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(NAVY TIMES 25 JAN 10) ...Philip Ewing

The Navy's top surface leader said sailors can expect to see changes in which paygrades do certain jobs on ship as the fleet continues to deal with the issue of lean manning.

He also said ships will be shifting to more independent deployments, which will create smaller carrier and amphibious groups.

Vice Adm. D.C. Curtis, who spoke to reporters at the Surface Navy Association's annual symposium in mid-January outside Washington, D.C., acknowledged that the size of surface ship crews has declined steadily over the past several years, but added commanders have always tried to be mindful of the toll that manning cuts can take on sailors and their gear.

Despite the cuts, Curtis, who commands the San Diego-based Naval Surface Forces, said the Navy is not trying to reach a minimum crew size.

“It is not our mission ‘to do more with less.’ It's not our mission to see how many jobs one person can do or two people can do. ... Yes, we have reduced our manning because we had to.”

SurFor, he said, has actually rejected some opportunities to remove sailors from today's ships, Curtis said. Last year, officials considered deleting 30 sailors from each cruiser, reasoning that new automated systems could take the place of human sailors. They decided against it, he said.

Just the same, Curtis acknowledged that the Navy wouldn't rule out new innovations that could have the effect of shrinking crews.

“If I asked the captain of [the destroyer] Mustin, ‘Hey, instead of having 15 people on your bridge, if I give you electronic navigation, electric charts, and take away some of your requirements, will that help your manning?’ He'll say, ‘Well sure, sir, if you do that, I won't have to do these things over here.’ So that's how we really try to move toward it.”

And some of the changes in the works for SurFor might not change crew sizes at all, Curtis said, but may affect which sailors do what jobs. In particular, the seniority of sailors in certain jobs could change. Instead of a chief doing a job on a ship, the crew had a first class petty officer. Curtis said he wants to fix that, once he and Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Mark Ferguson have finished a review of billets.

Independent deployments

Curtis also said changes could be coming to how many ships comprise carrier and amphibious groups.

The Navy's operational tempo is already high – Curtis said he answered 67 requests for ships or groups from combatant commanders in 2009 – and it's only going to increase as the Navy sends ballistic-missile defense cruisers and destroyers to protect Europe in 2011.

Still, planners and commanders across the Defense Department are working out how the Navy will do its current jobs and its expanded BMD mission, which could require as many as six U.S. warships at a time, according to some estimates.

Curtis said his piece of the puzzle was to figure out how he could have crews and warships ready to go every time a commander overseas asked for them.

“We need to look to make sure that we aren't deploying them longer, that their dwell is right, their time home is right. That's one of our largest priorities.” One option is to change how surface warships accompany aircraft carriers on their deployments to the Western Pacific and the Persian Gulf.

The Navy has been experimenting with disaggregated strike groups for its last few deployments, where carriers and their escorts split up once they reached the Middle East. Curtis suggested that will continue, and that the size of the groups could shrink.

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