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.)

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Changing CO/XO Tour Paradigm?

Word on the street is that the Submarine Force Flag Officers are going to be discussing (at an upcoming "Clambake") the desirability of changing the current model whereby a submarine officer serves as XO on a boat for less than 2 years, then goes to shore duty, thence to PCO training and then a 2-3 year CO tour on a different boat. They're looking at the SWO/Airdale model, where a guy goes through PCO training, then shows up as XO, does that for 18 months, then relieves the CO and stays in command for another 18 months. The theory is, I suppose, that this could help reduce the number of Class "A" mishaps.

What do you think? Assuming NR buys off, do you think this model could work in the Sub Force? Or should we stick with what we have, or go off in some other direction?


Blogger Bill Lapham said...

I think it depends on whether you believe XO's go through some magical personality transformation between their XO tour and their CO tour, and whether or not you think such a transformation is necessary. Under the new paradigm, the XO would have to show up leading in a style he plans to use as CO. In other words, he'll have to be consistent, otherwise the crew will see the change in the guy. The new 'changed' CO could lose credibility with the crew. With credibility comes trust, and trust is pretty important in a submarine crew.

Good XO's are primarily good administrators and managers. They keep the organizational paperwork mill humming, priorities set correctly and plans formulated and disseminated clearly and in advance. These actions take leadership, but in many cases, XO's can be effective with a coercive leadership style, where CO's tend to fail if they go there. Two questions to consider here are, what is it that causes an XO to fail to select for CO? And are you going to be ready to deny an XO his CO tour when EVERYBODY expects him to fleet up? If you are, then you also have to be ready to replace the XO AND THE CO AT THE SAME TIME. Poor COB.

Good CO's are extraordinary leaders. They have good XO's and COB's that convey the Captain's intentions with accuracy and clarity. They lead with a certain flair or charisma, a sound technical knowledge base, a fair sense of justice, and a 'teaching' attitude.

If on the other hand you think there is no magical personality transformation, or change in leadership style necessary, then the only thing left to try to predict is the impact on the crew. In the new paradigm, the crew gets what they get for three years instead of 18 months. If you make a mistake choosing the right XO/CO guy, then hell for the crew could last a long time. If you choose right, then it could be heaven. But the decision about whether to make this tour change or not MUST hinge on it's effect on the crew. Nothing else matters as much.

It would be nice if you could 'pilot' the idea, but the experiment would take longer than the commodores', CMCs', FORCMs' and force commanders' tours. Unless you extended them!

2/06/2010 9:20 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the "XO-replace-the-CO" concept should be tryed as a pilot. Since the XO must be a foreful backup to the CO, my concern is a weak XO will become a weak CO.

2/06/2010 9:34 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, let's say you are a COB or EDMC or any other new transfer to the goat locker, or a brand new E3 or E4 on board, If the XO is a butt, you know he's gone in 24 months and you have a 36, 48, or 50 mont tour onboard. If the XO stays for CO, you now have almost an entire tour with the butt head. Considering that many XO's should NEVER be CO's, what happens if 18 month into an XO tour this is realized, they gonna transfer a new XO and keep the CO for another 18 months? By the XO leaving at 24 months,i exposes the JO's to different leadership styles, again, if the XO is a BUTT, the JO's never seen anything different, so why would he stay in?

2/06/2010 9:54 AM

Blogger wtfdnucsailor said...

As a former XO and CO, I think it is a bad idea to have the XO fleet up to be CO on the same boat. A good XO is a compliment to the CO. He sometimes subordinates his normal manner to support/backup/reinforce/save the CO. I would prefer the model of an XO going right from the XO sea tour to the PCO pipeline then to his CO tour on a different sub. As Ret.cob notes, the XO turned CO may completely change his perceived personality and approach to the task. I never understood how the aviators did the XO fleet up to CO for just those reasons. By the nature of the jobs, the XO looks inward to the ship and crew and the CO looks out to the rest of the world since he takes on the personality of the ship (or more correctly, the ship takes on his personality). There is a reason that when the CO arrives, the watch announces "Ship Name, Arriving." Going to a different ship permits the new CO to start fresh without any hangover from decisions/mistakes from the XO tour in the memory of the squadron staff and the crew. Thanks for reading.

2/06/2010 10:28 AM

Blogger I'm Bill Howell. said...

If memory serves, back in the day (the 80s), the typical XO tour was 30-36 months, just like a CO tour. It was only with the end of the Cold War and the great reduction in the size of the sub force that XO tours were shortened to the current 18 months.

IMHO, this was driven less by the needs of the fleet than by the senior leadership of the sub force being horrified at the prospect of having to decide at the XO screen point which 2 out of 3 officers would not be progressing any further in the submarine force, especially since those officers would promptly punch out, leaving them with no one to man all the staff jobs that needed to be filled.

Frankly, I think the current XO tours are too short; shortening the CO tours to match is a real move in the wrong direction.

Whenever this idea has been suggested in the past NR has always thrown the "Rx Safety" veto, so I doubt they'll approve it.

2/06/2010 10:41 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scuttlebutt is that this is really designed to allow a submarine officer to get more time on shore duty to meet joint and post graduate education requirements.
I don't think less time at sea before your CO tour is a good thing, and most likely would not improve the mishap rate.

2/06/2010 11:08 AM

Blogger Chap said...

I'd be interested to see what value the surface force saw when they went to the aviation model. What was compelling there, and what did the skimmers get out of the change that was worth changing?

2/06/2010 11:14 AM

Blogger Loping Squid said...

I think Chap and Anon @11:08 have hit the head. More time at sea before a CO tour is probably the clearest path to a reducing mishaps. I hope, really hope, that someone looked at what the Surface guys got out of it (or didn't).

2/06/2010 12:22 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Had this happened to my current boat, there would have been a lot of suicides...

2/06/2010 12:57 PM

Blogger Ret ANAV said...

Chap, I've actually polled my 1110 students on what THEY think of the SURFOR process and get a lot of mixed reviews. To a man (and woman) there is no feeling whatsoever that this will actually serve to reduce the potential of a Tier 1 incident, so throw that out of the mix. The consensus is that this new process was created, as anon@11:08 said, to create more shore billets. RetCOB (and others) actually brought up one of THEIR biggest fears: HOW do they effectively transform their leadership styles when they swap one hat for the next. Pretty obvious that each hat requires a different leadership style. Is the JACKASS we have for an XO going to continue to be a jackass? What about the spineless jellyfish? And after the fact: This cat was a STUD as an XO...what the heck happened? Yeah, these are extreme examples, but these are REAL fears from REAL SWO's.
Can we translate this to SUBFOR? No, nor should we. If you want to make XO tours shorter, keep the CO tours around 36 months or vice-versa (but preferably the former)

2/06/2010 1:22 PM

Blogger John Byron said...

It's the Naval air squadron model mostly. Classic pattern there for decades.

Have seen the occasional boat fleet-up work. Question for making it general practice is whether it will bear favorably on 1). Selectivity and 2). Opportunity.

The first factor really matters - the two Submarine CO/XO boards I participated in both lamented the lack of selectivity, the bottom end of the picks being driven solely by numbers needed and some picks were of the hold-your-nose variety.

Opportunity runs counter to Selectivity and boosting Opportunity for its own sake has always (IMHO) had negative results, net-net. But the body shop and the selection cohort naturally want Opportunity as high as possible, and screw selectivity.

Let the flags decide, but with solid input from PERS-42.

2/06/2010 1:40 PM

Blogger Srvd_SSN_CO said...

Hmmm. Fleet up. So we select for CO right after DH tour, or better yet try to decide after some more shore duty, which is anything but equal difficulty. Of course, we pushed back CO screening for just the opposite reason and have hardly given that a chance.

Unless CO tours will finish at the 18 year point, this means additional shore duty before XO/CO, which means more than 3 years out of a nuke billet--and more than 3 years between ship driving assignments.

After 6 months you ARE part of the problem. Now after 18 months you become the CO. This kind of makes the XO the only agent for change.

Aviators have told me much about this fleet up. And if the XO does not like way the CO runs things, it is time for a 180 on CoC day.

The SWOs have not done this for long enough to even form an opinion.

As for Pers-42, what I hear is that they are recommending what the flags want to hear, sorry Ducky, there's no back up there.

This sounds like change for change sake, with a whole lot less ship driving throughout the career. THAT sounds like a great way to reduce the mishap rate. Not.

2/06/2010 2:05 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This thread has scared me. I am a post-DH that will be going to SCC for PXO in the next 10 months. I know the flags are asking lots of questions about Tier 1 event prevention (based on recent events, many of which some of you know about). Fleet up of the XO and further shortening sea tours is, IMHO, the absolute wrong answer. My career has consisted of (so far), 5 SSBN patrols, a total of 25 months in the SY (ERO and DMP), one westpac as DH, and about a year of local SSN ops including SCC support. The most useful time in that career for my upcoming command level tours was the deployment and some of the local SSN time. So as I go to my XO tour, I have very limited at sea shiphandling, contact management, and tactical experience. The really scary part is I am probably around the fleet average for my year group, many of my contemporaries have much less "useful" experience. Our sea tours need to be longer and more useful. I recognize the need more more joint tours and professional education in our force to make us competitive for advancement past O-6. Additionally, the experience in the joint arena is a must for us to effectively contribute at levels above the Major Commander. However, the number of people advancing to the level where this is a concern (Post Command O-6) is very, very small (Pers-42 could tell you teh real number, anacdottally I believe it is less than 2% of a given YG). I do not believe we should structure the force around a goal of improving the readiness of potential future 1120 Flag Officers. We should tailor the force to effectively employ submarines at sea. Just MHO.

P.S. to ret.Cob @9:20, those were some of the most inspirational words I have heard concerning what it takes to be a good CO, rest assured that this potential future CO will probably have those words in his head, if not posted, in the future.

I quote, "Good CO's are extraordinary leaders. They have good XOs and COBs that convey the Captain's intentions with accuracy and clarity. They lead with a certain flair of charisma, a sound technical knowledge base, a fair sense of justice, and a 'teaching attitude'"

2/06/2010 2:38 PM

Blogger John Byron said...

Re: PERS-42 input. Someone has to crunch the numbers and develop the equation of continuity. And someone has to know the answers to the detailing question sure to arise when an XO falters or there is no room at the inn.

If XO tours are 18 months ('less than 2 years') and COs' are 36 months ('2-3 years'), what do you do with the second XO who will be there during the CO's tour?

With phasing, it's entirely possible that a given CO will have even 3 XOs during his tour. Does a board decide which of the XOs gets the command slot? Does the CO?

Is it all based on timing and the one or two XOs who role out ahead of CO's tour end just go into a pool? What pulls them out of the pool into command?

These ain't rocket-science questions. Either PERS-42 poses them to the Clambake or one of the flags who's an ex-detailer brings them up. Otherwise there's a series of train wrecks down the line as the Body Shop figures these things out on the fly. And if no one ponders such simple math issues up front, this will be a very difficult process to explain to the troops.

Sorry to hear the blood is getting thin at PERS-42. I served there with Koenig, Marsh, Watkins, Van Suskil, and Bowman. No shrinking violets in that bunch (except me, of course).

2/06/2010 2:45 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd rather see a dept head/XO combo.

2/06/2010 3:33 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having had 5 XO tours (and one CO tour) I think the idea stinks. The XO, as has been said, has to compliment the CO. His style, in an effective team, has to pick up what the CO cannot, will not, or just plain doesn't like to do. Had I been the submarine CO that I had to be as XO, I would have had a mutiny.

2/06/2010 7:49 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot of good points, but has anyone mentioned that either the CO/XO has to be a former ENG? Does this mean that ONLY ENGs can be COs/XOs now? Obviously, the numbers don't support that, but what happens if the new ENG who shows up doesn't have an XO/CO combo who was prior-ENG? I guess they'll have to stagger these fellas so every other one has to be a prior-ENG. This whole issue is kinda confusing and seems like a manning-nightmare.

2/06/2010 8:09 PM

Anonymous pnw nav said...

The concept of either the CO/XO being a served ENG is not official policy, last I heard. It is being written down and should be out shortly, if it is not.

The main push is definitely making guys more selectable for Flag. We do not always promote as well as other warfare areas for this. The numbers I last saw were from around the 2005 time frame. Other warfares do a better job of getting the right guys to have the requisite tickets punched to progress on to the higher ranks. We tend to put the same guys into the harder jobs because we know that they can get the job done. This is at the sacrifice of getting them advanced education, JPME I/II and good shore duty following their early tours.

However, the one thing that I have not heard discussed is that a CO, or XO for that matter, are not made in one tour. Working on the whole career progression, from JO to DH to XO to CO, is necessary to make any change to the current tour length or progression work. Too often I have seen good JOs decide to leave due to the beating that they get early on and never seems to let up from one tour to the next. This leads to the lowering of the selectivity for DH, XO or CO and lets the guy who wants to stay in, but is not capable of doing the job, move up to be in the position of making bad calls and getting us into trouble.

The concept that an XO can easily go on to be the CO of the same boat is ludicrous. An XO cannot be an effective XO knowing that he will have to be the CO shortly. Too different leadership styles to make that happen. This is not to say that there are exceptions to this but they come along so infrequently that it is not worth the effort to make this a change for the exception.

2/06/2010 9:44 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, tell me how giving them less
sea time will reduce the number
of mishaps?
If I get this straight, they will
have 1 or 2 deployments as a JO,
1 or 2 deployments as a DH, 1
deployment as a XO, and then thrown
in the pressure cooker? Oh yeah,
that's a good mix.

2/06/2010 10:28 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

PCO should be before XO; an XO should be capable of command. It used to be done waaaay back, and you get a larger pool of CO replacements.

Submarine CO's get commnd earlier than most surface major commands, correct? Let submarine qualified officers get their joint tour as a CAPT/ senior CDR after their sea command tour. Do submarine officers get large displacement "training" commands like surface ones do before CG/ CVN jobs?

2/07/2010 12:36 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone about to show up to his DH assignment, coming from boomers to a SSN...this idea scares the hell out of me.

Why are we trying to make everyone ready to be an Admiral? It's already bad enough Congress has decided that military officers need all these additional requirements (knowing a foreign language I am sure will be next), but eliminating more time at sea to jump these hoops makes it worse. The idea of JPME chaps my ass as it is. I am already catching a little grief for not having JPME 1 done (excuse me, my shore duty was 12 hour days and I only had time to get my Masters done). Maybe if the "Joint" in JPME was just that and we had a little more uniformity in the program. The only program I could have gotten done was closed to me since I wasn't an O-4 (AF correspondance course). The Navy version had a nice waiting list...classic.

I may just be a lowly LT and not privy to the workings of the ever-changing paridigm (these NWU's are already keeping me busy enough)...but I seem to recall that the submarine force has a lot of Admirals in the past for one reason. Those guys were successful skippers when the only thing standing between freedom and defeat was a handful of submarines. Many great skippers never lived to see the end of that War.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I don't think spending a career in Congressional mandated "professional development" sitting at a desk will help. Yes we are a joint team now...we have to play nice together (no more revolts of Admirals thanks to the AF). Having a certain amount of time at sea has to be essential to winning the battle. Our business is one of being unseen while watching the unfriendly. If required, we put that unfriendly at the bottom of the ocean.

I am sure the Army, Air Force, and Marines would love to take part in the credit for it...but it's our mission. Maybe it's just hard for the Submarine Force to be joint? If so, let's admit it. I would much rather be passed over for Admiral than contribute to the problem because I got dash of salt on my NWUs as I was rushed through my career.

A lot of changes are coming down the pike for our community, and I am not so sure if all the change will help improve anything without creating worse headaches. It seems too much, too quickly.

At least I am finally going to get some real sea time, finally get to do what I intended to do. We'll see how things are when the upcoming tour is up. Enjoy the clams!

2/07/2010 12:41 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a former blueshirt, so I can't weigh in on how best to groom a future admiral, but it seems to me this idea would significantly reduce the number of boats, and therefore crews, that a CO would be exposed to. By the time an officer is ready to be a CO, he should have had the opportunity to learn from as many different (both good and bad) officers and chiefs as possible. Every boat has a different climate, with different strengths and weaknesses. A good officer will take away something from every situation he is involved in, whether it was resolved well or badly.

Also, as WTFD said, "A good XO is a compliment to the CO." So if the CO is one of those guys that wants everyone to like him, the XO is forced to be the heavy-handed disciplinarian to take up the slack. This is going to make the crew dislike him, which isn't too big a deal for an XO, but would be terrible for a CO. Basically, the CO will determine what kind of an XO you'll have to be, and you'll then have to be the same kind of CO. No room for expressing your leadership style.


2/07/2010 3:04 AM

Blogger John Byron said...

As an alternative approach (but only if the boat's quality of performance is paramount), try this....

Select only the very best served DHs for XO tours and give them a 30 month tour. Select only the best served XOs as COs and have them serve a 48 month tour. But in each case, have a bail-out point about halfway through so poorer performers can be weeded out.

But only select this system if mission is what counts most. If the main goal is careerist opportunity, short tours and constant churning will serve well to ensure that everyone can get their ticket punched.

Mission first: long tours and high selectivity. Careers first: short tours and let selectivty and performance suffer.

The Navy needs to figure out whether it has people to serve its mission or if its mission is to serve its people.

2/07/2010 6:20 AM

Blogger HSNormal said...

I like Rubber Ducky's analysis and ideas.

Based on osmotic gain of aviation culture during my battlegroup staff tour, I recall that the aviation model of XO fleet up to CO was implemented back in the day where the chances of the squadron CO dying on any given flight were non-negligible, so having the XO ready to fleet up was key to continuity of combat effectiveness. Even today, I don't believe you'll find the CO and XO in the air at the same time.

The sub community is not susceptible to this problem, which in my mind removes the biggest 'combat effectiveness' reason for such an arrangement.

Again, Rubber Ducky sums it up best: it's either mission first (which means selectivity), or careers first (just pump the bodies through).

Pet Peeve: 'To compliment' means to say something nice about someone. 'To complement' means "that which completes or brings to perfection", or "something added to complete a whole; either of two parts that complete each other".

Use of the word 'complement' would have complemented several of the posts above.

2/07/2010 10:25 AM

Anonymous Srvd_SSN_QM3(FTN) said...

XO has to be a complete dick sometimes (or most of the time) so the CO doesn't have to be. The XO knowing that he is going to transfer to a different boat for his CO tour enables him to be a more effective dick.

2/07/2010 10:36 AM

Blogger Srvd_SSN_CO said...

There seems to be a bit of confusion about what the fleet up concept is.

You select for CO after your DH tour, then following some shore duty you are sent to an SSBN or SSN for a three year tour. After serving as XO for 18 months, you hold change of command and come to work the next day as the CO.

Remember: the same ship for the second tour. A new XO comes in right behind you.

One of the arguments for this is that you will 'know the ship' better if you have been there 18 months and the ramp up that happens during the first x months (maybe 6) is gone.

I don't deny that would be one result, but most of these 'tier one' events are not happening in the first six months.

And for those command climate issues people get fired for at all phases of their tours...what do you now make of the XO's (the future CO) involvement?

As to the question of when 1120s get to command relative to others, it is at the same time in the career. SSN/SSBN/F-18/DDG/FF commands are all O5s.

2/07/2010 10:52 AM

Blogger John Byron said...

srvd_ssn_co: Once again: you can't get there with the tour math you present and also fit the '2-3 year' tour for COs and 'less than 2 year' tours for XOs postulated in the original posting. Even with equal-length tours for CO and XO, the fleet-up scenario works only if there is zero attrition and perfect timing. Past efforts to bank people 'just in case' have been pretty hokey but will be required here.

Biggest problem: zero selectivity into command. Read that again: zero selectivity into command. Why not just put the command-at-sea pin in boxes of cereal as prizes?

The late MGEN Jimmey Morrell USAF had this great phrase: cold eyes. That's what a CO needs going into his tour and what he would not have as a fleet-up. The fleet-up scenario has enough serious flaws that it really requires a compelling reason just for consideration. Beats me what that might be, but I suspect it may well be something truly trivial, like reducing PCS costs or eliminating PCO or PXO school.

All of us here are just kibitzing, but I hope the decision-makers at the Clambake (an event of long standing in the submarine force) are solving some monumental problem with the fleet-up proposal. And even then, I see a deleterious effect on boat performance as result. Dumb idea.

2/07/2010 1:15 PM

Blogger fourfastboats said...

Just what problem(s) are we (the collective we) trying to solve here, and what new problem(s) are we going to create?

Are some external pressures being brought to bear?

I hope that an in depth and honest risk versus gain analysis and discussion occurs before a decision is made on this.

I don't like the "fleet up" concept for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that JOs and DHs will see/be exposed to the leadership (or lack thereof) of much fewer senior officers. In this model a new JO or DH could report at the same time as the new XO and have him as both XO and CO their entire tour. I tried to learn from every single officer that I served with, whether I thought they were good or not. Every individual had their strengths and weaknesses.

XOs and COs have completely different jobs and I think it would be highly difficult for most officers to make the transition between these positions on the same ship.

Additionally, we would have to screen officers for command much earlier. The screening process is good, but (like anything that tries to predict the future) is not perfect. With an XO screen at the end of the DH tour and a CO screen at the end of the XO tour there are two opportunities to get the "best qualified". These screens will still make mistakes, but there is also the Submarine Command Course (currently done twice as PXO and PCO) and Squadron Commanders need to be proactively involved to identify when someone gets through that shouldn't have (perhaps this was the case with the BUFFALO).

I hope that this not a case of forgetting our roots. What are we really here to do? Last time I checked the US Submarine Force was a seagoing service and our top priority should be operational primacy at sea.

2/07/2010 3:27 PM

Blogger John Byron said...

Two theories on CO/XO mix. One, mentioned above, says one of them needs to be a tough guy and one should be 'nurturing.' Best said by a submarine flag: 'The crew can't stand two tough guys and the boat can't stand two easy-goers.'

Other theory is that XO is Mr. Inside - runs the boat day to day etc. CO is Mr. Outside - takes care of outside interests, operations, long-range plans, etc.

Have seen both models in play. Personal belief based on experience is that the goals of both models need be attended to, but it's the personalities, strengths, and weaknesses of the two individuals that really determine who does what. The CO and XO as a team is the right model, attending in a balanced way to discipline, fair treatment, daily evolutions, and long-range planning.

(There is a third model that says what both these guys need to be is super-nukes, backstopping the ENG in everything and attending to the skillful boiling of water as their primary responsibility. The submarine force has had a sufficient number of collisions, grounding, and failed operations to thoroughly discredit this model. The sure sign that a boat is using this model: can't hit the broad side of barn with a Mk 48.)

2/07/2010 6:11 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we're going to shake anything up - Why don't we shake up the JO tour. Make JO tours 5.5 years long and make the initial commitment 10.

2 years on one boat getting qualified.
6 months for PNEO/JPME phase 1
3 years on a second boat in same geographic location as a senior JO
2 years at shore duty/advanced education

Then choose 1 of 2 routes
1. Sign on for a 4 year DH tour.
2. 30 months in Iraq/Afghanistan then release for a lateral transfer or civilian life.

2/07/2010 6:35 PM

Anonymous ssnret said...

How do the SWO/Airdale communitees handle the CO fired senario? Does the XO move up early? Or an early XO departure? Does the CO get extended?

2/07/2010 9:35 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon @6:35:

Good luck getting 23 year old kids to sign away 10 years of their life....

2/07/2010 9:46 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The driver here is tour lengths, spoken how many officers graduate to "command served" status every year. Current structure and prd puts this at about 30.

Lately, DFCs, early reliefs, retirements and the like drop this to 24 or so. This puts a lot of stress on the system trying to man the post command billets, including major command.

The "fleet up" concept could produce almost twice as many command served officers, while keeping the XO/CO onboard for three years. This would certainly provide a lot of post command commanders to man the staffs, inspection teams, etcetera. Tail wags dog.

It would be good to see how it really works out in a non-aviation command at sea before inflicting this concept on submarines.

2/07/2010 10:47 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I fail to see how less sea time is going to make the submarine force better.

Are submarine officers primarily there to be competent sea-going submariners, or are is that merely a stepping stone to us filling administrative roles higher up in the Navy?

This plan might be workable if you do a few things:

1) Lock officers into certain classes of submarines, SSGN, SSN, SSBN with similar mission types across their career, and stop cross-training in mission types that are not your primary mission. You can then keep it so that boomer guys are really good at boomer stuff, but have little practical SSN-type experience resulting in a deeper, but narrower level of knowledge.

2) Give the Chiefs quarter more authority to run the ship. My time in submarines shows a trend of increasing officer involvement in even relatively mundane evolutions. If you let the Chiefs run the ship more, you can free up some of your now more-limited sea time to increase the experience level of your officers at their primary duty of driving the ship. Note: I'm in favor of this irregardless of what they do to tour lengths.

3) Decrease administrative requirements to allow more time to devote to learning all things you now need to know to really hit the ground running as a CO.

We already cut roughly 8 months of sea time out of an officer's career by decreasing JO/DH tour lengths. I fail to see how decreasing CO tour lengths is going to make us stronger in any way other than politically. Yes, the CO should be expected to hit the ground running as soon as the change of command is finished, but in practicality, a new CO every 18 months is a lot of churn. It takes time for the crew to adjust to the different expectations of a new CO and adapt to his slightly different way of handling things. In my mind, this is probably the most stressful and thus most danger-prone period in a ship's life, and I can't imagine increasing the frequency of this will have a positive effect.

2/07/2010 11:45 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

one last thing:

I'd also worry that this could create a potential conflict between some XO's and CO's as the XO begins jockeying for position on issues on "his" ship, knowing that he will have command of it in 18 months.

2/07/2010 11:48 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Getting super selective on DHs/XOs and requiring 10-yr commitments from JOs would be great for the force, if not for the fact that you'd lose half the people to the civilian world.
(someone hinted at this earlier)

Take away the relative job security of the military and you take away the primary motivator for the majority of people who stay in. You'll keep the rare few who really like the job, but those guys will not be enough to man the sub force. Maybe it'll work in 20 years when the sub force is half its current size (but I doubt it).

2/08/2010 2:02 AM

Blogger John Byron said...

If post-command submarine jobs are driving this fleet-up silliness and the reduced size of the force is cutting the number of served COs, why not take a really hard look at the true need for all the post-command billets and cut back the number? And consolidate homeports? Seems that gapping post-command jobs is preferred to watering down command quality. Just asking...

2/08/2010 4:22 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


You cannot possibly be suggesting a homeport consolidation! Move crews and families out of one congressional district and into another one?! Surely you jest. And reduce the size of the staffs? I'm worried for you, brother. Take your temperature...

2/08/2010 6:34 AM

Blogger John Byron said...

Alas, I've fallen into the trap of putting mission effectiveness and efficiency ahead of crass selfishness.

The congressional interest issue is a two-edged sword: costs more, but gives more backing to the force.

Still no reason that staffs can't be cut, in number and staff size: airline tickets are pretty cheap in the scheme of things and virtual management is both easy and effective.

Where I get off the bus is at the issue of career interests versus force effectiveness issues. To say it again: the people exist for the mission, not the other way around. From a detailer's perspective, there's no such thing as an ideal career: what you do and where you do it are much less important than how you do it, assuming that basic gates are met and you have sufficient mobility that you don't let real estate rule your options.

2/08/2010 6:42 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good luck getting 23 year old kids to sign away 10 years of their life....

Make the sign on bonus 15K, another 15K once you qualify in submarines. Sub pay $500/month increasing to $1500/month after qualifying. Increase Follow on commitment to $50K/year.

That will give a little more incentive to sign on for 10 years.

2/08/2010 10:06 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the current XO/CO selection system/training path works fine. There could be some tweaks, but overall I haven't seen any problems. But just because something works for the Airdales doesn't mean it would work for the Submarine force.

I think the main problem we're facing right now is that there is not enough sea time at all levels. Going back to the 36 month model seemed to work ok.

Putting a former XO, who's screend for CO, in charge of Nuke School or navigating a desk in DC is the wrong answer. They need to maintain their tactical/operational edge. They should be going to Squadron or Fleet staff billets doing TREs and other similar jobs. Maybe teaching tactics or what have you.

Then, after a successful CO tour, they are rewarded(?) with a school job or a DC job.

2/08/2010 10:54 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Submarine Staff Jobs were supposed to be whacked in the late 70's when Submarine Divisions were abolished. Don't know for sure as I was retiring about that time but would guess a lot of Division Staffies moved into Squadron Jobs to pick up the load handled previously by Division Staffs. RD, suspect you have knowledge on Submarine Division Abolishment and impact on Squadron Staffs?


2/08/2010 1:52 PM

Blogger reddog said...

You find a guy that's good as a CO, give him the keys and let him drive. Chances are he'll only get better. Good XOs don't necesarily have the same skill set as COs but they are even harder to find. Pay 'em good, give'em frequent attaboys, keep'em on the job as long as they still want to be in the Navy.

A sailor needs a good CO, not some wandering boy punching his ticket on their ass.

Farragut rode the quarterdeck for forty years. I never heard anybody suggest he went stale or bitter over the lack of opportunity to "develop" his career.

Your career is supposed to benefit the Navy, not the other way around. Damn brown baggers, let'em go sell shoes.

2/08/2010 2:23 PM

Blogger Bill Lapham said...


Oh, man, selling shoes sucks...

2/08/2010 3:23 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Your career is supposed to benefit the Navy, not the other way around."

That was drilled into our heads throughout the last four weeks of our "happy stay" at Great Mistakes. Infact, We were asked what kinds of civilian jobs did we hold, if any, before gracing the US Navy with our insignificant presence in life. I was stupid enough to be honest and state that I worked at God Fathers Pizza for almost two years before stopping by the recruiter's office shortly after High School graduation.

One of our RDCs was an FTC(SS) and once he found out who was proceeding to Groton, he was on us like flies on shit. He never let me forget that if I fail anything or offer any additional backtalk, he'd see to it I'd be going home the following week and back at God Fathers FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE!! he enjoyed saying in a loud & proud manner. Plus, I was a Mail recruit, so I had plenty of opportunities to be noticed. Granted that's not always a good thing.

Nevertheless, I digress. I do believe that we're here to benefit the Navy. For the most part, if you do your job, stay out of trouble and keep your mouth shut you'll do just fine. As far as how the wardroom works, I personally feel our leadership needs more time at sea and less time standing watch at the pentagon. A tour in DC takes time away from a career officer's time at sea. We need our XOs and COs, to be better boat drivers, not better politicians.

MT1(SS) WidgetHead

2/08/2010 4:45 PM

Blogger Srvd_SSN_CO said...

Duck, you bet the fleet up as advertised has zero slack for problems, and that is precisely what the aviators and SWOs are doing now. ONE 36 month tour on the same ship/squadron/SSN/SSBN--XO straight to CO. I have no idea what happens if someone falls off the cart.

There are two sub squadrons going away soon, so at least some of the cold war overhead is _finally_ being cut.

As to a need for post command officers driving this..I sure as hell hope not. If our command quality declines there won't be anyone looking for us. Best to stay good, and in short supply if we must.

2/08/2010 5:47 PM

Anonymous CAPT P. N. Jaenichen, PERS-42 said...

As the current PERS-42, I can confirm we did look at the option of a XO/CO Fleetup career path in 2006. However, for many of the reasons identified in this Blog, Submarine Force leadership correctly chose to continue the current model. Of note, only the Submarine community and SEALs have elected to keep our career path unchanged because we understand and value operational experience.

Every six months (March and September), I serve as the facilitator for a discussion on Submarine community personnel issues (both officer and enlisted) at a forum called the Joint Conference. This forum includes Flag leadership from Naval Reactors, SUBFOR, SUBPAC and OPNAV N87 and is convened to thoroughly review past, present and future issues, so it is not uncommon that contentious proposals are evaluated, discussed and decisions are made. The Submarine Officer career path is pressurized by external factors including Joint requirements and our Submarine Force leadership did decide to change the career path in 2006 to remove 10 months of operational experience prior to Command (reducing Division Officer and Department Head tours from 36 to 32 months and XO tours from 24 to 22 monhts) to allow an opportunity for 1120 officers to meet these requirements.

My staff and I are currently preparing the agenda for Decision and Information Topics for the Spring Joint Conference (scheduled 22 March) and CO/XO Fleet-up is not one of them. Nor have I begun to consider topics for the Fall Joint Conference as is suggested by the original post. I appreciate the emotion of this blog which lends credence to maintaining our careful, detailed, and thoughtful process for making decisions that affect the future of the Submarine Force.

For information, the "Clambake" held at North Lake at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton is actually the evening dinner event held in conjunction with the NDIA Conference each September. Historically, we have held the Fall Joint Conference just prior to the NDIA Conference and thus the lore of the event being associated with decisions affecting the Submarine Force. To my knowledge, having attended the event two times, the only decisions made at the Clambake are where to sit and what to drink!

2/08/2010 6:15 PM

Blogger Bill Lapham said...

EXCELLENT!! What other problems can we solve for you sir?!!

2/08/2010 7:34 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about women on subs? ;-)

2/08/2010 9:45 PM

Blogger John Byron said...

capt p. n. jaenichen, pers-42...

Appropriate use of the 1MC. Bravo Zulu. Bravo Xray.

2/09/2010 5:11 AM

Blogger wtfdnucsailor said...

The Pers-42 comment certainly indicates that this blog is read in key locations in active Navy. Well Done Joel, in keeping the blog on track to have great credibility for both active and retired submariners. Many thanks to Pers 42 for the insight. From and "old timer" who views from the outside - You might want to think about lengthening the sea tours prior to command to the old standard despite the "joint requirements". This has been a very enlightening thread.

2/09/2010 8:57 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It sounds like sanity reigns...for now!

Old chief from the dark ages

2/09/2010 11:20 AM

Blogger Srvd_SSN_CO said...

well now! That, as they say, is that.
For now at least.

I hear through the grapevine that there is one SSBN and one SSGN slated to get women from the 2010 USNA class. They would reach the ship in 2011, so there is time to work out a few details first.

2/14/2010 9:59 AM


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