Training Tomorrow's Navy

By Commander Julian Tonning, U.S. Navy

Since World War II, we have maintained a Navy training structure tasked to sustain massive personnel throughput to the fleet. Training has been a numbers game, requiring a large infrastructure and huge dollar outlays to support it. This process worked well during periods of growth or sustained large-scale operations, but it has become devastating in today's climate.

Training commands have no control over their budgets, and consequently no control over the dollar cuts they face. Executing the budget reductions ordered by a myriad of Navy agencies has led to an inability to deliver improvement in the continual process of assessing how well we train. With a 40% reduction from 1987 levels already in place and an additional 20% cut coming, the cost-effectiveness of the training infrastructure itself must now be questioned. We are taking the cutting torch to the last few guns on deck; resource sponsors continue arriving unannounced, taking equipment off and occasionally putting new equipment on; no single individual has the full picture; and the orders are to move further in. It is time to find a new ship and reestablish command.

We have no control over the way training will be supported from year to year . Figure 1 shows the dollar path for Atlantic Fleet afloat training. It is a Byzantine flow of dollars from at least 18 different resource sponsors. This support is not geared toward overall fleet readiness; instead, it focuses on the narrow interests of the sponsor.

Most cuts are made by resource sponsors in response to fiscal pressures, with little consideration to their effects on training. The Navy Training Requirements Review process has tried to mitigate the impact these reductions have had on training quality, but these efforts are Band-Aid fixes and are reactionary at best; they are not preparing for the reductions to come. Training commands do not zero-base their budgets each year against deckplate requirements—in part because we do not know what the deckplate skill requirements are.

We do not know what the Navy spends on training . The numbers at the beginning of this article are aggregates, because the data to track and cost out the millions spent on training each year do not exist. In January 1996, a small group in the training directorate at Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet, was chartered by Rear Admiral Ernest E. Christensen, Commander, Training Command Atlantic, to identify the costs inherent in training. Close scrutiny was given to an Aegis cruiser, with specific emphasis on three divisions in the combat systems department. The results were enlightening: long shore-based training pipelines with high costs and questionable knowledge-retention rates, relatively limited chances for deckplate application, and high attrition rates throughout the first tour. Some ratings take more than a year of schooling before a sailor is "ready" to report for duty. The average cost was $84,000 per sailor, before the sailor ever reported from boot camp . This is just for fire controlmen on board an Aegis cruiser. We do not have data for the rest of the surface community or for any other Navy community.

Waste is built into our process . Attrition rates for first-term enlistees approach 70%. Schoolhouse curricula typically overeducate, to prepare the graduate for an entire tour of fleet experiences, but over time, much material taught in the classroom has to be relearned on the deckplates, especially in ratings that have long pipelines.

Service contracts must require long enlistments to recoup educational investments. Is training the most desirable enlistment incentive we can offer? If the Navy is to remain competitive with the civilian job market, can we continue to require long initial tours for the best of the recruiting field? Are we stifling recruits with school after school, before that first command ever becomes a reality?

A New Ship

Budgetary constraints are only part of today's challenging environment. The explosion of information technology is just as large in its impact.

In the past, the military was a primary driver in shaping technological development. Today, that is no longer the case. Computer hardware and software change more quickly than we can react. For the training community, this means an unprecedented and extraordinary capacity to handle information. Commercial off-the-shelf technology is available today to leverage training efforts in ways that were unimaginable even five years ago. Interactive computer software, video teletraining, interactive electronic technical manuals, video telemaintenance, and other job performance aids can be shaped to meet Navy training needs. They promise to provide the right training at the right time to the right sailor.

Are we ready to move into that new world? We may no longer have a choice. If we can exploit these new capabilities without destroying the training effectiveness we have attained to date, we can drive down training costs substantially.

Just In Time, Just Enough

Given today's technology, which makes possible individual learning through multimedia software, is there merit in returning to prior training procedures that used the workplace as the classroom? This process, once the core of not just Navy but all industrial training, included the proficiency levels of apprentice, journeyman, and master. It deserves a close look, because it offers a view of where we may be heading soon.

Within this three-tiered environment at the deckplate level the senior enlisted would be the master craftsmen, the experts with the technological tools to develop the journeymen. The journeymen—who in turn train and develop the apprentices—typically would be second-tour sailors who have been through apprentice training, received additional schoolhouse training following a reenlistment, further refined skill development ashore in support organizations, and returned to the fleet. The schoolhouse would provide the fundamentals, and the sailor/apprentice would develop skills by helping, by doing, and from tutoring—both from educational technology and from journeymen and masters. Skill levels would be reinforced by training and experience, not only afloat but also ashore in fleet support activities, including manning an 800 number for fleet units seeking assistance with equipment problems.

Within this structure, the depth and variety of training and education are practically limitless. At any time, a sailor could tap into a bank of training software through a Navy-wide area network to select a particular rating, a level of skill, and an area to be trained in. Through diagrams, three-dimensional graphics, animation, print, reinforcing questions, and a testing process, the sailor trains in rate. For example, a fire party scene leader may call up a three-dimensional display of a ship's main spaces and view:

  • Fire stations
  • AFFF and HALON activation switches
  • Mechanical and electrical isolation locations
  • Smoke and watertight boundaries
  • Routes of primary and back-up fire parties, including secondary routes
  • An animation process of fire parties responding to a fire, in any location on the ship

A mechanic might call up up-to-date diagrams, showing not only what to replace but also how to get to it, what equipment is required (and what it looks like), and how to test the machinery when repairs are complete. All crewmembers, using the same Navy network, can mix Navy training with civilian education through credits received from professional achievement and college courses taken at their convenience.

This approach offers several advantages, not the least of which is that it takes full advantage of today's technological capabilities. Expenditures are limited to software development and hardware acquisition; the process of training is controlled by the abilities and motivation of the sailor, coupled with the needs of the command. With this system in place, the shore-based training infrastructure also could be reduced significantly. Sailors would report to their first commands much earlier, and a large number of man-years now being spent in classrooms could be returned to functional time spent in the fleet. Response times for the Bureau of Naval Personnel to meet command manning needs could be reduced to a fraction of what they are today.

But the key to this approach is that these sailors would be every bit as productive as those in the fleet today. We could take the per capita cost of training from $28,000 to less than $8,000. The savings add up to hundreds of millions of dollars each year, without hurting performance.

This is not simply a change to existing procedure; it is an entirely new culture—or more exactly, a return to a previous culture supported by new technology. It includes:

  • Home basing, keeping the experts in one location so that their expertise may be more focused
  • Ship-steading, where the experience of a past tour becomes a much stronger foundation for the next afloat tour
  • The Service-members Opportunities College, Navy, where college degrees can be earned in fields directly associated with on-the-job Navy skills

Transition steps already have been taken, both in aviation and surface maintenance training programs. Just enough training, just in time, will reshape the Navy training structure to capture technology, improve training quality, and put sailors in the fleet for greater portions of their enlistments. Coupled with programs like the Service-members Opportunities College, it can substantiate our sailors' credentials in the civilian world as it increases their opportunities for education and skill development. It recognizes the deckplates as the primary environment for training and will make the core training that takes place there more effective and efficient. It will return our senior enlisted to the deckplates, where they are best suited, maintaining their proficiency while they serve as mentors to the junior sailors.

Operating in New Waters

Any shift in culture requires long-term coordination for successful implementation. We will have to take a fresh look at recruiting; new enticements and changes in initial tour lengths may have to be considered. Start-up costs for software and hardware will have to be calculated, and software will have to be developed to meet a wide variety of training needs. Maintenance procedures may have to be modified to incorporate the three-tiered skill framework. Assignment policies will have to be modified to keep sailors in one segment of their community throughout their careers. Advancement policies will change to recognize those sailors who excel in the new environment. Standards for each level of expertise will have to be developed, in conjunction with a review of all Navy training and occupational standards.

This process has begun. The concept was approved by the Chief of Naval Operations in May 1996, and directorates in that office already are studying how it can be implemented. In some ratings (damage controlman, hull maintenance technician), the concept has been incorporated into the career path; it remains to be structured into the training process.

To maintain quality in the fleet, nothing will be changed before new procedures are defined and the needed tools are in place. This will require a lock-step process first to put masters on the deckplates, provide the training tools that the fleet will need for on-the-job skill development, reduce the administrative burdens for unit training, and provide commands with Apprentice school graduates who are prepared to continue a training progression on the deckplates. The transition will be gradual; the keystone of the shift will be to maintain current training processes until the people and tools are in place to make the change.

Our operating environment has changed. We have new agencies in the Navy that have fielded unprecedented technologies in the fleet. We face new tactical environments; a new domestic environment; new procedures for fleet operations, including greater interface with Army and Air Force commands; a new class of adversaries; and a new generation of Americans entering service. The fundamental alterations in force structure and technology have been necessary steps to prepare for the 21st century.

But we must recognize that people remain the most critical element in any warfighting equation. Preparing our people is—and always will be—the Navy's greatest challenge. We must do so in the most effective and efficient manner possible if we are to ensure that today's Navy is prepared for tomorrow.

Commander Tonning is the assistant director for afloat training at Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet. This article was prepared with assistance from Mr. Al Flanders, public affairs officer at Training Command, Atlantic. 


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