Real-world events of the past five years have created a high operational-tempo environment, resulting in lost predictability for our sailors, families, combatant commanders, and industrial base. Carrier strike group (CSG) deployment lengths have averaged 8.2 months over the last three years, up from an average of 6.4 months between 2008 and 2011. The Harry S. Truman Strike Group just returned from a nine-month deployment, and the Carl Vinson and George H. W. Bush Strike Groups are both in the midst of planned nine-and-a-half-month deployments. Without a change to our readiness-generation model, the next three years would see a similar pattern of operational and personnel tempo.
Using the RKC methodology, we analyzed the means (personnel, equipment, supplies, training, ordnance, networks, and installations) and ways (resources and policy, accessions and procurement, Fleet pre-introduction, and the Fleet Response Training Plan) in which we generate combat-ready forward-deployed CSGs. Through this, we developed the O-FRP.
O-FRP is a significant change to our existing Fleet Response Plan, which was rooted in an overhaul of previous workup cycles like the inter-deployment training cycle and the Turnaround Plan. O-FRP offers more predictability than the existing model, while enabling critical adaptability for policy makers. It aligns continental U.S.–based CSGs to a 36-month training and deployment cycle, while synchronizing command and control, manning, maintenance requirements, inspections, ordnance, combat logistics and parts, training, evaluations, and a single planned deployment intended to be no longer than eight months. In short, for the cost of maintenance and training, we intend for O-FRP to maximize operational availability, provide a clean chain of command, and provide an acceptable personnel tempo for our sailors. O-FRP will also result in increased time at home for our sailors, more appropriate manning for deployable units, and stability in maintenance cycles.
Fleet Response Plan Basics
Development of the O-FRP grew out of a recognition that current trends in maintenance and modernization execution, training compression, deployment expansion, and personnel churn are unsustainable in the longrun. Specific issues that create real-world operational challenges include:
• The length of the FRP lacks inherent adaptability for changes in maintenance, training, and operational schedules and does not maximize operational availability. This leads to the disruption of maintenance schedules, uneven shipyard loading, compressed training, and unstable CSG composition. Furthermore, there is little predictability in deployment schedules for our sailors, their families, and the industrial base;
• Misaligned CSG and destroyer squadron chains of command;
• Suboptimal manning and unacceptable personnel turnover prior to deployment;
• Over-cost and behind-schedule maintenance availabilities;
• Modernization decisions lack sufficient customer buy-in at the appropriate decision levels;
• Too few spare parts require excessive cross-decks and lower overall readiness;
• A haphazard and unconstrained inspection process;
• A lack of adequate, standardized training for our operational and tactical headquarters.
As a capital-intensive force that relies upon relatively frequent industrial-level maintenance, our Navy exists within a cyclic and tiered readiness model. This means that we do not maintain our forces at a constant readiness level 365 days a year but vary readiness based on operational requirements and funding constraints. Every deployable unit in the Navy goes through a similar cycle that includes a maintenance phase, a basic (unit-level) training phase, an integrated (combined) training phase, and a deployment phase.
Unfortunately, the Navy was rarely able to execute the FRP as designed due to operational considerations and real-world events. CSG composition changed every cycle as carrier, ship, and squadron schedules were adjusted to meet changing combatant-commander demands, maintenance delays, and crisis response. This has caused significant unpredictability for our sailors and maintenance teams, while revealing a host of inefficiencies that must be addressed in our current fiscally constrained environment.
Inefficient readiness production and unpredictable schedules are never good, but they have become unsustainable. Effective stewardship of declining resources to support enduring presence requirements demands a different solution.
Building the Optimized Fleet Response Plan
The central concepts of O-FRP are rooted in a request made in 2011 by former Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. At the time, Carter asked the Department of the Navy to determine how much additional carrier operational availability could be produced and at what cost. Operational availability is defined as the time that a deployable asset is available for tasking and is often referred to as Ao or “A sub-O.” This is the most critical component in understanding how best to use our available forces.
This study, the Enhanced Carrier Presence (ECP) plan, showed that there were significant operational availability increases possible without buying new aircraft carriers. For a given CSG, the Enhanced Carrier Presence plan called for a seven-month deployment, followed by a seven-month sustainment phase, followed by another seven-month deployment. It required a realignment of the way we were doing business across many stakeholders.
When sequestration hit, the cost to support ECP plan became untenable, and the concept was dropped. However, the hard work put into the development of the overall framework was not wasted. We leveraged the findings to optimize our current readiness production model.
Furthermore, a Readiness Kill Chain analysis revealed barriers, gaps, and seams in nine areas, which we call our lines of effort. We found that these had to be addressed in a certain sequence, with the resulting model resembling a layer cake. In order, these lines of effort are: FRP length, CSG alignment, manning and individual training, maintenance and modernization, logistics, inspections, unit training, advance training, and operational and tactical headquarters training. While many of these inefficiencies could be addressed at the Fleet level, using the RKC methodology led to an optimization of the weapon system as a whole.
Determining the FRP cycle length is the foundation of the O-FRP framework. Using previous lessons learned and historical analysis, we found that a 36-month cycle allowed the necessary time for maintenance and training, while maximizing operational availability. The 36-month O-FRP model consists of the familiar maintenance, basic and integrated training phases, a one-month pre-operational movement period and a single planned deployment intended to be no longer than eight months. Upon return from deployment, we will sustain CSG readiness levels based on available funding and world events.
Specifically, the 36-month cycle is defined on average as the first day of a carrier’s Chief of Naval Operations availability period through the day before its next availability. This cycle length accommodates required maintenance and planned operations without curtailing training requirements. It also enhances predictability for maintenance providers and the industrial base that supports those efforts. Finally, it stabilizes planned deployment and sustainment schedules for sailors and their families. O-FRP also retains the necessary adaptability should our nation need a CSG to respond to a crisis.
As we aligned our CSGs to a sustainable FRP length, we next needed to address the current misalignment of assets within a CSG. Most notably, the surface combatant FRP cycle was 32 months, but due to operational and maintenance changes the aircraft carriers were effectively already at 36 months. This led to a constant shuffling of assets.
As it stands now, operational and administrative control are not coherent, causing reporting problems, specifically when it comes to accountability and fitness reports. Destroyer squadrons (DESRONs) do not always deploy with their assigned surface combatants, CSGs deploy with surface combatants from multiple squadrons, and technological capabilities within a strike group are mismatched. Furthermore, many cruisers and destroyers that deploy independently from the CSG require individual certifying events and do not all train to the same capabilities.
CSGs will now be composed of seven to eight surface combatants aligned under a single DESRON for training and certification. Individual deployment dates for ships executing the ballistic-missile defense, Scan Eagle, and Fire Scout missions may vary due to presence requirements, but all will get the same training aligned to the same time line.
Additionally, command and control is aligned to the FRP cycle, so that reporting seniors will not change in the middle of deployment. Operational command of the CSG will be aligned with the deployment cycle. This ownership allows immediate superiors to transmit their commander’s intent to assigned units early in the cycle, giving consistent operational and professional expectations.
Manning and Individual Training
Once we got the right pieces of a CSG in place, we then needed to determine proper manning. The biggest challenge we face with this component is that we don’t get enough of the right people to the right places at the right time. Too often critical skills are filled just days before deployment, and those who arrive haven’t been trained to the specifics of the team they are joining. Under O-FRP, we will get to the CNO-mandated billet numbers before the training phase begins. Combat requires a closely integrated team, and since we fall to the level of our training during war having a cohesive team is vital. To do this, we prioritize deploying units and pull from non-deploying and post-deployment units.
Thus far, we have already implemented the revised career sea pay that will be seen in our sailors’ paychecks this summer and established the increased enlisted personnel distribution authority, which gives detailers the flexibility to move sailors six months before or after their planned rotation date. These elements give us more sailors for sea duty, increased incentive for those sailors to go to sea, and the distribution tools to get them to sea. This will ensure we have the right people in the right billets to meet training and deployment requirements. Additionally, target fit/fill numbers, which are on the rise, will allow us to meet our mark for the maintenance phase of the first transitioning CSG.
Maintenance and Modernization
After addressing the manning issues we turned to maintenance. To be blunt, we are not getting our ships out of maintenance on time following availabilities. We currently experience inefficient execution of planning, contracting, and execution of those availabilities. We have far too much growth and new work once a ship is already in the yard, and modernization items are still in the planning stages without being authorized.
Furthermore, our contracting procedures have difficulty keeping pace with the discovery of growth and new work during execution. This, combined with the inability to reach some key events and milestones due to underperformance, shrinks turnaround times and contributes to cost and schedule overruns. These overruns and delays impact basic training and ultimately our ability to operate forward.
We’ve tackled these problems head on, but our actions will take years to implement. To start, we have set CNO availability schedules for all CSGs. By aligning cruiser and destroyer assignments to the CSG, we have created a stable, predictable, and integrated maintenance and modernization schedule that helps both our industry partners and sailors. This stability enables time for proper availability planning, allows for timely and coordinated port loading, and aligns the surface-ship-class maintenance plan to 36 months from 32.
A Readiness Kill Chain analysis is being performed on the end-to-end processes for maintenance and modernization in both the public and private sectors to identify barriers to successful on-time completion of availabilities. Analyzing the actual duration for surface availabilities allowed the identification of fixes much earlier in the programming and budgeting process, which supports required maintenance and modernization. Furthermore, we completed an initial review of Fiscal Year 2015 availabilities, as well as factors driving integrated planning for maintenance and modernization.
Ships not only must complete maintenance on time, but they also must be properly stocked with spare parts. One of the most frustrating things for our sailors is to arrive at work and not have the parts needed to accomplish their jobs. We are tackling this directly by changing the timing in funding for when spare parts arrive in a work center.
Through O-FRP we will maintain consistent spare-part levels from the beginning of the basic phase and through deployment and the sustainment phase. This ensures that needed spare parts are available throughout the duration of the FRP. Having the right spare part at the right time also guarantees that the proper training can be done without delay before deployment.
To meet this goal, we have already allocated an additional $51 million to our outfitting-spares accounts and have full funding for spares across Future Year Defense Plans. For shipboard spares, we devoted an additional $21 million investment at the end of 2013, and our ship-construction spares received added funding of $14.6 million. Getting sailors the right parts when they need them is a priority for us.
Furthermore, logistics encompasses more than just parts. It also includes maintaining the right amount of ordnance for both training and combat. Additionally, our Combat Logistics Force, which includes many shore- and sea-based logistics centers, is integral to getting needed supplies to the right place on time. O-FRP will ensure these assets are funded appropriately to meet Fleet needs.
Our current inspection process is cumbersome, random, and not at all aligned with the phases of our existing FRP cycle. We were astounded to learn that there are 466 separate inspections a surface ship has to complete before, during, and after a deployment. Some are time-based, many are outdated, and far too few of them are scheduled based on where the ship is in the FRP.
We are coordinating inspection and assessment events to eliminate redundancy and determine when each inspection best fits within the O-FRP. This will allow us to bundle like inspections together so an undue, reoccurring burden is not placed on a ship’s crew.
Our biggest change thus far is in how we conduct inspection and survey (INSURV). Instead of a five-day evolution it is now a three-day event and starts on Tuesday as opposed to Monday. To improve operational risk management ships will not get under way before 0700, and ships’ leadership is afforded crew rest through improved scheduling of events combined with the elimination of redundant and outdated requirements. INSURV will also now be linked to other readiness events, and the inspectors now accept type commander data as INSURV data. Finally, INSURV will analyze more data over a broader period of time, leveraging existing type commander mid-cycle data.
Unit and Advanced Training
In our opinion, these changes properly man and equip the deployment team. However, a truly potent warfighting team is only created through standardized and comprehensive training. The training phase is where the CSG team comes together, exercises their skills, and becomes proficient in all tasks that they may need to execute while deployed.
All deploying units will now be trained to a single standard. All people and equipment will be ready to begin the basic phase of training at the end of maintenance. Whether you are an independent deployer carrying out the ballistic-missile defense mission or a member of the core CSG, all of our assets will train to the high end of war. Experience has shown that when the world votes, every asset has to be ready to execute any mission.
The advanced phase of training will culminate with a CSG-wide certifying event. This will be a critical milestone, and will let us know if a CSG is ready to be deployed. Included in the advanced phase of training will also be a more efficient training schedule along with live-fire events where we can exercise our weapon systems as they will be used in combat.
The final element in the O-FRP layer cake is making sure our operational and tactical headquarters are trained to the same standard. Both of these headquarters staffs have two primary focus areas: They support the commander’s decision cycle and assure subordinate command success. Properly trained and aligned staffs are the key element to this. A revised CSG tactical-training continuum codifies the individual training for the staffs. Furthermore, training is standardized by billet, all the way from the CSG commander to individual staff members. Required pipeline and fleet training will be codified to ensure the right people have the requisite knowledge.
The first unit to move to O-FRP will be the Harry S. Truman CSG in November 2014. As soon as she returned from her last deployment in April the maintenance phase of O-FRP began for the carrier and all her associated surface assets. Furthermore, the CSG staff started their fleet pipeline training in May of this year.
One month before the maintenance phase is completed the inspection process will begin in preparation for the basic phase of training. Manning within that CSG will meet the Fit/Fill/Critical NEC ratio of 92/95/1 when the basic phase starts, where fit refers to the right rating, and rate; fill to the sailors onboard; and critical NEC means at least one sailor on board has the qualifications of each critical naval enlisted classification. In November 2015 integrated and advanced training will begin, and the Harry S. Truman Strike Group will sail on an eight-month deployment soon after. All the other non-forward deployed CSG naval forces will begin transition to O-FRP at the end of their current deployment cycle. By 2019 all CSGs will be aligned to the Optimized Fleet Response Plan.
Ongoing efforts are under way to understand and execute similar models for the other elements of the Navy weapons system. The amphibious readiness group and Marine expeditionary units will transition next. Meanwhile, work is being done to identify how to bring the submarine force, Navy expeditionary combatant command, and forward-deployed naval forces under their own unique O-FRPs.
In challenging fiscal environments, new ways of doing business are required. We are executing the Optimized Fleet Response Plan to bring predictability back to readiness generation, while simultaneously creating adaptability for policy makers who must react to world events. We cannot afford to not implement the Optimized Fleet Response Plan.
Admiral Harris is Commander, United States Pacific Fleet.