Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Manning Myth

The Navy has been on a manpower reduction crusade for a couple of decades now – yes, I use ‘crusade’ in the religious context since the Navy’s fixation on reduced manpower borders on a religious zeal to find the Holy Grail of zero manning.  Manpower reduction has been used as the rationale for retiring perfectly good ships with significant service life remaining, the foundation for badly flawed ship designs and support concepts (LCS, Zumwalt, and Ford, for example), the disastrous minimal manning fad of the last couple decades, and the entire movement towards unmanned platforms.

Let’s take a closer look at the manpower issue (see, “NavyManpower History”).  A good starting point, as always, is history.  The table below shows the Navy’s manpower since the end of WWII and breaks out the officer and enlisted numbers.

Navy Historical Manpower (2)
Percent of Total
Percent of Total
Total a
Officer-Enlisted Ratio
1 : 9.3
1 : 8.5
1 : 7.6
1 : 7.2
1 : 7.1
1 : 6.3
1 : 5.8
1 : 5.2
2017 (3)
1 : 4.9
2018 (3)
1 : 5.0
2019 (3)
1 : 5.1

a The Navy also pays for an additional 1%-2% of non-officer/enlisted personnel

There are a couple of striking aspects that jump out of the table.  One is that despite the Navy’s claims of manpower shortages and costs, we somehow, inexplicably, managed to operate a 600 ship fleet in the Reagan era (1985, for example) with a total manpower pushing twice the levels of today’s Navy.  And yet, today, we don’t seem to be able to afford half the ships and can’t afford half the manpower.  Does that seem logical?

Also striking is the steady increase in proportion of officers.  Compare the current 16% officers to the WWII level of 9.5%.  This figure is somewhat skewed by non-officer/enlisted additions to the total manpower.  A more revealing way to look at this is to look at the officer to enlisted ratio.  In WWII it was 1 officer for every 9 enlisted (1:9.3) and today it is one officer to 5 enlisted (1:5.1).  We’ve almost doubled the ratio of officers to enlisted!  Want to save some manpower costs?  Reduce the officer corps to the WWII level of around 9.5% and get that ratio back to around 9 enlisted per officer!

We’ve almost doubled the relative number of officers since WWII.  Have the enlisted personnel gotten steadily stupider so that they require more supervision?  I don’t think so.  The growth of the officer corps parallels the explosive growth in the number of Admirals that we’ve so derisively noted on many occasions.  Our officer ranks are artificially and uselessly swollen and overloaded.  I hear constant complaints about too many young officers with the result that none of them receive the training, watchstanding, and shiphandling time they need to develop. 

In 2014, Adm. Thomas Copeman addressed the impact of manpower shortages on fleet readiness and acknowledged a shortfall of 8,000 sailors or 15% of the fleet’s billets.(1)  Simple arithmetic tells us, then, that the fleet billets totaled 53,333 (8000 / 0.15 = 53,333) or an average crew size of 190 sailors (53,333 / 280 ships = 190 sailors per ship).

Using the estimate of 53,333 sea billets and the 2010 total manpower size of 324,400, we see that only 16% of the Navy is at sea !  That’s 271,000 land based (324,000 – 53,333 = 271,067) and only 53,333 at sea.  Does this seem right?  Certainly, we need shore support but does it seem right that 84% of the Navy is land based?  Isn’t that called an army?  Want to save some serious big money?  How about a deep dive into the jobs performed by the 84% of non-sea based naval personnel?  I don’t have a breakdown of the types of jobs and number of people in those jobs but common sense tells me that there’s a whole lot of unnecessary jobs being performed.

Here’s a wild analysis.  Let’s say we have 40 land-based naval facilities and each employs, say, 100 people.  That’s 4000 people.  Compare that to the 271,000 land based personnel that we apparently have.  Make whatever modifications to my assumptions you want.  It won’t begin to approach justifying 271,000 land based naval personnel.

Here’s some more wild analysis.  The Navy has around 230 admirals.  I have no idea what size staff an admiral has but assuming each has a staff of, say, 20, that’s a total of 4600 personnel who do nothing but wait on admirals.  Want to save some manpower costs and get more sailors to sea?  I don’t even need to spell out the answer to that question, do I?  At around 190 crew per ship, the admiral staffs are equivalent to the manning of 24 'average' ships !!!!!!!!!!!

What does all that manpower cost?

From the Navy 2018 Personnel Costs (includes base pay, retirement savings, allowances, etc.)
  • Officer budget: $8.5B for 53,250 officers  == $159,624 per officer
  • Enlisted budget: $18.6B for 268,123 enlisted == $69,402 per enlisted

Why are manning costs so important to the Navy?  According to the Navy, it’s because personnel costs are a major part of a ship’s annual operating cost.  Secretary of the Navy Modly describes the problem,

For example, the average per-hull operating cost in the fleet today is about $2 billion, which is twice the per-hull cost of operating the fleet in the 1980s, Modly said.

“We have to reverse that trend,” Modly said. “We have to be more distributed.” [ed. Huh?  ‘distributed’?  What does that mean and what does it have to do with operating costs?]

The cost of retaining crew members and providing services for the crew member families is part of why per-ship operating expenses are increasing.

“The cost of caring for families is increasing,” Modly said. “It’s hard to buck that trend. It is what it is.”

One solution is reducing the number of people on ships. The challenge is increasing lethality while reducing the number of people required to run a ship, Modly said. The result can be more lightly-manned ships, but with more highly trained crews. (4)

Wow!  It costs $2B per hull per year?  Yikes!  No wonder the Navy wants to reduce the personnel costs.  They must be most, or least a significant portion, of the operating costs, right?  Let’s just do the math and see how bad those personnel costs are.  We earlier determined that the average crew size per ship is around 190.  We saw that the 2018 cost for an officer was $160,000 per year and an enlisted was $69,000.  So, taking into account the officer to enlisted ratio we’d get an average personnel cost of somewhere around $80,000, I’m guessing without doing the math.  Just for fun, let’s go way bigger and assume an annual personnel cost of, say, $250,000 per sailor.  For 190 people, that’s an annual personnel cost of $47.5M.  My gosh, the Navy wasn’t kidding.  That’s … uh … wait a minute.  Compared to the $2B total operating cost per ship, the personnel cost is only 2.4% of the total.  That’s almost insignificant.

I recognize that the annual personnel cost is a squishy number and depends on what you choose to include/exclude.  For example, base salary is obviously included but what about meals, medical and dental care, travel expenses to/from duty assignments, mail service, uniform allowances, and so on.  Some would seem legitimate to include, some would seem ridiculous, and some would seem debatable.  That’s why I picked the $250,000 number.  Even doubling that would still only put the personnel costs at 4.8% of the total ship operating cost which would still mean that it’s almost insignificant.

All of this leads us back to the personnel deployment question.  The personnel costs for ships are minor, however, the personnel costs for the total Navy (including the 84% land based) are substantial at around $27B.  This, again, screams at us to deep dive into that 84% land based component and see how much of that is really warranted.  If we could cut half of the land based positions (yes, this means getting rid of the people whose job is to develop and present gender sensitivity training and the like!), we’d save on the order of $11B per year !!!!!

Setting that aside, SecNav Modly is suggesting that one solution is reducing the number of people to run the ships.  He said, ‘more lightly-manned ships, but with more highly trained crews ‘.  Didn’t we try exactly that with the LCS and it failed spectacularly?  We were left with ships that couldn’t perform even minor repairs at sea, had to spend inordinate amounts of time in port for scheduled repairs, were unable to perform even routine maintenance, were overworked and overstressed, and the ship had to be designed to be abandoned at the first hit due to lack of damage control personnel.  And you want to try that again, SecNav?  Do you recall the definition of insanity, SecNav?

So, what we’re seeing is that, in the past, we consistently managed to operate and fund a much larger Navy and naval manpower, had a more efficient manpower model (officer to enlisted ratio), and were able to fully man twice as many ships as today.  Further, we see that 84% of the today’s manpower is land based which just screams inefficiency and waste.

I think the Navy is just using manpower costs as a scapegoat for gross negligence and inefficiency.


(1)Navy Times website, “3-Star: Sailor Shortage Threatens Surface Navy's Readiness”, Sam Fellman, 14-Jan-2014,

(3)Department of the Navy Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Budget Estimates

(4)USNI News website, “Navy $40 Billion Savings Effort Linked to Force Structure Assessment”, Ben Werner, 21-Feb-2020,


  1. So there's our problem, stated openly: 16% of the Navy is manning ships, yet we have a manning problem. 84% of the Navy is onshore, yet we have continous maintenance shortfalls and deferments.

    "We can't keep wrapping $2B around 96 VLS cells", yet we can we have 25 Burkes worth of flag support. Our sailors are our Navy's greatest resource, but we can't fully man the ships and we must put as few sailors aboard them as possible.

    There's an interesting presentation on the Ford-class design by her former program manager, Capt. Talbot Manvel, (Ret.):

    There are places where improved technology, design, and automation can both reduce complexity and manning, while increasing durablity, reliablity, and safety; and it looks like some of those steps were taken- however, great and unfortunate risks were also improperly assumed. I post that to note that there is a place for newer designs that incorporate automation, but ships need sailors, automation can change the jobs of those sailors, but I'm deeply suspicious of using automation to change the total number of sailors onboard.

  2. Just re-read another great post and it hit me, this issue really isnt an issue for USN. It's about getting sailors off ships to be able to go unmanned easier, faster and push this garbage thru Congress. The problem isnt the ships, as CNO demonstrates well, most of the force is already onshore! Why isn't USN pushing to clean up that mess compared to reducing sailors on ships???

    Mark my words, USN has no problem here, it's just a quick and clever way to push for unmanned ships and get rid of all the manned warships. This is USN way to get this crap thru Congress, its pure political play which is sad to watch from a once proud service.

  3. Can you truly be a sailor if you don't sail?

  4. Navy recruiters and Marine recruiters at every college campus. Marines at every embassy and the White House. I don't know the numbers but not likely 271,000.
    Maybe the question should be what could you do with 271,000 employees on land?
    Huntington Ingalls - 40,000 employees.
    General Dynamics- 107,000 employees.
    Lockheed Martin- 110,000 employees.
    257,000 employees gets you aircraft carriers, submarines, support ships, amphibious ships, tanks, armored personnel carriers, nuclear missiles, tactical missiles, fighter jets, transport aircraft, rocket launch vehicles, satellites and a bunch more.

    1. " what could you do with 271,000 employees on land?"

      A good perspective on the issue!

    2. When we hand over the design and CONOPS of vessels to industry why do we have 271,000 employees ashore? I would support Sea and Land based personnel parity if BuShips and General Board were included in the land personnel but they don't exist anymore. If you give up capability you need to give up staff. Research and Development should be under a single entity (DARPA maybe) and get rid of the Office of Naval Research.
      There should be a hard rule on the number of enlisted to officers (10 to 1), as well as rules for the officer ranks
      Ensigns 12,800
      LTJG 6,400
      LT 6,400
      LCDR 3,200
      Commander 800
      Captain 800 (two captains for every ship!)
      Rear Admiral Lower 16 (32)
      Rear Admiral Upper 8 (16)
      Vice Admiral 4 (8)
      Admiral 2 (4)
      Total officers 30,430 (30,460) (43.5% reduction in officers and close to a 10 to 1 ratio with enlisted.) Captain should be where most officers end their careers.
      The numbers may be even worse if you include all the contracted services ashore that don't count as Navy personnel.

    3. We know individual command numbers with a bit of digging

      The Marine Corps Recruiting Command has approximately 3,000 recruiters operating out of 48 Recruiting Stations, 574 Recruiting Sub-Stations, and 71 Officer Selection Sites across the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Guam.
      I imagine the recruit depots have known numbers as well

      The Marine Corps Embassy Security Group, who have their own training centre are around 2500.

      The other day I looked up the Naval Special Forces which are around 9000 with another 1100 civilians.

      Another big group would the Naval and Marine medical services, the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery with 63,000

      Another biggy would the whole recruit and training pipeline, right up to the most senior officers, as the turnover means 'Training' would be the primary activity of the Navy and Marines.

  5. @CNO

    What would really tell a story is if you added two columns to your table showing: 1) the number of ships and 2) the number of aircraft.

    A third and forth column showing 3)the DoN budget and 4) the DoN percentage of the federal budget would really lay out the story.

    Just whistling...


  6. While the current virus has the headlines, I have a suggestion. How about if everyone forwards this post to all their senators and representatives. Maybe we all send it to all the members of the ASC as well, with a simple "wtf??" Maybe a few copies to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave too, with a PS: please fix this" Then forward it to a few friends and ask they do the same...
    Since many of us are suddenly finding themselves with extra time on our hands recently...why not??

  7. Modly wants to make the cut of personnel on 'ships'.This time around let's make the cuts to submarines and aircraft squadrons first. Let them lead the way.

  8. Here's another thing to look at.

    The consulting firm McKinsey did an analysis of defense costs for OECD (advanced) countries. McKinsey found that the average OECD defense budget was 26% combat, 11% combat support, and 63% "other." That's bad enough, but for the USA it was 16% combat, 7% combat support, and 77% "other." Based on current defense budgets, that suggests that we have about a $200 billion excess of "other," just compared to the other advanced countries. Say we cut half of that and redirected the other half to combat and combat support, what kind of force could we have then?

  9. "A more revealing way to look at this is to look at the officer to enlisted ratio. In WWII it was 1 officer for every 9 enlisted (1:9.3) and today it is one officer to 5 enlisted (1:5.1)."

    I don't think this is a fair comparison as WWII ships were far more labor-intensive, especially for weapons and engines, to man and operate then they are today. For example, according to Navweaps, for the 5"/38 Mark 12 gun, "Twin mounts had about 27 crewmen in the mount itself and in the upper handling room. Additional personnel were required in the lower handling room during sustained firing periods." A twin mount 40-mm anti-aircraft had a crew of 5 to 6 plus others to handle ammunition.

    As for ships, a WWII Flectcher-class destroyer, 2900 tons, had a crew of 273, according to Navsource. The Burke's, with about 3 times the displacement, have a crew of about 330.

    Fleet structure is probably a factor too. At the end of 1944, the Navy fleet had 827 surface warships including 23 battleships and 367 destroyers. Today, we have 296 ships with 67 destroyers.

    Historical comparisons are important and WWII certainly has lots of lessons to offer. But, it is equally important to consider what we're comparing.

    1. "I don't think this is a fair comparison as WWII ships were far more labor-intensive,"

      You raise an interesting point. Your implied conclusion is that the number of enlisted vary according to the brute force factor that's required to run a ship. Are you saying that it requires more officers to supervise intelligent, skilled labor than it does to supervise brute force labor? Shouldn't it be the other way around? The logical extension of your premise is that an all Ph.D force of enlisted might require a 1:1 ratio of officer to enlisted???

      Historically, sailing ships had very small officer to seamen ratios despite being nearly 100% labor intensive.

      While interesting to ponder, I'm not sure logic or history supports your premise!

    2. "Your implied conclusion is that the number of enlisted vary according to the brute force factor that's required to run a ship."

      No. I'm referring to the technology of the day and the manning required to operated that technology. For example, an A-6 with a crew of 2 can deliver a bombload comparable to a B-29 with its crew of 11. At the same time, I'll wager that WWII ships deployed with larger crews, especially among the enlisted ranks, to provide additional manning for weapons, damage control, etc.

  10. Is there any info on whether the proportion of enlisted at the senior ranks as opposed to low-level 'grunts' has changed - I suspect that we are over-warrant-officered as much as we are over-Admiralled

    1. Great question. I haven't come across any data that breaks that out but I'll keep an eye out for it.

  11. If not its not all manpower costs driving the explosion in O&M costs it must be maintenance

    CSIS Press Briefing: FY 2018 Defense Budget Report - December 2017. The big difference between the 80's and current times is that of O&M. During the Cold War O&M averaged 28% of Navy funding, FY2018 42% and would not be surprised if FY2021 O&M budget is even higher as Navy continues heavily pushing maintenance after Fitzgerald and McCain, recently USCG having ship maintenance problems as Navy now using 'their' ship repair yards.

    Some comments at CSIS presentation as to why O&M eating an additional 14% of total Navy budget

    In almost every case the new platforms we buy cost more to operate and maintain than the platforms they replaced. So platforms get older, they cost more to operate and maintain; then we finally replace them, and that costs even more to operate and maintain. So it’s this cycle that we’re in, and I don’t think there’s an easy way out of it (Fincantieri making big play that their contender for the FFG(X) contract, FREMM, will use Condition Based Maintenance to drive down costs). // Personnel and operations and maintenance costs are the other two-thirds of the budget // Civilian costs are included in O&M. Many of those civilians work in the depots, doing maintenance // And your health care costs. Your Defense Health Program is also in O&M

    That's why previously mentioned would like to O&M costs broken out by class (have seen figures for USCG ships), its my guess that the nuclear element of the CVN's maybe one of the drivers for the explosion in O&M costs since the 80's as its one of the main changes in fleet since then, the 4/5 CVN operating in 80's were new and unlikely requiring expensive maintenance?

    PS CNO "At around 180 crew per Burke, the admiral staffs are equivalent to the manning of 25 Burke class destroyers"
    USN DDG-51 fact file quotes Crew: 329 Total (32 Officer, 27 CPO, 270 Enlisted), did see Youtube interview of Burke captain in Singapore where she stated had 330 crew, so fact file numbers look good.

    1. "180 crew per Burke"

      I was using the average crew size to continue the point. I know the Burke crews are different. The point remains the same but I'll change the passage to read 'ships' instead of Burkes, if that makes it less confusing.

    2. "If not its not all manpower costs driving the explosion in O&M costs it must be maintenance"

      You've asked the most relevant question: what goes into the operating cost. At its most simplistic, and misleading, one could take the Navy budget and divide by the number of ships and get an 'operating' cost. At the other end of the spectrum, one could add up just the fuel, food, and ammo costs plus any maintenance performed for the year and get an 'operating' cost which would be substantially less.

      The point is that you can say anything you want with statistics by manipulating what you include or exclude from your numbers.

      Does it really seem plausible to you that it costs $1B-$2B to operate a ship for a year? I suspect that someone is cramming a lot of costs into that figure that most of us wouldn't consider true operating costs. Is the dental costs for the crew really an operating cost for the ship? And so on.

      For a Burke crew of, say, 300 (they're all short-billeted) with an average pay of $80,000, that's $24M per year. Toss in fuel, food, and ammo and you have the operating cost. That's not going to be anywhere near $1B-$2B! If there was special maintenance (which most ships don't get in any given year) then add that in, too. Significant overhauls cost $25M-$100M so, again, that doesn't even begin to approach $1B-$2B. Obviously, someone is padding the operating costs to achieve some purpose of their own.

      Operating cost is an almost useless figure unless the factors that are included/excluded are clearly spelled out and even then it's useless unless the factors are direct operating costs, not the indirect cost of maintaining recruiting stations across the country.

    3. "the new platforms we buy cost more to operate and maintain than the platforms they replaced."

      In defiance of all logic and automation, that appears to be the case. One aspect of this that is not often considered is ship on-board maintenance and repair. Once upon a time, ships were expected to provide a significant portion of their own maintenance and repair. Ships were built with machine shops for that exact purpose. Tenders of various sorts also existed to provide more complex repair and fabrication assistance. Shipyard visits were reserved for planned upgrades and battle damage repair.

      Today, relatively little ship on-board maintenance and repair occurs. Much of the workload gets deferred until a shipyard session occurs and, by then, the problems have gotten worse and are harder to fix.

      Hand in hand with this is the fact that much of the shipboard equipment has gotten more complex and has become unrepairable by any other than highly specialized technicians, often manufacturer's techs.

      Growing up, ComNavOps and everyone he knew were backyard mechanics and we enjoyed maintaining and repairing our own cars. Today, it's impossible to do that due to the complexity of a modern automobile. Repairs today are much more expensive.

      Our insistence on cutting edge technology in our ships and our unquestioning embrace of complexity has rendered our ships unserviceable by on-board crew to a large extent. One has to question the wisdom of this trend.

      Is an SPY-x/Aegis radar system better than an old, mechanical, rotating radar? Yes, when SPY/Aegis is working. The question should be, is it better enough to justify the inability to maintain and repair it by shipboard crew? That answer is nowhere near as cut and dried.

    4. CNO "For a Burke crew of, say, 300 (they're all short-billeted) with an average pay of $80,000, that's $24M per year. Toss in fuel, food, and ammo and you have the operating cost. That's not going to be anywhere near $1B-$2B! "

      As you say ridiculous figures, my ROM would be for Burke as an old tech design and gas guzzling ship O&M would cost ~ four times procurement cost, $8 billion over 40 years, $200 million per annum. FWIW 329 crew x $250 thou you mention equal $80+ million pa (Navy recently trying hard to fully man Burkes after Fitzgerald and McCain).

      The quote I saw re Modly $2 billion per ship it was not O&M, but the current average procurement cost per ship as reported on USNI "2019 Military Reporters & Editors Conference Friday, October 25, 2019"

      "The fleet now is about half the size it was then, but the average cost per ship is double. “Going back to the ‘80s, when we had the 600-ship Navy, the average cost of our ship in that fleet was a billion dollars, that was the average cost of all those ships. Today, our current fleet of 290, the average cost is $2 billion. And that’s in real dollars, inflation-adjusted real dollars,” he said while addressing reporters at the Military Reporters and Editors annual conference."

      Modly noted that the carrier strike group has always been a large expense for the Navy but that today it constitutes a much larger percentage of the bill. In the 1980s, the carrier strike group cost about 14 percent of the total Navy operating cost. Today it’s 31 percent. We have to think about how we reverse that trend,” he said.

      CNO "Operating cost is an almost useless figure unless the factors that are included/excluded are clearly spelled out and even then it's useless unless the factors are direct operating costs, not the indirect cost of maintaining recruiting stations across the country."

      They can be a yardstick over the years for comparison purposes if Navy does fiddle the definitions over the years, which with their history quite possible.

      PS Military personnel costs inflation rate double that of civilians over the last 20 years, so another big difference from 80's that Navy has to fund.

      CSIS briefing on the FY 2019 defense budget

      "Active service duty personnel costs rose 64% over and above inflation in last 20 years, DOD civilian costs only rose by 31%. ("So if you look at just the cash compensation – so not including the fact that you get free health care for your entire family, you get, you know, college benefits and things like that – just looking at cash compensations, if you’re an officer, you’re coming right out of college, you’re going to be making a little over 70,000 (dollars) a year in cash compensation. You fast forward four years into your career, you make captain, you’re going to be making a little over 110,000 (dollars) in cash compensation, four years out of college. You’re enlisted, you come right out of high school, you’re going to be making a little over 45,000 "

  12. “The cost of caring for families is increasing,” Modly said. “It’s hard to buck that trend. It is what it is.”

    Nope. G2mil has an excellent solution to quickly decrease it. Limit family housing benefits to E-4s and above.

  13. "Simple arithmetic tells us, then, that the fleet billets totaled 53,333 (8000 / 0.15 = 53,333) or an average crew size of 190 sailors (53,333 / 280 ships = 190 sailors per ship)."

    That number seems too low. A Nimitz has a ship's crew of about 3,000, which works out to 30,000 for 10 carriers. There are 70 active submarines (52 SSNs and 18 SSBN/SSGNs), assuming a crew of 120 each, that's 8,400 billets alone. That leaves about 15,000 to man submarines, amphibs, cruisers, destroyers, etc.

    I'm not sure what the right number is, but it can't be 53,333.

    1. I agree that the number seemed low to me, too. However, I'm using direct quotes from Navy admirals and the arithmetic is correct so …

      If you can find better numbers, let me know!

      As with so many things, it is possible that the way the Navy counts billets may not be the way an ordinary, common sense person would.

      A small, partial explanation is that not all ships are crewed. For example, the six cruisers that are in the fraudulent 'modernization' program have no crews. The carrier that is always in refuel has no significant crew. At any given moment, there are several (up to a dozen?) subs that are idled, awaiting maintenance availability and likely have only skeleton crews. And so on. I just don't know how the Navy counts billets and I don't have a detailed listing. Lacking that, I take the admirals at their word! You'd like to think they know this stuff but ...

    2. Good point on the ships out for maintenance. Part of the problem might also be the difference between what is the designed crew size per ship, the manning level allocated per ship, and what the actual manning level is per ship.

      If a Burke is designed for a crew of 329 (Navy Fact File number), but has been allocated a crew of 270 per ship, but the actual manning level is 240 per ship. What is the shortage? Is the shortage the difference between 329 and 240 or 270 and 240? We need a better understanding of how the Navy counts and classifies billets.

  14. Much of these problems the navy has can be explained by basic organisational principals, in particular the Peter-principle (named after the British professor who formulated it in the 60s).

    The principle states that in every hierarchical organisation, people keep getting promoted until the reach their level of incompetence (no typo!). They then remain at that level for the rest fo their career. In other words, hierarchical organisations automatically fill up with people who are incapable of performing the assigned tasks. Wait long enough and this applies to a large majority of the mid and higher level managers (or officers in this case). The harder it is to get fired in a given organisation, the quicker this happens and the more of them there are.

    Having incompetents in important jobs is a big problem for any organisation and they can do great harm to it. One way this is dealt with is to use sideways promotions. Most organisations have a line (responsible for performing the primary tasks) and a staff (responsible for supporting the line). Incompetents in the line tend to get shifted sideways into staff functions. To minimise the harm they can do, typically a new function is created just for them, usually involving the creation of some sort of report or study no one ever does anything with or even reads after it's ready.

    This process is also more or less automatic and creates bloated staffs which then, instead of facilitating the line in their operations, becomes an obstacle to them. In civilian life, this is then remedied by having the organisation undergo major restructuring. If you've ever wondered why your company is reorganising again, only four or five years after the last one, this is the reason. They need to get rid of the incompetents and bloated staffs.

    The reorganisations are performed by a neutral third party. This is necessary because the ones in need of culling tend to have friends and allies within the organisation who owe them favours. They also tend to have enemies and would otherwise use the reorganisation the get rid of them (their enemies are typically NOT incompetent at what they do). It is therefor imperative that such a restructuring is NOT done in-house but is led by a third party who can make the tough calls without repercussions. By the way, this is also one of the reasons why many CEO's get paid so much. As they initiator of the clean-up, they make a lot of enemies and as a result are in most cases no longer able to carry out their job. So they get a big check and hop on over to another company in need of a clean-up.

    Now I ask you, compared to the above, how well does the Navy do and has done over the years?


    1. Lol, principals should of course be principles....

  15. PER CBO’s Military Force Structure publication ( Navy and Marine Corps personnel, 2017-2021, are as follows:

    Combat – Active 210,000, Reserve 34,000, Total 244,000
    Support – Active 93,000, Reserve 25,000, Total 118,000
    Overhead – Active 202,000, Reserve 38,000, Total 240,000
    Total – Active 505,000, Reserve 97,000, Total 602,000

    Breaking down the active duty numbers between Navy and Marines, it looks like about 325,000 Navy and 180,000 Marines. The reserves are about 57,000 Navy and 40,000 Marines.

    Suppose we cut that overhead number in half (there go your excess admirals and staffs, ComNavOps) and distributed the savings 1/3 to combat, 1/6 to support, and 1/2 to a net reduction in headcount. And suppose we then doubled the reserve component. That would be a net reduction of 50,000 on active duty and a net increase of 97,000 reserves. Since a reserve slot costs somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3 of an active slot, that would yield a slight reduction in total personnel costs. The resulting headcount would then be:

    Combat – Active 244,000, Reserve 68,000, Total 312,000
    Support – Active 110,000, Reserve 50,000, Total 160,000
    Overhead – Active 101,000, Reserve 76,000, Total 177,000
    Total – Active 455,000, Reserve 194,000, Total 649,000

    Maybe the active breakdown would be 305,000 Navy and 150,000 Marines, with the reserve breakdown being 114,000 Navy and 80,000 Marines. Just going on pro rata allocation, active combat personnel would increase from 135,000 to 164,000 for Navy and 75,000 to 80,000 for Marines.

    I think we have found the 8,000 sailors the Navy needs, and more. Also, if we got rid of the top-heavy rank structure, we could probably reduce personnel costs even further. I realize those are just top-down numbers, but I have to believe that if we gave the Navy that kind of goal, they could adjust headcounts to make it work.

    One thing about the excesses at the top of the chain of command. A lot of those excess admirals wear NATO hats as either a primary or collateral duty. We have this policy of not wanting US personnel to report to foreign commanders, and that means every time we send somebody to NATO, he has to be senior to the folks that other countries are sending. I think that can be handled simply by double or triple hatting, but that’s not the way the Navy has done it historically.

    In that same publication, CBO also comes up with personnel and annual operating costs for selected units:

    Aircraft carrier
    Personnel – direct 3200, indirect 760, overhead 2620, total 6590
    Annual cost ($ Millions) – direct $470, indirect $180, overhead $530, total $1180

    Carrier air wing
    Personnel – direct 3200, indirect 760, overhead 2620, total 6590
    Annual cost ($ Millions) – direct $330, indirect $200, overhead $390, total $920

    Arleigh Burke destroyer:
    Personnel – direct 340, indirect 100, overhead 290, total 640
    Annual cost ($ Millions) – direct $60, indirect $20, overhead $60, total $140

    Ticonderoga cruiser:
    Personnel – direct 250, indirect 90, overhead 220, total 650
    Annual cost ($ Millions) – direct $40, indirect $20, overhead $40, total $100

    Personnel – direct 190, indirect 70, overhead 170, total 430
    Annual cost ($ Millions) – direct $40, indirect $20, overhead $30, total $90

    I’m not sure exactly how CBO came up with their numbers. For one thing, I’m not sure how they came up with the overhead headcounts—do they represent people who actually support the ship, or did they just allocate them based on overall headcount. It looks more like just a straight allocation, and if that’s the case then the personnel changes above would reduce those unit operating costs by about 15-20%. Of course, without knowing exactly what is in those numbers, it’s hard to make any determination.

    1. Just realized I copied the headcount numbers wrong for the air wing. Should be:

      Direct - 1630, Indirect - 1300, Overhead - 1930, Total - 4860

  16. "I have to believe that if we gave the Navy that kind of goal, they could adjust headcounts to make it work."

    Unfortunately, I've given this some further thought, and I have decided that I way overrated the Navy's judgment in making that statement. No, the Navy couldn't figure it out. But somebody needs to. And that is the problem.

    1. "No, the Navy couldn't figure it out. But somebody needs to."

      That's why we're here! All the Navy needs to do is read! :)


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