Only Highly Trained Need Apply in Navy’s ‘New World’ of Optimal Manning
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By MARGARET ROTH
For decades, sailors newly assigned to a Navy
ship could expect to ease into the job, getting trained before they actually started work. Five years from now, many sailors will have trained themselves and be ready to work immediately.
Such is the world of optimal manning, whereby the Navy has coupled an analysis of manpower needs with modern technology to plan a 6.5 percent cut in the force from 2003 to 2008. Ships will be more high-tech, and ships’ crews smaller as a result. The sailors aboard those ships will be more technologically sophisticated and versatile in their jobs.
How the Navy will find and develop those sailors is still a work in progress, but it is well under way as part of the “revolution in training” that Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark has made one of his top priorities.
The changes in training may not look dramatic. Most sailors will still enter the Navy from boot camp, although the service also plans to recruit older sailors with job experience in the civilian world. Sailors will still negotiate their next assignment with detailers.
But with optimal manning, “we’ve gone to a new world,” said Gregory L. Maxwell, deputy commander for human systems integration at Naval Sea Systems Command. “Human systems integration” is, in a nutshell, making the most efficient use possible of humans and technology. It is a hallmark of the Navy’s new approach to ship design and manning. In the process, the Navy has looked at every function on its ships to see what humans need to contribute, and what technology can contribute.
Now, instead of training sailors in large classes for narrowly defined jobs, the Navy will be looking for people who match its precisely defined “skill objects,” and have the ability and motivation to train themselves, using computer courses available worldwide.
For example, a sonar operator needs to know how to operate sonar equipment, apply deductive reasoning, understand acoustic principles and be qualified in specific hardware and software, among other skills.
In turn, those skills define performance standards that the Navy can apply to sailors’ evaluations and career progression.
Optimal manning, and the training to achieve it, are not confined to the newer ships. Experiments aboard existing ships such as the guided-missile destroyer Milius, for example, have reduced the crew size by about half.
This new approach “is going to be applied to every ship in the Navy,” said Capt. Albert Thomas, deputy director of the Human Systems Integration Directorate. “Every sailor has started to see the changes if they’re ashore, and they will see the changes as they are afloat. It will take five or six years to fully put all of this in place. Over time, we’re going to be looking for a more experienced work force.
“Right now, our entire process is based on recruiting 18-year-olds, keeping 30 to 40 percent of them and having them work full careers.” In the future, he said, “We’ll be looking to recruit 30-year-olds to perform specific functions as well.”
The Littoral Combat Ship is driving the development of the Navy’s new approach to training. With a crew of up to 50 and accommodations for 75 including mission-specific personnel as well, the first LCS is scheduled to be delivered in early 2006. The Navy, using “a combination of the existing process and the new process,” has already detailed the first 22 members of the crew for LCS Flight 0, Thomas said.
In a shift from a list of ratings and Navy Enlisted Classifications (NECs), the Navy is developing an inventory of “skill objects” needed to perform all the functions on the LCS and DD(X), and has been looking for sailors with those skills. The DD(X) destroyer, which is scheduled to be delivered in 2011, is being designed for a crew of 175, with a goal of 125.
Over time, Thomas said, “We are shifting from the rating- and NEC-based detailing system to one based on what we’re calling skill objects,” which might reflect a number of NECs.
Many jobs have skills applicable to almost any ship, meaning that a sailor can focus on the additional skills specific to the ship where he or she wants to be assigned. Similarly, on the LCS, computer technicians will probably work on a variety of computers, not just in a single area, Thomas said.
As an example of how a sailor might prepare to serve on one of the new ships, Thomas said, an ICman, or interior communications electrician qualified on the DDG might have 70 percent of the skills required aboard the DD(X). What the ICman needs is training to make up that 30 percent difference and qualify for assignment aboard the new ship.
The Navy, knowing ahead of time what specific skills each job requires, can make it possible, eventually, for every sailor to determine what additional training is needed for each job. The training will be self-paced, available anywhere by the sailor’s request for download on a laptop or handheld computer.
The computer hardware and software are not yet in place, Thomas said, but the system will be coming online during the next couple of years. “We are putting Distance Support 2.0 on all ships by the end of 2006,” he said. “We’re going to do half the Navy in ’05 and the rest in ’06.”
In addition, the Navy is building “regional distance support centers” responsible for training among other functions.
“Sometime in the future, circa DD(X), every sailor will have his own computer or PDA, and will have the material both to do his current job and train for his next one,” Thomas said.
Once a sailor achieves the necessary qualifications, they become part of his or her personnel record, feeding into the detailing process, which is “more or less the same process they follow today to be assigned to the new ship,” he said. “The same negotiation process will still be there.”
The detailer’s job will be to encourage the sailors’ career growth. “What we’re trying to get away from is the classroom training, which by nature is more generic,” Thomas said. Self-paced computer training will also include refresher courses, “which you don’t have with classroom training.”
Computer-based training will give sailors greater career mobility, Thomas said. “Right now we tend to send [sailors] to the same kind of ship, over and over again,” he said, because of the expense of sending a sailor to a new training course. Now, “if a sailor really wants to change from one class of training to another, it will be easier to do.”
No longer will sailors train “in lockstep,” trained to “the lowest common denominator,” in large classes designed to cover more than they need to know, Maxwell said. The Navy will be “clearly and definitively defining upfront what it is precisely that [we] expect those sailors to do as part of the system.”
For the Navy, the result of what Maxwell called “a total ship training system” will be a more qualified workforce and more efficient use of the sailors’ time. It will also be an “enormous” amount of money saved, he said, because a better-designed ship will not require multiple training courses to cover multiple fixes to ship systems, with “no collaboration” among the technical representatives conducting the training.
Training will be “based on skills, and not necessarily on NECs or ratings,” Maxwell said. “I would venture to say that we’ll create a new sailor when we really get serious.”
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