From Fire Control Officer to Warfare Tactics Instructor

WTI PhotoGuest Blog By: Lt. Douglas Wilkins, Warfare Tactics Instructor, Integrated Air and Missile Defense at the Center for Surface Combat Systems Detachment (CSCS) San Diego (Pictured above, right)

As I prepared to transition from sea to shore duty, I explored the opportunities available for my next tour. When I saw an opening for an Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) Warfare Tactics Instructor (WTI) at the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) it grabbed my attention. But I wondered, what’s a WTI?

I soon discovered a WTI (pronounced “witty”) is a new type of Sailor being trained by SMWDC to fulfill specialized roles within the Surface Warfare Officer community. Comparable to TOP GUN for naval aviators, these next generation surface warriors serve on ships and training staffs as the go-to force multipliers in Amphibious Warfare, Anti-Submarine/Surface Warfare, or Integrated Air and Missile Defense.

Once I contacted the IAMD WTI program managers, completed an application, and got my commanding officer’s recommendation, I received confirmation for the class and received one of the most detailed pre-test/read ahead documents I have ever encountered. This wasn’t just another course. This was going to be different.

Upon arriving for the 19-week course in Dahlgren, Va., I was immediately surprised by how small the class was; only 11 junior officers — ranging from lieutenant junior grade to lieutenant commander, were present. This course was clearly designed to be quality over quantity, and there was an obvious drive to ensure those present were the right Sailors to fulfill the duties of a WTI. Despite the rigorous selection process, neither success nor graduation was guaranteed.

By the end of our first day, it was clear that being physically present in this course was not enough to pass. We would truly need to dedicate our minds to succeed. Our days consisted of classroom lectures, seminars with Joint IAMD entities, hands-on experience in the Aegis Training and Readiness Center labs, and even a trip to the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center to learn from, and with, the aviation community’s WTI cadre. Our evenings were not spent as they would be at a “typical” school; after a quick dinner break, we would return to the classroom to study various combat systems’ capabilities and limitations, prepare doctrine and tactics projects, and most importantly, share ideas and challenge one another. The fact that the course cultivated a tactical environment enabling us to strive to become experts – and pushing the bounds of what we thought we knew about IAMD – truly set this course apart from others.

Whether participating in a Missile Defense Agency Fleet Engagement, a Fleet Synthetic Training Event, being underway for Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical training, or contributing to the future of the IAMD WTI program, I have truly enjoyed all the opportunities that have been afforded to me as an IAMD WTI.

Yet as satisfying as those experiences have been, nothing has been more rewarding than directly interacting with Sailors on the waterfront. Being out there — witnessing the advantages and necessity of this specialized warfare area-training program for junior SWOs, makes me even more proud to be a WTI.

For more information on SMWDC and WTIs, visit



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