Navy’s Cancellation of Littoral Combat Ship ASW Mission Package Triggers Nunn-McCurdy Breach

The Navy’s decision to cancel the anti-submarine warfare mission package for the Littoral Combat Ship has sparked a Nunn-McCurdy breach, the service told lawmakers on Friday. In a statement, the Navy said it told Congress today that the LCS Mission Module program now “exceeds the original baseline estimate by at least 30 percent and the […]

Sailors aboard the Independence-class Littoral Combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) lower a rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) in preparation for small boat operations October 7, 2020. U.S. Navy Photo

The Navy’s decision to cancel the anti-submarine warfare mission package for the Littoral Combat Ship has sparked a Nunn-McCurdy breach, the service told lawmakers on Friday.

In a statement, the Navy said it told Congress today that the LCS Mission Module program now “exceeds the original baseline estimate by at least 30 percent and the current baseline by at least 15 percent, breaching the Nunn-McCurdy significant cost growth threshold.”

The breach comes after the Navy, in its Fiscal Year 2023 budget proposal, decided to eliminate the anti-submarine warfare package from the LCS mission module program, instead opting to focus the ASW capability on the Constellation-class frigate program.

“Specifically, [Program Acquisition Unit Cost] increased by 37.3 percent from the original baseline. PAUC increased by 18.0 percent and [Average Procurement Unit Cost] increased by 17.2 percent from the current baseline,” Capt. Clay Doss, an acquisition spokesperson for the Navy, said in a statement.

“This cost growth occurred due to a reduction of overall LCS Mission Package quantities following divestment of the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) MP in the President’s Budget Submission for Fiscal Year 2023 (PB 2023). The total cost of the LCS MM program was then spread across fewer units,” Doss continued.

The Navy’s LCS Mission Module program was slated to include three mission packages – one for anti-submarine warfare, one for surface warfare and one for mine-countermeasures. But the service has only fielded the surface warfare mission package, and the other packages have experienced delays.

The Nunn-McCurdy provision mandates the Pentagon tell lawmakers when the cost of its top-tier acquisition programs surpasses specific baselines.

“There are two types of breaches: significant breaches and critical breaches. A significant breach is when the Program Acquisition Unit Cost (the total cost of development, procurement, and construction divided by the number of units procured) or the Procurement Unit Cost (the total procurement cost divided by the number of units to be procured) increases 15% or more over the current baseline estimate or 30% or more over the original baseline estimate. A critical breach occurs when the cost increases 25% or more over the current baseline estimate or 50% or more over the original baseline estimate,” reads a 2016 report from the Congressional Research Service.

The Navy maintained that the LCS mission module program’s current breach is not “critical.”

“The LCS MM program is not at increased risk as a result of this cost breach. This is not a critical Nunn-McCurdy breach that would require program recertification,” Doss said.

The service announced during the March budget rollout that it would cancel the ASW package. The Navy struggled to field the Raytheon AN/SQS-62 variable depth sonar (VDS) on the Freedom-class LCS and the service now plans to field the Thales’ CAPTAS-4 on the frigates.

As part of its FY 2023 budget proposal, the Navy also announced plans to decommission all of the Freedom-class LCS currently in service.

“This is about opportunity cost. ASW mission, that went away. Roughly $50 million a year support cost for these vessels and an opportunity to reinvest $1.8 billion when this ASW mission sets [are] going to be taken up by the frigate, of which we’re buying the fourth of the line in this budget request,” Navy budget chief Rear Adm. John Gumbleton said in a March briefing. “It speaks to a return on investment to get at the lethality we need for our near-peer competitor.”

GAO Report on Littoral Combat Ship Program

The following is the Government Accountability Office report, Littoral Combat Ship: Actions Needed to Address Significant Operational Challenges and Implement Planned Sustainment Approach on Feb. 24, 2022. From the report What GAO Found The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) fleet has not demonstrated the operational capabilities it needs to perform its mission. Operational testing has found […]

The following is the Government Accountability Office report, Littoral Combat Ship: Actions Needed to Address Significant Operational Challenges and Implement Planned Sustainment Approach on Feb. 24, 2022.

From the report

What GAO Found

The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) fleet has not demonstrated the operational capabilities it needs to perform its mission. Operational testing has found several significant challenges, including the ship’s ability to defend itself if attacked and failure rates of mission-essential equipment. The Navy is also behind schedule in developing the various mission modules—different configurations of key systems for different missions, such as mine countermeasures—for the LCS. In addition, GAO found that the LCS has frequently encountered challenges during deployments. The Navy has begun to take steps to address some of these issues, but it does not have a comprehensive plan to address the various deficiencies identified during testing and deployments. Without a comprehensive plan to address deficiencies, perform adequate testing of the mission modules, and implement lessons learned from completed deployments, the LCS will remain at risk of being unable to operate in its intended environment. Further, gaps between desired and demonstrated capabilities have substantial implications for the Navy’s ability to deploy the LCS as intended. Until the Navy makes future operational deployments contingent on progress in addressing gaps between desired and demonstrated capabilities, the LCS will continue to be dependent in combat and require protection by multi-mission combatants.

The Navy has implemented eight of the 10 recommendations from its 2016 Review of the LCS program. Among other things, it has implemented new approaches for assigning and training sailors for the LCS crew. However, the Navy is facing challenges in implementing a revised maintenance approach, under which Navy personnel will perform some maintenance currently being conducted by contractors. Until the Navy determines the specific tasks Navy personnel will perform, it risks not being able to meet the maintenance needs of the LCS, thus hindering the ships’ ability to carry out their intended missions.

The Navy’s operating and support (O&S) cost estimates for the LCS do not account for the cost implications of its revised maintenance approach. Specifically, the Navy has not assessed the cost implications of its revised maintenance approach, and thus lacks a clear picture of its impact on O&S costs. Some of the Navy’s O&S actual cost data are also incomplete and inaccurate. For example, the Navy reported on each O&S cost element for the seaframes in its Visibility and Management of Operating and Support Costs database, but it reported only on the maintenance cost element for the mission modules. Further, the Navy does not report maintenance costs separately for each mission module, but instead totals those costs for all mission modules and divides by the number of seaframes in the fleet. Without complete and accurate cost data, the Navy is at risk of failing to anticipate O&S cost increases that could create challenges in funding LCS as intended or delivering capabilities when expected.

Finally, the Navy has not updated its O&S cost estimates to reflect its revised operational and sustainment concepts and has not incorporated actual cost data into some of its estimates. Without complete information on the cost of implementing the revised operational and sustainment concepts, and the use of actual cost data, the Navy will not be able to analyze the differences between estimates and actual costs—important elements for identifying and mitigating critical risks to the LCS.

Download the document here.

CNO Gilday: ‘We Need a Naval Force of Over 500 Ships’

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The U.S. Navy needs a fleet of more than 500 ships to meet its commitments to the soon-to-be released National Defense Strategy, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said on Friday.  “I’ve concluded – consistent with the analysis – that we need a naval force of over 500 ships,” Gilday […]

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Spruance (DDG-111), left, USS America (LHA-6), and Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), transit the Philippine Sea on Jan. 22, 2022. US Navy Photo

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The U.S. Navy needs a fleet of more than 500 ships to meet its commitments to the soon-to-be released National Defense Strategy, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said on Friday. 

“I’ve concluded – consistent with the analysis – that we need a naval force of over 500 ships,” Gilday said during the WEST 2022 conference, co-hosted by AFCEA and the U.S. Naval Institute.

“We need 12 carriers. We need a strong amphibious force to include nine big-deck amphibs and another 19 or 20 [LPDs] to support them. Perhaps 30 or more smaller amphibious ships to support Maritime Littoral Regiments… to 60 destroyers and probably 50 frigates, 70 attack submarines and a dozen ballistic missile submarines to about a 100 support ships and probably looking into the future about 150 unmanned.”

According to Gilday’s list, that force would be about 513 ships with 263 manned combatants, plus 100 logistics and supply ships and 150 unmanned vessels. Gilday told reporters later that the total would include Littoral Combat Ships.

“LCS is in that mix,” he said.

The numbers Gilday said on Friday are largely in line with a notional high-end total included in the abbreviated Fiscal Year 2022 long-range shipbuilding plan. The ongoing congressionally-mandated force structure assessment will inform the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, Gilday said. But details of the FSA have largely been under wraps as the Pentagon continues to craft its next national defense strategy.

“We’re going through another force structure assessment right now, but based on the hard work we’ve done over the last five or six years we’re thinking about how we would fight,” Gilday said. “How would we fight differently in terms of a wide, vast ocean like the Pacific?”

For the last three years, the Navy’s future force structure has been in flux, undergoing several different fleet reviews while the Department of the Navy and Pentagon leadership underwent unprecedented churn in 2019 and 2020.

The attempt at a force structure assessment led to the Trump administration releasing an ambitious fleet plan toward the end of its tenure. The Biden administration shelved the plan shortly after President Joe Biden took office, prompting the Navy and the Office of the Secretary of the Defense to again reevaluate the force under new Pentagon leadership and the prospect of a flat budget outlay.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday speaking at WEST 2022 on Feb. 18, 2022.

Over the last year, the Navy has set out on an aggressive testing program to refine the emerging Distributed Maritime Operations concept that will connect crewed and unmanned ships and aircraft to operate in concert across the vast distances of the Pacific.

In particular, Large Scale Exercise 2021 tested DMO in addition to the Marines Corps’ Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations and Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment across three combatant commands in a networked exercise with live and simulated exercises. The Navy and Marines are also testing deployed carrier strike and amphibious ready groups with complicated battle problems that further test the underlying concepts. Meanwhile, in U.S. 5th Fleet, the ongoing testing of small unmanned vessels is refining how the service thinks about employing them in the future.

“The real message I wanted to get out of those numbers, it’s actually grounded on how we’re going to fight,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Marine Corps has an ongoing amphibious ship requirements study that it will ultimately deliver to Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said the study is about 30 to 45 days away from completion and he expects the analysis to call for approximately 31 amphibious ships. So far, Del Toro has received two progress updates about the study, Berger said.

“If it’s anything like the previous studies – we’ve had I think 12 studies in the last 13 years – every one of them came out about 31 amphib ships,” Berger told reporters at WEST. “So I don’t know what this one will come to, but I can’t see it radically different from that. That’s requirements. That’s our Marine Corps requirement. That’s maybe different from what the nation can afford.”

The study is assessing the requirements for both large amphibious ships and the Light Amphibious Warship, which the Marine Corps wants to shuttle Marines around islands and shorelines in the Indo-Pacific. LAW is supposed to have a beaching capability so it can easily deliver Marines to the shore. While the Marine Corps is behind the push for LAW, money to purchase the platform would come out of the Navy’s shipbuilding account.

Gilday’s affirmation of the fleet follows reports the that the Biden administration is planning late influx funds into the Pentagon budget for FY 2023. USNI News reported earlier this week that the new topline could be as high $773 billion.

Luria: Sending Japan-based USS Ronald Reagan to Middle East ‘Biggest Strategic’ Mistake in a Lifetime

Dispatching the Navy’s Japan-based forward-deployed aircraft carrier to the Middle East earlier this year to bolster the withdrawal from Afghanistan was a major strategic error, a top lawmaker on the House Armed Services Committee said today. Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), a former nuclear-qualified surface warfare officer and current vice chair of HASC, criticized the move […]

Guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh (CG-67) conducts carrier strike group integrated operations USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) on June 10, 2021. US Navy Photo

Dispatching the Navy’s Japan-based forward-deployed aircraft carrier to the Middle East earlier this year to bolster the withdrawal from Afghanistan was a major strategic error, a top lawmaker on the House Armed Services Committee said today.

Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), a former nuclear-qualified surface warfare officer and current vice chair of HASC, criticized the move on Wednesday, arguing it sent the wrong message to China.

“We understand that the Western Pacific is the priority theater. We have to act like it. We just keep getting drawn back to the Gulf. I mean, I would say in my opinion, one of the biggest strategic mistakes that has been made in any of our lifetime, is that the Ronald Reagan was taken from 7th Fleet and sent to 5th Fleet to support the withdrawal from Afghanistan,” Luria said at the U.S. Naval Institute’s Defense Forum Washington. “What kind of message do you think that sends to the Chinese? That we’re that easily distracted. That we take our only carrier in the Pacific for a certain period of time and take it out of theater.”

Reagan – which is based in Yokosuka, Japan – spent nearly three months operating in the Middle East this summer as the U.S. military withdrew forces from Afghanistan after two decades of war. It was the first time since 2003 – when the former USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) operated in the Persian Gulf to bolster the U.S. invasion of Iraq – that the U.S. military sent its Japan-based carrier to the region, a point Luria noted.

The vice chair of HASC, who also sits on the HASC seapower and projection forces subcommittee, argued that while China is the Defense Department’s top priority, its planning and budgets do not show this is the case.

“We have to act like it. We have to deploy our ships there. We have to look at more forward-basing arrangements and then also the familiarity of our ships with operating within that theater. I mean, I think that our submarine force – and I would say unequivocally that our submarine forces really continue to maintain our advantage against the Chinese –but I also think that our submarine forces routinely and continuously [are] operating in the same environment in which they’ll fight,” Luria said.

“I think for our surface force – the rotational nature of our deployments – that we could improve on the familiarity with the operating patterns of other navies and ships and fishing fleets and kind of just the environment within the Pacific by having those ships operate more routinely, more deliberately in certain areas. And [I] have even considered having as an idea, standing up some standing maritime groups such as we might have in the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic with SNMG1 and [SNMG]2,” she added, referring to Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 and Standing NATO Maritime Group 2.

Luria argued the Pentagon does not have a cohesive naval strategy that the Biden administration’s top leadership supports, and this affects the Navy’s ability to deliver a budget that mirrors its needs.

“No one ever comes to us and says ‘here’s what we need. Here’s why we need it. And here’s the risk of not doing it,'” she said.

The Virginia Democrat said this leads to a “shell game” during the budget process, pointing to the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2022 request that only sought one Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, despite the service’s plans to buy two under a signed multi-year procurement deal.

Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) posing for a photo in front of USS Vicksburg (CG-69) on a April 8, 2021, visit to a BAE Systems shipyard. via Twitter

“I don’t think that there’s really a coherent maritime strategy bought into from the administration, from the top down and from every level of leadership in the Pentagon. And without being able to convey what the strategy is, I feel that the process is kind of just a shell game with the budget,” Luria said.

“White House says, ‘here’s what DOD’s top line’s going to be.’ It gets splits into thirds at the Pentagon. The Navy says, ‘well, here’s what we’re going to get. I guess we need to come up the best with we can with what we think we’re going to get.’ They come over to Congress and we get the result … of a budget that wants to shrink the Navy and only build one destroyer this year,” she added. “And then we have to add back to it. So without being able to clearly convey the risk – here’s the strategy, the strategy drives the requirements, the requirements drive the [Program Objective Memorandum] and the POM drives the budget – there’s really no way to clarify what the risk is of not doing the things that I think are essential to the Navy.”

U.S. Begins Exercise Off Japan with Canadian, German and Australian Navies

KUALA LUMPUR – Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan and the United States are conducting naval drills in the Philippine Sea off the southern coast of Japan for the next week. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force exercise, known as ANNUALEX 2021, began on Sunday and will continue through Nov. 30. The exercise is a yearly naval training […]

Fifteen ships from the Royal Australian Navy, Royal Canadian Navy, German Navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and U.S. Navy sail in formation during Annual Exercise (ANNUALEX), Nov. 21. U.S. Navy Photo

KUALA LUMPUR – Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan and the United States are conducting naval drills in the Philippine Sea off the southern coast of Japan for the next week.

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force exercise, known as ANNUALEX 2021, began on Sunday and will continue through Nov. 30. The exercise is a yearly naval training event led by the JMSDF, with navies from other countries invited to participate in the event. This year’s iteration marks the first time the German Navy is taking part in these drills.

The exercise will “include enhanced maritime communication tactics, anti-submarine warfare operations, air warfare operations, replenishments-at-sea, cross-deck flight operations and maritime interdiction maneuvers,” U.S. 7th Fleet said in a news release.

The Chief of the German Navy, Vice Adm. Kay-Achim Schönbach, reiterated in the release his earlier announcement about a regular German Navy deployment to the Indo-Pacific region.

“The German navy will strengthen its commitment to the region through deeper security and defense cooperation with regional partners,” Schönbach said in the news release. “Germany would seek to send a frigate every two years to the Indo-Pacific region with a supply ship.”

German frigate FGS Bayern (F217) is currently on a deployment to the region and participating in the ANNUALEX 2021 exercise. It remains to be seen, however, if the incoming German coalition government that is about to form will support and commit to a regular German naval deployment to the Indo-Pacific.

The U.S. is participating with aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) with embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2, cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG-57), destroyer USS Stockdale (DDG-106), replenishment ships USNS Rappahannock (T-AO-204) and USNS John Ericsson (T-AO-194) and an unnamed Los Angeles-class submarine.

“ANNUALEX presents an opportunity to strategically coordinate, collaborate and further strengthen our network of partnerships and alliances, enabling us to remain a flexible, adaptable and persistent combined force capable of quickly projecting power, where and when needed,” Rear Adm. Dan Martin, the commander of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 1, said in the release.

Canadian frigate HMCS Winnipeg’s (FFH338) participation in the exercise is its last major engagement for its presence deployment in the region before the ship sails for home. The Royal Australian Navy is participating with destroyer HMAS Brisbane (D41) and frigate HMAS Warramunga (FFH152). Prior to the exercise, Warramunga and Bayern were on separate monitoring and surveillance patrols in the East China Sea in support of United Nations sanctions on North Korea.

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Asagiri-class destroyer JS Yamagiri (DD 152), left, JMSDF Asahi-class destroyer JS Asahi (DD 119), and JMSDF Akizuki-class destroyer JS Teruzuki (DD 116) sail in formation during Annual Exercise (ANNUALEX), Nov. 21. U.S. Navy Photo

JMSDF units taking part in the exercise include helicopter destroyer JS Izumo (DDH-183), destroyers JS Inazuma (DD-105), JS Harusame (DD-102), JS Onami (DD-111), JS Teruzuki (DD-116), JS Asahi (DD-119), JS Yamagiri (DD-152), JS Kirishima (DDG-174), JS Chokai (DDG-176) and a JMSDF submarine.

“Many naval forces (United States, Australia, Canada and firstly Germany) will join this JMSDF exercise. I’m very proud to participate in the exercise as a commander of surface forces,” Rear Adm. Komuta Shukaku, the commander of Escort Flotilla 1, said in the 7th Fleet release. “We will strengthen the cooperation among those navies through this high-end tactical exercise.”

In other developments, Malaysia and the U.S. began Maritime Training Activity (MTA) Malaysia 2021 virtually and in the waters and airspace of the Strait of Malacca on Tuesday. The exercise, according to a separate 7th Fleet news release, will take place across eight days and emphasize “the full spectrum of naval capabilities and features cooperative evolutions that highlight the ability of the U.S. and Malaysia to work together toward the common goal of ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

The U.S. Navy will participate with Littoral Combat Ship USS Tulsa (LCS-16) and a P-8A Poseidon aircraft from CTF 72. The Royal Malaysian Navy is expected to deploy frigate KD Lekiu (FFGH30) and corvette KD Lekir (FSG26) for the drills.

“Our commitment to dedicating resources in exercises is a testament to our innate belief in the power of sharing responsibility in ensuring regional security,” Rear Adm. Chris Engdahlb, the commander of Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 7, said in the release. “MTA Malaysia 2021 represents another step forward.”

The at-sea portion of the exercise will feature training for “divisional tactics designed to enhance communication as ships sail together in complex maneuver,” 7th Fleet said.
“Other focus areas include surface warfare, mobile dive and salvage training, replenishment-at-sea, a gunnery exercise, and exchanges between Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians.”

Malaysia and the U.S. will also participate in exchange engagements for subject matter experts to drill for multiple missions ranging from diving and salvage to maritime law and law enforcement, according to 7th Fleet.

“The intergovernmental organization personnel from the European Union’s Critical Maritime Routes Indo-Pacific (EU-CRIMARIO) initiative will provide subject matter expertise aimed to aid in understanding of the operational environment, and 7th Fleet desires to continue this approach in future iterations,” 7th Fleet said.

MTA Malaysia is part of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise series. The U.S. already completed the Indonesia and Brunei phases of the series earlier this month. MTA Malaysia has resumed with safety mitigation measures after being cancelled in 2020 due to restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, Russia announced the first-ever Russia-Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) naval exercise, which will kick off on Dec. 1. The Russian Mission to ASEAN announced the news on Tuesday in a social media post.

Destroyer Admiral Panteleyev (548) will represent Russia in the exercise, which will continue through Dec. 3 in Indonesian territorial waters off the coast of North Sumatera. ASEAN nations have yet to release which of their naval ships will participate. This exercise will make Russia the third country, after China and the U.S., to hold naval exercises with the regional body. China conducted exercises with ASEAN in 2018 and 2019, while the U.S. conducted one in 2019. Additional exercises have not been carried out since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Littoral Combat Ship Crew Adopts to ‘Human Performance’ Training to Make Better Sailors

NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO, Calif. – After completing a leadership course before taking command of a Littoral Combat Ship crew, Cmdr. Edison Rush knew that other sailors could benefit from what he learned about human performance, starting with his own crew. Rush, who in April took command of USS Manchester (LCS-14) Blue crew, workshop into […]

Alyssa Olsen, a yoga instructor from O2X Human Performance workshop, leads sailors from the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Manchester (LCS-14) Blue Crew during a yoga session as part of a Crew Readiness, Endurance, and Watchstanding (CREW) study at Naval Station San Diego on Oct. 19, 2021. US Navy Photo

NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO, Calif. – After completing a leadership course before taking command of a Littoral Combat Ship crew, Cmdr. Edison Rush knew that other sailors could benefit from what he learned about human performance, starting with his own crew.

Rush, who in April took command of USS Manchester (LCS-14) Blue crew, workshop into sleep, nutrition, stress, mental performance and resiliency while attending the prospective commander, executive officer course at Surface Warfare Officers School in Newport, R.I.

The workshop is taught by O2X, a “human performance training” firm co-founded by three former Navy SEALs. O2X has a two-year contract with Naval Surface Forces to provide the workshops at SWO School. The Scituate, Mass.,-based company works with 250 specialists with a wide range of expertise, including combat conditioning, nutrition, sleep science, performance psychology and yoga.

“They have an interesting mantra: Eat-sweat-thrive,” Rush said of O2X. “It correlates to, are you doing the nutrition right? Or can you adapt so that you’re getting what you need to fuel your body properly to be able to perform?”

Rush realized that what he learned during those workshop sessions and performance assessments could benefit others, including his own ship crew’s health and readiness. “How do you get that holistic wellness – the holistic readiness – moving in the right direction?” he said.

So for two days in mid-October, Manchester‘s Blue Crew gathered at the naval base for two days of classroom instructions and guided discussions and workouts, all focused on physical and mental wellness.

The seminar “is a building-block” toward Rush’s goals for the Blue crew, which amid the two-day course were preparing for the physical fitness assessment, their first in 18 months. His goals include developing good, healthy practices and “the health that’s really going to carry them throughout their lives,” he said.

Later this month, Manchester‘s Gold crew, which is wrapping up a shipyard maintenance period in San Diego, will attend the same two-day workshop.

“Some of the major themes we wanted the crew to take forward from the O2X Workshops was a baseline for good sleep hygiene, understanding how to more effectively manage personal fatigue, and better ways to look at their nutrition in a holistic manner,” Rush told USNI News last week. “In the follow-up conversations with the crew members that participated, those points are some of the major points resonating.”

“We focused throughout the workshop on providing opportunities for individual engagement with the sleep, nutrition and injury prevention subject matter experts,” he said, “and the ability to learn practical steps for the crew members to improve their sleep and readiness scores since establishing their baselines with the monitoring devices provided by the CREW study.”

Volunteers from both Manchester’s Blue and Gold crews are participating in the Crew Readiness, Endurance and Watchstanding study into fatigue, health and performance by the Naval Health Research Center team that’s tracking and studying several Surface Force ship crews. As part of that research, certain sleep and activity data is being collected from volunteers among a half-dozen ship crews that are wearing a sleep-tracking ring and wrist-worn sensors band, and syncing their data via an app on their smartphones.

The Independence variant littoral combat ships USS Independence (LCS 2), left, USS Manchester (LCS 14), center, and USS Tulsa (LCS 16), right, sail in formation in the eastern Pacific on Feb, 27, 2019. US Navy photo.

The workshops are part of what Rush and other leaders say is an important investment by the Navy’s surface forces in the broader health and performance of the fleet’s sailors. “It starts [with] one command at a time… to show them what right looks like. This is our command investing in you,” he said, noting he hopes sailors buy into the bigger picture of improving their individual and collective health and performance.

More so in recent years, the Navy has put a greater priority on a ship crew’s health and wellness. That’s been largely driven by the aftermath of the separate fatal 2017 collisions involving the destroyers USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG-56). Investigations blamed errors by the ships’ crews, revealed leaders failure and inadequate training and also found crews were overtaxed, fatigued and stressed.

Since then, a comprehensive review by the Navy led to expanded training for the fleet, and Naval Surface Forces issued changes to schedule duty watch sections and ship schedules that are more in line with the body’s natural circadian rhythm, especially when ships are operating at sea. There’s growing interest across the fleet – including human performance training that have been added to SWO leadership courses – focused on nutrition, fitness, stress and mental wellness on sailors that, ultimately, also impacts individual and crew operational readiness.

“What they’re doing at SWOS is trickling down, because we’re hearing about it from some of the XOs now and the COs interested in sharing that knowledge with their crews,” said Rachel Markwald, an NHRC research physiologist in San Diego who has been visiting ships for the ongoing CREW study. The ships include USS Essex (LHD-2), USS Higgins (DDG-76 ), USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and USS Mobile (LCS-26) for the study’s first phase, which will conclude with a comprehensive report to Naval Surface Forces.

Safety in the yards

Alyssa Olsen, a yoga instructor from O2X Human Performance workshop, leads sailors from the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Manchester (LCS-14) during a yoga session On Oct. 19, 2021. US Navy Photo

Rush said his recent year commanding a minesweeper in the Middle East made him realize that “if the right environment and climate is not set up, you’re going to have spurts of mental health concerns, you’re going to have spurts of injury,” mostly driven by fatigue’s toll on the crew and risking the crew’s overall success.

The mantra of O2X – be one percent better every day – reinforces a sailor’s ability to make small, incremental changes “that can have huge impacts,” he said. “It’s reinvigorating and really re-energizing the crew right before we go back into taking USS Manchester out of the shipyard.”

The Blue Crew is preparing to return to the ship and shift gears for training ahead of a scheduled deployment. While it’s a busy time, the ship’s two crew commanders carved out time for O2X’s two-day workshops so sailors could focus fully on the sessions.

Shipyard, like shipboard, environments pose risks of injuries like sprains and falls that could knock someone out of commission. That’s a high cost for a small ship like an LCS. “You only have 70 personnel. Every sailor counts,” he said. “Every sailor matters… and you can’t lose one (or) it’s going to put [a] load on others.”

Aviation Machinist Mate 2nd Class Samantha Stluka, left, and Aviation Electrician 2nd Class Wyatt Cutchen, both assigned to the “Wildcards” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 23, perform maintenance on a MQ-8B unmanned helicopter on the flight deck of the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10), May 14, 2020. US Navy photo.

The workshop included conditioning and injury prevention, whether from off-duty play or on-the-job work, and conditioning like dynamic workouts, warm-ups and stretching, along with exercises for the more limited environment aboard a ship that won’t add more risk of injury. “We’re dealing with a very highly industrial period where it’s very taxing on the sailor,” Rush said. “We wanted to make sure we’re getting the full picture of what is their readiness, because you’ve got to be careful about endurance.”

Blue Crew sailors learned ways to get into better shape and prevent injuries from Rachel Oden, O2X’s injury prevention specialist and a retired Navy physical therapist. “You can’t control [that] your ship is in the yard, but you can control how you prepare for that environment,” said Oden, as sailors stretched during an outdoor yoga session along the waterfront at Bainbridge Park.

Oden said that to get the point across to sailors, she drew parallels with the importance of maintaining shipboard equipment. If something breaks down, “they start trouble-shooting,” she said, “so if your body starts breaking down, you need to start troubleshooting and figure out why. And work on the correction of the why.”

“What happens if you get hurt, at work or at recreation?” she added. “It takes you off primary duty, which means your shipmate has to take up the slack. So it’s kind of being a team player in that aspect as well.”

Tools for Good Habits

A notional schedule that allows watch standers to stand their watches, work during the day, and still get sufficient uninterrupted sleep at night. US Navy graphic.

Manchester leaders hope the sessions spur sailors to develop the right habits to reduce fatigue, ease stress, promote good nutrition and improve mental focus and work performance. “It’s trying to give them more tools in the tool bag,” Rush said. “You have to normalize the conversation.”

That includes honest talk about sleep, naps and healthier food choices. “We need to start saying that sleep is a tactical measure,” he said. “How do we deal when our bodies are not in a circadian rhythm? What are good habits that we can develop to ensure that we’re not all fatigued… and how do you inform those choices for sailors?”

“The end-state is how do we create the right mental health as well?” he added. That includes giving sailors “the confidence and trust that if they need to get help, we’re going to support them getting that.”

Cmdr. Ralph Lufkin, the Blue Crew executive officer, said “it’s not just leadership. We really are thinking about it as a team” in how they structure watches and mealtimes more in line with circadian rhythms.

Moreover, Lufkin said, it’s important for the crew to understand “the ‘why’ behind it. If the entire crew knows that, then it makes it a lot more effective, with everyone realizing what we’re there to accomplish.”

For the workshop, Manchester’s crew got the book, Human Performance for Tactical Athletes, that expands on the workshop sessions and tracked their physical performance using a smartphone app. Everyone got a one-year subscription – fully paid by the ship’s command, Rush said – and were encouraged to keep tracking their progress.

“We don’t want them to forget this in one week,” said Ramone Resop, an independent duty corpsman who recently retired from the Navy and is O2X’s West Coast business development manager.

“Prioritizing sleep. It’s difficult with our ship’s schedule and duty and everything we do, but there is a way,” Resop told sailors during a session on mental performance. Sailors also need to recognize the often-missed signs of stress. For him, he said, it was a cracked molar from clenching his jaw, “the eye-opener the dentist brought to my attention.”

“When you know your warning signs, you can do something to change it,” Neva Barno, a O2X mental performance specialist, told them. Along with imagery and visualization, breathing and meditation help calm nerves, slow down the heart rate, ease anxiety and clear one’s focus. “Low and slow,” Barno said while leading them though a breathing drill.
“It’s supposed to be relaxing.”

Such breathing drills should be done daily, anywhere. Consider it “a reset button,” she said.

Improving Performance

Mineman 2nd Class Santiago Lopez, a native of Bronx, N.Y., conducts a fuel oil quality test aboard Independence-class littoral combat ship USS Manchester (LCS-14) on Feb. 25, 2021. US Navy Photo

Even before they attended the workshop, some Manchester sailors volunteering in the CREW study were making small changes to their exercise or eating habits.

“I was running at night, and my sleep was kind of messed up. I figured if I run more in the morning, I’d sleep better,” Logistics Specialist 1st Class Scott Buraus told USNI News. The switch to morning runs “has a positive impact. You also feel better, too. I feel like just more energy and not as sleepy throughout the day.”

The O2X workshop reinforced the importance of sleep and rest to Buraus, the watchbill coordinator for his duty section. “If I see someone is looking tired, I could maybe change the watch they have, maybe swap it out with somebody so they can get some rest,” he said. And the addition of high-intensity exercise into their regular PT sessions “I think will be very beneficial.”

“I think this is pretty cool to do as a crew before we go back on hull,” he added.

Engineman 1st Class Petty Officer Oscar Quiroz is in the midst of intermittent fasting as he works to drop weight to meet the Navy’s weight and body fat standards, and he was motivated as he listened to instructors talk about nutrition, sleep and stress relief. “I love that they’re not ‘death by PowerPoint.” They actually go in-depth,” Quiroz said.

Recently, he began running with a first-class petty officer group, reaching up to three miles daily before illness knocked him down, but he’s intent on resuming it. “I’m more concerned about losing the fat, because I’m going to gain weight because of the muscle,” he said.

The workshop’s sessions will help him be a better sailor, Quiroz said. “I’m hoping I take a thing or two from here, learn it, put it into my life.”

He said he’s more mindful of how he’s doing. “Anything to help me better myself, I’ll take it,” he said. “This actually shows, too, that the Navy cares,” he added. I think doing little things like this – trying to help the sailor, help change them – says that we actually care about you and we want you to be better.”