Submarine Force’s Readiness Doctrine Supports the Fleet Response Plan
by CAPT Scott Bawden, USN

The Submarine Force’s longtime standard is 100 percent on-time mission accomplishment. The disciplined approach used by today’s Submarine Force to measure and analyze performance, and the underlying philosophy that governs training and certification, ensures sustained mission success and the continued relevance of the force in a changing Navy.

Not too long ago, our Submarine Force examinations and inspections had their own purpose, that is, they were an end unto themselves. We believed that hard examinations made smarter submariners and that it was the exam itself that served the purpose of preparing crews for actual operations. Difficulty levels could rise based on little more than what could be thought up, without regard to the ship’s roles, missions, or tasking. How little we knew. In fact, we had it half right — the experience of a good examination is a valuable one for the ship. However, our progress was not measured in terms of our readiness to conduct assigned missions, how well we learned, nor how efficiently we avoided repeating mistakes. Instead, it was measured in terms of the grades assigned by the examiners. The goal, rather than to be successful at our mission, was to do well on the exam.

That said, examinations are misnamed if we are really to understand their worth. Our overall system of submarine readiness must support continued safe operations, and to do so, we must know accurately how well each submarine crew is performing. Only then can we most effectively direct limited training resources to achieve the most needed improvements in performance. Continued safe and effective submarine operations rely not only on a relentless application of extremely high standards as measured by accurate evaluations of performance, but also on a new culture that embodies constant improvement through thorough and effective evaluation of performance, with efficient use of that evaluation information to effect positive improvement in performance.

We recognize there are different skill sets supporting submarine operations: day-to-day operational skills necessarily kept at a high level all the time to support safe at-sea operation of the submarine (e.g., navigation and reactor plant operations), and mission, warfighting, and combat skills that are honed, perfected, and tested in a cyclic manner that peaks those skills just as they are most likely to be employed. These skills, derived to support our Navy Mission Essential Task Lists (NMETLs) directly, are codified in our readiness standards and embodied in the submarine mission areas. Figure 1 demonstrates the concept, including the idea that graduated assessments throughout the pre-deployment period support increasing levels of surge readiness in support of the CNO’s Fleet Response Plan. This is not a new idea for us, but we do operate today with a much better understanding of the processes that support day-to-day and mission readiness, and of the importance of the product of assessment to readiness. Training in all its forms, accurate assessment of performance at all levels, the ability to turn that assessment into improved performance: these are all tools to support overall submarine readiness and 100 percent on-time mission accomplishment.

Given that the ultimate measure of training effectiveness is actual deployed mission success, the resources expended to conduct any submarine examination can only be justified if that examination
supports mission success as well. In other words, any external examination (inspection, evaluation, whatever) must be justified as being worth the effort by the value – added it gives the crew and the ship in support of their stated and planned missions. Examinations can no longer just be examinations. They must be recognized as tools of readiness and must be treated as evaluations (or assessments) of actual performance. Thinking this way, any external input to the ship’s readiness process must be conducted as a comparison of the ship’s actual performance and capabilities to well-stated standards, and any feedback provided must be framed in the context of improved performance. Gone are the days of an inspection team riding the ship for a few days and dropping a thick pile of deficiencies in the CO’s lap as they leave. Nowadays, we help the ship sift through the data, recognize patterns of performance, highlight areas worthy of command focus, and suggest techniques to effect required improvements in performance and the ship’s safe and effective transition to deployed status. In other words, anybody can find deficiencies if that’s all you’re interested in. If, on the other hand, you’re interested in readiness, then the work really lies in analyzing the data you collect and turning that analysis into something that can be used to effect improved performance. That analysis must also make connections from one assessment to the next, looking at the slope of the readiness curve to ensure it reaches the appropriate levels on deployment day and, if not, identifying the specific weaknesses early enough to allow correction without affecting the deployment schedule.

In understanding the importance of accurate assessment, the fundamental and important connection between assessment and readiness becomes clear. Thus good assessment has two vital elements: the tools and the people. The tools we use to measure performance must be sophisticated enough to provide the data we need to accurately measure readiness and then analyze that data in a meaningful manner. Our tools must look at the right data in the right way. Today, submarine crew performance is evaluated using the Submarine Tactical Assessment and Training Standards tool (STATS), a web-based program that allows evaluation of all aspects of strategic and tactical performance as compared to fleetwide standards, and sophisticated analysis of performance data. From its inception, STATS has evolved to become our force – wide standard tool for performance assessment, and it is uniformly in use at all levels including the ships, Squadrons, Type Commanders, and the Training Centers. The web-based version was approved for installation and use on shipboard LANs and NMCI systems and released to the fleet in October 2004. Any assessment tool, however, requires skilled operators to ensure the data is accurate and properly collected. The people must be sufficiently trained to know the standards and requirements, as well as sufficiently experienced to be able to provide credible and realistic suggestions for improvement. Careful selection and ongoing training of the people involved in this process become obvious requirements.

Today, the care with which we select and train our evaluators is a clear indication of the importance of the vital function of assessment to the continued readiness of the submarine force. Additionally, the tools we use are accurate and sophisticated enough to provide all levels of the chain of command with appropriate analysis of performance, whether on an individual ship or fleet-wide basis. We understand much better than previously the importance of evaluation and assessment as an agent of readiness. The training and certification programs with which we ensure submarine readiness for deployed operations relies heavily on accurate and useful assessments of performance as the key ingredients in continually improving performance and, ultimately, in the Submarine Force’s continued record of 100 percent on-time mission accomplishment.

CAPT Bawden is the former Commanding Officer of USS Providence (SSN-719) and Deputy Commander, Submarine Squadron 1. He is the senior member of the Pacific Submarine Force Tactical Readiness Evaluation Team and in June 2005 will relieve as Commander, Submarine Squadron 17.

Chart explained in article

Cover of Undersea Warfare Magazine Winter 2005