Home » News & Analysis » As Navy Moves Beyond Relearning the Basics to Focusing on Lethality, So Too Do Navy Trainers


As Navy Moves Beyond Relearning the Basics to Focusing on Lethality, So Too Do Navy Trainers

Sailors assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) participate in visual information training as part of virtual reality ship handling training at the Navigation, Seamanship and Shiphandling Trainer (NSST), on board Naval Base San Diego. US Navy photo.

ARLINGTON, Va. – In 2018, the Navy stressed the basics of training, crew qualifications and readiness following two fatal ship collisions the year before. 2019 will be all about moving beyond the fundamentals and focusing on lethality, the commander of surface forces said.

Vice Adm. Richard Brown spoke of developing a “culture of excellence” Tuesday at the Surface Navy Association’s annual national symposium.

Ahead of his Tuesday remarks, he told USNI News in a media call that “in 2018, especially at the beginning of 2018, I had to focus on man, train and equip, and I had to focus on making sure that, A) the surface force understood what our standards were, because we have really high standards in the surface force, and then B) that we were meeting those standards. Meeting standards doesn’t win wars; meeting standards produces survivors. Now that we’ve done that in 2018, this drive for excellence is what produces winners.”

He said in the opening speech at SNA that “we still remain unmatched in sea control, but we have to work at it harder now, and we must continue to get better. We must learn rapidly, we must innovate faster and we must be tougher than our adversaries, because they are fast rising.”

That move from compliance with basic standards to pushing the limits of lethality and innovation can be seen through how the surface navy is handling the evolution of its trainers and simulators.

Brown told USNI News during the media call that the 2017 collisions of USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and USS John. S. McCain (DDG-56) led to a focus on simulators used to train officers of the deck and junior officers of the deck. Much progress has been made in these areas, he said, to raise the basic proficiency and confidence of these officers to drive their ships.

On the Navigation, Seamanship, and Ship-handling Trainers (NSSTs), the Navy is in the midst of the second of three phases of upgrades.

First, the NSSTs were upgraded to allow for integration between the bridge and the Combat Information Center (CIC) – with the lack of communication between the bridge and the CIC teams coming up during the Fitzgerald and McCain investigations.

Now, “the second phase of the upgrade where we get all the tools that everybody’s used to using on our ships – VMS (voyage management system) integrated into now the integration of the CIC and the bridge,” he said. That upgrade is being installed in San Diego now and will be done by midyear, and the upgrade will be coming to Norfolk later this year.

The third phase involves upgrading the trainers’ hardware, display features and screens, and that should be complete by Fiscal Year 2021.

Additionally, the Navy is building Maritime Skills Training Centers in San Diego and Norfolk that will host Officer of the Deck (OOD) Phase 1 and Phase 2 courses. The San Diego facility should be up and running by FY 2021, and the Norfolk facility will come a year later.

The surface navy is using trailers as a temporary facility for the Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD) course for midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy and in Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) programs, and Brown told USNI News that the JOOD course is going a long way with improving officers’ fundamentals.

“We have all the trailers … as a temporary facility, so the JOOD course goes into implementation for the folks that are graduating from ROTC and the Naval Academy this May,” he said.
“We had a number of pilots up in Newport over the last year at the JOOD course. … What we’re really trying to do is, when the ensigns get to the ship, is to move that learning curve to the right, so they really show up with a lot of confidence that they really know what they’re doing. We’re not going to flip the keys to them and let them drive the ship right off the bat, but what we have found out is, the folks who have gone through the JOOD course, the feedback we got from their commanding officers was they can see that the knowledge and the confidence is at a different level than the folks that didn’t go through it.”

Lt.j.g. Sarah Platt, assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), mans the lee helm during virtual reality ship handling training at the Navigation, Seamanship and Shiphandling Trainer (NSST), on board Naval Base San Diego. Bonhomme Richard collaborated with NSST personnel to sharpen their skills utilizing technological innovations in virtual reality. The NSST is a computerized bridge simulator that allows Sailors to practice ship handling, navigation and visual information skills in a controlled environment. Bonhomme Richard is in its homeport of San Diego. US Navy photo.

Though this work is all positive, the Navy is also eyeing much more sophisticated simulators that won’t just allow sailors to work on the basics, but will put them in complex environments and allow them to test the limits of fighting their ships in a safe-to-fail environment.

Rear Adm. Ron Boxall, the director of surface warfare on the chief of naval operations’ staff (OPNAV N96) said at the conference that high-fidelity trainers that can support synthetic and live-virtual-constructive training events are the way of the future.

Boxall noted that during a 2017 comprehensive review of surface force readiness, “a funny thing happened: we realized the [Littoral Combat Ship] crews were amazingly better at shiphandling.”

Though he thought the smaller crews and therefore more repetitions may have played a part, he said the LCS crews also have much more off-hull training time and – importantly – “we’ve got incredibly high-fidelity trainers with LCS that we don’t have in other places.”

The Navy has a single Combined Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Trainer (CIAT) in San Diego, with a second one coming online in Norfolk this summer. Boxall said “it’s better than what we have at sea.”

Though the Navy will start out with just the two ashore trainers, he hopes to get to a CIAT At-Sea model so that sailors can use the trainer leading up to and during deployments.

The fleet wants more and more high-end training as the service increasingly talks about high-end warfare against peer adversaries. The Navy only has so much room at training ranges to accommodate this appetite, but putting CIAT on ships at sea would allow synthetic high-end training for any ship at sea.

  • Curtis Conway

    Use the LCS simulator learning curve to accelerate development and fielding the new training devices of higher fidelity and complexity is an excellent idea. Thought to increased commonality of the Integrated Bridge Systems should be as common as possible. More mobile simulators for each major station should be in the works.
    The EO/IR upgrades of the future should include more video distribution in appropriate places to provide that picture worth a 1,000 words . . . the scene outside, and some targeted tactical displays that can only be viewed in specific locations, should all be ginned up in a package that can be readily distributed.
    The VMS (voyage management system) integration should be kept as common as possible as well. Of course the automated systems that feed that contraption had better work or this is all for nothing.

  • sid

    “First, the NSSTs were upgraded to allow for integration between the bridge and the Combat Information Center (CIC) – with the lack of communication between the bridge and the CIC teams coming up during the and investigations.”

    When did this become -not- as natural as breathing?

  • RunningBear

    uh…maybe the requirement for the manhours for the training for these systems can be “cast in concrete” for the Yokosuka ships. It looks like our fleet planners forgot the ship and the crew have to be “READY” to go to sea, together.
    The “REMF” screwed both those crews, without risk.
    IMHO
    Fly Navy
    🙂

  • BillyP

    This increase in scope and urgency for these training initiatives is most welcome, and we hope that they result in fewer tragic accidents such as the FITZ, the MCAIN – and the PORTER.
    However, .. .. I note that these solutions seem to be very ‘IT centric’. I believe we need some irascible grey heads around instilling the fundamentals of: seamanship, duty, pride – no more tolerance of sleeping on watch, no more reluctance (refusal?) of the officer in charge of the CIC to communicate with her colleague in charge of bridge, no more clusters of lookouts who don’t (lookout, that is),no more flagrant disregards for the ColRegs .. .. I could go on (even further), but enough already.
    In brief, get the basics right *as well* as the more complex skills: Rule One – Keep the water outboard; Rule Two – keep her bottom off the seabed.

    • Marc Apter

      Very well stated, and has been an issue since the late 1980’s.

    • Duane

      All of those basics are part of the picture, but they are not sufficient. The fact is that 21st century warships are primarily cyber or electronic systems. Particularly in warfighting.

      The principal reason that AEGIS was developed was because even in the late 20th century, the sensory overload in defending against swarms of cruise and ballistic missiles and tracking aircraft simply overwhelmed human brains. If you had to wait for the proverbial Mark I eyeball and Mark II brain to engage, you were already dead.

      In the 21st century, with proliferation of swarms of drones (in the air, on the surface and under the surface), vast salvos of attacking missiles, and proliferating warships and manned aircraft with ever greater offensive capabillities, the old AEGIS systems are clearly insufficient. For instance, until Baseline Nine, AEGIS could either do narrow-beam ballistic missile defense, or 360 degree coverage of everything else, but not both at the same time. But the enemy gets a vote, and the Chinese have developed both ASBMs and ASCMs as well as launchers on numerous platforms, and the old model of air OR missile defense no longer works.

      Baseline Nine, just now coming online on just a couple of ships so far, is the first time that our AEGIS ships can now do air AND missile defense, simultaneously.

      Consequently “IT centric” is the only way to go because that is the real world of 21st century naval combat. If the old guard swabbies don’t much like that reality, well, it is still the reality today.

      I highly commend the recent war-with-China series of novels by naval writer Capt. (ret.) David Poyer, beginning with “The Cruiser” through the most recent, “Deep War”. Poyer gives a hair raising picture of what 21st century naval war will be like using today’s weapons, and (in the later novels) tomorrow’s weapons. It’s largely computer vs. computer … but with required human understanding to direct the computers and know when to engage them, and in the end having no choice but to depend upon the computers …. or die.

  • Duane

    Simulators are ideal for training CIC crews in real world battle simulations … the kinds of reps and sets that could never be replicated in the fleet in a career of watchstanding. Particularly since today’s naval battlespace is one dominated by electronics and computers, all the inputs and outputs can be simulated in complex and variable battle scenarios so that when real world situations arise, the CIC response will be, “Hey, we’ve seen that one before!” rather than “Hey, WTF?”

    Interesting comment by the admiral:

    Boxall noted that during a 2017 comprehensive review of surface force readiness, “a funny thing happened: we realized the [Littoral Combat Ship] crews were amazingly better at shiphandling.”

    Though he thought the smaller crews and therefore more repetitions may have played a part, he said the LCS crews also have much more off-hull training time and – importantly – “we’ve got incredibly high-fidelity trainers with LCS that we don’t have in other places.”

    Gee, that’s a dagger into the heart of all those LCS trolls, for sure. As usual, the LCS world is way ahead of the rest of the surface ship world, with the trolls struggling to comprehend why they got left way behind in the 20th century. Of course, that is why they hate the LCS so much.

    • Matthew Schilling

      Right, because all of the LCS critics have focused almost entirely on the supposed shortfalls in proper ship handling of the LCS fleet. Or something.

      • Duane

        Because the LCS trolls (not critics, which term implies seriousness which trolls lack) have denounced literally every single thing about the ships, mostly because these purely 21st century warships violate the trolls’ clinging to 20th century ship designs and doctrines.

        Massive amounts of hysterical mouse clicks directed to a couple of minor engineering casualties on brand new ships with only partially-trained crews … and ignoring that even partially trained LCS crews are still much better trained in ship handling than the supposedly superior conventional DDG and CG crews were able to demonstrate.

  • Ser Arthur Dayne

    I think we can all agree on two main points here:

    1- We need more Lethality.
    2- LTJG needs more makeup.

    Truth.

  • Ed L

    The basics must always be refreshed not just learned once and then moved on. As an active sailboater. As for myself and other prudent sailors always review the rules of the road, safety procedures, basic boat handling maneuvers

  • Ctrot

    “Moves Beyond Relearning the Basics”?

    Moves beyond? Where is the evidence they’re solved that problem first?