Commanders need to understand the warfare tasks they are required to perform and the conditions and standards that govern accomplishing them.
They must train to perform tasks to complete specific steps and reach clear milestones. Those tasks are defined as Navy mission essential tasks, and captured in Navy Mission Essential Task Lists (NMETLs), the backbone of tackling tasks during mission analysis, gathering lessons learned and improving the process of producing readiness through training and other tools.
NMETLs collect a world of mission data, categorize it by who can do what and also describe the conditions in which missions take place.
This system for task accomplishment knowledge and improved decision making needs to be understood and used, according to David K. Brown, a retired naval officer who advocates the importance of NMETLs for U.S. Fleet Forces Command's training requirements and assessments branch.
"The big idea is called the Navy Warfare Training System," Brown said, explaining that the process is based on a joint training system installed in the 1990s as part of the Department of Defense training transformation.
The Navy Warfare Training System is a means of sharing the knowledge base of NMETLs, judging readiness and improving the training and readiness processes. Information from different groups pursuing training tasks can be shared and compared by using the Navy Training Information Management System.
NTIMS is an application that makes task lists and associated lessons learned within the Navy Warfare Training System more easily available.
"The application itself, NTIMS, is a Web-based application that manages NWTS for the Navy," said Rod Davis, who oversees training standards for the training requirements and assessments branch at Fleet Forces Command, which is headquartered in Norfolk, Va.
"It lets the user build a training plan and curriculum," added Bryan Nelson, a database developer assigned to Fleet Forces Command.
Earlier this year, the training requirements and assessments branch won an award from Cognos for using technology to make the process of using NMETLs more effective via the Navy Warfare Training System.
"U.S. Fleet Forces Command can tie training activities to mission essential tasks to quickly and efficiently measure the relative readiness gains for each dollar it spends on a particular training program," read the award citation.
"It's the Navy's authoritative source for NMETLs," said Mark Morrison, deputy branch head for training requirements and assessments. "It allows the fleet to document, in a consistent format, training plans and training resource requirements."
"This is all intellectual capital," Brown said. "What NTIMS does is it gives us a place to pack that intellectual capital."
Mission essential tasks are not just measurements of executing an action; they encompass the ways of accomplishing a set of tasks to standards under certain conditions. NTIMS is effectively a searchable, interactive database and library of all of those tasks and lessons learned.
Brown is the "Johnny Appleseed" of NWTS. "I call myself the 'NMETL advocate' for Fleet Forces Command," he said. "So far I've gotten away with it. The concept is so powerful, in my mind, that when I see guys wringing their hands, most of them haven't sat down to do their mission analysis."
Brown teaches the importance of using NMETLs and the Navy Warfare Training System in regular seminars aimed to make other advocates out of attendees, who will in turn spread the word. To amplify his message, Brown wears a card around his neck that prompts passers-by to ask him about NMETLs and NWTS.
"When I get going about this stuff, I usually get too excited to keep sitting down," Brown said while introducing a class at the Naval Postgraduate School Annex in Norfolk.
Brown's classes, NMETL 101 and 201, are geared toward leaders involved in mission capabilities and performancebased readiness. He said NMETLs, combined with properly updating and managing the data associated with tasks, lead to better training and, ultimately, better decisions.
"After the fall of the Soviet Union, we had to find ways to have a much more flexible and responsive force," Brown said. "What we want to show is the value we add to our commanders and the value our supporting commands add to us."
For example, training can be tailored to meet response needs to changing world situations — from responding to a natural disaster — to fighting a major war.
NMETLs, he said, "visualize the mission, value contributions, verify progress and validate courses of action. … If you get the requirements right, everything else flows from there. When we do NMETLs right, they drive training, performance and resources."
These are performance-improvement tools, Brown said. The lists help commanders understand that they do a certain task under certain conditions and meet a standard.
By incorporating lessons learned, commanders and mission planners who tackle the same task in the future benefit from the experience of others. Though they are generally used for training plans and certifications, the lists have other applications.
Brown, and Capt. Brian Barrington, formerly of Fleet Forces N72, wrote that the NWTS "really can become the Navy's performance improvement engine."