SAN DIEGO – Naval Surface Forces (SURFOR) recently took action to address Fleet concerns regarding the value of gunnery training exercises without an appropriate allotment of live fire ammunition expenditures. By issuing an increased allocation of Non-Combat Expenditure Allowance (NCEA) to Surface Forces for training, the distribution will increase ships’ crew’s familiarity and experience with live firing procedures and systems. First promulgated in May, and reiterated again in August, SURFOR put forth the intent to grant an increase of NCEA to those captains who asked for more rounds to conduct valid training requirements. In every instance, live firing plus simulation equals increased warfighting readiness.
“My number one priority is to increase our warfighting readiness in every warfare area. As the five-inch and 76 mm guns are critical systems for multiple warfare areas, I expect to use this opportunity to test their reliability, execute various tactics and improve crew’s proficiencies,” said Vice Adm. D. C. Curtis, Commander, Naval Surface Forces and Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet in a message to the waterfront.
SURFOR has adopted a “Back-to-Basics” approach concerning training. With ships engaged in Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) off the coast of Africa and currently conducting anti-piracy operations, main battery warfighting readiness is high on the list of Surface Force concerns. To facilitate this training, the Surface Forces Ordnance Logistics Office and the Training and Readiness Directorate have been approving additional ammunition augment requests as they are received.
Many waterfront Commanding Officers (COs) are convinced this approach to training will increase warfighting readiness, including Cmdr. Mike Lehman, CO of the guided missile destroyer USS SHOUP (DDG 86), who said that in the past limited ammunition available for training did not allow warships to be best prepared for tasking.
Troy Westphal, Force Ordnance Officer, helps to lead the NCEA efforts from SURFOR headquarters at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado in San Diego. Facilitating this training, he said, is as simple as returning an e-mail.
“All ship commanders have to do is return an e-mail to us stating their intentions either to fire or not to fire on a particular date,” Westphal said. “Once we have received that information, we can approve increased NCEA to support the training, or record the reason training wasn’t conducted at the time.”
Every year SURFOR provides NCEA to expend strictly for training purposes – ship commanders decide when to execute training requirements and use the ammunition. The Ordnance Logistics office manages NCEA throughout the fiscal year and determines when additional ammunition is available while working with the Training and Operations Departments to see which ships are available to fire during any one period. The initiative to increase NCEA is new and SURFOR is looking towards the future of more ships taking advantage of the back to basics training opportunities. With the first messages going out in 2008, nearly half of the Surface Force ships that were selected took advantage of firing their allotted ammunition.
“We really can’t emphasize enough to ships’ commanders the importance of what this means to training and warfighting readiness,” Westphal said. “For those who missed their window of opportunity, we are planning to provide additional firing opportunities in 2009. This year we shot approximately 12,500 five-inch rounds and 2,400 76 mm rounds. We’d like to boost that by 20 percent next year, and we will begin by supporting additional training opportunities earlier in the year to make that happen.”
Ammunition is carefully researched and selected based on a number of factors, said Westphal. “We can only provide NCEA for the types of ammunition that SURFOR has approval to use. When we plan main battery warfighting readiness events, we carefully select ammunition types and quantities based on, but not limited to, physical assets on hand, NCEA already approved for use, established moratoriums and the selection of older rounds for use first.
This ensures optimum management of the assets we are authorized for training. If a ship is directed by us to expend a specific type and quantity of ammunition, it is because we have already performed the research up front to determine the most efficient method for training based on the factors mentioned above.”
Surface Force commanding officers have been reporting to Vice Adm. Curtis that the increase is having a powerful impact on the quality of training and combat readiness of the surface fleet. Commanding officers reported that the additional opportunities from increased NCEA have allowed force protection and combat systems training teams to be more innovative and realistic in their training development and implementation, effectively meeting high-priority objectives for the surface forces.
One CO said the extra ammunition allows the opportunity to train all watch teams – not just the ship’s “A-Team” – a common practice in the days when ammunition allotments only allowed for one chance to be accurate. Before the recent increased allocations, ships needed to get it right on the first try during an exercise. The opportunity to run through full scenarios just did not exist.
“The five-inch loading team got a chance to so some loading in a tactical situation getting some proficiency time in,” said Cmdr. Daniel Uhls, CO of USS MITSCHER (DDG 57). “Besides NSFS, the loading team doesn’t get flexed nearly enough and I was glad to get some training time in for them.”
Uhls also acknowledged the positive impact of improved watchstander proficiency on the morale of the crew. As tensions mount on the world stage, he said Sailors benefit from a validation of their combat skills and material readiness that increased NCEA gives them. This extra NCEA and the additional training opportunities allowed our technicians to be more confident than ever in the weapon system’s capability and their own ability to track and engage hostile contacts,” said Uhls.
Surface Force COs are in consensus about the need and benefits of increased NCEA and most are enthusiastic about it. “This NCEA came just in time for us to use the rounds in our first multi-ship exercise in 18 months,” said Cmdr. John Zuzich, CO of the guided missile frigate USS DOYLE (FFG 39). “To be able to follow up the dry run Detect-to-Engage scenarios with expenditure of live rounds, especially in the quantity allowed, increases the proficiency exponentially,” he said.
The positive impact has many calling for a continued increase in NCEA.
“The overall response to the increased NCEA is positive,” Vice Adm. Curtis said. “Whether the impact is made on watchstander proficiency, gunnery systems reliability, more realistic training scenarios, tactical improvement, or the affirmation of the crews’ confidence, we are continuing to move in the right direction towards the improved warfighting readiness of our ships.”
Westphal and the Ordnance Logistics Office will assess NCEA expenditures throughout the 2009 fiscal year and if they determine that the rate of expenditures is short of goal, they will again work with the Training and Operations Departments to plan and schedule main battery warfighting readiness events in an effort to maximize additional training opportunities.