Manning Ships, Navy Acknowledges Mistake, Will the Coast Guard?

The Navy has admitted they made a mistake by attempting to minimize the manning of their ships using a concept called “Optimal Manning.” As unfortunate as the mistake may have been–and it has resulted in a lot of pain and may have weakened the service for years to come–poor morale and broken ships–at least now it has been acknowledged. There has been some soul searching about how the mistake was made. The general consensus seems to be that a new generation of leaders was absolutely positive they have evolved to be smarter than those that went before, and since their solution is so obviously superior, there is no need to test it on a small scale be for applying it service wide.

Has the Coast Guard made a similar mistake in attempting to replace twelfve 378s with only eight National Security Cutters, based on an untried concept called “Crew Rotation Concept (CRC)?” Unlike the Navy’s mistake, if we have made a mistake in adopting this concept, it cannot be quickly reversed by moving billets ashore back afloat.

Its not clear when the CRC concept originated. An official decision was made to adopt it in 2006. I suspect it goes back much further and was part of the decision process that will give us 33 ships to replace 41.

From the Acquisition Directorate Web site, “Initially, the Coast Guard will employ four crews for three NSCs at a single homeport, rotating the cutters among the crews to limit crew PERSTEMPO to 185 days while maintaining each cutter’s operational tempo (OPTEMPO) at 230 days. The three-cutter, four-crew prototype will be evaluated in 2009 through an operational testing-and-evaluation process. Policy and procedures for CRC are based on the lessons learned by the Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy, as well as consideration of the recommendations made by auditors from the Government Accountability Office.”

Note the concept was supposed to have been tried in 2009. I know they put a crew from a 210 in “Mission Effectiveness Program” on another 210 for a patrol, but I’m not sure that constitutes an adequate test. If this was such a good idea, in view of the ship day shortage, I would have thought that we would provided four crews to three 270s and tried it out some time in the last several years.

As I noted earlier (“Multiple Crewing of National Secuity Cutters”), this concept, even if it works as planned, provides only the equivalent of ten ships with conventional crews, not twelve. Eight ships don’t really fit the four crews for three ships concept. Manpower costs per ship day actually goes up. Maintenance costs/per op-day are also likely to go up since there will be less time for the crew to do maintenance work.

If we are going to back away from this decision, now may be the most appropriate time. Our earlier decision was, as noted in the quote, appears to have been based on information from the Navy that has now been discredited.

The Navy may not be ready to admit that multiple crewing will not work, because they are still planning on doing it for the LCS. Another concept has also not yet been tested, even as the ships themselves seemed to designed to preclude going back to conventional manning. They aren’t ready to acknowledge that mistake yet.

As discussed elsewhere (“Rethinking the New Cutter Programs“) I am now more convinced than ever, that we cannot continue to build only one major cutter a year. We need to truncate the NSC program at five or at the most six, replacing them in the budget with an accelerated OPC program, building them as quickly as we can afford. If as the OPC program is winding down, we find we need more larger ships, rather than just a few more OPCs, we can build them at that time, benefiting from the experience of having operated both the NSCs and the OPCs

9 thoughts on “Manning Ships, Navy Acknowledges Mistake, Will the Coast Guard?

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  2. Mr. Hill
    You are correct, the idea of ship’s crew rotation does go back a few years. In 1970, while serving on the cutter BIBB, the entire crew was tasked with filling out a weekly job recap. We filled out these reports inport and underway on Ocean Station. The official forms were a simple affair, basic info at the top and a narrative at the bottom. The report idea was a HQ idea, it was explained that the Service wanted to man the four Ocean Stations with fewer ships. The problem was that the CG utilized 378’s, 311’s, 327’s and 255′ class cutters on OS , crew’s would have to be crossed trained on steam and diesel power plants. (That doesn’t include the 378’s gas turbine system). It wasn’t long after the study was complete that the Ocean Station program was discontinued and the CG started to decom the remaining 255’s and 311’s that were not given to Vietnam. As I see it, rotating crews is like a rental car verses a purchased car ; it’s human nature that a person is apt to take better care of a machine if they feel some attachment to it and have a vested interest in it.

  3. The Crew Rotation Concept is a manifestly stupid idea, no doubt the brainchild of bean counters who haven’t spent any appreciable time afloat. Why the Coast Guard is still contemplating it is a failure of leadership.

  4. Minimal manning. This is the bean counters way of cutting costs. There is no other rationale reason for it and it part of Coast Guard heritage and culture.

    It took about 50 years but by the early 1850s the cutters were beginning to be staffed in a better manner. The crew, counting petty officers, were ranging from 12 to 18 men and the normal four officers were supplemented with additional officers depending on the needs of the station. The manning levels were driven by personnel costs based, by law, on the prevailing individual port wages for merchant seamen. The old rule of withholding one-third of a seaman’s pay until his contracted period of service ended (normally three to twelve months) ended.

    In 1853, James Guthrie became Treasury Secretary and immediately began tackling the huge national debt. He also began changing the evolving officer corps to the 1790 standards. He was not pleased with what he saw in the RCS, he began dismantling the changes, additions and some marginal improvements.

    He complained that the officer corps had grown into a “corps” and dismissed this idea and pushed them back to no more or no less than other revenue officers. He also felt the cutters were overmanned and reduced the officers to the 1799 law (he apparently was unaware of earlier legislation) at one captain and three lieutenants (1st, 2nd and 3rd), and eight seaman or six seamen and two boys. Boys could be substituted for seaman at the rate of two to one. However, the 1799 law allowed for far more men, up to seventy seaman and several other ratings.

    He, like others in the secretary’s chair had no idea what the cutters did or worth. He only knew they were not a corps or naval officers. However, there is a touch of irony. His revamped 1855 rules for the service included the service uniform’s first shoulder straps that included the first model of a corps device for the RCS. I am sure this was an unintentional touch.

    The Coast Guard has always looked for ways to cut costs and they usually do it at the personnel level. If two people can do the same job then all the better. Guthrie did away with the Gunner position noting the Boatswain could do it. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Storekeeper rating was eliminated and the Yeomen took over the tasks. Yeomen were the first active duty journalist rating in the Coast Guard following WWII.

    It is nothing to do with leadership failure. It has to do with the Coast Guard’s culture that has part of its organizational DNA to be extremely cheap. However, I do have to wonder about the massive rise in the number of allowed commissioned officers since 1964. There was once law that limited the number of officers to the number of cutters in service. Just think if that was the same rule today? How many E-9s would there be running river tenders? I would say none.

    Just look at the history of the service–well, that which is out there to see. You won’t find much on this topic.

  5. This is one of those concepts best left to paper. It does not include the human factor, rather it ignores the humanity that goes into a ship.

  6. Pingback: Multi-crewing, Coming to a Neighborhood Near You -

  7. Pingback: Multiple crewing for Fast Response Cutters | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

  8. Pingback: Timely Actions Needed to Address Risks in Using Rotational Crews–GAO | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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