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CIMSEC Report: US Navy At-Sea Training Needs An Urgent Overhaul

WATERS NEAR THE PARACEL ISLANDS (August 27, 2020) Lt. j.g. Collin Berenguer, from Novi, Mich., looks through binoculars on the bridge as the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89) conducts routine operations. Mustin is forward-deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cody Beam)

CIMSEC Report: US Navy At-Sea Training Needs An Urgent Overhaul

John Konrad
Total Views: 4355
February 16, 2023

by Captain John Konrad (gCaptain) This week, in a scathing and well-researched CIMSEC article titled “A Fleet Adrift“, Dmitry Filipoff asks if the US Navy is deviating from its most important efforts in preparing for war.

“Much of the modern U.S. Navy’s story is that of an organization that was divorced from what had long been its defining mission, which was high-end sea control,” says Filipoff. “When that separation occurred at the end of the Cold War and the start of the littoral power projection era, problems radiated throughout the Navy’s institutions, and especially across its system of force development.”

The article was informed by the writings of Admiral Scott Swift and Captain Dale Rielage, and examines the structure of the Navy’s at sea combat exercises. These drills typically focus on individual skills and combat areas, and the opposition forces are designed to promote these objectives, often resulting in high kill ratios, weak opposition, and expedited training certifications. This is in stark contrast to the US Army and US Air Force who have full-time opposition forces to create a more realistic fight exercise (the Navy surface warfare community does not have such a “red-team” formation). Instead of strong simulated opposition, the US Navy prioritizes combat exercises that check boxes to meet the necessary qualifications for deployment. Even with this focus Sailors still feel hurried to complete all the requirements and navigate the bureaucratic obstacles required to be deemed “combat ready”.

The report dives into many problem areas but reserves its deepest criticism for these heavily scripted at-sea combat exercises. “Overall, the Navy’s major exercises often took a scripted character, where the outcomes were generally known beforehand and the opposition was usually made to lose,” says Filipoff. “Training only one thing at a time against opposition that never wins barely scratches the surface of war, but for the most part this was the best the Navy could do to train its strike groups for years.”

The guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald fires its 5-inch/ .54-caliber (MK 45) lightweight gun during a naval gunfire support exercise as part of Talisman Sabre 2011. Talisman Sabre is a bilateral exercise designed to train Australian and U.S. forces in planning and conducting Combined Task Force operations in order to improve Australian and U.S. combat readiness and interoperability.

China Uses Realistic Drills

This is troubling for the United States and its allies because potential enemies are not gun decking paperwork or rushing through drills. The Office of Naval Intelligence recently reported that the Chinese Navy carries out exercises differently than the U.S. Navy. The Chinese Navy often trains multiple skill sets simultaneously and is willing to impose certain warfighting fundamentals of friction that the U.S. Navy is not. They have been training for high-end warfighting for some time, while the U.S. Navy has been focusing on the low-end spectrum of operations. The PLA also states that this habit of guaranteeing victory in heavily scripted exercises is counterproductive and something to be overcome.

“The People’s Liberation Army (Navy) explicitly and candidly states that this habit of guaranteeing victory in heavily scripted exercises is counterproductive and something to be overcome,” says Filipoff. “We rarely if ever hear similar things from U.S. Navy leaders.”

Maritime Security At Sea

The article may not delve into the difficulties the US Navy has faced in safeguarding commercial vessels in areas such as the Black Sea, or the failures of sealift, but it does effectively demonstrate the underlying issues that are making maritime security and the protection of shipping increasingly uncertain in the future for the United States and NATO.



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