Rifle Training

If we want to get serious about putting Warfighting First and Reducing Administrative Distractions, we can start with how we assess training on ships. Our current system is process-based: superior commands issue detailed instructions for the administration of shipboard training and qualification, and then assess compliance by auditing the ships’ records. There is usually a results-based component (observed drills) of assessment which is combined with the audits to produce an overall score—commands with weak performance in drills might be saved if they exhibit fantastic recordkeeping practices.

The process-based approach suffers from two flawed assumptions:

Assumption #1: Performance is the result of directed training processes. I’ll illustrate this assumption with an anecdote from my previous command, when I had just become responsible for the Torpedo Division. I observed divisional training conducted by the Leading First, complete with a PowerPoint presentation and testable objectives in compliance with the Continuing Training and Qualification Manual. The topic, also in compliance with said manual, was the characteristics of various weapon classes, many of which were not employed by our ship.

It was the end of the work day, but the men were breaking out tools. I asked the Chief why he wasn’t cutting the men loose for the day. His reply:

“Well, we suck at [weapons] handling, so we’re going to do some training.”
“Didn’t we just do training?” I asked.
“Oh, that?” replied the Chief. “That was for the books.

Assumption #2: The directed process is the best possible method. If a Commanding Officer is required to adhere to a directed list of requirements, then the only way they can innovate is to add new requirements to the crew. Given a painfully finite measure of time and manpower, prudence demands that COs budget their crews’ efforts carefully. Such an environment is prohibitive to innovation. COs can’t reasonably accomplish much more than the bare minimum—there just isn’t enough time.

One of my favorite bosses taught me that the best way to demonstrate effectiveness is to have it. Carrying that thought forward, I submit that the best way to assess effectiveness is to observe it. I’m going to propose something radical here: let’s stop assessing administrative compliance, and shift our focus instead to aggressively assessing performance. With commanders under constant threat of failing a drill but given the freedom to manage training at their level, you’d effectively see the combined intellectual firepower of the entire fleet directed at developing the most effective training program.

This proposal sounds crazy for several reasons. First among them is that assessing results is exceptionally difficult, whereas auditing paperwork is exceptionally easy. Drills and simulations are very time and labor intensive, and even incur some risk of accidents if a drill goes wrong. Shifting to results-based training would require a much greater frequency, variety and creativity of drilling and simulation than what we have today, and would increase demands on shore-side training assessors.

Another obstacle to results-based training (and an obstacle to innovation in general) is organizational parochialism: if multiple organizations impose requirements on a ship, and then one organization relaxes theirs, all of the ship’s attention is going to shift to those requirements that are still enforced by the others. Higher commands stake their claim on the time and energy of crews by generating and enforcing requirements. If you want to see this principle in action, then step aboard any American submarine today and compare the disparate amount of training attention devoted to nuclear power as opposed to literally all other warfare areas combined.

A final obstacle to results-based training is that it would invite significant organizational risk. For example, imagine a scenario where a security watchstander unjustly opened fire on a recreational boater, and it was later discovered that the ship did not employ a qualification process for its guards. In such a case holding the Commanding Officer accountable would not be enough; public outcry would demand a top-down solution from the higher Navy, the leaders of which would be held to task for the CO’s folly.

If the obstacles to results-based training sound too hard, I ask the reader the following questions: If results-based training were legitimately embraced by the Navy, would the ships we operate be better or worse at the conduct of naval warfare? Would the leaders we promote and the culture they create be more or less likely to prevail in a war at sea?

What percentage of the Navy’s effort should be budgeted toward effectiveness in the conduct of naval warfare? How much career risk should its leaders be willing to incur to this end?

Innovation is trending in the Navy today. Lasers, railguns, UUVs and 3D-printing have demonstrated fascinating potential to improve our ability to wage war, but sometimes the most important evolutions are organizational in nature. The trouble with organizational change is that while it is relatively inexpensive in dollar terms, its price comes primarily in the form of political risk.

If we want a culture of innovation to be anything more than a passing fad, we’re going to have to take some risks. I propose that the best risk our leadership could take on today is to return some trust to our Commanding Officers. Allowing sufficient latitude to try new things would be a fantastic first step to putting Warfighting First.

Posted by LT William Spears in Navy, Training & Education
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  • Matthew Hipple

    I’m sorry, but my ORM matrix says I shouldn’t be listening to you.

  • chrisrawley

    Great article. It’s embarrassing that the surface navy hasn’t embraced what has produced quality in the aviation and NSW communities for years – performance over process.

    • xformed

      We actually had a whole program for combat systems assessment. It was begun by CAPT Pete Bulkeley (yes, son of Sea Wolf), but it lacked vision and was a mini-INSERV (duh!) that didn’t rip your gear apart, norgo to the ENG/Deck world. LCDR Buck Haltiwanger was doing his best to improve it.

      By Aug 91, it was changed to a (they called it) objective based 300 point system, where the primary focus was if you could train into the future. Your watch team could blow a drill, so long as your CSTT graded it accordingly, so you could train to the problem area(s). Same as PEB had been doing since the mid-70s (full disclosure: I had a tour as a CHENG before this, so yes, I “adopted” a sucessful process). We backed off on detailed equipment checks, moving more towards operational function checks and safety of the operation, a heavy look at the training capability in the scenario based concepts.

      It was more what I called a “refined professional subjectivity” grading system. We had developed check sheets, based on TACMEMOs, Battle Orders, Standing orders, PQS, EHPQCP and other standards, and every one item had to be checked for it’s official source. If it was a “good idea,” the system required my team to generate the change requests to get it placed
      in official docs, and until that time, they were just helpful
      hints/suggestions. Each inspector had some free reign grading, but it was limited to a small part of the overall grade of the sheet. Each sheet fed the overall three part system Operations, Equipment and Administration. And 10 points for safety issues. Admin could never flunk you. Operations could (which was focused on the CSTT’s ability to operate the training) kill the score, as it should. Being operationally weak and unsafe, and we did have to make that call on an FFG for their 76mm gun crew, could end it, too.

      History: Fast forward a few years: I’m now in my next command, working on the BFTT development, and in Mayport, on a TICO, running battle scenarios to validate the BFTT methods to assess readniess, when we got the word that the new CNSL was talked into cancelling CSAs. That was mid 95. Turns out the N5, also recently arrived, had been the subject of failing either the CSA, or his cruise missile tactical qual (also done by CSTG), so he had CSAs done away with.

      So, we had a system, and it had merit (and room for
      improvement) and a pissed off, short sighted, don’t care about readiness for the fleet senior officer got it dumped, and therefore, it became a backwater in the readiness world.

      And here we are, having this discussion….

      During Desert Storm, I was left behind and briefed the incoming CSG2 Commodore (SERVGRU2, that is, when we had those ships) for CSMTT. I said “The CSTT should get equal time with them DCTT/ECCTT.” He looked a me and said “WRONG!” I thought my career was taking a hit. He said “If you can sail it there and can’t fight it, why did you go in the first place?” I liked that and subscribe to it from then to now…


    Nice. It would work but we’ll never do it. Here’s why.

    We do not value war fighting skill. To know what an organization values, look at what it rewards, not what it says or posts on the wall. We reward tours outside of our warfare specialties with command, and you don’t get better at things by not doing them.

    We do not value war fighting skill, so we will not get better at it.

    As an organization, we are rigidly hierarchical and control based. The assumption at every level is that nobody can act without specific written direction; further, that we are all just one alcoholic beverage away from being violent sexual criminals. We have regional uniform instructions directing everyone to press their civilian clothes, new roving watches and limitations on alcohol sales on base. We are top down, controlling, and unable to innovate because we believe everyone in our organization is an idiot. Actually we are actively creating them and ensuring only they prosper.

    We will not get better at war fighting because we have built an organizational culture that actively discourages the quick thinking, sound judgement, and innovation that lead to victory in war.

    Remember the lesson from Admiral Lord Nelson at Trafalgar? We do; he never promoted again. That’s the only lesson we remember.

    • xformed

      I agree and disagree.

      I , IMHO, think the promotion of do gooders and not war fighters got us to be gun shy of accidents, since they weren’t that good at sea, ergo the problem, and additional ergo, the chicken$h1t approach.

      OTOH, If the person above you doesn’t get it, figure out how to get skilled anyhow, individually, or at your level and below. Doa Guy Kawsaki evangelism gig. That’s what it’s about to demand change. Admonition: Do it right, not half@$$ed, be we know that anyhow.

      When the ASCMs and RPG rounds are inbound, it’s your butt, too. If lucky, they will move on, and you will get a new leader who supports you. If not, rinse and repeat, but never fail to train.

      My OSC on USS FIRSTSHIP used to regularly, while chomping on a cigar, demand the emptying of pockets to inspect the contents. He’d say, as you/someone responded saying “Let’s see what you have if you fell overboard.” He’d then critique the contents for viability. He, early on, took me to the ship’s store and directed me in which Buck knife to purchase, to wear while at sea. I still have it, stamped with “31” in the brass end piece for CICO. Simple and effective, not required by higher, just by common sea going sense.

  • TheMightyQ

    Spot on. I think that the crux of the problem lies in fearful senior officers who are too reluctant to accept risk. If I ever hear “Safety is paramount!” in the lead-up to a training scenario again, I will probably vomit. I’m sorry, but safety is never paramount. Mission accomplishment is paramount. The best way to accomplish a mission is to realistically train for it prior to taking it on. As was written above, realistic training carries along with it the assumption of risk.

    A pilot friend of mine recently asked a retired Vietnam-era helo pilot what his thoughts were on the state of modern Naval helicopter aviation. The response he received? “Not enough pilots die in training.” The lesson to be taken from that, I believe, is that real training for combat is dangerous. It has to be if it is to simulate combat. The corollary to that is that training that does not simulate combat is not worth doing. Now, this is not to advocate the abandonment of good practices to make training more dangerous, but there MUST be a realization that Sailors will be hurt and even killed in training exercises, and Navy leadership MUST understand that those injuries and deaths will make us a better force in the long run when, not if, we return to naval engagements.

    At least the current CNO’s priorities are in line: Warfighting first. To any senior officers who might read this blog, understand this: no one signs up for the military because he or she wants to be safe.

  • Jeff Withington

    Yes, yes, yes. Our training topics and training methods are selected because that is what we have narrowly defined good “training” as–not because they have any relevance to the performance of the ship. I find it so disingenuous to all parties involved: the crew, the assessors, and the public. Let us spend more of your time and more of your money for no return on our force’s output.

  • xformed

    Training: My passion, my real profession when I look back at my two decades. It’s all that matters underneath everything else, once you have the people standing around the equipment. Not only did I do it in uniform, for almost three decades, I helped people jumping out of airplanes as a jumpmaster/instructor. I know critical training skill development.

    Short form: It’s all about the attitude.

    Beginning at the CNSL CSMTT as the first CSA Department Head, which later became the CSTG (I was part of the reconfiguration for the CSTG/ATG layout and designed the TSTA process, and conducted the first TSTA PH I assessment on DDG-51), I was up to my eyeballs in the change from a mini-INSURV for Combat Systems Assessments to one modeled after the successful PEB engineering model (which, as I can tell, was first created in the nuke community) that arose after the Vietnam era, and served below decks well. The CS/Upper Deck world did not adopt them until CAPT Bob Crawshaw (CNSL N5) indicated we needed something better (Spring ’91). That was a Friday afternoon. On Saturday afternoon, I had a single PowerPoint slide, depicting the new direction. Monday it was shown, in a few months, it was tested and signed out. This story goes long on the determination to simulate (safely) as mush as possible. We worked long and hard on this, using plenty of training psychology and I have plenty of anecdotes to support methods.

    I can also tell you it’s more in the approach to the training, then the specifics listed on the pages/screen. If it’s a check the block so the Squad dogs will leave us be, you’re doomed. No paper or directive can fix that. If it’s a pathway to effective combat operations, and a list of required skills (read “muscle memory, individually and as a team), then you’ll see superior results.

    USS SAMUEL B ROBERTS (FFG-58) was one of the second cases. She held the highest grade on the CSA (that was before a the incoming CNSL N5, who failed his got them cancelled when he arrived at his new desk), and held it to the day the CSAs were terminated. My blog has stories as to why. Not only did they do what my team checked (and we made the check sheets, fully supported by an official requirements), they figured out better ways to make training more effective, more real, and still be safe. Not only did they do well with my team, the PEB gave them top marks, as did every other team that stepped aboard. I heard reports from their deployment that they were on time, on top, on target, and professional, ready and able to meet any requirement, while on the pointy end of the spear. Why? CAPT (now ret ADM) Joe Sestack saw all those “check lists” as things to master to be excellent and could be built upon, not $h1t some desk bound troll came up with. It showed in their operational performance.

    Another case was one of the four test ships, USS O’BANNON (DD-987). We were in Charleston (I date myself twice here), so we stopped by to let the CO know what the new method was. He and the XO and OPS and WEPO came into the Wardroom, in coveralls, having been below prepping for an OPPE. I told him the gist of a trainig team checking the performance. He looked at me and said “Like an OPPE, just above the main deck?” I said yes, he said “got it.” We departed, came back a few weeks later, they did great. I think that may have been CAPT Herb Kahler, father of BFTT, too, IIRC. Attitude.

    OTOH, my third OIC regularly asked me to cut slack for his friends who had CG commands (he had been a SOSMRC instructor)…because it was so hard on a TICO to break out a CSTT…cry me a river, CAPT, I make sure they get the same check sheets the rest of the fleet gets, done with the same eye for excellence. Oh, yeah, I had friends in high places as a result…NOT!, but I know crews who got better.

    I recall being a JG on a new 963 (the moment was during our PSA when my NSSMS was installed), as I showed my CO in the torn up CIC the new FOC, how he was a senior O5, and really wasn’t getting it. I thought “I never want to be like that” meaning I didn’t want to lose my comprehension of the weapons to fight the ship. I made a point of staying plugged in on CS stuff, and stayed near the piers when on shore duty. I made a point of looking at processes and improving them.

    I was blessed with an LDO LT (now ret CAPT) Russ Wycoff, and GMGM(SW) Dave Cress and STGCM(SW) Dave Frey and OSCM(SW) Dave Roddy and their peers (I wish I could recall them all, as they all deserve credit), who took their jobs of training and assessing the fleet seriously.

    But, at the end of the day, if the CO/Commodore/TYCOM is afraid of an accident, then you’re screwed. If the leadership looks at all of this as some BS drill, the troops will get that, and adopt it as they grow up the ranks. No matter how good a program, it’s the attitude of the people executing. I gold told, as an Ensign at GTMO on an AOR “you know Ensign, your problem is you play too real.” I looked at the OS1 and said “why else are we down here for a month, but to play as real as we can?” That’s my attitude, and I can attribute it to the late OSC(SW) (pardon me, RDC(SW) Michael P. McCaffery, USN. He gave me an attitude, oh, yes he did, and to all the OSs and ETs, too. Fat ship or not, we were there to fight, too.

    Here’s the deal:

    Innovation: Just do it, brief it up and show the boss how it works better. You’re the person with the time on the deckplates, you know some important things. Figure out how to improve it. No one is stopping you. An article is nice, a plan that has merit is superior. I did that with the debacle we called tracking PQS after the IOWA explosion, not with a USNI Proceeding article, but with a PC based program that ended up on 120 ships, because SNAP II/III had no funds beyond caretaker status.

    Way more to the story.

    Feel free to contact me any time. Fix it LT, you’re on the right track.