Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Baby Steps

Regular readers know that ComNavOps is highly critical of the Navy’s training efforts.  I won’t bother rehashing all the problems but they can be summed up as “worthlessly unrealistic”.  I’ve been quite harsh in my criticism of Navy leadership on this subject and rightfully so.  However, ComNavOps is nothing if not fair and now it’s time for a little deserved praise.

The Navy is slowly bringing back the time-honored “battle problem” fleet exercises.  An example is cited in a USNI News website article that describes a fleet problem exercise that the Roosevelt strike group was given during their transit from San Diego to Hawaii (1). 

“The Fleet Problem, which asked the TR CSG to get from San Diego to Hawaii while either avoiding or taking out red force submarines, surface ships and other threats, was completely open-ended.”

Understandably, details were scarce but here’s a few comments that offer a glimpse.

“…with real adversaries out there, (opposition forces) being played by Pacific Fleet assets, not only Navy but full spectrum other assets that might be applied by a potential adversary.”

One hopes that “full spectrum other assets” refers to realistic ECM being applied against the carrier group as well as all out submarine warfare.

“…the unpredictability, the fog of war required us to work closely together to adapt to the threat and make decisions. We did some long-range strikes out there – at one point we had a wall of 14 fighters, each with two Harpoons apiece, going way beyond the horizon and striking against potential surface adversaries. That, I don’t think that’s been done in recent history… “

That such exercises haven’t been done in recent history is a scathing condemnation of Navy leadership but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

“In summary, Sardiello [Theodore Roosevelt Commanding Officer Capt. Carlos Sardiello] described the event as “(emissions control) operating environment, blue water ops, a large number of strike fighters going to the limit of their range, all that – it doesn’t get any more real than that in a Pacific Fleet fight,” he said.

These things we were doing were on the edge, the limitation of our capabilities and our tactics.”

No, they weren’t on the edge.  They only seemed that way to someone who hasn’t trained for this type of combat.  The Navy is still a long way from actually operating at the edge of their capabilities and it’s sad that they think this is the edge. 

What would have been much better is an open-ended Red Force enemy with significant resources at its disposal and presented with the other side of the fleet problem which would have been to use any and all measures to find, fix, and destroy the Roosevelt carrier group.  That would have provided some realistic and useful training – though not against relevant Chinese tactics but, still, it would have been far better than what was done.

As I said, it’s only fair to recognize this as a positive development, however meager.  Still, it’s a step in the right direction, even if only a baby step.


(1)USNI News website, “Fight to Hawaii: How the U.S. Navy is Training Carrier Strike Groups for Future War”, Megan Eckstein, 22-Mar-2018,


  1. I'd love to see multinational exercises where South Korean or Japanese forces play as Red Force against the USN. They don't use Chinese tactics, but it would open US personnel to a few new ways of thinking.

    1. I'm all for that. Further, I'd like to see us conduct training exercises in the South/East China Seas so that we can learn to conduct submarine warfare and ASW in the actual environment that we'll fight in.

      It would have the added benefit of angering the Chinese - always a good thing in my book!

  2. I'm wondering if any lessons have been learned with regards to our ASW training exercises with foreign subs.
    Can our ASW platforms be effective ?
    Our ASw crews need training ,training and training.

    1. If lessons have been learned, they're not sharing them publicly, for obvious reasons. You're right on the money about the need for constant training. ASW is one of the most perishable naval skills. During the Cold War we were accomplished at ASW because not only did we train for it but we lived it on a daily basis against the Soviet subs. Today, there's less opportunity to practice against Russian and Chinese subs so we should be doubling our training efforts but, instead, we're cutting back.

      We had leased the services of a foreign SSK a few years back but let that lapse and failed to replace it with anything. Why we won't buy a few SSKs for ASW training is simply baffling.

    2. Interesting article but ASW exercises would seem necessary with submarines as well.

    3. "but ASW exercises would seem necessary with submarines as well."

      You're exactly correct. A threat surrogate, which this is, is a nice supplementary training aid but there is no substitute for a manned, thinking, unconventional, unpredictable, real submarine.

  3. Would love to see a Red Naval force a la USAF Aggressors, wouldn't be cheap but taking a few old Ticos and some other assets with simulated capabilities would be a great way to train the regular Navy plus would be a great way to groom some aggressive Navy officers....

    1. Bear in mind that the purpose of an OpFor/Aggressor is to present anticipated enemy tactics and equipment to the training forces so that they can learn how the enemy will fight and what equipment they will use.

      So, is an old Tico the best simulation of an enemy ship? Well, maybe. The Chinese are beginning to approach a Tico so, maybe. Generally, though, we would want vessels like Burkes, Perrys, and missile boats to act as threat surrogates. A retired carrier like the old USS Kennedy might make a good Chinese carrier surrogate.

      Remember, the manning and operational costs of OpFor ships would only be a fraction of active duty ships because they would only put to sea for very short training periods and only with a skeleton crew.

      We need to obtain or create radars and sensors that closely mimic Russian and Chinese performance and mount them on surrogates. We also need to mount extensive ECM on surrogates because Russia and China will certainly engage in maximum effort ECM.


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