By Rear Adm. Kenny Whitesell
Commander, Carrier Strike Group Four
Recently, the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (HSTCSG) completed its Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX), the final Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP) event in preparation for its deployment this past Wednesday.
This robust exercise featured 11 ships; the nine ships of Carrier Strike Group Eight (CSG-8), the German frigate FGS Hessen (F221) who will join them as a cooperative deployer, and the Norwegian frigate HNoMS Roald Amundsen (F-311); as well as the aircraft of Carrier Air Wing Eight. In order to prepare the CSG-8 warfighters for worldwide deployment, Carrier Strike Group Four (CSG-4) utilized the most fully integrated Live, Virtual and Constructive training to date. The result is a warfighting team that is world-wide deployable and ready to operate across the spectrum of maritime operations.
LVC Enables Full Spectrum Training
Live, Virtual, Constructive (LVC), the merging of live and synthetic training capabilities to build a robust training environment, allows for the best mix of tools and capabilities to achieve this unprecedented flexibility in training across the spectrum of operations and threat scenarios.
Live training, real people operating real systems, is constrained by money, the availability of opposing forces, the availability of ranges and operational security concerns. Synthetic training, both virtual and constructive, builds on that, adding another layer of training to prepare warfighters for live interactions. Virtual training features real people operating simulated systems, such as pilots flying simulators (or ships using their systems while remaining pierside). Constructive training features computer-generated weapons platforms that emulate the real-world threat. Synthetic missiles fired from synthetic ships that provide real outputs on watch stander displays are an example of constructive training. LVC can also replicate friendly forces, enabling the carrier strike group commander to employ operational plans as he would be expected to do in a heightened environment.
As the officer conducting the exercise for COMPTUEX, integration of LVC allows CSG-4 to go far beyond the constraints of live-only training by combining the best aspects of live and synthetic training into the scenario. Meeting our mandate to provide worldwide deployable forces ready to fight and win across the spectrum of maritime operations in today’s strategic environment provided the catalyst to incorporate integrated LVC training.
The addition or subtraction of virtual and constructive opposition forces creates a rheostat, enabling us to dial up or dial back the threat density and complexity of the exercise, toning the muscles of the strike group and conditioning the team from console operator to CSG commander to operate in a contested environment. In a similar fashion, we can add supporting forces within the constraints of the current fiscal environment. For this exercise, Carrier Strike Group Twelve (CSG-12) and its integrated air wing participated virtually, overcoming the cost of sending USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55) and USS Mason (DDG 87) to sea for a week in order to meet training objectives.
Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) – High Velocity Learning
COMPTUEX has rapidly evolved over the last few years to keep pace with the threat and align with the National Defense Strategy. During the OFRP cycle, each HSTCSG unit employed a crawl-walk-run process to demonstrate proficiency at basic blocking and tackling warfighting skills. They then moved to advanced combat and maritime demonstrations, culminating in a final free-play test where they had to integrate high-end warfighting skills across a carrier strike force (two or more carrier strike groups). The game-changing integration of LVC scenarios into this 30-plus day event is the technology that allows CSG-4 to manipulate the training rheostat and not be dependent on the quantity or quality of live opposing forces (OPFOR) or supporting forces. In the past, “blue” forces (in this case the HST CSG training audience) would be pitted against OPFOR drawn from the Navy’s (and joint forces’) current inventory of ships, submarines and aircraft. Taking these “live” OPFOR assets away from maintenance/availability, unit-level training and adding fatigue life usage does not always make economic sense, nor are the required numbers always available. Moreover, the return to great power competition requires a more complex training problem and this sets the stage for integrating LVC. From the eastern Mediterranean, North Atlantic and Baltics, Strait of Hormuz, Bab el Mandeb and South China Sea, the flexibility and realism ensure that the first time a carrier strike group, amphibious ready group, or independent deployer “sees” a threat, it will be in a training environment. They will then have the training and have been assessed through these high-end training scenarios to be able to demonstrate skills needed to fight and win in combat. By adjusting complexity, capability and volume (threat presentations) across a wide range of threats and geography, the training audience builds the confidence to employ their training in a contested environment. This confidence resonates down to the console operator.
In the past, COMPTUEX has been a singular test of the strike group staff and their ability to orchestrate a complex maritime fight. That complexity remains, but now the spectrum of threat tactics, techniques, procedures, sensors and weapons are brought into the scenario and reach down to the console operators. Commander’s guidance is critical to ensuring that subordinate commanders and their Sailors at each combat console and weapons station execute their area of expertise. They must detect, track and engage the threat. In some cases, they must provide complex assessments of indications and warnings, cyber and space-based systems. We have always confidently stated that our people are our strategic advantage. Now they have the chance to prove that advantage.
Another feature of LVC is the ability to debrief training scenarios against “truth data.” Inherently built into each scenario is the technology to debrief the training event and compare what the training audience thought they experienced to actual tactics, techniques and weapons the threat was employing. The training scenarios are realistic and built on the advice of various threat assessment teams across interagency and military organizations. To this equation, we add assessors from across the warfare communities. They are experienced, credible operators who provide over-the-shoulder mentorship to the training audience to accelerate the learning curve. To remain a high-velocity learning organization, we provide feedback to the warfighting development centers on the effectiveness of currently employed tactics, techniques and procedures. During this COMPTUEX, the HST team uncovered an environment-caused tactical nuance in a live-fire TTP that was fed back to the warfighting development center. That flaw was also inculcated in future course of action development as the strike group goes on deployment.
Finally, for every aspect of the exercise the training audience utilizes the Plan, Brief, Execute, Debrief (PBED) format as the basis for developing, executing and generating lessons learned from each evolution. The debrief is normally executed a few hours after the scenario has completed, with the participants being the training audience who experienced and battled the scenario while it is still fresh on their minds. More importantly, the training audience runs the debrief with CSG-4 mentorship. This responsibility and accountability build the capacity for permanent learning, critical to progressing through increasingly difficult scenarios.
The training culminates in the final week of COMPTUEX where the CSG commander must join forces with one or more additional CSGs and fight against a high-end, thinking OPFOR commander. Through CSG-4’s calculated, phased approach, certification of HSTCSG was essentially complete three-quarters of the way into COMPTUEX. This final period of free play requires the CSG commander to bring every capability he has learned in previous events into an extended, culminating event. In this recent scenario, HSTCSG joined forces with ABECSG, forming a carrier strike force. With HSTCSG as the leading strike group on scene, the threat rheostat was dialed up utilizing combined LVC capabilities. HSTCSG’s commander now had to think and maneuver as a strike force, coordinating the force’s movements against a near-peer threat and thinking OPFOR commander.
This graduate-level maritime chess match has a purpose. As CNO has stated, “in our business the losers sink and the winners sail away. We want to be the Navy that sails away.”
"In naval battles, winners sail away, and losers sink to the bottom. There are no lasting battlegrounds – Stark testament to the unforgiving nature of our environment. It imposes a level of #accountability far greater than any administrative measures any Navy can take." – CNO during the 30th Annual Surface Navy Association National Symposium.
Posted by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson on Thursday, January 11, 2018
In the past, we’ve enjoyed maritime supremacy in numbers and technology. In the return to great power competition, we have to train against the most difficult scenarios, subject those in command to the toughest decisions and assess them against the current unforgiving environment. The capability and resiliency with which a unit leaves CONUS is the capability and confidence they will retain for deployment. The HSTCSG team was tested for a month in the most robust, realistic environment technology allows us to create. Through the integration of Live, Virtual, and Constructive training, we were able to present CSG-8 with a scenario that challenged the very limits of their capability, resulting in warfighting team prepared to fight and win against a near-peer at sea today. Over the past decade, the Navy has made significant strides to develop an integrated LVC training environment; however much remains to be done. Investments in new live threat-representative systems, high-fidelity synthetic models, and a global architecture of live and synthetic range capabilities will generate big dividends in fleet readiness and combat effectiveness.