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SECNAV Strategic Review Will Question Fleet Organization, XO-CO Fleet-Up Model

Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer testifying before the Senate Armed Service Committee on Sept. 19. US Navy Photo

CAPITOL HILL – Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer’s strategic study in the wake of two deadly collisions at sea this year intends to question everything the Navy does – how missions are tasked to ships, whether the service still needs its five numbered fleets, the relationship between the East Coast and West Coast fleets, and more – the secretary told USNI News today after testifying to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Spencer described three ongoing efforts in the aftermath of the fatal USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) collisions this year: near-term actions, such as going hull by hull to determine material readiness, immediate training on radar plot, and other actions recently implemented by the fleet; a chief of naval operations-directed study on the “tactical workings of how we operate the forward fleet;” and Spencer’s strategic study.

Spencer tapped Defense Business Board chairman Michael Bayer and former chief of naval operations retired Adm. Gary Roughead to lead his study, and eight companies have so far joined in the effort – BP North America, the Mayo Clinic, Crowley Marine, Delta, Maersk and Boeing, among them – “to have different points of view but from people who have lived through the exact same thing: cathartic or meaningful events and they’ve adjusted their culture to come out the other side a higher-operating, higher-impact organization.”

“I’m going to be focusing on how we’re tasked – the root causes of the fact that [combatant commanders] turn around and give us a full slate when we’re going to fill 47 percent,” he told USNI News, referring to the Navy’s ability to fulfill COCOM requests for Navy ship presence.
“Let’s question how they’re tasking us. Let’s question what the fleet laydown should be to the threat. If we go back to history, one of the reasons we have five fleets in the Navy is we had five admirals back in World War II that didn’t’ get along, so they divided up their sandbox. Do we need to live with that present construct right now? Let’s address it. The Inouye amendment (which kept U.S. Fleet Forces Command and U.S. Pacific Fleet as separate entities) that’s keeping assets tied up in a certain manner, let’s do away with it if in fact it helps us do our job. What I’m looking at at the strategic level, which is why we’re calling it a strategic review, are the big-lever items that can affect us.”

Asked if Spencer thought he would be able to push such major changes through the Navy and the Pentagon, Spencer told USNI News that “I’ve gotten no pushback so far. [CNO Adm. John] Richardson and I are kind of in lockstep on that, and I’ll tell you that the chairman is waiting for us, to hear back. We’re going to talk about DOPMA {Defense Officer Personnel Management Act] – I mean, we talk about expertise on the bridge of a ship; is 19, 18 months the appropriate time? I think it might be a little longer. When someone has expertise in the Navy and is contributing to the team, why should we have to do a lot of jiggering around if in fact we can focus that expertise and keep that person in his progression chain while they’re in the service?”

USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) sits in Dry Dock 4 at Fleet Activities Yokosuka to continue repairs and assess damage sustained from its June 17 collision with a merchant vessel. US Navy Photo

Richardson also commented on the DOPMA issue during the hearing, stating that “this [executive officer]-[commanding officer] fleet-up plan that we put in place for the surface navy, I want to make sure we examine that closely.”

Spencer said the incident reports and the Judge Advocate General Manual (JAGMAN) investigation should wrap up in early fall, CNO’s review should wrap up in mid- to late-October, and his strategic review should wrap up in mid- to late-November.

CNO Adm. John RIchardson testifying before the Senate Armed Service Committee on Sept 19. US Navy Photo

Additionally, Spencer said during the hearing that his office, along with the CNO and commandant of the Marine Corps, are reviewing all instructions to see whether they contribute to readiness or lethality. If not, the service may look to eliminate them, particularly if they require actions that take time away from readiness and lethality initiatives.

Spencer described his so-called “rucksack issue – the best intentions in the world are handed down by folks to say, can you add this, can you add this. Well, no one’s taking anything out of the rucksack, and that’s what we need to address now.”

“If we find instructions that are not focusing on those two items (readiness and lethality), we’re going to bring them to your attention if you have control of them,” he said to the lawmakers at the hearing.
“If we have control of them, we’re going to try to adjust them. It’s, as I said earlier, the rucksack issue. All the best intentions in the world – put a rock in to do training on smoking cessation, put a rock in to do other sorts of training, but no one’s taking a rock out, and the rucksack’s getting pretty damn heavy.”

  • Marc Apter

    “”If we find instructions that are not focusing on those two items
    (readiness and lethality), we’re going to bring them to your attention
    if you have control of them,” he said to the lawmakers at the hearing.” Is that code for ignoring logistics, maintenance, and training?

    • Spencer Whitson

      What do you think “Readiness” means?

      • Marc Apter

        Not what you and I think it is! How many times does a system require an E-6 or E-7 to be ordered in, and you get some one two grades down, and Bupers says that is equivalence, because some instruction says so? I’m sure I can remember other similar issues.

        • Spencer Whitson

          Readiness is a combination of factors. There is certainly the mechanical side of readiness- If something is working properly or not. Then there’s the material side- do you have or can you readily get the materials require for upkeep. But then there’s also the human component. Are the people who use the equipment properly trained, in the condition to operate them to their full effect, and even existent (say if a ship is insufficiently crewed). So when it is said that readiness is one of their two overriding priorities, they mean that logistics, maintenance, and training are being prioritized. Not being ignored.

  • OldHickory21

    This is a good first move. Definitely float test the XO-CO fleet up program. On organization, bring back Second Fleet and make it the model fleet for surface forces worldwide—everyone does tours in Second Fleet and takes those best practices out to other forces. Get serious about SWO training—-new DIVOs should go to an intensive six month baby SWOS that’s all about piloting, seamanship, navigation, fleet operations, ships systems, simulator time, and much more—ethics training too (no more Fat Leonard scandals)—perhaps they should earn their SWO pin there upon completion, like pilots do, or maybe they get a silver pin that their ship CO can turn to gold upon demonstrated OOD competency at sea. Just some thoughts. It’s time to take serious corrective action for the future of the greatest Navy in the world.

    • fat eddie

      not a fan of Fleet up, !

      • MarlineSpikeMate

        Why?

        • fat eddie

          Simple, Its a big step between XO and CO, back in the day when a new CO came aboard no one knew what to expect, so everything was “Shipshape”, Men, Material, etc. The Wardroom was at its best also, So when a XO becomes CO now even though he’s more in tune with the ship, there may not be the impetus to “Get things right” . more of a let’s get it right when we can will prevail, IMHO

          • MarlineSpikeMate

            Hmm, to me I think being more in tune with the ship has more merit than a short term mind set of getting things ship shape.

    • Curtis Conway

      Came up and learned my skills at sea and in combat in 2nd Fleet. Love the concept. All the money we saved eliminating 2nd Fleet does not make up for 17 dead sailors. All the money saved transferring from the GITMO REFTRA model to the new regime of training has some benefits, but evidently not enough.

    • OldHickory21

      Oh, and on readiness, we need to go back to the kind of super seriousness about material condition and readiness that we had when Medal of Honor winner RADM Bulkeley ran INSURV. Oh yeah.

      • Marc Apter

        VADM Bulkeley also cared about the deck-plate Sailors, and the Main INSURV Board included members who followed his lead. The best thing VADM Bulkeley did was scare all the brass, so things were actually fixed.

        • OldHickory21

          And like Rickover, he wasn’t afraid to go straight to Congress either!

  • JohnByron

    Mike Bayer brings deep institutional knowledge and a finely pored BS filter. Gary Roughhead is a thinking skimmer. XO-to-CO fleets have made the surface navy stupid. Good news.

    • Duane

      The PCO to CO model has worked very well in the sub fleet for many decades, the better part of a century. It keeps COs on their toes, knowing their successor is going to be seeing exactly how they operate.

      • Scott

        You may be conflating a Prospective CO (i.e., PCO) showing up for 30 days before relieving as CO with the SWO/Aviator model of the Executive Officer serving a full 18-24 month tour and then relieving as CO. The submarine force does the former but not the latter. And I concur that Fleetup needs to be looked at. It looks great on a Powerpoint slide, but does not take into account the real growth and maturing that occurs between XO and CO tours (when separated by an 18-24 month shore tour).

        • Duane

          On submarines is it much more than 30 days. My boat carried a PCO on a 65 day spec op, followed by a couple months more of post-deployment refit and weekly ops before the change of command took place.

          Even if it were only 30 days, a PCO is still there with his eyes and ears open to everything the CO does, and there is incentive for the PCO to report to his superiors (at the squadron level) any deficiencies in training, materiel, or other factors addressing readiness as part of the change of command. It keeps everyone much more honest. The XO to CO route provides exactly the opposite incentive – to bury and hide, because the XO is himself responsible for much of what the CO does wrong.

    • D. Jones

      No company in history has ever hired a review team willing to point the finger at management as the problem. Ever.

  • Bill Wells

    Or, there could be more Navy junior officers put aboard Coast Guard cutters to learn the craft.

  • John Locke

    It is intriguing that those companies are part of the study. The Navy took on a palpable corporate flavor beginning in the early 90’s.

    • D. Jones

      Companies have a vested interest in ensuring “team players” fill the top ranks. As for-profit entities, that is natural. The perception that their goals are in alignment with national defense is incorrect. Their goal is continued profit. Ike understood this.

      Ideally, the Navy would run two teams of “experts”. The ones they’ve hand-picked, and another team with zero DoD connections. Plenty of successful entrepreneurs & companies out there with real-world free-market experience to chose from. No B-school eggheads. Doers, not talkers.

  • DBW86

    This study also needs to look at all the excess of Admirals and Generals in the Navy and Marine Corps. As for the Marine Corps they need to get rid of all the silly, make me feel more powerful BS of Assistant Commandant for this and Assistant Commandant for that and return to sensible “Chief of Admin,” Chief of Operations,” etc., etc..

    One final point we all recognize the Army has festooned their uniforms with pins, devices, ropes, patches and a ribbon for everything they can think of to make non combat officers and enlisted look like Chesty Puller, even though they have never been within a thousand miles of a hostile round. Remember when a Navy Line Officer’s “Star” on his sleeve was sufficient for Ensign to Admirals of the Fleet? We need to return the basics in every single issue in our military. Naval Officers must be able to plot locations and routes with sextant, chronometer and the appropriate books for either celestial, or daylight navigation for WHEN – NOT IF – all the GPS stuff is knocked out and yes the Academy should stress that in their training as well.

    • JohnByron

      A day’s work in navigation? Fascinating idea.

    • This_isnotreal

      The changes you refer to are all about aesthetics. How is taking away some ribbons or changing the title associated with a position going to change anything?

    • Do an image search. You will not find an image of Eisenhower with more than three bars of ribbons. Three bars and four stars. If three bars were good enough for Eisenhower then…
      Looks like Richardson has a clue, then there’s that nimrod behind him.

      • HeyChop!

        the ‘nimrod’ behind CNO is the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy.

  • John B. Morgen

    I would organize the United States Navy into three fleets: the Pacific; Atlantic; and Indian. Each fleet would have squadrons of warships be assigned.

  • Ed L

    Stop up and out. We need more experience Officers and Petty Officers in the middle. A well trained Crew make the CO and XO job easier.