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U.S. Navy Year in Review

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The U.S. Navy completed its 235th year on the high seas in 2010, and it is in a position to reap the benefits of being a leaner – though better trained and equipped – force in the years to come.

2010 also marked the Navy’s first complete year officially implementing the slogan “America’s Navy: A Global Force for Good.” The service reworked how it markets itself both to the public and to its own members, and says the message is resonating not only with new recruits but long-time sailors as well.

Unlike the Army and Marine Corps, which are facing manpower cuts in the future, the Navy finished its second straight year with no cuts at all and says its manpower will remain stable for the next few years at least.

It was also a year that saw new platforms for the future force make strides with the first deployments of two new ship platforms: the Littoral Combat Ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) and the submarine USS Virginia (SSN 774). In addition, many other new technologies also took their first major steps forward.

In addition to maintaining forward presence in the Persian Gulf in support of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Navy also mounted a quick and major response to a massive earthquake in the Caribbean nation of Haiti – surging a recently returned amphibious group to the region to assist in the rescue efforts there.

Meanwhile, thousands of sailors continued to serve on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan in non-Navy roles.

On the personnel front, following a historic 2009 announcement, the service ended its five-year drawdown while also starting the process to allow women in submarine crews – one of the final frontiers in the Navy that had been unavailable to them.

A Global Force
A year into the Navy’s newest recruiting slogan – “America’s Navy: A Global Force for Good” – the Navy’s top recruiter said the message is working and connecting with the American public as well as its own service members.

In fact, he’s credited that “brand,” which was rolled out as he took command in late 2009, with helping the service exceed its enlisted and officer recruiting goals again this year.

“It really resonates with recruiters and potential future sailors,” said Rear Adm. Craig Faller, head of Navy Recruiting Command. “It’s well-received because ‘good’ comes in many forms – it can take the form of bombs and bullets when necessary, but it’s also water bottles in Haiti – it’s a spectrum of things, and we do that spectrum better than anyone.”

Once people think about it, they get it, he said, although he does acknowledge it also has its critics.

“Anytime you bring in something new, it’s going to generate opinion on either side,” he said. “It does explain our culture and who we are exceptionally well. Think about it. Sometimes, as with the earthquake in Haiti, we rush in after the storm. But if necessary, in war, we can be the storm as well.”

And officials say the slogan is just as well-received in the fleet as it has been in the recruiting offices. That’s because, officials say, the words were developed by sailors who participated in focus groups.

It’s the fifth slogan developed since 1973, the longest running of which was “Navy. It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure,” which dominated the airwaves and recruiting posters for 20 years between 1976 and 1996.

The new slogan has gotten off to a good start, recruiting officials say, having been referenced more than 48,000 times on social media sites during the past year.

And in a survey of 3,500 new Navy recruits, 65 percent liked and identified with the phrase.

That’s why the message contributed to the Navy’s recruiting success in 2010, Faller said. In all, the service brought in 34,180 new sailors, 40 more than its goal. On the Reserve side, the 6,669 accessions were 15 more than needed.

Faller said his recruiters could have brought in even more if necessary. But with retention in the fleet so high, balancing new accessions with those who stay can get difficult.

“We manage that very carefully,” he said. “We have a narrow band above our goal that we can maintain and stay within our end-strength target.”

The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) under way in the Pacific Ocean. Freedom was conducting counter-illicit trafficking operations during its inaugural deployment. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael C. Barton

One of their greatest success stories is bringing more women into what the service calls “nontraditional ratings,” he said. For years, women tended to enlist only for administrative jobs – storekeeper, yeoman, and personnel specialist. But targeted advertising and marketing has changed that, Faller said.

“This year is the first time ever that we’ve made our active female accession goal,” he said. “We set that at 22 percent and came in at 22.2.”

Operations
As 2010 began, the Navy was still heavily involved with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sailors supported operations not only from ships at sea, but as individual augmentees on the ground, serving in nearly every aspect of each war.

The Navy’s tempo of operations remained constant throughout the year. On Jan. 11, 2010, there were 287 ships and submarines in the battle force – the exact same number as on Jan. 11 a year later.

Also on that date, 40,122 Navy personnel were deployed around the world. Many were on the 104 surface ships and 16 submarines that were on deployment. A year later those numbers are nearly the same, with 41,298 sailors deployed on 102 surface ships and 21 submarines.

But even as the war in Iraq has drawn down significantly and cuts are on the horizon for the Afghanistan conflict as the United states moves to turn the fighting over to the Afghan National Army, sailors with boots on the ground have continued to be a mainstay of the Navy’s wartime contribution.

In 2010, as in previous years, an average of 14,000 sailors either were serving or had served in combat zones with other services, and that’s not expected to change anytime soon, according to statements made by Adm. John C. Harvey Jr., commander of Fleet Forces Command in July.

“This IA [individual augmentee] load on our Navy is not going to change for the next three to five years,” Harvey told a group of Navy career counselors in Norfolk, Va. “John Harvey’s personal opinion – even as you may read drawdown in Iraq, you will also read that the surge into Afghanistan is not yet complete; it is only two-thirds over.”

Personnel
With the Army and Marine Corps facing downsizing, there won’t be much, if any, drawdown of sailors in 2011. Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Mark Ferguson went on record in 2010 saying that the service will hold its end strength steady for a second straight year, with 328,700 authorized by Congress to be on active duty.

Those numbers are expected to hold for the next year or two, though the service does eventually plan to get down to 325,000 sometime in the future.

Ferguson didn’t give a timeline for getting to that level, but expects the Navy to slowly creep in that direction in 2011. The service had planned to drop to 322,000 by 2013, but the lingering individual augmentee issue caused Navy leaders to rethink how many sailors the fleet needs.

As of Dec. 22, there were 328,015 on active duty, meaning the service was below the 328,700 authorized for Oct. 1, though it is common for end-strength numbers to fluctuate during the year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women on Submarines
On Feb. 19, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates notified Congress that the Navy intended to change its policy banning the assignment of women aboard submarines. Two months later, on April 29, it announced its detailed plans to make it happen.

The change will begin with the assignment of 24 female officers to the submarine force. Though the service has said it is committed to get enlisted women into the force as well, that addition’s way forward has yet to be fully unveiled.

But female graduates from the U.S. Naval Academy and the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps are already leading the way into the training pipeline and women from Officer Candidate School are soon to follow. The end result will be that eight separate crews of guided-missile (SSGN) and ballistic-missile (SSBN) submarines will soon be integrated, with three female officers each.

“It is important to note that women were first assigned to selected non-combatant ships in 1978; and in 1994, following repeal of the combat exclusion law, women were assigned to billets in surface combatants,” said Rear Adm. Barry Bruner, who commands Submarine Group 10 in Kings Bay, Ga., during an April 29 press conference.

“We are planning the first female submarine officer candidate accessions into the standard nuclear training and submarine training pipelines this year, making it possible to assign the first women to submarines in late 2011 or early 2012.”

After that, the plan is to convert one additional boat each year until 2015.

Those assignments will begin with two submarines on the East Coast, the Wyoming (SSBN 742) and Georgia (SSGN 729), homeported in Kings Bay; and two on the West Coast, the Ohio (SSGN 726) and Maine (SSBN 741), homeported in Bangor, Wash. Each submarine has two separate crews – named blue and gold – which alternate operating the boat.

The reason these types of submarines were chosen for the initial wave is that they don’t require modification to accommodate female officers, allowing the service to move quickly on integrating female officers into the submarine community.

That’s not the case for enlisted women, whose advent into the silent service will require some shipboard modifications.

Though entering this formerly exclusively male warfare area is a social victory for women, the service says it’s also a necessary step forward to capitalize on the best available recruits.

“It is important to note that the percentage of women graduating with technically based degrees in our country has risen to the point where females now make up 51 percent of the total talent pool of young Americans we can recruit to enter our submarine force in the nuclear-trained officer community,” Bruner said.

“With the conversion of four ballistic-missile submarines to guided-missile submarines, women now have the opportunity for both forward-deployed strike and strategic deterrent operational experience.”

This diversity in assignments, officials say, was critical to allow women to have successful careers in the submarine force and make them competitive for advancement to senior ranks.

In addition to growing female submarine officers from the bottom up, the service will also work to assign some more senior women to submarines as well, providing some senior female leadership in the crews.

Cmdr. Wesley R. Guinn, commanding officer of the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Scranton (SSN 756), and Chief of the Boat Master Chief Machinist’s Mate Steven Nordman inspect the crew in the new Navy Working Uniform. Scranton was the first submarine to have all crew members equipped with the new uniforms. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Todd A. Schaffer

“The plan integrates female supply corps officers onto ballistic-missile submarines and guided-missile submarines at the department-head level,” Bruner said. “These officers will provide mentorship to the new female officers in addition to bringing shipboard experience to their department-head jobs.”

Uniforms
No discussion of 2010 in the Navy could happen without a mention of the fact that the Navy wrapped up the biggest uniform change in the history of the service on Dec. 31, when the Navy Working Uniform, a blue, gray, and black camouflage uniform, became the primary working uniform for everyone from seaman to admiral.

Replacing wash khakis and enlisted utilities, the uniforms were developed over six years starting with fleet surveys where more than 60 percent of those in the service surveyed preferred the battle dress uniforms of other services to what they wore themselves.

E-6 (an enlisted rank) and below sailors also had another uniform shift that wrapped up in 2010: a new service uniform that replaced the winter blue and summer whites with a single uniform that is now worn year-round. That uniform became mandatory for all on July 31.

Also approved in 2010 was the reprise of a throwback dress khaki uniform for chiefs and officers, marking the official return of the uniforms since they were deep-sixed by then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo Zumwalt Jr. in the early 1970s. The uniforms got additional testing in 2010 as officials sought to nail down the best fabrics and updated designs for the uniform.

In addition, chief petty officers will soon have their own ceremonial weapons, as final designs for a cutlass and the belt used to wear it underwent final development and approval by the Navy’s Uniform Board during 2010.

Both the dress khakis and cutlass are done deals, as the concept for each was approved by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead early in the year. He still must approve the final designs before they can be made available for purchase and optional wear.

Hardware
There’s always much fanfare the first time a new type or class of ship deploys, and in 2010 it was no different.

Submarines
The new attack submarine Virginia returned home to Groton, Conn., on April 13 after a long-awaited, six-month maiden deployment to the U.S. European and Central Command areas of responsibility.

It marked the first operational use of this new class of submarines. Twelve of these boats, which are being built in Connecticut and Virginia, are either in the process of becoming operational or being built at the current time. Currently the plan is to build two a year starting in 2011.

Meanwhile, the Navy’s move to convert four ballistic-missile submarines to guided-missile submarines that also have a heavy special operations mission came to full fruition this year. For the first time since the concept was first introduced, all four SSGNs were forward deployed at the same time.

Littoral Combat Ship
Perhaps the biggest ship news in 2010 was the leap forward in the Littoral Combat Ship program. Congress approved the Navy’s request to return to a two-ship concept, allowing separate manufacturers to produce two different models of the ship.

Previously the plan had been to build a few of each type and then award a single contract for all the rest.

The first ship in the class, the USS Freedom, made its inaugural deployment in 2010 and arrived at its homeport of San Diego, Calif., after spending time in Caribbean and South American waters. Freedom is a 389-foot-long, single-hull vessel, designed and built at Marinette Marine in Wisconsin by Lockheed Martin.

The second Lockheed ship, the USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), was christened Dec. 4 and is expected to be commissioned in 2012.

Meanwhile, the USS Independence (LCS 2), the second littoral combat ship variant, is slightly larger. At 418 feet long, its trimaran-style hull was designed and built by General Dynamics and Austal in Mobile, Ala.

Each is “optimally manned” with core crews of 40 sailors. This means each sailor is considered a “hybrid sailor,” performing tasks normally done by sailors in as many as three separate specialties.

Both ships are designed to accomplish the same mission sets. Each will be able to accommodate “mission modules” that give the ship additional capability, such as mine hunting; increased anti-submarine warfare ability; and manned or unmanned helicopters. Each module also increases the size of the overall crew.

The service’s plans to put more than 50 of these vessels into service will now happen much faster. With the first four hulls already built or on the shipyard ways, this new deal will put into play an additional 20 of the ships quickly. Eventual plans are for 55 of these ships.

Since 2002 the fleet has anticipated the arrival of this new class of vessel, a new ship design and concept with optimally manned crews, that will allow the Navy to operate in costal waters with the same capabilities they use to prowl the high seas.

The idea behind LCS is to bring new capability to the Navy for a variety of missions, which include operating in shallow waters and performing minesweeping and humanitarian-relief duties. The LCS will also be useful as an anti-submarine and anti-ship system as well, and both variants are capable of getting to and sustaining high speeds – over 45 knots.

The program has been fraught with cost overruns and other problems throughout its development, but Navy officials say it has taken a turn for the better and the road to a 55-ship fleet of these craft is now clear. Officials say now that the initial design work has been done, they’re able to negotiate a better price using two shipyards instead of one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aviation
The newest class of aircraft carriers came closer to being a reality in 2010 with the Navy proving that new technologies slated for the ship work as planned.

Named for former naval officer and World War II veteran President Gerald R. Ford, CVN 78 is currently slated to join the fleet in 2015.

The ship is a major upgrade from the nuclear-powered Nimitz-class ships that have been built by the Navy since the mid-1970s.

The major design changes include a larger flight deck and smaller island, as well as better weapons and material handling. Driving the ship will be an all-new nuclear propulsion plant design that will require fewer personnel to operate.

But it’s the technology on the flight deck that took the greatest strides in 2010, as the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALS, will replace the maintenance-intensive steam-driven catapult system used by the Nimitz class.

The new system will be able to launch heavier aircraft than those in use today, but will also have the ability to be “dialed down” to launch much lighter, unmanned aircraft that are seen as a major part of future carrier air wings.

The new EMALS system will require fewer people to operate and maintain, but it will require a significant amount of electricity to run and until recently was a largely untested technology. With the catapults due to be installed beginning in 2011, the technology finally launched its first manned aircraft, an F/A-18E Super Hornet from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23, on Dec. 18, 2010.

These new technologies will result in the Ford being able to have a 25 percent increase in sorties, to the tune of 160 per day, with a surge capability to 220 each day.

P-8 Poseidon and F-35C Lightning II
Two of the Navy’s aircraft of the future took some of their first steps to operational capability in 2010 as well, warming the future for both patrol and carrier aviation.

Designed to begin replacing the P-3 Orion patrol aircraft, the initial production model of the Poseidon made its first flight on April 25, 2009, with the second and third aircraft beginning test flights in August 2010.

Operationally, the aircraft deployed its first sonobuoys on Oct. 15, dropping six in three separate low-altitude passes, marking a major milestone in getting the airframe ready for the fleet.

That progress allowed the Department of Defense to approve a low rate of production of the aircraft that is expected to begin fleet replacement of the Orion in 2013.

The Navy’s next-generation carrier fighter aircraft, the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), arrived at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in November to begin its testing on the way to fleet delivery beginning in 2012.

With twice the range and increased payload capability than the F/A-18C Hornet, the Lightning is able to extend the range of carrier wings.

The joint training program for the F-35 also began to come together at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., where the Air Force, Marines, and Navy will train together.

The Navy announced its first JSF squadron – VFA-101 – would stand up officially at Eglin on Oct. 1, 2011. But already the groundwork is being laid and the first pilots are planned to arrive in early 2011 and the first aircraft a year later.

This article first appeared in The Year in Defense, 2010 Review, Winter 2011 Edition.