The Navy recently conducted what they labeled as Large Scale Exercise 2021 (LSE) that supposedly involved massive numbers of ships, aircraft, and personnel spanning the globe. Wow! This sounds like the pre-WWII Fleet Problems. Could it be that the Navy is finally conducting massive, realistic, useful training?!
LSE 2021 will include approximately 36 live ships underway ranging from aircraft carriers to submarines, over 50 virtual units and an unlimited array of constructive units in addition to the Sailors, Marines, Government civilian and contract employees assigned to command and training staffs providing support to the exercise. Participating units will span 17 time zones to include six naval and Marine Corps component commands, five U.S. numbered Fleets and three Marine Expeditionary Forces.(7)
Oh, oh … ‘span 17 time zones to include six naval and Marine Corps component commands, five U.S. numbered Fleets and three Marine Expeditionary Forces’. That sounds suspiciously like the description of the F-35 program where the main purpose was involve as many states as possible to ensure Congressional funding. This exercise description sounds like someone is trying to impress with statistics rather than actual, useful training. I have a bad feeling about this … but, let’s continue and keep our fingers crossed.
What’s the purpose of the exercise? According to the Navy, LSE is,
… designed to refine how we synchronize maritime operations across multiple Fleets, in support of the joint force. (6)
Oh, no … Could that be any more of a meaningless buzzword vomit? I’ve got a bad feeling about this.
Let’s take a closer look.
The LSE is, presumably, supposed to mimic the Fleet Problems of the pre-WWII era. Those exercises, as you’ll recall, were massive live exercises with entire fleets going at each other. They were the closest thing possible to actual combat and, in at least one case, involved dropping sacks of flour on battleships at Pearl Harbor to simulate bombs! So, what does the Navy envision for its LSE? From a US Navy press release about LSE 2021,
2021 is a Chief of Naval Operations-directed live, virtual, and constructive,
globally integrated exercise that spans multiple fleets. LSE 2021 is
designed to refine how we synchronize maritime operations across multiple
fleets in support of the joint force. The training is based on a progression of
fleet battle problems and scenarios that will assess and refine modern warfare
concepts, including distributed maritime operations, expeditionary advanced
base operations, and littoral operations in a contested environment. (1)
Yep, that’s some outstanding buzzword bingo that says nothing.
We also note that the exercise is not like the actual, physical, real Fleet Problems of the pre-WWII era. Instead, it is a combination of live, virtual, and constructive (computer generated?) units. In fact, it appears that most of it is virtual and simulated. You noted the reference to ‘over 50 virtual units and an unlimited array of constructive units’? I’m not quite sure what the difference between a virtual unit and a constructive unit is but it’s clear that the vast majority of the ‘participating’ units were not real.
Data Over Firepower
cringeworthy noteworthy is the following,
“We have shifted focus from the individual Carrier Strike Group to a larger fleet-centric approach, challenging fleet commanders' abilities to make decisions at a speed and accuracy that outpaces the adversaries,” said Adm. Christopher W. Grady, commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command. “LSE is more than just training; it is leveraging the integrated fighting power of multiple naval forces to share sensors, weapons, and platforms across all domains in contested environments, globally.” (1)
We see again, the shift from firepower (carrier groups) to information: ‘commanders' abilities to make decisions at a speed and accuracy that outpaces the adversaries’. We’re going to think circles around our enemies and defeat them with information, not firepower. Of course, our intel and decision making speed and accuracy couldn’t even execute a simple drone strike in Afghanistan but we’ll defeat China with our decision making speed and accuracy. Riiiiight …
Here’s some delusion to go along with everything else:
“LSE will test our commanders' abilities to deliver coordinated effects, from all directions, any time or all the time. It will help us build the necessary muscle memory to do this routinely at the operational to strategic levels of war,” said Adm. Robert P. Burke, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe. (1) [emphasis added]
For anyone who’s not familiar with the phrase, ‘muscle memory’ is what athletes use to perform tasks such as shooting a basketball. The concept is that one performs the task thousands upon thousands of times so that the muscles become locked in to the position and movement required to successfully perform the task routinely. The key is that it requires tens of thousands of repetitions to lock in the muscle memory.
So, looking at the analogy, LSE is a triennial exercise – once every three years. How is an event that occurs once every three years developing any kind of mental muscle memory? Do these people actually believe the delusional things they’re saying? Mental muscle memory comes from doing a task on a daily basis. That’s why athletes practice every day rather than once every few years!
One aspect that stood out about the exercise was its piecemeal nature. The LSE, unlike the Fleet Problems, had individual units operating in an unrelated fashion and scattered around the world. For example,
-Marines in Hawaii exercised some aspect of expeditionary advanced base operations (EABO) by deploying small units to Oahu and Kauai.
One unit loaded up rucksacks with supplies, weapons and needed surveillance equipment and marched across Oahu. The second was transported to an Oahu shoreline via amphibious hovercraft. The third unit, flown to Kauai, experimented with an intelligence-gathering system called Network on the Move-Airborne, which provides data in real time collected by the entire joint force. (2)
-A 50 person group from 2nd Fleet staff operated an expeditionary Maritime Operation Center (MOC) at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, Virginia.(3)
-The Aegis cruiser, San Jacinto, idled pierside in Norfolk while undergoing a maintenance availability, participated by simulating AAW actions.(4)
-The exercise involves some 25 ships both in port and underway. The Navy has not provided information on the number of ships in port versus at sea during the exercise.(5)
-A simulated carrier strike group ‘operated’ off Norway.(5)
-F-18 simulators provided some of the ‘aircraft’.(5)
I’m sorry but there is simply no substitute for real units performing real actions – just ask the highly trained CIC watchstanders aboard the Vincennes in 1988 who found that training and simulations did not match reality. Or, ask the highly trained watchstanders aboard the Burkes who collided with merchant ships.
There’s nothing wrong with virtual exercises, per se, unless they take the place of real exercises which this does. The annual Fleet Problems have been replaced by largely virtual exercises.
The exercise was highly disjointed and, for most units, involved nothing more than a small, isolated exercise.
This exercise accomplished little or nothing.
Unfortunately, like most of what the Navy spews forth, the claims about the recent Large Scale Exercise 2021 (LSE) are full of exaggerations, spin, and outright lies.