Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Submarine Officer Tour Lengths Down?

Last July, COMNAVSUBFOR (whose website is currently unavailable, btw) put out a message that reduced nominal sea tour lengths for submarine JO/DH/XOs. Basically, it said that JO and DH sea tours were going from 36 to 32 months, and XO tours from 22 to 20 months. (To the Submarine Force's credit, and I think a large part due to NR's influence, the Sub Force has resisted the lead of the aviators and skimmers in reducing CO tour length.)

By keeping the shore tours at 24 months, the net effects of this change would seem to be 1) getting more officers XO tours, and 2) increasing selectivity for CO. Your basic wardroom has 8 nuke JOs, 3 nuke Department Heads, along with one XO and CO. Doing the math, if XO tour lengths go down while those of COs stay at 3 years, the number of XOs you need to fill the CO billets has gone from 22/36ths (61%) of the served XOs to 20/36ths (55.6%). For Department Heads, however, the selection chance for XO stays about the same, going from 36/(22*3) or 54% to 32/(20*3), about 53% -- but since there are more DHs, there are still 11% more officers who will serve as XO. Finally, keeping the JO and DH tours the same, you still need 37.5% retention in the Sub Force to fill the DH billets.

I'm guessing this initiative was driven by a perceived need to increase selectivity for CO. With the issues the Sub Force has been having that have resulted in COs being fired, PERS 42 needed to do something to show they were being "proactive" in fixing the problem.

So, how's this been working out after almost 1 1/2 years? Has anyone noticed officer tour lengths going down? Are any boats running short of JOs, or did we have enough in the pipeline to let the senior JOs go early? Have continued DH firings completely thrown any semblance of Wardroom Planning out the window? Let me know what you've heard or experienced in the comments.


Anonymous Anon. E. Moose said...

In my experience, from my own boat and knowledge of others in Pearl, the commands will hang on to their hot-running JO's through 36 months and TDU the others at 32.

While shorter sea tours sound good, when you figure a JO spends 12-15 months on his fish, then 3 working at PNEO, you're looking at about 17-20 months of qualified experience, split among lots of JOs (Wardrooms have about 10 JOs in my experience)

End result, less knowledgeable DH's.

12/11/2007 6:49 PM

Blogger Oz said...

Our wardroom is certainly thinning out, but not because of this so much. We're heading into refueling and the effect is because of two things. First, the detailers screwed us over by split-touring too many JOs off to other commands. Then, because we have a relatively senior wardroom (I'm pretty junior and have been here for a year), all our engineer-qual'ed guys are due to rotate by the time we hit drydock. So, the shorter tours may have something to do with our situation but I think it's mostly bad luck and poor planning.

By the way, should I be worried that there's no replacement for me as CRA on the officer plan?

12/11/2007 7:20 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

On my boat we saw shortened tour lengths almost 3 years ago. The reasoning behind it has been varied depending on which guy from Bupers you were talking to. Originally, it started out as there were simply alot of guys in the pipeline that needed to get qualified.
I agree with LT Moose. Shorter tours will end up hurting the Navy because JOs are getting pushed on through. It won't take long before you have a bunch of DHs on one boat that can't drive a ship.

12/11/2007 7:43 PM

Blogger Loping Squid said...

I'm with anon. e. moose. I would really worry about experience.

From what I've seen in other navies, our officers are significantly less experienced when it comes to ship handling and war fighting than our allies. My fear is that this will just make it worse.

(btw according to
, a driving factor behind this is to meet joint requirements.)

By my no-longer-nuclear-brain the new plan means an average of 10 months less sea time up to the point of being a CO. The 'average' officer at the end of their XO tour will have 84 months of sea duty. Compare this one of my peers in the Royal Navy who, with the same time in the navy (and about to be a XO) has done essentially nothing but sea duty (in one version or another). This is the norm.

Am I advocating the RN plan? No, do I think we need to figure out where the priorities are? I think we need to focus on developing our ability to drive ships (and operate a reactor based on recent events) before we focus on getting ready for joint billets.

Do we need to ignore the joint requirements? No, but this seems to be meeting a mid-term goal at the risk of a (or most of?) our core capability(ies).

12/11/2007 7:51 PM

Blogger midwatchcowboy said...

Actually, N87's Undersea Warfare magazine says it's to ensure CAPTs complete major command tours at 22 months so they can compete for critical joint billets. So they can make flag.

I wrote about this a while back.

12/11/2007 7:54 PM

Anonymous anon e. moose said...

To expound on the experience thing: I was qualified at 12 months on board, 3 months in to a deployment. I did a landing and an underway in March 2004 for quals. My next underway/landing OOD was in June 2006...why? Every JO/DH needed them for quals, then the CO was too afraid to let new people try, so he basically trained up one JO. Of course, that JO left, and you can guess the rest.

Good thing we have VSUB! Hellooooo Nasty Pac!

12/11/2007 8:36 PM

Blogger blunoz said...

The reasoning I have heard at various detailer road show briefs was the same as what midwatchcowboy reported. It's all about getting submarine officers through the major command slot earlier in their career so we have a better chance of making more submarine flag officers.

Keep in mind there was a huge glut of JO's there in the 2001-2003 timeframe because the submarine force recruited JOs to fill a 2-VA-Class-per-year build rate. Then we only built one VA class per year. The result was that boats had like 12 JOs instead of 9. Having that glut of extra JOs on one hand makes it easier to let guys go early, but on the other hand it reduces the experience level of the JO by the time he rotates. I share moose & Loping Squid's concerns that we're going to have a bunch of DH's who don't know how to drive the ship.

Right now the surge of JOs from the early 2000's have mostly rotated to shore duty, and wardroom sizes are getting back to the "normal" level of about 9 JOs per boat. Even so, it was challenging for me over the past several months to rotate each JO through and try to get them each at least ONE chance to drive the ship on the bridge as a qualified OOD without a U/I who needed the prac fac for quals.

Another strain on the shorter tour lengths is that the boats in the shipyard are looking to send their JOs out to get their quals done and get SOME at-sea experience. We went out of our way to take JOs from other boats to sea with us for their quals and tried to be fair in spreading the opportunities for things like underways and landings, but again - in such a short JO tour, there are only so many chances to get those critical experience points under your belt.

As for my boat, no our JO's tour lengths will not be any shorter, but that's because we're going into decom. The detailer stopped sending us new nonqual JOs about a year ago. The JOs we've got now are the JOs that are staying through inactivation. So we've got a fully dolphin-qualified wardroom as we begin our inactivation in the shipyard. I THINK that JOs on other boats are rotating earlier though.

12/12/2007 12:16 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

From my enlisted point of view, nothing improves performance, knolwedge, and skill like time. So, to me, it seems pretty counter-intuitive to creating quality submarine officers (thereby reducing accidents)by lowering the amount of time they spend on board. Less experienced JOs will only lead to less experienced DHs who make for less experienced XOs which create COs who make bad judgement calls and run their ships aground.

If anything, they should increase the length of the JO, DH, and XO tours. It's easier to have too many of something and get rid of what you don't need (longer period of performance scrutinized), than it is to create what you need in a crunch. Then, you'll have a crop of well qualified COs. If they're worried about making more submarine qualified admirals, nobody is going to argue that a well sea-experienced submarine officer is not good choice.

12/12/2007 6:30 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

On another note, imagine my surprise when I stumbled across a page for one of my old boats on, and saw all the people who had posted their names on it. They're looking to hook up with old shipmates, maybe plan a reunion or something.

Now, I expected the ol' lifers to be on there, since their time in the navy was the essence of their whole existence. Nothing but fond memories of good times in the goat locker, and who better to share them with?

But, out of the regular blueshirts I recognized, more than 75% were from the most rabid anti-navy cliques you can imagine. We're talking the guys who felt it was a god-ordained quest to etch FTN under every label plate and to tape up anyone even remotely considering reenlistment.

It's sad. Like seeing a forty year old guy in the supermarket wearing his high school letter jacket... and it's obvious he wears it a LOT.

12/12/2007 12:45 PM

Blogger wtfdnucsailor said...

This is from a very old submariner (cold war era). I can see that this is a case of the Goldwater-Nichols act effect to get jointness. I spent essentially five years as a JO (15 months on a diesel boat qualifying then a little over three years on my nuc) My contemporaries and I got lots of bridge time and lots of yard time with emphasis on the engineering plant so that gave us a broad experience when we went to our DH tour. I spent a bit over three years as an OPS Nav on an SSN with many opportunities to both run the ship and the power plant. I had a long XO tour because of a yard overhaul after a less than two year shore tour. My CO tour was the standard three years and I didn't get the opportunity to have a seoond command. With the current (perceived) tempo of ops, shorter rotations, I can see where lack of experience may result. I also suspect the IA tours are not helping the experience curve either. For the sake of the nation and the sub force, I hope the administrators can find a better balance or our tax dollars may take a hit just for the few that get the opportunity to make flag. I am not sure that is good for the country or the sub force.

12/12/2007 1:57 PM

Anonymous SaltiDawg said...

wtfdnucsailor -

Hi Bill,

I don't remember seeing you back aft very much when you were Ops/Nav. :-)

The difference between then and now can be summed up by recognizing that for the most part we did not get shore duty. Period. That has to lead to more experience - and lower retention.

12/12/2007 5:45 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

With reduced numbers of operational subs and nearly constant manpower, there's not much way around a reduction in operational time per officer.

A simple way to look at it is that

1) Boats supply a limited number of experience manyears every year. (# of boats * JOs/boat)

2) JOs demand a certain amount of experience every year. (% sea time * total # of sea+shore sub JOs)

If either of the factors in (1) go up, at least one of the factors in (2) must go down to keep (1) and (2) equal. So if the number of ships is going down (given), the sub force has to a) reduce % sea time by reducing sea tour lengths, b) reduce total JOs by firing officers from the sub force or c) increase wardroom sizes.

Firing officers from the sub force is probably the best option because it fixes the root cause (too many bodies, too few boats), but that's almost impossible to do. The air community managed to accomplish this back in '02 however.

Increasing wardroom sizes doesn't really help for reasons mentioned earlier.

So we're left with reducing the proportion of time officers spend at sea (reduced tour lengths).

Any way you slice it, there are just too many sub JOs for the number of required OOD/EOOW watches out there. Until we upsize the battleforce or downsize the manpower, experience per officer is going to stay low.

12/12/2007 11:31 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

actually I meant to say "If a factor in (1) goes down, at least one factor in (2) has to go down..."

12/13/2007 12:10 AM

Blogger EM-2546 said...

Now if only shorter tours meant that all you dirty JO's would stay out of our 9-man berthing

12/13/2007 8:44 PM

Anonymous ET2LT said...

Midwatch Cowboy has it right.

The change in tour lengths, it turns out, has nothing to do with trying to create better COs, but is in the hopes that somewhere down the line we'll have more dolphin wearing flag officers.

Now,if between my shipyard time, shortened JO tour, and time in Afghanistan I can manage to not run my next ship aground, maybe I can make flag someday.

Great thinking.

12/14/2007 9:14 AM

Anonymous steamshovel said...

I think the submarine technical advancement in the past 30 years have made these submarines more difficlt to operate. This should have made it more easier to drive....I think this lessening of experience with the CO’s are a straw dog.

It's a technological failure.

12/14/2007 1:13 PM

Blogger King said...

I was on the tail end of the large classes, and was lucky in that my timing worked out that I was able to leave at 29 months, this was due to boomer rotation schedule and the fact that my CO and XO were just happy that I decided to go to shore duty at all rather than drop my letter. Also, I just happened to ugh, bring up the conversation with the XO when he was really busy and he was like "uh, sure whatever" and then I immediately contacted the detailer. But, overall, I've seen most JO's sea duty tour lengths go down, but there's normally that one super hot runner per boat who ends up staying some ungodly long amount of time.

As for the guy saying that the best option is to fire submarine officers, that would be a very bad idea, as the submarine force has not met their retention numbers from the last 2 fiscal years, due to a continuing policy of gross mismanagement of junior officer personnel, and the fact that very few, if any, senior submarine personnel "Get" why JO's stay in or get out, or why they even joined the service in the first place.

6/29/2008 3:18 PM


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