Sailors and Marines from the USS Essex (LHD 2) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) recently departed Naval Base San Diego for a first for the Navy’s Surface Warfare community – an ARG Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) exercise.
During this dedicated at-sea training period, participants will focus on watch team, unit, Air Defense Command, and Surface Combat Commander training – before integrating the Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).
The Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC)-led exercise is focused on advanced tactical training at sea in order to improve warfighting proficiency, lethality, and ship interoperability before further training in the ARG’s deployment cycle.
Completing this training will help the ARG’s units and warfare commanders “learn to work together as teams before moving along in the training cycle,” said Rear Adm. John Wade, commander of SMWDC.
SMWDC’s mission is to increase the lethality and tactical proficiency of the Surface Force across all domains, and it does that through four lines of operation – one of which is providing advanced tactical training to the Surface Fleet.
The SMWDC-delivered training during the ARG SWATT prepares ships for the high-end, integrated scenarios they will see during future training scenarios in the ship’s training cycle, which ultimately prepare the ARG for deployment and assimilation into an Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG).
The long-term goal is that all surface ships will undergo a SWATT event prior to completion of the pre-deployment training cycle.
“This is something we have to do as a community to maintain a competitive advantage against the peer and near-peer threats outlined in the National Defense Strategy,” said Wade.
The training the units receive from SWMDC during the ARG SWATT consists of several levels of exercises and evaluations. The embarked SMWDC training team consists of post-major command commanders, Warfare Tactics Instructors (WTIs), and technical community experts and uses the Plan, Brief, Execute, and Debrief (PBED) process to evaluate ships throughout the entirety of the exercise.
Upon completion, the WTIs and other trainers use the results of the evaluation to provide same day, directly observed performance feedback to the shipboard teams. This process allows them to receive in-person feedback in a timely manner.
Using data replay tools throughout the event (as part of the PBED Process) breaks down barriers within watch teams by removing the possible human perspective error of what really happened during the training scenarios. Ground truth provides watch teams and personnel – regardless of rank – the humility needed to grow together effectively as a team in an expedited manner.
“SWATT represents the first opportunity that the Essex ARG ships and staff have had to train together as a team. This training will bridge the gap between unit level training our ships recently completed and the advanced fleet training, which will prepare us for our next deployment,” said Capt. Gerald Olin, commander of PHIBRON 1.
Furthermore, data gathered during each SWATT exercise – whether an ARG or a Carrier Strike Group (CSG)-based cruiser-destroyer (CRUDES) SWATT – are cataloged, analyzed, and reviewed by a Data Analysis Working Group (DAWG) approximately 4-6 weeks after the conclusion of the exercise. The DAWG identify combat systems, tactics, and human performance strengths and weaknesses that get fed back into the Surface Warfare Enterprise for rapid organizational learning and development.
The Essex ARG SWATT, however, is just one example of how the Navy’s amphibious fleet is increasing its lethality and warfighting proficiency.
Within the U.S. Seventh Fleet area of operations, currently deployed USS Wasp (LHD 1) will connect with the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers USS Dewey (DDG 105) and USS Sterett (DDG 104) as part of a new “up-gunned ESG” concept.
Adding a destroyer to the strike group means adding the ability to strike inland targets with Tomahawk missiles, to conduct robust air defense using the Aegis Combat System, to hunt and find submarines, and to provide naval surface gunfire support.
“These are all capabilities that aren’t normally part of an amphibious readiness group, but they are now,” said Rear Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of ESG 7. “We bring extra capability to the warfighting element of what we’re doing here in theater.”
Sterett and Dewey’s presence as part of the Wasp ARG reinforces the need for SWATT training. Typically, cruisers and destroyers deploy as part of either a Surface Action Group (SAG) or a Carrier Strike Group (CSG), supplementing the air warfare capabilities of the carrier. As members of an ESG, the destroyers will have a unique responsibility to Wasp that requires training and coordination among the strike group.
Another new addition to the Wasp ESG is the integration of the F-35B Lighting II fighter jet into the strike group. Wasp recently embarked a detachment of F-35B Lighting IIs with the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121, 31st MEU, marking the F-35B’s first operational deployment of F-35B’s with a MEU.
“This is a historic deployment,” said Col. Tye R. Wallace, 31 st MEU Commanding Officer. “The F-35B is the most capable aircraft ever to support a Marine rifleman on the ground. It brings a range of new capabilities to the MEU that make us a more lethal and effective Marine Air-Ground Task Force.”
The recent integration of destroyers and F-35Bs into the ARG makes surface ship advanced tactical training – optimally placed between basic phase training at the unit level and integrated phase training with the MEU – all the more important.
“Providing watch teams and warfare commanders the reps-and- sets they need to exercise and build their combat muscle is critical,” said Wade.
The SMWDC-led ARG SWATT is crucial to providing the training time needed to produce a cohesive group of surface combatants prepared to support the MEU, and ultimately fleet and combatant commanders.
The amphibious Navy is better prepared for operational commitments across the board by flexing their warfighting capabilities during ARG SWATT exercises. Improved watch team cohesion, increased tactical proficiency, top-of- the-line technology, and a WDC capable of driving high-speed learning throughout the Surface Warfare enterprise enable the Navy-Marine Corps team to maintain the competitive edge against the nation’s peer and near peer threats.