Navy Times: “…Navy is just not very good at driving ships.”

“…by design.” The two words I would add to the end of this quote to help focus the way forward.

Maybe today’s Navy is just not very good at driving ships

In the wake of two fatal collisions of Navy warships with commercial vessels, current and former senior surface warfare officers are speaking out, saying today’s Navy suffers from a disturbing problem: The SWO community is just not very good at driving ships.

Yes. And we’re bad by design because we lack engineering expertise and discipline in designing and evaluating training, education, and readiness assessment systems. We rely on hobbyists rather than scientists to design, test and evaluate readiness systems. (Our technology insertion, systems design, and doctrine validation processes also suffer, but that’s a topic for a different day.)

The Navy Time article and others link a few interrelated contributing factors: cultural (a check-in-the-block, careerist mentality), operational (optemp, individual augmentation billets), technology (“…”too much technology.”) Sorting through these ideas can be daunting. However, taking time to consider what is not explicitly mentioned in the article is helpful:

The crews involved completed all required training and qualification and passed all readiness assessments. Our training systems were not created or imposed on the Navy by external forces. We designed and approved the system using our own processes. Clearly those systems let us down. In reviewing our training systems, we should also look at our process for designing training and readiness assessment systems. Here, I can’t help but drawn unfortunate parallels with our Sister Services.

Both the Marine Corps and the Army rely on MOVES graduates – war-fighters who have a master’s-level education in the science and technology of training and simulation. When important and necessary trade-off decisions are made about a training pipeline, when new training technologies are assessed, and when new missions are considered, our Army and Marine Corps brothers and sisters have war-fighter/scientists with an understanding of the operational domain and underlying science and technology of training and simulation to inform senior leadership. The Navy has no such cadre. This shortfall is reflected in our training design process and the product.

There should and likely will be calls for re-design of training. We need to go beyond re-design using our existing processes. It’s time for the Navy to create and rely on the right sort of expertise. Following the lead of the Army, Marine Corps and Naval Healthcare, it’s time to re-build the workforce of Navy officers with the operational and technical savvy to guide training systems design processes.

A last note about the articles reference to technology. The expression that there is ‘too much technology’ is completely misplaced. The expression is born from a lack of understanding of how to meaningfully integrate technology within the know bounds of human performance. I find it dangerous to and counterproductive blame technology. There is no such thing as too much technology. There is such a thing as too little Human Factors Engineering.


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