WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy’s top surface warfare officer is changing how his crews prepare for deployment with an eye toward more quickly certifying ships and freeing up schedules so ships’ commanders can spend more time participating in customized training.

The surface Navy previously used the training command Afloat Training Group and the assessment command Engineering Assessments Pacific to certify that a crew is trained and ready to conduct all missions that might come up during deployment. Those commands would also ensure engineering spaces were safe to operate and that the sailors operating them were properly trained.

But those assessments happened at different times, and the sailors who performed during the actual certifications were the most junior sailors, as the more senior sailors were part of the shipboard training team.

But recent changes to the Surface Force Training and Readiness Manual means ships can now more quickly be certified, said Vice Adm. Richard Brown, the head of naval surface forces in the Pacific.

“In the surface warfare community we would certify the most junior and least experienced watch standers during the training cycle because all your senior guys were on the training team,” he said in a recent telephone interview with Defense News. “We had this concept called ‘train the trainers,’ and the trainers would train the junior watch standers. But what was the reality? If the bubble went up, all those senior guys are going to take the watch. They’re not going to put green hats on and say: ‘Hey, you’re not engaging that missile!’ ”

One significant change is that instead of Afloat Training Group coming aboard a ship to assess training teams comprised of those on board, who in turn train junior watch standers, the group comes on board and certifies the more senior watch standers first, then it transitions to training teams.

“This means the senior, experienced folks on the ship are certified watch standers,” Brown said. “And since you know most of those folks will transition to the training teams. Now you have a great sense that those folks not only know how to stand the watch — they can adequately train junior sailors in accordance with the watch team replacement plan.”

Another change is that the Afloat Training Group and engineering assessment teams have merged and are simultaneously coming aboard the ships. This ensures that the group and the assessors are on the same page and are holding the ships to the same standard. It also means the assessments get done faster.

More free time

By allowing more senior sailors to certify the ship’s warfare areas and by streamlining the assessment teams, the fleet hopes to shave months off the 24-week training cycle, and have ships ready to enter more advanced phases of training in as little as eight to 12 weeks.

“Now we’ve got ships doing some unique things,” Brown said. “They’re building much more complex [integrated training team] scenarios. I’ve got a ship — and this is great — I’ve got a ship that sent me a request for three days of MREs, Meals, Ready-to-Eat.

“We said: ‘What, why?’ And [the commanding officer said]: ‘Well, we are planning a three-day battle problem and we’re not going to be able to do that and feed out of the galley, so I want to feed out of MREs.’ We said: ‘It’s approved.’ ”

Brown said one concern from the fleet is that if personnel finish early, they’ll be tasked out for any number of other fleet requirements such as qualifying helicopter squadrons in flight-deck landings and playing the opposition force for naval exercises. But if that happens, the time will still be ATG-free, Brown argued, and deck-landing qualifications don’t last all day. The extra time will be up to the ship to schedule, he said.

“The plan following [the accidents in] 2017 was we had to ensure that we had a very strong foundation of standards, and make the adjustments we had to in the career path and training regimes so that we knew we were operating the way we have to operate,” Brown said. “I think we did a good job, but doing that is just a culture of compliance. Compliance doesn’t win wars. You’ve got to drive to excellence and empowerment and turning the readiness that we’re spending so much time building into lethality.”