To address the realities of the current global competitive environment, the U.S. Navy is evolving to ensure readiness for a high-end conflict with peer and near-peer adversaries. Commensurate with that evolution, the Navy Reserve force is transforming its structure, training, and mobilization processes to generate and deliver combat power and strategic warfighting depth.
Waypoints Toward Transformation
For 106 years, citizen sailors across the country have answered the nation’s call to service by affiliating with the Navy Reserve. Since its inception on 3 March 1915, prior to the United States’ entry into World War I, the Naval Reserve Force—as it was called until 2005—has responded in every conflict, balancing the recurring tension between current readiness and future capability, and delivering readiness and strategic depth when called upon. Today’s reserve sailors stand proudly as members of the long blue line representing our Navy and our nation, and yet they recognize the need to modernize to address tomorrow’s threats.
Several strategic documents support the vision for the Navy Reserve’s transformation: the 2018 National Defense Strategy, the Tri-Service Maritime Strategy: Advantage at Sea, Chief of Naval Operations’ (CNO’s) Navigation Plan (NAVPLAN) 2021, the Commandant’s Planning Guidance, and others.
CNO Admiral Mike Gilday wrote in his NAVPLAN, “Our Sailors—active and reserve, and the civilians who enable them—are the true source of our naval power. Controlling the seas and projecting power requires our Sailors to operate seamlessly in all domains and across the competition continuum.”
In 2019, then-Chief of Navy Reserve Vice Admiral Luke McCollum issued an Executive Order to begin the transformation of the Reserve Force, outlining six initiatives:
• A reserve capabilities review to assess fleet requirements.
• Rebalance full-time support (FTS) to realign FTS members to more strategic and required billets.
• Manning initiatives to align processes, policies, and systems to recruit, onboard, train, qualify, and retain members.
• Distributed activation to increase the efficiency and capacity of mobilizations.
• Individual Ready Reserve management to proactively manage reserve sailors not in an active “drilling” status.
• Simplification and enhancement of business processes, utilizing an online idea portal to solicit direct sailor input.
Each initiative remains embedded within the broader transformation efforts driving change today, and ultimately generate and drive warfighting readiness.
A Necessary Enabler
The Reserve Capabilities Review revealed a need for greater agility and flexibility in planning and programming the Navy Reserve’s budget. One way to achieve that flexibility was by becoming a resource sponsor, able to develop warfighting requirements as part of the planning, programming, budgeting, and execution process. To restore flexibility, and ultimately ensure strategic depth in the design and operation of the reserve component, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations assigned resource sponsorship responsibilities to Chief of Navy Reserve in August 2020.
Today, with oversight and ownership of budgets, the Reserve Chief is directly responsible for enabling effective and efficient reserve force alignment with the Navy’s multidomain warfighting priorities.
Navy Reserve Fighting Instructions 2020
The 2018 National Defense Strategy directed the transition of our military’s focus from counterinsurgency and counterterrorism to great power competition. Accordingly, the Navy is designing and growing an integrated future force committed to deterring, competing with, and, if necessary, defeating our rivals. Considering the composition of the future fleet will be different from that of the past 20 years, we are structuring, with clear-eyed intent, the design, competencies, and capacities associated with the reserve force of tomorrow differently from those of yesterday’s force.
For the past two decades the reserve force has emphasized operational support. Given the emerging security environment, however, we recognize the need to restore the force’s focus on strategic depth, particularly in maritime domain capabilities. Further, we recognize the need to deliver mission capabilities, surge capacity, and scalable combat power in times of conflict.
In November 2020, to ensure the force’s focus on warfighting readiness, we released the Navy Reserve Fighting Instructions 2020. The document reaffirms the Navy Reserve’s strategic alignment with the National Defense Strategy, the Tri-Service Maritime Strategy: “Advantage at Sea,” the CNO’s NAVPLAN, and the Commandant’s Planning Guidance priorities.
The Fighting Instructions detail a reinvigorated theory of the fight as it relates to the integration and contribution of the reserve force. Most important, the document describes a necessary overhaul of the processes associated with designing, training, mobilizing, and resourcing our nation’s 100,000 citizen-sailors. This shift in mind-set and effort requires deep structural and operational change. While such change is never easy, it is necessary and timely. We will move to a conflict-ready posture emphasizing traditional Navy missions, prioritizing contribution to combat power over administrative roles or ad hoc support.
Over the past 20 years, we have accomplished much by optimizing the reserve force to support post-9/11 conflicts. Yet, expecting to fight and win tomorrow’s conflict with today’s tactics, force structure, and assets is a fool’s errand. To that end, we are now, and will remain, focused on warfighting readiness as outlined in the Fighting Instructions.
An early assumption was that the totality of the transformation we expect to accomplish could be delivered without an increase in the number of reserve sailors. However, to enable the Navy Reserve to scale capability in critical areas and build new warfighting capability, capacity, and readiness without an increase in end strength, we must divest lower-value capabilities and administrative support roles. The force will eliminate those things that distract from, degrade, or fail to contribute to readiness. Simple actions include deactivating some units to enable the establishment of new units or grow existing ones, consolidating existing units to remove duplicate functions across multiple units, and shifting billets from administrative roles to those with a more direct warfighting alignment.
To achieve this transformation, we are examining how we design, train and mobilize the Force.
Design the Force
The challenges we face are structural and executional. In defining our approach, sequence, and levels of effort, we will assess and prioritize the relative impact, time, and cost of any proposed change. We are assigning a low priority to incremental improvements to existing processes and a high quotient to revolutionary changes with a high return on investment as defined by specific fleet and planning documents. At the moment, the following items have my attention:
First, we will increase the breadth and depth of our operational level-of-war (OLW) capabilities and capacity, specifically in support of fleet maritime operations centers (MOCs). Our fleets depend on reserve support to man these organizations fully and execute their missions. MOC functions are mission critical, and much of the fleet’s OLW depth and expertise resides in the Navy Reserve. We will grow this capability, formalize the training continuum, and standardize competencies to ensure transferability between fleets and areas of responsibility.
Second, we will expand our existing expeditionary logistics capability. In addition to supporting Marine Corps Commandant General David H. Berger and CNO Gilday’s naval integration commitments, this capability evolves warfighting skills needed to support our Marine Corps partners, and particularly the implementation of Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment and Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations.
Third, our Navy Reserve Surge Maintenance (SurgeMain) enterprise fills a critical sustainment need. We recently mobilized more than 1,300 SurgeMain sailors to public shipyards to reduce maintenance backlogs when the shipyard workforce was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. These mobilizations accelerated the turnaround times for getting ships and submarines back to the fleet for operational tasking. As the fleet grows, we will need to provide additional production capacity, both in public yards and in remote, austere expeditionary environments.
Fourth, we are considering restoring seagoing ratings and afloat operations in the reserve force. Afloat platforms with concepts of operations that make interesting business cases in terms of capability, utility, and cost include hospital ships, ambulance ships, light amphibious warships, littoral combat ships, expeditionary craft, and more. Properly designed and resourced reserve afloat capability would provide an additional strategic benefit by freeing active-duty assets to focus on high-end missions. For example, reserve personnel and platforms could conduct important counter narcotics operations in the Fourth Fleet/Southern Command area of responsibility, freeing high-value, multimission combatants to focus exclusively on Second, Third, Sixth, and Seventh fleet tasking.
A series of other “new capabilities” with great potential also have captured our attention as we seek technologies to assume mundane, repetitive tasks. Included in this category are unmanned autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, data visualization, and predictive analytics. Cyber and space operations, while not routine, are also areas of growth. Reserve personnel bring expertise in all of these areas from their civilian experience, and we are exploring how to better leverage this talent to build new cutting-edge capabilities, at scale, within the Navy.
Train the Force
Strategic depth is the coin of the realm for the reserve force. We are implementing a “mobilization to billet” training approach across the force, wherein every minute and every penny of operational support, including drills, annual training, active duty for training, recalls, and more must prepare, enhance, and sustain our sailors for their mobilization billets, and therefore generate strategic depth. Understanding the certification, qualification, and credentials associated with every mobilization billet is critical to this effort.
The reserve force is, by design and necessity, a force that must be trained, available, and ready to win the instant reserve sailors arrive on station. We will relentlessly train our sailors for the requirements of their billets to prepare them for a future conflict. Reserve forces will be ready to think creatively, operate boldly, and generate a force multiplier to enhance our nation’s combat power on arrival.
In the pursuit of this vision, we can do many things, but our challenge is to identify what we must do—including pinpointing what we will no longer do. This effort requires us to prioritize high-value, consequential challenges that generate the greatest value to the service. Also important to this endeavor is the conscious effort to deliver and train to active-duty Navy requirements—that is, the capacity and capability needed most from the reserve force will be tied to explicit Navy standards. Outcomes that make a quantifiable difference to warfighting readiness are the metrics of success—not activity, level of effort, or inputs.
We must infuse the force with with the Navy core values of honor, courage, and commitment. Diversity in all its forms makes us stronger. Our culture will honor individuals and embody dignity and respect. And we will remain resilient, able to outwork, outlearn, and outlast any enemy. These qualities make the best warfighting teams and will provide decisive advantages against our adversaries.
Mobilize the Force
Today, many stakeholders are involved in activating, deploying, and deactivating reserve sailors. Bringing them on and off active duty remains procedurally and administratively burdensome, and frustratingly slow. While improvement is on the way with the launch of the Navy Personnel and Pay System (NP2) in fiscal year 2022, current mobilization processes are centralized and optimized to address the mobilization throughput necessary to support annual individual augmentee and Global Force Management requirements.
To bring this capability to bear, we partnered with the Chief of Naval Personnel, Vice Admiral John Nowell, and tasked our collaborative team to simplify current processes, workflows, and ownership, and to remove inefficiencies, ambiguity, and choke points. We are already seeing improvement, and we will further incorporate and scale those improvements by enrolling Reserve Forces Command, specifically reserve component commands and large Navy operational support centers, to increase activation speed and throughput.
Though we declared the initial operating capability of DA in January, it was piloted nine months ahead of schedule during two real-world events in 2020—the COVID-19 pandemic medical response and SurgeMain recalls of more than 1,600 sailors, many in less than 48 hours. Lessons from those activations will be incorporated into future processes. Several times in FY2021 we will demonstrate the ability to execute a mass mobilization, at a scale roughly equivalent to the entire reserve population, on short notice.
All Ahead Flank
The initiatives described above are achievable—and already underway. We are beginning this journey from a position of strength, because today’s Navy Reserve is the best-trained, equipped, and capable reserve force in the world. But we are not resting on our laurels. With warfighting readiness as our north star, we will design, train, and mobilize a force that is ready to contribute tactically, operationally, and strategically on day one, should the nation require it.