Our job as fleet commanders is to provide the United States with ready, forward-deployed naval forces. This takes concerted teamwork and many distinct partners working together toward a common goal. However, the organizations and rules responsible for developing readiness for deployable units have grown over time. The Navy originally built these entities to guide specific parts of the process but did not necessarily integrate them into the readiness production system as a whole.
Our current system is like a machine to which we just keep adding important and wanted items but without a cohesive strategy for an elegant, interwoven system. Considered on their own, the addition and growth of individual elements may be useful. But when ownership organizations do not see how their contribution fits into the whole and think their element is an end-state in itself, effective communication and execution are inhibited.
We believe that this haphazard approach to producing readiness is inadequate in today’s strategic and budget environment. Economic realities demand that we find ways to maximize our readiness assets—fiscal, material, and personnel—while getting the most bang for our buck. This means digging deep into how we do business, taking a hard look at whether our processes are aligned, and fixing the areas where we find inefficiencies. Too many resource and policy decisions occur without a full understanding of their impact throughout the readiness process, causing systemic problems across the Navy. The Readiness Kill Chain is our answer.
The chain provides the Fleet a means to break down institutional barriers and increase understanding of readiness production, bringing all Navy elements together. It is a repeatable methodology to identify production barriers and their root causes, followed by the collaborative development of solutions to remove those barriers. It ensures that policies, resources, and products deliver the right capability and readiness for mission requirements. This will lead to higher readiness per dollar spent, more efficient coordination across the Navy, and better-trained warfighters.
Our unified Fleets need this new process. Through its implementation we’re returning to the basics by getting people to talk to each other while guided by formal accountability and specific action steps.
The Readiness Kill Chain is similar to a kinetic kill chain used by sailors every day. A kinetic kill chain requires an unbroken series of events to occur in order to kill a target. For instance, for a surface ship to launch a weapon against a target it must accomplish multiple interrelated steps. In its simplest form, we know this as the detect-to-engage sequence. First, the ship must detect the target and then create a target-quality track. Once it does that, it must launch a weapon, and that weapon must find the target and detonate to deliver the desired effects.
If any one of these elements goes awry, the mission fails. If the ship cannot detect the target, it cannot accomplish the later elements in the chain. With an understanding of how all the elements within a kinetic kill chain work together and depend on one another, we can identify weak links in the chain. This allows warfighters to fix those weak links and maximize mission accomplishment.
Our view of Fleet readiness works in the same way. Readiness production as a whole is a kill chain, and smaller elements within the production have individual readiness kill chains. For instance, the EA-18G Growler and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers each have their own distinct chains and are also part of the larger carrier strike group Readiness Kill Chain. If any element within the chain breaks, the desired result suffers.
The Readiness Kill Chain looks at everything from resourcing and policy to the Fleet Response Training Plan and a forward-deployed presence. It connects related efforts and exposes breaks in the chain. We use the Fleet Commanders’ Readiness Council for overall coordination.
The council is an organization that meets monthly to identify and track high-priority barriers to readiness production. We—the commanders of U.S. Fleet Forces and U.S. Pacific Fleet—co-chair this council. The director of the Navy Staff, all of the 3-star deputy chiefs of naval operations, the systems commanders, the type commanders, and anybody else with a stake in the Readiness Kill Chain are members. This governing body fosters transparency by providing enterprise-wide situational awareness of kill-chain issues and helps overcome stove-piped processes, drilling down to root causes, while fielding comprehensive solutions.
Prior to the implementation of the Readiness Kill Chain, we did not have a well-defined understanding of all the connections among the chain’s elements. Now we do.
Ends, Ways, and Means
The development of the Readiness Kill Chain began with an understanding of ends, ways, and means. This allowed us to focus on the goal of forward-deployed forces while analyzing the elements that help us achieve that end. (See Figure 1.)
Our end is deployed Navy weapon systems. Every element within the chain points to this outcome. We define a weapon system broadly: It is more than an individual ship, submarine, or airplane. It is these assets in combination with training pipelines, cyber forces, Navy expeditionary command units, and our operational and tactical headquarters.
Our ways are the methods, tactics, procedures, practices, and strategies we use to achieve our ends. They span much of the Navy enterprise and cut across many existing stovepipes.
Traditionally, there have been two divergent perspectives on readiness: the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) and system commander perspective, and the fleet and type commander perspective. OPNAV and the system commanders take a long-term approach, concerned primarily with capabilities and personnel programs. The fleet and type commanders take a more near-term approach, and are concerned with individual platform and strike-group deployed readiness.
In our kinetic kill chain example, the left side is defined by those processes before we launch the weapon and the right side the processes after. In the Readiness Kill Chain, the left side is the OPNAV and system commanders approach and the right is the fleet and type commanders approach. (See ways in the middle of Figure 1.) One of the first things we did with the Readiness Kill Chain was to link the left and rights sides, to understand how actions such as resourcing, policy, procurement, personnel accessions, and capability introductions on the left side impact the Fleet Readiness Training Plan on the right. With those aligned, we further augment the ways by standardizing left-side actions across the weapon system. We then ensure coordinated actions on the right side.
The means (upper left side of Figure 1) by which we accomplish the ends include traditional elements of readiness—personnel, equipment, supplies, training, and ordnance—as well as less-traditional elements such as our networks, installations, local communities, industry partners, and elected leaders.
We also think about readiness in terms of consumers, producers, and products. Consumers include our combatant commanders and fleet commanders, while producers include type commanders, shipyards, schoolhouses, and training commands. Products of readiness are units standing the watch—such as ships, aircraft, and submarines—and the individuals who man them. Whatever billet you hold in the Navy, you fit into at least one of these three categories.
Applying the Readiness Kill Chain
To implement the Readiness Kill Chain, we use a five-step process.
First, we make an overall assessment of the “as is,” or present day, status of the given system. We identify everything from resource sponsors and training to manning and maintenance realities.
Following this, we create a comprehensive process map, which is a pictorial representation of all the stakeholders and associated relationships among the elements identified in the first step. While this map can get incredibly complex, it highlights where previously unknown gaps and barriers currently exist.
Next, we establish a Readiness Kill Chain matrix. This provides standards and common metrics that can be applied across the stakeholder networks previously identified. Using a stoplight identification guide, a quick glance will show red areas that are deficient, yellow areas that minimally meet standards, and green areas that are healthy. By looking at the colors across the kill chain, we can easily identify breaks or weak points.
Using the process maps and matrices, we complete a root-cause analysis. We identify the originating moment of breakdown and direct efforts at that specific spot in the kill chain. We revisit the root-cause analysis as we identify and correct new deficiencies.
Finally, if the root-cause analysis reveals deficiencies, we execute solution development and prioritization. We often route this through the Fleet Commanders’ Readiness Council for action.
As an initial look, we directed type commanders to conduct a comprehensive analysis on two of their platforms. Naval surface forces chose the littoral combat ship and amphibious L-class ships (LPD-17, LSD, LHA, and LHDs); naval air forces chose aircraft carriers and electronic attack platforms; and naval submarine forces chose their attack and ballistic-missile submarines. These analyses are ongoing.
Theory is great, but execution is what matters. Although Readiness Kill Chain analyses are still in the early stages, we can claim a few successes. Afloat manning and digital nautical charts illustrate the effectiveness of the process as a whole and the value of increased coordination.
Every Fleet sailor has felt the impact of afloat manning issues. From the E-4 performing maintenance on a gas turbine engine to the strike-group commander responsible for multiple operational platforms, each understands the challenge.
Our current manning process provides an insufficient afloat pool of sailors to deploying units. As a result, last minute personnel movements or manning actions are required to fill the gaps. According to the U.S. Fleet Forces N1 (Personnel) shop, the Fleet averages over 130 of these actions per month: on average approximately 55 cross-decks, 39 temporarily assigned duty assists, 29 diverts, and 11 operational holds. This negatively impacts the readiness of our deployed forces and is a major cause of uncertainty (and dissatisfaction) in the lives of sailors.
To truly understand this shortfall, the U.S. Fleet Forces N1 assembled a Readiness Kill Chain working group. This encompassed all stakeholders in the manpower arena, including the type commanders, the Fleets, the Naval Education and Training Command, and the Navy Staff. We tasked the team to dive into the root causes of the observed manning shortfalls, and they in turn looked at cradle-to-grave personnel assignments, the career continuum for individual training, and incentive policies. After three days of locked down, cross-echelon, cross-functional discussion, the team generated 18 recommendations for improvement. Presented at the Fleet Commander’s Readiness Council, these included:
• Revising priority-manning policies in support of sea-centric manning;
• Allowing indefinite chief petty officer re-enlistment;
• Aligning projected date of rotation with the end of active obligated service tour;
• Reviewing the billet-change request process;
• Recommending higher career sea pay rates.
All of the recommendations were approved, and process owners accepted specific due dates. Some of the ongoing actions include:
• Widening the detailing window from the current policy of three months before projected rotation date (PRD) to six months before PRD to increase personnel available for sea-duty orders;
• Creating an instruction outlining a process that ensures training solutions are approved and funded prior to platform delivery;
• Drafting an update to career sea pay eligibility.
The Readiness Kill Chain provided the methodology and focus needed to take a Navy-wide problem and distill it into concrete, actionable steps. The consensus also set the foundation for a firm plan of action and milestones that are monitored and resourced by leadership across the newly formed stakeholder network. These new manning business rules will take effect in January 2015.
Digital Nautical Charts
Tackling an issue like manning is challenging, but aligning staffs across the Navy can be even more difficult. The Fleet Commanders’ Readiness Council mitigates these bureaucratic challenges as well.
For years, the surface Navy has been adding digital charts to the bridges of ships, but tens of millions of dollars later, the systems have not provided adequate functionality or commonality. The USS Guardian (MCM-5) grounding served as a wakeup call, and the Navy had to determine where delays existed while finding ways to fix them.
At the outset, it appeared this was an OPNAV N2/N6 problem, which is the Navy Staff office responsible for resourcing information dominance. Yet this effort had many elements necessary for a comprehensive solution: There was no training integration—fundamentally an N1 manpower problem. There was no commonality when it came to equipment—an N4 Fleet maintenance problem. There were four individual N9 resource sponsors who had not coordinated on a common course of action. Finally, there was little integration across multiple system commanders—Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Air Systems Command, and Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command.
In short, the constituent elements were working as designed, but their charters did not drive the integrated coordination required for full mission capability. At one point, a particular issue came down to only a minor funding requirement. This simple line item, if not funded, would delay the solution by years. Without ownership, there was no mechanism to get the funding. In years past, that funding requirement would have slipped through the seams. This time, though, something different happened. The Fleet Commanders’ Readiness Council came together, reviewed the issue, and identified the shortfall. All the right people were in the room, and a solution was immediately brokered. The director of the Navy Staff found the funding, resulting in a way forward to fix Navy navigation.
Understanding the Readiness Kill Chain is just the start to tackling problems related to readiness. Execution will require unified action among the Fleets and our respective partners across the Navy. The Navy will continue to develop and implement the chain to increase forward deployed readiness while reducing cost.
This approach represents a significant change from the way the Fleet has done business. We anticipate that it will take time—at least 3 to 5 years—for this philosophy to take hold. This will outlive both of our command tenures: It will be incumbent upon our successors—and perhaps some of you reading this article—to carry this initiative forward in the years and decades to come.
To facilitate understanding, our combined Fleets are rolling out a Readiness Kill Chain education program. The audience will be the entire Fleet, beginning with type commander, OPNAV, and system commander staffs, followed by department heads and senior enlisted. The desired outcomes of this education include improved communications, increased knowledge of factors affecting readiness production, and an understanding of how to apply collaborative principles throughout the kill chain. Using staff discussions, existing schoolhouse training resources, and Navy eLearning, our hope is that a broader understanding of this methodology will identify further efficiencies while breaking down production barriers.
The CNO’s tenets are “Warfighting First, Operate Forward, and Be Ready.” Deployed Navy forces are the tools that execute these tenets. Just as a kinetic kill chain ensures that a warhead detonates on target, the Readiness Kill Chain ensures that our forces are forward and ready to fight our nation’s wars.
Admiral Harris is Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet.