Prospective commanding officers (PCOs) participate in a tabletop exercise as part of the inaugural Operational Level of War (OLW) course hosted by Commander, Submarine Forces in Norfolk, Dec. 14-18, 2020.


Commander, Submarine Forces (SUBFOR) hosted the inaugural Operational Level of War (OLW) course as part of the submarine prospective commanding officer (PCO) training pipeline in Norfolk, Virginia, Dec. 14-18.

The week-long course provides PCOs the opportunity to read and discuss major operational plans, receive briefs from Submarine Force and Navy leadership, have next-level discussions on operational rules of engagement, and exercise their knowledge during a course-long rehearsal of concept drill.

“Operational Level of War represents the level of command that connects tactical objectives with strategic goals,” said Vice Adm. Daryl Caudle, Commander, SUBFOR. “This new course aligns our efforts to build effective leadership instincts, experience, and judgment to develop combat-ready leaders centered on the concept of mission command.”

The Submarine Force enables mission command by providing a clear and concise expression of the purpose of operations and the desired end state. Commander’s Intent 3.0 and its ten classified annexes, released in September 2020, are the foundation of how the undersea forces will ensure they are ready to “fight tonight” as well as support the Joint Force across the spectrum of conflict in the context of Great Power Competition.

Operational Level of War is the cognitive approach by commanders and staffs to develop strategies, campaigns, and operations to organize and employ military forces by integrating ends, ways, and means.

“In the past, there has been no opportunity provided in the submarine officer pipeline to focus on operational plans or the operational level of war,” said Capt. Dan Packer, Submarine Force Atlantic (SUBLANT) director for plans and policy. “As we prepare for Great Power Competition and shift from peacetime to wartime, we need to focus on enabling mission command and equipping commanding officers to demonstrate initiative.”

Mission command enables submarine self-sufficiency. At sea, submarine commanders routinely confront major operational, engineering, and personnel problems, decide on courses of action, and execute their plans without consulting their chains of command, sometimes not even informing their chains of command until weeks later.

“The OLW course was a great opportunity for us to ensure we understand how our operational commanders intend to employ undersea forces during conflict,” said Cmdr. Joe Fontenot, USS Newport News (SSN 750) PCO. “That understanding will ensure mission command, and enable us to effectively employ our units in support of operational and strategic objectives.”

The U.S. Submarine Force provides the training, logistical plans, manpower, and operational support to maintain the ability of the Force to respond to both peacetime and wartime demands while ensuring the U.S. Navy maintains undersea superiority into the future.


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