Now that there are three National Security Cutters commissioned and homeported in Alameda, we will soon see the first attempts at using multiple crews to man them, the “Crew Rotation Concept.” Four crews will man three ships. Additional facilities for the fourth crew are being built on Coast Guard Island.
There is a discussion of the Navy’s current plans for doing something similar here, along with comments on their previous experience with the concept.
Photo Credit: U.S. Coast Guard photo ID: 100228-G-2129M-004, Petty Officer 3rd Class Kevin Metcalf
We have had previous posts on the concept and they always prompted a lively discussion:
- Multiple Crewing for Fast Response Cutters
- Manning Ships-Navy Acknowledges Mistake Will the Coast Guard?
- Multiple Crewing of National Security Cutters
The Navy’s reason for wanting to “swap” crews centers on a desire to avoid the dead time inherent in the long transit to their operating areas. In the Coast Guard case it is more a desire to reduce AC&I costs. Providing more op-days per hull even if the day to day operating cost per op-day are almost certain to be higher.
Here is the Coast Guard’s position on the Crew Rotation Concept as of March 24, 2011, in response to a question asked of the Commandant on this site and subsequently published for service wide consumption.
“Will the Coast Guard implement the National Security Cutter multicrewing plan referred to as the Crew Rotation Concept? Has the concept been adequately tested? If the plan is workable, would it be implemented on smaller vessels?
“Current plans are to implement the Crew Rotation Concept on the National Security Cutters. Thorough testing will be required to ensure that return on investment forecasts are correct, and the Coast Guard will make adjustments as needed. Validated studies of Navy efforts conducted by Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Office have shown that success requires proper planning and infrastructure to succeed. The Coast Guard has received funding in support of the Crew Rotation Concept, and is nearing the point where testing of the concept can begin.”
The concept of multiple crews on the NSCs has been published for at least a decade. It is the rationale behind plans to build eight NSCs to replace twelve WHECs, although it was obvious that would not provide the same number of op-days.
With ships being replaced at a rate well below one for one, not having done much experimenting with the concept, and not having disavowed the concept when the Coast Guard took ownership of the “Deepwater” program from “Integrated Coast Guard Systems, LLC,” the service is now in a position where it must make the concept work.
So what is the Navy’s experience?
Nominally is was a success. However, quoting CRS Report to Congress, “Navy Ship Deployments: New Approaches —Background and Issues for Congress” Order Code RS21338, Updated June 2, 2008,
“Long-Duration Deployments with Crew Rotation (Sea Swap). The Navy in recent years has experimented with the concept of long-duration deployments with crew rotation. This concept, which the Navy calls Sea Swap, is another way to reduce the amount of time that deployed ships spend transiting to and from operating areas. Sea Swap involves deploying Navy ships overseas for periods such as 12, 18, or 24 months rather than 6 or 7 months, and rotating successive crews out to the ships for 6-month periods of duty. Sea Swap can reduce the number of ships the Navy needs to have in its inventory to maintain one such ship on station in an overseas operating area by 20% or more. Potential disadvantages of Sea Swap include extensive wear and tear on the deployed ship due to lengthy periods of time at sea, a reduced sense of crew “ownership” of a given ship (which might reduce a crew’s incentive to keep the ship in good condition), and reduced opportunities for transit port calls (which have diplomatic value and are beneficial for recruiting and retention).
“The Navy in recent years has conducted Sea Swap experiments with surface combatants and mine warfare ships that Navy officials have characterized as successful in terms of ship days on station, total costs, ship maintenance and material condition, and crew re-enlistment rates during deployment. In 2004, it was reported that a review of the
Sea Swap experiment conducted by the Center for Naval Analyses found that although Sea Swap was successful in these terms, crew members participating in the experiment who were surveyed viewed the concept negatively and indicated they would be less likely to stay in the Navy if all deployments were conducted this way. The Navy made changes in later Sea Swap experiments to address issues that led to crew dissatisfaction, including lost liberty calls and increased training and work.
“In 2005, Navy officials testified that applying Sea Swap somewhat widely throughout the fleet could help permit the fleet to be reduced from a then-planned range of 290 to 375 ships down to a range of 260 to 325 ships. More recently, Navy officials have expressed less enthusiasm for extending Sea Swap beyond surface combatants. A July 2006 press article reported that the Navy may limit Sea Swap in the surface fleet to smaller combatants such as patrol craft, Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs), and frigates. The Navy plans to use Sea Swap to keep two of its four SSGNs continuously deployed. A May 2008 GAO report stated:
“Rotational crewing represents a transformational cultural change for the Navy. While the Navy has provided leadership in some rotational crewing programs, the Navy has not fully established a comprehensive management approach to coordinate and integrate rotational crewing efforts across the department and among various rotational crewing or designated an implementation team to ensure that rotational crewing receives the attention necessary to be effective. Without a comprehensive management approach, the Navy may not be able to lead a successful transformation of its crewing culture.
“The Navy has promulgated crew exchange instructions for some types of ships that have provided some specific guidance and increased accountability. However, the Navy has not developed an overarching instruction that provides high-level guidance for rotational crewing initiatives and it has not consistently addressed rotational crewing in individual ship-class concepts of operations….
“The Navy has conducted some analyses of rotational crewing; however, it has not developed a systematic method for analyzing, assessing and reporting findings on the potential for rotational crewing on current and future ships. Despite using a comprehensive data-collection and analysis plan in the Atlantic Fleet Guided Missile Destroyer Sea Swap, the Navy has not developed a standardized data-collection plan that would be used to analyze all types of rotational crewing, and life-cycle costs of rotational crewing alternatives have not been evaluated. The Navy has also not adequately assessed rotational crewing options for future ships. As new ships are in development, DOD guidance requires that an analysis of alternatives be completed. These analyses generally include an evaluation of the operational effectiveness and estimated costs of alternatives. In recent surface ship acquisitions, the Navy has not consistently assessed rotational crewing options. In the absence of this, cost-effective force structure assessments are incomplete and the Navy does not have a complete picture of the number of ships it needs to acquire.
“The Navy has collected and disseminated lessons learned from some rotational crewing experiences; however, some ship communities have relied on informal processes. The Atlantic Sea Swap initiative used a systematic process to capture lessons learned. However, in other ship communities the actions were not systematic and did not use the Navy Lessons Learned System. By not systematically recording and sharing lessons learned from rotational crewing efforts, the Navy risks repeating mistakes and could miss opportunities to more effectively implement crew rotations.
“Multiple Crewing. Another strategy for increasing the percentage of time that Navy ships can be deployed is multiple crewing, which involves maintaining an average of more than one crew for each Navy ship. Potential versions include having two crews for each ship (dual crewing), 3 crews for every 2 ships, 4 crews for every 3 ships, 5 crews for every 4 ships, or other combinations, such as 8 crews for every 5 ships. The most basic version of Sea Swap maintains an average of one crew for each ship in inventory, but Sea Swap could be combined with multiple crewing. For many years, the Navy’s nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) have been operated successfully with dual crews. The above-mentioned March 2002 CBO report presented the option of applying multiple crewing to the attack submarine fleet. Potential disadvantages of multiple crewing include the costs of recruiting, training, and retaining additional crews, the difficulty of achieving fully realistic training using land-based simulators (whose use would be more necessary because a given crew would not always have access to a ship for training), a reduced sense of crew “ownership” of a given ship, and increased wear and tear on the ship due to more intensive use of the ship at sea (which can reduce ship life). The Navy plans to use dual crewing for its first few LCSs, and then switch the LCS fleet to a “4-3-1” crewing strategy when the total number of LCSs grows to a larger number. Under the 4-3-1 plan, four crews would be used for every three LCSs to keep one of those three LCSs continuously deployed.”
The Navy experience does not seem to guarantee the “Crew Rotation Concept” will succeed.
Known problems include a lack of sense of “ownership” as one crew leaves the ship and another takes it over, and maintenance, which takes a double hit, because there is both less time for the crew to do maintenance, and greater wear and tear simply because the ship is underway more.
Swapping whole crews is almost certain to create an “us verses them mentality,” even if both crews acted responsibly.
There is another alternative to swapping whole crews that would limit underway time for the individual crew members while allowing the ships to be underway for longer periods. Using a plan similar to that proposed in “Multiple Crewing for Fast Response Cutters,” rather than using four distinct crews to man three ships as currently planned, crews could be augmented by up to a third in those skill sets that would normally have three or more individuals with similar functions, most non-rates, ratings and watch standing junior officers. Supernumeraries for certain critical personnel COs, XOs, EOs, DCAs, etc and ratings that would normally only have one or two on board, could be formed in a division staff and rotated through to allow the ships’ crew members some additional time ashore. This would allow the crews to maintain a sense of identity and ease, but not completely meet, the addition maintenance demands. Rotating only a third of the crew has got to be less disruptive than turning over the entire crew.