It’s time for a new paradigm in naval surface warfare training, according to Vice Adm. Tom Copeman, commander of Naval Surface Forces.
A switch from a focus on unit and ship readiness to individual training --Top Gun-style for non-Navy folks -- is coming, and coming quickly.
The Naval Surface Warfighting Development Center is expected to be stood up Aug. 1 in San Diego and will facilitate the training of weapons tactics instructors -- the best of the best at naval surface warfare -- to teach Navy personnel at an individual level, using simulators and on-ship exercises, how to properly use the weapons and systems not only aboard their vessel, but across the six mission areas as well.
“This is not anything new for the Navy,” Copeman said Tuesday at his office on Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. “The Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center -- NSAWC-- they were formed up as the result of the failures in the Beqaa Valley in the mid-’80s when naval aviation went in and got slicked because they just weren’t using really good tactics. And before that, ‘Top Gun’ evolved from the Vietnam War, and so NSAWC was kind of like the ‘Top Gun,’ except of air-to-ground delivery.”
The vice admiral said this is something he has had his eye on for more than a decade. Though this training does happen currently, it’s not structured, and it’s not across the board. In essence, the development center -- which will be modeled after NSAWC -- will put an emphasis back on warfighting and surface warfare.
“I would rather take positive steps to improve our warfighting prowess before we learn a lesson in war, which is what we have a tendency to do in all the military, not just the Navy,” Copeman said.
Of the six mission areas -- Integrated Air and Missile Defense; Ballistic Missile Defense; Anti-Submarine Warfare; Surface Warfare; Amphibious Warfare; and Countermeasures -- two have recently established a command similar to the development center at their mission level, and Copeman said he’s seen positive changes already.
The Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Warfare Command in San Diego is on its seventh class of weapons tactics instructors and the Naval Air and Missile Defense Command in Dahlgren, Va., is on its third class.
“So the Naval Surface Warfighting Development Center is going to, at some point in the game, tie together the six mission areas at the tactical level. … And it’s going to develop a plan using some of the synthetic technologies that we’ve developed,” Copeman said. “We’re investing in shore-based, integrated combat trainers that we’re going to start building in San Diego and Norfolk next year that emulate a DDG 51 combat and an AN/SQQ 89(V) 15 anti-submarine warfare suite.”
Copeman estimated that work on the San Diego DDG 51 simulator would begin in six or seven months, and he stressed the importance of simulator training.
“Live training is great and you have to do live training -- there’s no doubt about it,” Copeman said. “But live training, because ships and aircraft and people are involved, you’ve got a right and left limit of how fast an airplane can go and what a turn is. But when you’re doing training you don’t want to really test that and have the thing crash, so you limit yourself. So if you have very realistic trainers you can really stretch the limits, and if the missile hits a friendly ship or friendly aircraft in a simulator, then you critique it and you go, ‘Hey, that was quite a crossing shot you tried to get there, but you know what, you just landed on the bridge of your friend’s ship.’”
In addition to providing simulator training, the weapons tactics instructors will also provide over-the-shoulder guidance aboard the vessels. In the long run, Copeman said, he expects to see a weapons tactics instructor for each mission area aboard every vessel where applicable.
Each instructor will be a department head or division officer with other roles aboard the vessel.
The training required of weapons tactics instructors will vary depending on their mission area of expertise, but Copeman used the training for anti-submarine warfare instructors as an example.
He said they typically get them as lieutenant junior grade officers on the way to their second division tour. They go through a four-week advanced division officer course in Newport on ship driving and navigation to hone their surface warfare “blocking and tackling skills,” then come to San Diego for a five-week Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer School.
After that, a certain number of sailors who are recommended by their commodores or commanding officers will take an additional five-week weapons tactics instructors course.
“It’s a cooperative effort amongst all of the currently existing centers that help us develop a SWO --surface warfare officer -- that’s really good at integrated air and missile defense,” he said.
That cultural shift from a focus on ship and fleet readiness to individual skill level is one that will take time, but it’s necessary, Copeman said.
“I think in the aviation community, their model is that individual tactical prowess bleeds over and raises the level of tactical prowess of the unit,” he said. “That’s what I want to have happen -- I want to raise the level of individual tactical prowess at a younger age than we do right now -- career-wise, not chronological age.”
He noted that this much time and energy can’t be put into every sailor, so the process will be a selective one. And it will require time and money. In terms of buildings, Copeman said he doesn’t anticipate the need for building any new infrastructure, and that they’ve already repurposed some office space at 32nd Street for less than $1 million for this purpose.
There will also be repurposing of some people’s jobs, since roughly 150 personnel will be needed to run this center.
“I don’t anticipate having to buy more billets -- we’ll have to move billets around and obviously, if you take somebody out of one job and put them in another then whatever job that was they were doing stops being accomplished. So you have to very carefully weigh what is a lesser priority. … And it should be very thoughtful when you repurpose somebody’s position. There’s a lot of angst and unknown -- people don’t like the unknown too much,” he said.
On the budget side, Copeman said that if you took a snapshot of all the aspects of the development center, most of them are funded, although he cautioned that he doesn’t know how sequestration will play out if enacted.
For now, the vice admiral is moving forward with the Aug. 1 stand-up date, with Rear Adm. James Kilby taking command of the center in San Diego then.
Copeman said San Diego is the logical choice for the Center.
“The commander himself will be headquartered here, the bulk of the live training ranges left in the United States Navy are here in the Southern California operating areas … and so this has always been the cradle of fleet experimentation out here, and this will just be an addition to it,” Copeman said. “And the proximity to NSAWC, I think, will be helpful because we are as reliant upon the aviation air wing of the carrier strike group as they are on us. … There’s a lot of interdependency, so I think just the physical proximity, and rebalance to the Pacific, I think it makes sense to have it out here.”
Copeman said that there’s no urgent problem that predicated the development center, but said it will be a positive and welcome change, although he doesn’t expect its purpose to be fully realized and a natural part of the Navy for roughly 10 years.
“We certainly have very, very good warfighters out there -- we do, and I’m not saying that there’s some gigantic problem that really urgently needs fixing, but the fact of the matter is warfare is the second word -- we’re surface warfare officers and I think it must be the main thing that we all think about -- from the time we get our initial qualifications to when we step onboard with that Texaco star on the right-hand side as a commander of a ship,” Copeman said. “So that’s what this is going to try and do: Get us to think about it, normalize the process of how we develop tactics, how we distribute them, and then how we train and asses how we’re doing, and upgrade them.”