News: NWDC keeps Bold Alligator under control
Story by Chief Petty Officer Johnny Michael
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Rear Adm. Terry B. Kraft, commander, Navy Warfare Development Command, opened the doors to his operations center Feb. 8 to provide media an opportunity to see how Bold Alligator 2012, the largest amphibious exercise in ten years, was being controlled and synthesized.
BA12 incorporates a wide variety of amphibious operations that revitalize Navy and Marine Corps core proficiencies. In addition to the 20,000 personnel and 25 ships participating, synthetic “players” – both friendly and enemy – and other simulated scenarios are being injected to add further layers of training to the exercise.
The nerve center of BA12 is the large, circular control room of NWDC’s Navy Center for Advanced Modeling and Simulation (NCAMS), which receives data on every event and provides command and control to the opposing forces. As unexpected events or problems are thrown at the friendly forces involved in the exercise, the analysts and controllers sitting in NCAMS have to quickly assess the actions of the commanders in the field and determine whether the problem was solved correctly, or if more actions need to be taken.
According to Cmdr. Keith Holihan, Blue Exercise Deputy Director, this feedback loop is key to the success of the exercise since events proposed during the year and a half of planning that preceded the start of BA12 almost certainly never go exactly the way they were anticipated to.
“No exercise plan survives first contact with those you are training,” said Holihan. “The combatant commanders have changed some things that we have had to assess, analyze and respond to as a living, thinking opponent force, while we also recognize that we also have certain certification and training requirements that also have to be accomplished. So there’s a little edge there where we have to respond to each other. It’s very dynamic in that regard.”
Ensuring that the exercise is not static is a result of good planning up front and maintaining flexibility throughout the exercise, said Michael White, Director of Plans and Policy for Commander, Strike Force Training Atlantic.
“Once you go into full hostilities the problem is relatively simple, it’s just a matter of putting your forces in the right place to take care of your opponents,” White said. “The real test is when you’re building up to full hostilities. The commanders have to make decisions, can I shoot, or can I not. Am I being threatened or is this just a feint that’s just trying to get a reaction. Even now when we’re in the situation where we have full hostilities, it’s not just the opponent’s forces that are in the vicinity, there are other countries’ forces that are in and around it.”
Many of the more complex and demanding events in BA12 have been completed, and now the focus is on maintaining pressure on the commanders in the field as they try to complete their objectives.
“Well we’ve gotten through a lot of the key pieces,” said White.
“We’ve gotten the Marines ashore, we’re now conducting the land campaign synthetically. So while the actual troops installed are conducting unit level training on the ranges, we’re fighting a war campaign synthetically on the computers that the commanders onboard the ship have to maintain and work through. They’re sitting afloat, off the shore, but they’re seeing the campaign unfold they’re dealing with all the command and control issues of having people ashore. We have people called response cells that are simulating that they are responding as those units go ashore, synthetic aircraft as well as synthetic troops, as well as those live forces that are going through their training ashore. We’re still sending some harassment packages to the amphib task forces to make sure that they are still working on their force protection procedures.”
Analysis and lessons learned – and subsequently any changes to amphibious doctrine are also key responsibilities of NWDC. In addition to hosting the command and control center, NWDC is also provided an electronic doctrine library that everyone inside the control center can access at their computer station, and will, through its lessons learned activities, revise appropriate doctrine based on data collection and analysis of the exercise.
“There are going to be reams and reams of data that come out of this exercise on how to better do amphibious operations,” said Commander, Navy Warfare Development Command, Rear Adm. Terry Kraft. “Our job here at Navy Warfare Development Command is to bring that information together and decide what’s important and what’s not so important, and help the fleet turn that into doctrine to change how we operate. There will be significant changes on how we do amphibious operations based on what we learned here.”
In addition, two training requirements are wrapped up into the overarching BA12 exercise include the composite unit training exercise for the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group and the certification exercise for the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. These are both certifications required for deployment.
“It’s a challenge from the exercise planning perspective,” said Kraft. “You have unit level exercise requirements that you have to complete during the COMPTUEX and the Joint Task Force Exercise. And then you have to interlace that with Bold Alligator. When you come out of it, the Enterprise strike group needs to be ready to deploy, and the Marine Corps forces have to be certified and you also want to exercise as much as you can for Bold Alligator.”
BA12 is a live, scenario-driven simulation held off the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida from Jan. 30 to Feb. 12. Its purpose is to revitalize Navy and Marine Corps amphibious expeditionary capabilities and to test and strengthen the fundamental roles of amphibious operations by focusing on force readiness and proficiency. Eight countries joined U.S. forces in the exercise, allowing American service members and coalition partners the opportunity to exercise amphibious operations in a real-world environment.