The administrative requirements associated with the operation of today’s nuclear powered submarines can be overwhelming. Looking over a typical Executive Officer’s (XO) Action Tickler or an Engineer’s Records Review Tickler makes one wonder where they find the time to accomplish anything else. While most of these requirements provide the means for collecting information vital to our continued success, they frequently divert us from focusing on improving our warfighting skills and furthering our professional development. The benefits of reducing this administrative burden range from increased training opportunities, especially at the CO/XO to junior officer level, to improved import quality of life. Since the elimination of these requirements is, in most cases, not feasible, it is in our best interest to reduce the time it takes to complete them. With today’s technology and the high rate of computer literacy in submarine crews, this can be an easily achievable goal. There are numerous tools already in place which have allowed us to work smarter rather than harder with respect to our administrative duties. The use of a computer program to facilitate the management of a command’s Communications Material Security (CMS) account and the installation of Land Area Networks making electronic routing of supply requests and message traffic possible, are just two of many examples. Unfortunately, there is one area which has not shown much progress at the shipboard level over the past few years, the Preventive Maintenance System (PMS).
The current PMS system has been in place for several years and has proven extremely valuable in maintaining the material condition of our submarines at an optimum level. However, its management and administration usually require a significant amount of time, mostly due to the large number of pieces of equipment, each having numerous maintenance requirements. The nature of this system makes it well suited for the use of a computer database program as an administrative aid. Such a program would not only reduce the effort and time required to manage and administer this important system, but it would also reduce the cost and time lag associated with its administration. Some of the features that could be incorporated in such a program and how they would improve our current system are:
1. Capability to update maintenance requirements by using either a telephone line or a computer disk, eliminating the cost and time delay associated with printing revisions/updates bi-annually. A summary of changes could accompany the new documentation for easy reference.
2. Capability to include the procedure associated with each maintenance item, providing the same information contained in the current Maintenance Requirements Cards (MRCs). This would provide ship’s personnel with instant access to any MRC for review or printing in preparation for performing the job. Ships could customize the MRCs by adding information regarding specific tagout references, requirements for work packages, material history data entry, etc. This feature would prevent common delays caused by misplacement or illegibility (caused by wear and tear) of MRCs, and would facilitate the research and preparation of any required tagouts.
3. Capability to list maintenance requirements by specific events (situational requirements) or periodicity. Such a feature would allow ship’s personnel to quickly develop accurate and complete lists without the need for reviewing every requirement associated with each piece of equipment, significantly reducing the amount of time required to prepare, update and review cyclic and quarterly PMS schedules. Additionally, this feature would facilitate the planning for infrequent evolutions, such as a dry docking, by generating a list of all maintenance requirements associated with the evolution of concern.
4. Capability to issue alerts when a possible lack of compliance with a maintenance requirement is detected.
5. Capability to create backup copies to computer disks to provide reliability against a hardware failure. This feature could be incorporated into the program, automatically creating a backup copy at specified intervals.
There are a lot of theories addressing some of the recent mishaps which have occurred across the Submarine Force. One point which comes up frequently is the loss of the father-son type training between experienced submariners (CO, XO and senior Department Heads) and junior officers. I am not sure what has caused this trend, but I feel that the administrative demands placed on a submarine’s supervisory personnel are a contributing cause. The introduction of administrative aids to the fleet will hopefully reverse this trend and will allow us to invest more time in our operational and tactical development. The proposal described in the previous paragraphs is just an example of how we can further improve our efficiency as administrators. An effort to modernize the PMS system may already be in progress, if not, I hope this proposal will plant a seed for future development. More importantly though, in my brief submarine career I have seen many positive changes in the way we carry out our administrative duties, a trend which needs to continue if we intend to maximize our operational proficiency. It will pay great dividends!