Timely Actions Needed to Address Risks in Using Rotational Crews–GAO

Waesche Carat 2012

The GAO has recently issued a report, “Coast Guard, Timely Actions Needed to Address Risks in Using Rotational Crews” (pdf) which discusses the “Crew Rotation Concept” (CRC) which has been part of the proposed National Security Cutter (NSC) program for at least a decade, but never tested. I believe there has also been discussion of using it on the Offshore Patrol Cutter as well.

This is perhaps the last, worst vestige of the Deep Water program.

First there is this explanation of the expectations of the plan from an Acquisitions Directorate web page that has since been taken down.

“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.”

Please forgive me for quoting myself but I feel the need to repeat some calculations from a post from 2010.

First assuming the projections are correct, we are replacing 12 ships which would provide 2,220 operating days with eight ships that will provide at best 1,840 so we are already two ships short.

Then you will also note that the presumption is that the ships will be operated in groups of three from the same home port, but there are only eight ships planned, meaning there will be a rump group of two somewhere. Will they be operated by three crews or by a single crew per ship?

What we hope to save here is acquisition cost, because the operating costs per op day cannot be lowered by this strategy and will actually be higher. I don’t know the projected life cycle costs for the National Security cutters, but in general, I’ve heard that the acquisition costs for similar systems is about 15% of the life cycle cost. Fuel and personnel costs are the real driver. Fuel costs should be the same per op day. Personnel costs will actually be higher, since each crew under the multi-crewing concept will only provide 172.5 op days instead of 185, so personnel costs will be 7.25% higher.

In addition, because the ship will only be in port 135 days a year instead of 180, there will be fewer opportunities for the crew to make repairs. These repairs, normally done by the crew, will have to be done by contractors at additional costs.

I would also note that the acquisition costs we hope to save actually decline as we add more ships. Four additional units are likely to cost far less on the average than the first 8. There is also the long term value of having four additional ships in hand if the country should need them in the future.

Frankly I don’t think we will see any significant savings from this manning approach and it may actually cost us in the long run.

If a truly convincing argument can be made for the concept, I would like to see it. And if the argument involves lower overhead because we get more “mission” op days compared to RefTra day, remember the reason we go, is to train the crews, not the ships, so every crew will needs to go.

As I noted above three into eight does not make for three ship groups. At that time, I thought it would be two ports with three ships and one with two, but in fact, apparently the intention is now two in Charleston, two in Honolulu, and four in Alameda, so it is three ships nowhere.

I am a little surprised the testing has not already started. After all we have had three ships in Alameda for three years now.

As far as I can tell, rotating multiple crews among multiple ships has never worked out. More here and here. We have certainly had the opportunity to test the concept on simpler platforms, but it has yet to be attempted in earnest. Frankly I think everyone knows this is not going to work, but they have just been pushing facing the embarrassing truth off into the future.

There may be viable alternatives to swapping out entire crews. In fact, apparently crews of existing NSCs have been augmented to allow them to provide 210 days away from Homeport. Actually nine augmented ships, U/W 210 days a year, would provide more availability (1890 days) than eight multi-crewed ships U/W 230 days a year (1840 days) but they would still not reach the level provided by twelve un-augmented ships (2220 days).

Unlike wine, bad news does not get better with age. It is time to bit the bullet. Try CRC or find an alternative. If it doesn’t work, well it was really someone else’s idea after all.

10 thoughts on “Timely Actions Needed to Address Risks in Using Rotational Crews–GAO

  1. If I recall, the delta in days at sea (WHEC =2220, NSC = 1840) was to be (partially) offset by the NSC’s greater surveillance capabilites. Since there is no UAV and no second helo, isn’t that assumption also hard aground?

    • Both the UAV and the Intelligence, Surveillance, Recon, (ISR) programs are still to be delivered. Also I have frequently seen allowable days away from homeport for the NSCs quoted as 225 instead of 230 which would bring them down to 1800.

      Still the situation we seem to have in the Eastern Pacific is that we have no deficit in ISR, we simply do not have enough hulls to act on all the information we already have.

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