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trol problems. “Red Flag” air combat maneuvering
Arleigh Burke, shown with Marc Mitscher, did not write the book on open-ocean warfare, but he did dictate a series of After Battle Reports which, 40 years later, suggest that war at sea hasn’t changed all that much despite the impact of technology on our ships and men.
Sustained combat operations at sea are the heart of the U. S. Navy’s mission, yet few in the fleet today are experienced in open-ocean combat. Moreover, many believe that the lessons learned from World War II are now of little interest. They argue that changes in technology have so altered naval warfare that lessons for our combatants lay in more recent engagements. In fact, however, the basic nature of combat afloat has changed little since World War II.
In July and August 1945, then-Commodore Arleigh A. Burke dictated a series of After Battle Reports outlining his experiences as a destroyer squadron commander in the Solomons and later as Chief of Staff to Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher with the fast carrier task forces.1 The reports were not meant to be a definitive study of war at sea, but they do provide valuable insights for those who joined the fleet after World War II. More important, they can serve as a baseline for evaluating lessons from other naval conflicts since 1945.
There are five main recurring themes in Admiral Burke’s narrative: (1) characteristics of combat, (2) command, (3) planning and coordination, (4) training, and (5) tactics. These themes were compared with reports from several recent conflicts, including the Grenada operation of 1983, the 1982 Falklands War, the naval engagements off Syria in 1973, the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, and U. S. carrier operations off Vietnam and Korea.2 The conclusion is that there is more continuity than change in the
nature of combat. To illustrate this, selected quotes fr° After Battle Reports are compared with experiences tro more recent wars.
Characteristics of Combat
Admiral Burke stresses four characteristics of cortiba ■ uncertainty, urgency, fatigue, and shortages.
“Nothing in a battle [is] ever going to go right, but nobody ever realizes it until he gets into a battle. • You’re never going to have everything perfect, y°u , never going to be sure that you know what you shou do, or what the enemy is doing, or that you kno where your forces are.” (no. 411, p. 5)
The “fog of war” envelops all battles. It may c011^ from uncertain intelligence as in the early stages of m Falklands, dedicated deception as practiced by the S°v.( ets, or simple confusion. We sometimes try to simulate in peacetime. But exercises are usually well-defir1® • events are carefully scheduled, and we are pleased whe^ the operations go according to plan. There is little chan®^ to practice the split-second decisions and improvisab amidst chaos which are called for in combat.
In some areas, however, we are getting better. The ^ cently introduced “major conflagration” drills on boa ship disrupt the normal chain of command and deman that “survivors” improvise to solve urgent damage c° cises place dissimilar aircraft in realistic free-play scena£ ios on instrumented ranges. Still, in order to use scafj(, training resources efficiently, we tend to structure our ^ ercises too rigidly and lull ourselves into thinking that tual combat will be more predictable than.it really lS- Urgency
“Time is all-important. . . . [It] is the only commod*^ which you can never regain. An attack right now m , mean much more than an attack a minute from noW- (no. 411, p. 5; no. 411-1, p. 13)
ML ^ \ I
This principle is unassailable in the abstract. The problem is logistics. The British wasted large amounts of antimissile chaff and many antisubmarine weapons against false alarms in the first few days off the Falklands. Israeli chaff seduced prematurely launched Syrian antiship missiles off Latakia in 1973. Given likely shortages of very expensive homing ordnance, firing guidance may become something like “Don’t shoot ’till you’re sure.” And yet, with weapons that hit on the first shot, waiting to be sure may prove fatal. The need for fast and accurate identification and localization is obvious. He who first classifies and targets his enemy will probably win.3
“We were tired, sleepy and needed rest, [but] . . . there is never any time that you cannot be alert, must always have someone ready.” (no. 411-1, p. 14)
Many other combat chronicles describe this sense of exhaustion, which can rarely be matched in peacetime. It is hard to argue that excessive fatigue, with its attendant dangers, should be planned into fleet exercises, but we should not delude ourselves into thinking that we can escape it in combat.
“Fuel in destroyers was always a problem. . . . [We] had gone hungry a couple of times because we . . . had to choose between replenishment and getting up on the firing line. We always chose the firing line. . . . The ships wore out slowly. . . . They never had time to make the minor repairs which, ... if not corrected, will soon develop into a serious deficiency.” (no. 417, pp. 16 and 2; no. 417-2, p. 23)
ina. Admiral Burke adds another—concern for personnel and also discusses techniques of combat command, sue as changes in battle plans, control by negation, inform3 tion management, and unity of command.
“You must take your reports and act quickly. Time is all-important.” (no. 411, p. 5)
The virtue of decisiveness recurs throughout the litera ture of war and ties in closely with Admiral Burke s em phasis that time is critical. He once described the dif er ence between a good officer and a poor one as “about seconds.”6
“Luck usually rides with the bold. ... No force ever be ready for attack; neither will the enemy. If oU forces could attack and hit first, the prospects for suC cess were good.” (no. 411, pp. 10-11)
This point can be carried too far, for aggressiveness must be tempered by a careful balancing of risks vers gains. Still, history suggests that tactical aggressivene^ wins more often than not (at least at sea). Moreover, successful strike early in a campaign may demoralize enemy and reduce his effectiveness far beyond the damag actually inflicted. General Moore has described Br'n5 desires “to achieve, early on, a clear success. . . ■” 1 was achieved with the sinking of the General Belgfan^’
Falklands. Similarly, Indian Navy strikes against Karad1! in early December 1971 apparently preempted Pakist3 surface operations.8
which effectively ended the Argentine surface threat m
These were problems even on the side that won; it would be little different today. British commanders in the Falklands were lavishly supplied during the week of 2 April 1982. As a result, the British joint task force was well-stocked when it sailed for the South Atlantic, and an exceptional logistic effort continued to support it there. Yet combat losses, plus the 7,500-mile length of the pipeline, led to serious shortages even during a ten-and-one- half-week campaign. Major General Jeremy Moore stated that some of his artillery batteries were down to only six rounds per gun by the morning following the final night attacks.4 Equipment maintenance was also difficult.
Similar experiences were common in Korea and the Middle East, and should be expected in any major conflict, including a U. S.-Soviet war. Thus, shortages are a basic condition of battle. Rather than protesting peacetime restrictions on training ammunition, spare parts, and such, we should relearn Admiral Ernie J. King’s dictum to “do the best you have with what you’ve got” and fund more sustainability while there is still time.5
Aggressiveness is needed to seize the initiative,
retaining it sometimes entails tactical withdrawals. Re Admiral John Woodward’s care in keeping his carr'e , east of the Falklands for protection paralleled Adn'U Raymond Spruance’s refusal to accept the risk of a mg surface action during the Battle of Midway.
“There are very few people who suffer from comh3 fatigue who realize it, or who realize its important They will try harder, they will try to do more, and harder they work, the more tired they get and the e they can do. . . . This happens to high command t0 ’ and all the way down to the lowest and newest s man.” (no. 417-3, p. 2)
Individual stamina cannot eliminate combat fatigue,
The nature of combat dictates the qualities that are needed in combat leaders. Based on the preceding, these qualities include: decisiveness, aggressiveness, and stam
it can reduce its effects. The Navy’s current emphasis physical fitness is more significant operationally thau commonly appreciated. In addition to building however, commanders must accept the inevitability °* tigue, understand its effects, and compensate for f They must force themselves to rest, delegate whene possible, and “check very carefully iriformation recei from tired people.” (no. 411-1, p. 7)
Concern for Personnel , ,
“One of the most i is to watch out for 1
important things for any eornma _ r his personnel .... [Admiral
scher] did not operate his people when the conditions were too hazardous and when the payoff was not great enough. He never willingly expended a pilot as is sometimes thought of in peacetime .... [I]f a ship were damaged, he invariably tried to get it back to port.” (no. 411-3, pp. 1-2)
The importance of a commander’s attitude toward his men has been proven time and again. The resentment reportedly felt by some U. S. troops in Vietnam toward ‘‘careerist” officers stands as a warning from our own experience. Yet we must not underestimate an opponent simply because he cares for his men differently than we do. In the first place, there will always be elite groups within any armed force which will perform above average—the Argentine Air Force is a good example. In the second place, cultural differences may satisfy needs in very different ways, as in the case of Islamic warriors who believe that there is no surer path to heaven than to die in battle with the infidel.
Changes in Battle Plans
“[U]sually changes [to plans] made under stress are not good. Consequently, the lesson . . . was not to try to change the plans in the heat of battle unless I thought it was extremely important. Minor changes Should not be made because the making of [such changes] would cause more confusion than the results you would ob-
tain. ... A major change should be made only when the outcome of the battle will be made surer, rather than to change from one possibly good solution to another possibly good solution.” (no. 411, p. 5)
This point is also about keeping the initiative. In Admiral Woodward’s words, ‘‘A good plan gains the initiative for you first, causing the enemy to make hasty decisions on inadequate evidence. The more decisions he has to make, the greater his chances of making a bad one.”9 Unfortunately, modem communications promise the ability to make changes quickly. Yet exercise experience repeatedly shows that there will be problems even with things as basic as frequency shifts, much less changes to orders in the heat of battle. If engaged, such problems can quickly squander the initiative. Flexibility is a military virtue, but it is no substitute for sound planning.
Control by Negation
“Delegation of authority is always hard, and under such circumstances as a battle . . . , it requires more than is usually meant by confidence, it requires an act of faith. . . . [Y]et, past actions in this and other wars indicate successful action resulted from the exercise of initiative by well-indoctrinated subordinates, (no. 411, P- ID
“[The subordinate] commander notified his boss every time he did anything, but he notified him as he was doing it. He did not ask permission to do something, he never asked permission to attack. . . .” (no. 411, p.
“The exercise of initiative by well-indoctrinated subordinates” has been a war-winning approach for U. S., British, and Israeli forces for many years. Nevertheless, modem communications can undercut this penchant for initiative through too much guidance and demand for feedback. We should not confuse the ability to communicate with the need to direct. Vice Admiral Joseph Metcalf turned these modem communications capabilities to his advantage with very frequent situation reports to higher authority. He credits this push of information up the chain of command as the key to his being allowed to keep control of the Grenada operation at the local level.10 Admiral Burke gives a fine example:
“[W]e received the perfect operational dispatch from ComSoPac as follows: ‘31-knot Burke, get aboard the Buka-Rabaul evacuation line about 35 miles west of Buka. If no enemy contacts by 0300(L) the 25th, come south to refuel, same place. If enemy contacted, you know what to do.’ Such orders are ideal. They were plenty flexible. They gave us all the information we needed, and how we did the job was entirely up to us.” (no. 411-2, p. 2)
“There is never enough digested information available. Information that is most desired, that is most needed, is current information, which is awfully difficult to get. In order to obtain this information, [Admiral Mitscher] interviewed returning pilots . . . [and] obtained quick
Speaking of the Falklands War, Admiral WoodW^ noted that, “It is, perhaps, the most important less°n this whole operation that large-scale joint operation need a single joint force commander in a joint force n quarters.”13 Separate ground force commanders, air
n°t simple plans. Partly in reaction, the OpGen mes-
nient commanders, and so on, may be needed, but some- °ne must be in overall charge at any one moment. The avy-Marine Corps team has worked this out between the anding force commander and the commander of the amphibious task force, but relationships with other services are less clear and must be planned carefully. Much criti- Cls,T! has been aimed at the command structure of the Ira- n,an hostage raid, but we seem to have learned some les- s°hs. One of the keys to success in the Grenada operation ^as that diverse units were allowed to fight the way they ad been trained to fight, and not forced to use another ^rvice’s tactics or doctrine. Close air support with aircraft r°m different services is almost certain to be a problem in
Current OpOrders average several hundred pages; they ri^e system has been developed to summarize key infor- C atl0n, such as the antiair warfare commander’s inten- Q°ns- This is a step in the right direction, but usually the PCens themselves are either so cryptic that they must be deciphered for watchstanders, or so verbose that they approach the OpOrders in length. The complexity of modem warfare and rules of engagement notwithstanding, we have strayed far from the days when Admiral Mitscher and his chief of staff controlled 16 carriers in combat with an average of one page of message instructions per day.14
“It is absolutely necessary that all hands learn to cooperate. . . . Everybody remarks that this is a truism, but there are times when there’s very little cooperation. [I]n order to cooperate with a man you’ve got to have conferences with him, you’ve got to know what he is thinking. . . . [I]t’s essential that the top people bend their utmost efforts to do the job, because if they do not, their lack of cooperation will be intensified in the lower echelons.” (no. 411-2, p. 21)
There has been remarkable progress in Navy-Air Force cooperation over the past few years. What we in the Navy do not do is cooperate very well with one another— especially if we are in different warfare specialties. This is particularly serious, since war at sea has become a combined arms effort, and no one is going to win it on his own. Cross-pollinization gets paid lavish lip service, but it is amazing how little of it actually occurs.15 Many excuses
. The idea was to keep the enemy on two horns dilemma so that no matter which way he went, no
of3 mat' hit
are offered, from the press of time to professional jealousy. Few of these will be of any consequence on the battlefield.
Admiral Burke also counsels holding frequent conferences, especially after operations, to establish lessons learned. Pre-action conferences can help subordinate commanders get to know their admiral and his expectations. However, aside from occasional squadron or group meetings and massive hot washup conferences after exercises, commanding officers of fleet units do not confer much in peacetime. Still, Admiral Burke, an experienced man, advises us otherwise, and we disregard it at our peril.
The trick is how to implement conferences while at sea in wartime. Nelson assembled his “band of brothers” as he closed for action, but decreased threat warning times now make us loath to leave our ships under way.16 Fortunately, secure voice communications can compensate somewhat. Each evening during the Falklands War, Admiral Woodward conferred with his antiair warfare commander by covered radiotelephone. Individual commanding officers were free to listen. Such discussions cannot completely substitute for face-to-face meetings, but they can go a long way, especially if those on each end of the circuit know each other personally.
“In the heat of battle you don’t remember very much, you don’t think very fast, you act by instinct, which is really training, so that you’ve got to be trained for battle and you will react just exactly the way you do in training.” (no. 411, p. 5)
This quote is widely applied in U. S. Navy training. Admiral Woodward disagrees with it somewhat. First, he found that performance in combat often was better than in drills, though rarely worse. Second, he believes that developing instinctive reactions can only work partway up the chain of command; senior commanders must be more flexible and innovative.17
In any case, a tougher, more realistic attitude is needed toward the exercise time that we have. When each towed sleeve is treated as an inbound aircraft trying to kill you, and last-minute declarations of “tracking runs” resulting from equipment casualties are disallowed, then we may be getting somewhere. At the same time, war is largely boredom. Thus, the proficiency of alerted operators detecting targets during short windows of vulnerability should not be mistaken for the performance of tired operators presented with a fleeting, tenuous contact after several days
of transit. Our training must include both scenarios- nally, there must be ways to teach senior people to i|in° vate and improvise.
Many of Admiral Burke’s tactical discussions are base on World War II destroyer actions with short-range t° pedo attacks covered by longer range gunfire. Squadron division coordination was a key issue, where today ba group integrity is central. Nonetheless, his points abo doctrine and flexibility are timeless.
“Attack by a simple doctrine. There is no time in battl® to give orders. People must know what they do bet° they go into battle. Consequently, the doctrine must ^ simple so they will remember it under very adve conditions.
“This doctrine that we had adopted was not ne'V
ter what he did, somebody would always be able to him and the man who did not hit him was always ava able to cover the force that was striking.” (no. 411' • P- 13)
The British used this concept in the Falklands by c°ve^ ing Argentine surface forces with nuclear-powered att® submarines while they were outside the weapons range the Royal Navy task force. The variety of combined ar assets in modem naval warfare offers even more ex sions of the “two horns of a dilemma” doctrine if we imaginative enough. It also offers opportunities for111 vative kinds of mutual support. ^
Keeping “Bird Dog” aircraft over potentially hos surface craft is another way to provide mutual supP , using assets from different communities. The British u mixed pairs of “Type-22” frigates with point dete° and “Type-42” destroyers with longer range rnissil'-'sl8 complement each other’s air defenses in the Falkland ■ Flexibility
[W]e learned that tactics are ever-changing. . • ■ ^
tics that are good today may not be good a week t ^ today. . . . You must be able to adapt your metho s those of the enemy or you must be able to f°rcCt enemy into adopting your pattern. . . . You ca become inflexible.” (no. 417-3, p. 4)
to be evolved so that we could replenish at sea” (no. P- 2). These issues could be the basis for several
At first glance, this may seem to conflict with the need ~?r simple and easily understood doctrines. But not really, repeated use of the same attack corridors into North 'etnam by U. S. strike planners may have been bad tac- 1Cs- But this did not necessarily impugn the doctrine of suPporting low-level air strikes with defense suppression aircraft and combat air patrol.
After Battle Reports discusses many other issues, inking the problems of dealing with newsmen—“[They] always disgruntled because some steps had not been ^ en to provide them with an outlet” (no. 417-3, p. 7); a‘f size—“The total overall work done by a too-small staff is more than the total overall work done by a too-big Staff” (no. 417-3, p. 4); and logistics—“Some method other articles.
however, the focus of this paper is on combat, and in ais area Admiral Burke’s comments convey a sense of P "j ga cfo ang£' p[us c’est la me me chose. Even as we seek . e niost recent of lessons, we should not forget that there |s ntuch we can learn from history as well. The observa- '°ns of Admiral Burke, Vice Admiral Metcalf, Vice dmiral Woodward, and others are available to us. We s °uld pay them heed.
U. S. NAVY (T. C. DAVIS)
from Vice Admiral Woodward to author, forwarded under Flag Officer Submarines letter serial SM. 5000/6.A/l of 9 October 1984. Hereafter cited as “Comments.” The Insight Team of the London Sunday Times, The Yam Kippur War (New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1974). Ravi Kaul, “The Indo-Pakistani War and the Changing Balance of Power in the Indian Ocean,” Proceedings, May 1973, pp. 172-195. Malcolm W. Cagle, “Task Force 77 in Action Off Vietnam,” Proceedings, May 1972, pp. 66-109. Malcolm W. Cagle and Fred A. Manson, The Sea War in Korea (Annapolis: U. S. Naval Institute Press, 1957). Manuscript of a presentation by Vice Admiral Joseph Metcalf III to the Joint Workshop in Decision Making in Military Organizations, 27 January 1984, hereafter cited as Metcalf. 3John Boyd’s Observation-Orientation-Decison-Action model is useful here. See, for example, Linton Wells II, “Maneuver in Naval Warfare,” Proceedings, December 1980, pp. 34-41.
4Moore and Woodward, p. 31.
Nevertheless, there are doubts that funds are actually supporting the rhetoric. See, for example, Michael B. Edwards, “Supporting the 600 Ship Navy,” Proceedings, August 1983.
6Admiral Burke, in remarks to author, 1970.
7Moore and Woodward, p. 27.
8Kaul, p. 190.
9“Comments,” p. 7.
10“Comments,” p. 7; Metcalf, p. 17.
11 “Comments,” p. 9.
12Admiral Woodward noted that, except for kill assessments, many estimates against a real enemy tend to be overly pessimistic.
l3Moore and Woodward, p. 27. The joint task force commander was in the United
Kingdom, not in the South Atlantic.
l4Admiral Burke, remarks to naval study group, 1979.
,5The Royal Navy is ahead of the U. S. Navy at this. For example, Admiral Woodward is a nuclear submarine officer, as well as a surface ship ASW specialist. He commanded an AAW destroyer before becoming an aircraft carrier battle group commander.
,6There also was a daily commander’s conference on board the flagship off Grenada. Metcalf, p. 29. l7“Comments,” pp. 2 and 12.
,8See Brenda Ralph Lewis, “The Loss of HMS Coventry,” Proceedings, September 1984, pp. 141-43.
‘,b()Cr^attk Reports is a series of eight narratives, mostly chronological, totalling Bu Uk Pages. They are available on microfiche as Naval Records Library films, cord FS:^ 1 (recorded 31 July 1945), 411-1 (recorded 31 July 1945), 411-2 (reed 1 August 1945), 411-3 (recorded 8 August 1945), 417 (recorded 20 August
417-1 (recorded 20 August 1945), 417-2 (recorded 21 August 1945), and
Secret. Declassified 25
a (recorded 21 August 1945). Originally classified "pr,l 1962
tU(ec Falklands Experience," a Lecture Given at the Royal United Services Insti- Ad . on 20 October 1982, by Major General Sir Jeremy Moore and Rear m'ral Sir John Woodward in RUSI, March 1983, pp. 25-32. Also, comments
Commander Wells is a 1967 graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy and is commanding officer of the USS Joseph Strauss (DDG-16). Other sea tours have included the USS Marathon (PG-89), USS Josephus Daniels (DLG-27), USS Richard E. Byrd (DDG-23), and USS Lockwood (IT- 1064). Ashore, he served in Op-96 and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He has done graduate work in mathematical sciences and international relations at the Johns Hopkins University and attended the Japanese National Defense College in Tokyo. His article “Maneuver in Naval Warfare” was published in the December 1980 Proceedings, and “Weather and Darkness in Contemporary Naval Operations” appeared in the May 1982 Naval Review Issue of Proceedings.
reports from other task group commanders.
3, p. 2)
The information management problem today is c0 . pounded by the computer, which ingests all data, ^ and bad, and then displays them with an aura of abso authenticity. It takes only a few spurious tracks in a tac cal data link to cause great confusion. This is not a F dite-like call for a return to manual combat informat1 centers, but it should be a reminder of the critical imP0.^ tance of track supervision, which is too often neglects busy environments. Interestingly, the British in the Fa lands found that a manual plot was still the best way direct and plan for a large, widespread operation. <,
The post-exercise quick-look message is common Navy practice. However, exercise reconstructions sugS^ that quick looks often are overly optimistic and may eV^ be misleading. So are many actual post-strike damage
sessments.12 Perhaps the best bet is for commanders continue debriefing those returning from the scene * 3 * * * * then discount the optimism based on experience. We a ^ must teach our people how to report in battle: to pr°v. essential information quickly, concisely, and accural The peerless prose can wait for more leisurely times- Unity of Command
“[I]n any operation, there must be one man in
. . . There cannot be two commanders.” (no-