Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the committee, I am pleased to inform you that the USS Boxer Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG)/ Fifteenth Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and the USS Constellation Carrier Battle Group (CVBG) have recently deployed to the Western Pacific and Persian Gulf fully capable and ready to tackle any mission they are tasked to complete.
As Commander Third Fleet I am tasked with certifying that our West Coast based naval component commanders and their forces are ready to deploy. In the Eastern Pacific we have 5 CVBGs, 4 ARGs, 4 Carrier Air Wings (CVW), and 3 Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs) all at various stages in the deployment cycle. On a typical day that is 75 ships and more than 300 Naval aircraft and 70,000 Sailors and Marines operating in our area of operations. The Type Commanders train them at the individual unit level and then transfer them to the operational Fleet Commander, for intermediate and advanced training and contingency operations. All training is conducted within a joint environment, employing joint terminology, doctrine, procedures, and command and control structured in a maritime environment. At Third Fleet we ensure that our forces are fully prepared for any joint or combined operations.
How do my staff and I ensure that our forces are ready? It takes more than just Third Fleet. When a CVBG and an ARG start workups the entire Eastern Pacific (EASTPAC) is energized to create a realistic operational environment. It is the most important thing we do. The Navy and Marine Corps EASTPAC team (who have the best working relationship I can remember) consists of all major staffs, training organizations, ranges, research and development labs, the Space and Naval Warfare System commands, and a large group of Reserve personnel. National agencies, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard units also participate in this training. In addition, I am fortunate to have British, Australian, Canadian, Chilean, and Japanese officers on my staff to lend a coalition perspective to our training. Essentially anyone who can contribute is tasked. We also take advantage of the waterfront expertise of returning deployers to form a Senior Officer Observer Team (SOOT) that ride the ships and not only evaluate but provide valuable lessons learned from their experiences. These lessons learned are then injected into the various training curriculums for the next Battle Group. We are constantly improving our scenarios. My staff works very closely with their Fifth and Seventh Fleet counterparts to obtain feedback regarding the performance of deployers and the conditions in those areas of the world. We attempt to duplicate those conditions as best we can in the Eastern Pacific.
To ensure an optimal readiness level for deployment, ships participate in a Tactical Training Strategy (TTS). The TTS is an ongoing iterative process designed to incorporate lessons learned from previous operations. Following a deployment each ship typically enters a major maintenance availability to accomplish long term planned maintenance and equipment upgrades. Upon completion of the maintenance period the ship begins the basic phase of the TTS. The basic phase focuses on within-the-lifelines individual and unit level training.
After a unit completes individual training it can be assigned to a CVBG or ARG or be designated as a Middle East Force (MEF) or Counter Drug deployer. The unit is then subject to a high intensity, integrated, inport and underway interdeployment workup cycle that culminates for the CVBG and ARG units in a certification exercise called a Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX). During the JTFEX the CVBG and ARG are completely integrated. The scenario stresses expeditionary warfare in a joint littoral environment, forcing the CVBG/ARG/MEU team to work together with different command relations and provide mutual support for all missions. The scenario is demanding, with all warfare areas emphasized, both inport and underway. One week of inport force protection training is conducted to exercise both staff planning and the Sailors and Marines on the ships. The underway portion includes an extended overland movement for humanitarian assistance operations that escalates into offensive combat. The exercise concludes with a full amphibious landing supported by Carrier and Marine Air Wing dedicated close air support. The JTFEX usually lasts three weeks. When they successfully complete this exercise, the CVBG and ARG are certified to operate both individually and as a cohesive team.
As an aid for us in evaluating the readiness of these units we have begun using the Joint Mission Essential Task List (JMETL) and the Naval Mission Essential Task List (NMETL). These METLs are vital in implementing our training program. They are requirements-based tools focusing warfighting and efficient and effective application of resources to maintain an integrated, flexible and ready Naval force. The conditions and standards aligned to each METL help assess our ability to perform that task. Using the right assessment tool, we can concentrate training resources where they are needed most. These METLs also identify perishable skills that require iterative training, represent a snapshot of proficiency and provide a focus for future training events.
That's how we train your Naval Forces in the Pacific for any contingency, but that's not why you asked me to appear today. You asked me to talk about the current readiness of these forces. From my perspective, I am happy to report that the readiness level is satisfactory, but fragile. We watch readiness closely on a daily basis, but we are on the edge. Our margin is slimmer than it has been in a long time. I will discuss five areas, which we monitor to assess where we are in this important area.
In trying to predict the future readiness of our forces, the Type Commanders and my staff collect mounds and mounds of data in an attempt to quantify readiness impacts of scheduling and budget decisions we make. Each area that we review provides a small piece of the overall readiness picture. We look for trends or indicators that will allow us to make better decisions. The key areas I will address are fuel (steaming days/flying hours), casualty repair (CASREPS), crossdecks, personnel and technology.
By far the most critical resource we track is fuel. Despite all the wonderful things we can do with modeling and simulation, ships need time underway and pilots need to fly. In the Pacific we schedule 28 underway days per non-deployed ship per quarter. At the current funding level a ship's commanding officer must operate his ship in the most fuel efficient manner vice the way tactics may dictate in order to meet their schedule. Any unscheduled increase in operations in the Pacific or Persian Gulf will force reductions in underway days for non-deployers. The same situation exists for fuel for flying hours. Flight hour funding to date in Third Fleet has allowed us to achieve 85% Primary Mission Readiness (PMR). However CVW-2 onboard USS Constellation has just had their deployed PMR reduced from 115% to 100% during the forward deployed portions of their deployment due to a funding shortfall.
In response to this we in Third Fleet will work for ways to maximize training with the minimum amount of flying hours. If we have to reduce flying hours then training will be delayed into next fiscal year for many aviators. The priority is obviously for the next deployer but the cascading effect will have a negative impact on the remainder of the force. We are constantly looking for ways to conserve fuel but when unbudgeted requirements appear tradeoffs have to be made.
The Type Commanders do an excellent job of tracking the repair of casualties. The overall number of CASREPS in the Pacific has remained steady over the last few years. However it is now taking longer for those CASREPS to be repaired. Parts that used to be drawn out of onboard spares now have to be delivered to the ship. In the Pacific CASREPS for particular classes of ships ( DDG-51/ LSD 41) and equipment (gas turbine generators in particular) are also on the rise with no readily apparent explanation. On the aviation side of the house an increase of S-3 part shortages is the example most cited. Two years ago we decommissioned a Carrier Air Wing on the West Coast. The same commitments that used to be met by 5 Air Wings is now being met with 4. The result is increased aircraft utilization rates and shortages of spare parts and aircraft. As an example of this during the last JTFEX, USS Constellation was short 5 aircraft ( 4 F/A 18s and 1 ES-3A) in their loadout. These aircraft did not show up until the deployment date. That said, deployed readiness remains high. Our policy of tiered readiness allows us to do that. By accepting inventory shortfalls in the non deployed Fleet we are able to ensure fully ready forces overseas. But our margin is slim and the shortfalls do impact on the training cycle as we prepare the next group of forces for their deployment.
Another example is in the areas of equipment and people. In order to achieve that desired high level of readiness, the crossdecking of ordnance, equipment and personnel has increased. In the Pacific, Tomahawks, Standard Missiles, and Harpoons are earmarked for transfer from one ship to another, immediately upon return from deployment. Crossdecking of material occurs because of insufficient assets to fill individual ship allowances. Review of the last five Pacific LHA/LHD deployments reveals that we have crossdecked an average of 100 repairable components and that number is on the rise. A similar trend exists regarding Carriers. In order to maintain 100% of the Carrier's mission load, Maverick, Laser Guided Bombs (LGBs), Advanced Medium Range Anti-Air Missile (AMRAAM), and Guided Bomb Unit (GBU) -24s are crossdecked. The last three Carriers have also deployed with an average of 978 equipment crossdecks. The largest number of these items are test sets to support systems on the E-2, F-14, and S-3. We take from returning units or those in maintenance availabilities to meet our needs. Essentially we are "robbing Peter to pay Paul." Personnel are also crossdecked to fill critical manpower shortages. The personal upheaval caused by these last minute crossdecks are not reflected in our perstempo calculations as they only focus on the unit itself and not the individual. There is an area of concern as it has an impact on our ability to retain our best and brightest.
Over the past three years manning shortfalls have been the number one concern of Pacific BG Commanders. I mentioned that when a group deploys they have a high percentage of required personnel, however many of those people arrive "just in time" to deploy but miss the interdeployment training. Some personnel also show up without the required advanced system specific skills. Other personnel actions required to adequately man deployers include: extending transferring dates, accelerating reporting dates, shortening or canceling enroute training, diverting individuals, and temporarily assigning individuals from other units. The inability to transfer personnel because of a shortage of funds adds to an already complex situation. This is made even worse because of retention statistics in the Pacific that show we are not retaining the required percentage of first termers , resulting in shortfalls, especially in the junior ratings. Manning shortages in the advanced electronics career fields are a real concern as well, especially when you consider we are becoming more and more dependent on the rapidly expanding field of C4I equipment. These personnel issues continue to present challenges to the readiness of the BGs.
The development of technology has greatly aided the operator and leadership in gaining a better vision of the battlefield and depriving the enemy certain courses of action. This development is happening at a quick pace. We want to ensure that our forces that sail into "harm's way" have the "latest and most capable" equipment that will provide them the capability to achieve information superiority and battle space dominance. However, when the funding for ship installations or equipment buys are late, arriving onboard just prior to deployment, the ship therefore is forced to conduct its training without the equipment. The ship is unable to train the way it will fight. Also his new technology requires additional training and that should occur during deployment workups and not enroute to the Persian Gulf.
In addition to the data we have collected I have made several unscientific observations in my role as the Third Fleet Commander. I have visited 21 ships since last November. I always make it a point when I am onboard to talk to the Chiefs' Mess to get their perspective. They overwhelmingly indicate that they have to wait too long to receive parts and that personnel shortages prevent them from doing their job as well as they would like to do it during the early part of the training cycle.
During our last JTFEX, in addition to the four aircraft I mentioned previously, for the first time in my memory, two ships (a submarine and an amphib ) had to return to port early because of equipment related casualties. This is a concern that I will keep a close eye on during future JTFEXs.
In the Pacific, we track personnel tempo (PERSTEMPO) that calculates the amount of time a unit spends underway and inport for a given period. PERSTEMPO has 3 goals: 1) maximum deployment length of six months, 2) minimum 2 to 1 turn around ratio between deployments, and 3) minimum of 50 % time in homeport for a unit during a five year cycle. That is wonderful for the unit but as noted, it does not reflect the actual personnel tempo of the individual. Individuals are being tasked to do a great deal. The number of exercises/contingency operations/ counterdrug deployments and crossdecks continue to grow and expand, resulting in personnel detachments from units to cover these operations. These individuals leave their unit's homeport in order to conduct the operation. These detachments are common in the helicopter and assault craft communities. In some cases personnel return from deployment and are required to deploy with another group shortly after their return falling well short of the 2 to 1 turn around ratio. While some are volunteers, others have specific specialty training that is in high demand.
I conduct parking lot surveys. In my time as a junior officer you could go out to the parking lot around 1630 on your way home and see a few cars still there. Now you go out at 1730 and the parking lot is almost full. This tells me that we are working our people harder and longer than in the past.
Right or wrong the fleet has a " not going to fail mindset." The officers, chiefs and sailors have the attitude to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Our nature during a period of reduced fuel funds, fewer spare parts and compressed time for new technology installations, is that we will increase the workload on the back of the bluejackets in order to maintain the high degree of readiness that we currently enjoy. We are blessed by the quality of our all-volunteer Navy. Since we have such high caliber individuals, we can continue to place demands on them and they will respond. Adding more and more to their daily routine however, may drive them out of the Navy and defeat the benefits of this quality workforce. Fleet leadership is aware of this situation and are working to reverse the trend.
In summary, we are still the best Navy in the world. We will continue to represent America all over the globe and be ready to go anywhere and do anything . Morale and readiness for deployers are high and today's Sailor and Marine will do anything they are asked to do. We just have to be careful of what we ask.
I thank-you for the opportunity to testify and will be happy to answer your questions.