Thursday, October 17, 2013

Deployment Length

Here’s a quick check on deployment lengths over the last few years.  Shown below is the percentage of deployments that exceeded 6 months and, in parentheses, the longest deployment for that year.

2008    12%    (7 months)
2010    35%    (8 months)
2012    56%    (10.5 months)

The data is taken from the annual USNI Proceedings Naval Review issue for the corresponding year.  There is a bit of ambiguity in some of the reported deployments and the data isn’t complete but it shouldn’t change the percentages more than a few points one way or the other.

The data clearly shows that deployments are still trending sharply upward despite the attention that CNO says is being paid to the issue.  While the Navy claims that re-enlistments have not been markedly affected it is reasonable to assume that there is an upper limit beyond which it will have an effect.

Further, the rate of cross-decking of personnel which effectively doubles deployment lengths is also increasing significantly.  CNO and MCPON have stated that they are watching this trend closely.  I would offer CNO this free bit of advice:  stop watching and start doing something about it!

CNO has stated that average deployments will increase to around 8 months with some scheduled for 8-10 months.  The impact on family life and subsequent re-enlistment rates seems obvious.

Deployment lengths are increasing because the fleet is shrinking while demand from the Combatant Commanders is increasing.  Despite this obvious mismatch between demand and resources, the Navy remains firmly on a construction/retirement path leading to a continually shrinking fleet.  Does this make sense to anyone? 


  1. It makes perfect sense when you consider the motivation or reward for the CNO et al. If reenlistments go down, they can claim they need additional money either to A) offer bonuses to keep folks, or B) to get more ships. In either case the CNO gets rewarded by getting control over more money and/or ships. This makes his post retirement Defense Contracotr Board job hunt much more rewarding. FOLLOW THE MONEY but you will always be right behind the CNO.

  2. "CNO has stated that average deployments will increase to around 8 months with some scheduled for 8-10 months. The impact on family life and subsequent re-enlistment rates seems obvious."


    I'm not so sure the impact on reenlistment rates is obvious. Consider:

    a. Look at the options. The job market on the civilian side for a 19-22 year old with no college education is not very good.

    b. Even for those who dislike long deployments, sea-duty is temporary. It's not like you're doing 8-10 month deployments forever.

    c. This is speaking purely from my experience in naval aviation (1997-2003) -but deployments were actually a lot more rewarding than home-cycle. Of course - your results may vary.

    I think the major concern is physical wear and tear on the ships and aircraft. We should probably curtail deployments which add little measurable benefit to US national security.

    The Somalia counter-piracy patrol (CTF-150) would be #1 on my list. It's ship-intensive and really not doing much good. #2 would probably be anything related to SOUTHCOM.

    1. Anon, of course the impact of longer deployments is obvious. People wear out. Families are strained by short deployments and longer ones only make the home life situation worse. The military has suggested, though not released any solid statistics that I'm aware of, that suicides and non-traumatic PTSD are increasing. There is a threshold above which deployments will affect re-enlistments. I don't know where that point is but it can't be far from where we're at.

      The deployment data clearly shows that we're on track for routine 8-10 month deployments and, as I pointed out, CNO has stated that we're begining to schedule 8-10 month deployments. We'll start seeing 10-12 month deployments soon.

      No doubt there are some single, gung-ho types who enjoy the heck out of deployments no matter how long but they're the minority.

      Your point about wear and tear on ships and aircraft is correct and the effect will be amplified by CNO's decision to defer maintenance on ships while the sequester and budget cuts are in effect.

    2. I didn't argue the fact that we are on a vector for longer deployments. But I doubt we'll see routine 12 month deployments. Ship & aircraft maintenance skeds will ensure that doesn't happen.

      Wouldn't by definition one have to experience a 'traumatic' event to experience PTSD? Outside of a few SEALs, corpsman assigned to the USMC and naval aviators - most aren't getting shot at.

      And I think you are perhaps exaggerating the impact of longer deployments on retention.

      Per CRS report "Recruiting and Retention: An Overview of
      FY2011 and FY2012 Results for Active and Reserve Component Enlisted Personnel" (Kapp, May 10, 2013) Navy active duty retention rates in Fiscal Year 2012 were as follows:

      Zone A (0-6 yrs of service): 105% of quota
      Zone B (6-10 yrs of service) 95% of quota
      Zone C (10-14 yrs of service) 147% of quota.

      The problem isn't keeping people in. The poor civil job market and ample military benefits/retirement package vastly outweigh the pain of longer deployments.

      The above, couple with the lack of growth in personnel end-strength, is going to ensure that the Navy will have way more qualified applicants for reenlistment than billets.

    3. Anon, read the post a bit closer. I acknowledged that re-enlistment rates are OK, currently. I'm not exaggerating the effects of longer deployments on re-enlistment, I'm SPECULATING that rates would be adversely affected if the trend continues beyond an unspecified limit. Common sense dictates that. Would anyone re-enlist knowing they were going to face a five year deployment? No. So, the question is where, between 8 months and 5 years is the tipping point. There's no question that there is a limit, the only question is where that upper limit is.

      You doubt we'll see routine 12 month deployments. Five years ago you probably would have doubted we'd see routine 8-10 month deployments. The trend is clear and the factors influencing the trend continue to worsen not improve. Fleet size is decreasing and demand is increasing. What is it that leads you to have faith that we won't see 12 month deployments?

      Perhaps a better term than non-traumatic PTSD is "combat fatigue", although we don't use that term anymore. It's the simple cumulative effect of the unrelenting stress of combat and/or deployments. People need mental breaks. Industry has long recognized this and actually enforces vacation periods on employees. Prolonged deployments (prolonged work, for that matter) leads to mental breakdown. I don't just mean hysterical fits but symptoms of stress, uncertainty, fear, poor judgement, irrational decisions, paranoia, etc. This is just basic phychology.

  3. Your statement was that the impact (of 8-10 month deployments) on family life and subsequent re-enlistment rates seems obvious. It is not as obvious as you may think. For example: reenlistment rates for ships deployed during the Desert Shield/Storm period (8 months) actually increased.

    And as I stated earlier, one cannot weigh the reenlistment decision in a vacuum. Even with 8-10 month deployments, the benefits of a Navy career (financial, retirement, health, etc.) often outweigh the stress of long deployments. Or the uncertainty of the civilian job market.

    I’ve already stated why I believe we won’t see routine 12-month deployments. The hardware (aircraft and ships) simply won’t support it. Aircraft especially so. We will reach that breaking point far before we reach any personnel breaking point.

    Demand for forces will ALWAYS increase. That’s the nature of our (flawed) system – COCOM’s don’t really have to concern themselves with supply. There would be piles of unfulfilled requests for naval forces even with a force of 600 ships.

    So to me the issue is less about increasing supply and more about realistically addressing demand. We have what I would consider as far too many non-essential deployments. For example: I’m not sure why we are breaking our backs to hunt pirates off Somalia.

    Deployment fatigue and combat fatigue are simply not the same thing. One cannot begin to compare 8-10 months on ship (with warm baths, TV, etc.) against a 7-month combat deployment with a grunts. And even with 8 month deployments, there are liberty breaks and other opportunities for relaxation.

    1. You're entitled to your opinion and I won't debate it further. You do, however, bring up a couple of very good points that merit recognition.

      You state that you believe we will reach the breaking point for equipment (ships and planes) before we reach a deployment limit. Essentially, you're saying that the physical condition of equipment provides a self-limiting brake on deployment lengths. That's an interesting take on the issue. Given the widespread equipment problems throughout the fleet (Aegis degradation, parts shortages, increasing INSURV failure rates, premature aging of aircraft, etc.) do you think it's possible we're already at or beyond the breaking point?

      You mention the demand load and suggest that we should say no to some requests. I completely agree. If that makes sense to you and I, why do you think the Navy insists on increasing deployment lengths rather than declining requests?

    2. Oh, I didn't consider it a debate. I may disagree on the severity and what will actually break the fleet (maintenance vs. personnel) - but I wholeheartedly agree with you that our deployment vector is unsustainable.

      I can’t speak too much to the ship maintenance side. My impression is that there’s a bit more ‘slop’ in ship’s service life than aircraft. A ship generally doesn’t sink if you delay a few maintenance procedures. In contrast, aircraft require major depot work about every 18 months. If you slide into year-long deployments, it rapidly becomes a scheduling nightmare and a safety-of-flight issue.

      I think what it boils down to is that the Navy is the force provider. The COCOMs are the customer. And the customer is always right! The Navy looks at what the COCOMs request and try their best to meet it. There is no incentive to say ‘no’ – in fact saying no can be very detrimental to one’s career prospects. Unless the dyanmic changes, we may very well keep deploying ships and aircraft -- even if that means that in the long-term we risk breaking the force.

      It just doesn’t strike me that anyone is looking at this holistically or long-term, other than perhaps a few think-tanks and bloggers! I have no idea how to fix this problem, although I do need to get smarter on the Navy’s General Board (1900-1951).

      The Board was a collection of retiring/retired flag officers who exercised a fairly wide-mandate on strategy and fleet requirements. There’s something to be said for having Navy folks who aren’t ingrained in Flag/GO politics driving the direction of the fleet.

    3. You're quite correct in stating that no one seems to be looking at this long term. Navy leadership is wholly focused on new construction to the detriment of everything else. I've noted the trend but I have no explanation for it.

      Cynically, one could argue that pursuing marginal CoCom requests actually serves Navy's purpose, if one believes that the Navy's purpose is new construction. The more wear and tear on ship/planes, the more justification for new ones!

      As far as the General Board, I've addressed that, here, if you haven't already seen it.

    4. Anon, you might also want to read "The Altar of New Construction", if you haven't yet.

    5. Anon, co-incidentally, I just stumbled across this data from the site. A survey of naval personnel showed that 82% reported feeling some or a lot of stress compared to 74% in 2009 and 58% in 2005. That trend exactly mirrors the deployment length trend. It might be co-incidence but it's a pretty reasonable assumption to make a connection between the two. Also, the Navy Times website reports today that "operational stress control" training has now been added as a pre-deployment training topic. I think my case is getting stronger!

  4. With regards to force management:

    Our global force manangement system is very much focused on short-term demand vice long-term supply. And there is really no incentive for the Navy to preserve its forces and/or deny a COCOM request.

    I hadn't seen your posting on the General Board. Thanks for the link.

    To the manpower issues:.

    1. Correlation is not causation. One could also argue that the stress mirrors the global financial crisis, or any number of outside factors. I'd be interested in the statisical methodlogy (sample sizes, questions, etc.)

    2. The military is not supposed to be a stress-free occupation. I am not being callous, but if just over half of sailors were experiencing stress in 2005, then perhaps that reflects some 'slack' in the system?

    3. It's not surprising that sailors are under increasing stress. But the key questions are (a) how/if stress impacts job performance and (b) how/if it will impact recruiting and retention.

    (a) The impact on job performance is indeterminate. I've seen studies among aviators that shows stress actually increases clarity and perception, and that over time the negative impacts of stress becomes less acute. It might seem somewhat callous, but the human mind/body is very resilient.

    (b). 've made my views clear on the potential impacts on recruiting and retention. At the risk of repeating myself:

    - With longer deployments, life in the Navy will certainly become more onerous for sailors and their families. No question there.

    - However, the benefits of enlistment in both the short term (pay, travel, education, housing, etc.) and long term (retirement, health care, etc.) are still very good.

    - There are few occupations in the civil sector that provide the same 'total compensation package' and potential for advancement as a miliary career. Particularly to an 18-yr old high school graduate with no real skills.

    1. Neither the survey nor I stated that the increased stress was related to increasing deployments. The survey didn't address it at all and I stated that the trends could, indeed, be coincidence. I also suggested that it would not be unreasonable to suspect a correlation. A separate survey or experiment of some sort would be required to determine whether a causal link existed.

      While the military (or any other occupation, for that matter) is not supposed to be stress-free, neither should it be continual stress. Stress can, indeed, produce SHORT TERM benefits. A variety of chemicals are released by the body in response to stress. They're intended to help the organism deal with the cause of the stress - the fight or flight phenomenon, for example. Medical and psychological studies have clearly shown that long term stress is debilitating. The same chemicals that can produce a short term benefit produce long term negative effects. The classic overcrowded mice experiment shows the effects of stress due to high population density (a ship? hmm...) on mice that otherwise have all the food and other necessities they need in abundance. They all wind up sickly (but not pathologically sick), weak, and die early.

      You seem to agree with me. You agree that longer deployments will become more onerous, to use your word, for sailors and their families. Obviously, at some point, some percentage of sailors are going to opt for family over Navy and re-enlistments will suffer. We seem to disagree only on where that point is. I think we're very close to it while you seem to think we have a ways to go, yet. Fair enough. Time will tell.

      Hadn't seen the posting?!!?? Each and every post is gem that drips with wisdom and insight (be careful, the wisdom is sticky and can be hard to get off the keyboard!). Going back to the start of the blog and reading every post is a requirement to be well thought of in polite society! In addition, your career will benefit, your circle of friends will expand, and you will experience a small but statistically significant increase in the likelihood of winning the lottery. Well worth the effort to get caught up on the blog!

  5. “You seem to agree with me. You agree that longer deployments will become more onerous, to use your word, for sailors and their families. Obviously, at some point, some percentage of sailors are going to opt for family over Navy and re-enlistments will suffer."


    I agree that longer deployment and the increased stress may have an impact on the micro scale (i.e. an individual's choice to join and/or remain in the Navy). But I disagree on the impact on recruiting and retention and the macro level. You have to consider the overall supply and demand factors, for both new recruits and retained Sailors.


    - Navy's current recruiting goals are around 36,000 enlisted personnel per year. On the face of it, that seems like a huge number. However, the US has a military-age population (ages 18-35) of ~45 million. Essentially we only need something around 1 in 1,000 military-age Americans to join the Navy each year.

    - The Navy offers incredibly generous pay and benefits. You’re guaranteed to make $1,600/month in base salary out of boot camp. Add to that would be basic housing allowance and sea-duty pay. An E-4 in Norfolk would probably be taking home about $30-35K/year.

    - Added to the above are a wealth of other benefits: 30-days leave/yr; additional money for dependents; and free medical care for you and dependents. The total compensation package for a junior Navy sailor is really quite generous.

    - Conversely, 18-year old US high school grads face an increasingly uncertain civilian job market. There are incredibly few jobs where an 18-year old with only a high-school degree can make $50K/yr in total compensation -- let alone the benefits.


    - Over the last five years, the Navy has had to DENY reenlistments to many qualified Sailors. Like it or not, the Navy is not getting any bigger. The trend indicates that a lot more Sailors want to stay in than there are available E-6/7 enlisted billets.

    - The total pay/benefits for an E-5 with four years of service approaches $50K/yr. Again, it would be extremely hard for a 23-25 year old with no college degree to make that sort of money anywhere else.

    - One also has to consider the ‘vested interest’ aspect. There is no retirement system in the world as generous as the US military. You can retire at 20 years and take-home a generous portion of your active duty income. And free health care for life. And access to DOD facilities worldwide. This has impacts on both recruiting and retention.

    Bottom line: It just strikes me as very unlikely that we won't be able to keep the Navy fully manned. Not unless the economy takes an upswing or the miliary completely cuts its compenstaion package.

    A final observation: the Navy had little problem with recruiting or retention during the '30s - the last major economic crisis. And many Sailors back then spent months and years on forward deployment (i.e. China Station).

    1. Your points are well taken (and well written!). No doubt the current trend in personnel downsizing combined with the poor general economy will continue to produce enough overall numbers for the Navy for some time, yet. However, my post was not about overall numbers, only re-enlistment rates. Of course, at some point the two become linked.

      Consider what type of sailor we want. Regarding recruits, we want the best in terms of intelligence, aptitude, physical attributes, and, to the extent possible, actual pre-Navy education or skills. A poor economy doesn't preclude the best kids from gaining civilian employment, it affects the less desirable and less skilled disproportionately. That means the Navy will be getting the less desirable recruites, as an overall group. Consider the overall quality of the Navy work force in the Viet Nam and post Viet Nam years where drug use, race problems, lack of motivation, and overall poor performance were rampant. The Navy maintained overall numbers but the best and brightest voted with their feet and left in droves. But, I digress ...

      My point was re-enlistment rates. The Navy wants to retain trained sailors with years of experience. "Years" inevitably translates to family life. Sailors (officer or enlisted) with years of experience and training have a fair shot at civilian employment (depending on the rate, they may be highly sought after!). Combine this with the stress on family life from excessive deployments and you have a reasonable expectation of reduced re-enlistments.

      It's re-enlistments that make the Navy work, not recruits. Take the extreme case, if no one re-enlisted for the next twenty years, the Navy would cease to function. By the time a recruit was barely qualified for his first assignment he'd be leaving. We need Aegis techs with 10-20 years of experience not an endless wave of new recruits.

      Your points are well taken but common sense dictates that as conditions worsen in the Navy, re-enlistments will suffer. It's possible that new recruits will offset the drop in re-enlistments as far as total numbers go but they can't offset the loss of experience and skills. Indeed, I hear regularly from my contacts across the Navy that the phenomenon I'm describing is already happening. Experienced, skilled techs are in short supply, the average age of Chiefs and POs is getting younger, the Navy is indiscriminately separating skilled positions, and the Navy is losing capability from its aggregate work force. Anecdotal evidence, to be sure, but compelling, nonetheless.

      I also see a difference between deployments and forward deployment to a permanent base where the sailor can take his family. I'm addressing the effect of ship deployments, only.

      In 10 or 15 years we'll know how this turned out. Until then, we'll have to disagree! Thanks for a good discussion.


Comments will be moderated for posts older than 7 days in order to reduce spam.