In November 2015 the surface warfare officer (SWO) community added a new department head (DH) on board ships: the plans and tactics officer (PTO). This decision was based on increased operational commitments, added reporting requirements, and more complicated equipment, which increased shipboard leadership burdens. Commanding officers were given full autonomy in structuring the billet and organization as they saw best, but the draft structure placed ship’s sonarmen, cryptologic technicians, and training officers under the new DH as well as the responsibility for the tactical combat system training team and the ship’s “plan, brief, execute, debrief” process. The only requirement mandated by the Bureau of Naval Personnel was to ensure that the PTO had the core responsibilities of running a department—manning, training, and equipment. This marked the first time in more than 30 years that the Navy changed the construct for shipboard command and control, and the roles and responsibilities of individual department heads.
The USS Barry (DDG-52) took a different course of action and created a command, control, communications, computers, and information officer (C5I) department head. Communications have been of vital importance to naval operations since flags were raised on yardarms, but today’s warships house large, complex communications suites to support modern network-centric warfare. The added responsibilities of maintaining and defending all shipboard networks, an area of increased complexity because of advanced cyber threats, place additional stresses on ships’ communications divisions.
Despite this significance, little to no training has been provided to prospective DHs about these topics, compared to the focus on engineering, deck, or weapons and ammunition. Thus, on board the Barry the C5I officer has been given responsibility over the communications and electronics divisions and acts as a direct liaison with the communications officer on the higher level staff. Both divisions are well suited to be paired together, considering they operate and maintain much of the same equipment. The Barry’s electronics material officer (EMO) is in C5I department, giving the new department head a LDO/CWO principal assistant, and the EMO is an important leader within the department. In the traditional combat systems organization, the EMO would have shared that position with the system test officer.
In this configuration, the combat systems officer (CSO), now directly responsible for the fire control division only, is able to focus on all combat systems divisions, including those in weapons, and the C5I department can coordinate, manage, and train the Barry’s entire combat system and its tactical employment. The Barry has seen a marked improvement in her tactical readiness using this construct. Because the CSO is a second-tour department head on Aegis ships, his or her seniority makes him or her a prime candidate for senior watch officer.
All DHs are expected to be involved in shipboard planning and must be tactically proficient. The primary watch stood by all department heads is tactical action officer, and all Aegis department heads are required to attend training at the Aegis Training and Readiness Center before reporting to their ship. But the divisions placed under the PTO on most ships are disjointed and have no natural connection. By taking the training officer and antisubmarine warfare officer, the PTO leaves the weapons officer and operations officer without a second-tour division officer for support as a principal assistant.
There are still challenges with implementing a new DH. The Standard Organization and Regulations Manual (SORM) does not recognize a C5I officer on smaller ships, although it does detail the responsibilities of a communications/information systems officer on larger ships. This is a minor problem. The SORM also does not recognize a weapons officer on board a cruiser, despite the fact that weapons officers have been DHs since the commissioning of the first Aegis cruiser, the USS Ticonderoga (CG-47), in 1983. In addition, the Navy’s maintenance policy only allows the PTO to own the cryptologic division. While the PTO program is still in development, this policy has prevented some new DHs from owning their department’s equipment on paper.
Despite these bureaucratic roadblocks, the ability to innovate, improve combat readiness, and develop battle mindedness should be the Navy’s number one priority. By creating a C5I department head the USS Barry has improved her interior command structure, ensured all shipboard networks and communications are the responsibility of one person, and improved its combat readiness. The success of this experiment on the Barry suggests other Aegis destroyers would benefit by adapting this approach as well.