Monday, June 11, 2012

Training - Force Multiplier

A force-multiplier is something that by its existence, use, or actions enhances the effectiveness of other things.  Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) is a force-multiplier in that it enhances the AAW abilities of all the individual units enabling them to achieve levels of performance that they could not, on their own.  It’s commendable that the Navy looks for and attempts to implement force-multipliers.  However, there’s one extremely potent force-multiplier that is readily available to the Navy, can be instantly implemented, costs nothing on a relative basis, would produce staggering benefits and yet is not being used to advantage.  Training!

Did Anyone Learn Anything?
Oh come on, now, the Navy trains constantly, you’re thinking.  You’re right.  However, there’s useful, effective, and realistic training that challenges the participants, stresses the equipment, simulates realistic scenarios, reveals systemic, procedural, and personnel weaknesses, and forces the participants to confront new situations, develop new tactics, and hone warfighting skills …  and then there’s Navy training – scripted, simplistic, unrealistic, unimaginative, and only marginally useful.

That can’t be the state of training in the Navy!  Well, before I go any further let me state that I do not, by any means, have comprehensive knowledge of every Navy training program and exercise and I have no doubt that some training programs are useful.  However, having spoken to many current and former sailors and read many books and articles, it is clear that many, probably most, training programs fall well short of being force-multipliers.

I won’t belabor the need for training - it should be self-evident.  I will offer a brief  glimpse of the importance accorded training by the Navy’s centerpiece AirSea Battle concept.  From the multi-service ASB office, here are a few quotes (1),

“At its core, ASB seeks … realistic, shared training, …”

“Such forces … will also be operationally useful at the outset of hostilities, without delays for buildups and extensive mission rehearsal.”
“This change has begun in the departments of the Navy and Air Force; the CNO and CSAF have written: ‘The Air-Sea Battle operational concept will guide our efforts to train and prepare air and naval forces for combat. We already train together and share joint doctrine. Under Air-Sea Battle, we will take ‘jointness’ to a new level, working together to establish more integrated exercises against more realistic threats.’”

At least in writing, the Navy recognizes the importance of realistic training and by implication that there are some shortcomings in current training programs.

The evidence for shortcomings is overwhelming.  Personal anecdotes abound.  Articles have been written in Proceedings.  Books describe the failings of current training.  The examples are plentiful enough that I won’t bother citing a long list of references.  Instead, here’s a single example from no less than Admiral James Stavridis, taken from his book, "Destroyer Captain - Lessons of a First Command".  In it he says,

"I hate missile exercises.  Because of the inordinate safety concerns, they have become the very worst of Kabuki theater, scripted to the finest point, overcommunicated, and essentially meaningless."

"To some degree we have become a navy that specializes in safety, communicating, inspecting, engineering, administering, retaining, and counseling.  There is too little emphasis on shiphandling, warfighting, battle repairing, and leading. ... we all need to know that the essence of why navies exist is to fight and win at sea.

As an example of how we are a bit out of whack is that if I charted my personal time, I suspect I spend virtually my entire day working the first list and precious little devoted to the latter."
Not only is he unhappy with the quality of training, he notes how little time is spent doing it.

He goes on to describe some of the weapons training exercises and I'm struck by the extremely simplistic, set-piece nature of them.  For instance, he describes the CIWS training which consists of a Lear Jet with a tow target banner flying in straight lines back and forth alongside the ship while the CIWS shoots at the banner.  How's that for realism?  All that does is verify that the CIWS is mechanically functional.

Those are quotes and observations from the horse's mouth.

Now, here’s the really ironic and unfortunate part. Yes, our training is lacking, at the moment. But, it could be drastically improved with no capital expenditure, whatsoever, by simply providing realistic training.  Instead of scripted exercises, use free form activities.  Train to operate sensors in a heavy jamming environment.  Exercise ship movements without the aid of GPS signals (USS Port Royal grounded because the GPS was non-functional and navigation lost positional awareness).  And so on …

A good training exercise would be to place a ship in an open patch of water, turn off GPS, subject the ship to continuous jamming and for several straight days “attack” the ship from planes, ships, small craft, and subs at irregular intervals at any time of day.  Want to see how well a Captain has trained his ship?  That’ll do it.  When the entire ship’s company has to be involved rather than just the “A” team, it will quickly become apparent where the training shortfalls are.  It will also become obvious which equipment works in a wartime scenario and which doesn’t.  Let the crew and command see scenarios they’ve never seen before.

Iranian Small Craft - Are We Training for This?

Or what about sending a swarm of sixteen small craft drones (yes, they exist and I’ll post a piece on them shortly) at a ship (the LCS, that littoral dominating war machine, comes to mind) and see what happens.  Let the ship try to sink them for real. 

Training is a force multiplier, in the truest sense. Being able to make maximum use of existing equipment is a cheap, easy way to greatly increase preparedness and seemingly multiply the effectiveness of our weapon systems. We don’t need to always buy new equipment;  we can get much more out of what we have with proper training.  It's just a matter of wanting to do it.

The Navy’s job is to fight and, when not fighting, train to fight.  If we’re not doing the later, we won’t be prepared for the former.  Unfortunately, Navy leadership has other priorities and training, along with maintenance, manning, and a host of other things, is suffering at the altar of new construction. 

(1) Armed Forces Journal, AirSea Battle: Clearing the Fog, DuPree & Thomas,


  1. "But, it could be drastically improved with no capital expenditure, whatsoever, by simply providing realistic training."

    Sadly, your prescription, while possibly achievable and probably good, is neither free of capital expenditures nor is it inexpensive. For instance, in order to "Send a swarm of 16 small craft drones at a ship" just once a training cycle for each ship, you would need to expend something on the order of 300 drones a year. That is not even figuring in more drones for multi-ship training (because we need to fight as a team!). Lets say the boats cost only $20k a piece (a ridicuously low total cost when all factors are added in), that works out to $6 million a year for targets alone. Add in the additional factor of ammunition (how much would 16 Hellfires or say an extra 200 rounds of the best 5in shells cost), additional range time and more range personnel for exercise coordination, etc and you have a huge expenditure above and beyond anything used today. And don't forget to add in more frequent equipment repair and greater repair parts as well.

    In that same vein, how much does an hour of air time cost because you will need a lot, or how about the cost of a sonobuoy (or 20). All of that ignores the opportunity cost of the assets like submarines that you will need.

    Better training is both required and would be valuable, but please don't pretend it would be either easy or cheap to implement. As Aesop observed in the fable of belling the cat, anyone can think of an impossible plan.

  2. One of the difficulties of posting on a blog is that space and reader attention spans are limited. People want short blurbs on a topic (akin to politicians sound bites!). What this means is that statements often have to be simplified and generalized to make one's point in a limited number of words.

    Of course you're correct that training is not truly free. What I'm saying is that it costs nothing on a relative basis compared to, say, the cost of a single new destroyer at a few billion dollars. Spending $6M per year, or, heck, let's say $100M per year, is a vanishingly small amount to spend compared to the Navy budget and to the cost of a single ship not sunk by enemy action because of superior training.

    We think a new ship for several billion dollars is reasonable but we would balk at $6M (or $100M or whatever) to have a better chance at keeping that ship afloat in the event of war?

    You mention the opportunity cost and that's a great point that I should probably devote a post to. In my mind, the opportunity cost of using existing SSNs for more realistic training is worth it because both the SSN and surface ship benefit from better training.

    If you want to delve further into opportunity costs, not to mention real costs, consider the extensive humanitarin missions undertaken by the Navy. Talk about lost training time, expended airframe hours, lost ship maintenance, longer deployments, etc.! But that's a topic for another time.

    Did this reassure you that I'm aware of real world costs?

    Thanks for looking in!

  3. do you think the usual simulation in CIC should be enough training for the men defending the ship(s) from multiple attacks ? i assume the US navy in cold war days also trained/simulate massive antiship missile attack by the soviet backfires ? im not a military professional but i find the engagement depicted in Red Storm Rising (it's tom clancy's but i find it not to rah-rah compared to other novels) pretty harrowing with the US taskforce have to fend off backfire missile salvoes and end up losing many ships.

    can RAM defend the ship from the supersonic antiship missiles ?