Professional Note - Protect the Fleet

By Lieutenant Joseph Lillie, U.S. Navy

Unfortunately, RAMs have become just another check-in-the-box and often are of questionable value. The Navy needs a more holistic, dynamic concept of RAM strategy and implementation. On board the USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000), we begin by determining what actions we would take if we were in the adversary’s shoes. “Red team” sessions, led by the antiterrorism officer (ATO) and assistant antiterrorism officer (AATO), clarify our most significant vulnerabilities. The ATO and AATO are responsible for RAM scheduling and implementation, force protection training, and every other component of the ship’s force protection program. The remainder of the team is comprised of sailors from different rates and backgrounds, fostering an environment in which free-thinking individuals can put forth out-of-the-box and contrarian ideas. We often bring in outside parties to assess situations and add to conversations, using Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Riverine Squadrons, and Naval Special Warfare in the past.

Next, we examine the latest intelligence, including imagery, analyses of ports, threat assessments that focus on criminal and terrorist organizations, analyses of military and police assets, and a breakdown of the geopolitical situation. This is particularly important overseas where the threat environment, and the resources available, may differ significantly from domestic ports. Coupled with our vulnerability assessment, this information helps us determine likely actions by our adversaries.

Once we feel significant confidence in an understanding of our vulnerabilities and our adversary’s positioning, we examine the ship’s schedule to ascertain when it makes sense to increase our security posture, and consequently the number of RAMs we implement. Finally, we look at environmental conditions, asking questions such as, “What is lunar illumination? Are other ships on the pier conducting sonar operations? When is high tide and low tide?” Approaching a ship during a full moon with a two-knot ebb current is different than approaching a ship during a new moon with a slack current.

Together these steps (assessing vulnerabilities, determining likely actions by the adversary, examining the schedule, and assessing environmental conditions) are reflected in a comprehensive RAM schedule that is more robust than a generic RAM schedule.

Another area in which ships can combat standardization is force protection drills. Currently, most drills are tied to certification events, and are predictable, set inside rigid parameters, and follow the certification format: A leads to B, B leads to C, and so on. Ships increase drilling dramatically in advance of certification events. While “peaking” is a useful strategy for professional athletes, it is less effective in force protection. This is especially true if a period of reduced drilling coincides with an increased threat level. By injecting unpredictability into the drilling schedule, both safety and proficiency are cultivated, at both the unit and fleet levels. At the unit level, ATOs and their training teams must depart from normal drills and push the envelope. For example, instead of an active shooter coming onto the ship with a weapon, the active shooter could be a member of the crew who has access to weapons and the ship’s pre-planned responses (PPRs). At the fleet level, red teams probe and test ship defenses with little or no warning.

There is a precedent to this. In the 1980s, SEAL Commander Richard Marcinko’s Red Cell demonstrated the vulnerabilities of military installations to great effect. Creating a real threat of being attacked at any time helped move units away from the peaking model and provided a realistic assessment of force protection capabilities, which commanders could use to inform decisions about manning, training, and equipment.

Another issue arises with force protection implementation when outside entities conduct force protection assessments. When outside assessors come on board, they immediately review the ship’s administration. Only if the ship has met the administrative requirements can they move on to the operational portion of the inspection. Qualifications are often judged merely by up-to-date paperwork. It does not matter if a “qualified” watchstander can barely pass the pistol qualification course, and the “unqualified” watchstander is a crack shot. Moreover, no portion of the inspection tests watchstanders on their ability to employ a weapon. The Navy should instead randomly select 10 percent of the ship’s watchstanders on day one of the inspection to shoot a small arms qualification course. Any individual who fails to pass would be considered unqualified and unable to participate in the remaining inspection events.

In the operational portion of the assessment, the inspection team should stage scenarios meant to test RAM abilities to protect the ship. If a ship has proficient watchstanders who know how to react under various scenarios, they will pass the assessment. Only then would the inspection team provide a cursory assessment of the ship’s administration.

While it may be difficult to move out from under the warm blanket of administrative paperwork (and the false sense of readiness it provides), this will ensure that the part of force protection that matters most—the operational portion—is the focal point.

Finally, a declining threat environment coupled with an increase in risk aversion has resulted in a Navy bureaucracy that seeks to mitigate every possible risk with a piece of paper. As a result, force protection has turned into an administrative quagmire. A prime example is watchstander records: a sentry requires 18 different forms, 12 of which must be updated on a semi-annual or annual basis. If a ship has 100 sentries that is 1200 forms that must be updated within watchstander records every six to 12 months. By the time all of these administrative requirements are met, it is no surprise that there is little time left for activities that actually increase force protection readiness.

If the Navy is serious about force protection, it must find a way to eliminate unnecessary paperwork and redundancy. In the example cited above, a reduction in paperwork of 30 percent would save 400 man hours per year. In addition, if all records were digitized and maintained in a central database, sailors who transfer to a new command would not be asked to requalify or resubmit paperwork. This system is already in place at shore commands, and despite some challenges, it could be made to work afloat.

The 21st century Navy has taken great steps to overcome fleet complacency and respond to modern terrorist tactics, but in many ways force protection has moved from that complacency toward bureaucracy and over-standardization. The Navy must address these issues if it wants to be prepared for current and future threats at home and abroad. We cannot wait for another event similar to the Cole to change the way we do business.

Lieutenant Lillie is a weapons officer on board the USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000).



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