OCTOBER 19, 2016, PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) – Lt. Damon Goodrich-Houska and Lt. Ben Olivas, assigned to Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC), led the first fully-resourced joint Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training, SWATT, exercise aboard guided-missile destroyer USS Chafee (DDG 90).
The three-week exercise was executed in the Southern California operating area Sept. 26-Oct. 11.
SWATT is comprised of two parts, a in-port academic component led by warfare tactics instructors (WTIs) which lasts approximately five days, and an underway portion which lasts 16 days and contains a wide variety of multi-ship training evolutions — including integrated air and missile defense, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, ship maneuvering, and live-fire events designed to tactically prepare Navy surface forces for carrier strike group and amphibious ready group integration.
“In-port training prepared us by giving us insight on what to expect from SWATT,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Keenan Gilchrist, a combat information center watchstander aboard Chafee. “They (WTIs) gave us scenarios that we had to discuss as a team and figure out how we would execute particular situations.”
For the underway portion, Goodrich-Houska specialized in anti-submarine/anti-surface warfare, while Olivas specialized in integrated air and missile defense. The tactical duo also tested newly-developed tactics, led debriefs, and helped train combat watchstanders.
“It’s about providing information and teaching it in a way that the Sailors will retain it,” said Olivas. “We applied some technical aspects of the job into ways the crew could understand and apply in their daily lives. This approach was paramount to mission success. This psychology also applies to how we tackle doctrine back at SMWDC. We aim to produce doctrine for surface ships that is readable, understandable, executable, and repeatable.”
SWATT involved Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, along with guided-missile cruisers USS Princeton (CG 59) and USS Lake Erie (CG 70), USS Shoup (DDG 86), Chafee, USS Pinckney (DDG 91), USS Kidd (DDG 100), Royal Canadian navy frigates HMCS Ottawa (FFH 341) and HMCS Winnipeg (FFH 348), CS Thomson (SS 20), and Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Yukon (T-AO 202).
“Ships always eventually deploy, and in this line of work there are potentially dire and final consequences for not being proficient in tactics,” said Goodrich-Houska. “With SWATT, these Sailors are better prepared [to] employ their combat systems, fight the ship, win decisively, and come back home safely. That is the ultimate payoff.”
For all to get the same level of training, SWATT used a crawl, walk, and run approach, beginning on a basic level before moving to intermediate scenarios and ultimately advanced situations. More variations were implemented at each phase, which made it more difficult to assess the situation and respond comfortably.
“Past training in the surface warfare community focused on individual warfare areas,” said Goodrich-Houska. “This difference with SWATT is that it focuses on the basics of each warfare area in the beginning and makes each of those warfare area exercises more complex, leading up to the advanced exercises. Then it ties all of those into an integrated exercise for the finale.”
Olivas and Goodrich-Houska also said SWATT infused multiple areas of surface warfare during training scenarios to simulate real-world situations. This approach ensured team cohesion during complex events, and guaranteed each event had a subsequent debrief to dissect successes and areas for improvement for combat watch teams.
“The PBED process, planning, briefing, executing, and debriefing portion was our biggest success with the crew,” said Olivas. “It gave participating Sailors (enlisted and officers) an opportunity to see how they operate in an environment where there’s an enemy, while still affording them a chance to grow from lessons already learned.”
“SWATT emphasized a focused chronological debrief and going through the event from beginning to end, as opposed to junior to senior, which is commonly how we debrief,” said Lt. Matt Faulkenberry, operations officer aboard Chafee. “Just that simple transition has made a difference in how we brief after an event.”
Chafee’s commanding officer agreed and was pleased with the WTIs and SWATT.
“The WTIs did great work with my Sailors,” said Cmdr. Brian Fremming, commanding officer of Chafee. “They (the Sailors) were all debriefed, yet more importantly, they recall what they did and why they did it. There’s a lot of value in a thorough and fast debrief. The PBED process will instill some long-term, good habits that will make us better as we train in the future.”
All of the training throughout the different phases of SWATT, paired with the debriefs helped prepare Sailors for the final battle scenario. That final test combined all warfare areas in an effort to truly test what the crew learned.
“We taught and coached them on how to employ tactics correctly,” said Cmdr. Jeff Heames, operations and training officer for SMWDC. “Sailors will be faced with different challenges during deployment. Now they will be able to lift a tactic off the shelf and readily execute it.”
SWATT 2016 consisted of more than 60 personnel embarked on six ships underway.
The new, San Diego-based command anticipates leading more SWATT exercises for the surface fleet and envisions having two SWATT events on each coast annually.