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CHIPS Articles: Talking with Capt. Peter Driscoll Jr.

Talking with Capt. Peter Driscoll Jr.
Commodore, Destroyer Squadron 7
By CHIPS Magazine - July-September 2010
Destroyer Squadron 7's mission is to conduct prompt, sustained combat operations at sea in support of U.S. national policy. The DESRON 7 commodore serves as the administrative commander, or immediate superior in command, of the ships assigned to the squadron. Each ship is equipped to operate in a high-density, multi-threat environment either independently or as an integral member of a carrier strike group or expeditionary strike group.

Capt. Driscoll hosted a group of employees from the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command acquisition and engineering teams in April to help foster a continuing dialogue between the fleet and fleet support elements. Driscoll called such engagements mutually beneficial, and he explained that face-to-face discussion promotes better understanding of fleet interoperability and communications needs.

Q: You hosted a number of SPAWAR employees in April for overnight operations aboard USS Gridley and a tour of USS Stockdale. Why?

A: Every time I have done this it's been rewarding and effective because both parties benefit — whether it's bringing civilians from the community on board for a tour or exchanges with foreign navies, or bringing specialists from within the Navy who have not operated on a given platform.

We're used to working with the fleet installation teams and the in-service engineering agents, many of whom are retired Navy or military, and in some cases, spend more time at sea than they do in the office. Those folks engage with the fleet day in and day out. But many of the engineering folks are in positions where they're not required or given the opportunity to be shipboard, and there are other members of the organization who are in support functions.

Q: Why was it important to have a diverse group of SPAWAR employees tour USS Stockdale?

A: … We do not have many direct interfaces with the acquisition community, and, in some cases, that's good. Basic level research and development needs to happen on its own and not be disturbed by the gyrations of changing operational requirements and the 'now-now-now' of topics.

At the same time, these ships have very compressed schedules and we're trying to become increasingly more efficient and cost effective, and they only have so much time to train. We operate in separate lanes; there are some interfaces, but at the operator level, it's the fleet installation teams or the technical support folks who touch us directly.

Q: Can you discuss technological related highlights, challenges or successes during your deployment?

A: Our strike group returned in October 2009 from a 5th Fleet deployment, which was our second deployment in a little over a year. The carrier's and the embarked air wing's focus were largely on Operation Enduring Freedom and supporting U.S. and coalition troops on the ground. The DESRON 7 staff had a unique deployment in that we served as Combined Task Force Iraqi Maritime. We were embarked aboard oil terminals in the northern Arabian Gulf, and we worked with the Iraqi navy and marines to provide security for those terminals through which all the Iraqi oil flows to market. That's about 1.6 million barrels a day, so it was a very intense, interesting mission.

The rest of the squadron was spread across the 5th Fleet AOR (area of responsibility), covering the full spectrum of missions including counterterrorism; counterpiracy off the Horn of Africa; maritime interdiction in the Red Sea; carrier escort in the Arabian Sea; maritime security operations; and a host of others.

One of the challenges in this type of disaggregated operation is executing command and control, day in and day out, with forces that are thousands of miles apart. It has to be persistent, and it has to be reliable. There is a significant demand on SATCOM because line-of-sight just won't get you there. There are big demands on all of our reach-back systems because now these ships are operating independently far from logistics support. Long-distance technical support, reach-back, logistics, and tactical command and control all became that much more important.

The readiness was good, but the challenge we had in the strike group, as we have elsewhere in the fleet, was variations between ships in weapons systems and data link systems. This is a continual management challenge as we develop new software releases and new baselines: to understand where there are interoperability challenges, what the workarounds are, and how they might impact you tactically.

DESRON 7 is currently part of the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group. While deployed, the commodore serves as sea combat commander, reports to the strike group commander, and is responsible for overall planning and execution of surface and subsurface warfare, maritime interdiction operations, mine warfare and force protection.

DESRON 7 is composed of the following ships: USS Benfold (DDG 65), USS Decatur (DDG 73), USS Gridley (DDG 101), USS Halsey (DDG 97), USS Howard (DDG 83), USS Stockdale (DDG 106) and USS Thach (FFG 43).

Q: As a commander responsible for many ships, how much do you depend upon communication to be operationally effective?

A: I have a huge dependency on chat, e-mail and SATCOM, and that dependency is only growing. As we find more and more applications to enhance either our warfighting effectiveness or our readiness, we put an increasing demand on the bandwidth. Then you guys [SPAWAR engineers] find a way to expand that bandwidth.

The big challenge within the carrier strike group is to design applications that work across the strike group and up and down in echelon. So as we outfit the fleet headquarters and carriers and large-deck amphibs, we must also be able to deploy the same applications on the cruisers, destroyers and frigates.

The more applications that are Web-based reach-back, the more those ships are disadvantaged by not being able to get at the data if there's a disruption in service. Knowing how to optimize the pipes to get the information is becoming more important.

Our ships have fewer people than even three years ago when I was in command. So you have fewer people responsible for more systems with less depth on the bench. One way to leverage things is by reach-back, but what if the network isn't working? There will always remain a core level of knowledge and a reliability you have to have; otherwise, the operational risk is too high. As you push manpower down and technical complexity up —there's a trade space there.

Another factor is that we have to understand interoperability implications because we have different versions and baselines in play within a distributed force. We have to be prepared to operate within an expeditionary strike group forward, an East Coast carrier strike group and a West Coast carrier strike group, or a destroyer in one group plugging into another. I think, in general, we do that well, because it's a standing requirement to combine seamlessly as a group.

Q: What fleet-related trends do you see over the next three to five years that acquisition commands and resource sponsors should be aware of?

A: [We need] a way to maximize what we have now, particularly on the destroyers and frigates. The continued disaggregation of our forces to meet demand signals for naval presence across the spectrum requires us to have connectivity of more and more seamless data connections.

During my career, our administrative and logistics networks have become operational. We have as many programs on the NIPRNET that we rely on for mission success as we do on the SIPRNET. Our pay and personnel, and a variety of other applications, are on the NIPRNET, so those are now tied into the mission and are operational in nature. Our data links and data transfer systems have now become fire control networks, so the quality of data that's required, and the latency of that data has to be persistent.

We have to have networks that are robust and that degrade gracefully. We can't have any single point of failure within the network or else all your combat power just becomes potential energy. We've been able to harness an awful lot of capability, but we need to be able to manage the associated vulnerability.

Q: Any final thoughts?

A: Fundamentally, the fleet appreciates [SPAWAR's] support because we could not operate without that support. The operational environment is getting increasingly complex and time sensitive, in terms of the decision space and the number of places across the battlespace.

The Navy and Marine Corps operators are brighter and more highly motivated than ever. They're probably younger than ever with greater responsibility over a larger, more complex portfolio. But they do not have the breadth or depth of experience that your engineers have that's been acquired over years in a complicated field.

We talked before about the importance of reach-back, but that assumes connectivity. So we have to have that, or another way to provide that support the old-fashioned way. …[W]e should leverage smart systems, which send data packets for people to analyze back on the beach, or …send engineering logs back to people on the beach to analyze, instead of requiring Sailors on board to do that. [But] we still have to have the ability to pick up the phone and send a message for someone to talk to us because we don't have another option.

The acquisition and requirements folks need to have an understanding of the environment the operator is working in, [and] … the mission sets they're trying to do today.

And the operators need to understand that when they put a demand signal on the system it has an implication in terms of 'do you want to get it fast, do you want to get it right, do you want the perfect solution or is 80 percent good enough?'

Capt. Driscoll was interviewed by Steven A. Davis from the Corporate Communications office of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command.

Capt. Peter Driscoll Jr.
Capt. Peter Driscoll Jr.

PACIFIC OCEAN (Oct. 16, 2009) The guided-missile destroyer USS Gridley (DDG 101), right, and the guided-missile destroyer USS Howard (DDG 83) transit in the Pacific Ocean. Guided-missile destroyers support carrier, expeditionary and surface strike groups. The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group is on a routine deployment operating in the U.S. 3rd Fleet area of responsibility. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Oliver Cole.
PACIFIC OCEAN (Oct. 16, 2009) The guided-missile destroyer USS Gridley (DDG 101), right, and the guided-missile destroyer USS Howard (DDG 83) transit in the Pacific Ocean. Guided-missile destroyers support carrier, expeditionary and surface strike groups. The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group is on a routine deployment operating in the U.S. 3rd Fleet area of responsibility. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Oliver Cole.
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