Surface Warfare: A Running Fix

In case you missed it…

This week, Commander, Naval Surface Forces Pacific spoke about the current status of Surface Warfare. Check out the full version of this article here.

Our nation’s civilian and military leadership have employed the U.S. Navy for 242 years to maintain freedom of movement on the high seas, to protect the flow of goods and services on the world’s oceans, to defend maritime chokepoints, and to preserve a stable environment in which all law-abiding nations can flourish.

110216-N-7293M-005 RED SEA (Feb. 16, 2011) Fire Controlman 1st Class Douglas McQueen, left, junior officer of the deck aboard the amphibious transport dock ship USS Ponce (LPD 15), discuss navigation details with Cmdr. Etta Jones, commanding officer of Ponce, as the conning officer, Ensign Timothy Paul, keeps an eye on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65), off Ponce’s starboard bow. Ponce is participating in a combined formation of the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group and the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nathanael Miller/Released)

A team able to deliver those far-reaching and wide-ranging results must be properly manned, trained, equipped, and well-led. Persistent, demanding, global operations last year exposed vulnerabilities in these areas, which led to the Comprehensive Review (CR) and Strategic Readiness Review (SRR). This “running fix” describes our progress.

The Destination

Operating in a dynamic and increasingly complex environment is unforgiving. Every officer and sailor who goes to sea must be a professional mariner and a skilled warfighter. Leadership within this environment demands thoughtful compliance with exacting standards, continuous improvement of processes, and brutally honest self-assessment of both individuals and teams.

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training”

We owe it to the American people to ensure our surface force is ready to do the nation’s business. Winning is the only acceptable outcome. That’s our destination.

So to reach that goal, we pick waypoints to ensure we are on course and speed. These waypoints gauge our progress, inform adjustments to our course, and deliver us to our destination, ready to take on any challenge and win.

First waypoint: Individual level skills

Our surface forces afloat and ashore require surface warfare officers (SWO) of competence and character to lead them. There is no doubt that sea time contributes to the strength of an SWO’s professional foundation. However, a continuum of formal education and experience is also vital to building expertise over time by reinforcing and enhancing the skills learned in ships.

Career progression

161118-N-N0443-0040 NEWPORT, R.I. (Nov. 18, 2016) Students at Surface Warfare Officers School (SWOS) train on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Full Mission Bridge (FMB) simulator. The LCS Full Mission Bridge simulator is a full-sized trainer that uses the same software as the FMB and Conning Officer Virtual Environment (COVE). The LCS trainer has every Navy homeport modeled and allows the student to navigate in and out of designated ports using the highly sophisticated controls of a littoral combat ship. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

Surface warfare is an exacting profession where character, competence, judgment, skill, and experience are blended throughout a career at sea. The SWO career path must produce commanding officers who are warfighters and leaders of character. It focuses on driving the ship as a division officer, “fighting the ship” as a department head, managing the ship as the executive officer, and commanding the ship as the captain. Moreover, it will develop a commanding officer who possesses a full array of warfighting skills, including shiphandling, operations, tactics, combat systems, engineering, and damage control. This career progression will blend classroom training, simulators, shipboard experience, rigorous assessments, and candid feedback.

The first stop along the SWO career path is service as a division officer. Division officers will serve a combined 48 months at sea in ships. Revised schooling and assessments will occur in between the first and second tour or at around the 30-month point (for those officers completing a single longer tour). This new career path affords approximately 38 percent more sea time for these junior officers.

Department head and command-level training will continue in Newport, Rhode Island and Dahlgren, Virginia with revised assessments and defined go/no-go criteria. Similar to division officer tours, department heads will serve a single longer 36-month tour in one ship or complete two 18-month tours in two ships. The length of time between department head and executive officer will be shortened as the force evaluates the XO and CO progression. But one thing will not change — a forceful emphasis on the principles at the heart of command: authority, responsibility, accountability, and expertise.

Command is the foundation upon which our Navy rests

– Adm. John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations


To build officers immediately ready to stand watch, we will augment the nine-week Basic Division Officer Course (BDOC) with a rigorous six-week Officer of the Deck (OOD) bridge watch standing course centered on International Convention on Standards of Training and Watchkeeping (STCW) requirements. A second phase three-week OOD course will be attended prior to commencing the Advanced Division Officer Course (ADOC) focusing on Bridge Resource Management (BRM) and team building. This course must be passed in order to continue to a fleet-up tour on the same ship or a second division officer tour. Taken together, this new training model will increase formal schoolhouse instruction for first and second tour division officers from 14 weeks to 23 weeks.

We are also re-evaluating the content and quality of the courses. Improvements include operational risk management (ORM) education at every training milestone; requalification requirements due to reassignment or shipboard reconfigurations; and yard patrol craft employment in all officer accession programs.

Better simulations will inject shipboard emergencies, changing environmentals, and high-density shipping into these scenarios to ensure training is spent preparing junior officers for the challenging conditions they will face.

These courses are difficult — not all will pass. This cycle of training, assessment, and experience will continue throughout an officer’s career at every afloat milestone.

Second waypoint: Unit level readiness

Of course, individual mastery is by itself insufficient. These units must demonstrate proficiency across a wide array of mission sets spanning from internal damage control to long-range anti-air warfare and everything in between.

Team building

To better challenge our crews for complex environments, we are creating maritime skills training centers (MSTCs) in Norfolk and San Diego that will support high fidelity individual and team training and facilitate assessments and feedback discussions. New watchbill instructions will offer adequate periods for rest. Administrative tasks that do not directly contribute to combat readiness will be reduced. And finally, navigation check-rides presided over by immediate supervisors in command (ISIC) will evaluate the proficiency of the ships and crews to safely navigate in a range of scenarios after extended maintenance periods and before a ship deploys.

160728-N-ZE250-033 MEDITERRANEAN SEA (July 28, 2016) Ensign Thibaut Delloue, left, officer of the deck under instruction, and Ensign Logan O’Shea, conning officer, monitor the surface picture in the pilothouse aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Carney (DDG 64) while on patrol in the Mediterranean Sea July 28, 2016. Carney is conducting a routine patrol in the U.S. 6th fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Weston Jones/Released)

Unit readiness necessitates a disciplined process to plan, brief, execute, and debrief shipboard training drills, special evolutions, and real-world events to absorb lessons and apply best practices. The Surface and Mine Warfare Development Center (SMWDC) and the creation of warfare tactics instructors (WTI) have been instrumental in this regard, emphasizing the role of doctrine, championing data-driven analytic training approaches, and inculcating a warfighting mentality within our wardrooms and combat information centers.


Finally, unit readiness is a function of the systems and the crew’s proficiency to operate them. Consequently, we:

  • released a comprehensive Fleet advisory on safe operation of all variants of steering systems;
  • completed a survey of all ships with integrated bridge systems for feedback and lessons learned;
  • established standards for use of the Automatic Identification System when transiting high traffic areas; and
  • evaluated existing “redline” policies with respect to navigation, radar, steering, and propulsion.

Third Waypoint: Fleet level employment

Fleet certification

As the Surface TYCOMs produce and deliver properly manned, trained and equipped ships, the two numbered fleet commanders (3rd Fleet and soon to be 2nd Fleet) produce carrier strike groups, expeditionary strike groups and independent deployers through intermediate and advanced training. During the intermediate training phase, SMWDC is now two years into conducting surface warfare advanced tactical training (SWATT) specifically designed to increase the warfighting capability prepare them for the high end Advanced Training and Certification phase during COMPTUEX. Following that, fleet commanders can employ those units within the scope of their training and skill sets to increase our competitive advantage.

For FDNF-J, 7th Fleet is developing intermediate and advanced training exercises similar to SWATT and COMPUTEX.

140401-N-CH661-095 MEDITERRANEAN SEA (April 1, 2014) Lt. j.g. David B. Connell, assigned to the guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage (DDG 61), observes the ship’s course and speed while standing watch as the conning officer in support of exercise Noble Dina, an annual multinational training exercise conducted with the Hellenic and Israeli navies. Ramage is on a scheduled deployment supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jared King/Released)

Command and control

Additionally, working hand-in-hand with OPNAV and Fleet leadership, we have taken action to bolster the readiness of our rotational and forward-deployment ships. We are

  • more closely assessing actual readiness across the fleet;
  • adjusted overseas presence based on future overseas homeporting and strategic laydown plans;
  • evaluated all current operational requirements in the Western Pacific against available resources;
  • developed a force generation model for ships based in Japan addressing operational requirements while preserving maintenance, training, and certification windows;
  • restored the U.S. Seventh Fleet’s deliberate scheduling process.

Voyage summary

The strategic environment in which we sail is fast-paced, increasingly complex, and oftentimes uncertain. Make no mistake: as the National Defense Strategy clearly states, the competition is on for maritime superiority.

We must build teams with the requisite training, skills, and equipment to be effectively employed to fight and win any battle, against any challenge. Our three fixed waypoints (mastery of individual skills, unit level readiness, and fleet employment and leadership) will help to achieve that balance even as we retain maritime superiority.

This is the job of the surface type commanders — we own this and are underway at flank speed.


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