Within the excellent remarks by Admiral Richard W. Hunt, Commander of Third Fleet, who delivered the Keynote Address to open USNI West 2011, was a confirmation of those made by VCNO, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, regarding the ending of the experiment of “optimal manning”. While acknowledging that the experiment was not a success, Admiral Hunt somewhat diplomatically refrained from mentioning that the idea was ill-conceived and doomed from the start because it ignored the fundamentals of crewing warships since navies first put to sea.

This announcement will come no doubt as great relief to the Officers and Sailors of the US Navy’s warships. Optimal manning was conceived, nominally, as a way to leverage technological advances in training and operation of ship’s systems, increase cross-training and resident skill-sets among our Sailors, and reduce the number of Sailors required to crew our warships. Nominally.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the driving force behind the decade-long optimal manning initiative was largely, perhaps almost entirely, budgetary. Even as the bold and optimistic predictions for such components as computer-based training and distance-learning were being touted as major components of this new initiative, the limitations of those avenues of learning were well-known to professions in which personnel were required to master operation and maintenance of equipment. Other indicators provide insight into the mindset that drove the justification for optimal manning. Phrases like “a new world”, and “revolution in training” speak to genuflecting at the altar of Transformationalism, in which fundamentals are too often seemingly tossed out like yesterday’s newspaper.

Truly “optimal” manning means enough personnel with requisite training and experience to perform the operations and the maintenance required on each piece of equipment as required by the operating environment, manufacturer’s designed maintenance cycle, equipment employment, and usage rate. Compromise on that manning, and the results are quite predictable. The results of the Optimal Manning initiative were indeed predictable, and discussed many time by smarter people than I. Extreme op tempo, lack of depth in critical skills, poor or neglected maintenance, all of which the Navy leadership was warned about, were the results of the “revolution in training”.

All of those results happened minus the furnace of combat, where myriad other duties and responsibilities befall a ship’s crew, including but not limited to damage control, casualties to crew, long stretches at General Quarters, and countless other tasks that war at sea entails. For a Navy ship, “human integration” is much more than a theoretical model. It is the lifeblood of a fleet ready for war. Sailors must be seen as the Navy’s greatest treasure, and not its greatest expense.

The fate of the Optimal Manning experiment is particularly pertinent today, as an underlying theme (and the subject of some very interesting discussion) at USNI West 2011 was one of life with flat or reduced budgets. The temptation will be to try something similar again, a “cost-saving” measure that looks plausible when entered into presentation software and has enough group-think catch-phrases to give it legs. But it is incumbent upon Navy leadership (and leadership DoD-wide, by the way) to remember the REAL bottom line for any policy enforced on the military or any of the individual services is the readiness to fight and win our nation’s wars. Violate that premise, and the true costs of such initiatives may be impossible to calculate.

As one very wise sage who frequents these shoals is fond of saying: You don’t do more with less. You only do less with less.




Posted by UltimaRatioReg in History, Maritime Security, Navy, Uncategorized


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  • Mittleschmerz

    Saying something is “over” doesn’t necessarily make it so…and, frankly, I’d like to hear what percentage of Sailors that were removed through Optimal Manning are being returned via this “end”. One number I’ve heard is 2200…which is about half what the Balisle Report recommended.

    Is it a move in the right direction? Only if actions follow the rhetoric.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Mittleschmerz,

    Good point. Keep ‘em honest and update as necessary!

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    M:
    I agree, I’ll celebrate after the chickens have hatched and are roosting in the henhouse, and the eggs are in the basket.

    A speech in the right direction. But only that.

  • USNVO

    “Truly “optimal” manning means enough personnel with requisite training and experience to perform the operations and the maintenance required on each piece of equipment as required by the operating environment, manufacturer’s designed maintenance cycle, equipment employment, and usage rate.”

    I take exception with your definition above, that is what led us into this problem in the first place. True optimal manning starts at your definition and includes additional sailors to account for changes in experience and qualifications when personnel rotate (that newly minted EN1 with 4 years onboard is not the EN3 who replaced him), requirement to man, with qualified people, all evolutions a ship may be required to perform and support OJT (you can’t be learning to be a rig captain if you are a line handler), embraces the innefficencies of the manning system to immediately replace people when ET3 Timmy pops positive or OSSN Jenny gets pregnent, and recognizes that 100% manning never is. And then after this number is derived, keep enough people in reserve to account for all those things like leave, training, etc as well as make a down payment on the “unkwown, unknowns”. Removing all the admin types from a ship may make sense until you realize they also are in repair lockers, on sea and anchor details, UNREP details, berthing cleaners, etc. and someone else has to do those jobs now.

    “The results of the Optimal Manning initiative were indeed predictable, and discussed many time by smarter people than I. Extreme op tempo, lack of depth in critical skills, poor or neglected maintenance, all of which the Navy leadership was warned about, were the results of the “revolution in training”.”

    Your confusing programs, “Optimal Manning” reduced the size of crews on ships, the “Revolution in Training” reduced the training infrastructure and time spent in training. Both impacted fleet readiness but in different ways.

    They both suffered from what I call “Driving to Juneau (feel free to replace Juneau with your island of choice)” syndrome. I know I can drive where I am, I know I can drive in Juneau, but I can’t drive from where I am to Juneau. The assumptions that were used to derive the answers were faulty, and as a result, the answers we came up with were also faulty. Neither of which is a serious issue, if you
    1. Start with a small, realistic sample and really test it. The entire fleet, although you can be 100% confident of the results, does not a sample make.
    2. Act upon the results, not what you wanted the results to be. When your results do not match your expectations, change your expectations.
    3. Be willing to change and try again.
    Crew Swap is a good example. It was tried, found wanting, and tossed before the entire fleet was sucked into the insanity.

    “Optimal Manning”, “RiT”, and other of their ilk were excellent experiments and we learned a lot, unfortunately in our rush to save money and pig-headedness to the actual results, we ended up breaking far more than we should have before we realized we had gone too far, too fast.

  • M. Ittleschmerz

    “2. Act upon the results, not what you wanted the results to be. When your results do not match your expectations, change your expectations.
    3. Be willing to change and try again.”

    Unfortunately, experience shows that these two only tend to occur in conjunction with a change of command.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    USNVO,

    I think our definitions of “optimal manning” are just the same. My focus with my words above was equipment-centric, but it also applies to all the other functions and duties that take place aboard a ship. Optimal manning was conceived as possible in large part BECAUSE of perceived savings due to the “revolution in training”. Those words are from Admiral Clark, by the way.

    That said, reality dictates that you will never have 100% of everyone all the time. But there are numbers that represent critical mass below which mission success is in serious jeopardy. Any initiative that pushes the margin for error near that point, or below it, in order to save “enormous amounts of money” as Mr Maxwell states in 2002, is short-sighted and ill-conceived.

    This one, it seems, is all but over. We can only hope.

  • groupie

    The real tragic cost of this “experiment” in in the people who suffered career harm or were driven out of the Navy by calling a bad idea a bad idea while this was being pushed. The Navy basically found a way to punish and get rid of those who were both wise enough to see the full consequences and courageous enough to speak up about it.

  • C. Jackson

    Two things only, 1, you get what you paid for, and 2, outsourcing in the end costs you more.

  • SwitchBlade

    Should put the nail in the coffin of the LCS – don’t ya think!

  • Chuck Hill

    Apparently the Navy leadership has not made the connection that the LCS is “Optimally Manned,” and built so that it cannot be manned any other way.

  • M. Ittleschmerz

    Ah, but Chuck…LCS is built to be Optimally Manned AND designed that way as well.

    The problem here is the opposite. The rest of the fleet was NOT designed to be operated with reduced manning (lets call “Optimal Manning” what it really is) and none of the technology that the concept was based on either flowed to the fleet or worked as intended. However, even had the technology worked, there was no maintenance infrastructure to complement the reduced manning.

    LCS, so long as the shore infrastructure is realized and the platform remains in essentially benign environments (like those that Navy has operated in for the past 40 years) will be fine. Once either of those two assumptions are gone, then all bets are off.

  • Byron

    And if LCS runs into trouble, the Navy will wish it bought Nansens instead…

  • Chuck Hill

    ie LCS are Peace Cruisers.

  • Jamie Harper

    I have always wondered with the Ward Room/Senior Enlisted-heavy optimally manned LCS; who sweeps down and performs all of the other non-technical drudge work so necessary for the operation and upkeep of a vessel of that size?

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    M: I, for one, would never in my life in the Navy, wish to have any connection with a ship built for minimal manning in a benign environment, since my duty was ALWAYS to be READY to go into HARM’S WAY, or to make the ships my command supported ready to go there.

    The fact that anyone in a blue suit ever bought into doing any less is shameful. IMO.

    All the best, LCS delende est.

  • SwitchBlade

    “M. Ittleschmerz Says:

    Ah, but Chuck…LCS is built to be Optimally Manned AND designed that way as well.”

    That is ONE of the fatal flaws of the design. It can’t operate as designed! Your assumption that it can operate that way because they were designed that way is the same Kool-Aid the navy has been drinking. Do you think that they just reduced the manning on the other ships and tried to run the ships with reduced manning and called them Optimally manned? That’s not what I saw in my limited exposure to it. They conducted extensive modifications to the ships to include; more automated fire detection systems, more automated fire suppression systems and substantially redesigned with substantially more equipment on the bridge. It doesn’t work because Warships aren’t transports – Duh!

    “LCS, so long as the shore infrastructure is realized and the platform remains in essentially benign environments (like those that Navy has operated in for the past 40 years) will be fine. Once either of those two assumptions are gone, then all bets are off.”

    One of Two other Fatal flaws! They won’t have the support required of the systems. And, when they aren’t operating in a benign environment, the required mission package will always be somewhere else, except during exercises when they will usually be simulated to have switched and have the correct package aboard.

  • JackO

    Optimal manning is a fake if it did not consider the actualities of the Naval Serive.
    100% manning is the start, then you have to add 10% for leave and sickness, 25% for lack of retention, 5% for death losses in peacetime, 10% for retirement,10% for promotion and transfer needs, etc.,
    And then you have to consider casualty from conflict. and things like that.

    If you have one person cross-trained in 3 jobs, and that person transfers out, who can replace them competently!

    You have to have reserves that are immediately available for almost all positions!

    Never happen! But, hope and change will never solve the necessity of bodies.

    I hope we find that out before we learn from experience.

    People win the wars, automation doesn’t!

  • M. Ittleschmerz

    Switchblade – reread my comment…most optimally manned ships had no modifications done…it was exactly as you think it wasn’t, Navy just took people off the ships.

    As for the rest, impassioned but also inaccurate. .

  • http://forum.goatlocker.org/ Peter Hanson AFCM

    I checked into a Naval Air Station to be assigned as Power Plants Chief at the AIMD there just after the Department failed a ADMAT inspection held by Staff folks from Corpus. The NAS Captain was livid with the Dept head (A Pilot)as well as six other Pilots serving as his assistants and a Warrant Officer specializing in Electronics.

    I got my desk in a cubicle and started a training jacket on each of my mechanics, interviewing each one, sizing them up, they sizing me up. I found little training by NAMTRADET was conducted and no maintenance administration or Aviation Maintenance training was evident. Lack of schooling.

    I got the CDR to allow me to send people off to training and that included welders, logs and records, weight and balance, XRAY and Non-Destructive training done at Naval Air Rework facilities.

    Within six months everyones training jacket reflected the necessary tools to run a complex industrial facility.

    The CDR checked my service record which showed I had 10 years experience in Aviation Maintenance Control supervision and gave me he job of Maintenance Control Officer supervising those 6 Pilots, the WO and Chiefs of 8 Divisions.

    Short version: Another ADMAT was requested in November and we achieved a 98.6% and nominated for some type of Golden Hammer or wrench award alto we did get the top award, we got a second best which was good enough to get the Admiral off the Captains back.

    Ya gotta have the training guys.

  • USNVO

    The problem is not new. The FFG 7 class started with a crew of 135 and an idea that a large shore infrastructure would take a lot of load off the ships. After a few years of reality, significant numbers of crewmembers were added to the ships. The DD-973 and AO-177 class all suffered the same fate. The LCS crew size were held to 75 because they were
    1. Supposed to be an experiement
    2. The first two were bought with R&D funds and not SCN funds. As a result, there was no crews provided in the manpower system for the first two ships.
    3. The CNO directed 75 (because it was an experiment)
    I have seen a lot of analysis by various organizations that was done after that fact (finalizing on 75) and none of them said 75 was the right answer. On a positive note, if you scrap the 4:3 rotation idea, you could get 100 man crews, without taking them from anyone else, which is probably a lot closer to the right answer.

  • SwitchBlade

    “M. Ittleschmerz Says:

    Switchblade – reread my comment…most optimally manned ships had no modifications done…it was exactly as you think it wasn’t, Navy just took people off the ships.

    As for the rest, impassioned but also inaccurate. .”

    While my experience/exposure was limited – that’s not how it started, or was expected to proceed.

    As for the rest, impassioned – but only part of the accurate list of problems with the LCS

  • http://n.a. Jared

    I appreciate the general point that it is difficult to estimate the optimal size and skill set of staff. The methods range from BOGSAT to computational models to hybrids of the two. It’s not clear what, exactly this blog entry and ADML Hunt condemn. Anything except BOGSAT. Could you be a bit more specific about the methods you feel are a failure, and the methods that are likely to be more successful.

    I’d like to understand the evidence for the condemnation of the optimal manning initiative. I can’t find ADML Hunt’s speech online. Pointers?

  • Glenn

    I’m not sure why Optimum / Minimum Manning failed. I served on 3 FFG’s, 4 if your count FFG-6. FFG-29 was a pre-comm with the original crew size, FFG-25 was NRF with less than the original crew size, and FFG-43 was fully manned for LAMPS MKIII. I never felt that we had problems with manning on any of these ships. It was tough at times and we could have used better fresh water systems.

    On FFG-29, we had the advantage of being a pre-comm and getting all the PCU related training. Some FFG’s had issues when the pre-comm crews transferred. Maybe we could fix that problem by manning and training crews like the Marines and other special units train. They start together and finish together. No one leaves mid-cruise and everyone gets a relief. NO GAPS!!!

    On FFG-25, we had 40 Reservist who would respond when needed to support inspections, hot CASREPs, shipyard periods, leave and training requirements. The majority of COPELAND’s Reservists stayed with the command from the day the ship transitioned to NRF until it was sold to Egypt. They like the command, or maybe it was MS1’s excellent Sticky Buns. They also made most or all of a UNITAS deployment with a Drone and LAMPS DET. We had to hot rack and use cots.

    On FFG-43, we manned the ship using BLUE-GOLD. Sailors worked for 12 hours and were off for 12 hours. We trained on both sides of midnight and noon to reduce impact to the crew. I can’t get into the details of the Battle Bill, but we manned every condition and special detail with the Sailors who we awake at the time. Everyone had at least three jobs. We were able to VERTREP and UNREP simultaneously. A DD-963 in our BG refused to do that because of manning requirements. THACH also had 12 Inport Watch Sections when I reported in 2001. I had to tell a group of Sailors that they hadn’t promoted themselves off the Watchbill.

    If the Navy wants Optimum / Minimum Manning to succeed, they should solicit Sailors who have served on Small Craft, Minesweepers, FFG’s, etc… We should use best practices from commands that have gone outside the box. We should also look at how the submarines do things, too. This applies to manning, training, and ship maintenance. NAVSEA has recently addressed the maintenance requirements.

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