Today’s SSBN force can be dramatically improved by eliminating the current two crew concept and shifting to a single crew for manning. In the past decade, changes to SSBN force requirements, maintenance practices, force protection, and most significantly crew training and inspections has made the current two crew system obsolete and inefficient. The shift to a single crew SSBN force could greatly improve ship performance, crew training, manning, and quality of life while freeing up resources and personnel to address badly needed shortages ashore.
The need for a dual crew SSBN was established during the Cold War under the premise that a second crew could take control of the ship once it returned from patrol and go back to sea to patrol status after a 30 day refit. This system was needed in order to meet Strategic War requirements and maintain the ship at sea to carry out its strategic mission. However, the end of the Cold War and the restructuring of Nuclear Posturing has meant less SSBNs are required at sea at any one time. Less SSBNs at sea means that each SSBN can go longer periods between patrols and eliminates the need for rapid refits and crew exchange of commands. A shift to single crew could be put into effect with no impact on the current strategic commitment and readiness requirements. In fact patrol periods could be carefully planned and orchestrated to better prepare the ship and the crew for extended patrols, allowing additional ships to carry out local operations and conduct sea critical maintenance deferred due to a limitations previously imposed by a 30 day refit period.
The current two crew SSBN force spends a minimum of 66 percent of its training attempting to stay proficient for at sea operations. A single crew SSBN force could cut this number in half enabling the single SSBN crew to train and be more efficient at its at-sea mission and tasking. This is a huge return in training hours and efficiency which could provide the improvement and consistency in performance badly needed. Trident Training Facility could be used exclusively by boats in extended Refit periods to maintain their proficiency. Each crew would not be forced into a non-proficient period every seven months from which to rebuild. Additionally, a single crew SSBN would reduce formal ship inspections by half greatly freeing up SUBLANT training commands and allowing the ship to do more independent at-sea training than being forced into numerous inspections with each underway.
The elimination of the second SSBN crew would eliminate the inefficiencies in the Exchange of Command. Any homeowner understands the difference between renting and owning a house-hold. A shift to single crew SSBN force would better empower the SSBN crew to take ownership of the ship’s problems and give them the opportunity (more than 7 months) to establish a lasting and consistent solution and performance out of the ship and crew. No more Blue/Gold Crew Problems. Early Refresher Training Periods at sea would be eliminated since the crew would always know the full status of the material condition of the ship going into refit.
Personnel have long been the Navy’s largest expenditure in the Defense Budget. The elimination of a single crew to each SSBN could free up thousands of personnel and resources or millions of dollars which could be plugged back into the SSBN force for improvements. These additional personnel could be used to better staff our training facilities, better improve our Refit facilities, and provide a highly trained and consistent Force Protection Unit currently being provided part time by SSBN crew members during much needed training periods. A huge political obstacle to this proposal would be the elimination of commanding officer, executive officer, wardroom, and Chief of the Boat billets which would greatly reduce the depth of the Submarine Force and eliminate the job opportunities to the personnel striving to fill these billets. Wouldn’t the elimination of these jobs make these jobs more competitive and more likely to be filled by the most qualified person with correct attitude and talent? We already have huge depth at these positions in the COSS/XOSS programs. The need to hang onto these jobs only comes from our need for job security where their elimination from the naval structure is clearly in the best interest of the Navy due to the tremendous savings and reduction in duplicate chains of command.
The shift to a single SSBN crew provides opportunities to greatly improve the SSBN force by eliminating redundancy and waste. One proposal might be to eliminate most of the second crew but leave approximately 50-60 men assigned as a augmentation force in port under the training direction of an XO screened individual to train, attend formal schools, coordinate maintenance, setup training opportunities, and support the ship with message traffic and operations. Being augmented might be a reward for a sailor who performs well or an opportunity to take a stand-down period after several patrols and refits in succession. Upon return to port this augmentation force rejoins the crew and can immediately assist loading missiles/torpedoes, performing maintenance, and standing the watch. Team Refit under one chain of command with a single vision and scope. The English employ this type of system with great success.
A longer on crew period could be offset by the idea of augmentation and longer import and maintenance periods enabling sailors to take leave, attend formal schools, and take care of personal problems. A single crew would have no team refit personnel in the form of another crew to paint and assist in refit. However with potentially longer and more effective refit periods, a small augmentation force mentioned above, could handle the work load. Additionally, more sailors at Trident Refit Facility could greatly reduce Ship Force maintenance requirements assisting the issue of a smaller Team Refit workforce.
The idea of single crew SSBNs has numerous advantages in cost savings and efficiency improvements which cannot be ignored. The idea of an augmentation force would allow the SSBN to function normally without suffering the pains and inefficiencies of Exchange of Command. However, most importantly, the SSBN would be able to continue her mission utilizing more effective training periods and enabling the crew to establish more consistent and effective performance at sea. The ship would be more prepared and outfitted from a longer refit period and the crew would take greater ownership of the ship. The time has clearly come to revamp the way we man SSBNs to meet our needs at sea and import. The advantages and windfalls from a single crew SSBN will require a huge change in the philosophy and principles that the SSBN has operated under for years. A well thought out and researched plan could make this transition and the savings that come with it a reality. The promises and commitments under which the SSBN force was established no longer exist and new measures must be implemented to make the most of our invaluable personnel, equipment, and resources. In a changing time, let us move forward.