Monday, June 25, 2018

The Inefficiency of Manning

Reduced manning is the Holy Grail of the U.S. Navy for reasons that, frankly, elude me and have never made sense.  Manning, of course, really means operating costs.  Men cost money.  That’s certainly true.  The Navy presumably believes that if they can reduce manning costs they can buy more hulls which is what today’s Navy leadership believes is their reason for being.  This is a somewhat dubious argument since manning costs come from a different budget line than ship construction.  If manning were somehow, magically, reduced to zero, there would be no automatic, corresponding increase in ship construction funding.  Sure, the Navy could go to Congress and make an argument for reallocating some/all of the now-zero manning costs into ship construction and they might well get Congressional buy-in, at least to some extent.  The fact remains, though, that there is no direct link between manning and construction funding so the mindless, zealous pursuit of manning reductions makes no sense.

The fleet size is steadily decreasing so manning availability shouldn’t be a problem although I note a consistent shortfall in manned billets throughout the fleet for the last several years.  I attribute that to poor manpower utilization rather than a lack of manpower.

All of this is interesting but is not the point of the post.  The point of the post is that manning for a warship is not a very efficient operation.  A warship is built for – that’s right – war.  In war, we need extra manning over and above that needed to simply sail the ship.  We need extra manning to conduct damage control, replace casualties during battle, and man battle stations that are not normally manned during non-combat situations.  Carrying these extra men is, inherently, an inefficient process since they are only needed on those rare occasions that a ship is in combat.  However, when that moment comes, those extra men are vital and may well make the difference between a sunk a ship and one that lives to fight again.  They may also be the difference between a ship that can continue to fight hurt and one that quits at the first hit.

Consider the LCS, the poster child for reduced manning.  The Navy’s official position is the ship cannot and will not fight hurt.  At the first significant hit, the crew will abandon ship.  Why?  Well, setting aside the lack of survivability in the class, there simply aren’t enough crew to conduct effective damage control, replace casualties, and, simultaneously, continue to fight.  Thus, the only option is to abandon ship.  The Zumwalt is the same – a 600 ft long, 15,000 ton ship that will have to be abandoned at the first hit due to insufficient manning.

Well, maybe we can get by with reduced manning during peace time and increase manning during war.  Setting aside the inability to simply “bump up” manning in a modern, high tech ship that requires years of training to master the various jobs, there’s the fact that combat is always just a moment away, even during peace. 

In fact, combat isn’t even necessary to expose the dangers of minimal manning.  For example, the Port Royal ran aground, in part, because the lookouts that should have spotted the danger were serving food in the galley due to manning shortages.  The Cole suffered a terrorist attack and massive explosion while in port, during peace time.  The two recent Burke collisions had inadequate lookouts due to manpower shortages.

Manning a warship is a very inefficient operation but an absolutely vital one to ensure its ability to carry out the function it exists for.  Manning is very inefficient but also very effective.  A warship is not a business case and only idiots, such as Navy leadership, would attempt to design and operate one as such.

As a reminder, we once had a 600 ship fleet and managed to man it and yet, somehow, we can not afford to man a 280 ship fleet today?  I trust you can see the logical inconsistency there and I don’t have to belabor it?

Consider the Samuel B Roberts (mine), Stark (Exocet), Enterprise (fire, bombs), Cole (bomb), and Forrestal (fire, bombs) – each was severely damaged and all survived.  The number one attribute that saved each of them was manning – manning well over and above that required to simply sail the ship during peacetime.  Damage control is, essentially, a manpower exercise and the more men you have, the better the ship’s chance of survival.

The Navy currently has around 325,000 active duty officers and enlisted personnel plus another 210,000 civilian employees.  The fleet needs around 140,000 personnel to man the ships (280 ships at 500 crew per ship, as a wild estimate).  Thus, the ship manning level is only around 43% of the total active duty personnel and 26% of the active duty plus civilian.  So, even if every ship in the fleet could, magically, reduce its manning by, say, 20%, the manpower reduction would only be 28,000 which is only 9% on the active duty personnel and 5% of the total active duty plus civilian workforce.  Thus, the savings would only be 5-9% - and for that, Navy leadership wants to hazard every ship by severely negatively impacting damage control and combat?

Manning warships is inherently an inefficient endeavor but combat, itself, is a poor business model and the manning of warships does not lend itself to good business case studies.  The Navy’s attempts to run the service like a business are misguided and idiotic and the pursuit of reduced manning is leading the way down the path of stupid.  We need to reverse this course and start manning warships for combat, not business.



  1. Just like the army, the infestation of civilian contractors is just a waste of money. When I was in Iraq, a private military company wet dream, our army fuelers didn't have a job, nor did our mechanics as well as the cooks. Those jobs had been contracted, and those personal were forced to do secondary tasks unaffiliated with their primary job. That contractor fueler, was making 95k yearly to do a job that we already had trained, outfitted, and brought with us someone to do. Minimal manning really only benefits contractors, and I see it as no chance coincidence that the increase in civilian employees and decrease in active military personal occurring around the same time frame.

    So in summary, if we can only significantly reduce the number of civilian employees will the navy even consider leaving the minimal manning concept.

  2. At this point I think the entire military should adopt a new moto: Doing Less with More.

  3. This is mirrored with tank crews - the USA,Germany and UK all use four man crews. The Russians and French use three but have a technical solution for the fourth crewman (an auto-loader).
    That technical fourth crewman needs technical support when it fails.
    That technical fourth crewman can't stand guard, service the tank or help put a thrown track back on.
    That technical fourth crewman doesn't go on leave or have compassionate problems and definitely won't draw a pension.
    In combat it would seem that the four man crew does perform better.

    1. Sounds like the solution is an autoloader and a dedicated tank technician/maintainer as the fourth crewman.

    2. No, the solution is to have a second tank crew.
      To drive in noisy, vibrating tanks is exhausting, and so are the maintenance breaks.
      The way to go is to have double crews, which already worked marvellously in May 1940.

    3. First time I have ever heard of Germans using 2 tank crews in WW2...

    4. Source "The Blitzkrieg Legend", Karl Frieser (publisher is official German military history research centre), part four, chapter V.7
      The spare crews rode on lorries.

    5. Thanks, looks good, on order. I have a ton of books on German tank operations and first time I ever heard of second crew concept during WW2.

    6. Try interlibrary lending. It's a cheap way to get access to lots of expensive quality books.

    7. @SO - does the Heer continue the process of assigning two crews to each tank?


    8. Certainly not, but we still have more than enough reservists for driver, gunner and loader (former conscript) jobs, probably also enough reservists for tank commanders and could improvise such an approach.

      The double crewing was to my knowledge merely an early WW2 thing, and given up when the quantity of the tank divisions was greatly increased between the France campaign and OP Barbarossa.

  4. With heavier manning the crews might have lower fatigue levels with potentially tremendous benefits in readiness and morale. It would also allow more "free" time that could be utilized for on-the-job training while deployed.

    1. With larger crews there might be the opportunity to recruit the manpower and expertise to do things like maintain the Aegis system in-house instead of needing contractors...

    2. I believe you would encounter unbelievably fierce opposition to any effort to reduce the size of Defence contractors rice bowls.

      Both directly and indirectly from their bought and paid for creatures in Congress.

      I strongly suspect this is one of the biggest contributions to the US defense budget not achieving the results it should.

  5. A little offtopic question, is it know who the original brain fathers of the LCS are ?
    I mean like Admiral Y and Admiral Z drew up the concept, or was it anonymous group thinking ?

    1. Cebrowski's group. The original LCS concept can be found under the keyword "streetfighter".

      It was more close to the tiny Swedish coastal corvettes (Stockholm, Visby) than to a speedboat-corvette at frigate size.

    2. Like most things, the LCS was an evolutionary development with contributions from many people and ideas. The Streetfighter concept was not actually ever tied all that tightly to the LCS evolution. In some ways, it was a separate, parallel notion that died out on its own.

      For a better sense of the origins, check out this previous post,

      LCS Origin

      There are also two answers, one is the conceptual evolution and the other is the actual construction design evolution which, once initiated, was modified thousands of times by hundreds/thousands of people.

      In short, no straightforward answer but the link to the previous post is a good starting point.

  6. Its been years since I was in the USN but I think they are still doing things the same way for most ships. The USN has no dedicated training ships, instead all active ships are training ships.

    When I went in I went to boot camp, then A school which is general knowledge about my rating, then a couple of C schools which was specialized knowledge about two different sets of equipment, but by the time I got to the ship I was not qualified or knowledgeable enough to do anything except clean.

    It was that “excess” crew on board who both taught me and qualified me to do my job.

    From what I understand the LCS has a dedicated shore training system for the crew but I bet that is much more expensive system then the old system. It would require more crew plus more equipment for training plus I think they want to dedicate a training ship so all that adds up to a lot of money. But that is what you have to have with minimum crew since every sailor must be fully trained and qualified when they walk on the ship

  7. what about reinstating limited conscription for USN ? the physical demand for USN recruit are not as severe as infantry branch.

    So Volunteer specialist can make a career in USN while USN conscripts can fill the seaman duties until their term of enlistment ends.

    the side benefit , these conscript will add the reserve pool just in case there's peer vs peer war in the future.


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