An influential lawmaker is calling on the Navy to consider adopting a specialization model of its surface officers, similar to that of foreign navies.
The secretary of the Navy and chief of Naval Operations appeared Thursday before the House Armed Services Committee to discuss the state of the surface Navy.
The service had just completed another round of accountability actions following the two deadly ship collisions of last summer, announcing Tuesday that, in a rare move, courts-martial would be recommended for five officers, including the two ships' former commanding officers.
The Navy's leaders are still in the process of implementing dozens of recommendations that came out of a pair of wide-ranging reviews. But on Thursday, Rep. Rob Wittman, chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, pushed the service to consider a radical change to how surface forces train and operate.
"I am concerned that as our ships become more technically challenging to operate, our surface warfare community has retained a generalist preference that contributes to the surface warfare malaise," said Wittman, a Virginia Republican.
"I think it is time that we adopt specialists similar to the aviation community and foreign navies," he said. "We should require surface warfare officers to specialize in deck or engineering and allow needed junior officers time to develop basic skills."
Wittman has been vocal about his interest in seeing the Navy implement a host of changes, including improving manning levels for forward-deployed forces and getting a better sense of the material condition of the fleet. The hearing gave him an opportunity to put his proposals before Navy leadership in a public forum.
"The Navy should consider adopting certification milestones similar to the commercial sector," he continued. "[The service] needs to significantly improve the surface warfare pipeline to ensure Navy officers are provided basic navigation and engineering skills."
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson responded cautiously to the proposal.
"As you can appreciate, the model used by the Royal Navy is always on the table being assessed and considered," Richardson said.
The two options are complicated, he continued, noting there is also benefit for surface officers in being generalists.
"To your point, providing adequate time to learn the train of being officer of the deck on a U.S. warship, it requires time," Richardson said. "And there is also value to understanding every department and the rest of the ship as well. There's always a balance there, and I look forward to discussing that with you."
The Navy's recently completed comprehensive review and strategic review both included recommendations that addressed the surface warfare officer training pipeline and career paths to ensure SWOs have the time and the tools they need to be proficient at driving ships.
Following the hearing, Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer mentioned one recommendation -- a change to surface operations -- as at the front of his mind.
"If one of our goals here is to provide the construct around the surface warfare organization to leverage the talent that's out there, one of the things we talked about is, much like a log book the pilot carries, have a log book for bridge time, a log book for engineering time, whatever the case may be," he said.
"But put a construct together where we lever up and find out what are the best practices, to bring this together with the other communities," Spencer said.