In the aftermath of the tragic events at sea last year, we have all done some serious soul searching to complement the stark findings and important recommendations of the Comprehensive Review (CR) and Strategic Readiness Review (SRR). For the past nine months, a high-level team with cross-cutting authorities has been focused on implementing the recommendations from these reviews, as well as other reports, investigations, and fleet feedback, with the goal of restoring the Navy’s distinct advantage on the high seas. Fleet leaders, men and women from the Pentagon, Systems Commands, Type Commanders, and our personnel teams continue to knock down barriers to success to ensure the necessary funding is in place and to prioritize the most urgent and important tasks. Failure is not an option.
We are working on more than a hundred recommendations, and so far, we have programmed more than a billion dollars in increased manning, training tools, and ship modifications. Programs such as Bridge Resource Management Workshops and the Mariner Skills Training Program (MSTP) provide state-of-the-art, realistic training to build and sustain the confidence and proficiency of our navigation teams at our school houses and on the waterfront in Norfolk, San Diego, and other fleet concentration areas.
At the same time, engineers are hard at work designing bridge system configurations that better enable safe operations at sea. New surface radars, better helm consoles, modernized bridge equipment with new operating procedures, and the latest electronic navigation systems are being installed on all ship classes. All of this is intended to minimize variations in bridge configuration, simplify training, and help drive standardization across the fleet while providing watchstanders with solutions that simplify complex navigation problems rather than complicate them through information overload. While our Navy has made progress, there is still more work to do to generate a more ready warfighting fleet prepared to train and operate with intensity during peacetime and to win in times of conflict.
First and foremost, we have to do a better job at keeping the team informed—sharing our progress, responding to feedback, and adjusting course based on thoughtful inputs from the deckplates. To that end, the leadership team will be travelling to fleet concentration areas for the rest of the summer to talk with Sailors about what we have done, what we have left to do, and how we can do better. We want to hear whether local commands are receiving the appropriate priority, authorities, and resources to solve problems within their control. Blunt, honest feedback from the fleet will be vital.
People and Platforms
While there is little doubt that Sailors are the heart and soul of our Navy, platforms form a significant part of our warfighting identity. Without the appropriate funding, maintenance, time, and manning, the systems we rely on will fall short when we need them the most. If we continue to ask our people to do hard things, we owe them the resources to succeed and thrive. The good news is the Navy this year is in much better shape than it has been in since 2011. During the past two years, Congress has provided us the tools to begin recovering from a multibillion dollar shortfall accumulated over the previous eight.
What does this mean to those in the fleet? It means spare parts for ships and aircraft will be more readily available, sensors will be modernized, and regularly deferred maintenance will be a thing of the past. This year we expect to fund ship maintenance to 100 percent and to maximize capacity at our aviation depots, all with a goal to get more ships, subs, and aircraft out to sea and on mission—where they belong.
It Can’t Be All About Money
More money alone, however, will not solve our problems. We must set readiness standards and abide by them. We must not get under way until we have done the requisite maintenance and training. Some will roll their eyes at that statement, yet I am encouraged by recent reports of commanding officers (COs) holding the line and completing needed maintenance or training—particularly at the high end—before getting under way. COs and their immediate bosses (ISICs) know best when a team has met operational and warfighting standards.
A recent example is the USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7), which last fall was diverted from her Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP) capstone training event to perform a humanitarian-assistance hurricane relief mission. Rather than rush her immediately onto deployment to meet the original schedule, we delayed her by six weeks to complete high-end training events prior to deployment. The Iwo Jima currently is on station in the Sixth Fleet area of responsibility, ready for any challenge the operational environment puts in her way. Moreover, when another amphibious ship ran into difficulty demonstrating the necessary engineering proficiency at certification, U.S. Fleet Forces Command worked with that ship to adjust her operational schedule to provide additional training. These are signs of a healthy organization resolving the balance between readiness and operations, which is welcome at all levels of the chain of command.
Friction is present anywhere risk is at play. Operating at sea (above, on, and under) is dangerous and unforgiving, as it has been for centuries. At sea, the margins for error are razor-thin, regardless of peace or war. Simply getting our forces into position, even for “routine” transits and training, requires a self-critical eye on the part of all hands. It is too easy to become blind to some of the dangers over time. Leaders at all levels must constantly assess which risks are worth taking and which are not. This assessment goes well beyond checking the box and moving on to the next task; it is recognizing when team performance is inadequate for the rigors of combat and forward operations and making corrections to get them ready. Good teams find their blind spots and continually raise their own standards. We have to seek out these teams, celebrate their success, and share their best practices across the force. In doing so, we will achieve the culture of excellence that defines our Navy.
To encourage this, dedicated training time must be a priority. COs must have the autonomy they need in the training cycle to get their team ready, and senior leaders must be meticulous about ensuring COs know what “ready” looks like. We no longer are satisfied with barely qualifying. We must create fighting teams that are fully capable at certification and that continue to improve while over the horizon.
Commander, Naval Surface Forces, Vice Admiral Rich Brown and his team have studied ways to improve surface warfare officers’ (SWOs’) career training path and already have moved to shore up some of the training holes they found. They have increased the amount of time SWOs spend at sea, implemented a new six-week officer-of-the-deck bridge watchstanding course, increased the number of assessments SWOs will face, and shortened the time between department head tours and executive officer tours.
Maritime history is replete with tragic examples where routine operations became dangerous and the lessons are hard to re-learn. The CR and SRR began the process with sound recommendations and corrective actions. These reviews echo the enduring principles that guided the Navy from its beginning in 1775 and must continue to guide us today: competence, character, teamwork, forceful back-up, and risk management. Together, these define a culture of professionalism and good seamanship for all Sailors.
Admiral Chester Nimitz communicated to the Pacific Fleet in 1945 that, “to insure safety at sea, the best that science can devise and that naval organization can provide must be regarded only as an aid, and never as a substitute for the good seamanship, self-reliance, and sense of ultimate responsibility which are the first requisites in a seaman and naval officer.” This statement reminds us of the foundational requirements for operating a safe and effective fleet.
As our leadership team travels around the fleet in the next several weeks, I will be looking to see if we are driving toward the same goal: to carry out our mission, to keep ourselves and our shipmates safe, and to never stop learning from our experiences—both positive and negative. We look forward to—and we need—your feedback.
Admiral Moran is the Vice Chief of Naval Operations. He co-chairs the Readiness Reform and Oversight Council (RROC) with the Under Secretary of the Navy. The RROC was established to provide continuity to see reforms and recommendations from the CR and SRR through to effective completion to guard against similar future trends and challenges that adversely impact the Department of the Navy's Readiness.
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