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Today’s surface warfare officers spread themselves too thin. It’s time engineer and tactical career paths split, so that a commander can concentrate on fighting such sophisticated ships as the new Aegis guided-missile destroyer John Paul Jones (DDG-53).
Life was somewhat simpler when John Paul Jones wrote: “It is by no means enough that an officer of the Navy be a capable mariner. He must be that of course but also a great deal more. . . Over time, the “great deal more” aspect of his treatise has prevailed, culminating in the development of today’s surface warfare officer (SWO). Jones’s credo was to become a reflection °f the evenhanded sense of importance given to every aspect of being a surface officer in the unrestricted line, traditionally acknowledged as a master in the art of prioritization. On the negative side, it has contributed to the evolution of a career path that fails to elevate the cardinal aspects of warfare to their rightful positions.
Perhaps Jones would moderate the broad expanse of officer requisites demanded of the commanding officer of the John Paul Jones (DDG-53), the third ship of the Ar- leigh Burke (DDG-51) class of Aegis destroyers. An abbreviated list of the commanding officer’s principal qualifications would include competence in the offensive employment of strategic weapons, tactical surface-to- surface missiles, air-to-surface missiles, five-inch guns, and a state-of-the-art passive/active sonar system, plus the ability to defend the ship in a quick-reaction, high-tech environment. With all this also goes responsibility for coordination of the battle group’s antiair warfare assets. Is it possible to master all these details and still be a “great deal more?”
Surely, the technical and tactical demands placed on the commanding officers of today’s modern warships are staggering; how we construct their preparation for command is vital. The high responsibilities traditionally associated with command—including safety of navigation and the captain’s absolute imperative to ensure the high morale of his crew—compete with the high-tech demands of the profession. If we enjoyed a career path that ^d only to service at sea, we might be able to get it all done. But career requirements ashore are demanding in their own right. They include such important requirements as postgraduate education, subspecialty development, and joint-duty qualification. Given the demands of weapons and command-and-control technology, the true challenge Is to produce a quality war fighter who can command at Sea and, in turn, be prepared to compete successfully in lhe equally complicated and increasingly important shore- duty environment. In the end, we are doing a disservice by asking the average surface warfare officer to take on such a variety of unrelated professional requirements. We need to narrow the breadth and increase the depth of the career channel. Even those who have claimed that “more is better” in the past will soon realize that the future must be free of excess. “Quality performance” will be tomorrow’s watchword.
We are fortunate to be enjoying, at least temporarily, the results of a Cold War finally won. As we reflect on the changes needed for future success, none is more worthy in the SWO community than one that overhauls the career path—bringing forward the goals of putting ordnance on target and imbuing the tactical skills needed for 20th- and 21st-century ship self-defense requirements.
If it isn’t broken we shouldn’t be fixing it. Is there really anything wrong? Obviously, no other superpower at sea can rival our capabilities in open-ocean warfare, and despite the relatively large size of the surface warfare officer corps, it is one of quality and dedication. Unfortunately—and probably because we have been virtually untested in at-sea warfare over the past 47 years—little warfare-related necessity has driven the approach to developing career officers. By not setting priorities for our training and career development in favor of war-fighting skills, we have proceeded up a steadily increasing slope, attempting to reach a pinnacle where the surface-warfare generalist knows a lot about all functional areas under his command.
Is that generalist approach getting the job done? Fortunately for the world and the U.S. armed forces, our most recent test in the Persian Gulf allowed five months to develop a war plan that was so overwhelming that the highly sophisticated Iraqi arms were rendered useless at the outset. Ultimately, the massive first strike saved us the trouble of having to employ fleet tactics against Mirage and Badger aircraft, equipped with air-to-surface missiles. Certainly, with the ample training time allowed us by the Iraqis, we would have prevailed with minimal losses. In peacetime, however, tactics traditionally lag behind technology. Indeed, the third-rate Iraqi military had the potential to cause us early embarrassment. Later in the war, almost by luck, the mines struck by the Tripoli (LPH-10) and the Princeton (CG-59) briefly allowed the Iraqis to undercut our modern technology and our far-superior force—with some of the most primitive weapons in their arsenal. Imagine the potential of modern missiles, employed aggressively by a force that truly had its heart in the effort.
We should be cautious in jumping to the conclusion that the Iraqi aggression provided a model of regional conflict we might expect in the future, but two broad and apparent lessons should aid in shaping and guiding the U.S. Navy of tomorrow;
> Perhaps most significant, the world is full of countries with the means to buy and employ smart weaponry. The technology of the former Soviet Union is now being marketed, along with the products of other Third World suppliers. The probable near-term importation of Kilo submarines by Iran, coupled with its ambitious five-year defense plan, are unsettling examples of what may lie ahead. We need to be prepared to take on a variety of such threats within the context of regional or terrorist-driven conflict or combat.
- We should heed the possibility of the next conflict not permitting us the luxury of five months to respond. Being able to solve tactical problems with an orderly buildup to overwhelming military superiority is a luxury. Our traditional reliance on layered defenses, employed by doctrine against our old nemesis, has been obviated by the dissolution of communism as we knew it. Elaborate warnings, robust forces, and a clearly discernible threat may be other luxuries we should relegate to the past.
Each of these broad lessons points directly toward the need to hone our surface warriors to a fine edge, in the areas of self defense and single-unit and small-action- group tactics. Basic concerns regarding the SWO career path and how it may fail to prepare us for the tactical challenges in regional conflicts of the future include:
Personal-growth requirements dominate. The average SWO at sea is so intent upon personal professional requirements and inspection readiness (again, critical to professional survival) that the seminal issues of tactical employment of the ship and crew welfare are too often relegated to secondary importance. Superior surface officers likely will strike the right balance on all the key issues, but we have to ensure that all commanding officers and their crews succeed in combat. Surface warfare officers should earn their paychecks by putting technology and people to work in the most tactically expedient fashion. We need priorities, focus, and intensity in tactics beyond what the current pattern provides in order to do so. The career path is cluttered with secondary concerns.
Joint-duty requirements dilute tactical focus. Fleet tactical readiness suffers from our attempt to produce SWO generalists who have not only the wide base of experience required by the career path, but also who are expected to develop meaningful subspecialties ashore. Joint duty is now a prerequisite added to the equation, without compensation. The most likely way we will allow time to develop the necessary joint experience is through reduced sea time, which will, in turn, serve to compound the ills brought on by generalization.
Engineering skills are overemphasized. Because of material readiness problems suffered in the 1970s and early 1980s, we have built a career path that places an excessive premium on engineering skills. Engineering readiness was probably no worse than overall combat readiness at that time, because of a number of social and organizational problems. The Navy is far more professional today, equipped and motivated to handle all challenges in turn. Nevertheless, our preoccupation with propulsion engineering detracts from time and effort that should be spent improving the tactical readiness of our platforms.
A look at the SWO career path, beginning with the first sea tour, validates these concerns.
- Qualify as an officer of the deck
- Qualify as a combat information center watch officer
- Qualify for surface warfare officer designation >
- Screen for department head school )
- Serve in two different departments <
Depending on the ship’s commanding officer and the )
aspirations of the individual, this is probably also the point i
at which the SWO should qualify initially as an engi- )
neering officer of the watch (EOOW) and as a command j
duty officer (CDO). These requirements and qualifications j
are all collateral in nature to the division officer’s high- )
est responsibility, which is to administer, lead, and care <
for enlisted personnel. To achieve all of this in a quality ;
manner requires at least the full 30-month initial sea tour )
and, in many cases, should demand even more time at sea. ;
At the department-head level, the pace does not slacken, as the officer takes on responsibility for operating the ship i and either requalifies or first qualifies as a CDO and perhaps as an EOOW in a new ship type. Qualification as a tactical action officer (TAO) becomes necessary, both for the officer’s career and to sustain the watch bill on the ship. (Unfortunately, because the department head may be serving in a new ship type, or if he or she did not re- \
ceive focused instruction in warfare fundamentals during i
the first tour, the department head may not be adequately i
prepared for such responsibility.) This is also the time to i
pursue command qualification vigorously. With the exception of only about 30% of department heads, a split tour to another ship type will be required. The result is i that the department-head experience produces a mid-grade ( officer with little in-depth tactical background or exper- i tise in a particular ship class or platform. An evolution- | ary change to the split-tour program—which now allows officers to split from less- to more-complex ship types while remaining in the same departmental billet—has alleviated this problem to a degree. In other respects, the current “less-to-more-complex” policy has made it worse; the engineering department head may now arrive on board as an executive officer—with no real tactical experience.
What is the answer? When dynamic change is about to be born of fiscal necessity, now is the right time to look at our community’s top-level requirements. For several years, we have been moving (barely perceptibly) toward specialization in the surface community. We need to speed up and codify that effort. Reality demands that we keep officers in the same departments, in the same ship types, throughout their careers. Engineering should become a restricted-line specialty, reserved only for those who have both the ability and desire. Surface unrestricted- line officers would accrue additional time to become the experts we need to fight and command our ships, in situations that go beyond the grasp of a jack-of-all-trades. Specialization by ship class and function will save time.
It also will save money, and—most important—it could ultimately save lives and help to preserve our international stature. Other discernible benefits of this specialization include:
- A higher level of war-fighting expertise developed in mid-grade and senior officers
- More focus at the junior-officer level, thereby permitting reduced sea time—which may become necessary because of increasing ratios of officers to sea billets—-
without further tactical penalties
^ A clear definition for each officer of how he or she will contribute to fleet combat readiness ^ Cost reductions realized by not cross-training surface warfare officers in engineering
^ Increased command opportunity achieved by sequencing only tactically trained officers through executive-officer and command billets
^ Maintaining command tours of reasonable length—despite a declining number of ships—ensuring continuity and accountability in command
^ Greater efficiency in system design, driven by improved awareness of war-fighting requirements.
The provision most likely to incite the greatest controversy is the idea that only duty in the tactical arena Would lead to command at sea. We cannot simultaneously increase the depth and retain the breadth in career development. We have to give up something. The idea that command for engineers must be the “something” given up is probably unpalatable for those who have grown up on the deck plates. But it is far from being a revolutionary concept. The British, Canadian, and Australian navies are good examples of small but highly professional navies whose engineers are in effect restricted line officers.
Engineering duty is not an essential pathway to developing a war fighter; it is, however, a technically demanding discipline and deserves the attention of dedicated engineering specialists. The supply officer, like the engineer, Provides service vital to the ship. But we have not made any effort to make supply an unrestricted-line billet. Perhaps the engineering duty officer community is the rightful constituency to take on the task of shipboard engineering. Those who continue to embrace the ideal of the triple-threat SWO—i.e., one who performs operations, combat systems, and engineering tasks with equal skill— are probably putting egalitarian principles ahead of warfighting necessity.
Finally, what we may be called upon to do in the future is too dangerous and delicate to be attempted without consummate attention to preparation. Current guidance from the Secretary of Defense emphasizes the changing nature of the threat, the availability of technology in the Third World, and the attendant variety and proliferation of risks in the New World Order. Command at sea will not get easier. The skills and instincts required by command cannot be taught or inculcated in a single course of instruction nor derived from a poorly focused career path that seeks to serve all masters. We do need to board the joint-warfare wagon, but that ride must not be allowed to detract from the cardinal responsibilities of commanding officers, which demand that we become world-class tacticians. Some things are more important than others. A purposeful career path for SWOs that prepares them for a world of sophisticated tactical challenges and continuing instability would correctly acknowledge the relative importance of the warrior.
Commander Hebert is a surface warfare officer currently serving on the Command Department Staff at the Surface Warfare Officers School, Newport, Rhode Island.
WARFIGHTING ESSAY CONTEST
DEADLINE: 1 April 1993
The U.S. Naval Institute is sponsoring its fourth annual Warfighting Essay Contest to learn what professionals have to say about combat operations of the future. All aspects of warfighting, including doctrine, tactics, hardware, training, and mental preparation, are potential essay topics. Entry in this contest is not limited to active-duty or military writers.
The Naval Institute will award cash prizes of $1,000, $750, and $500 to the authors of the three best essays entered. If you don’t have 3,000 words for us, try a 1,000-1,500 word opinion piece or professional note.
ESSAY CONTEST RULES
- Essays must be original and no longer than 3,000 words.
- Entries must be postmarked by 1 April 1993.
- Letters notifying the three award winners will be mailed on or about 15 June 1993.
- All essays should be typewritten, double-spaced, on 8-1/2" x 11" paper. Please include address, phone number, biographical sketch, and social security number with entries.
- The winning essays will be published in Proceedings. Some entries not awarded prizes may also be selected for publication. The authors of these pieces will be compensated at regular rates.
- The Naval Institute Editorial Board will judge the competition.
Mail Entries To: Editor-In-Chief, Proceedings Warfighting Essay Contest U.S. Naval Institute 118 Maryland Avenue Annapolis, MD 21402-5035