Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Drive for Networked ASW Excellence: An Examination of Culture and Technology in the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Force

Now and then I offer up the opportunity for guest bloggers here. In many cases the authors are anon, as is the case here. They are not, however, anon to me.

The below is an outstanding contribution by a group of passionate junior officers who in their collaborative efforts go by "CAC-13."

From the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance community where crew coordination is the bread and butter of their culture, I think at the Front Porch, we'll give CAC-13 a C1 rating.

CAC-13, over to you.

In an era of delayed and troubled defense programs, the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft has proved itself a model of acquisitions best practices. During its maiden deployment, the aircraft performed well during operations in the Western Pacific. However, this expensive and extremely capable platform has yet to achieve its full operational potential. The Navy’s newest aircraft is falling victim to institutional inertia.

For five decades prior to the introduction of the Poseidon, the Navy’s Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance (MPR) force has operated the P-3C Orion. The aircraft and its crews have patrolled the troubled waters near Cuba during the missile crisis, tracked Soviet submarines the world over, and hunted terrorists in Afghanistan, proving their mettle time and time again. However, operating the same platform for nearly half the duration of manned aerial flight has left a deeply entrenched and calcified culture in the MPR community.

With only a few major upgrades over the last several decades the community had no need to innovate and adopt new procedures on a macro scale. A decade of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) focused operations in the Middle East have not required the force to re-orient to a network focused method of processing data or employing sensors. In short, the community has developed a value stream that is wedded to overly processed products. If we truly want to leverage an advanced multi-mission aircraft, we have to examine the training systems and cultural influences that shape the most important piece of the enterprise: the operators.

Recognizing the Challenge

Before we examine the capabilities of the P-8A, let’s take a look at how legacy technology and force structure shaped the MPR community. The P-3C was a product of 1950’s technology, featuring systems that were user-intensive to operate and almost completely lacking in automation. In addition, the sensors onboard the aircraft for the last decade were dated, unreliable, and not integrated into the aircraft as a whole. The MPR force was not driven by external stressors, and hence “adequate” performance was all that was required. The community as a whole proved to be late adopters of technology.

Without a doubt, the Orion was a challenging aircraft to operate and maintain. The P-3C requires constant attention from every crewmember to operate safely and efficiently. Units that operate this aircraft must focus primarily on safety with mission performance occupying whatever time is left. The impressive safety record of the MPR community speaks for itself. However, informal conversations with aviators and CRUDES officers around the world will inform the reader that the tactical prowess of Orion crews takes a back seat to safety of flight issues. This prioritization is completely logical and appropriate given the P-3C’s inherent limitations. However, it has also created a value-system and culture that stands in the way of employing the P-8A, which we will discuss shortly.

While the Orion and the MPR force as a whole has proved flexible, it is well to remember that the P-3C was conceived in, and remains in many ways a creature of, Cold War anti-submarine warfare (ASW). The aircraft was introduced and operated in a resource-advantaged environment, with plentiful flight hours, endless stores of sonobuoy sensors, and a fleet size more than double the current force structure. Plentiful flight hours and relatively unsophisticated threats meant that crewmembers didn’t require extensive tactical training at the Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) prior to reporting to fleet units. On-the-job training could be substituted and the fleet could be relied upon to bring a new crewmember up to speed.

Crews operated largely independently, locating and tracking Soviet submarines in the open ocean with little more than a high-frequency radio connecting them to commanders ashore. As much as a patrolling P-3C was an island unto itself, operators onboard the Orion were similarly isolated. Each sensor was a stand-alone unit, not integrated into a central processing and display system. An acoustic operator processed sound from the submarine, a non-acoustic operator ran the radar, and most communications were relayed through the navigator-communicator. Information was restricted in “stovepipes,” with individual crewmembers limiting the “bandwidth” of data that could transfer from operator to operator or from the aircraft to other units. This is a distinctly centralized architecture and is unable to capitalize on the value that a distributive network enables.

The inherent hands-on nature of the aircraft and the unchanging sensor arrangement of the Orion bred a culture that had little need to innovate but a radical incentive to focus on the mechanics of flying and dealing with malfunctions. This value stream aligned on standardization of safety of flight actions. Observing the best jobs for hard-charging junior officers demonstrates that managing Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOPS) procedures and training new crewmembers are the path to success and a solid FITREP. Tactical evaluation, employment, and sensor optimization are tertiary objectives at best.

Focusing almost exclusively on standardization rather than the “product” delivered to a customer has also led to a readiness qualification system that is extremely constrained and stifles warfare development. While readiness systems were invented to tie funding to levels to combat preparation, the current MPR implementation metrics are flawed. The actions to earn a “qual” are so narrowly defined and over-processed that they leave little if any flexibility or time for crews and squadrons to continuously improve their tactics, train with dissimilar forces, or utilize sensors and datalinks in new ways. In the MPR force, “turning boxes green” trumps employing sensors and weapons capably, and the end goal has become earning a qualification, not using training flight hours to build and refine combat capabilities.

P-8A Capabilities

With the state of the current force in mind, let’s examine what capabilities the Poseidon brings to the fight and how the operating environment today might drive training goals. The P-8A is derived from a commercially proven and extremely reliable platform, namely the Boeing 737. The aircraft is advanced, but the user interfaces are simple to operate. The safety and reliability inherent in the design enables the aircrew to focus more on accomplishing their mission and serving customers rather than operating a machine.

The mission systems of the P-8A are integrated and open architecture. There are five crew work stations, and nearly any function can be accomplished by any operator. The multifunction video displays at each station are completely reconfigurable. Any operator can transmit on any radio and all operators can inject tracks or data into Link 16, transmit secure messages via a variety of chat protocols, or upload imagery via INMARSAT. The sensors onboard the Poseidon generate so much data that the challenge is not how to collect enough information, but rather how to manage and disseminate this enormous volume of data quickly and effectively.

In short, the P-8A has been developed to operate in distributive networks that are critical to net-centric warfare and Network Integrated Attack. The aircraft is well suited to serve as a sensor platform, weapons carrier, or to combine both and serve as a self-contained “kill chain.” In a net-centric model, datalinks connect sensors, shooters, and weapons to leverage the unique capabilities of particular units, rather than concentrating all equipment and tasks onto one platform. Such a model demands that aircrew understand they are not simply entities unto themselves, but a link in a particular “kill chain.” They must understand how their sensors, datalinks, or weapons either complete a particular kill chain, or can be used to disrupt an adversary’s kill chain.

The net-centric nature of the P-8A is an outgrowth of today’s security environment. Rapidly advancing and proliferating technology is allowing nations to adopt Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) security constructs that deny even a highly capable and advanced nation the means to maneuver and operate in a particular area. The proliferation of high-end anti-ship cruise missiles, quiet diesel attack submarines, and area-defense surface to air missiles require U.S. forces to collaborate in a manner not seen before. This is the reality in which we have to train our young MPR aviators to operate.

Networks are not magic solutions to challenging warfare problems. Similarly, simply talking about “innovation” or “revolutions in military affairs” doesn’t translate into combat capability. Indeed, it has been an almost blind faith in revolutionary weapons systems such LCS, the Army Future Combat System, and the F-35 that have produced few deliverable systems and capabilities at enormous cost. However, the weapons of war are undoubtedly changing rapidly. The Secretary of Defense’s recent announcement of a Third Offset Strategy shows that senior leaders are attempting to stop competing on a cost basis with adversaries and are seeking solutions that leverage rapidly advancing technology. If the MPR force wants to truly deliver on the capabilities of their aircraft, they need to examine their value stream and how they adapt. Let’s examine some concepts and then concrete actions that will increase combat readiness.

Technology Acceptance

Having described the integrated sensors and networked nature of the Poseidon, it is worth examining how a group of aviators might adapt to this equipment. The Technology Acceptance Model attempts to explain how populations adopt and utilize new tools. It hinges on two key concepts: 1.) Perceived usefulness – a measure of the belief of an individual on how this tool will enhance his or her job performance, and 2.) Perceived ease-of-use – a measure of an individual’s belief that using this tool will be free of effort.

We can also attempt to identify who in a particular group will tend to adopt and utilize these capabilities and when they will adopt them. Everett Rogers, in his book Diffusions of Innovation, uses a bell curve to explain who adopts technology when. A small group of “innovators” begins using a technology followed by a group of “early adopters” and then the sizable majority. Last to change and most conservative are the so-called “laggards.” If we want to drive technological use, we should identify these innovators and early adopters and give them the opportunities to develop new techniques and the platform to communicate these best practices to the substantial majority.

Naval Aviation already has a system where they nurture their innovators and early adopters and give them a platform to communicate. The Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center (NSAWC) at NAS Fallon is the centerpiece of tactics development. The best and brightest are sent to work at the various Weapons Schools and to wear a Weapons and Tactics Instructor patch is culturally held in highest regard. Each Carrier Air Wing cycles through NSAWC during workups, ensuring dissemination of the latest techniques and procedures. Because various types of aircraft work together in missions, leaders are aware of what each platform brings to the table and their capabilities.

The MPR force is alone in Naval Aviation in not committing 100% to training at NSAWC. They are also alone in not sending their best to their own Weapons School. Instead, the cultural center of gravity is the Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS), Patrol Squadron (VP) 30. Training at VP-30 tends to emphasize NATOPS safety standardization, with less focus placed on employment. Because the path to success is based on “production” metrics rather than subjective employment excellence, officers force-wide tend to internalize a value stream that is aligned with process excellence rather than warfare excellence.

Conceptual Shifts

Before we introduce actionable solutions, let’s be clear that these concepts for emphasizing networks, data, and capabilities are not the idea of the authors alone. The Department of Defense (DoD) Transformation Planning Guidance calls for warfighters to achieve “fundamentally joint, network-centric, distributed forces capable of rapid decision superiority and massed effects across the battlespace.” It continues, stating that, “realizing these capabilities will require transforming our people, processes, and military forces.” The necessity to alter training and cultural mindsets is clearly delineated in high-level policy guidance, which has existed for over a decade. With that in mind, let’s look at concrete actions that can help re-orient the MPR force’s value stream from one of “process excellence” to “networked ASW excellence.”

The reality of the modern battlefield is that very few units will fight alone, and that the unique information technology capabilities of the U.S. give a major edge during combat operations. Information dominance isn’t a panacea and indeed, we have to assume that we will fight in environments with degraded networks and communications. However, to not fully leverage the C5I capabilities of the P-8A is wasteful. It robs commanders of valuable intelligence, which puts forces at risk.

The MPR force needs to re-orient itself to a network focused bias. Aviators should be trained to not only fully utilize these distributive communications and datalink networks, but also to understand where they fit in to closing our kill chains or disrupting enemy kill chains. This will require our instructors to develop a deep knowledge of data management best practices so that they can train our young operators from day one with this mindset.

For such a re-orientation to succeed, aviators and maintainers need to hear a unified and clear message from leadership that “networked ASW excellence” is the number one goal and cultural value of the force. If the product we generate is valued for its own merit, and not judged in light of the process used to obtain it, the value-stream will be aligned to produce great things when a P-8A is on-station. Internal management will fall in-line to generate these results if the end-state is properly defined and emphasized. Shifting to a culture of tactical employment excellence will mean that commanders and aviators need to be held to task if they fail to employ or train to employ properly just as they would be held to task if they didn’t train their charges to fly and operate safely.

The readiness continuum also needs to flex to become less processed and directive. Crews need to be given credit for accomplishing a certain task without having the requirements be so narrow that they have no time to develop new procedures. The end-goal has to be actual combat capability, not the illusion of combat capability because the Defense Readiness Reporting System - Navy (DRRS-N) has a sea of green boxes. Making the readiness metrics more flexible will reinforce the idea that the end-state is to maximize warfighting effectiveness, not to chase the “qual” as an end unto itself.

Concrete Action

If the MPR force wants to truly leverage a capable and expensive armed C5I node like the P-8A, there are several concrete actions that can drive change. We’ll summarize them below:
- First, Commander Patrol and Reconnaissance Group should provide clear and explicit guidance on the cultural values and ethos of the force and ensure this message is echoed by every leader within the MPR force. From the first day aviators arrive in the community, they should hear unambiguously up and down the chain of command that warfare excellence is our premier value, and we will organize our efforts in all we do to achieve that goal. They should hear that they are expected to maintain aircraft and employ them to leverage their sensors and networks fully and to provide weapons or sensor information to other units effectively.
- Next, we should leverage the unique position and influence of the FRS, VP-30, and the MPRWS to drive warfighting technological acceptance. VP-30 has an extremely strong cultural brand, and if we leverage this we can quickly ensure that the force as a whole adopts these new technologies and a net-centric mindset. If instructors at the FRS are masters of networked employment and preach this value-stream from day one, the results will be embedded in the mindsets and habit patterns of each graduate before they report to a fleet squadron.
- This “warfare focused” and subjective mindset may clash with the current “production focused” mindset. However, this production mindset is not aligned with the transformation guidance and net-centric warfare models as promulgated by our senior DoD leadership. Trading a “we train safety of flight” mantra at the FRS for a “we train warfighters” model will be challenging, but will increase combat capability. By shifting the value-stream and continuing to leverage the white space in the training syllabus with more tactically focused training, fleet squadrons will be provided with more capable and useful pilots, naval flight officers, and sensor operators. This will remove the burden of inefficient on-the-job training from fleet squadrons and allow them the flexibility to focus on employment rather than producing trained operators. It will also ensure higher levels of standardization and quality control across the fleet.
- Next, the MPR community should continue to embrace the Squadron Maritime Tactics Instructor (SMTI) initiative and ensure that only the right aviators fill the position. The SMTI program needs to be managed by the MPRWS, with the intent that their SMTI’s are utilized effectively at the squadron level and their unique contributions to the community are briefed properly and valued by promotion and selection boards. These transformational instructors have a niche that cannot be fulfilled by any other instructor pilot (IP) or instructor TACCO (IT) within the command due to their extensive training and knowledge base. No current position within a squadron organizational model fully capitalizes on their potential. They are community assets that should be devoted to continuous process improvement. Their focus should be on the lifecycle tactical development of the squadron as a whole. By training and mentoring squadron instructors, they are the critical link that allows dissemination of advanced warfighting techniques to the fleet. They will only succeed in their endeavor if commanders properly utilize them and help ensure continued career success.
- The number of MPR aviators at NSAWC should be increased, to facilitate integration required in the Air-Sea Battle construct and necessary for defeating A2/AD strategies. This cell will foster development of new tactics, techniques, and procedures that drive synergy between the capabilities of joint and carrier based air assets and the MPR force. Both organizations are more effective and deadly when they can mass their unique weapons and sensors in a coordinated manner. A one or two plane detachment should be evaluated and could be permanently based at NSAWC to provide training opportunities for carrier aviators and MPR crews to practice together and hone their craft. Such a detachment is already planned in Hawaii to provide training to West Coast Carrier Strike Groups.
- Lastly, increased numbers of MPR aviators should be assigned to Carrier Strike Group, Expeditionary Strike Group, and Destroyer Squadron staffs. Post exercise debriefs frequently indicate that staffs are not aware of MPR capabilities, which leads to crews being poorly employed or not employed at all. This robs surface forces of capable ASW and ISR assets with reach, persistence, and net-centric capabilities. Our surface forces are more capable and survivable with sensors over the horizon building a picture of the battlespace. More emphasis should be placed on assigning MPR aviators as staff Liaison Naval Officers rather on traditional disassociated sea tour billets that make little or no use of their knowledge or warfare experience.


The Navy sold the American taxpayer on procuring a Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft. However, the true potential of P-8A is being limited by deeply seeded institutional biases to little more than an ASW platform with jet engines. In an era of secular budgetary declines, accepting half measures and partial solutions is not a recipe for success. The Poseidon is an impressive weapons system, with the ability to conduct ASW, maritime strike, and reconnaissance missions. This capability will be wasted unless we take a serious look at the culture of the MPR community and demand change. With increasingly interconnected economies, reemergence of A2/AD strategies worldwide, and rapid proliferation of advanced submarines the importance of long-range air ASW and access to ISR in the littorals has never been more critical. Land based MPR assets are potent, flexible, and powerful tools for a commander in peace or conflict. The time to embrace networked ASW excellence and leverage the impressive capability of the P-8A is now.

Combat Air Crew (CAC) 13 is a group of junior officers who have operated both the P-3C and P-8A in training and operational environments, including as instructors at the Fleet Replacement Squadron and Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Weapons School. They requested their names be withheld to focus future conversation on constructive solutions to strengthen the MPR force rather than on personal attacks and individual exchanges. Their opinions are entirely their own and do not reflect the thoughts or policy of the Department of the Navy.

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