April 1, 2011  

Head count

When optimum manning is not optimal

It was the shot heard ‘round the Navy’s Human Systems Integration (HSI) world. “We’re going to effectively migrate, reconstitute in a way, the surface fleet afloat,” Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathon Greenert told the Surface Navy Association (SNA) on Jan 12. “We’ve just taken too much risk in things like optimal manning and others, and that’s pretty well documented.”

“Pretty well documented” clearly referred to the report of the Fleet Review Panel of Surface Force Readiness charted by the commander, Fleet Forces Command, and the commander, Pacific Fleet, in 2009. Dubbed the “Balisle Report” after retired Vice Adm. Philip Balisle, former commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, who led the panel, among other findings the report pointed to the “optimum manning strategy” as one important contributor to material readiness challenges that have hamstrung the surface forces. As Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead noted at the SNA symposium, “We corrected course on an optimal manning vision which had unintended consequences for fleet readiness at a time of sustained, unusually high operational tempo.”

In that regard, however, it is more likely that the Navy’s desire for reduced, if not minimal, manning since the early 1990s — as opposed to optimal manning — is more to blame for readiness shortfalls. And the implications of this distinction not being well appreciated could be dramatic. As the CNO explained: “Manpower costs — especially manpower costs — should be foremost in our thinking. The cost of pay, health care and benefits will increasingly affect our other accounts and will pressurize funding for operations, maintenance and new construction. Developing systems and concepts without manpower as the primary factor will be a bankrupt approach.”

None of the in-service ships called out in the Balisle report as undergoing optimum manning reductions during the 1990s and into the 2000s were optimally manned. Rather, all incorporated reduced-manning or minimal-manning targets, working from legacy and decidedly non-optimal manpower requirements. These manning initiatives focused on reducing manning of in-service ships to minimal levels through the introduction of advanced technologies (many of which were not funded or realized) and revisions to shipboard policies (some of which did not have the supporting structure to execute) and did not take a blank-sheet-of-paper approach to the analysis. In most instances, the question was: “If we incorporate this technology or we make this change to process and procedure, how many people can we get off the ship?” Rarely did this analysis encompass the Navy’s shoreside elements in an integrated system-of-systems approach.


Contrast this with the DDG 1000 Zumwalt-class destroyer program. Well before any steel had been cut, the Navy started with “zero manning” and conducted detailed and exhaustive top-down functional requirements analyses of needed operator, maintainer and decision-maker tasks, which translated into necessary shipboard manning, personnel skills and end strengths. Moreover, DDG 1000 was the first major combatant to have an explicit key performance parameter (KPP) for manpower. In getting to a crew size of 148, analysts examined crew member workload in agonizing detail from the outset, and addressed the required KSAs — knowledge, skills and abilities —for crew members to perform more than 18,000 distinct tasks — training, maintenance, non-combat underway operations, combat ops, damage control — as to the ability of crew members to complete each task safely and effectively. The design team addressed crew workload and functions in a 60-hour combat scenario and a 60-day operational scenario to validate manpower requirements against typical operational environments.

Nothing like this was ever attempted in any of the “optimum” ships identified in the Balisle report.

And for optimal manning goals to be achieved, HSI must be a fundamental strand — co-equal with hardware and software — in the Navy’s DNA for the design, engineering, acquisition, operations and maintenance of all its systems, platforms and forces, not just warships. It must also extend to shoreside operations and infrastructures. As the NAVSEA Virtual SYSCOM Human Systems Integration Guide instructs, HSI “is the technical process that integrates the disciplines of human factors engineering, manpower (number of people/workload on people), personnel (KSA requirements), training, habitability, personnel survivability, safety and occupational health hazards concerns into the systems engineering of a material system to ensure safe, effective performance and maintainability.” For the Navy, this translates into a system-of-systems engineering process dedicated to providing the service with the best total system performance at the lowest total ownership cost. “Good HSI” thus ensures systems are designed, engineered, produced, supported, fielded and modernized through a complete and careful integration of the human element as an integral component of the overall system design — with manpower being the “primary factor,” according to the CNO.

In short, the goal of optimal as opposed to minimal or reduced-manning initiatives is to have no fewer or no more crew than needed to operate, maintain and fight the ship safely. The Balisle report thus points out the potential for harm when optimum isn’t truly optimal.

“What’s in a name?” Juliet pondered. If the Navy is to achieve daunting material readiness and lowest total ownership cost goals, thereby avoiding bankruptcy if not tragedy, optimal manning, i.e., the right level of manning, and rigorous HSI must be embraced in the transition to tomorrow’s fleet.

GEORGE V. GALDORISI is a retired Navy captain and director of the Corporate Strategy Group at SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific, San Diego. SCOTT C. TRUVER is director of National Security Programs at Gryphon Technologies in Greenbelt, Md.