The Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group pulled out some old playbooks to race through their shortened deployment work-ups, with missions set to range from Islamic State group militants to the through its Composite Training Unit Exercise, as attention seemingly shifts from ISIS to Russian and Chinese navies.
The HST team will deploy later this year to take point in 5th Fleet, where the Theodore Roosevelt CSG has hammered ISIS targets in recent months, as did the Carl Vinson and George H.W. Bush before her. But Truman’s latest Composite Training Unit Exercise, one of the strike group's big exercises before it's certified ready to deploy, final most recent training focused on adversaries that more closely resembled those of the Cold War.
"Everyone says 'it's not your grandfather's Navy,' but in essence it is nowadays," said Capt. Richard Brawley, commodore of Destroyer Squadron 28. "We are going back to learning to operate with near-peer competitors, and the supremacy we had can't be taken for granted."
There is no doubt war-torn Syria is on everyone's radar. Russian marines have established their presence in the embattled nation, and have been joined by Chinese and Iranian marines. Russian surface warships from the Black Sea have also relocated to the eastern Mediterranean to protect fighter jets conducting airstrikes.
Truman found out just last year that it would deploy this fall, nearly half a year ahead of schedule. The flattop took the place of Dwight D. Eisenhower, which required 23 months in the yard after back-to-back deployments. Carrier Theodore Roosevelt left 5th Fleet in mid-October, leaving that region without a carrier until the Truman CSG gets there. That switch means the region will be without a carrier for as many as two months, and this strike group will arrive with a far different perspective.
"It was not the COMPTUEX I went through seven or eight years ago," said Capt. Ryan Scholl, Truman’s skipper. "We are making it more challenging because there are real pieces of steel out there, real opposing forces, and then we have synthetic injects that are pushing our abilities as war fighters." He described steep learning curves, very advanced tactics, and the unmistakable need for a teamwork approach. In addition to the synthetic, the strike group faced very real threats as it danced around Hurricane Joaquin through much of the exercise.
Training regimens in recent years have centered on disaggregated ops facing regional threats. Integration has not been as critical, as technological advances allowed crews to dominate in those warfare areas. But Carrier Strike Group 4, which scripts these training exercises threw them a evolutions, has thrown a curve ball: U.S. ships no longer have a clear-cut technological edge.
"It showed that we were very resource-limited, which means now we really have to be one team, one fight," Brawley said. "This forced a lot more integration because of [a] threat [that] was much more difficult."
'Not been easy'
An F/A-18F Super Hornet with the "Jolly Rogers" of Strike Fighter Squadron 103 landed on the carrier Truman during the ship's COMPTUEX in September off the Virginia coast.
Photo Credit: MCSN B. Siens/Navy
Scholl cited teamwork between the carrier, Carrier Air Wing 7 and DESRON 28 as a deciding factor. Teamwork would seem to be a given, but the CVW-7 and DESRON 28 have long been assigned to the carrier Ike and had no relationship with the Truman's crew and staff. No more.The commodore said the work-ups were the best training he has seen in 24 years of service. He likened it to Cold War training in which the fleet pushed readiness to the raggedfar edge. The strike group soon realized nothing could be taken for granted. Each ship was strict in what radars were emitted and what communication paths were used to avoid detectionsignature was an everyday discussion. This same approach was taken in a weeklong fleet synthetic training event held in mid-October, in which joint partners and an additional carrier strike group joined the Truman CSG in operations against an advanced adversary near-peer competitor.
"Success individually is not going to mean success overall for the battle group," Scholl said.
Brawley echoed the sentiment. There was rarely a clear-cut solution for scenarios they faced because Navy doctrine is still trying to deal with many of these issues, he said. Allowing each component to bring its strengths to bear ultimately made the difference.
For Truman, getting to a place where it could flex its muscle was a battle in itself. The expedited deployment and condensed availability required a hectic work-up heavily accelerated training schedule.
Getting sailors in schools was a particular challenge. Most are scheduled one year out and some last six months, which made it tough to get everyone in. "It has not been easy, but we've managed to get pretty close to where we need to be," said Lt. Cmdr. Randy Harmon, Truman's training officer. Roughly 93 percent of the crew was able to attend job-related courses by early October, and more will squeeze through before the ship departs for deployment later this year.
"A few extra months would have been great, but we have managed to get it done," Harmon said. "But I would recommend that nobody else have to do it this way."
Amid the rush for individual qualifications, the crew had to jump through numerous hoops to gain its certification. Most exercises and events were trimmed to the fewest days possible, which left no room for error. The 30-day gap between Command Assessment of Readiness and Training II and the in-port portion of the Tailored Ship’s Training Availability was eliminated, and both were completed in advance of flight deck certification. While a typical carrier has 154 training days between flight deck certification and final evaluation, Truman had fewer than 40. The 25-day Tailored Ship’s Training Availability/Final Evaluation Problem, or TSTA/FEP, was cut to 21 days. Essentially, the flattop's crewship did one year's worth of training in five months, and did so without one waiver.
"We are fully certified, and I can guarantee that the crew and this warship are ready to operate and execute our nation's tasks as so assigned whenever and wherever they want us to go," Scholl said.