While collecting material readiness trends in order to provide assurances to Congress is the primary focus of INSURV, there are many ancillary benefits to the Fleet. For instance, by codifying a material inspection window at an identified point in the Optimized Fleet Response Plan (O-FRP), specifically during the early portion of the intermediate Phase, our results help Fleet Commanders and Type Commanders evaluate the material readiness of their units as they prepare for deployment. These results then help provide forward deployed operational commanders assurances that the units they are receiving are materially ready to conduct prompt and sustained combat operations at sea.
But are those assurances really necessary? Would not Type Commanders already have processes that validate material readiness and inform operational commanders? Indeed they should and most likely do. INSURV, as a disinterested third party, can independently validate those processes. The use of third party validation of process is neither a new or unique concept. Most of commercial industry, including naval shipyards, use some sort of third party inspection as part of their Quality Management System to help validate their processes.
The International Organization for Standardization establishes criteria for evaluating standards for much of industry. The ISO 9001 Quality Management System used by private naval shipyards establishes a 4-prong approach: 1) processes should be written; 2) the organization should follow the written processes; 3) audits should be conducted both internally and externally to validate the first two points; 4) audit results should be used to improve the processes. The TYCOM audits are then the internal audits, while INSURV becomes responsible for the external audits.
Other benefits of INSURV material inspections include use by the Chief of Naval Operations to: 1) help inform his testimony before Congress; 2) help focus the allocation of scarce maintenance funding; and 3) modify or establish policy that enables the improvement of Fleet material readiness. In its 2014 Annual Report, INSURV provided a myriad of recommendations to help resolve material readiness process or funding issues. All of these recommendations were approved by the CNO and have been taken for action. In many areas the Fleet is already seeing benefits. For instance, INSURV pointed out that funding for the external review of the cathodic protection data had ceased which resulted in ships being potentially susceptible to underwater hull corrosion. Based on INSURV’s recommendation, the funding was restored. Additional INSURV observations led to studies to determine why preventive maintenance and zone inspections were not being consistently and expertly performed, why amphibious ships were less materially ready than cruiser/destroyer type ships, and why damage control systems were consistently degraded in the Fleet.
In order to obtain consistent and accurate data that allows us to develop insightful trends that will benefit the Fleet, it is essential that INSURV get an unfettered look at the ships they are inspecting. If Type Commanders infuse significant maintenance funds into ships that are scheduled to receive an INSURV Material Inspection, the true condition of those units is masked and the resulting data might lead senior naval leaders and Congress to improperly believe that the Fleet is more materially ready than it actually is. Masking actual readiness conditions is counter-productive to the goals and mission of INSURV, minimizes the benefits from our trend analysis and ultimately defeats the purpose that caused INSURV to be established in the first place.
How then can INSURV achieve that unfettered look? Does this mean that ships simply stop preparing for INSURV Material Inspections? Of course not. Every commanding officer is responsible to prepare for every inspection his or her ship receives. That preparation, however, should be more in the form of: 1) ensuring they are maintaining a good 3M (Maintenance and Material Management) program…and this includes both strict adherence to the consistent and expert conduct of preventive maintenance and the proper and appropriate documentation of deficiencies discovered as a result of this maintenance; 2) establishing and conducting thorough and timely zone inspections and, once again, documenting deficiencies that cannot be quickly resolved; 3) ensuring consistent documentation of deficiencies discovered during the course of routine operations (we keep logs for a reason and equipment operating out of specification should be corrected or documented for correction later); and 4) effectively managing the ship’s class maintenance plan, ensuring that required assessments are conducted within periodicity and resulting required maintenance is scheduled for appropriate maintenance availabilities.
Ships should prepare for an INSURV inspection by liaising with INSURV inspectors, Fleet Assist Teams and TYCOM staffs to understand the scope of the visit and implement lessons learned-- just as they would for any other inspection. Ships should not be receiving any special maintenance funding beyond the ordinary just to correct material deficiencies in preparation for INSURV. Rather, Fleet maintenance funding should be implemented consistently at the right time and at the right level in an effort to provide every ship the required material readiness appropriate to their point in the O-FRP.
INSURV has tried to help this process. In 2013 the Board stopped grading Material Inspections as SAT, DEGRADED, or UNSAT. We felt the grading process failed to adequately represent the challenges faced by different ship classes and believed that the repercussions to anything other than SAT were so severe that it appeared ISICs and commanding officers were being driven to exert extraordinary efforts just to pass.
We felt our own process was encouraging the bad behavior we were trying to stop. The grades were replaced by scores that could be then used for trending purposes. Those scores were grouped by ship class into categories that ranged from significantly below average to excellent with most ships of a class, 68% to be exact, assigned to the "average" category. Additionally, some of the stigma was limited as there had to be one ship "below average" for every ship "above average". This grouping became the new "grade" that we provided to ships and their chains of command. Under the new grading process the grouping a ship falls into is much less the result of actions or inactions of the current crew. Now, the final score is likely the result of many external material readiness factors that INSURV is able to capture in their revised assessment process-- including having adequate time to conduct maintenance, being fully manned, being fully funded to conduct all required maintenance, maintainers having received proper training, or ships having a significant back log of maintenance which developed from past maintenance deferrals.
Every ship should go through the same process that consistently builds material readiness…and that process should be designed to make all of our ships equally ready to deploy and not weighted to focus more on ships getting ready for material inspections. The commanders of Naval Surface Forces in the Atlantic and Pacific are working together to establish a singular basic phase process for building ship material readiness. Once adopted, this process will enable TYCOMs to cease allocating scarce maintenance funds solely to prepare for INSURV. All ships will now go through identical preparation processes and those processes will be focused on providing each ship the material readiness they require for deployment. This new process will produce a system that enables INSURV to achieve its mission of identifying and assessing cross-ship class material readiness trends by inspecting a representative sample of Fleet units each year and using our assessments to provide assurances to Congress that the Fleet is materially ready and to senior naval leadership that our maintenance processes are working and providing the desired effects.
In summary, INSURV exists to report unfiltered naval material readiness information to Congress and as such must be able to evaluate ships as close as possible to their natural state of preparedness in order to properly assess that material readiness. In this way, INSURV will be able to consistently collect accurate data from individual ships that can be used to derive relevant trends for Congress and for naval leadership. Those trends can then be used to ultimately improve the material readiness of all our deployers.