15 July 2011

Sustaining Our Navy

RED SEA (June 21, 2011) USS ENTERPRISE, right, passes
our Navy's newest aircraft carrier, USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH,
during a transit of the Strait of Bab el Mandeb.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH arrives in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of
responsibility to take over operations for ENTERPRISE.

When I saw the picture above, my immediate thought was “How did we do this?” How were we able to send a 50 year old aircraft carrier, USS ENTERPRISE, on a 6 month deployment transiting over 56,000 miles, conduct 7,764 sorties while on station (1,500 of those combat missions over Iraq and Afghanistan), meet all theater security goals, and even answer the call four times to support counter-piracy operations before bringing her home? How is it possible that this great ship, commissioned in November 1961 (as an experiment) before the vast majority of our current Sailors were even born, was capable of carrying out the same exact missions we’ve just sent our newest carrier, USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH, to execute on her maiden deployment? To put ENTERPRISE’s age in perspective for you, she was one of four carriers ordered to support the blockade against Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

As I reflect about what it was that made ENTERPRISE so capable for so long, two essential factors come to mind:  A steady investment, over time, in the ship and a comparable investment, over time, in our people.

Investment in our Ships
Our ships are built with the expectation that they will reach their expected service life. If we underfund or shortcut ship maintenance availabilities, we inevitably run the risk of decreasing the service life and the combat capabilities of our ships. We also make it more difficult for our crews to overcome these investment “deficits” in their ships and keep them maintained in satisfactory condition. As a result, we sometimes struggle with INSURV inspections and back ourselves into the corner of having to allocate an inordinate amount of resources and efforts to get them over the “hump” (e.g. OAK HILL and recently VICKSBURG) for INSURV.

Operational demand for our Naval Forces has grown considerably over the past ten years. Our ships are in every part of the world conducting a wide range of missions – supporting combat operations in Afghanistan, counter-piracy operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, drug interdiction, etc. This increase in demand has put an increased burden on our ships as we’ve had to extend deployment cycles and shorten – and sometimes outright delay or cancel – needed (and required) maintenance availabilities.

As I’ve discussed in detail in previous posts, we’ve made decisions in our Surface Force over the last two decades that have had unintended consequences with respect to our ability to properly operate and maintain our ships, but we are now taking the right steps to get back on track (see here, here, here and here).

Investments in our People
The other side of ensuring the sustainment and wholeness of our ships is properly investing in our people. In addition to the maintenance improvements discussed in the links above, we’re returning Sailors to ships, re-manning RMCs, and re-starting SWOS Basic. I’ve made the commitment to our Sailors to give them the resources they need to take their ships to sea, and I have every intention to deliver on that promise. What we’ll need from our crews in return is that they take ownership of their ships. All these improvements we’re making will have real impact, but only if our crews – our Wardrooms, CPO Messes and Sailors – take ownership and use these tools to maximum effectiveness.

The situation with respect to manning and maintaining our ships will never be perfect – it never has been – but I need our Sailors to get the most out of the tools, training and time we’re giving them. And most of all, I need them to feel a strong sense of ownership for their ships. I want our Sailors to truly believe they have the ability to take their ship to sea, fix it and fight it. And when they move on to other duties, I want them to pass that sense of ownership on to their reliefs with pride. Just as our Sailors have been doing on the “The Big E” for over 50 years.

When we invest in our Sailors, we get quality people who can produce quality work. The quality of our Sailors is, without a doubt, the number one factor that impacts our Navy’s readiness. I have worked with some very talented and professional Sailors over my career, but it is very clear to me that the quality of our force today is by far the greatest I have ever seen it.

Right now we’re making many improvements to our ship maintenance processes and procedures; we’re bringing our Sailors back to the waterfront; and we’re investing the necessary resources to give them the tools, training, and time they need to deploy confident in their ability to execute the missions we give them. It’s now time to bring it all together and reinvigorate a sense of ownership for our Ships, to strengthen our collective culture – from leadership to the deckplate, recognize what we need to do to keep our ships whole and our crews well-trained and then find the wherewithal to do just that.

The Big E, just returned today from another deployment, should be the example for how we get all our ships to their expected service life, ready to fight every day.
All the best, JCHjr


Anonymous said...

Your post should be a NAVADMIN or ALNAV. You are exactly right; investments in our people and our ships is what makes Navy happen. Look at the recent ALNAV/NAVADMIN messages: Sea Shore revision, PRT policy changes, Influenza reporting policy, FEDS feed families annual food drive, DADT, continuation boards, etc...none of this [minus influenza reporting] directly affects readiness. My point is there should be at 2 or 3 messages pertaining to what you are talking about. NAVADMIN 197/11 "Restructure of the Navy Advancement examination" is 248 words. NAVADMIN 203/11 dealing with "PRT policy changes" is 1040 words. Fail a PRT severe repercussions including no advancement for 5 years because of the negative information in the eval/fitrep and mando PT. Fail a rating exam, nothing mandated, no mando study, no requirement to mark evals, nothing! You see how the priorities are aligned? As a sailor my priorities are: PT, uniform, fitrep/eval, rating exam, and PMS/maintenance. If the ship does poorly in an inspection blame it on lack of resources. There are too many "support" people on shore duty [Millinton, TN] not directly supporting mission readiness. Get those people on the front lines, on the ships, working directly for the warfighter, not the other way around.

John Byron said...

Until we bring acquisition costs under control and size them to future funding, maintenance and personnel accounts will continue to suffer, grandiose statements notwithstanding. And we can't size-down acquisition costs until we constrain design to funding and quit gold-plating and over-building everything coming off the drawing board.

The last guy to really do this was John Lehman ... and the day he left office the surface warship being designed grew by 300 tons; the attack submarine added several several hundred million dollars in the next year.

LCS could have been a low-cost design. Ditto the new CVN. Ditto our yet-to-be-built attack boats and destroyer/cruisers. The F-35 could have been in the direction of a John Boyd-design instead of an all-singing/all-dancing do-everything airframe. But alas, we can't stop ourselves, each design opportunity captured by platform interests catering to the Iron Triangle and cramming every bauble the mind can design into the shrinking cost-envelop of the new SCN or ACN opportunity.

Design-to-cost drives flags nuts. Everyone breaks out every American flag they can find and wraps themselves in it. "We can't underfund defense!" "We must protect our people with the best attainable!" "The Chinese are coming!" "Advance the state-of-art!" "Sustain our shipbuilding industry!" Wouldn't it be more prudent (but perhaps less aggrandizing) to instead say "This is about how much money we're going to able to pry from the system; let's maximize the combat power under the curve ... and pay for the operating costs and the crew."

Augustine's Law 16 is relevant: "In the year 2054, the entire defence budget will purchase just one aircraft. This aircraft will have to be shared by the Air Force and Navy 3½ days each per week except for leap year, when it will be made available to the Marines for the extra day." Applied directly to Navy ships, I think this means a swing strategy, our lone gunboat alternating between LANT and PAC on perhaps a six-month rotation (assuming it can get underway).

As Pogo said, We Have Met The Enemy And He Is Us.

Anonymous said...

Admiral - certainly begs the question of why build more ships? Why not bring some of those we have decommissioned in recent years, refit them, and put them back into service? Probably a poor analogy, but look at all the antique cars on the road. Many are still going strong and doing the job, albeit it with a new engine and a few other modifications. But the point is that many of our ships that are now sitting in "mothballs" could be restored and mission ready at a much cheaper cost than building a new one. A hull is a hull. Equip it with the latest sensors, weapons and communications technology along with an updated engineering plant and send her back to sea. Very respectfully, CAPT Jerry