ComNavOps has argued for the abandonment of the traditional naval deployment model in favor of a mission based model (see, "Deployments or Missions?"). The result of a mission based model is that readiness, in all its manifold expressions, increases dramatically. It appears that SecDef Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Dunford have begun implementing a naval activity model that lies somewhere between deployments and missions. By way of example, the Truman carrier group is returning home after just a three month deployment instead of the more common 8-12 months.
“In a statement, new Fleet Forces Command head Adm. Christopher Grady said the order for Truman to return to home port was a “direct reflection of the dynamic force employment concept, and the inherent maneuverability and flexibility of the U.S. Navy.” (1)
Cutting a deployment short does indicate flexibility, to an extent, I guess. I’m not sure how it demonstrates maneuverability nor am I sure what maneuverability even means in this context. It sounds like a meaningless buzz-phrase.
Mattis’ hybrid activity model, which he refers to as ‘dynamic force employment’ (DFE – another buzz-phrase), is intended to make naval forces “more agile and less predictable” (1). Again, I’m not sure how a shorter deployment make the Navy more agile or what that even means. The returning Truman group will enter a surge-ready sustainment phase, whatever that means.
“… all returning units are 100 percent mission-capable and will remain in the sustainment phase of the Optimized Fleet Response Plan, which means they will sustain war-fighting readiness and be ready to surge forward or redeploy when called upon.”
In Navy-speak, the sustainment phase means that the ship will be held at deployment-level manning, training and general readiness so that it can surge on short notice in a crisis.”
As a reminder, the Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP) was an attempt by the Navy to better manage regular deployments so as to ensure proper maintenance through the course of the deployment cycle. Unfortunately, the OFRP immediately failed upon its initial implementation. Regardless, the OFRP is predicated on rigid adherence to planned deployment schedules. Returning a group early from a deployment is the antithesis of the OFRP.
The DFE is a hybrid type of deployment model. Insofar as it reduces pointless deployment time and increases home port maintenance time (if it does?) and training time (does it?), ComNavOps can buy into it. After all, it’s not all that far removed from a pure mission based activity model which is what I’ve advocated.
The DFE does, however, lead to the question, why deploy at all? An actual, short deployment is a whole lot of pointless sailing, not much meaningful activity, a lot of operating cost, and a near suspension of training in favor of routine ‘operations’. It would make far more sense to stay home, save money, forego pointless sailing, and concentrate on meaningful training and maintenance – in other words, a mission based activity model.
The cynical among you, myself included, might wonder if this DFE is just a thinly disguised way to reduce operating costs? After all, it’s always about the money, right?
On a practical note, deployments that end unexpectedly (if the end was actually a surprise to the crews?) must create problems for the crews and their families due to the uncertainty. Yes, there would be a great deal of happiness at the unexpected good news but also a great deal of confusion and disruption of carefully laid plans.
All in all, I’m cautiously in favor of this DFE pending additional evidence of the detailed workings and scope. Was this a one time cost savings measure, not to be repeated? Will the group simply be ‘parked’ to save money and not actually use the time to train, maintain, and improve readiness? The answer to these kinds of questions will determine whether I’m in favor of this over the long haul. So, this may be a step in the right direction but the better approach is no deployments and implementation of a purely mission based model.
(1)Defense News website, “Jim Mattis’ ‘dynamic force employment’ concept just got real for the US Navy”, David B. Larter,