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CHIPS Articles: NCAMS Tames Bold Alligator 2012

NCAMS Tames Bold Alligator 2012
Navy and Marine Corps fighters from the sea respond to real and synthetic threats
By Sharon Anderson - April-June 2012
You've heard the maxim: "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." You could say the same for Navy Warfare Development Command's Navy Center for Advanced Modeling and Simulation (NCAMS), the high-tech lab that served as the nerve center for the exciting Bold Alligator 2012 — and documented the myriad lessons learned of each exercise component — one bite at a time.

NCAMS hosted the upper echelons of naval leadership exercising command and control for BA12, including the Joint Exercise Control Group (JECG), the Com-bined Force Maritime Component Com-mander (CFMCC) blended blue-green staff and other portions of the control group.

Vice Adm. David H. Buss, deputy commander, U.S. Fleet Forces and commander for Task Force 20, served as the CFMCC for BA12. CTF 20 supports U.S. Fleet Forces' mission by planning and conducting training and exercises for maritime forces to ensure combat-ready naval forces can meet global requirements.

From the "bridge" at NCAMS, Buss could talk directly to the commanding officer of the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1), the flag-ship for BA12, and any of the other operational commanders via Voice over Secure IP (VoSIP), part of the robust Digital Radio Management System. DRMS provides high-fidelity communications regardless of users’ geographic location.

Bold Alligator 2012 was the largest amphibious exercise conducted by the Navy/Marine Corps team in at least the last 10 years, revitalizing and reinforcing the Navy and Marine Corps' traditional role as "fighters from the sea." BA12, which included the full gamut of maritime operations, ran from Jan. 30 through Feb. 12, 2012, and the Navy/Marine Corps team didn't disappoint.

There was so much high drama on the open seas and littorals during BA12, it would be easy to overlook the shore commands that supported the exercise. But there were many supporting elements to BA12.

Navy Doctrine Library System

Rear Adm. Terry B. Kraft, NWDC commander, briefed media observers about the unique modeling and simulation capabilities resident in NCAMS during a tour of the facility Feb. 8. Speaking about the center's role in training and shaping the future force, Kraft said, "We deliver the future to the warfighter."

NWDC owns the Navy Doctrine Library System (NDLS), but NWDC isn't just a repository. Rather, NWDC assists in evolving doctrine in a phased approach that injects innovation moving from concept development to a concept of operations.

Rear Adm. Kraft explained that NWDC's doctrine and training integration directorate put together a readily accessible "electronic bookshelf" of relevant amphibious related doctrine for BA12 participants. In the NCAMS lab, BA12 participants could click on an icon at the edge of their monitors for easy access to NDLS. The directorate also solicited input from BA12 exercise participants, observers and evaluators for potential updates to amphibious operations-related doctrine.

Kraft explained how lessons learned from an exercise or training event can move to actual doctrine. At the conclusion of Bold Alligator, NWDC's analysts will study the results of the exercise to recommend changes in training or doctrine, as well as suggest new concepts. In this way, Kraft explained, NCAMS helps bring the future to the operational level of war. "We are only as good as we innovate," Kraft added.

Changing doctrine requires approval through the Navy and Marine Corps chains of command, warfare centers of excellence and fleet commanders, "But you have to start somewhere, and that's what we do here," Kraft said.

Gather, Observe, Analyze

A lot of focus is centered on the advanced technology in an exercise — the aircraft, ships and equipment but so much of what is important about BA12 threats occurs in the planning and post-exercise analysis, said Kraft. "“There will be a Bold Alligator '13 and, more importantly, this could be an actual event in the real world, so we need the lessons that come out of here. A lot of what we document is about the command and control structure.

"Other participants will look at whether we need more LCACs (landing craft air cushion) or more LCUs (landing craft utility), and if certain other aspects worked or didn't work. What we will review closely is how we commanded this operation, and what were the relationships between the commanders — and whether or not that worked."

There are also improvements coming to the NDLS and Navy Lessons Learned database.

"We have our Navy Doctrine Library System and we have our Lessons Learned System, and they actually moved their offices right next to each other in this building because they need to be connected," Kraft said. "If you search for a lesson learned, it should link to the applicable doctrine and vice versa. If you look up a piece of doctrine, it should also show you what the people who have actually done this — an amphibious assault — have learned. We are doing a lot of research now on better ways to access and link information."

NCAMS Navy Continuous Training Environment

Doctrine is "tested" and forces are trained through the Navy Continuous Training Environment(NCTE), a modeling and simulation infrastructure that provided a challenging scenario for BA12. NCTE is a robust, high-speed, switched global IP network that provides reliable bandwidth and a complete simulation of the entirety of war, meaning the complete battlespace with all the dynamic systems, physical models and environmental factors, as well as everyone operating inside it.

Darrel Morben, NWDC’s director for Modeling and Simulation, said NCTE supports live, virtual and constructive training that can operate 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. In the last year, NCTE enabled more than 350 training events. In some cases, events were conducted simultaneously, but, Morben said, "Bold Alligator has maxed out NCAMS. However, by reaching out to other NCTE locations, such as the II Marine Expeditionary Force Simulation Center at Camp Lejeune, we are able to bring together all the required training capability."

It is easy to understand why a simulation network was needed. The sheer number of assets in BA12 was breathtaking — 20,000 personnel participated; a "D-Day" amphibious landing, where more than 3,600 Marines, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen representing 11 countries scaled beaches in Virginia and North Carolina during a complex training scenario; 25 ships at sea conducted the full range of maritime operations, as well as synthetic ships and personnel operating in the overall training scenario.

NCTE is dynamic and exercise controllers were able to stimulate the live action by injecting unknowns into play. Even though the exercise's main components were known ahead of time, BA12 participants were challenged to think agilely throughout the exercise, mainly by throwing asymmetric threats at them, said Michael "Mort" White, plans and simulation director, from Commander, Strike Force Training Atlantic. White is referred to as the "puppet master" — one of the controllers of the exercise who "harasses" or "surprises" the operational commanders in the exercise by forcing them to react to asymmetric threats, such as a swarm of fast attack boats, pirates, smugglers or other unknowns.

White manned a terminal with other exercise controllers in the "ring of fire," a raised platform in the middle of the NCAMS lab. Strike Force Training Atlantic, reporting to U.S. Fleet Forces Command, is responsible for training and certifying Atlantic Fleet carrier strike groups, amphibious ready groups and independently deploying surface ships. Its training counterpart for the Pacific Fleet is Tactical Training Group Pacific in San Diego.

White explained that the scenario used in BA12 was a standard "Treasure Coast" training exercise for carrier strike groups leading to certification or readiness for deployment.

Fictional nations were a part of the BA12 scenario, but the action was real. Even when threats were synthetically generated via the NCTE, naval forces had to respond in a realistic way. While the fictional 1st Mechanized Infantry Division of aggressor nation Garnet invaded Amber and Amber called for help, real Navy and Marine Corps assets responded. In securing Amber, naval forces were faced with a variety of challenges which tested the concepts of seabasing and maritime dominance, and they responded in the following examples.

• Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) raided a terrorist training camp, separated enemies from noncombatants, gathered intelligence and disposed of bomb-making equipment.
• Amphibious craft and thousands of U.S. Marines and British and Canadian commandos deployed from multiple ships to the shores of North Carolina following a week at sea practicing all facets of amphibious operations. The exercise's scope and scale were last seen during the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
• Real-world special operations elements were pulled from units in Marine Corps Special Operations Command and force recon troops from the 24th MEU. The forces were used for "shaping" operations or for missions designed to prepare the shoreline and areas inland for the arriving Marine Corps troops.
• Other operations included long-range insertions, non-combatant emergency evacuations, tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel (TRAP), visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) and amphibious raids.


Seabasing is defined as the rapid delivery of follow-on equipment to the assault force by a maritime prepositioning force, which does not necessarily require access to airfields or ports in theater. As part of the seabasing effort, Naval Expeditionary Forces included Riverine units, intelligence exploitation teams, maritime civil affairs units, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), port security units and Seabees, which all contributed to support Marine landing forces.

Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships were integrated to simulate sustainment and reinforcement of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade with fuel and other supplies. Because once the Marines achieve their amphibious landing, "You have to be able to resupply them," Kraft said.

Realism was reinforced with role players who took on the parts of non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, that provided aid to stricken civilian populations. There were also role players who advised commanders on the legal aspects of engagement, and others who represented political advisers from the State Department.

White said commanders had to determine if threats were real or benign — was that a fishing boat on the horizon or an imminent terrorist attack? He explained that even daily press reports were generated so commanders could see how the fictional local population viewed their actions — were they welcomed or resented?

BA12 Communications and Technology

Cmdr. Keith "Keebler" Holihan, from Strike Force Training Atlantic, and Lt. Col. Daniel "Gonzo" Seibel, from Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) 26, explained that in preparation for the exercise, the Navy and Marine Corps team staged a two-day rehearsal to make sure that communications between participants, including the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group, 24th MEU and Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group, worked well together, as well as with coalition partners.

Rear Adm. Kraft called Voice over Secure IP — the "biggie" — the most important communications tool in the exercise.

"In the old days we used STU phones (secure telephone unit for encrypted communications). STU was a classified phone in which you inserted and turned a key and normally ended up with very garbled sound. Now you pick up a VoSIP phone and can talk clearly person-to-person. We still have chat and other secure communications, but being able to pick up a phone and have a direct conversation with immediate feedback is critical. We had to install some towers near Onslow Beach (North Carolina) for line of sight ability, but VoSIP has been key."

Another technology improvement is in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. "The Enterprise Strike Group really moved the ball forward with real-time full-motion video on board the carrier, Kraft said. "They were able to watch live video from a helicopter’s FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared Radar) system, download it real-time and then provide it to the commander. They didn’t have to wait until an aircraft landed to download the footage.

"Additionally, the video from the P-3s went straight to a common data link system. In both training and live events, everybody is always hungry for visuals — whether it is still photos or live video — so we are really progressing in that area."

The Blue-Green Team

BA12s live training, which is more costly than simulated training, proved to be a tremendous value.

"The beauty of Bold Alligator was that all of the units had to go to sea to do their certifications anyway, so the idea was, instead of doing these certifications individually, to bring them together, add another layer through simulation, and we were able to multiply the training exponentially."

Kraft praised the Navy/Marine Corps team for their hard work.

"An exercise of this size doesn't happen without the efforts of all the Sailors and Marines at the planning and tactical level to make sure the equipment is ready to go. They make all of us look good.

"It's the people that check the communications, get the ships underway — and keep them underway — that allows us to do all this highfalutin command and control. It really does come down to the individual Sailor and Marine."

TAGS: KM, Workforce
VIRGINIA BEACH, VA (Feb. 8, 2012) Darrel Morben, director of modeling and simulation for the Navy Warfare Development Command, briefs media outlets about exercise Bold Alligator 2012. Bold Alligator, the largest naval amphibious exercise in the past 10 years, represents the Navy and Marine Corps' revitalization of the full range of amphibious operations. The exercise focuses on today's fight with today's forces, while showcasing the advantages of seabasing. This exercise will take place Jan. 30 through Feb. 12, 2012 afloat and ashore in and around Virginia and North Carolina. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua T. Rodriguez.
ATLANTIC OCEAN (Feb. 1, 2012) An AV-8B Harrier from Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 542 maneuvers on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) during Bold Alligator 2012. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tommy Lamkin.
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