Warfighting Skills Are Built at Sea

By Vice Admiral Alexander Krekich, U.S. Navy

The answer lies in the assignment of port engineers, the use of continuous maintenance, and the shortening of availabilities to no longer than nine weeks. This is a change in policy and will require a shift in thinking if we are to implement it successfully. Under this new maintenance philosophy, a nine-week Chief of Naval Operations-scheduled period would be the anchor availability in the continuous maintenance process. Additional maintenance would be done at various points during the ship's interdeployment cycle.

The benefits are several, and chief among them are:

  • Improved training readiness
  • Improved operational readiness/availability
  • Greater stability in scheduling
  • Higher material readiness
  • Potential for reduced maintenance overhead
  • Improved quality of life and increased professionalism for fleet sailors

The notional repair man-days—as well as the notional underway days—would remain the same for each ship under this concept, and all the repair man-days would not have to be expended in the nine-week period. Modernization would continue in accordance with Chief of Naval Operations-directed policy. Ship alterations previously requiring more than nine weeks to accomplish would be reviewed for adaptation to the shorter maintenance period. The anchor availability would begin six to eight weeks after a ship's return from deployment. Fuel and ammunition would be offloaded only when necessary.

The key to the success of a nine-week availability is thorough planning and the corporate knowledge of the ship's port engineer. The port engineer and the ship continuously would validate and screen the Consolidated Ship's Maintenance Program to ensure that it is an accurate document of required work. Together, the port engineer and representatives from the area maintenance centers would plan and execute the work as required to maintain readiness. Maintenance and modernization installations conducted after the nine-week availability would be adjusted to fit the ship's operational schedule during the interdeployment cycle. Aside from critical repairs, no work would be scheduled unless it could be accomplished during the various scheduled inport periods. This means operations would drive maintenance schedules, not vice versa.

The primary reason for going to shorter maintenance periods is the belief that less time off-line undergoing maintenance would allow a ship's crew to retain its seagoing and warfighting skills. Other benefits would be the reduction in the requirement for Light Off Assessments—currently required whenever an engineering plant has been laid up for more than 120 days—and improved Command Assessment of Readiness and Training results. Many ships probably would maintain sufficient proficiency to bypass the first phase of the current Tailored Ship Training Assessment. This would increase the ship's ability to tailor its follow-on training and would increase the Afloat Training Group's scheduling flexibility.

The expected result of this streamlined maintenance and training process is the ability to turn over a ship, ready for the immediate and advanced phases of training, to the numbered fleet commander sooner. Additional maintenance would be required before deployment, but it would be conducted during scheduled inport periods and would not affect the ship's ability to execute the post-basic phase of training and non-deployed operational commitments.

Other operational benefits also are expected. According to a review of executed and projected schedules for fiscal years 1994-1999, ships were or would be available for operational tasking 70% of the time. 1 Under the nine-week maintenance plan, ships would average an 84% availability. This not only allows a single ship to meet more commitments, but it also increases scheduling flexibility for both the type commander and numbered fleet commanders.

Flexibility also enhances the stability of a ship's schedule. Work postponed for budgetary or other reasons and emergent work easily could be scheduled for a follow-on maintenance period without disrupting the ship's underway schedule. Forcing work into the long maintenance availability and then having to accomplish additional work outside of that period frequently has led to schedule changes that affect not only the individual ship but also—in a domino effect—many other ship and support organizations on the waterfront.

In addition to the training and operational benefits of shorter-term maintenance availabilities, a ship's materiel condition would improve. For example, eliminating the Light Off Assessment (LOA) requirement also eliminates the need for the contractor to yield engineering spaces for two weeks prior to the LOA. More important, shorter availabilities reduce post-maintenance materiel casualties caused by inactive equipment and loss of trained operators. The longer an availability, the greater the percentage of C3/C4 casualty reports during the first six months following a maintenance period (figure 1).

There also are budgetary benefits. Studies have proved that shorter availabilities reduce overhead costs paid to private contractors for hotel services, pier space, and docking services while ships undergo maintenance. They also eliminate some costly permanent change-of-station moves that can result when a contractor located out of a ship's home port wins the repair award. Shorter availabilities mean that more of the work can be accomplished at the naval stations, which, in turn, improves quality of life for our officers and sailors. Shorter time on berthing barges enhances a crew's esprit de corps, and less time embroiled in an extensive maintenance period means more time focused on warfighting skills.

In this day of great professionalism among our sailors, another extremely important result of this maintenance strategy is the improved opportunity to achieve enlisted surface warfare and surface warfare officer qualifications. It is far more beneficial for our people to be at sea doing their jobs rather than to be stuck in long droughts of professional opportunity.

Naval Surface Force Pacific has found the nine-week maintenance philosophy to be a winner on many fronts. Skills remain sharper, maintenance is performed as required, and the operational commander gets a highly capable platform with a well-trained crew more quickly than ever before. Our business is to keep our warfighting skills sharp by going to sea, and that's where we belong.

1 Refers to percentage of time ship is not in a C-5 status.

Admiral Krekich is Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet.



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