For decades, the Navy has assigned two crews apiece to its ballistic missile subs, or "boomers". One crew is out at sea in the sub while the other is training and resting back home. The idea is that double crews let you squeeze more sailing days out of your ships. Boomers are ideally suited because they sail on rigid schedules that let you plan rotations far in advance.In 2004, with the fleet shrinking and ships in high demand on the Pacific and in the Persian Gulf, the Navy launched a program to double-crew several destroyers. The ships stayed at sea while crews flew out to man them on six-month rotations. This saved months of sailing time by eliminating the need to bring a ship home just so the crew could rest.The program, called Sea Swap, was a qualified success. Crews bitched about losing that sense of ownership that comes with being a ship's sole crew. Morale was an issue. But in operational terms, Sea Swap worked: three destroyers could do the work of five by staying on station longer, avoiding long ocean transits and saving on wear and tear.The Navy announced two weeks ago that it is ending Sea Swap as an experiment. It will study the results and decide whether and how to apply the lessons learned to future classes of ships like the LCS and DDG-1000 (formerly DD(X)).In the meantime, the Navy's smallest fighting ships have permanently adopted a Sea Swap model. Once upon a time, the eight-ship class of coastal patrol boats (PCs) was scheduled for disposal, but now they're in high demand in shallow "green" waters like those of the Persian Gulf, as I write in the current National Defense Magazine:Last year, recognizing the utility of these craft in green waters, the Navy halted all efforts to dispose of the remaining boats and even began negotiations with the Coast Guard to take back transferred PCs. The Navy moved two West Coast-based boats to Little Creek, a move that consolidated all operations and training at the Virginia base. At any given time, three boats are at Little Creek for drydocking and training while the rest remain forward deployed. Thirteen 30-person PC crews that are based at Little Creek fly out to the Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf, on six-month rotations. Sea swapping effectively nearly doubles the size of your fleet without adding any new hulls. Expect the future Navy to do with all its ships what it has done with boomers, destroyers and PCs, cheaply turning 300 ships into 500.Check out some of my patrol boat pictures at Flickr.--David AxeP.S. -- Check out one of several recent reviews of my graphic novel WAR FIX!
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