Surface Forces: March 11, 2003


What started as an experiment, to deal with a desperate shortage of sailors available for sea duty, had been declared a success. For decades, some U.S. Navy officers and petty officers complained that too much of the duty on board ships was tradition bound busy work. Pointing to the lower (and always getting lower) manning levels on commercial ships, the question kept getting asked; why do warships need so many sailors? Other navies were paying attention, using automation, or just smarter organization, to reduce the number of sailors on board. In the last few years, the navy suffered a persistent shortage of sailors available for  sea service. So it decided to let the "small crew" folks have their way and implement their ideas on several ships. Crew size was slashed some 20 percent by automating many chores (recording data in Palm Pilot PDAs, or laptops rather, than paper logbooks, using laser rangefinders and other electronics to replace ancient, and labor intensive techniques) and making others self-service (laundry and some personnel chores). Sailors were also cross trained to handle more different jobs, which turned out to be quite popular. The greater use of automation and self-service was also enthusiastically accepted. Most sailors preferred doing their own laundry, on their own schedule. The greater use of PDAs and bar code scanners for collecting data was much appreciated, as constantly entering all those numbers into logbooks was never very popular. The smaller crews also leaves more space for everyone, which has been well received. New ships are being designed for smaller crews, but more space per sailor (as a means of encouraging people to stay in the service.) The one great fear about smaller crews, inadequate manpower for damage control, has yet to be tested. But drills and simulations using smaller crews, and new equipment indicates there is no dangers. But not everyone will be assured until this is a real life disaster to test the new damage control set up.


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