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.wo years ago, in the pages of the Proceedings, a naval officer asked where all the tacticians had gone.
"Crucial questions in the U. S. Navy’s continuing hid to hold, and carry out, the niissions it claims will be answered best by data from the operational environment rather than from computer wargames and the sterile cells of landbound analysts. ”
It was a good question, and the fact that it had to be asked tells much. It needs to be answered in terms that encourage the return of the lost tacticians.
But tactics, of course, are not devised in a vacuum; they are not simply new lines drawn on a sheet of maneuvering board paper as the creative impulse strikes. Tactics are determined by the characteristics of sensors and weapons and the knowledge of what can be done with them under a variety of circumstances. Sound tactics are an expression of profound naval and technical knowledge, and that knowledge cannot come without realistic, evaluated testing in the operational environment.
Historically, the Operational Test and Evaluation Force (OpTEvFor) has had a major role in determining the performance of new weapon systems. Lately that role has been redefined and expanded. However,
OpTEvFor’s contribution can only be part of a larger effort to help the Navy learn what it must know. It is not simply that many systems of great import have arrived in the fleet without experiencing adequate evaluation. The reasons are more fundamental—and inescapable.
To begin with, OpTEvFor’s evaluations cannot fully predict a system’s performance in the fleet, nor can they provide more than a starting point for tactics associated with its employment. This is not, let it be noted, a criticism of OpTEvFor, which has done an indispensable job. But, inherently, OpTEvFor evaluations have limits of cost and time and thus can include only a certain number of runs, encompassing restricted sets of tactical and environmental conditions. And, no matter how genuinely OpTEvFor would wish for the ideal of using representative fleet personnel, its evaluations necessarily must involve highly—even uniquely- qualified individuals whose knowledge and intensified experience in the maintenance and operation of their systems will not later be matched in the fleet. Moreover, those evaluation personnel almost always have the close, immediate backup of laboratory and manufacturer’s design and engineering personnel. They also have readier and swifter access to logistic support. The systems that come to OpTEvFor for evaluation are new. The toll that time and the harsh environment of the sea may take—the small, even subtle, degradations which can spell, in finely tuned systems operating close to the edge of the state of the art, possibly significant loss of performance—cannot be known.
But the factors which most severely limit the applicability of OpTEvFor’s initial findings concern the conditions of their tactical employment. OpTEvFor normally evaluates systems against specified performance criteria, primarily in bounded, one-on-one circumstances: one aircraft on one submarine or one missile ship contending with one target drone. The environment is chosen to be as clear of physical and radiating interference as possible. By contrast, the familiar tactical situation in the fleet involves the hurly- burly of task force operations. There the system must
contend in a busy, multi-threat environment in which the capabilities of all systems and platforms must be coordinated to achieve the greatest overall effectiveness. The way commanders choose to employ their varied systems tactically will often demand differing operational modes—even fundamental shifts in philosophy— from those which guided the project’s original concept and design.
A prominent example over recent years of how tactical commanders have been forced to modify radically, and even to suppress, numerous features central to the design of important systems has revolved about the use of active vs. passive modes. "Active” and "passive” refer, in this context, to the emissions of electromagnetic and acoustic energy. In essence, the fleets have discovered that they must contend in the present world with a legacy of systems created for one which is now past. Years of accustomed supremacy upon the seas have molded the U. S. Navy to forms which no longer serve. Where once it could thunder through the seas at will, a heedless giant, it has learned that it is only too clearly mortal and vulnerable; it must now tiptoe through many threat environments where formerly brute force was enough. The transition to the new tactics—knowing the choices and mastering the controls to assure that radiation emitted brings, on balance, more valuable return of information than it gives away—is a complex one, and tactical development of a high and sustained order in the fleet is required to achieve it. Yet awareness of the need for these profound changes came after OpTEvFor’s evaluations of many systems designed to meet very different, and less flexible, specifications of performance from those that could henceforth be needed in the fleet. OpTEvFor’s role in tactical development must be seen in perspective as at once vital and yet limited. It furnishes an early baseline, something to build upon, but it cannot be expected to define the roles and modes of employment of systems which, themselves undergoing change, must continually adapt to emerging threats and a variety of tactical situations in many seas, extending across years of future operational life. OpTEvFor’s results shed light a little way into an unknowable future. The fleet must take it from there.
Unfortunately, the fleet all too often does not take it from there. Development of tactics in the fleet is a laggard art, progressing at best fitfully. It is not accorded the priority, and hence the means, to go about doing it properly. And for this, decade upon decade, the Navy pays a tremendous price.
Many requirements compete for the attention and the resources of the fleet, and it inevitably falls short of being able to meet those requirements. Today, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, we contend with
tight budgets, a reduction in the tempo of operations, and a widespread feeling, impossible not to sympathize with, that it is time to achieve a more ordered, stable Navy and to give greater emphasis to long neglected problems of personnel, maintenance, and training. Thus, powerful arguments array themselves against anyone who would urge that the fleet somehow manage to carve out of its seemingly solid block of commitments greater support for the development of tactics. Yet the premise of this article is that the fleet must and can do exactly that. Because tactical development is not a frill—a distraction to be tolerated—but a creative activity whose results are indispensable to the readiness and progress of the Navy- Further, fleet tactical development is not, as it is widely viewed, in competition with fleet training; in fact, they have inseparable and complementary goals.
In the tactical development successes of the past there is clear and abundant experience to guide the Navy in identifying areas of greatest promise and in telling it how best to proceed in tackling them.
Of course, development of tactics has, with varying degrees of intensity and imagination, always been a feature of the fleet’s existence. For this article’s purposes, however, it is enough to glance over the past decade or so to learn most, the good and the bad, of what we need to know. The year 1965 marked the arrival of significant numbers of analysts at various fleet operational commands and the beginning of a systematic effort at collection and recording of accurate and realistic operational data. This surge of activity, originally associated with a freshening emphasis on antisubmarine warfare, at once provided the fleet with a sharp increase in analytic resources and accompanying evidence of high-level, authoritative backing of fleet tactical development. That this sudden concern was spurred by OpNav’s own celebrated battles with the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Systems Analysis Office, and its needs for data to help justify Navy force levels, is beside the point. What mattered were the good things that happened because of it: the increased operational activity dedicated to tactical development and the quickening of interest throughout the Navy in knowing much more about what our ships and planes were doing in the oceans. Intellectual curiosity and creative energies were unleashed.
Tactical development projects came about essentially in two different ways. The distinction was the subtle but important, one of sponsorship, i.e., whether the project was initiated in Washington or grew out of the fleet’s own motivations. The range of the projects was wide, including improvement of fixed wing aircraft in ASW, tests of surveillance systems, analysis of "real world” operations, early experiments with towed arrays, concepts of task force defense, deceptive acoustic countermeasures, verification of ASW prediction systems, tests of specific hardware systems, electromagnetic countermeasures, and many more. The names of these projects, mostly now lapsed, need not be mentioned here; they are, to the many who took part in them, a familiar litany of tactical development in the Sixties and early Seventies.
Though nostalgia might so incline, we cannot pretend that all of these projects were rousing successes, alike uniformly leading onward and upward to better things. But many were successes, shedding light on important new areas of investigation, delivering quantitative data where there had been only hunch and instinct before, and raising issues whose implications radiated far, not only in the Fleet, but throughout the Washington level and the research and development community. Let’s look at those factors which made for success.
► Command Sponsorship: Foremost, projects went somewhere only with the backing of senior naval officers at many levels. Without their caring, their prodding, and the sustained exercise of their authority to press for the performance demanded—to insist, among other details, upon excellence in data collection by fleet units inclined to resist its burden—nothing very much would have happened.
► Forces. Here again, there was command attention in obtaining what was needed; successful projects would have available to them sufficient forces of the desired configurations. While dedicated forces were seldom obtained (nor rarely desired lest a special group be created which could in itself become nonrepresentative of the realities of fleet operations), the numbers of the units and systems involved and the duration of their operations would meet the minimum requirements of the scheduled tests and exercises.
► Exercises: Key to the success of certain projects were large-scale exercises dedicated to, and focused upon, specific tactical development objectives. These were conducted in a realistic operational environment, with a minimum of artificialities and arbitrary restrictions. Crucially, analysts had a strong say in the experiment design, harmonizing its form to the objectives. They were not brought in afterwards and then asked to make what they could of a mishmash of results from an exercise which they had had no say in framing.
► Analytic Resources: These included analysts and engineers, experienced in their fields and melded as a team, working under the guidance of knowledgeable naval officers. And, where choices could be made, the engineer and the experienced operator would be valued
over the individual who was solely master of analytic techniques. These teams were dedicated, fleet-sited for major segments of time, and did not simply coalesce and then disband after each exercise. Continuity was assured, and the project’s lore of experience did not vanish with the departure of individuals. The experience that remained, a "corporate memory,” avoided the stop-and-go approach that has characterized so much of tactical development effort. It provided the basis for creating steadily ascending levels of improving tactics.
► Data Collection: The gathering of data was extensive and carefully supervised, and the data collection personnel of fleet units were supplemented by analysts who assisted in assuring the data’s quality and completeness. Not merely did this increase the value of the data, but, by permitting the analyst to observe operations, greatly enhanced his understanding of events whose results and implications he would subsequently have to assess.
In a nutshell, it is qualified and dedicated people, a sustained organization, seniors who care, and the generation of data from the operational environment that make tactical development projects go and be worth the trouble they take.
Differences in conducting tactical development projects, whether initiated in the fleet or demanded from Washington, are obviously slight. The most visible difference in the projects is in their staying power. Those sponsored by Washington are almost always in response to suddenly arising, high-priority needs for specific information. Born in urgency, those needs tend to have a high peaking of interest and a swift subsidence. Fleet-initiated projects are not immune to false starts or transitory enthusiasm either, but they should be fewer in number. Projects arising from the fleet’s own identified problems are more likely to endure, to be pursued until the answers to the substantive problems out of which they were initiated have been answered. Logically, irresistibly then, it is the fleet— which must learn to make best use of what it has been provided—that should be the prime mover in tactical development.
Recognition of this was reflected in the setting up, several years ago, of the tactical development and evaluation (TacD&E) program (whose title accuractely reflects the significant associated role that evaluation plays). Responsibility for its accomplishment was assigned to the fleet. Ironically, however, while there now actually is a fleet tactical development program at last—formalized by its own set of initials, a charter, organization, nominal blessings from on high, et al.— much less is happening. Activity that was formerly
unorganized and unstructured, but dynamic and productive, has been succeeded by a program that has all the definition and trappings of worthy endeavor but is rigid and unimaginative in practice, producing little. Not all the lessons of the past have been lost, but most of the ingredients identified as necessary for successful projects are now missing or inoperative. The analysts are still at the fleet commands in their numbers of old, but at the core of their activity, the things that bring vitality and confidence to their efforts—the
"A fleet tactical development program can be an antidote for the doubts of a Navy which worries that its skills may never be needed or that, if major war comes, it will be only nuclear arms that matter.”
stimulus of experiment and new data from dedicated exercises in the blue water—are not there. A Navy that has never yet made a truly sustained commitment to tactical development now gives it less than ever. The strong, if fitful, patterns of pressure from Washington have ebbed, and the fleet—preoccupied with its own problems—has not generated its own motivation to do the job.
To be sure, there are impressive lists of TacD&E projects, extravagant statements of goals, a seeming vortex of activity, but the impression is misleading. Because TacD&E is a currently fashionable buzzword, many fleet exercises manage to acquire its designation, either in whole or in part. But those exercises are, in fact, training exercises, a simulacrum of genuine TacD&E, adopting its vocabulary but not its disciplines. And we are kidding ourselves by thinking that we can cram far more objectives into sea exercises than there are results to be profitably extracted. All our experience and the logic of operations research teach us otherwise.
With the distinctions blurred, a large part of our fleet TacD&E analytic resources are now diverted to involvement in training exercises. Though their contributions to TacD&E are scant, such exercises undergo the identical reconstruction and detailed analysis as would those designed to be rich in tactical significance. The reports of these training exercises, laboriously prepared and destined to be unread, their bulk fattened by chronologies and track charts, crowd the shelves of technical libraries, contributing as little, unfortunately, to training as they do to TacD&E. When they finally
appear many months later, the vividness of events has since faded in the minds of the exercise participants who are long dispersed and busy with other concerns. Explicable only in terms of habit, it is a way of doing business that wastes creative energies that could otherwise be devoted to TacD&E.
If, indeed, TacD&E and training in the fleet were truly at odds, and if it had to be decided that only one of them could be done well, it is obvious, even to the fervent apostle of tactical development, that training must be the fleet’s choice. However, they are not at odds; their readiness goals are one and the same, and solution of the seeming problem of resource allocation does not require deciding in favor of one or the other. Solution lies in continued joint use of forces and in simply shifting their focus and emphasis. We should turn our approach around and forthrightly aim to design and conduct exercises whose foremost purposes are tactical development and evaluation. Do so, and, in the process of achieving tactical development, an atmosphere of purpose, operational activity, and stimulus is created from which training is not merely a slighted by-product but is itself enhanced.
It is not suggested, of course, that all present training, especially those basic drills and exercises which essentially involve the advancement of an individual unit’s skills, should be dedicated to tactical development. Rather it is primarily meant that we should use those larger exercises, involving the coordination of the various arms of naval warfare—the harmonization of diverse systems capabilities (where we are weakest)—to their fullest potential to educate ourselves.
Is it really worth all the trouble? Is there large and identifiable gain in reviving and sustaining a major program of tactical development as one of the fleet’s vital priorities? For answers, let’s examine what the Navy could get from it.
The first boon, from which all other benefits would come, is knowledge. From fleet tactical development the Navy learns what its systems and platforms can do, both individually and when aggregated into task forces. It learns reality, its capability for war and hotv it may be advanced. TacD&E, done right, creates its own strong artery of information and insight flowing back to Washington. It provides invaluable input to the material commands, the analytic community, the naval laboratories, and the offices of the Chief of Naval Operations to guide force level decisions, system design and procurement, and the future thrust of research and development. Successful programs in the past have repeatedly attracted the interest of developmental commands and drawn them in to offer and to support early tryout of promising ideas and systems, thereby notably accelerating subsequent introduction into the fleet.
Unmeasurable, but tangible, would be the benefits to fleet personnel in the curiosity and intellectual ferment which tactical development can arouse. In ships today, in the preoccupation of their people with problems nearer at hand, there is a marked lack of interest in tactics and an absence of the kinds of discussion that normally accompany a wish for understanding of the roles and capabilities of various units and how they fit in the overall scheme of things. Talk to fleet officers about tactics, and there is mostly the responding awkwardness of men who wish they had thought more about them. In a vigorous tactical development program, bright minds would find challenge presently denied them. There would also be heartening evidence, so necessary to the young officer debating the merits of a naval career, of the value his seniors place upon tactics.
Naval leadership knows the great benefit of a feeling of purpose in a ship, of common effort that can draw it together with a sense of shared meaning. When that exists, many other problems have a way of disappearing, or at least diminishing. A fleet tactical development program can help to lend one of those extra elements of pride to many a ship, task force, and staff by giving larger meaning to the routine tasks of everyday naval life. It can also be an antidote for the doubts of a Navy which forever saddles up for crises that culminate neither in resolution nor conflict. It thus worries that its skills may never be needed or that, if major war does come, it will be only nuclear arms that matter.
Lastly, tactical development projects educate; they teach the people of our Navy their profession in ways that our war colleges and widely expanded postgraduate programs never can. Its results can aid in the long overdue rethinking of the Navy’s objectives and priorities. Crucial questions in the U. S. Navy’s continuing bid to hold and carry out its missions will be answered best by data from the operational environment rather than from computer war- games and the sterile cells of landbound analysts.
The future directions of the surface warship, the degree to which the carrier task force can defend itself—in what geographic areas and against what kind of threats—how the power of the submarine can be checked, and how emerging technology can best serve changing perceptions of sea power are all challenges to naval understanding to which well-conceived TacD&E can contribute much. And with that understanding, a U. S. Navy which has had much trouble of late in selling itself to the Congress and the American people might witness its arguments gaining in cogency and validity.
It should be noted that, not unexpectedly, the submarine force is exempt from most of the foregoing comments and exhortations. Its own TacD&E program has long had focus, a high order of professionalism, and sustained effort; the objectives of both the Washington levels and the submarine forces have been in essential harmony. To the inevitable reply that the submarine forces have a lot extra going for them besides the opacity of seawater—among other things, well bounded sets of missions and control of all the necessary resources—this truth can only be conceded. But, in its grasp of where it wants to go in TacD&E and how to get there, it also provides an example not to be too swiftly discounted.
So with all that has been said, and despite the experience of many who have participated in tactical development at its best and known its benefits, the formidable difficulties of its implementation nevertheless remain. Economies, dwindling resources, and reasonable disbelief by many that training really can be achieved, and even be enhanced, within the framework of tactical development are the bases for persuasive counterarguments. Unspoken, but powerful too, is the shortsighted reluctance of the partisans of various arms of naval warfare to let their favorites be subjected to the sometimes harsh light of competitive evaluation.
But before it be concluded that nothing more can be done, nothing changed, take a last glance at an officer in the fleet. Observe him crunching his way through his paperwork and the odds and the ends of trivia that take such a heavy toll of his days. Examine, too, his ship’s schedule over a period of time and assess the value of its various operations. Suppose, instead, that a fair part of that officer’s unproductive time, and a number of those dubious ship days, could be reprogrammed in dedication to TacD&E in order to make that ship, and the task force of which she is a part, more likely to prevail in conflict.
Is there anything else that that officer and his ship ought to be doing that matters more?
Captain Smith served 25 years in the U. S. Navy, retiring from active duty in 1971. His last billet was as chief of staff for analysis, Antisubmarine Warfare Force, U. S. Pacific Fleet. Captain Smith’s naval career at sea was primarily in destroyers, including command of the USS Wilkinson (DL-5), and ashore in the fields of antisubmarine warfare and fleet test and evaluation. Since his retirement, Captain Smith has managed the Hawaiian operation of the Advanced Technology Center, Inc., and has been president and cofounder of Pacific Analysis Corporation in Honolulu. Now relocated in Washington, D.C., he is senior analyst with Undersea Research Corporation. He has written extensively for the Naval Institute, including winning the prize essay contest in 1966 and 1971.
 Captain R. A. Bowling, USN (Retired), "Where Have All the Tacticians Gone?” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, June 1974, pp. 58-62