Information Warfare Commandos: Navy Adds New Position to Strike Group Staff

An EA-18G Growler lands on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, January 31, 2019. (Military.com/Patricia Kime)
An EA-18G Growler lands on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, January 31, 2019. (Military.com/Patricia Kime)

ABOARD USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN -- There's a new boss in town for the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group: Capt. Steve Shepard, the first board-selected information warfare commander (IWC) assigned to a strike group as it prepares to deploy.

As IWC, Shepard is the equivalent of the carrier air wing commander; the destroyer squadron commander; and Abraham Lincoln's commanding officer on the staff of Carrier Strike Group 12 commander Rear Adm. John Wade.

His role is to oversee and coalesce all information available to the ship, including intelligence; information operations and electronic warfare; communications; weather data and, "in some cases, space," Shepard told reporters Jan. 28 during the strike group's pre-deployment training off the coast of the Carolinas.

"When I entered the Navy in 1990 -- I was an intelligence officer for an A-6 squadron -- there'd be 18 message boards. If you read them, you read every piece of intelligence on the ship. People would read that, and they'd be good to go. Today, there's much more information out there," he said. "We need someone to oversee that."

While information warfare commanders have deployed with carrier strike groups previously, Shepard is among the first cadre to be selected by an IW command screening board and to test the new staff construct.

During the Abraham Lincoln Strike Group's current deployment for its composite training exercise, or COMPTUEX, and subsequent deployment with 2nd Fleet this year, he will help "write the book" on how the position should be developed and utilized for future carrier strike groups.

His first mission in the new role was to pull together all strike group personnel involved in information warfare, without adding any new staff. While on COMPTUEX, he will figure out how to best support the strike group commander, providing battlefield awareness, command and control, weather data and more to "put us in a position of tactical advantage."

Shepard, a 1990 graduate of the University of Virginia, said he looks to the example set by then-Capt. Arleigh Burke at the Battle of Cape St. George in November 1943.

Having lost 1,400 sailors and six ships during a night battle against the Japanese not far from the same location the previous year, the Navy analyzed what went wrong in that battle and trained for the scenario, to include understanding the full capability of radar, reading the weather, executing night operations and protecting communications.

At the Battle of Cape St. George, in almost identical conditions to the November 1942 Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, Burke, leading Destroyer Squadron 23, sank three Japanese destroyers and damaged another without losing any U.S. ships.

Drawing from lessons learned and training were the keys to success then and still are today, Shepard said.

"After the Soviet Union fell, our national security interests changed ... our focus went to things on the ground. Now, we need to get back to our skill set as a maritime nation. There are new kids out there. They've been there, but now they are great powers. They are our competitors, Russia and China, and they are technologically advanced and evolved. We have a peer competitor out there, and we need to be operating in the maritime domain," he said.

The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group is spending a month at sea for COMPTUEX, the training exercises required for certification to deploy. The Lincoln and Destroyer Squadron 2 -- consisting of the guided-missile destroyers Bainbridge, Nitze, Mason and Gonzalez; the guided-missile cruiser Leyte Gulf; and the Spanish navy frigate Mendez Nunez -- will deploy this year for the Navy's newest command, the 2nd Fleet.

The 2nd Fleet was reactivated Aug. 24, 2018, to oversee operations and administration for naval assets and attached Marine Corps units to the East Coast and North Atlantic. Its missions include homeland defense and natural disaster response, as well as countering Russian and Chinese regional presence.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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