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War is Not Fought in a Vacuum

01 April 2021

From Lt. j.g. Jack Timberlake, AEGIS Training and Readiness Center

The AEGIS Training and Readiness Center (ATRC) recently implemented a new nine-week course, AEGIS Tactical Action Officer (ATAO).
DAHLGREN, Va. - Current U.S. Navy publications, procedures, and tactical memos (TACMEMOs) train the warfighter to counter one threat, down one axis, in the middle of the ocean, on a beautiful summer day. It would be misguided to believe near peer competitors intend on facing the U.S. Navy in this manner.  Instead of one missile, they may fire hundreds.  Instead of one axis, they may attack on three.  Instead of confronting a ship in the middle of the ocean, they may attack at a chokepoint with physical barriers and just like that, written tactics are defeated.  War is not fought in a vacuum and for that reason, the AEGIS Training and Readiness Center (ATRC) is changing how they train their future warfighters. 

ATRC’s Commanding Officer, Capt. Russ Sanchez, and his staff have implemented the AEGIS Tactical Action Officer (ATAO) course to defeat next generation weapons and tactics.

“Changing the way we have approached training in the past is imperative in maintaining maximum distributed lethality as an operational and organizational principle for achieving and sustaining sea control,” Sanchez explained.  “Historically, missile defense classes are taught 80 percent technical and 20 percent tactical.  The fallacy here is only 20 percent of the students need the technical and the other 80 percent need the tactical.  This nine-week course accomplishes this as students spend at least 80 percent in the Reconfigurable Combat Information Center Trainer [RCT] executing realistic, relevant, and complex scenarios in a threat environment that they may face at sea.”

The course focuses primarily on four watchstations aboard an Aegis Baseline 9 weapon system-configured ship to include Tactical Action Officer (TAO), Anti-Surface Warfare Coordinator (ASUWC), Anti-Air Warfare Coordinator (AAWC) and Ballistic Missile Defense Officer (BMDO).  Every watchstation has a mentor who has conducted real world operations in the specific areas.  The watchteam, with supporting watchstations filled by the rest of the class, is then placed in various tactical scenarios between near-peer competitors with the objective to defend and fight back.
“Students are taught tactics that they must learn how to merge and then adapt them in a fight,” said ATAO instructor Lt. Cmdr. Tyler Kelley.  “The key learning objective is to recognize a threat and pair the best tactics to counter.  This could be done via hard kill with a standard missile, soft kill with decoys, or simply maneuvering the ship.  Every scenario, whether a success or failure, provides a learning opportunity to implement the TACMEMOs and tactical procedures, and helps develop innovative methods to employ forces in complex environments.”

The ATAO curriculum is split into blocks that gradually increase in difficulty.  Individual threats are initially presented in a “Detect-to-Engage” scenario so that students can observe flight profiles and kinematics.  Students spend time on combat identification so they can learn to identify various platforms as “friendly”, “neutral”, “suspect”, or “hostile”.  After the basics, the environment becomes more complex with carrier strike group, expeditionary strike group, surface action group, and endosphere and exosphere Ballistic Missile Defense operations.  These scenarios include multifaceted warfighting tactics to include strike fighter aircraft management and employment, maritime patrol asset management, and air early-warning aircraft management.

At the conclusion of the course, the students are placed in highly undesirable environmental, geographical and tactical situations to learn how to fight through these scenarios.  The students are evaluated as basic, intermediate, advanced, or master level.

“Those who graduate from the ATAO course are confident and competent warfighters who are ready to fight and win against any adversary,” Sanchez said.  “These warfighters are ready for the high-end fight.” 
For information on the AEGIS Training and Readiness Center, visit

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