Saturday, December 12, 2020

Ford Minimal Manning

Minimal manning always fails and the Navy always winds up increasing the crew size.  Despite this, the Navy keeps justifying new ship classes based, in part, on reduced manning and anticipated cost savings from the reduced crew size.  Let’s take a look at how this is working out with the USS Ford.


Ford was ‘sold’ partly on the basis of significantly reduced crew size and, hence, reduced Operating and Support (O&S) costs compared to legacy carriers.  The table below, adapted from Table 4 in the GAO report (1, p.42), shows the crew size and O&S costs for the Nimitz class, the Ford’s initial estimates upon which the design was ‘sold’, and the Ford’s current levels.  Critically, the Ford’s berthing capacity is 4660.(2)  Thus, Ford is already at or beyond its berthing capacity.





Ford - Initial

Ford - Current

Crew Size



4656 – 4758 b

Annual O&S Costs a, $M





a costs adjusted to constant FY2000 dollars

b from DOT&E annual reports, ref. (2); ship berthing capacity is 4660



We see that the Navy sold the Ford as requiring 724 fewer crew resulting in a 43% drop in O&S cost.


The current reality is a 544 – 442 drop in crew size and a 20% drop in O&S cost.


Without a doubt, crew size and O&S costs will continue to increase as an actual deployment approaches, sometime in the next few years, perhaps.  However, the Ford has already reached the limit of its designed berthing capacity of 4660.


… the Navy has already increased the size of the planned crew to the maximum allowed by the ship’s design. Nonetheless, additional crewing concerns persist for key systems—including the weapons elevators, advanced arresting gears, the machinery control system, among others—that are not yet well understood and may require additional sailor support to operate and maintain. (1, p.53)


The history of the LCS, Zumwalt, LPD-17, and Ford demonstrate, with near 100% certainty, that the Navy’s estimates, whether crew size, O&S costs, or construction costs are always wrong and always significantly underestimated.  Despite this, the Navy keeps pumping out fraudulent estimates (fraudulent, because they know they’re wrong) and Congress keeps lapping them up.


Increased crew sizes over and above initial estimates have occurred for other ships and the increases have resulted in increased O&S costs.


Similarly, DDG 1000, LCS, and LPD 17 program officials also reported that increasing crew sizes was a major contributor to higher sustainment costs for these programs. (1)


The Navy has made a habit of assuming cost savings from unproven practices only to have the practices fail and the supposed savings turn into added costs.  For example,


Further, the shipbuilding programs we reviewed made assumptions based on unproven initiatives, in conjunction with reducing crew sizes that ended up having a greater effect on the cost of maintaining ships than initially estimated. For example, for four ship classes—SSN 774, DDG 1000, LPD 17 Flight I, and LCS—the Navy originally planned to use a maintenance initiative called performance-based logistics, which called for the use of contractors to conduct maintenance instead of sailors on board the ships.  … Shipbuilding program officials stated that the Navy has now largely abandoned this approach after attempting to contract for performance-based logistics and discovering that it was much more costly than planned.  (1, p.42-43) [emphasis added]


There’s your entire LCS manning and maintenance model … gone.  Wouldn’t you have thought that around day two of the LCS concept, someone would have actually made a few phone calls and priced out the contractor support instead of making a ridiculously optimistic estimate, based on nothing?  But, I digress …


One of the crippling aspects of the designed-in minimal manning assumptions is that the berthing capacity is physically limited.  Ford has already reached or exceeded the limit of its berthing capacity with more crew increases sure to come and the LCS long ago exceeded theirs.  I’ve heard reports and complaints from the LCS about doubling up racks and other, less than desirable berthing accommodations but I can’t independently verify them.  If you recall, one of the selling points about the LCS was that it was going to provide ‘luxurious’ accommodations, by comparison to other ships.  Well, that selling point has vanished.  It will be interesting to see what Ford does to squeeze in more berths.


The Ford is yet another example of the abject failure of minimal manning (and that’s before we consider damage control and combat casualties) and yet the Navy resolutely continues down that path.






(1)Government Accountability Office, “Navy Shipbuilding - Increasing Focus on Sustainment Early in the Acquisition Process Could Save Billions”, GAO-20-2, Mar 2020


(2)Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E), FY2019 Annual Report, Dec 2019, p.123


  1. Minimal manning makes sense on commercial ships, but for the military it's monumentally stupid.

    The "silver lining" is that Ford has so many problems that an extra one will barely be noticed.

  2. So what is the crew doing if they're not performing maintenance??

    1. They're running betting pools on the next EMALS failure.

    2. Or betting when the next collision will be.

    3. Or practicing damage control for the next collision.

    4. Making lists of things for the civilians to fix in port??? Smh...

    5. Where have you been hiding? Navy crews do not do maintenance anymore. They are "operators" not "maintainers". I do work for the LCS....Sailors literally do not even fix their own filing cabinets anymore. I am not joking.

  3. This as been a problem with the navy since the 'smart ship' concept.

    My question would be when did the Academies start teaching MBA driven classes all about reducing staff that have no relation to running a ship that you know might have to fight a battle. Because below looks like the kind of think an MBA grad produces for a power point show not a solution.

    Also sort of related on maintenance:

    From link:

    "To improve the maintenance cycle, the Navy needs to explore disruptive technology found in visualization, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and computer models to understand and improve the maintenance of ships from complete overhaul to day-to-day preventive maintenance. "

    Err so not just have fully crewed ships (and certified sailors for their jobs) with available spare parts, modern dry docks and spending on maintenance?

    1. The LCS is an informative case study on semi-AI driven maintenance. The model was for all maintenance to be performed shore side. The key was to be massive automated data collection on board ship with data automatically transmitted back to shore so that predictive maintenance could occur. In theory, as the LCS pulled up to the pier, contract maintenance personnel with the needed spare part in their left hand and the proper tool in their right, would leap aboard ship while it was still coasting to a stop and apply the required maintenance as determined by the predictive, semi-AI program.

      Of course, it failed miserably for a variety of reasons, data transmission bandwidth shortages being chief among them.

      And, of course, ignoring the realities of combat, the LCS would broadcast its maintenance data on a near-continuous basis, thus pinpointing its location for the enemy. Further ignoring the needs of combat operations, the LCS would be required stop what it was doing and pull into port for maintenance every two weeks … not exactly conducive to combat operations.

      And, of course, there are always things that break before the ship can get to port and under the LCS maintenance model, the ship's crew had no resources, time, or personnel to fix it. If it happens to be something critical that breaks, the ship has to be towed as has happened several times since nothing can be repaired at sea.

    2. Utterly absurd!!! Regardless of ship class or (??)... They are just machines. Change the oil here, apply the grease there,etc... Why do we need "data" to tell us when?? How did a complex system, say, an Iowa class battleship, EVER stay functional without a computer to predict when somthing needed grease, or a new light bulb??? How did we make somthing simple so hard?? And why would sailors wait for a contractor to do it?? This is plain ignorant, and anyone who signed off on this idiocy should be fired. Yesterday.

    3. "Change the oil here, apply the grease there … Why do we need "data" to tell us when??"

      Actually, one of the many goals for the semi-AI predictive maintenance plan was to eliminate or reduce preventive maintenance. No more routine oiling or greasing because that requires lots of people. Instead, the idea was to monitor the bearing temps (or whatever) and ONLY oil/grease when they actually needed it instead of doing it routinely/preventively. Again, a failure but that was one of the ideas.

      The LCS collected and compressed a LOT of stupid ideas into one design! It's as if someone went around a room full of people and collected the stupidest idea from each person and then combined them all into one ship design.

    4. You're right CNO... While I understand the concept they were shooting for, they certainly took the worst approach. Experimenting with stretched intervals is one thing, and thats common in the civilian world. You have failures and then you adjust. But taking the "idiot light" approach is extreme!! Never mind that repetitive maintenance breeds a familiarity with the equipment that's priceless in itself. Its hard for me to fathom having a crew that doesnt work on their ship. And who'd think that having contractors do the work would be cheaper??? Seriously??

    5. "And who'd think that having contractors do the work would be cheaper???"

      It's not just the cost of contractors, it's the cost of flying them to wherever the LCS is (Singapore, for example) and then paying to house and feed them. Huge costs! Why anyone would have thought for a second that would be cheap is beyond me.

    6. "The LCS collected and compressed a LOT of stupid ideas into one design! It's as if someone went around a room full of people and collected the stupidest idea from each person and then combined them all into one ship design."

      And then the Navy built dozens and dozens on those ships, because they have competent professionals that can tell bad ideas from good ones.

  4. I can sort of understand LCS or Zumwalt having berthing issues, kind of, being generous in Xmas spirit....but FORD? It's pretty much the same size as a regular Nimitz, is it lack of space or just lack of beds? Internal volume has to be about the same, there must be a way to "consolidate" some of the spaces occupied for other functions and just put more berths? Also of note, all the new systems like EMALS, arresting gear, elevators,etc seem to require more personal....isn't that kind of weird since everything is automated and computerized??? Why does the NAVY need more people? That goes against pretty much the last 50 years of progress on the civilian side where you need fewer and fewer people! Would like to know more about that, that just seems very strange to me!

    1. Didn't they make the individual areas smaller, like 25 max vs 100 or something? And placed them in lower traffic areas than before? Plus no urinals has to eat up some space too, right?

  5. Naval vessels are ships of war. They should be manned based upon the number of personnel needed to fight the ship, including damage control. If that frees up enough sailor-hours to perform required maintenance, as it should, then two problems are solved. If not, then we need to go back to the drawing board and completely rethink what we are doing. This is no rocket science.

  6. Even civilian ships have crew members down significantly. I have read that large aircraft carrier sized container ships operated by less than 30 crews, thanks to high level of automation. Of course, battle ships need more people as they do combat missions. Key issue is if the manufacturer is able to deliver or just claim one thing but unable to deliver.

    On human resources side, Navy needs to conduct sufficient training and make sure sailors are not overloaded. Another fact is that there are many sailors addict on drugs thus cannot perform duties as required. Find them and discipline them.

    1. "Even civilian ships have crew members down significantly."

      That's not even remotely equivalent to naval vessel manning. Commercial ships don't go on 6-12 month deployments. They make a straight line voyage from port to port in a matter of days and then get needed maintenance performed. They don't have to perform damage control. They don't operate weapons. They don't operate advanced sensors. They don't suffer combat casualties. They don't conduct boardings. They don't operate helo detachments. And so on.

      "sailors addict on drugs"

      Unless you have data to back this up, don't make unsupported statements.

    2. He was probably referring to the admirals tripping on acid when they thought adding a few more LCS's were a good idea.

  7. FYI it happens everywhere, the French Aquitaine class has been designed for a level of manning of only 108 sailors, they are now at 120 (it's not easy to find out the real number). But at least they have the berthing space for them. The Marine Nationale seems to have learnt and plans to have a crew of 125 sailors on their new smaller (by about 20%) frigate, knowing that the new frigate has a smaller number of weapons that is progress.
    Strange enough some of the Aquitaine class ships have 2 crews, like SSBN. The practice is already applied to SSNs in the French Navy. But apprently the Navy has trouble recruiting enough people to double the crew for all the ships in the class.

  8. The United States continues to build a peace-time navy.

  9. Navy Operation and Maintenance budgets (O&M,N) exclude personnel costs, sailors funded from Military Personnel budget (MP,N), the quote of the Ford annual O&S Costs of $391 million would fund sailors pay, $391M/4758 = ~$82,000 each, so wondering is $391 million O&S figure for both O&M,N and MP,N or only O&M,N as looks more likely?

    Why are the O&S costs based on 2000 costs, cannot more up to date actual numbers be used than 20 year old baseline, is the Navy accounting system so limited that unable to track O&S costs per ship/class, the Coast Guard do

    Would note "For the fourth straight year, the FPF reflects the Administration’s unwavering commitment to the members of the military, including a 2.7 percent military pay raise."

    That will be an increase of ~11 % in military pay over the last four year, equivalent CPI ~7.7%, US wages overall tracking the CPI for the last forty years.


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