Well, of course they can. I’m not even sure how that became the question. The real question, which I hope the Navy’s study and pilot program will show, is should they and, if they do so, what the long term impact is to the rest of the fleet.

There is an interesting study worth locating written by the Center for Naval Analyses – “Applying Civilian Manning Practice to USN Ships”.

Here are some salient points from the Executive Summary:

“No evidence that the smaller crews on MSC ships resulted in degraded performance. In fact, for all metrics examined (replenishment quantities and rates, readiness, injuries, collisions, fires, grounding, and oil spills), MSC civilian crew performance was equal to or better than that of USN military crews.”

“MSC Seagoing workforce is older and more experienced. Its members have more time at sea than USN military officers and enlisted personnel with comparable years of service.”

“…more focused education and practical training of civilian mariners.”

“If the Navy were to decrease its crew turnover by as little as 10 percent on all ships, we estimate that crew sizes could be reduced by about 1.4 percent without affecting readiness.”

“We observed that the Navy, unlike the private sector, assigns menial gallery and laundry tasks to technically trained enlisted personnel for as many as 3 to 4 months after their first arrival aboard ship…we estimate that the cost to the Navy of diverting skilled sailors to menial tasks on surface ships is in excess of $30 million annually.”

“…such programs as the Optimum Manning Experiment and Smart Ship have helped reduce the number of watchstanders and enlisted billets aboard USN ships, but more can be done to reduce crew sizes and improve the quality of USN ship operation and maintenance overall.”

Recommend changes:

  1. Stop assigning insufficiently trained officers t engineering departments aboard ship.
  2. Implement a two-track career path for SWOs (engineering and command/deck).
  3. Shift the USN SWO culture to expect hands on participation of officers in ship engineering departments.
  4. Increase emphasis on lateral entry and workforce pyramid reduction to achieve a more optimal workforce profile.
  5. End the practice of assigning technically trained enlisted personnel to menial tasks aboard ship for laundry and galley duty.
  6. Minimize frequent watchstanding rotations, to allow adequate periods of uninterrupted sleep for watchstanders.
  7. Increase at-sea tours of key personnel, such as Commanding Officer and Chief Engineer, and other careerists with 10 to 20 years’ service to gain maximum benefit from their service.
  8. Consider changing ship requirements documentation to require manning suitable to “fight or save the ship” rather than “fight and save the ship”.

“Before adopting these changes, the Navy should initiate one or two pilot programs, as described in detail in appendices F and G.”

 The overall report is an interesting read, but fraught with unsupported opinions, improperly used facts, and is obviously slanted in its approach and conclusions. None of which are what I want to write about today.

 Now, did I mention that the report was written in 2005?

Yep. FIVE years ago.

So, here is a report, five years old, that Navy paid for, has 170 pages of detailed (if flawed) study of steam, diesel, and gas turbine engineering plants operated by Military Sealift Command. Yet, we are only now looking at implementing a pilot program – and doing so for a class of ship that was not reviewed in the study. Why?

Because someone without practical and relevant experience thinks that a diesel engine is a diesel engine, and convinced CNO of the same idea…and either ignores, or is ignorant of, a study that laid out in detail (40pages!) a pilot program that used FFGs and DDGs to implement MSC crewing and manning practice.

YN2 Gauthier eloquently addresses the cultural impacts and other issues of this move, and any Naval Officer worth his salt will also recognize that simply painting a blue and gold strip on the stacks and crewing a ship with civilians – no matter if they are older or more narrowly trained – will solve the Navy’s maintenance and readiness problems. At best they will just move the peanut under another shell.

At its core, the pilot program that Navy leadership has proposed has little to do with readiness, and far more to do with a culture that ignores both operational realities and changed strategic landscape in favor of protecting and nurturing the idea that we will one day face fleet combat. While we may do so, we cannot, and should not, continue divesting ourselves of the capabilities that are used over and over again in peacetime.

As a final note, if there is any one thing that the Balisle Report showed it was the inability of the Surface Navy leadership to do holistic and strategic planning. Perhaps with a five year old study, and almost two years worth of internal review and debate on the operations of the Navy’s amphibs we can see a plan that makes sense and actually addresses the root causes of failure, rather than just another attempt at budgetary theater.




Posted by M. Ittleschmerz in Navy
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  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    Well said, Sir.

    There is little that is more frustrating, than to be assigned to learn and accomplish one task, and then before proficiency has been attained moved onto another task. The effect of this is to accept a standard that is less than excellence, though we all must be committed to excellence.

    Now, Sailors are being considered for replacement because of a standard that is forced upon us, but below our Creed.

  • Chuck Hill

    For a bit of comparison. The Coast Guard is already two tracked with an engineering track and a deck track.

  • Byron

    I’ve heard a lot of stupid things come out of the five sided septic tank on the Potomac, but “Fight OR save the ship” is right there at the top of the list. You guys better hope the ghost of John Paul Jones doesn’t rise up and haunt all of you.

  • Jay

    I think the Brits have a divided Navy career path as well (engineering/operations) but unsure.

    Lots of emotion on this issue.

    Separate from the emotional issues MSC can run the engineering plants well. Heck, can prob run the entire vessel (less weapons systems) as well. Stand by for news on this — this is hard decisions coming out of hard realities.

  • M. Ittleschmerz

    @Jay – Hard decisions because they are being made on the backs of bad (and now refuted) older decisions.

    If MSC really can run the plants well, and cheaper, then what does that really say about Navy culture- in training, operations, and maintenance. And why, rather than look deeply at the differences and determine how to correct the problems does Navy instead take a look at a cheaper way solve the symptom?

    In other words – it costs me around $200/year for a gym membership, $100/year for shoes, so on and so forth. I don’t run well no matter how hard I work at it. Following Navy’s logic here, why can’t I just pay my officemate $50 per PRT to run it for me?

    It’s cheaper, there will be better scores, and I will have more time (and money) to do other things.

    How is this “hard decision coming out of hard reality” any different?

  • Jay

    Ummmmm…not sure I follow your logic. Having MSC operate the Amphib plants is correcting some of the problems.

  • M. Ittleschmerz

    This “fix” addresses a symptom, not the problem. Like taking tylenol for gangrene.

  • Centipede

    Many of the world’s navies have the “two track” (engineering and deck) manning construct.

    The U.S. Navy debated this issue in the early 1900′s and determined that it preferred to have our officers as generalists (vice specialists):

    1. Keeping the officer corps involved in engineering and operations ensures that those in command have a good understanding of the entire ship’s operations.

    2. This also increases the “talent pool” moving to higher command. Under the two-track officer corps, Nimitz would not have been eligible for higher command, as he was a naval propulsion and diesel expert.

    I think that it is a poor decision to even consider manning a warship with merchant mariners. This brings up many questions, from legal (will the mariners be “legal combatants”?) to cultural (what will this change do to the moral fiber of a ship’s crew?).

    I am unhappy with this decision and hope that the Navy’s leadership comes to their senses.

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    @Jay, it is correcting some of the problems regarding the operational needs of the Navy. However, it is ignoring the source of the problems for the Navy: Training, manning, billeting, work-life balance.

    The way I read this is that the Navy is giving up on improving how it trains its Sailors as well as how we billet ships.

    Is it easier for the Navy to just rid themselves of the nuisance (I use that word, because I feel that is the sentiment given towards Sailors by this initiative) of having to care for Sailors? Sure it is. But, given a long enough time line, how does this really improve the Navy? I’m curious to know the source for most of the MSC personnel. How many of them are prior Sailors themselves? If a significant number have never been actual Sailors. Then what can we learn from the system they did come up through? Quite a lot I would imagine. Wouldn’t it make more sense to copy-paste that system rather than just mooch off it?

    Now, what if most of the MSC personnel come from personnel who were once Sailors–something similar to many contractors in AFG/IRQ. If we remove the engineering billets from ships. What then happens to the supply of MSC personnel? How long until we run out of adequate numbers to man our Amphibs? A generation? We will then have to re-learn how to train our Sailors.

  • Retired Now

    Ditto to what YN2 says (above). He is right on the mark.

    I am still wondering Where the US Navy will “find” all the incredibly experienced hybrid sailors to man the 55 proposed LCS type warships ?

    Looks like a logic flaw: USN only needs experienced small (tiny) crews onboard each LCS, but where oh where do all the super sailors with many years of maturity and experience come from ?

    Perhaps CNO or NAVSEA can answer that difficult question.

  • Byron

    Given what I’ve seen aboard various ships recently, I expect they’ll have to bring back a bunch of retired Chiefs to do it; todays sailors can’t even find all their equipment and the controllers that energize said equipment. Makes you wonder how they’ll repair it….

  • leesea

    Be careful with taking the suggestion too far. What is being proposed (actually there are CIVMARs already on amphibs), is that the professional engineers of MSC can probably overcome the existing techical issues on amphib propulsiont plants IF! the Navy puts some modern automation systems and corrects the existing plant problems.

    This is NOT a taking over the Gators proposal but rather a use of highly experienced engineers to correct exsiting problems.

    Having surveyed an LST for MSC civilianization, I have repeatedly said that amphibs cannot be run by CIVMARs because NAVSEA has already screwed up the plant, the machinery space layout, and control systems. That is what our current sailors are dealing with and maybe they can learn from the CIVMARs?

    Certainly the Navy must consider a two track model for engineers like other navies and mechant marines have done for decades! BTW only a small portion of the CIVMAR workforce comes from the USN.

    I see this proposal as a cost savings stopgap.

  • Jeffrey Smidt

    An even better questions is SHOULD civilian mariners run combatant ships as a matter of policy. Can we get some teamster union tank drivers perhaps? How about sub-contracting out our B-2 navigation and piloting to United. Better yet, lets just let UPS deliver our bombs……

  • Retired USNR and retired MSC

    39 years Navy including 3 active duty tours totaling 9 years active and many years sailing with MSC. No MSC doesn’t man the rail or salute very well but MSC’s fire fighting and DC training is as good as the Navy and in some areas better…I’ve done both and know. I could point out how they are better but that isn’t the purpose of my post. Having been in a few shipboard emergencies both USN and MSC I can tell you nobody wants to get their feet wet. We on the USS ships as well as the USNS ships always got the fire out or the flooding stopped. But we were handling one event…not multiple battle damage fwd aft and amidships. The issue of MSC or Navy manned is really one thing…having enough hands to do the job. Reduced USN manning or turn over to civilian manning the results are the same…less people. Anyone who has been in a major fire such as Forrestal will tell you that you must be prepared to replace hose teams and others that may become incapacitated. It appears leadership wants reduced manning or civilization at any cost and have studies like those in the article above or this one done to make their point. Just read this title “Reduced Manning in DDG 51 Class Warships: Challenges, Opportunities and the Way Ahead for Reduced Manning on all United States Navy Ships”. http://www.stormingmedia.us/61/6112/A611224.html Naval Fleet Auxiliary ships civilized well because of their mission. I don’t feel the same is true for amphibs because of their mission.

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