All posts by Steven Wills

Retired surface warfare officer. PhD student in military history at Ohio University. Principle interests include Cold War U.S. naval/military strategy and policy, British Imperial naval/maritime policy in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, and 20th century U.S. history.

Survivor: Nikumaroro Island

International Maritime Satire Week Warning: The following is a piece of fiction intended to elicit insight through the use of satire and written by those who do not make a living being funny – so it’s not serious and very well might not be funny. See the rest of our IntMarSatWeek offerings here.

Producers and financial backers for the 60th edition of the enduring “Survivor” series have high hopes for this season. Today, the two competing teams of survivors disembarked from the luxury yacht Neptune’s Refuge on to one of the most remote and desolate locations on the planet. “Survivor: Phoenix Islands” is likely to be the most taxing and potentially violent edition of the long-running television series and the third iteration since the purchase of all rights to the show by the Sino-Russian (and possibly North Korean) Yakov-Liaoning Financial (YLF) Group. Russian billionaire and YLF founder Yakov Rozhestvensky bade personal farewell to the competitors while his staff ensured their non-disclosure agreements and personal wills were in order before each contestant left the yacht.

Only today Roszhestvensky’s company revealed that this edition of Survivor would take place on the famous Nikumaroro island, a one-time failed British colonial possession believed by many to have been the final resting place of lost aviatrix Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan. Rozhestvensky and his chief financial officer Victor Shu brushed off journalists’ questions about how much they paid the Kiribati Provisional Govt. for use of Nikumaroro, an island that had been a protected wildlife refuge until just March of this year. There had been speculation that YLF had financed the Kiribati coup that last year ousted the previous peaceful government of the island chain.

Rozhestvensky has high hopes that this season will duplicate and even exceed his previous two Survivor efforts, which were noted for their exotic and dangerous locations. Believing audiences bored by the standard “tropical paradise” environment of the long-running series, “Survivor 58: Viking Island” shifted to a polar location on the Greenland coast. There contestants battled cold weather, ate fish and whale blubber for 30 days, and competed in “Viking-like” challenges such as open-boat whaling, tug of war over a fiery pit, and extreme cold-weather swimming. Ratings were mixed until soaring in the latter half of the game when 10 contestants were medevaced for hypothermia or injuries sustained in the challenges.

This perhaps prompting Rozhestvenski’s next effort, “Survivor 59; The Poseidon Adventure.” During this latest installment the Russian entrepreneur purchased the laid-up cruise liner Dolphin Voyager and conducted challenges reminiscent of the 1972 disaster movie with the ship moored in the middle of the Sea of Okhotsk. Contestants were divided into two groups and forced to move about the ship in darkness while navigating hazards, re-rigging electrical power to dark sections of the ship, and swimming through flooded compartments.

Rozhestvensky had planned to actually sink the ship with the contestants aboard (and have them attempt to escape) as the season finale, but the Russian govt. intervened. Apparently this stunt was too dangerous for even President-for-Life Vladimir Putin to countenance and instead the ship was beached and “survivors” forced to move by lifeboats to a gravel-covered, cold, windswept beach. One of the lifeboats overturned and two contestants went missing for a day before they turned up with serious hypothermia further down the coast from the landing site. The “abandon ship” episode had an even higher viewership than “Viking Island.” With iTunes purchases of these episodes filling his coffers, Rozhestvensky is planning the next installment to be even more of a thrill-ride.

This season’s contestants could also be more colorful than any in the past. Distinctly themed teams will compete against one another for the top prize, with representatives of the Sea Shepherd Conservation society squaring off against a mysterious and shadowy group of former Somali pirate whalers personally recruited by Rozhestvensky for this season’s effort. The Sea Shepherds are motivated by a legal agreement with Rozhestvensky stipulating that he will shut down his whaling company and donate the proceeds of its liquidation to the activist conservation group. Sea Shepherd vessels had attempted to halt the whaling part of the “Viking Island” season but were intercepted and seriously damaged by Rozhestvensky’s security craft. For their part, the Sea Shepherds agreed to forgo their lawsuit in a Dutch court against Rozhestvensky in return for his acceptance of their conditions for participation in this season of “Survivor.” These provisions demand that no whale products will be used in any aspect of this season, or any further season.

Russian President-for-Life Vladimir Putin is rumored to make several guest appearances in this season's Survivor.
Russian President-for-Life Vladimir Putin is rumored to make several guest appearances in this season’s Survivor.

While the addition of Somali pirate whalers to the contestant pool may be an ironic protest of these prerequisites, this season’s location of Nikumaroro Island meets the requirement that it be nowhere near any whaling activity, although a statement by the Sea Shephards denounces their “forced trespassing on an unspoiled refuge” as a “trick.” While there is edible food on Nikumaroro, YLF will provide all water supplies via helicopter air-drop. Multiple fixed and unmanned aerial vehicle-mounted cameras will record the game play. Rozhestvensky himself will play the role of host and “tribal council” moderator via hologram. This provision alone has caused concern as some sources indicate Rozhestvensky was a one-time KGB apprentice interrogator and worked directly for Putin – a combination of factors that has worried some that Rozhestvensky plans to turn this season into his own edition of “Lord of the Flies.”

While the Sea Shepherds are a familiar group for many viewers, the Somali pirate whalers are an unknown quantity and potential source of violence on the show. Rozhestvensky brushed off such concerns and stated that the men and women he recruited in Somalia were “honest fishermen.” He further stated that if he really wanted to “mess with the Sea Shepherds’ minds,” he would have hired “ex-Japanese Coast Guardsmen and members of the Institute for Cetacean Research security” as the opposing team. Nonetheless, this volatile combination of teams, remote location, and few if any safeguards will likely draw the large international viewership Rozhestvensky craves and could be the highest-rated edition of Survivor yet unveiled.

Steve Wills is a retired surface warfare officer and a PhD student in military history at Ohio University. His focus areas are modern U.S. naval and military reorganization efforts and British naval strategy and policy from 1889-1941. He posts here at CIMSEC, sailorbob.com, and at informationdissemination.org under the pen name “Lazarus.”

Corvettes Do Not Support Global Seapower

There is a growing belief in U.S. naval circles that aircraft carriers and higher-end U.S. surface combatants are becoming vulnerable to attacks by improved cruise missiles and targetable ballistic missiles such as the DF-21D. Proponents of this belief argue that corvette-sized vessels grouped in flotillas cost less, are more survivable than larger vessels and (somewhat darkly) suggest that U.S. national command authority would be less adverse to losing a few corvettes in combat than they would to the loss of a “capital ship” Arleigh Burke class destroyer. In reality, smaller ships have their own set of weaknesses that makes them no more effective than larger combatants. The littoral combatant ship (LCS) is capable of all of the peacetime and most of the wartime abilities of the corvette. Most importantly, the geography of 21st century seapower does not lend itself to low endurance vessels dependent upon isolated fixed bases for support. It may be useful to build and test a small flotilla of such craft as a proof of concept operation, but the U.S. should not build a large number of corvettes (and repeat the mistakes of the LCS program), until a full program of test and evaluation is complete. Even then, the U.S. should be wary of putting so much of its at-sea striking power in such a short-ranged, vulnerable class of ship.

DN-ST-93-05725Corvettes have their own “laundry list” of shortcomings that make them undesirable as a replacement for a large part of the current surface fleet. Past missile corvettes have been employed by less powerful navies as low-cost, short range coastal defense units. These craft enjoy interior lines of communication and supply, and are an ideal component to a coastal nation’s anti-access/area denial (A2AD) capability. U.S. corvette advocates however desire to use them in an offensive role on the high seas. Such an flotilla would be dependent on network information for both offensive and defensive operations. In the years since the First Gulf War in 1991, the U.S. has made it very clear to any of its potential opponents that it is very reliant on military networks to achieve its desired military objectives. No peer or near-peer opponent is likely to allow the U.S. unimpeded use of its military networks and will likely targets those systems in its own first attacks. Without network connectivity, corvette forces would be dependent on their own short-range sensors for targeting data and would need to move dangerously close to prospective targets in order to attack. The U.S. is still dependent on the 1970’s vintage Harpoon subsonic anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) as the likely armament of a missile corvette. Longer range supersonic weapons would need to be developed and fielded in order to make the ship a “battle-worthy” opponent. Failure to do so would create another fiasco like the LCS where key mission components significantly lag behind the construction of the actual ship. Unlike higher-end U.S. combatants, corvettes do not have area defense weapons nor are their weapon systems self supporting. If attacked, rather than a networked defense, each corvette must individually engage incoming threats. Such actions, if uncoordinated and done in close proximity to other ships can have disastrous results. In the 1982 Falklands war, there were cases of ASCM’s decoyed away from one ship that suddenly engaged another without time for response. A corvette is also much more likely to be destroyed with all hands than a larger U.S. surface combatant if hit by even one medium-sized cruise missile. Each such corvette has a crew of between 35 and 40 highly trained personnel who would likely be lost. If the U.S. Navy really does value its well-trained personnel more highly than individual ships, it will not assign them to corvettes likely to be sunk. “They Were Expendable” makes for a good movie title, but U.S. naval personnel in the 21st century are not such a disposable commodity.

Supporters of the corvette claim that the ships can fulfill many peacetime duties including presence functions and training with allied naval forces. The LCS, which is already under construction and in the process of fleet introduction, is already capable of such activities. LCS is also a fully deployable warship capable of sustained operations at sea for at least 21 days. A force of corvettes however has only an 8-day sustainability at sea and would require a significant advanced base from which to resupply and refuel. If the recent behavior of even a close U.S. ally as Japan is any example, few nations would desire a large U.S. military presence necessary to support a large number of corvettes. The LCS can be supported through refueling and resupply at sea via underway replenishment. Since the LCS is already planned for procurement in large numbers, why duplicate its capability with another class of ship?

Finally, the geography of seapower as understood by maritime nations with global interests such as the United States does not support the use of such short-ranged vessels as corvettes. Such a nation must be ready to transfer large parts of its armed forces seamlessly over great distances. Relatively high-speed, long range naval units capable of global deployment are the best solution to the problem of geography. Corvettes can be moved from one part of the globe to another but neither with the speed nor cost effectiveness of larger platforms with better endurance. The fleet of a global power must be able to depart from one location, sail thousands of miles if necessary, arrive in theater and attain sea control without reliance on forward land bases which may be vulnerable or unavailable for use.

A small force of corvettes as a proof of concept test may be useful, but in the current constrained fiscal environment, the first priority of the Navy must remain high-endurance vessels capable of extended combat operations at sea without forward base support. A large force of corvettes cannot meet this requirement. If required in a wartime scenario, corvettes can be procured and rapidly fielded in large numbers. The U.S. is a maritime nation with an interest in protecting and securing what political scientist Barry Posen called the “global commons” of oceanic trade routes. Global power projection requires globally deployable naval units rather than regionally dependent corvettes.

Steve Wills is a retired surface warfare officer and a PhD student in military history at Ohio University. His focus areas are modern U.S. naval and military reorganization efforts and British naval strategy and policy from 1889-1941. He posts here at CIMSEC, sailorbob.com and at informationdissemination.org under the pen name of “Lazarus”.

Moving the Navy/CIVMAR Integration Experiment Forward

     The contributions of Civilian Mariners (CIVMARS) from Military Sealift Command (MSC) are normally associated with the Combat Logistics mission; however, recent experiments with USS PONCE and other hybrid-manned ships demonstrate a compelling case for further CIVMAR integration into U.S. Naval units.  MSC has been in existence since 1949 as an operator of non-naval government ships, in its current name and organization since 1970, and an operator of naval service support ships since 1972. The Navy first experimented with the assignment of CIVMARs to combatant ships in 2004, when MSC personnel were assigned to the USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20). Subsequent to that first trial the Navy has also re-assigned its Safeguard class salvage ships completely to MSC control and converted substantial parts of the ship’s complement of the tenders USS Emory S. Land and USS Frank Cable. Most recently the Navy assigned CIVMAR’s to the first Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) USS Ponce, formerly LPD 15 forward deployed in the Persian Gulf.  When the Navy decided to reverse the decommissioning of PONCE, the 360 billets were liquidated and the only means of manning the ship in haste were CIVMARs and Individual Augmentees (IA’s) from the Fleet. Ponce’s proven worth after one year of operations presents an attractive means for delivering capability at a reduced cost when considering Ponce is operating with 140 fewer personnel than the naval version of the Landing Platform Dock (LPD). Questions remain whether the low cost of employing CIVMAR’s minimum manning methods can help conserve Navy resources for other priorities?

     The first efforts to integrate CIVMAR’s into combatant naval vessel crews came in the early 2000’s as the Navy’s inventory of conventional steam-powered ships plummeted due to age and replacement ships employment of different propulsion systems. Many Civilian mariners are former naval personnel and have extensive experience in the operation of steam propulsion plants. They were considered an ideal choice to keep aging naval steam plants properly resourced and functional at a lower cost than current naval personnel who would require re-training to operate legacy propulsion systems. A 2005 report by the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA) warmly endorsed the concept of using CIVMARs in a host of positions on combatant ships. The study also recommended that the Navy adopt many CIVMAR low cost/minimum manning techniques as a way to both improve U.S. warship maintenance and operation. The experiments on Ponce and other ships have tested many of the CNA report’s proposals. The results indicate some distinct organizational, operational, and cultural differences in the MSC and U.S. Navy. An updated version of the CNA 2005 report is in order. It should determine what strengths and weaknesses greater assignment of CIVMAR’s to combatant ships would bring, as well as consider what CIVMAR best practices the Navy might adopt in order to reduce costs but preserve combat efficiency.

     The CIVMAR community has a number of professional strengths. First and foremost, CIVMAR’s emphasize pre-planned and economical operations. “Routine” and “predictable” is entirely in line with their merchant background. Their mission is to move a ship and its cargo on as straight a line as possible from point (a) to point (b) at its most economical speed and do so with the bare minimum of fuel, personnel, and other resources. To meet these requirements, CIVMARs operate precisely and professionally in all ship handling and engineering procedures. Deck officers are licensed with a significant higher level of navigation skills than that of the standard U.S. Navy officer and engineering officers not only orchestrate and manage the engineering plants, but are hands-on operators who actually conduct many equipment repairs. CIVMARs are paid by the hour and are on the ship to work. The Commanding Officer of Ponce put it very succinctly as follows; “You will not find TVs in CIVMAR workcenters. They are “workcenters” not “entertainment centers…and when you pay by the hour, you manage by the hour.”

     The CIVMAR community also brings cultural disadvantages that make integration with naval personnel a challenge. The CIVMAR focus on regular, cost efficient operation does not always lend itself to the non-routine and unpredictable operations of a combatant warship. CIVMAR Engineering officers do not “tear down” equipment for inspection or as part of regular maintenance. They do not drill down equipment during casualty control drills,  shift equipment daily, or subject their plants to excessive changes in speed that are regular operating characteristics of warships. They are very proficient in damage control, but if an MSC ship suffers damage, the operating ethos is to save the ship rather than fight the ship. CIVMAR bridge officers and topside personnel are equally devoted to routine rather than multi-disciplinary operations. The bridge on an MSC ship operates with a fraction of the personnel assigned to a U.S. Navy condition 1 or even condition 3 watch, but the expectations for what that watch is capable of are significantly reduced. CIVMAR deck officers drive in straight lines. They are unaccustomed to steaming boxes or formation operations and they are not familiar with concepts like navigating swept channels and are unfamiliar with maneuvering to avoid missiles/torpedoes. The concept of having the Combat Information Center (CIC) disagree with their course and speed recommendations can be disconcerting to some CIVMAR Mates of the Watch (MOW’s). Some of these cultural divisions between MSC and USN are significant, and would require a good deal of patience and maturity on the part of both communities for effective integration within the lifelines.

     Despite these big differences, the CIVMAR experiment on USN ships to date has been generally successful, especially in getting further service life out of aging steam-powered ships. There are aspects of MSC operation from which the U.S Navy could certainly benefit. The MSC system of engineering watch standing and record keeping (both automatic and paper records) was sighted by several USN officers as more efficient and easier to use than current Navy procedures. A CIVMAR-style engineering watch organization might be beneficial on diesel-powered amphibious warfare ships like the Landing Ship Dock (LSD) class where consistent, most economical speeds are more the norm than in surface combatant vessels. Navy Officers of the Deck (OODs) and Navigators would benefit from the U.S. Coast Guard-tested standards of CIVMAR navigation knowledge. The Navy might consider the assignment of a CIVMAR navigator to smaller Navy ships in a role similar to the Master position of the days of sail. Such an officer would be subordinate to the executive officer and perhaps serve as the actual navigator and principle advisor to the ship’s commanding officer on all aspects of good seamanship. The amount of training potential embodied in this individual is enormous and benefits might include an enhanced knowledge of navigation at all levels of the ship’s company. A similar position might be considered for a ship’s engineering department in the form of a Maintenance expert along the lines of the old ship’s carpenter from the sailing navy.

     In conclusion, the U.S. Navy has proven success with using CIVMAR’s to gain additional service life from aging ships. Successful integration of these two different cultures on combatant ships remains to be seen, but the model seems to be working on the ships where it is currently employed.  Finally, the U.S. Navy should consider further exploiting the wealth of knowledge inherent in the CIVMAR ranks by assigning senior CIVMAR experts to smaller combatants as navigation and maintenance experts. The education benefit for all hands in such an assignment is substantial and might significantly improve naval standards for navigation and maintenance in smaller crews at minimum cost. The Navy should also commission a follow-up study to the 2005 CNA report on CIVMAR manning on Navy ships in order to re-assess those concepts in light of results from the experiments on Ponce, Mount Whitney, and the submarine tenders. The CIVMAR experiment has been useful, but needs a re-evaluation based on these recent experiences in order to move effectively forward.

Steve Wills is a retired surface warfare officer and a PhD student in military history at Ohio University. His focus areas are modern U.S. naval and military reorganization efforts and British naval strategy and policy from 1889-1941. He posts here at CIMSEC, sailorbob.com and at informationdissemination.org under the pen name of “Lazarus”.

The Nucleus Crew: A Little Selective Starvation of One “Sacred Cow”

HMS_Exmouth_(1901)_in_Weymouth_Bay_ca._1906
HMS Exmouth, a nucleus-crew Royal Navy battleship

This article is a part of The Hunt for Strategic September, a week of analysis on the relevance of strategic guidance to today’s maritime strategy(ies). As part of the week we are also re-examining “Sacred Cows” – fundamental concepts that underpin the current approach to maritime security.

The effect of the ongoing budget crisis on the U.S. military is similar to the effect of drought on a farm. Farmers are sometimes forced to slaughter some animals during a drought in order to ensure the survival of a herd. The U.S. military also now appears poised to cut some pieces of weapon hardware in order for bulk of service programs to survive this particular period of fiscal shortages. In the case of the U.S. Navy’s surface fleet, this “culling of the herd” could include cuts in both current platforms and new construction. Rather than retire ships with useful remaining service life, or cut planned new construction, the Navy should bring back a manning concept with its roots in the age of sail.

Adoption of a nucleus crew system for those ships not deployed, or training to do so would ensure the retention of useful warships, maximize manning for deployed units, and save some money in personnel costs. Great Britain’s Royal Navy (RN) faced a similar demand by civilian authorities in the first decade of the 20th century to both cut its budget, and maintain its superiority in fleet strength over potential adversaries. The RN adopted the nucleus crew system and successfully preserved a number of middle-aged ships that saw useful service in the First World War. While it is never an ideal situation to have a warship manned at anything less than its authorized crew complement, the current budget crisis demands extraordinary action. Adoption of nucleus crews in some ships may allow the Navy a period of pause to develop more long-term solutions to extended periods of fiscal drought.

It is first useful to examine the British nucleus crew program. The RN experiment in nucleus crews was begun during the tenure of Admiral Sir John Fisher as the First Sea Lord (rough equivalent of the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations) from 1904-1910. An iconoclast who was not afraid to break established rules and traditions, Fisher was selected by the civilian First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Selborne, to both reduce naval budgets and reform and prepare the RN for modern warfare. Part of Fisher’s program involved accelerating the building of modern “Dreadnought-style” battleships and battle cruisers, modern submarines, and early experiments with naval aviation. His initial change to the existing fleet was to cut over 150 aging or ineffective warships from active service. While draconian in effect, these cuts allowed Fisher to preserve another cohort of “middle-aged” battleships, cruisers and destroyers that might also have been retired to meet budget goals. His ingenious program to retain these ships was to reduce their crew complements to a smaller “nucleus crew” of 3/5 normal crew complement. These reduced crew cohorts would be capable of maintaining the ships and taking them to sea for short periods of training. The nucleus crew consisted primarily of officers and technical experts who could care for the ship over periods of inactivity. In case of crisis, the nucleus crew ships could be brought to operational readiness through the addition of relatively untrained crew members such as stokers (necessary in large number for the coal-fired ships of the day), additional gunners and deck seamen.

Fisher was very successful and far exceeded his political masters’ expectations. He was able to provide sufficient manning to fill new construction units and created accountable reserve formations of warships that could be activated through a precise system for war. The RN’s budget for 1905 was 3.5 million pounds less than 1904 while still supporting a full program of new constructions. RN budget estimates continued to fall from 1905-1907 and did not return to 1904 levels until 1909 when the Admiralty requested eight new battleships in response to the growing German battleship program. When the First World War began in August 1914, the RN was able to return many nucleus crew vessels to full operational capability for patrol, convoy escort, and shore bombardment duties. The march of naval technology however had made many of the nucleus crew ships even more antiquated then they were in 1905 when the entered the program. Three aging armored cruisers recommissioned for patrol duties in the North Sea were sunk in the space of two hours by a modern German submarine with the loss of over 1400 lives. Two more elderly cruisers were destroyed with all hands (1500 personnel) off the coast of Chile later that year fighting the crack gunnery cruisers of the German Navy. Five former nucleus crew battleships were later lost trying to force the Dardanelles strait in Winston Churchill’s abortive 1915 campaign to knock Ottoman Turkey out of the war. While Fisher’s program preserved ships for reactivation, it did not provide for their modernization against new threats. Overall though, the Royal Navy viewed the program as successful in providing needed force structure for fighting a global war.

The U.S. Navy could slay one of its own “sacred cows” by adopting a modified nucleus crew system for the manning of surface combatants and amphibious ships not deployed nor in the training cycle to do so. This would involve significant changes in the manning programs of surface ships but the “payoff” would be similar to the British results a century ago in avoiding cuts in modern force structure and the preservation of current building programs. There are however a number of lessons learned from the RN experience that could be applied to improve its 21st-century U.S. application. First, rather than preserve aging units that cannot be modernized to keep pace with naval warfare developments, the U.S. should apply the nucleus crew to all ships home-ported in the continental United States (CONUS). Those ships permanently forward-deployed with the 5th, 6th, and 7th fleets would not be included in the nucleus crew program. Older ships like the Perry-class frigates, the Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships and the Cyclone-class patrol coastals would not be subject to the nucleus crew program, but cannot be cut from the active fleet as quickly as Admiral Fisher achieved his reductions. They would be retired as more littoral combat ships (LCS) are commissioned to replace them. Cruisers, destroyers, and amphibious warfare ships would regularly pass through a nucleus-crew phase in their normal deployment cycle rather then be reduced to a reserve status.

A typical ship would return from an operational deployment and be programmed by its Immediate Superior in Chain of Command (ISIC) and Naval Personnel Command to reduce its complement to 60% of nominal manning. The ship would be required to keep a viable inport watch organization and be capable of getting underway for short periods to avoid destructive weather or in response to other emergencies. The ship would retain a basic self-defense capability to include close-in weapons systems and small arms. It would be required to get underway monthly for one-day periods and quarterly for three-day periods to demonstrate equipment operation and nucleus crew skills. The experience of the Military Sealift Command (MSC) in manning ships, particularly the engineering and deck departments with minimal personnel may be useful in developing similar watch organizations for nucleus crew ships. This program of minimal underway training would continue until the ship entered a major shipyard availability or approached the next deployment training cycle.

If preparing to enter the shipyard for an extended period, the crew complement would be further reduced to 10% of overall manning. The shipyard authority would assume complete responsibility for the safety, security, maintenance, and upgrades to the ship in a formal turnover upon commencement of the availability. The shipyard team might also be organized and staffed based on MSC experience and rotate as required to manage ships in the yards. The remainder of the crew would be sent to schools and training commands for the duration of the yard period or augment deployed units with personnel shortages. The nucleus crew would return to the ship at the conclusion of the work and after a turnover period and completion of shakedown, resume full responsibility. The ship would remain in its nucleus crew status until it again prepared to conduct pre-deployment training. Additional crew members would be assigned to again swell the ship’s complement to full manning and return any equipment in layup maintenance to full capability. The ship would conduct it’s training cycle and deploy as scheduled. ISIC’s (destroyer squadrons, carrier and expeditionary strike groups) would closely monitor the transitions of nucleus crew ships from reduced to full manning and back to nucleus crew status.

The key to making this program work is the precise management of the personnel assigned to nucleus crew ships. The Navy would also need to ensure that the Department of Defense and Congress fully understand the nucleus crew policy and the limitations it will place on the ability of the Navy to rapidly deploy large formations of ships. British Admiralty officials spent a great deal of time answering questions in Parliament from 1905-1914 on the nucleus crew program. The historical record would indicate they understood the limitations the RN was imposing on a large part of its force to meet fiscal demands. Congress and Department of Defense would likely require a similar level of confidence in order to support the concept. While the program preserves important modern naval force structure, it limits the freedom of action decision-makers had in the past in using the Navy to react to crisis situations. A full force could be made available for a major war or engagement on par with the Iraq wars of 1991 and 2003, but with regard to operations of less scope and shorter length such as the 2010 Odyssey Dawn campaign against the Libyan government of Muammar Gaddafi, only those forces already deployed in theater would be available. The U.S. Navy budget savings would also be less than that achieved by the British in the early 20th century. Unlike the RN, who could operationally afford to keep their nucleus crew ships in port for long periods, the U.S. would need to re-man and deploy them on a regular basis. The end result could be much larger deployed U.S. formations in the Western Pacific, Mediterranean, and Arabian Seas than those in home waters, thus obviating the need for many traditional deployment cycles.

Adoption of the nucleus crew concept for CONUS-based combatants and amphibious warfare vessels would protect valuable force structure from budget cuts, provide additional flexibility in ensuring deployed ships are fully manned and afford some cost savings in personnel. Disadvantages include less flexibility in responding to crisis operations, a less cohesive training plan for nucleus crew ships since 40% of the crew is absent for a large part of the deployment cycle, and less ability to use nucleus crew ships in home waters. The one overriding argument for this plan however is that is preserves surface fleet force structure, albeit in reduced capacity rather than losing it wholesale to budget cuts. Quantity has a quality all its own, and in order to effectively police the “global common spaces”, the U.S. Navy must preserve the force structure necessary to achieve sea control when and where required by national command authority. The Navy can recruit and train new sailors with reasonable speed and efficiency.  Once ships however are “mothballed” or scrapped, it may take a decade or more for replacement units to reach the fleet. Adoption of the nucleus crew concept by the U.S. Navy would ensure retention of valuable surface units in a continuing period of fiscal austerity.

For more on the nucleus crew concept, see Lazarus’ post at Information Dissemination.