We’ve discussed in previous posts (here and here and here) about the lack of realistic training in the Navy. Oddly, though, the Navy established one of the best and certainly the most famous training program of all time, namely Top Gun. Top Gun assembled a group whose dedicated mission was to assemble and study everything known about enemy aircraft, weapons, and tactics, develop our own tactics for defeating the enemy, and then train a continual rotation of pilots to take advantage of their findings. By all accounts, the program was a major success until the mid ‘90s when it was merged with the Navy’s strike training program.
Consider this, though … Almost all of the information collected and taught at Top Gun was available to the pilots on their own. In other words, the pilots in the fleet had access to everything needed to draw their own conclusions and develop their own tactics and yet it didn’t happen. Why not? Well, the pilots were too busy with routine training, patrols, paperwork and the thousand other things that consume a pilot’s typical day. It was necessary to form a group whose entire day was devoted to studying the enemy because the fleet pilots simply didn’t have the time to do their own studies. There’s also an economy of scale – no sense having every pilot in the fleet reinvent the wheel. Of course, it was also beneficial to have a set of standardized tactics that all pilots knew instead of having each pilot develop their own with the result that no pilot would know what pilot next to them would do in combat.
The other services also offer similar dedicated adversary (Opposing Forces - OpFor) forces for realistic training such as the Air Force’s Red Flag or the Army’s
at National Training Center . Fort Irwin, CA
The key feature to these Opfor commands is that they provide training by using platforms and tactics that closely simulate the expected enemy.
Previous posts have discussed and documented that even current leadership of the Navy, by their own admission, recognize that ships and crew are not being trained against realistic threat platforms using enemy tactics. Simply gathering ships, splitting into two groups, and then “fighting” is not providing realistic training in recognizing and countering enemy tactics. For the same reason that individual pilots were unable to develop their own tactics, ship’s Captains just don’t have the time to study enemy platforms, weapons, and tactics and then develop counter-tactics. The Navy needs a standing OpFor – a Top Gun of the sea.
To the extent possible, OpFor’s use platforms that mimic the characteristics of the enemy platforms. Instead of retiring and selling off the Perry FFGs, why not use them as simulators of enemy corvettes/frigates/destroyers? The Meggitt Hammerheads would provide extremely realistic simulations of small boat swarms and missile boats. The Cyclone class, which the Navy has never embraced, could simulate fast attack craft, missile boats, and corvettes. There are plenty of used (or new) non-nuclear subs on the market that could be used to simulate enemy platforms.
|It's Got To Be Real|
A standing OpFor would certainly not be a cost-free program but compared to the cost of the first multi-billion dollar ship saved as a result of superior training, the cost would be negligible. All the platforms already exist and have been paid for. Most are headed for retirement and scrapping so their use as OpFor platforms wouldn’t deprive the fleet of active ships. All that would be needed is some minor upgrading and instrumenting for the role. Even the manning requirements of the simulator platforms could be greatly scaled back through automation and the need to only man for exercises of a few days duration.
The combination of a standing OpFor and appropriate live fire exercises would provide the most realistic and useful training possible. It’s one thing to read a book about tactics or run through a computer simulation but it’s another to stand on the bridge of your ship watching a Hammerhead approach at 35 kts, about to crash into the side of your ship and leave a giant dye mark splashed all over the side of your ship because you didn’t honor the threat appropriately, while a drone flashes overhead that you didn’t detect in time, and knowing you’re going to be mocked by your fellow Captains (even though they wouldn’t do any better) upon your return with your ship bearing the red blotch of shame.
Before I close this discussion out, I know I’m going to have to address those of you who are already starting to type in your reply that all we need is to use simulators; that combat takes place in the CIC, anyway, so we can train dockside in front of computers. Well, the Air Force found that as simulator usage increased, so too did real world mishaps. Simulators just can’t replicate the stress, adrenalin, and confusion found in the cockpit of a plane pulling G’s and with the threat of collision with other planes or the ground only seconds away. Yeah, but that’s the Air Force; it’s different for naval combat, right? Wrong! Remember the
incident where a highly trained CIC crew made every mistake possible and a few considered impossible. Simulators largely remove stress. Once stress is added back in, performance suffers greatly – and that’s the environment to train in! Vincennes
Don’t get me wrong. Simulators are a great complement to, but not a replacement for, live training.
It’s time to start putting our ships and crews up against trainers who thoroughly know and can apply enemy tactics.