The Navy is firing weapons, engaging in combat scenarios and refining warfighting tactics through a rigorous training regimen aimed at better preparing the sea service for massive warfare on the open ocean.
Described by Navy officials as “high-velocity learning,” Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) is focused on speeding up combat decision making and responding in real time to emerging high-tech enemy weapons such as missiles, lasers, sea mines, long-range anti-ship missiles and torpedoes, among others.
“We are focused on the high-end fight” Cmdr. Emily Royse, SWATT leader, told Warrior Maven in an interview.
The emphasis also has a heavy academic focus, led by specially prepared Warfare Tactics Instructors, aimed at briefing – and then debriefing – a range of operational maritime warfare scenarios.
“For each training type we focus on sea control type events. Warfare units are presented with a scenario and we are there to help them through the decision making process to help them fight that scenario. For surface warfare, for instance, they might plan how they are going to get all their ships through narrow, high-risk straights or how to respond to small boat threats,” Royse added.
The training crosses a wide swath of maritime combat missions, to include mine countermeasures, Amphibious Ready Groups, Carrier Strike Groups and other elements of surface warfare. The idea is to further establish and refine tactics, techniques and procedures needed for major warfare on the ocean – against high-tech enemies.
“Sea control objective is to ensure that our forces are able to move freely within the sea lanes and ensure that they are free from threats or able to counter threats,” Royse said.
Some of the particular kinds of enemy weapons these courses anticipate for the future include a range of emerging new systems – to include lasers, rail-guns and long-range missiles, among other technologies.
Not surprisingly, these courses appear as somewhat of a linear outgrowth or tactical manifestation of the Navy’s 2016 Surface Force Strategy document. Tilted “Return to Sea Control,” the strategy paper lists a number of specific enemy threat areas of concern focused upon by course trainers.
Examples of threats cited by the strategy paper include “anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles, integrated and layered sensor systems, targeting networks, long-range bombers, advanced fighter aircraft, submarines, mines, advanced integrated air defenses, electronic warfare and cyber and space technologies.”
Much like the training courses and the Surface Force Strategy, the Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations Concept also builds upon the Navy’s much-discussed “distributed lethality” strategy, in place now for a number of years. This strategic approach emphasizes the need to more fully arm the fleet with offensive and defensive weapons and disperse forces as needed.
Having cyber, space and missile weapons – along with over-the-horizon ship and air-launched weapons – are relevant to offensive attack as well as the “distributed” portion of the strategy. Having an ability to defend against a wider range of attacks and strike from long-distances enables the fleet to spread out and conduct dis-aggregated operations, making U.S. Navy forces less vulnerable to enemy firepower.
Interestingly, the pressing need to emphasize offensive attack in the Navy fleet appears to have roots in previous Navy strategic thinking.
Part of the overall strategic rationale is to move the force back toward open or “blue water” combat capability against near peer competitors, such as that which was emphasized during the Cold War. While the importance of this kind of strategic and tactical thinking never disappeared, these things were emphasized less during the last 15-plus years of ground wars wherein the Navy focused on counter-terrorism, securing the international waterways, counter-piracy and things like Visit Board Search and Seizure.
These missions are, of course, still important, however the Navy seeks to substantially increase its offensive “lethality” given that rivals such as Russia and China have precision-guided anti-ship missiles able to hit targets at ranges greater than 900 miles in some cases. The advent of new cyber and electronic warfare attack technologies, enemy drones and the rapid global proliferation of sea mines all present uniquely modern nuances when compared to previous Cold-War strategic paradigms.
Nevertheless, the most current Naval Surface Warfare Strategy does, by design, appear to be somewhat of a higher-tech, modern adaptation of some fundamental elements of the Navy’s Cold-War-era approach – a time when major naval warfare against a Soviet force was envisioned as a realistic contingency.
A 1987 essay titled “Strategy Concept of the U.S. Navy,” published by Naval History and Heritage Command, cites the importance of long-range offensive firepower and targeting sensors in a geographically dispersed or expansive open ocean warfare environment. The paper goes so far as to say the very survivability of U.S. Naval Forces and the accomplishment of their missions depends upon offensive firepower.
“Integrated forces may be geographically distant, but their movements, sensors, and weapons are coordinated to provide maximum mutual support and offensive capability,” the paper writes.
The Cold War-era Strategic Concepts document also specifies that “Naval defensive capability should include long-range detection systems such as airborne early warning, quick reacting command and control systems and effective defensive weapons systems.”
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