Reorganizing for Littoral Warfare

By Captain David T Hart Jr. and Captain George Galdorisi, U.S. Navy

Deceiving in its simplicity, the single call sign "AZ" for the SCC replaced three individual call signs previously allocated for the USWC, SUWC, and Screen Commander. Much more than a packaging gimmick, the single call sign symbolized the unity of effort: It forged a single focus for task group units with the expectation that a unified warfare commander was integrating and responding to their requirements, obviating the need to negotiate with anyone else. There were tradeoffs, to be sure, but the approach yielded numerous benefits.

Command and Control. Synergy was of paramount benefit. Warfare against diesel submarines in the littoral is primarily a nonacoustic venture. In fact, although specialized, it is an extension of the surface-search problem; distinct lines between subsurface and surface search tend to blur. Ships and aircraft can no longer segregate systems, tactics, and operators into two unrelated warfare efforts. Seaborne threats are the focus, some confined to the surface and some able to retreat from it. For years we have heralded the efficacy of the multiplatform effort in detecting and neutralizing enemy submarines. The surface threat must be approached with the same coalition perspective. As a result, the warfare commander must optimize assets and sensors common to both traditional warfare areas-undersea and surface. Control of assets possessing a panoply of search capabilities is indispensable.

Although the single focus Undersea Warfare Commander might have stood back from the details of individual aircraft control, too often, his surface warfare counterpart enjoyed a much less defined distribution and control of fixed-wing search and attack assets. The SCC, however, invariably seeking to multitask his assets, assigned task group ships or E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft as air control units on the same disciplined basis as the USWC. Ensuring that every fixed-wing asset, carrier or land based, operated under an assigned control unit capitalized on the available shipboard air controllers, often wanting for control time in the absence of regular USW tasking. An added advantage accrued from allowing one controller to perform swing duties from one warfare area to another, often during the same sortie.

Incorporating the SOCA role, and therefore responsibility for water space management, gave one commander the ability to route and maneuver surface forces with due regard for dedicated submarine operating or attack areas. This proved to be especially effective in preventing mutual interference and friendly fire engagements.

Asset Management. The unified SCC facilitated asset allocation, including midmission changes in tasking as required. Each air and ship commander knew that tradeoffs had been considered before any redirection was given. As the primary tasking authority for LAMPS helicopter assets, the SCC interwove their schedules with those of carrier aircraft; LAMPS frequently filled in during the off-hours between carrier cyclic operations.

Maritime patrol aircraft were clear beneficiaries. When possible, they flew pre-assigned missions; on several occasions, however, the versatile P-3Cs filled unanticipated gaps in warfare coverage. Equipped with night-vision devices and inverse synthetic aperture radar, the aircrafts' contributions far exceeded those of more traditional long-range sub hunters. The SCC capitalized on such single unit diversity.

Employment of the assigned direct support submarines was enhanced. Although the Strike Warfare or Command-and-Control Warfare Commander may have laid claim to the SSN for select missions, the SCC could ensure that secondary tasking remained an option. As an example, the SSN might follow a specified sequence of patrol areas tailored to subsurface surveillance while en route to a Tomahawk launch position.

Assignment. The assigned DesRon commander is the best choice for SCC within a typical carrier task group. The carrier commanding officer already is burdened with the challenges of running the task group's capital ship. In addition, as the Air Resources Element Coordinator, he and his operators are invariably fully committed to planning and executing complex, fluid air plans. The cruiser skipper will invariably assume the Air Warfare Commander role, placing a full demand on his resources while optimizing the application of his own ship's combat systems. The DesRon commander and his staff, on the other hand, can bring to bear their full energies on exploiting a multilayered, seaborne defense of the task group. Even within his small staff, the DesRon commander possesses the requisite range of talent to plan and execute the missions assigned.

Duties. As an evolving concept, the fleet commanders have provided liberal guidelines for the array of duties an Officer in Tactical Command might choose to assign to his SCC. In addition to the more expected functions in the major undersea and surface warfare areas, the SCC might also assume oversight responsibilities for Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Special Operations, Cruise Missile Launch Area Coordinator, and Helicopter Element Coordinator. It is true that the recent reorganization of destroyer squadrons was accompanied by a small increase in the squadron staff size. Assignment of all of the duties suggested above, however, could easily overwhelm this modest staff without significant augmentation. In many cases, oversight of some of these adjunct functions is better served at the task group commander level, which has a larger, more senior staff in place. In the Carl Vinson task group, for example, Commander Cruiser Destroyer Group Three (the Officer in Tactical Command) retained direct coordination of all rotary-wing allocations, but he ensured that the tactical needs of the SCC were ascendant in the daily assignment of helicopters to meet the task group's needs.

Communications. A single, high-frequency (HF) Sea Combat Coordination and Reporting voice radio net served adequately as the primary reporting medium. A parallel, ultra-high-frequency net furnished a secondary path for communications with individual aircraft as required. These voice channels replaced four separate networks under the previous warfare organization where the USWC and SUWC each demanded separately assigned short- and long-range voice capabilities. Although satellite networks would have been more desirable, the paucity of transceivers in the smaller surface combatants and aircraft required retention of an HF communications circuit to maintain connectivity across a frequently dispersed force.

Initial concerns that a single net for multiple warfare coverage would be overloaded were soon alleviated. The dual tasking of many units for both USW and SUW induced operators to consolidate reports. In general, the reduced communications gear requirements, especially important to the Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG-7)-class frigates, afforded all the players access.

An updated version of the Battle Group Information Exchange System (BGIXS II) revolutionized the carrier's communications with the direct-support submarines. Notebook computers, cabled directly into the ship's satellite communications system, facilitated both record traffic exchange and digitized transfer of graphics and photographs. The cruiser serving in the role of the alternate USW commander also was equipped with a unit. Extremely reliable and simple, BGIXS II also served as an alternate path for other warfare commanders to transmit tasking to the submarines.

Physical Location . This is critical. We have generally accepted the carrier as the most productive location for the destroyer squadron commander. At times, he may be required to cross-deck for bilateral exercises or to support Maritime Action Group tasking. However, collocation with the task group commander whenever possible is important. Hour-by-hour interaction with the Officer in Tactical Command's staff and the air wing is indispensable for flexible response in forward operating areas.

It is not enough just to put the SCC on the carrier; in his broadened role, he must enjoy ready access to the flagship's Tactical Action Officer and the Tactical Flag Command Center. In the Carl Vinson, the surface warfare module within the Combat Direction Center was reconfigured, replacing outdated or unused consoles and equipment with a user friendly command module arrangement approved and funded by the Type Commander. A single fusion plot complemented several Joint Maritime Command Information System consoles; this arrangement provided an improved comparative picture of force disposition and contact distribution. This central location placed the SCC watch within steps of other decision makers and provided easy access to the ship's undersea warfare module, where a more detailed subsurface picture was maintained. As might be expected, the SCC command module often became the hub of tactical activity; air crews visited routinely for updates.

Watch Organization. Although the destroyer squadron staff is sized about right to carry out duties as the Immediate Superior in Command of frigates and destroyers, the operational demands of a Sea Combat Commander and his attendant watch standing obligations required augmentation. On the Carl Vinson, personnel formerly assigned to the surface module served as the backbone of the SCC watch. Along with the regularly assigned destroyer squadron officers and chief petty officers, these operations specialists and radiomen fulfilled an important function in supporting the expanded role of the SCC.

Other invaluable additions to the SCC organization included maritime patrol and submarine liaison officers. Each contributed to the multiwarfare perspective required by the SCC. For specific periods, reserve officers from the Naval Control of Shipping organization offered a direct link to commercial maritime operations and baseline schedules to supplement maritime interception efforts.

If we are to organize and train the way we operate and fight, the Sea Combat Commander innovation offers economy and simplicity. Although still in its nascent stages, the SCC organization adds discipline to asset allocation and improves the overall management of the surface and subsurface components of maritime warfare.

By the very distinctions between mobilization and peacetime manning, few commands have enough personnel for sustained combat operations. As with any unit, overload can be a hazard for the SCC, but this will be the rare exception; alternate warfare commanders remain the backup should the tempo increase. In any event, a problem that may surface 5% of the time is hardly a reason to discredit the SCC concept. Scarcer assets require creative employment and multimission tasking. The Sea Combat Commander offers the unified structure for such force multiplication.

Fusing the disparate data related to underwater and surface operations and charging one warfare commander with directing multiple warfare areas are the keys to improved situational awareness and more effective asset allocation in the crowded littorals.

 

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