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Navy Fights to Stay Ready with Fewer Dollars

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower
USS Dwight D. Eisenhower

The 2015 Pentagon budget submission dealt a $15 billion blow to the U.S. Navy relative to the planners' forecast, which has forced the sea service to adjust priorities to maintain readiness.

At the same time the Navy is trying to get away from 10-month deployments that have robbed sailors of predictability with their home lives -- the kind of atmosphere that historically has reduced retention of highly trained service members.

There is an inherent tension between trying to do the mission with less funding while attempting to improve a sailor's quality of life, Navy officials said.

"There's no doubt we've had to take a hard look at areas to cut back -- slowing the growth of compensation costs, reducing our aviation procurement by 21 aircraft and maintaining an option to inactivate an aircraft carrier and it's air wing," Rear Admiral William Lescher wrote on the Navy's official blog. "But we're confident [we've made] the right choices where needed."

In late January, Adm. Bill Gortney, commander of Fleet Forces Command, the organization responsible for training, manning, and equipping units to deploy, laid out the Optimized Fleet Response Plan. The O-FPR -- chock full of jargon and buzzwords like "Readiness Kill Chain" and "drivers to production" -- was designed to "break down institutional barriers, increase understanding of readiness production, ensure a common understanding of Navy readiness on the same page."

The plan was created to prevent recent chains of events that have resulted in 10-month deployments as the norm. Some of the chaos was the result of presence requirements due to events in places like Syria that kept the carrier Nimitz on station several months longer than anticipated. But in other cases the impacts to readiness had nothing to do with world crises.

Last year the Eisenhower Strike Group "faced maintenance challenges which delayed her work-ups and deployment and then she conducted a second deployment after a short homeport visit," according to Navy officials. The Truman Strike Group was "trained up and then delayed due to a change in presence requirements." The net effect of these circumstances was wasted operations and maintenance dollars and the death of predictability that would have made sailors' lives easier.

Fleet Forces Command officials call the O-FRP "supply-based," which they claim makes the plan somewhat immune to budget reductions. In fact, FFC planners coined a term to describe how they are leading forces through the "tough fiscal turbulence" expected over the coming years: "Managed Wholeness." Officials said they've prioritized available dollars in a way that preserves readiness.

"First, we are investing in the sailor by ensuring we are providing the schooling and on-the-job training required for them to properly complete their missions and come home safely," an FFC official who asked to remain anonymous said in an email response to Military.com. "Second, the Navy is continuing to invest in the Fleet Synthetic Training program to ensure the ships, squadrons and strike groups are being trained to meet current and future threats, which include development of new tactics and procedures for best use of our systems to thwart threats to the nation."

FFC officials also point out that quality of life has as much to do with time away from home between deployments as it does with time actually deployed. The O-FRP attempts to solve part of this by aligning carrier strike group unit's training cycles throughout the time between deployments.

"When examining [destroyer squadron] alignments in conjunction with O-FRP, we saw an opportunity to fix numerous discrepancies, such as wholesale surface combatant swap outs between [carrier strike group] multiple deployments as well as integrating [ballistic missile defense] capability into CSGs," according to Navy officials.

FFC has also examined the efficacy of previously required inspections and eliminated those deemed to be redundant or unnecessary.

The Truman Carrier Strike Group will be the first to conduct deployment preparation using the tenets of the O-FRP this November.

Navy officials were quick to point out that the O-FRP is subject to the operational requirements placed on the service.

"The world gets a vote," Adm. Gortney said when rolling out the program at the Surface Navy Association convention in DC in January.

-- Ward Carroll can be reached at ward.carroll@monster.com

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