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What Need to be Done

There exists both advantages and disadvantages of manning U.S. fast attack submarines with two crews, as we do with our SSBN force. This paper provides a submarine officer’s perspective on why the two-crew SSN is the right choice for America as it approaches the 21″ century. The financial reasons alone are sufficient, and it is also the right decision for mission accomplishment, safety, quality of life, morale, training and overall readiness to fight and win conflicts of any scale. This paper also identifies why the decision to adopt a two-crew SSN force is a decision which must be made quickly, in the next two years.

The missions for U.S. submarines today are many, varied, and crucial to the national security interests of the United States. Submarines remain the best platform for performing anti-submarine warfare, and while the Cold War may be over, the proliferation of diesel submarines to Third World nations continues at a rapid rate. Submarines also continue to train and demonstrate proficiency at anti-surface warfare, mining, strike warfare, and special forces insertion and extraction. For covert intelligence, indication, and warning, there is no better platform than a submarine. Despite the continued demonstrated need for, and abilities of, nuclear submarines, senior submarine officers still find themselves faced with a train wreck about to occur in 1999 when the declining number of SSNs are unable to meet the many commitments required.

Why It Needs to be Done Soon

There is a pressing need to solve the problem of a Submarine Force which is rapidly declining below the ability to accomplish assigned missions. According to Rear Admiral Fages, Commander, Submarine Group Two, we had 79 active SSNs as of April 1997. Most experts agree that will be down to SS SSNs by the fiscal year 1999, and level out at the 45-55 recommended by the Bottom Up Review (BUR), shortly after 2000. Rear Admiral Fages also stated that 72 SSNs are required to accomplish all present missions. Assuming the final level reached is 50 SSNs (the middle of the BUR recommendation), in just a few years, we will either have a shortage of 22 SSNs, or we will have to eliminate many of the currently assigned missions.

To accomplish SSN missions within current fiscal constraints becomes even more difficult when considering the CNO’s guidance to the fleets regarding the quality of life. Admiral Johnson has stated that he is just as committed to quality of life as his predecessor, Admiral Boorda, was. This commitment includes three scheduling requirements which shall be adhered to whenever possible:

  • Deployments will not exceed six months.
  • Turnaround ratio will not go below 2: 1. (This is the time after a deployment before the next deployment, meaning that crews returning from a six month deployment will have 12 months before their next deployment. For most SSNs, the maintenance schedule has necessitated a turnaround ratio of approximately 3: 1).
  • Fifty-five percent of a crew’s time should be spent in homeport.
  • With these constraints, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Submarine Force to meet requirements. Admiral Fages stated that many options are being considered, including:

    Re-evaluating missions to determine if some could be turned over to NATO commitments.

  • For the SSNs scheduled to deploy with a battlegroup, reduce the work-up time that SSNs spend with the battlegroup prior to the deployment.
  • Take the fat out of the work-up process by eliminating or combining inspections.
  • Making all deployments five to six months so an SSN does not do a 24 week work-up for a 45 day operation. All of these options will result in minor improvements to the ability of the SSN force to accomplish assigned missions. No combination of these options can reasonably be expected to bridge the huge gap between the requirements a 50 SSN force can perform and the requirements which 72 SSNs can be expected to handle.

How Much We Will Save Financially

The savings from going to two-crew SSNs are substantial, and they are not difficult to estimate. The Navy’s average personnel costs are approximately $70,000 per year for enlisted personnel, and $120,000 per year for officers. These numbers include not only salary and bonuses ($40,000 for enlisted and $70,000 for officers), but also housing, medical, dental, Morale Welfare and Recreation Funds, and all other personnel related costs. With a crew of 15 officers and 120 enlisted personnel, total annual personnel costs amount to approximately $10 million per crew. Historically, costs have run about $1 million per year for food and $4.5 million per year for an SSN crew, not including the additional personnel related expenses.2 These costs are minor compared with the construction costs for modem SSNs. The first New Attack Submarine (NSSN) is expected to cost $3.5 billion, with costs declining to $1.S billion for each NSSN by the fifth platform. Some quick multiplication of annual crew costs, by the SO SSNs expected at the tum of the century, yields approximately $500 million per year for 50 additional crews. These SO additional crews, for 25 years ( a nominal submarine lifetime), would cost just $12.S billion. By comparison, an additional 22 NSSNs (even at the bargain price of $1.S billion each), would cost $33 billion, almost three times as much. This does not even consider the many savings which can reasonably be expected in other areas, which will be discussed later.

There would be additional costs incurred by adopting a two crew system, and they would be minimal compared with the savings. For example, if each submarine spends 70 percent more time at sea, it is reasonable to assume that periodic maintenance items would be required more often, and the reactor core would not last as long. Maintenance costs should not, however, go up by a full 70 percent, since the majority of Navy maintenance performed is preventive, rather than corrective maintenance. These maintenance costs are also minor compared to the $33 billion calculated for an additional 22 SSNs (the difference between the 50 expected and the 72 needed), since an entire overhaul (which may be required only once in the lifetime of a NSSN) has nominally cost just $250-300 million. With respect to the reduced reactor core lifetime, much of a submarine’s fuel is expended transiting oceans enroute to deployments. Fuel savings could be significant by having crew turnovers take place in overseas bases and by having more submarines forward deployed, which would reduce the need for high-speed (fuel inefficient), long distance transits when crises arise.

How the French Did It 15 Years Ago

The French Navy decided to go to two-crew SSNs 15 years ago, when they realized that they were facing many of the same cutback issues that the U.S. faces today. The French recognized in the early 1980s that, as they reduced the size of their navy for budgetary reasons, they would not have enough platforms to accomplish all of the missions that they wanted to accomplish. They determined that to do so would require having each SSN at sea for more than 250 days per year, which could not reasonably be accomplished with single crew SSNs. As a result, they developed the two.-crew system currently in place.

Blue Crew

13 weeks at sea
4 wk analysis
6 week rest
7 week shore training
4 week maintenance

Red Crew
6 week rest
7 week shore training
4 week maintenance
13 weeks at sea
4 week analysis

This system permits the SSN to be at sea for 26 out of every 34 weeks, or 76.5 percent of the time. This equates to 270 days per year, a feat which could not reasonably be accomplished with a single crew SSN. The challenges faced by the French submarine force in the 1980s were almost identical to those faced by the U.S. Submarine Force today.

Using the schedule the French navy adopted, one can see that a 50 SSN force with two crews per sub would be equivalent to an 85 SSN single-aew-per-sub force. This is greater than the present day U.S. force. Since the CNO is committed to sailors having 55 percent time in homeport, this limits a single crew SSN to an average of 164 days at sea per year. The French schedule provides for each crew to be at sea just 13 of every 34 weeks (38.2 percent or 139.S days per year). At the same time, the SSN hull is at sea for 26 of every 34 weeks (16.S percent or 279 days per year). The 279 days is an increase of 70 percent above what a single crew SSN can accomplish, limited by the CNO’s directive. This 70 percent increase is the equivalent of turning our projected 50 SSN force into an 85 SSN force, six more than the 79 active SSNs in the fleet today, and more than enough to accomplish all assigned missions.

How We Did It in World War II and How We Do It Today
America has experience with two-crew submarines. We have seen the benefits in our past, and we continue to see them today. During World War ll, special maintenance crews would actually relieve the operational crews during refit periods, so the operational crews could rest before their next patrol. Today, we have Blue and Gold crews assigned to each SSBN, just as we have since the first SSBN, GEORGE WASHINGTON, was commissioned in 1959.

To get maximum use of these massive ships [the first SSBNs], two complete crews were assigned to each ship: two captains, two sets of officers, and two entire crews of 130 men each, one designated George Washington (Blue), and the other George Washington (Gold). At the end of each sixty-day patrol, there would be a thirty-day period for resupply and a refit and short machinery readiness check, and then the alternative crew would take the ship to sea.

The same requirements for maximum use of our SSN force are rapidly coming upon us as the number of platforms declines below the level at which mission requirements can be met. Today, we have fewer than 20 SSBNs and projections are for 14 by the end of the decade. With 14 SSBNs and 50 SSNs in 1999, our SSBNs will constitute just 22 percent of our submarines, yet they will spend nearly 50 percent of the total submarine-days at sea. This shows the large gains in capability which can be achieved by implementing the two-crew manning, with which we are already proficient.

Improved Maintenance

The annual maintenance costs incurred as a result of personnel error are significant, and could be reduced by going to a two-crew SSN force. With two crews performing the maintenance periods together, it is reasonable to assume that some of the personnel related maintenance errors could be avoided. The workload on SSN crews during maintenance periods is astounding. With twice as many people performing and supervising the work, millions of dollars could be saved just be catching and preventing half of the mistakes that we have had in recent history. This could compensate for any maintenance which is required to be performed more often as a result of more time at sea.

Improved Retention

Another factor which would improve the Submarine Force, with two crews per SSN, would be the greater retention to top quality personnel. The tope five reasons to leave stated by submarine junior officers (JOs) who resign are:

1. Amount of family separation (consistently the number one reason at approximately 25 percent, with all other reasons appearing less than half as often)
2. Poor promotion and advancement opportunity
3. Low job satisfaction
4. Unfair performance evaluations, and
5. Amount of sea duty.

Based on such comments, one might suspect a greater percentage of SSBN officers would remain in the Navy, compared with officers from SSNs. In fact, the retention of submarine officers from three to seven years of service (most JOs who went on to department head tours) was essentially the same (30-32 percent for the years 1992-1996) for SSN and SSBN officers. According to policy studies at the Bureau of Naval Personnel, this is a result of competing factors in the SSN and SSBN lifestyles. While the quality of life is clearly better for SSBN crews, the members of SSN crews cite greater job satisfaction and excitement. That being the case, shifting to SSNs manned with two crews should cause a rise in the retention of personnel from SSN crews.

The same benefits could be expected from top quality department heads and XOs staying in to serve as Commanding Officers. The Submarine Force has acknowledge that, due to cutbacks, a large number of top quality personnel who were selected, will never get command of a submarine due to the limited number of platforms available. These outstanding, post-XO Commanders, have been designated CO(SS), and they are looking for good jobs to fill. Adding 50 crews for the SSNs in the force at the tum of the century would be the best use of these qualified personnel who truly want to serve as Commanding Officers. The improved morale and retention of these senior officers who are currently selected for command but not given command, would certainly trickle down to the department heads and junior officers. Granted, this a short term problem of excess quality personnel, but it would be an additional benefit of shifting now to Blue and Gold crews for SSNs.

Improved Morale

Directly linked to the greater retention numbers, crew morale could also be expected to be higher with a two-crew SSN force. Low job satisfaction and amount of sea duty were two of the top five reasons cited in resignations. With reduced feelings of being overworked for little or no credit, wardrooms and crews would likely perform better as individuals and as teams. SSN crews today have a strong, not unjustified, opinion that their time is spent rushing from one exercise, operation or inspection to the next. It is not uncommon for personnel to stand port and starboard (two section) watches underway. The Submarine Force has no mandatory sleep requirements equivalent the crew rest which applies to aviators, in spite of the responsibility submariners have for nuclear power plants and multi-billion dollar submarines. The USS JEFFERSON CITY grounding in November 1994 had, as one of the contributing factors, crew fatigue. The crew was rushing from one exercise to the next, and the quartermasters had been standing port and starboard watches. Expanding to a two-crew force could reduce this burden and improve morale. This improved attitude and performance could improve the force safety record, weapons and engineering proficiency, and overall mission accomplishment.

Obstacles to Overcome

While there is much justification for going to a two-crew SSN force, there certainly would be difficulties. The requirement for hundreds of additional personnel could not be met in a short period of time. Considering that officer training takes 15-18 months prior to reporting onboard a submarine (enlisted training can take almost as long), the decision to go to two crews must be made quickly, if new crews are to be created before the tum of the century. Some believe that creating an additional 50 crews would greatly reduce the quality of the personnel in the force. This, however, would only be a short-term effect. The task of recruiting and training more SSN crews in a matter of years is extensive, but worth it. With good, bard recruiting efforts in the short term, the better quality of life will result in greater retention of top quality personnel and an even better force in less than a decade.

Manning. The manning difficulties associated with such a transition present even greater reason for such a decision to be made as soon as possible, while our SSN numbers are still declining from the 70s to the SOs. According to the Assistant Nuclear Officer Programs Manager, the most limiting factor would be getting enough department beads. Transitioning to this manning plan could take nine years, until enough department beads were available, assuming we could recruit and access the necessary officers. Our accessions have gone from 540 in 1991, to 319 in 1996, and are expected to be less than 300 in 1997. If we were to rapidly raise the number of accessions in the next few years, as these large year groups move towards the department head tour, there would be tremendous overmanning at the JO level on the single crew SSNs.8 To avoid this problem of a nine year delay in personnel accession and training, there are two solutions. First, the decision to shift should be made this year, while our SSN numbers are still declining and we have the personnel to man more than 50 SSNs. Second, and more importantly, the transition to two-crew SSNs should be incremental. The decision could be made today that 10 SSNs are going to have two crews within a year. This method would make the transition possible with the limited number of bodies currently available, while maintaining our force capabilities. Every time an additional 10 SSNs shift to two crews, it will be equivalent to getting another seven SSNs in the force, for much less cost.

Training. The cost to train a nuclear qualified officer is not insignificant. Nominal training costs for any officer are $140,000. This number comes from the $250,000 to train a Naval Academy graduate, the $100,000 to train an ROTC graduate, the costs of other commissioning sources, and the ratios that each source provides to the force. For nuclear trained officers, another $100- 200,000 is spent between Nuclear Power School, nuclear prototype training, and Submarine School.’ These costs would total just $30 million for an additional 100 officers, just two percent of the $1.5 billion for a NSSN, but not a number that should be ignored.

Additionally, if too many personnel were brought through the training pipeline at the same time, expanded training facilities might be required. Nuclear Power School could absorb greater requirements fairly easily, but re-opening another prototype facility or constructing a new one would incur substantial costs. For these reasons, an incremental program, in which 10 SSNs every five years shifted to the two-crew program, would minimize the impact upon our outstanding training programs.

Proficiency. Perhaps the most difficult obstacle to overcome would be maintaining the proficiency of our SSN crews. Our SSBN crews have certainly been able to maintain their proficiency with their two-crew system. SSNs, however, have many more missions than SSBNs, and for each crew to lose approximately 15 percent of the sea time they currently have (as would be expected going from 45 percent underway to 38 percent underway), it would be difficult to remain proficient in the wide variety of missions performed by SSNs. This could be overcome in several ways. First, develop and improve the shore training facilities used during off-crew periods to the extent our SSBN force has. Also, consider limiting each SSN to just some of the many missions of which it is capable. This would permit savings in the area of ship alterations and improvements, since each new tactical capability would not have to be installed on every SSN. This would also permit each SSN crew to concentrate training on the tasks and mission which will actually be assigned.

How Slow We Are to Consider This Solution

It is a problem that the Submarine Force is only beginning to consider seriously the two-crew SSN force as an option. It is also a problem that the Submarine Force does not appear to be taking advantage of lessons already learned by our allies. Rear Admiral Fages stated that any study of multiple crews for SSNs is “really in its infancy”, and a study was recently completed by a post-command submarine officer on the feasibility of three crews for every two SSNs.10 Three crews for two SSNs is not a good idea because the crews would lose the great advantages that currently come from deep familiarity with the intricacies of their boat. The fact that the multiple crew idea is in its infancy indicates that we are not taking advantage of our French allies making the transition 15 years ago.

Dealing with a Fixed Budget Pie

Even assuming that the only money available will pay for 50 single crew SSNs and nothing more, shifting to two-crew SSNs is still the right choice. If the cost of an additional 50 crews for 25 years is $12.5 billion, and the money is not available, then the right choice is to go beJow SO and still make them two-crew SSNs. No submarine officer wants to have the SSN force decline below the 50 used for this analysis and in the middle of the 45-55 recommended by the BUR. However, if the budget pie is fixed, going from 50 down to 40 SSNs with two crews would have zero net cost and improve our capabilities. The 20 fewer SSNs would save $1.5 billion each, for a total of $15 billion. The 40 two-crew SSNs would require just 80 crews, only 30 more crews for 25 years would be $15 billion. At the same time, the 40 two-crew SSNs would provide the same at-sea time and mission capability as 68 SSNs, much more than 50, and much more capable of accomplishing assigned missions.


The two-crew SSN force is the right option for the U.S. Submarine Service today. Financially, it will save money, while still permitting us to accomplish all assigned missions. It will improve morale, safety, quality of life, retention, and overall mission readiness. Since there is a lead-time required to develop SSN crews, however, the decision should be made quickly, in order to maintain our mission capabilities as the size of our force declines. Performing a gradual transition would permit such a plan to be implemented smoothly with the limited number of bodies currently available. The manning requirements will also be greatly simplified by shifting from single to double-crew SSNs while our force numbers are still declining. The leaders of our Submarine Force should recognize quickly that current efforts to deal with our declining numbers are useful, but will not be adequate to solve all of our problems. The two-crew SSN force will.

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