Monday, August 11, 2014

Minimal Manning

The LCS is in the fleet.  The Zumwalt and Ford will be joining the fleet in the next few years.  What do they have in common?  -They’re all minimally manned.  OK, so what?

Minimal manning means that there are no spare crewmembers.  Only the absolutely necessary watch functions or battle stations are manned.  Well, that’s the way it should be, right?  In this time of constrained budgets the Navy has to cut personnel costs and minimal manning is the obvious way to do it.

Well, what happens when you take a few near misses in combat and lose several crewmembers to shrapnel wounds or other injury?  The ship is relatively undamaged and still mission capable but now you’re down several crew.  A minimally manned ship has no spare crew and no unnecessary functions or battle stations.  How do you fill the manning holes?  Do you have to return to port due to lack of crew?  Have we reached a point where the enemy can achieve a mission kill simply by wounding a few crew???

What happens when the ship takes some damage?  Flooding and a fire, perhaps.  Nothing immediately fatal but requiring damage control efforts.  Where do the damage control parties come from since there are no extra crew?  If crew are pulled from active functions to provide damage control how do we fill the missing functions and how does the ship continue to operate?  Do you have to return to port or, at best, immediately halt your mission at the first sign of non-fatal damage?  Have we reached a point where minor damage is an automatic mission kill?

I’m sure someone is going to offer the comment that in war we’ll add additional crew.  Really?  The entire fleet is moving to minimal manning.  The current fleet is something like 15% gapped in sea billets, right now, according to the Navy.  There are no spare crewmembers lying around.  In addition, service on an LCS requires a year long, specialized training program.  You can’t just grab random sailors and throw them on an LCS.  Finally, come war, the LCS is going to be at the bottom of the priority list.  No one is going to pull sailors away from Burkes and carriers to man LCSs.  For better or worse, the LCS is going to fight with a minimally manned crew.

The preceding applies equally to the Zumwalt, Ford, or any other ship that is minimally manned.

Consider the accidental explosions and fires that ravaged the Enterprise and Forrestal.  The only thing that saved those carriers was large numbers of excess crew that were available for damage control efforts.  The same was true of the Stark and Cole, among other notable examples.

Do we really want to be writing off billion dollar ships due to lack of crew for effective damage control?  Do we really want to accept mission kills due to a few injuries or minor damage?  The Navy has made some epically poor decisions over the last couple decades but minimal manning may be worst of all.


  1. Where do you get your minimal manned crew?

    The old system had the crew get technical training at school but almost all other training was onboard ship. That is in part why the crew was so large, many were under instruction in one billet or another.

    Minimal Manning requires each crew member reporting aboard to be fully trained, ready to take over their job in the watch station, their work center, their damage control duties, etc

    To get such sailors you will need far more extensive shore based training and maybe even dedicated training ships.

    To keep such highly trained sailors will require new ways to reward them with higher pay, higher rank, special detailing so that their training is not wasted. There will have to be a large shore component with instructors, trainees, personnel available to be sent TAD to fill gaps, technical and administrative personnel to do jobs that the small crew cannot do.

    Costs will probably exceed the cost of submarine crews since from what I understand they are not fully qualified when reporting aboard but do their final quals on board, minimal manning does not even give that ability since there is not enough crew to allow trainees.

  2. Even at minimal manning US ships are significantly over manned compared to the rest of NATO
    My understanding was the USN would have a guy to decrypt incoming comm, a guy to distribute around the ship, and a third guy to encrypt outgoing
    The rest of NATO just has a comms guy.

    If the crew are cross trained and the workstations allow it, there is still a lot of slack

    Assuming I'm right

  3. Interesting piece and one that has concerned Britain for recent years.
    Type 45 Daring Class AAW Destroyer c.8000t 191 crew
    Arleigh Burke Class AAW Destroyer c.8000t 300+ crew
    Now it’s not a direct comparison as Arleigh Burke is more multi role.
    If you look at the Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carrier (70,000 t) the crew is the same as an Invincible Class (22,000t) 1000 sailors ( ish )
    How ? Massive Automation. QE literally has robots running around the bottom 3 decks transferring stores and ordanance through secured locations and watertight compartments. In a system euphemistically called “dial a bomb”
    Now there are advantages to this beyond the literal pay checks. Less sailors means less hotel services, food water supplies and logistic chain. The logistics alone reduce the man power bill by several factors. And can have a tactical advantage. Less sailors also means less sailors to get hurt. We really don’t have them running about all over the place any more, they tend to be sat at nice consoles poking buttons. All exterior guns are pretty much automated now down to 30mm cannons and things like torpedo launchers are internal and automated.
    But yes 100% agree, what the hell happens when you need damage control, A certain amount is now automated. Fire fighting etc. But if you have a hull breach and your taking on water, there is no substitute, you have to have a team to plug the hole.
    Now its not WW2 here. in modern warfare is a ship going to take this kind of damage ? or are we saying that if something gets through the defences, then that’s that! We don’t after all make huge armoured ships any more.
    I’m nervous.

    1. Ben, automated fire fighting has been a goal of industry and the military for many years. Industry experience has shown, overwhelmingly, that automated fire fighting is only effective in dealing with minor fires (trash fires and the like) and in setting a boundary for a brief time while initial responders are assembling. For a major fire, whatever started the fire (inevitably an explosion) always destroys the local automated fire fighting equipment.

  4. The biggest issue all modern western militaries face is cost. Probably the biggest fixed cost we have is manpower, assuming we can actually recruit enough people to fill all the billets. Demographics and living costs are not helping. Skilled people are getting ever more expensive to recruit, train and retain.

    Anyone who suggests that these factors do not inexorably lead to reductions in manning probably spends a lot of time licking windows. Or believes that budgets are infinite.

    That said, there is also a point in manning below which the load on those serving becomes intolerable. That's why you need a happy medium, but it has to be balanced against cost.

    On the damage control issue, you can still have enough people to form sizeable firefighting and repair parties. What you're not doing is sending teams into compartments to discover whether there is any damage. That's the biggest mnapower driver and that can (in general) be replaced by sensors / monitors.

    1. As you rightly point out, cost is a factor and can't be totally ignored. That said, the purpose of the navy is to fight and that requires a certain manning level in order to fight effectively. While business cases and accounting ledgers are factors, they can't be the driving force behind manning. Combat requirements have to be the driving force. Otherwise, we'll wind up with a very cost effective fleet that can't fight effectively.

      I don't know, and can't address, the RN manning situation but the USN is currently has about 15% unfilled sea billets so the fleet is already undermanned compared to what is required. While we don't yet know about the Ford and Zumwalt minimal manning impact, we do know that the LCS has been shown to be 50%-100% undermanned just for routine operations - combat and damage control will make the situation even worse. The USN manning pendulum has swung from, arguably, overmanned twenty years ago to hugely undermanned today. The USN has yet to find the happy medium, as you point out. Worse, the USN has forgotten the lessons of combat and damage control (read the stories of the Enterprise, Forrestal, and Stark damage control efforts to see the overwhelming importance of crew size in damage control efforts!) and don't seem to even recognize that combat effectiveness shoud be the driving force.

      Failure to provide a properly manned ship risks losing billion dollar ships to lesser damage and risks cheap mission kills to crew depletion and minor damage.

      Additionally, the USN is steadily reducing its manning simply through significant reductions in fleet size. We've gone from around 300 ships to around 275 over just the last several years. That's around 25 crews worth of manning reductions just due to fewer ships.

      To be fair, I think you get all this and I'm largely re-iterating the main points of the post. Thanks for stopping by!

    2. It's far from being about accountants and ledgers. The reason you've got 15% gapped billets is because the Navy can't attract sufficient people to fill them, or more precisely while people are coming in, more people are leaving because of the op tempo. Happened to you guys post Vietnam, is happening this side of the pond now.

      Your description of minimal manning could do with a tweak as well.

      You know what watchkeeping systems are I assume? Do you think the guys who are nominally off-watch just stay in their racks when GQ is piped? That's where a lot of your DC parties come from for starters.

    3. Except reports on the LCS have already stated that they've been pulling personnel from the mission modules for watchkeeping, since they didn't even have enough people for that.

    4. Question for the professional

      Are specialist, such as minewarfare experts, ASW experts, and other specialty expected to stand watch like other naval personel?

    5. Watchkeeping isn't just people on the bridge or in HQ1.

      Watchkeeping is everyone who has a job to do in normal operations, from helmsman to radar operator to sonar operator to gunner to comms number to cook to stoker. You usually have three watches worth of most billets (two watches for some), including specialists, with the other two watches either off duty or sleeping.

      Wouldn't read too much into the LCS manning. Ships - especially new ones with new operating concepts always take time to get right.

    6. Not a Boffin: "On the damage control issue, you can still have enough people to form sizeable firefighting and repair parties. What you're not doing is sending teams into compartments to discover whether there is any damage. That's the biggest mnapower driver and that can (in general) be replaced by sensors / monitors."


      This vastly understates the case.

      Crew exhaustion after the attacks on the USS Stark and USS Roberts was a very real factor. Both ships were saved largely due to the heroic efforts of the crews.

      The classified after action report on the Stark led directly to significant crew augmentation during Earnest Will missions. it was not unusual for FFG-7s to deploy with upwards of 240-250 plus sailors. This made FFGs look more like WWII destroyers in manning.


    7. The various reports on the Stark, Enterprise, Forrestal, Roberts, etc. make it abundantly clear that large numbers of crew for damage control are absolutely vital for successful results. GAB makes the very good point that damage control generally lasts for many hours and is physically demanding. Damage control parties need to be rotated in and out on a frequent basis and crew recovery/rest time becomes a huge factor. In addition, large numbers of additional crew are needed to collect and tend the injured beyond just the limited medical staff. And, of course, if the ship is still in contested waters, sufficient crew must be available to continue fighting the ship while damage control measures progress.

    8. And the classified AAR post Falklands and for HMS Nottingham also assigned survival to highly trained DC parties. The same factors were identified re duration and physical demands. None of which get away from the facts that :

      a) The Navy (either side of the pond) cannot recruit (and more importantly retain) enough people to man the existing ships. Increases are therefore unlikely, even if they had the budgets to do so.
      b) Accommodation standards are getting more demanding in western navies (primarily to address some of the retention issues), which means that more bodies equals even bigger (and more expensive) ships.
      c) Putting fingers in the ears and going "la la la we need more bodies" is not going to help matters, given a and b above.

      That means people will have to use smarter manning schemes taht address the shortage in supply of people and money and therefore use them where they can provide the best effect, namely physical DC activities - (shoring, welding, casualty recovery) compartment re-entry and system repair. That means having better designed systems that are easier to repair physically, more robust to damage, but probbaly more expensive. There are no free solutions.

    9. NaB, I can't address the RN's personnel issues but the USN has no personnel/recruiting issues. Recruitment goals are easily met and, in fact, are artificially capped. We could recruit more if we wished. Further, the USN has undergone multiple forced separation (layoff) programs over the last decade. Add to that the potential to free up thousands of personnel by judicious reallocation (eliminate 80% of the Flag staffs, for instance) and it's apparent that numbers of personnel are not a limiting factor. We had no problem manning a 600 ship navy a few decades ago. Of course, the irony is that the fleet sails with a 15% gapped billet problem. The issue for the USN is not numbers, it's training. We're not producing the right categories of people.

      As I said, I don't profess to know the RN's issues, if any, but the USN could, potentially, fully man many more ships than we currently have and do so quite easily.

    10. "the USN has no personnel/recruiting issues"

      A statement completely at odds with your 15% gapped billlet problem, which indicates a significant issue, probably in retention, just like ours - see comment above.

      It's also apparent that you may not fully understand what Flag staff are for and more importantly what they offer, particularly in terms of personnel retention. They're not a bunch of Admirals flunkies you know...........

    11. NaB, I'll try one more time and then let it go. As I explained in the preceding comment. The Navy's gapped billets are not due to lack of numbers, they're due to failure to train personnel to the required jobs. The Navy has involuntarily separated (layoffs) many thousands of personnel over the last decade - personnel who could have filled gapped billets had they had the requisite training. The Navy's personnel levels have dropped by tens of thousands over the last few decades due to drawdowns, not failure to recruit. I'll repeat, we had no problem manning a 600 ship fleet. Recruiting sufficient numbers is not even remotely a problem.

      Regarding Flag staff, if the Admiral's position is worthwhile then the staff is, too. However, the Navy has a large number of jobs that are Flag staffed and don't need to be. A job that can be filled by a Captain doesn't need an Admiral and staff. I've stated that the Navy should cut 80% of the Flag positions (Admiral included). The Navy has stated at various times that they would like to cut around 33% - though they never actually do.

      Numbers are not an issue. We are not anywhere near a recruitment limit. Again, I refer you to the 600 ship fleet manning levels and nothing suggested that those were recruitment limited.

    12. Do you understand what the term retention means? Let me help you, it's when trained, experienced sailors - often in highly skilled engineering or other technical roles - decide (after a decade or so's service) that the quality of life in the service isn't sufficient for them. And leave. In droves. Particularly when you have fewer ships trying to do a similar set of deployments to those in the past.

      The "Training gap" you refer to is not "training" per se, but rather a shortage of people approaching that mid-career level with the necessary experience to go on those courses. You can't just put new meat through those courses and expect to get the required combination of skills and experience out. Meantime, the load on the remaining mid-level career guys (and girls) increases and their QoL drops too. And they leave, compounding the problem. Vicious circle - happened in the post Vietnam era too.

      Some people suit gankplank to gangplank careers, you'll find they are in the minority. Most want to get married and have kids, which they can't do on back to back deployments, which (funnily enough) is where shore tours (often found in Flag Staffs) come in. If those don't exist, the opportunity for a couple of years of stability while the kids are pre-school, in-school etc is very limited. In a world where engineering and IT skills (just like those you learn in the Navy) attract good salaries outside - particularly for people with a decade or so's experience - lots of people can (and apparently have been) voting with their feet. Your involuntary separation figures will I suspect include a large number of folk who would have got out anyway, but were waiting for the compensation package that comes with involuntary release.

      Which brings me to the 600 ship Navy. Remember it well, although it never actually reached that level for long (if at all) if memory serves. Back end of the 80s IIRC and a very different world outside to that we have now. Harping on that you could man 600 ships in the 80s and 90s is of limited relevance now - it's not the raw numbers, it's where they are in the career bracket that's the issue.

  5. I an going to create another short hand term to simplify my discussion

    Economic mission kill

    Definition: the lost of a access due to the inability to operate it because of economic reason. Example are, the early retirement of the Spruance destroyers because the Navy needed money elsewhere, the cancelation of the CG(x) cruiser because of projected costs and the inability to conduct operations due to the lack of crew or other resources because of lack of funds.

    Economic mission kill is just as deadly to the navy as an other type of mission kill due to combat. Those vessels lost to the fleet, and can only be recovered with the cost of time and money. This is why maintaining fleets economic health is important in maintaining the Navy's end strength.

    The bring me to the practice of over manning. Some claim over manning is required if a ship is damaged to provide damage control. Yes having extra crew does help there. But over manning that's up a great amount of the Navy's resources, which reduces it end strength in number of ships. In effect you are in effect sinking two ships to possible save one.

    1. So you avoid economic mission kill, but send a insufficiently capable ship and it really gets killed along with its crew, and doesn't accomplish the mission. Much better choice.

    2. A much better example of economic mission kill in my opinion, is the weapon system that is so expensive, you can't afford to lose it so you don't deploy it. The F-22 & F-35 are great examples.

      Randall Rapp

  6. One comparison is with military planes. In WWII, the B-17 heavy bomber had a crew of 10, while the B-29 heavy bomber had a crew of 11. The later B-52 heavy bomber had a crew of 5 or 6 depending on the variant, the B-1 heavy bomber a crew of 4, and the most recent heavy bomber, the B-2, a crew of just 2. This looks like a similar trend toward "minimal manning".

    1. JI, do you see any differences between bomber manning and ship manning that might impact what I think is your point?

    2. When the plane is damaged, you just eject and get a new one?

    3. JI, partly, yes. The aircraft is a true throwaway platform. There is no damage control possible. Further, there is no replacement crew requirement. If a crewmember is incapacitated, that function is lost until the plane either crashes or returns to base. Thus, the crew size requirement is strictly limited to the immediate functions of the aircraft.

      Finally, the aircraft is a limited duration platform with a mission time of hours as opposed to a ship with mission times of weeks. Additional crew for 24/7 manning is not needed.

      Going back to your original comment, aircraft have evolved smaller crews simply due to better electronics and automation. There is no need for any of the ship crew needs like damage control, attrition replacement, 24/7 watchstanding, etc. In fact, the aircraft has reached the point of zero crew in the form of UAVs.

      It's one thing to be willing to write off a $50M-$150M aircraft. It's another to be willing to write off a multi-billion dollar ship due to want of a few extra crew.

  7. Excellent post. I might at that OP tempo is killing retention and that all the politically correct training for sexual harassment and alternate "life style" choices really eats up training time to actually learn your job.


    You will like this article.

  9. I think a better example than the bomber would be the cargo jet.

    Originally with a large crew, now it has a tiny crew, and a private security guard, and recently a dude snuck on in the wheel well and died.
    Coulda been a bomb.

    Its really hard.
    In my view, the problem is caused by the split role the ships are forced in to.

    On the one hand, we have the balls out guns blazing countermeasures blaring ships burning ect. Where everyman is needed several time over
    One the other, we have the "presence" mission, where ships need little more crewing than an equivalently sized pleasure yacht. Less even.

    My solution to this of course is to do away with "Presence" missions
    Gear the Navy to providing overwhelming force with a few days notice.


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