Article Archive: Current 1999 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
 Latest
 News
 
 Most
 Read
 
 Most
 Commented
 Hot
 Topics
Sea Transportation: When Fewer Sailors Is Better
   
October 11, 2006: For the last three decades, the U.S. Navy has been converting its "train" (unarmed supply, repair and maintenance ships) to be run largely by civilians. While the U.S. Navy has about 280 combat ships in service, there is another fleet of 185 support ships. The "civilianization" of these ships taught the navy that a lot of practices, used in running civilian ships, would work in the navy. The big change was the use of smaller, but more capable, crews, and the use of more automation. The navy, for example, found that, as it converted support ships from military to civilian crews, crew size typically was cut by 50-70 percent. While the civilians got paid more, they were actually cheaper, saving millions of dollars per ship each year, in payroll alone. There were still some sailors on these ships, about ten percent of the crews, and these were sought after billets. The Military Sealift Command ships had much better accommodations for the crews (everyone had their own room, although more junior personnel shared two man rooms), and things operated much more smoothly because many of the "sailors" were guys who retired after twenty years in the navy, to take these jobs. The high experience level prevented a lot of things from going wrong in the first place, and led to problems being fixed much more quickly.

When Military Sealift Command ships converted to civilian crews, the ships often had lots of new equipment installed, stuff that was standard on most civilian ships. This included a lot of automation in the engine room, and on the bridge. Instead of having sailors standing around watching equipment, most of that was done by computers hooked up to sensors. A few sailors could keep an eye, and then some, on every aspect of ship operation. If anything went wrong, dozen of experienced sailors were available for deal with it. Over the years, the navy noted that, even when there was a major catastrophe (as would be the case from combat damage), the smaller civilian crews on Military Sealift Command ships were able to cope. Because of all that experience, the navy is now moving forward with the same degree of automation on warships.



  

Show Only Poster Name and Title     Newest to Oldest
ShinyTop       10/11/2006 9:27:25 AM
I don't think it just our own civilian manned ships.  The navies of other countries have been operating ships with smaller and smaller crews for a while without undue problems.  The advantages reach way beyond manpower cost.  Less space has to be designed for every aspect of a crew's life, less berthing, less mess space, less recreational space, etc.
 
Quote    Reply

xylene       10/17/2006 2:08:45 PM
I would caution the US navy from adopting many of the solely cost cutting reasons for crew downsizing. I think it is a danger especially for a navy to think it a good idea when it has not been a shooting war for a long time. Large crews mean redundancy and that is a good thing for a combat ship, even better if that ship has taken damage. Damage control teams can focus on emergencies, back up sailors can take positions vacated by dead and wounded, and the rest of the crew can keep running the vessel. On a civilian ship , everyone is on the damage control team. There is no redundancy, and even with all the crew reacting to an emergency the damage control team is so small it may not be effective. On current large oil tankers many crew decide to abandon ship than try to tackle a huge fire especially when the entire vessel may explode.
 
Automation is not always good. The desire is to have an effective combat vessel and it should not be clouded with the desire to have a cheap vessel. If they only want a "pawn" vessel capable of solely getting a few shots off they should just start outfitting small fishing boats and commercial vessel with missles, why spend $100 million on state of the are hull , propulsion .
 
I saw the level of touch screen and automation on new USS Ronald Reagan and it is frightening.  
 
Quote    Reply

EW3       10/17/2006 2:30:19 PM
 
very round numbers - if you have enough people to stand 3 watch sections (same as subs do), then you should have enough to handle combat and damage control situations.    We had to run 2 section (port/starboard) and we wound up having way more people in CIC then we needed during general quarters.     
There should be certain jobs that are just done away with outright.  Not sure the purpose of  signalmen or even quartermasters for example.  I can see one of each,  but to have one one each watch plus a leading petty officer, nowadays is just a waste.   Same could probably be said for the yoemen, personnelmen and disbursing clerks.  
As you eliminate these people, you begin to reduce the number of people needed to support them, such as supply clerks and mess cooks.  You also provide more space for the rest of the crew so their quality of life goes up.
 
 
Quote    Reply

gf0012-aust       10/17/2006 5:36:38 PM
 
USN has been working closely with the RAN over the last few years on smaller manning solutions (typical example being australian OHP equiv and USN OHP).
 
Its also been a lot closer with respect to the LCS with aust'n companies such as Austal.
 
USN also has been working closely with the japanese MSDF on small crewing issues.
 
Quote    Reply

gf0012-aust       10/18/2006 2:53:00 AM
 
USN has been working closely with the RAN over the last few years on smaller manning solutions (typical example being australian OHP equiv and USN OHP).
 
Its also been a lot closer with respect to the LCS with aust'n companies such as Austal.
 
USN also has been working closely with the japanese MSDF on small crewing issues.
 
Quote    Reply