How Ready Are We?

By Commander James R. Knapp, USN

The service is responsible for training the air wing for the CinC's use. Therefore, when one of the ten carrier air wings appears unready to do its mission, support is focused on that air wing to fix the problem. In recent years, this ugly baby has screamed with increasing regularity. Readiness reporting has become a serious benchmark of a unit's performance.

What has caused this problem? Generally, readiness is tied to reporting, and the Navy reports on people, supplies, equipment, and training. Intense management of supplies and equipment at a macro level continues to allow units to progress through the interdeployment training cycle (IDTC) and deployment. The long pole in the tent of overall readiness issues is training.

This realization begs some questions. Does the Navy train right? Has training doctrine kept pace with the operational realities facing the CinCs? Are the CinCs satisfied with the Navy's IDTC process? Perhaps the reporting system is not measuring readiness accurately. As Admiral Joseph W. Prueher maintains, could it be that "an automated system that links tactical readiness data to joint operational and strategic readiness data does not exist"?

Instead of focusing on the symptoms associated with lowered readiness reporting, the focus should be on why readiness is not being reported at desired levels. Carrier air wing training and readiness can be used as an example for a problem plaguing all the services.

Readiness Reporting and the Interdeployment Training Cycle

The Navy's primary method of reporting readiness is the Status of Resources and Training System (SORTS). According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff Guide to the Chairman's Readiness System , "SORTS is the single, automated reporting system that functions as the central registry of all operational units in the U.S. Armed Forces." SORTS provides unit-level readiness "in four critical areas: personnel, equipment-on-hand, equipment serviceability, and training." Unit readiness is defined as "the ability to provide capabilities required by the CinCs to execute their assigned missions. This is derived from the ability of each unit to deliver the outputs for which it was designed."

Along with the evolution of readiness reporting has been an evolution in how and for what the Navy trains. If this process were synergistic, the interdeployment training cycle would be a roadmap for how training achieves the "whats" in doctrine. Ultimately, concurrent actions are required between how we train, for what we train, and how that training is reported. A disconnect between any of the three distorts the final output of measured readiness.

The type commanders of Naval Air Forces Atlantic and Pacific Fleets (TYCOM) are responsible to ensure the required training of aircraft carriers and their embarked air wings. The goal of the training cycle is to provide "battle group commanders, carrier commanding officers and air wing commanders with well-trained air wings capable of immediate integration into a combat ready carrier battle group." The process has developed into a building-block approach to achieving increasingly more complex operational capability in both scope of unit involvement and complexity of events. Each unit (squadron level) must learn to work within itself. Then individual squadrons integrate with the other squadrons in the air wing. The air wing unit then learns to coalesce with the carrier to conduct routine day and night operations while embarked. Next, the ship/air wing unit joins the battle group for inclusion into the composite warfare commander concept of operations. Finally, joint and fleet operations are conducted as a battle group unit prior to deployment.

In a world of unconstrained resources, the best method to achieve large-unit cohesion would be to keep smaller units at a high level of readiness at all times. Instead, the training cycle is built around battle group deployment dates. Units not involved in deployment or deployment preparation are relegated to supporting those units that are involved in such activities. This tiered system of readiness is not the most desirable, but it does have the advantage of some cost effectiveness and predictability.

Because of these financial constraints, training is just-in-time. Every second of available at-sea time or flight time is precious. Units in the post-deployment to pre-IDTC phase are expected to be at very low readiness levels. Equipment and parts are stripped from them to support others. They have a very low funding line for flying or at-sea periods. Periodicity between training events increases well beyond the training standards. Personnel billets are gapped as their overall priority for manning decreases. These constraints, on both dollars and personnel, also constrain the type and timing of training. Combining just-in-time training with limited resources produces competition among units for scarce training time and resources.

The John C. Stennis (CVN-74) Battle Group had a normal interdeployment training cycle in 1999. Working back from a deployment date of 7 January 2000, the battle group began its IDTC with its first at-sea training period, called the tailored ships training availabilities (TSTA) period, on 12 July 1999. From this point until the end of the last atsea period, 134 days were available. Of these 134 days, the air wing spent 16 under way during TSTA, 20 under way for its composite training unit exercise (CompTUEx), 26 in Fallon for air wing training, 11 under way for its fleet exercise (FleetEx), 11 under way for its joint task force exercise (JTFEx), 7 days in port, and 3 days in transit. Between the two at-sea periods (TSTA and CompTUEx were combined, as were FleetEx and JTFEx) and one detachment, squadron units had 40 days remaining to manage leave periods, maintenance, preparation for at-sea periods, and training. Funding constraints led to just-intime training, which precluded the squadron's ability to influence its own training during the majority of the IDTC. The other units in the battle group are no better off.

The consequences of the current interdeployment training cycle are twofold. First, unit proficiency is low and integration is slow early in the IDTC. Second, later in the cycle, when units do have the right personnel, equipment, and budget to train, their training priorities are overwhelmed by larger unit requirements that do not translate into the training matrices of the individual units. A disconnect exists between how the Navy trains and how the Navy reports its training.

Problems with Readiness Reporting

The Status of Resources and Training System is a tool ill suited to quantify readiness at the operational level. Since the units reporting are tactical in size, tactical terminology defines their training standards. For instance, the F/A- 18 training matrix has taken all the tasks expected to be accomplished by this platform and laid them out in 66 events. Though this may sound like too few, a 20-sortie-per-aircrew month is above the 100% funding line. With most events falling in a one-, two-, or three-month periodicity window, this list remains robust. The problem is the inability to transfer these tasks into the training environment of the larger unit. The larger unit focuses on the interoperability of the lesser units that make it up. This requirement is not accounted for in the unit's training matrix. An example is the battle group's requirement to operate jointly during JTFEx. The tactical unit has no requirement for joint integration, nor should it. Tactical tasks do not involve jointness. Of the 66 events in the F-18 matrix, one requires a joint interface, tanking from a U.S. Air Force KC-135. As a consequence, participation in many training events by a unit does not translate in SORTS as an increase in readiness.

This leads to the second problem in readiness reporting. The unit required to report readiness simply is not in the best position to effect readiness. Even when the resources are provided to the unit commander, support of higher unit training requirements is the primary mission. (Figure 1 provides a visual depiction of this concept.) This creates tension in the training process. The units determining the readiness of the battle group chase events that do not fold into the requirements of the larger whole. One of two things happens as a result. The tactical unit responsible for reporting can play along without complaint, then can report honestly its readiness based on the training matrix, or can massage its readiness data to conform to higher headquarters expectations. The other possibility is that the unit can shift the focus of the entire exercise away from the operational level to the tactical training requirements of the individual units, regardless of whether this switch achieves the exercise's stated goal. Neither of these results is desired.

Recommendations

Accurate reporting to an operational commander on a unit's readiness requires matching the training's target with the report. During an advanced readiness program, the squadron unit is training. During TSTA, portions of CompTUEx, and all of a Fallon air wing detachment, the air wing unit is training. During the final portion of CompTUEx and all of FleetEx and JTFEx, the battle group unit is training. Currently, the method to report this is informal, nonstandard, and carries no weight when compared to SORTS. The focus must be changed.

The first recommendation is not to tinker with SORTS. SORTS displays to the service chief current readiness held against a high standard, a major theater war. SORTS should continue, but it needs to lose the aura of a report card.

The second recommendation is not to tinker with training. Training is standard, applied to doctrine and expected operational capabilities. The IDTC packs a training punch into as small a bag as possible.

The third recommendation is to create new reports that address higher levels of training and readiness. Two new reports are required at the end of each major event in the IDTC. The first would be a report on the planned level of training, generated by the event coordinator, the Naval Strike Air Warfare Center, a type wing, a training carrier group, or a numbered fleet staff member. The report would use the appropriate level of tasks from the Universal Naval Task List to depict the training goal, and would apply accepted measures of successful completion of these tasks to the unit evaluated. It should report not what was done, but how well it was done. A concurrent readiness report would follow from the unit evaluated. This report would tie in current capabilities as depicted in the training report with current manning, equipment, and parts to accomplish the mission as required by the next superior in the chain of command. At the completion of the readiness program, the report would be from the type wing and the squadron. At the end of TSTA, the report would be from the air wing commander and the carrier commander, addressing how the air wing and ship currently are manned and their demonstrated collective capabilities. Following CompTUEx, the training carrier group would publish a readiness report on the battle group's composite warfare commanders' ability to function together. The battle group commander would combine that report with his or her own concerns of manning and equipment at that stage in the cycle. The Naval Strike Air Warfare Center and the air wing commander would follow after the air wing detachment. Following JTFEx, the numbered fleet commander would report on the readiness of the battle group to conduct joint and combined operations for a geographic CinC. These reports would allow a CinC the ability to compare the performance of one battle group to another throughout the interdeployment training cycle. Reporting how well a universally accepted training program was accomplished, versus explaining what or how much training was accomplished, is the best measure of readiness a CinC can receive.

To give the CinC an accurate picture of friendly strengths and weaknesses in his or her area of responsibility, new reports are required that combine operational tasks with the real-world training process. Only by focusing on these higher levels of war, toward which the majority of training is directed, can the CinC be assured that the tasking he or she gives the battle group can be executed feasibly during the next crisis.

Commander Knapp is a November 2001 graduate of the Naval War College and is prospective executive officer of VFA-14. He has been operations officer of CVW-9, VFA-137 department head and force landing signal officer with Commander, Naval Air Forces Pacific.

 

 
 

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