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INSPECTION PERFORMANCE VERSUS READINESS

Why These Concepts are Incompatible

A Naval Submarine League/Submarine Officers Advanced Course Essay Contest winner.

On the wall of the debriefing room at Attack Center Number One in the Trident Training Facility building on the Subase in Bangor, Washington, is a quotation often repeated in the Submarine Force:

“You are going to fight like you train, so you better train like you intend to fight.”

It is interesting to consider this statement. Currently, the Submarine Force spends a great deal of its training time preparing, either directly or indirectly for a series of annual inspections. The two most important, and thus the most prepared fur inspections are the Operational Reactor Safeguards Exam (ORSE) and the Tactical Readiness Evaluation (l’RE). Throughout my four year tour on two submarines as a junior officer, the preparation devoted to making the crew and ship ready fur these inspections was phenomenal. The requirements of ORSE preps were routinely granted a higher priority than anything else going on aboard the ship. A recent incident in the Submarine Force underscore the widespread attitude that inspection results, and hence, inspection preparations, are more important than mission readiness.

In addition, the notion that doctrine is determined by the inspection teams is very pervasive. Several lectures at the Submarine Office Advanced Course I am currently attending contained the phrase “The TRE team is going to want to see this”, or “You shouldn’t do the procedure that way, that is not what the TRE team will expect.” A similar attitude concerning ORSE came out during my tour on a Trident submarine. There exist several engineering procedures fur the Trident reactor plant which can be performed with varying sets of initial conditions. In ┬Ěthe most limiting of conditions, these procedures took much longer to perform, were more plant limiting, and were more susceptible to error in performance. A conscious decision had to be made to place the ship in these limiting situations. It is unreasonable to assume that circumstances would force the performance of these evolution from the most limiting conditions. In one specific instance, my Commanding Officer’s Standing Orders required the establishment of the least limiting circumstances. He further stated that the procedure would not be completed without establishing these conditions. However, the ORSE consistently required the performance of this evolution. So our submarine was forced to routinely practice an evolution its CO bad forbidden in order to satisfy the desires of an inspection team.
A quotation attributed to a Russian tactical document is posted in the offices at Submarine School.

“One of the serious problems in planning against American doctrine is that the Americans do not read their manuals nor do they feel any obligations to follow their doctrine.”

My advice to the Russians is to ignore our doctrine as we do, and instead concentrate their efforts on our TRE and ORSE lessons learned messages, once again, as we do. In addition, they need to get the parts out of our lectures where the instructor says, .. OK, all of this is good and everything, but what the TRE really wants to see is … ” Then, they may be able to plan against us.

On my second boat, the CO provided scripts to all of the major players for engineering drills, The OOD, Engineering Officer of the Watch, Engineering Watch Supervisor, and all other major players were given detailed guidance on how to respond to a wide gamut of casualties and evolutions. This guidance included verbatim instructions on what word to pass, who to pass it to, and when to pass it. It left absolutely no room for error or independent thought. The watch standers were little more than trained puppets, capable of fighting the pre-planned casualties quite well. During our ORSE workup, the captain’s drill comments were invariably of the form .. The watch stander failed to use the words contained in the drill supplement to the Engineer’s (or CO’s) standing orders.” We got an excellent on that ORSE, since the CO got to pick what drills were given to what watch sections. It took him hours to figure out what watch team could follow which script best based on what drills were scheduled. I do not think that all ships of the force prepare for inspections to this same degree. However, my experience during ORSE on three ships
under five commands leads me to believe that inspection preparation follows the above outlined format to some extent. Indeed, inspections are currently seen as the goal in the Submarine Force, not as a means of meringue performance. In fact, submarine COs seem to feel that inspection results are the single most important factors on their fitness reports and hence at a promotion board. The Submarine Force has lost its perspective on the relative importance of inspections versus the development of tactical and operational expertise. This is not the first time this has happened to our relatively young community.

We learned a lesson written in blood at the beginning of the Second World War. We had just spent 22 years in relative peace. Our war fighting stills were virtually nonexistent. Our Commanding Officers and most of their crews were incapable of performing at the level required for the conduct of war. And yet, these same COs and crews regularly passed all required inspections. It took the Submarine Force almost two full years to weed out the non performers and give commands to warriors who could and would fight their ships the way that they had to be fought. During those two years, we lost the lion’s share of the 52 submarines that never returned from patrol. Looking at how inspections are performed in the current Submarine Force leaves little doubt as to how this turn of events came to pass. Our Submarine Force does not train to perform its mission. It trains to pass inspections. We do not have the luxury to spend two years at the beginning of the next war to unlearn how to pass inspections and learn how to fight our ships. The next war will not last two years. Unless we are ready at its inception, we will not survive it.

Our goal in training and operations should be to develop the submarine and its crew into an optimal warfighting unit. Such a unit could and would routinely receive scores of outstanding on ORSE and TRE. The converse of this statement is not necessarily true. To fight a war, the crew must be ready to respond to numerous, usually dangerous and short fuse, external stimuli. They must be able to draw on their experience and knowledge base to determine the proper course of action in any situation. They must be able to improvise in the absence of proper materials and equipment, and in the face of mortal danger.
No script will exist to guide watch officers through the events in which they are immersed. More importantly, a war experience will not follow the regular, formatted inspection routine that ships prepare for.

I am not advocating the elimination of inspections in our Force. Many requirements, the most important of which is maintaining the public trust, require that we periodically, and somewhat regularly, open our hatches for an external inspection. However, we must examine the conduct of and the reasons for these inspections. During an ORSE, the Fleet Commander’s Nuclear Propulsion Examining Board (NPEB) comes down to the ship and through level of knowledge exams, interviews, admin reviews, and drills, determines if the crew can safely operate its nuclear propulsion plant. TRE teams have undergone several evolutionary changes, but now consist of a Type Commander’s Inspection Team. This team comes down to the ship, and through level of knowledge exams, interviews, admin reviews, and drills, determines if the crew could safely and effectively operate and fight its ship. While the formality of TRE admin review and interviews is not the same aa that of the ORSE, the inspections are conducted in virtually the same way. In both cases, the ship is underway for two to three days in order to conduct the inspection. These inspection results are used throughout the chain of command to determine the readiness of our ships.

Periodic inspections are required to ensure that our crews meet the minimum requirements to operate properly and safely and fight their ships. However, these inspections are commonly scheduled several years in advance. The intense, specific preparation for the inspection does little to bear up the premise that the inspection results reflect the ability of the crew to operate proficiently on a day-to-day baais. One solution to this problem already exists in the current inspection routine; the surprise ORSE is useful to test ships without benefit of a longer ORSE workup. It actually helps to determine if the ship is capable of conducting business safely on a day-to-day basis. Normally, ships do very well on a surprise ORSE, even though their grades are not as good as they might be on a normally scheduled ORSE. The reason for this discrepancy is the aforementioned ORSE workup.

Any submarine that is scheduled to undergo an ORSE spends three to ten weeks preparing for the inspection. On board my second submarine, this workup started the day we left on patrol, two months prior to the start of the inspection. For the first two-thirds of the patrol, the crew performed two drill sets a day five days a week, a four or five hour field day every week, and between six and twelve hours per man of training every week.

This was in addition to all normal underway routines. During the last several weeks, we shifted to three drill sets a day, five days a week, added a few extra field days, and increased the training load. On my tint patrol, the whole crew then stayed up for the last 12 hours prior to the inspection cleaning the ship’s engine room. During this entire time, we performed no more than the absolute minimum required number of drills other than nuclear engineering drills, This equates to about I in 14 drills. Needless to say, we were on an ORSE patrol. That ship would have been capable of fighting a war, but it was not optimally prepared. No consideration was given to making it optimally prepared, since the inspection du jour was an engineering inspection. When some of the junior officers aboard pointed out this apparent discrepancy, the XO’s position was that the ship was not a war fighting platform-it was a training and inspection platform, and it was wasteful to perform training that did not directly bear on the upcoming inspection. The ship did well on that inspection, but our performance in front of the NPEB did not reflect our ability to operate the reactor plant day to day. nor did it demonstrate our ability to combat reactor plant casualties.

I believe that the current inspection policy is misguided and sub optimal. However, it strives to perform a valuable and necessary function. The fundamentals of a good program are present, but the process can be greatly improved. I propose the following changes to the current policy of conducting ORSEs and TRFs.

  • Combine the ORSE and TRE as a single submarine tactical mission performance inspection.
  • Do not publish the inspection schedule in advance; do not provide ships with more than 72 hours notice of an impending inspection.
  • Change the inspection periodicity. Require an inspection every 8 to 22 months with an average interval of 14 months for the Force as a whole.
  • Change the grading criteria to SAT or UNSAT. Allow for specific comments to be made in any examined area.

The above alterations are sweeping changes and will require much effort to implement. I feel that this effort is worth it, since the new inspections will foster a Force which is more capable and proficient.

The single greatest change is to combine the ORSE and TRE. This step will ensure that the ship will not spend an inordinate amount of time concentrating on a single area of operations; that training time and drills are directed toward simultaneous achievement of all mission objectives. The ships will not have to get underway twice for these two inspections, and will be able to meet a more flexible schedule. As previously discussed, the two inspections are conducted in a similar manner. They could easily be integrated to be performed during the same time period, and designed to complement each other. In addition, provision could be made to place engineering drills and procedures in the context of ship operations and mission requirements and vice verse. This also allows the ORSE a natural incentive to change some of its operating precepts. The interview and level of knowledge phase of TRE takes place as inspectors observe watch standers standing watch. They critique actions taken and discuss watch routine and motives in spot checks with random watch standers. During an ORSE, each and every watch stander is placed in a one-on-one, off watch, decidedly uncomfortable position with an inspector. This technique may be more efficient, but it does not examine how the ship is actually operated. The formality of such an interview does little to ensure that a clear picture of conditions and practices aboard the ship is obtained. Furthermore, ORSE drills are run sequentially on each watch section in quick succession. Everybody knows a drill is coming; and the crew does not respond as they do in a real casualty. By conducting all drills sporadically throughout the inspection, a better idea of crew preparation will be determined. We will get away from having the Casualty Assistance Team standing by in the Machinery Room, the Fire Team dressed out in fire fighting gear with emergency breathing apparatus at the ready, and other unrealistic scenarios. The ability of the ship to combat simultaneous casualties fore and aft could also be determined.

By removing the long lead time scheduling, the squadron and group can exercise more flexibility in mission and inspection scheduling. In addition, crews will not train up specifically for an inspection. This will allow the inspection team to gain a clearer picture of how business is actually conducted aboard the ship. It will stimulate the crew to being consistently ready to perform their jobs. No longer will ship readiness follow a sine curve which peaks at the time of an inspection then falls off. In addition, by removing the once a year for each ship requirement, there will be little ability to game the system and guess at the timing of the inspection. The prudent CO will simply ensure that his crew is consistently prepared for the inspection. The desired corollary is that the ship will be consistently prepared to effectively carry out its mission. By requiring an average periodicity, the Force as a whole can ensure that it continues to meet the minimum requirement’s of readiness.

Changing the grading requirements to SAT or UNSAT will remove much of the stimulus to place inordinate emphasis on inspection results. CO fitreps, Battle E designations, and readiness determinations can be made based on actual performance, not the grades of an inspection team. Many if not most of the sailors in the Submarine Force want to be graded on their performance over the entire year, not on the results of a two day inspection.

The culture of ORSE, TRE, and other periodic inspections is ingrained in the psyche of the Submarine Force. We as a whole need to recognize both the good and the bad that these inspections do to the readiness of the Submarine Force. I realize that no system of inspections will be perfect. I believe that the changes outlined above will improve Force readiness and provide a better means to measure our ability to perform our mission.

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