USS Essex starts US Navy’s first ARG SWATT drill

US Navy ships from the USS Essex (LHD 2) amphibious ready group (ARG) got underway from Naval Base San Diego on March 5 to start the first Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) exercise conducted by an ARG.

The exercise is focused on advanced tactical training at sea to improve warfighting proficiency, lethality, and ship interoperability before further training in the ARG’s deployment cycle.

Units participating in the Essex ARG SWATT are Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 1, Essex, USS Anchorage (LPD 23), and USS Rushmore (LSD 47). They will also operate with embarked forces representing elements of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VFMA 211).

While the Essex ARG SWATT is the first full-length SWATT for an ARG, it isn’t the first SWATT exercise ever completed. The first was a cruiser-destroyer (CRUDES) SWATT with ships from the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group (CSG) in 2016.

A number of SWATT-like events where held following the first SWATT and included carrier strike groups and the USS America (LHA 6) ARG.

“Providing watch teams and warfare commanders the reps-and-sets they need to exercise and build their combat muscle is critical,” said Rear Adm. John Wade, commander of the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC). “It’s easy to look at a group of sports teams and see who’s been putting time in at the track and the weight room. That’s what this is – spring training to ensure these ships are fit, ready, and lethal.”

SMWDC is the command leading the exercise, and was established in 2015 to increase the lethality and tactical proficiency of the surface force as the surface warfare community’s warfighting development center. Advanced tactical training is one of SMWDC’s four lines of operation, and SWATT exercises are a key avenue of approach for the command to support its other three lines of operation; doctrine and tactical guidance development, operational support to deployed forces, and capabilities assessments, experimentation, and future requirements.

ARG SWATT exercises provide dedicated in port and at sea training for surface ships that focus on watch team, unit, air defense commander, and surface combat commander training prior to full marine expeditionary unit (MEU) integration. The exercise provides focused training in a number of specific warfare areas including surface warfare (SUW), surface anti-submarine warfare (SuASW), integrated air & missile defense (IAMD), amphibious warfare (AMW), mine warfare (MIW), and information warfare (IW).

What makes SMWDC’s training unique isn’t simply a focus on learning – it is also the methods by which the command drives at them. First, senior mentors including post-major command commanders, Warfare Tactics Instructors (WTI), and technical community experts plan the training events, brief teams, and embark the ships for the entirety of the exercises to walk teams through a defined Plan, Brief, Execute, and Debrief process. Second, the training team’s efforts are aided by newly developed playback tools that leverage data existing within combat systems that WTI and members of the technical have found ways to process more quickly and effectively – providing ground truth performance data to shipboard teams within the same day. The key benefit of this is that instead of waiting for feedback, WTIs are able to debrief watch teams the same day.

“We sometimes find that shipboard teams are tentative and resistant when we first start debriefing them after training events,” said Lt. Cmdr. Emily Royse, an Amphibious Warfare Tactics Instructor (WTI) and lead planner for the Essex ARG SWATT. “It’s uncomfortable when we take the guesswork out of what happened during the event, reach ground truth, and spotlight areas for team improvement. But, by the time we leave the ship, teams are hard on themselves and learning faster as a team because they see the value in the principles and method.”

Ultimately, SWATT events provide high-fidelity system, tactics, and human performance data that are needed by the surface warfare enterprise to improve warfighting readiness and increase lethality. Even after SWATT, data recorded in the events is further extracted through a partnership between SMWDC and Naval Surface Warfare Center – Corona. The data is then reviewed in a Data Analysis Working Group (DAWG) which analyzes system, operator, and performance analysis and is completed 4-6 weeks after training event completion. That data is parsed out to appropriate entities within SMWDC and the Surface Warfare community to refine doctrine and tactical guidance, provide capabilities assessments, define future requirements, and to inform future training events.