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Senior Leaders Taking First Steps in Long Road to Reform Surface Navy

Adm. Bill Moran, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, speaks with sailors assigned to the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN-73). US Navy Photo

THE PENTAGON — Senior leaders in the Navy still have more questions than answers as they move to methodically and deliberately alter the way the surface forces do business in what could be a years-long process of evaluations and reforms.

Last week, Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran and Under Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly chaired the first meeting of the Department of the Navy’s Readiness Reform Oversight Council that will begin debating, crafting and implementing the recommendations that came out of two reviews undertaken after last year’s string of fatal collisions that killed 17 sailors and resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

After months of evaluations, the service is still working to understand what conditions in the fleet contributed to the collisions, Modly said.

Undersecretary of the Navy Thomas Modly. US Navy Photo

“The fundamental problem is that we had two very tragic incidents that should never happen. What we’re trying to understand is that when you do any type of accident investigation or any type of analysis like that you find lots of different things that could be root causes for this,” Modly told reporters last week.
“What we’re trying to understand is which of those things were the biggest contributing factors and which of those things can we address as an enterprise — not just to fix that particular problem, but how does that affect the future force.”

Early grist for the process will be the findings of the U.S. Fleet Forces Commander Adm. Phil Davidson-led Comprehensive Review and Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer-directed Strategic Readiness Review that put forth recommendations to arrest the decades-long decline of surface force readiness domestically and in the Forward Deployed Naval Forces in Japan and Europe.

“We believe the CR and the SRR are both very good reviews. They tackle and look at things from different perspectives. The CR is very focused in on the tactical issues associated with training, manning, equipping, but they also address the larger structural contributing factors from OPTEMPO to having the right mix of capabilities in FDNF,” Moran said.
“SRR took a more broad view from the strategic level. They took a look at command and control functions and then they looked at [legislative] and policy changes to be able to make adjustments in career paths and so on and so forth.”

While the two studies provide the framework for the council’s effort, the scope of the work could morph as the working groups – command and control, operations, manning, training, budgetary, governance and culture – tweak what ultimately will be adopted by the service.

Front and center for the surface forces are the increased pressure from the steady growth of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), more aggressive Russian Navy actions and ballistic missile threats from North Korea.

“The challenges are so different now than they were 15 or 20 years ago, and we have to be thinking about that as we develop recommendations here, and hopefully the ramifications of [review effort] have broader implications for the entire naval service,” Modly said.
“It’s not like we’re at a steady state here and we can focus all of our energy on this effort. We have an increasingly complex geopolitical environment that makes it extremely competitive and becoming more competitive in the maritime domain.”

Sailors remove mooring lines as the guided-missile destroyer USS Bulkeley (DDG-84) prepares to depart Naval Station Norfolk, Va. on Jan. 31, 2018. US Navy Photo

Easy wins have already been adopted to improve safety for ships operating overseas, like activating automatic identification systems in busy shipping channels so merchant ships can see warships and adopting better-defined sleep schedules for crews underway.

The trick for the council is to craft changes that emphasize warfighting and do not overburden commanders and crews with more tasks than they can handle, Moran and Modly said.

“To me, at some point in the future, the sooner the better, is we’ve got COs that are training crews to be ready for combat, not checking blocks for certs and quals,” Moran said.
“There are ships out there today that are doing this really well, so we need to take the best of what we have and apply them across the whole force – and that’s leadership and that’s culture. What tools do they need to be empowered in order to do that?”

Much of the work will be coordinated through the new commander Naval Surface Forces, Vice Adm. Richard A. Brown.

“We’ve been very clear to Adm. Brown that our job is to remove barriers from him, to allow him to get his job down focusing on the surface force. Anything from career management, readiness, training – training being the real focal point here, manning, those things,” Moran said.
“We’re trying to push decision-making down. Ideally, these folks can get after it if it makes perfect sense and it’s an obvious ‘yes, let’s go do this…’ It’s really the sequencing and the prioritization of working with the SWO Boss in this case.”

The roles and responsibilities of the guided-missile destroyers and cruisers that make the bulk of the surface force have expanded over the last 15 years as the ships take on more and more missions. In 2013, a destroyer based in Japan had about 13 missions in which the ship and crew needed to be certified. Now it’s more than 20.

USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) sits in Dry Dock 4 at Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka on July 11, 2017. US Navy Photo

“We’re certainly asking the working group to look at all the tasks, to look at the workload that is on the ships and see if there are tasks and missions that we could pull back on. The feedback that I’ve gotten back from some in the fleet is that there are some tasks they think there’s more time invested in trying to train and certify the crew for than they actually ever do,” Moran said.
“It shows you how complex the environment has become and how complex these machines can be, but we have to resource them appropriately, and this is that incredibly valuable component of time that gets shrunk around a crew – the time to train, the time to maintain, the time to operate. We’re asking a lot of our crews, and this will rip that apart, and we’ll rip it apart and along with the SWO Boss we’ll put it back together.”

The oversight council will meet monthly for the foreseeable future.

  • Curtis Conway

    There are so many analyses and arguments as to why we are, where we are, with the Surface Warfare Force. My only comment is that it takes some kind of human being to watch two vessels of huge tonnage INEVITABLY coming together, and stand there and watch, and NEVER ‘SOUND COLLISION’ . . . until it’s too late! We test it everyday . . . WHY? Or do we still do that? “The following is a TEST of the General, chemical, collision, and flight crash alarms.” I still hear it in my SLEEP.

    It is as simple as “Just like someone has to ‘Fly the Aircraft’ . . . Someone has to maintain the bubble (situational awareness) and ‘Drive the Ship’!!!” If you have a question for the OOD/JOOD . . . go talk to the XO! THIS is Their JOB ‘Primary safety of all hands’ . . . First and Foremost! There is nothing Higher in Priority! Only a ‘Vampire’ will take my attention away from that, and then that other ship . . . may come in handy.

    • Rocco


  • Pete Novick

    It’s unfortunate that the photo shows an admiral talking when he should be listening.

    Here’s a good place to start:

    Circles in Surface Warfare Training


    The author, a retired SWO discusses 30 years of SWO junior officer training.

    For starters…

    1. Bring back the 16 week SWO Basic Course

    2. Deep six the SWO JO split tour concept and leave JO’s aboard the same ship for 36 months.

    The split tour is killing morale and retention. Officers who fail to quality SWO aboard their first ship, are relegated to second class status on their second ship, from which few really recover. Many are good officers with great career potential who fail to qualify for reasons beyond their control.

    3. Prepare and require JO’s to pass the USCG National 3rd Mate Unlimited license examination. (USN and USCG modify the requirements to suit service aboard ships in commission vs service in the merchant marine.)


    When you have completed those tasks, come back and I’ll give your three more.

    • Curtis Conway

      Hear Hear, Amen. Lack of Leadership is the Navy’s Problem. It’s hard to hold people accountable when you really didn’t train them in the first place, and advancement is not based upon appropriate metrics.

    • NavySubNuke

      Fleeting up of XOs to COs also needs to die. An XO needs to mold his leadership style and methods of dealing with the crew in a way that balances the CO and ensures an effective fighting ship.
      Forcing someone who has been forced to lead a certain way to stay on board the same ship without a break to reassess what they have seen and learned from their XO tour and without giving them a chance to decide for themselves how they want to run THEIR command and THEIR ship from a fresh start is a terrible idea.

    • John Locke

      This starts to pull back the covers of a larger problem in R&D and developing system requirements. When these line zeros filter into the PM shops they have little to no operational sense or undergo a tactical lobotomy. Couple that with a lack of knowledge behind the technology that goes into the warfighting tools and the Sailors end up with systems that are short sighted, proprietary and unpractical……….. defense industry loves it cause it takes years to fix.

    • USNVO

      Just bringing back 16 weeks of SWOS DOC doesn’t do any good if they are just filling time. It needs to be focused on what future DIVOs need but also be strenuous. The right answer may be 16 weeks but it also may be 12 or 26. IIf you want someone who can contribute from day 1, they need extensive training in 3M, DC, Navigation, Firefighting, Bridge and CIC watch standing, etc. I am not a great fan of school ships as there are better bang for the buck now, but extensive bridge and CIC simulators are critical and the need to really build competency is important. Even CBT is valuable and finding the right mix of CBT, classroom, and simulator time is critical.

      However, that brings us to another issue. How do you pay for it, and not just in terms of dollars but also officers and enlisted sailors, facilities, and training devices. And that is before you address all the myriad of post SWOS doc training that was dumped on the ship in the name of saving money.

      I am all for bringing back SWOS DOC, but let’s do it as part of a planned training continuum that makes sense, is resourced, and will be sustained. The version of SWOS Doc that existed before its demise is not the target we should be shooting for.

      • Real sailor

        Back in the day I attended SWO school down in Coronado. It wasn’t a sleep over, we had simulators, lots of classroom, d.c. training, etc (of course I attended advanced fire fighting for locker leader later on in Alameda). But I say we create a ‘training pipeline” akin to the brown shoe Navy. Aviators spend the first 2-3 years in training and are ‘winged’ as aviators (Pilot, NFO) before they hit the fleet. We need do the same for SWO, young officers need to be SWO qual’d before they hit their first ship. SWO school is akin to basic flight school, but the real training doesn’t start until the fresh Ensigns hit their ship, which they are then expected to lead a division, take of lots of collatoral duties, stand watch, all the while studying for your SWO pin. This is all backwards. Getting qual’d as a SWO should be the only thing an Ensign does, just like in aviation. So let’s create a new training pipeline, set aside a ‘training ship’ and standarized the SWO pin process (currently it’s too subjective at at the whime of the CO, if he like you, you get pinned, if he doesn’t you don’t, or at least delayed).

        • USNVO

          I also attended SWOSDOC in Coronado. My experience is just my experience of course, but I would guess that half of the training time was effectively used. We had Minesweep Boats that were fun but really not of much value. The simulators we had were OK for CIC but really fell down for trying to learn anything on bridge watch standing. Even then, it was largely introductory and not at all platform specific. I had a great time at SWOS DOC and collected a bunch of per diem but it wasn’t exactly stressful.

          I disagree with having SWO qualification before the ship, however. Beyond being too expensive, it is not really required. Just like the submarine junior officers, the SWOs should get a lot more training on shore so all the theory and systems parts are done. SWO training should largely be just completing the requisite watchstanding qualifications on the ship. That in itself takes a huge logistical burden off the ship. Sadly, not much you can do about COs having different standards except try to normalize it by including training in PXO and PCO school, but again, it is the same in the submarine community.

        • Rocco

          Kudos nicely said. A good Perry class frigate would make a great training ship if anything instead of rotting away doing nothing even though I think they should be at least reserve ship’s.

        • Curtis Conway

          I’m with Roco. Well stated, only I would go with training ships. Just navigating the river every day to a turn around point and back, in ‘all weather’ (keeping the schedule is sacrosanct upon which your grade depends), night & day, in taffic, is good training. One rotates through Deck, CIC, and engineering watches from jaunts through multiple evolutions. One Remain Over Night (RON) with a cruise past the Sea Buoy and back, and we can complete the exercises. That RON trip could be to another port where you would be expected to bring the vessel along side without tugs. Our little training vessel should have twin screws and two rudders. Make’m learn through demonstration. Throw in a ‘peer review’ (like SOF) about if you wanted this individual in the formation with you . . . or NOT, and we can wrap this up. If they can’t handle that, then they go to Supply, or put them on the Front Gate. No more Sluffs on the Bridge. Too many lives hang in the ballnce, and is a key element upon which our Nation’s Defense depends.

    • Brent Leatherman

      The split tour would have killed me since, as an Ensign, I was sent to Engineering on a steam plant and qual’d (as an Ensign) as EOOW and stood the watch for a year, 6-n-6. I rarely saw topside stuff. No complaints – it was GREAT experience – but it took a while after that to get my pin.

      • Rocco


  • RDF

    Reasonable article. Nice words. Now what?

  • Western

    Glad the Navy is taking this seriously. Hard to take the Navy seriously in those camouflage uniforms.

    • Curtis Conway

      Amen. Never understood that. “Man Overboard” and its hard to find him? Why would you do that?

      • Bring back Seafarer bell bottoms!

        • Curtis Conway

          More utile and cost effective. Like the new coveralls though. they ought to color code them by division.

          • Rocco

            They still where coveralls in engineering.

          • Curtis Conway

            We had a Captain’s Call, and the CO had a habit of wearing his Blue Coveralls with his rank, name tags, and ship’s patch on the left breast pocket. So, as the last question to “is there anything else?”, before he left (he asked) so I piped up, and asked if we could wear the coveralls like he did. He took a thoughtful moment, and conceded if we wanted to wear the coveralls while working on the ship, it was alright with him. However, they had to meet the standards (FRC, long sleeve [which we alwasy made short sleeve]). AND the rest is HiStory. Mine had a US flag on the left sholder. Those coveralls, the molders safety boots (pull-on with steel toes) really made GQ time easy to make. With the Navy Blue ship’s ball cap, it really made a sharp ensemble. This became the favorite uniform aboard ship for underway operations.

            We spent a huge amount of time at AFWTF Roosevelt Roads, PR. We were there during the Blue Angels airshow, and the wardroom got all kinds of bent out of shape about not being able to wear their very presentable coveralls ashore because it was a working uniform, but the Blue Angels pilots could wear their yellow flight suits with their ascots ashore at the O-Club.

    • Rocco

      Now your talking!! If their to be in cammo uniforms make them look old school like a light grey shirt top & blue color pants!! Oh & the cover should go back to the old cracker jack cover!!

  • proudrino

    “After months of evaluations, the service is still working to understand what conditions in the fleet contributed to the collisions, Modly said.”

    Really? The conditions that caused multiple incidents in the fleet seem pretty clear to me- even if the solutions are not easy to implement. Far too many senior officers, many still employed by the Navy, ignored the problems in the fleet until they had no choice but to act. How do you fix gross failure and dereliction of duty? Some of the worst offenders have been fired or conveniently decided to retire but this is a deckplate level problem that goes far beyond changing out a a few disgraced Admirals.

    The RROC seems to be a good first if overdue step. It will be meaningless, however, if the group merely talks about the problems and doesn’t take meaningful action at a rapid pace. And by meaningful action, I am talking about more than merely adding levels of oversight to ensure the Navy can more quickly place blame the next time a Naval ship hits a merchant during normal peacetime steaming.

  • Ed L

    I remember an old Master Chief once told me when I made 3rd. Teach the men below you your job and learn the job of the man above you. The chiefs and petty offficers ran the divisions did the paper work and the division officers worked on their qualifications for SWO. I remember in deck force we would get a newst officer aboard the ship and keep him for about 6 months The old one would move to engineering or operations for 6 months or so. They also get sent off ship for off ship training on things like shiphandling, csm, DC, etc. Does the Navy still do that?

    • Rocco


  • NavySubNuke

    **scratches Pat behind her fluffly ears ** Thanks kitty – your brilliant, insightful, and all around wonderful suggestions have been noted for inclusion. We’ll get right on carrying those out!
    ** passes the kitty some catnip **

  • kye154

    This title is so funny as to be ridiculous! “Senior Leaders Taking First Steps in Long Road to Reform Surface Navy”. You can’t help but ask the question, where were they to begin with? Weren’t the “Senior Leaders” the ones to allow the surface navy to get this way? What sort of “leadership” do they really bring to the navy anyway? The term “leadership” is most often used to pad their fitreps, but where is the substance? If anything, these “Senior Leaders” need to be court martialed for sitting on their dead duffs, and as accessories to the deaths aboard the McCain and Fitzgerald, reduced in rank to E-1, jailed, and should barred from ever receiving their veterans benefits. Currently, there are no “leaders” in the navy. Instead, we have driftwood occupying the officer corps and senior positions.

  • NavySubNuke

    Excellent job making yet another witty and insightful comment.
    I always love how insightful you feminists are.

  • publius_maximus_III

    Did I miss it? Did not see a single “step” mentioned.

    • kye154

      They are still trying to figure that out.

    • proudrino

      No you didn’t miss it but did you notice the seniority of the RROC members? They are meeting at a level where everybody in the room is to senior to actually know what is going on in the fleet. Hopefully the working groups will bridge the gap.

  • NavySubNuke

    Wow – truly insightful. Thank you for once again proudly displaying the intellectual capacity and reasoning ability of feminist movement.

  • Brent Leatherman

    I’m sure the brass will spend the time doing what they do best – changing out everyone’s uniforms.

  • Ed L

    Okay, I use to supervise a lot of line handling parties. Never worn life jackets. Guess some idiot fell off the pier a while back. No wonder the Navy is having problems.

    • John Locke

      Yeah, safety has always been the bane of the Navy.
      (roll eyes)

  • Real sailor

    Let’s do our part here by ‘reforming’ this forum. The first step everyone needs to take to vow that: “I (insert your name) will never be a Patty Winters here on this forum”

  • Rocco

    Seriously !!!

  • Rocco

    Hey …………..! We don’t need this here!!

  • Rocco

    Look in the mirror

  • NavySubNuke

    LOL. The snake oil salesman feminist thinks I am the one with an undersized brain.
    I love it. You really are entertaining.

  • NavySubNuke

    I don’t know – I always find it so entertaining when feminists speak.
    Their complete lack of intelligence combined with their hatred of anyone and anything that doesn’t agree with them just brings a smile to my face. You really won’t find a more vile or intolerant person than a feminist —- which is what makes them so fun to poke.
    Verbally poke I mean – their poor hygiene habits and the risk of disease make it far too risky to poke them with anything else.

  • Rocco

    Such an attitude for a kitty cat!! Make me leave!!!

  • Old Submariner

    As a MCPO(SS), I spent a lot of time training both officers – whole wardrooms at times, & enlisted types from very junior inexperienced types to SCPO’s. The only criteria was that we actually taught them what was needed to do their jobs & then brought them to the level of proficiency required. It saddens me to see the way things have apparently changed. I noticed that the Asst. Sec. Nav said that the challenges are so different now than they were 15 or 20 years ago. The basic commodity has not changed. You are still dealing with motivated personnel. They are smart. They are human beings & the principles of learning are the same. There are so many new, wonderful methods that can be used. They are teachable. The one major problem I see in most every Navy Times I get is that most folks seem to be able to spell leadership, but too few seem to know how to implement it. There seems to be too many breaks in communication. When a skipper can be a real Martinet, & no one up the chain seems to know what is happening to the crew that is a problem. Where is the command master chief? Is he afraid to put it on the line by going to the Division Commander if the skipper will not listen to reason? The command master chief has the responsibility to ensure that the crew is fairly treated by all. When he crawls into a corner & whimpers that he can’t do anything, that is total B.S. He is not fulfilling his role. After all, seems that he is supposed to be an advisor to the wardroom too. Maybe I am too far removed, after retiring in 1974 makes me “Old Navy” & not just for their t-shirts. I hope that the surface navy will be able to be brought back quickly rather than over a long period of time. If it is mostly a cultural problem, then just maybe some strong measures are required to change that culture. My Navy meant everything to me second only to my family. For the sake of all those that “go down to the sea in ships” may things get turned around is my prayer.

  • TPF1

    The CNO is a P-3 Aviator. He should designate a REAL SWO Admiral that has been there and lived in the surface navy to get to the bottom of what’s wrong with the surface fleet. NOT a staff officer who miraculously got promoted years before everyone else, NOT a submariner, and NOT an aviator.