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Technical-to-Tactical Interfaces:
Importance of Consistent Interface between Warfighters and Scientists/Engineers 

By Greg McHone and Dr. James D. Moreland, Jr.

Extensive Fleet interaction establishes the necessary stakeholder relationships to understand operations, capture capability needs, and consider the art of the possible in scientific/engineering solutions through architectures, derived from mission area requirements, which are the vehicle for technical-to-tactical mission engineering principles. In July 2013, scientists and engineers from the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD), participated in an operational experiment and exercise known as Trident Warrior. The exercise teamed systems and software scientists/engineers with warfighters aboard a destroyer as well as in the Combat Direction Systems Activity (CDSA) laboratory to study surface warfare functionality and evaluate effects/kill chains to determine warfare effectiveness and technical execution of a specific operational mission thread. These subject matter experts witnessed and evaluated a Concept of Employment (CONEMP) for Surface Warfare (SuW); SuW Tactics, Doctrine, and Rules of Engagement (RoE); SuW effects/kill chain for target dissemination using tactical sensors; a prototype Common Weapons Control System (CWCS) that introduced SuW functionality; and technology for in-flight weapons communication. The CWCS was manned by operational warfighters to gain feedback on the systems’ design, functionality, and Human Computer Interface (HCI). Shipboard scientists/engineers provided expertise on the SuW CONEMP, in-flight weapon communications technology, and existing combat system capabilities and functions that were applied to the experiment. From this information, SuW operational requirements, system designs, system architectures, and other related technologies were then developed. Unquestionably, the technical-to-tactical insights gained from collaborating with warfighting operators provided an accurate view of capability gaps that would lead to better system designs and system architectures.


The Vice Chief of Naval Operation’s Integration and Interoperability (I&I) Activity has evolved NSWCDD’s coordination with the Fleet/Joint warfighters, other Systems Commands (SYSCOM) and Warfare Centers to one that is centered on mission engineering and the technical-to-tactical excellence principle. This principle is centered on the warfighter’s desired mission effects. The tactical capabilities required to achieve those effects are understood by the acquisition community and included in technical system designs by tight coordination and interaction between warfighters and the warfare centers’ scientists/engineers. The collaborative Fleet and scientific/engineering team create mission architectures based on a snapshot of Fleet exercises and experiments to serve as technical reference documents, Mission Technical Baseline (MTB), to inform the naval community on the validated means of executing particular mission threads. Mission architectures of deployed force operations are developed to support Fleet analysis, assessment, and requirements generation of existing warfighting capabilities. MTB architectures are derived from defined mission objectives and effects, and deployed Joint and Navy assets operating under theater-defined doctrine to rehearse our blue force ability to effectively execute operational and contingency plans. Theater-specific MTB architectures that support the assessment of integrated warfighting capabilities are made available to the development and validation of system and system-of-systems specific architectures. The extensive Fleet interaction required to transition technical developments to tactical capabilities has been termed “warfighter integration.”

Benefits of the technical-to-tactical principle are still being realized, as the interaction of warfighting and acquisition communities continues to mature. Across the naval enterprise, however, warfighting capability has lacked clear definition between the various acquisition and operational stakeholders. Efforts to standardize processes and employ consistent procedures to improve warfighting readiness continue to evolve.

Strategic Implementation

NSWCDD began to formalize the technical-to-tactical relationships by establishing Mission Focused Capabilities (MFC). Mission Focused Capabilities are represented by mission thrust areas in the context of the Joint Capability Areas (JCA) to solve warfighter challenges of today and tomorrow through an iterative operational and engineering process. Heavy emphasis continues to be focused on relationship building with key warfighter and sponsor stakeholders. The culmination of this effort is to understand the stakeholders’ operational needs and to develop a comprehensive understanding of the stimuli that drive them (e.g., threats, challenges, and opportunities) for current-, near-, mid-, and far-term capabilities. These operational needs and stimuli are used to drive the future direction of research and development activities to focus the naval enterprise on the right requirements and investments with the objective of increasing the transition of capabilities to the Fleet.

I&I activities institutionalize the processes and products across the naval enterprise that are necessary to effectively and efficiently improve warfighting readiness. The governance structure across the naval enterprise is illustrated in Figure 1 demonstrating a tight linkage between Fleet operational needs and readiness, OPNAV requirements and resourcing, and Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition (ASN RD&A) programmatic oversight and acquisition direction.

Technical-to-tactical efforts provide a better understanding of mission-level gaps and deficiencies across the entire acquisition cycle and facilitate a decomposition of requirements from technology to the warfare level.

To align with Vice Chief of Naval Operation’s I&I Activity and achieve organizational strategic goals for technical-to-tactical relationships, NSWCDD created an organization that serves as the unifying focal point for mission engineering initiatives, known as the Mission Engineering Cell, to enforce the development of integrated warfighting capabilities. This organization, working in conjunction with the Fleet and similar organizations at other Warfare Centers and SYSCOMs, draws on the technical depth of the scientific/engineering community and tight Fleet relationships to produce affordable and integrated capabilities for the Fleet. These solutions consider the Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership and Education, Personnel and Facilities (DOTMLPF) spectrum to make sure any technical inputs are tactically aligned to provide realistic recommendations for acquisition investment decisions and modifications to existing programs of record. By working with the Fleet components, Operational Test and Evaluation Force (COTF), Warfare Centers of Excellence (WCOE), and the Navy Warfare Development Command (NWDC), better Fleet experiments and data collection efforts are occurring to result in better requirements generation based on proven warfighting operational needs. The team also works with technology efforts to determine the future impact on mission capability with proper technology integration plans thus promoting the successful transition of promising new technologies. Figure 2 represents NSWCDD’s strategic organization alignment for mission engineering.

The Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy (DASN) Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation (RDT&E) provides resources for I&I initiatives to support the future development of tools, processes, and workforce development for the new mission engineering discipline. Mission Level Assessment and Evaluation (MLA&E) is one of those initiatives that embeds mission engineering principles with Joint/ Naval exercises and experiments to capture desired warfighting capabilities. This initiative serves as the primary mechanism to institutionalize the technical- to-tactical principles. The MLA&E methodology closely aligns Fleet assessment processes by building stakeholder relationships and requirements identification through intensive warfighter integration efforts.

Finding Solutions to Warfighter Needs

Past technical-to-tactical relationships and developments have suffered from lack of collaboration between the major stakeholders leading to tactical implementation and weapon system introductions with inaccurate warfighter requirements, integration and interoperability problems, and uninformed user community. Fleet-produced Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) development driven by identified system shortfalls or responding to emerging threats have not always been specifically identified to the technical or acquisition community. Technical developments and acquisition programs have not routinely benefitted from direct observations and objective analysis obtained during Fleet exercises or been informed by TTP developments. Technical engineering and tactical solutions are different in their nature, but these efforts impact each other and must be informed by the other to achieve holistic, cost effective solutions.

To address past technical-to-tactical deficiencies, NSWCDD and the Navy’s Surface Tactical Development Group (STDG) are developing a template for long-term collaboration and alignment between the WCOEs and the Naval Sea Systems Command’s Warfare Centers under the Surface Warfare Enterprise (SWE). The objective is to align the surface domain operational and engineering forces to ensure coordination of both technical and tactical developmental efforts; provide timely, pertinent information to both parties; establish recurring reporting procedures; ensure analyses are consistent; and address critical performance issues.

During recent Fleet engagements, NSWCDD aligned technical experts with Fleet tacticians in a collaborative Surface Warfare Improvement Program (SuWIP) tactical analysis process with the STDG and other operational and tactical Fleet organizations. The SuWIP produces an Integrated Prioritized Capabilities List (IPCL) for the Surface Warfare community to drive the investment areas within the Program of Memorandum (POM). This is accomplished by conducting in-depth analysis on operational and systems test data to define technical improvements that are aligned with Fleet priorities to determine possible improvement areas for warfare effectiveness through performance characteristics for combat/ weapon systems. The SuWIP Working Group consists of Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) tactical and technical subject matter experts and stakeholders with an overall objective to assess current tactical procedures and identify operational gaps in multi-platform combat/weapon systems and their employment against adversary threats. NSWCDD has incorporated I&I activities with SuWIP to ensure tactical/technical alignment of warfighting gap analysis, requirements generation, and proposed holistic solutions to accomplish mission wholeness. This technical-to-tactical collaboration supported implementation of new warfighting capabilities demonstrated in a forward deployed test firing as shown in Figure 3.

Fleet Exercise Thrust

National policy for realignment of forces to the Pacific Fleet area of operations provides strategic guidance for technical-to-tactical alignment resourcing requirements to achieve warfighting capabilities. To align technical community with key operational stakeholders and increased collaborative efforts with Pacific Theater combatant, component and tactical commanders are necessary to understand operational needs that drive technical and tactical solutions.

Through DASN RDT&E-sponsored MLA&E initiatives, the mission engineering team embedded with key Pacific Theater Commanders (Pacific Command (PACOM), Pacific Fleet (PACFLT), Commander, Seventh Fleet (C7F)) and other theater component and tactical commanders to assess full warfighting capabilities. Using the Trident Warrior and Valiant Shield Fleet exercise venues and processes as a test bed, the team conducted engineering analysis of deployed combat system operational and test data to define performance characteristics and deficiencies in combat and weapon systems to enable full effects/kill chain capabilities. By articulating Fleet requirements, expectations were better managed across technical and operational stakeholders. Figure 4 shows the Fleet forces rehearsal during Valiant Shield exercise with NSWCDD scientists/engineers aboard to achieve a desired warfighting capability.

MLA&E warfighter integration application during Joint/Fleet exercise Valiant Shield surface warfare events demonstrated the utility of mission engineering principles as the underpinning for assessing existing mission performance and proposed solutions. This collaborative operational and technical community approach to major Fleet exercises laid the foundation of utilizing a Fleet user perspective to establish the guiding principles necessary to capture mission area requirements through capabilities-based architectures. The outcome has driven the development of combat system design specifications that enable full combat employment of weapon systems capabilities. A better understanding of the gaps and deficiencies is now achieved at the mission level across the entire acquisition cycle, which facilitates a decomposition of requirements from the development of technology to the execution of mission threads as an integrated warfighting capability. Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces (Training) sponsored mission engineering support of Commander, Strike Forces Training Atlantic (CSFTL) assessors to align technical experts with tactical experts in order to identify improvements in data collection and analysis during fleet certification events, specifically Composite Unit Training Exercises (COMPTUEX). Fleet Training and Readiness processes employ a Navy Mission Essential Task List (NMETL) mapped to specific Navy mission areas (capabilities) in a continuous improvement process called the Navy Warfare Training System. The owners of Navy Mission Essential Tasks use feedback from exercises, operations, and other events to improve how the Fleet articulates requirements, measures performance, certifies readiness, and implements improvements. Efforts to date have focused on Fast In-Shore Attack Craft (FIAC) defense during Harry S. Truman and George H.W. Bush Strike Groups’ Sustainment Exercises (SUSTEX) and Composite Unit Training Exercises. It is expected that the MLA&E application of the ICF/OCD data model will lead to better defined measures of effectiveness that lead to advanced levels of Fleet readiness. Figure 5 shows a 5-inch gun engagement of High Speed Maneuvering Targets representing Fast In-Shore Attack Craft during Harry S. Truman Strike Group’s Sustainment Exercise.


Intensive warfighter integration technical-to-tactical alignment enables achievement of surface domain excellence through I&I by reducing costs, preventing disjointed efforts, ensuring a linear approach, and reducing time required to develop and implement effective materiel and non-materiel solutions for the surface warfare community. Warfighter integration efforts to transition technical solutions to tactical capabilities through MLA&E create conditions for a philosophical change in evaluation, experimentation and assessment that enable mission engineers to participate in the planning, execution and analysis of Fleet events. This tight technical-to-tactical linkage results in higher confidence of producing integrated warfighting capabilities for our warfighters through validated MTB architectures from the Fleet.

Article Images

Figure 1. Naval Enterprise Governance Structure

Figure 2. Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Mission Engineering Alignment

Figure 3. Griffin Missile Firing from Coastal Patrol Craft


Figure 4. Valiant Shield Carrier Strike Group Operations

Figure 5. Gun Engagement of High Speed Maneuvering Targets During Sustainment Exercise