the budget not exceeded, on pain of judicial sanction, e.g., the Commander who sets OPTAR assignment and augments when necessary. Text: “Reduce your commands’ budget by 3% upon receipt, Apportion cuts as you see fit. Submit report of action taken in 72 hours to SecNav and CNO.”

    I anticipate orders of carpet, fancy china, non GSA furniture and furnishings, new sedans and xerox copy fees would drop, civilian contracts for landscaping, housekeeping, and work which can be accomplished by casual barracks and restricted men would drop as if pushed over a cliff.

    Step two would be to close training programs and metrics collecting efforts which are unrelated to machinery and equipment maintenence and combat readiness. That’ll be the day.

  • RADM Terry Kraft

    Great points from LCDR Gosnell in this article and well stated. As we have seen recently, deployments are longer, maintenance is always required, so training time will be pinched. Fleet synthetic training is what we provide at Navy Warfare Development Command. Being able to provide full virtual and constructive simulations to ships and simulators in a fully linked and integrated environment is where we are now. For BMD scenarios, we can also push that simulation out to BMD-configured ships at sea. I believe our future will involve pushing all types of combat scenarios to individual ships or groups while they are enroute or on deployment. The key will be to make it realistic to the operators at their individual stations or consoles. It is disappointing when a SWO, who should be driving tactical development on her ship, comments that her unit was “drilling circles in the ocean off San Diego.” We can do better and, with continued emphasis on our fleet synthetic training capability, we will.

    • formerswo

      RADM Kraft, do you mean to imply LCDR Gosnell isn’t a good SWO? Or wasn’t the one driving tactical development on her ship?

      LCDR Gosnell stepped out on a limb to write this and to offer up a new idea, only to be personally criticized by a 2-star admiral who happens to head up the NWDC and has no idea of her professional accomplishments.

      The other issue is that you posted your name, rank, and command along with your comment.

      This is a problem because:

      1) It’s now far more likely that anyone in your command who ends up reading this comment will ever come to you with a potentially good idea for fear of you stomping on them.

      2) LCDR Gosnell, or any other JO for that matter, will likely not respond to your comment, or engage with you in a frank discussion because the potential negatives of doing so, now outweigh the positives.

      At the end of the day, criticize the idea, don’t take personal pot-shots at the person who came up with the idea.

      • RADM Terry Kraft

        Formerswo, thanks for your post. I’m afraid you misunderstood my comments or I wasn’t clear enough. I
        think LCDR Gosnell’s article is spot-on. I wrote my response to support her and underscore what we can do to give her – and other great SWO’s – the opportunity to practice fighting their ships while at sea. The simple fact is that we can do more with synthetic training underway than we currently do. Maybe the way I should have stated it is that we need to develop the tools to give our warfighters the capability to drive tactics on their ships while underway – instead of just circling off the coast of San Diego. She is not the first to observe this – we fielded many of the same comments at a junior leader innovation symposium here last year. I was happy to see her blog was published in CHINFO clips, giving her a much wider, and well deserved, audience. I hope this clears things up. Entertaining new ideas is what we do for a living here at NWDC. There are more details on our innovation efforts in this month’s Proceedings.

  • This is old wine in a new skin, after all the Fleet Response Plan first unveiled under Vern Clark did essentially the same thing. We surge forces at a lower SORTS readiness status and then try to accomplish the items in the training syllabus as time goes by in the operational enivironment. Imagine, if you will, doing your PACEX for CIWS AFTER deploying to, say, the Antilles where a drug cartel has decided to perhaps use a low slow flier against your ship OR, doing your .50 cal quickdraw exercise quals AFTER transiting the STRAIT of HOrmuz. It is all about acceptable levels of risk. The key here is for the numbered fleet commanders to be totally honest with the Combatant Commanders who in turn will be totally honest with the SECDEF and President about risk and capability. This requires an almost sea change in terms of professional honest since the old paradigm prior to 2001 was trained up and ready for the complete menu of tasks. But, even after 10 years, of honest professional advice about what FRP means, is the chain of command as currently constructed set up to do this? I am reminded of how the message gets watered down as it goes higher. Commander Gosnell might give an honest appraisal of risk to her CO, but he may water it down to the DESRON, who then waters it down to the Strike Group who then….you get the idea. It was the same deal with body count reporting (in the other direction) in Vietnam.
    Dr. John T. Kuehn, CDR USN (ret)

  • Great Churchill quote. Thanks for that. 🙂