SAN DIEGO – With more than two months at the helm of the Naval Surface Force, Vice Adm. Tom Copeman has had some time to look at the fleet and chart the future.
Copeman, Commander of Naval Surface Forces, and Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, recently outlined his leadership priorities in a message to the fleet. He said he drew his inspiration from the Chief of Naval Operations’ own guidance. Adm. Jonathan Greenert’s “Sailing Directions” – warfighting first; operate forward; and be ready – summarize the core responsibilities and tenets of the Navy and each decision made for the fleet.
“When you look at what Adm. Greenert put out, it really says it all,” Copeman said. “And the way we do things in the Navy, you take higher guidance and craft your own priorities and guidelines around them to keep everything in sync. The surface forces represent the core mission of the Navy; I don’t think anyone argues with that. We put men and women out to sea and potentially into harm’s way. The tasking of ‘man, train and equip’ has a critical part in making that happen. We are delivering readiness.”
The priorities Copeman developed to support warfighting first are also three in number: Training, Development, and Career Management of Our Sailors; Training our Crews to Fight and Win; and Providing Warships Ready for Combat.
“Our ships have to be fully manned and they have to have highly skilled Sailors,” Copeman said.
To achieve this, Copeman said, requires looking at personnel readiness based upon a “war-time requirement” and not by what is funded.
“In order to man our ships correctly it is vitally important that we report our manning readiness based upon the true requirement,” he said.
Just as important as being properly manned is ensuring the experience level of the crew is also the best it can be. Copeman said he wants to, “develop methods and the metrics for incorporating experience into determining the right Sailor for the right job.” He said the formula is a simple one: Fit = Paygrade + Navy Enlisted Classification code + Experience.
To track that experience, he wants to foster a strong working relationship with the Naval Personnel Command, using “directive detailing” to track experience levels to ensure key leadership billets are filled with Sailors who have the right experience and training.
“I want to see the right progression for our senior enlisted Sailors to prepare for those challenging jobs like combat systems maintenance manager or ‘top snipe’,” Copeman said.
And even ashore, Sailor development must continue. “We have to build and track enriching shore tours for Sailors to build upon their sea experience,” he said. “For FY-14 we’ve added 967 billets to regional maintenance centers and afloat training groups and we intend to add more.”
The training Sailors require is a crucial part of Copeman’s priorities.
“If we really want our crews to fight and win, we need to lay that foundation right there in the school house,” he said. “The schools – our basic, integrated and advanced training – must be focused on preparations for high-end combat operations. I think of it as improving the ‘Public School System’ (“A” and “C” schools) by increasing the hands-on training for our Sailors and taking a hard look if we are delivering the information in the best manner.”
To start with, Copeman said he intends to invest $170 million into schoolhouse upgrades for surface engineering, with plans to do the same for combat systems and its respective school houses.
Copeman said he wants to reverse the trend of many Sailors spending large amounts of time at school only to require in-depth supervision once reporting aboard ship to do basic maintenance or watch standing.
“Our schools must challenge our Sailors and make better use of their time,” he said.
“We have returned some of the billets lost to optimal manning but we cannot restore them all. This leaves us with a deficit of time and people to stand over someone’s shoulder and walk them through a process With fewer people and same sets, the people must be highly trained,” he said.
Likewise, in order to keep ships’ crews trained up, Copeman directed his operations staff to work with the numbered fleets to develop a process to ensure all ships receive 24 weeks of uninterrupted basic training.
He urged leaders to use the Surface Force Readiness Manual as a guide for training their crews: “You must be confident in your command’s abilities, knowledgeable of your weaknesses, and proactive in working to improve yourself and your crew.”
“Always look ahead and relentlessly communicate your requirements up the chain of command,” Copeman said. “My staff’s primary job is to provide the resources you need so be proactive in reporting your requirements.”
The end result for all this manning and training? Providing warships ready for combat. “Here we’re getting to the balance between maintenance and modernizations of our ships and providing our Sailors with the necessary equipment, repair parts, tools, technical documentation, education, and training to fix and maintain their equipment,” Copeman said.
Some of the measures Copeman has tasked his staff to do in support of that objective include implementing measures to improve provisioning and sparing for all classes of ships; continuing development of “Class Strategic Plans” to provide total ship life-cycle guidance – including maintenance and modernization plans, integrated logistics support, and infrastructure support in order to enable our fleet to achieve expected service life; improving and reestablishing the Fleet Introduction Team process for all new construction classes; and making sure the fleet moves swiftly and smartly toward the next generation of weapons.
A big focus of his efforts is getting the littoral combat ship (LCS) into the fleet and ready for her first deployment.
“That to me is huge,” Copeman said. “LCS is the big evolution of how we’re doing business when it comes to coastal warfare and the real test of the concept remains to be seen.”
All of these goals are within the surface forces’ reach, Copeman said.
“But to achieve this, I require a dedicated and focused effort to deliver a ready command,” he said, “a command in which deck plate compliance and a deep-rooted culture of ownership and self-sufficiency are the standard.”
In his message, Copeman charged his commanders to, “accurately assess and report the material condition of your ship. Your chain of command must know the operational impact of your maintenance condition. There is no shame in having broken or degraded equipment; the only shame is failing to properly report and then accepting and living with the broken equipment.”
The challenge of a more austere fiscal environment is not lost on him, he said, but he’s optimistic.
“It’s not an easy path we’re going down, looking out the next several years,” Copeman said. “But I think we’ve been fortunate enough to retain the best Sailors and challenge them to take us forward. I’m personally excited to see where they lead us.”