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2010 look ahead: What's coming for sailors

Jan. 3, 2010 - 08:11AM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 3, 2010 - 08:11AM  |  
The littoral combat ship Freedom will go on its maiden deployment to U.S. Southern Command and U.S. Pacific Command early this year.
The littoral combat ship Freedom will go on its maiden deployment to U.S. Southern Command and U.S. Pacific Command early this year. (Ken Mierzejewski / Navy)
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Expect big changes in pay, uniforms, hardware and personnel policy in the coming year. A rundown of the top issues for sailors to watch:

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Expect big changes in pay, uniforms, hardware and personnel policy in the coming year. A rundown of the top issues for sailors to watch:

1. PAY RAISES

For 11 straight years, service members have received a Jan. 1 increase in basic pay that is slightly larger than average private-sector raises. But that could end when Congress takes up the 2011 budget.

Bigger raises have been part of a congressional effort, largely opposed by the Pentagon, to close a perceived gap in pay that grew in the 1980s when military raises were capped. After the 3.4 percent Jan. 1, 2010, increase, the pay gap, which peaked at 13.5 percent in 1999, will be reduced to 2.4 percent.

Whether there will be a 12th consecutive year of gap-reducing raises will depend on the state of the economy and whether election-year politics make lawmakers more interested in cutting federal spending than in continuing to close the pay gap.

Military advocates are urging Congress to keep chipping away at the pay gap by providing raises through 2013 that are half a percentage point greater than private-sector raises.

The Military Coalition, a group of more than 30 military-related organizations, does not want to leave military raises to the annual whims of Congress. It would like lawmakers to set into law a fixed formula for raises to be half a percentage point greater than the annual increase in the Employment Cost Index, a Labor Department measurement of private-sector wages.

Such a law was used in the early years of this decade, but Congress allowed it to lapse. If it were re-enacted, it would fence off military pay from any debate about cutting federal spending.

2. PAY & BONUS REVIEW

The review of all Navy officer and enlisted special pays and bonuses will continue into the coming year. In 2009, personnel officials reworked the selective re-enlistment bonus program, which now offers money to significantly fewer sailors. Also reviewed was special duty assignment pay, which offers sailors extra cash to fill crucial billets. That special pay also saw significant reductions.

Officials are now reviewing the assignment incentive pay program and expect to announce those results early in the new year. The review of the remaining special and continuation pays will wrap up sometime in 2010.

3. NEW UNIFORMS

This coming year will see the final sets of blue camouflage Navy Working Uniforms and the black-and-khaki service uniforms rolled out to the different Navy regions.

Sailors E-6 and below must own the service uniform by July 31. Starting in August, the summer white and working blue uniforms will no longer be authorized.

As for the NWU, all sailors must own the uniform — which replaces wash khakis for chiefs and officers and utilities for sailors — by Dec. 31.

Other uniform highlights:

• New desert and woodland cammies. Details on testing and fielding of the Type 2 and 3 versions of the NWU are expected to come early in the year.

• Improved crackerjacks. The uniform board will receive results of wear tests for the new uniforms this coming year. A lighter-weight version of the dress blues is being tested, along with a version of the whites with side zippers, more pockets and a faux 13-button flap.

• Service dress khaki. Officials have wrapped up their wear tests of the throwback khakis for chiefs and officers. They tested both a traditional and a contemporary design. Expect an announcement on the way ahead in the early months of the year.

• New running suit. After ditching the first two warm-up suit designs in 2008, Navy uniform officials began wear-testing two new designs this fall in Norfolk, Va.; Great Lakes, Ill.; and Washington, D.C. About 100 sailors are wearing the two similar designs. Testing is expected to be completed in 2010, and officials could make a decision on fielding the suit by the end of the year.

4. MANDATORY WARFARE QUALS

Sailors E-1 through E-4 will soon be required to earn a warfare pin within 30 months of checking onboard their first sea-duty command, officials recently announced.

Sailors E-5 and above who are going to sea for the first time will still be required to complete their quals in 18 months or less.

Type commanders are expected to submit drafts of their instructions in January for review by the master chief petty officer of the Navy. Final approval is expected in the first few months of the year.

5. MORE HIGH-LEVEL FIRINGS

With 15 firings by Dec. 20, more commanding officers were relieved in 2009 than in any of the past five years. You may see that crackdown continue, as senior officials appear to be stepping up enforcement of the fraternization rules that bring down skippers more often than many other reasons. In addition, senior enlisted leaders will be getting more scrutiny by Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (SS/SW) Rick West, who said he wants to be briefed whenever a chief has a major disciplinary problem.

6. MORE CHIEFS GOING HOME

In September, a continuation board met to decide whether nearly 8,000 retirement-eligible chiefs and above should stay in the Navy. The board sent home 158, who must retire by the end of June.

Another board will be held in 2010, but senior enlisted leaders are leaning toward recommending that chiefs with 19 years in also go before the board, and that no one be exempt.

7. CARRIERS & STRIKE GROUPS

• The Dwight D. Eisenhower is scheduled to deploy in January.

• The Harry S. Truman will follow a couple of months later, marking its second eight-month deployment in as many years.

• Enterprise, late coming out of the yard, will be back in action to prepare for its final deployment next year.

• Carl Vinson will move to San Diego in the early part of the year.

• Nimitz is scheduled to return to San Diego in March after an eight-month deployment.

• Abraham Lincoln is a likely candidate to replace Nimitz, but Navy officials will not comment on future deployments. While Lincoln and John C. Stennis are in Bremerton, Wash., for maintenance and workups, Stennis has been out twice since 2007, including a 2009 deployment. Lincoln hasn't gone since 2008. And don't add the Ronald Reagan into that equation — the carrier is at Naval Air Station North Island, Calif., for maintenance following four deployments in as many years.

• The George Washington is forward-deployed at Yokosuka, Japan.

• The George H.W. Bush is beginning its operational life, and will spend the year completing quals and evals.

• The Theodore Roosevelt entered the yard in mid-2009 for its major refueling and overhaul, which should take roughly three years.

In addition, the decision as to which carrier will move to Mayport, Fla., is expected to be part of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review.

8. QDR decisions

For months, decision-makers in the Pentagon and Congress have put off answering questions on programs because of the Defense Department's Quadrennial Defense Review, the planning document that is supposed to set down DoD's latest strategic and budgetary priorities.

Beltway scuttlebutt has it that this year's report could deliver a body blow to the Navy, recommending that it strike one or even two aircraft carriers, cancel the Marine Corps' Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, and delay fielding the F-35 Lightning II. Or not. Whatever its findings, the release of the QDR with the fiscal 2011 budget in February will at least create a new normal for Pentagon programs, one that Congress and DoD could use to make their next decisions .

9. OP TEMPO

Carrier strike groups saw eight-month tours in 2009. Attack subs were out eight to 13 months.

And with sailors being a key part of the Afghanistan push, overall op tempo doesn't look to let up in 2010.

The Dwight D. Eisenhower and Harry S. Truman carrier strike groups will pull eight-month tours in 2010. The extensions were caused by problems with the 48-year-old Enterprise, which was four months late in getting out of its 16-month overhaul.

But whether longer deployments are the exception, or the new normal, remains to be seen.

As for the ground force in Afghanistan, there are already 3,700 sailors on the ground, mostly explosive ordnance disposal, Seabees and medical personnel. Another 208 are building schools and roads. In January, another force of 1,100 Seabees will begin rotating into the war zone.

10. SHIP NAMES

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus will likely name seven ships in 2010, said his spokeswoman, Capt. Beci Brenton:

• The Zumwalt-class destroyer DDG 1002.

• Three littoral combat ships: LCS 5, LCS 6, LCS 7

• One Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo and ammunition ship: T-AKE 14

• One Virginia-class attack submarine: SSN 786

• One joint high-speed vessel: JHSV 4

11. SHIP COMMISSIONINGS

• Jan. 16: Littoral combat ship Independence, Mobile, Ala.

• March 6: Destroyer Dewey, Seal Beach, Calif.

• June: Missile range instrumentation ship Howard O. Lorenzen, Pascagoula, Miss.

• July 24: Submarine Missouri, Groton, Conn.

• July: Destroyer Jason Dunham, Bath, Maine.

• September: Destroyer Gravely, Pascagoula, Miss.

• To be determined: Submarine New Mexico, Newport News, Va.

12. LCS FUTURE

The Navy is expected to decide in the first half of the year which of its two littoral combat ship designs will go into full production. It doesn't get much bigger: Billions of dollars and 51 ships — a major portion of tomorrow's planned surface fleet — are at stake. The Navy will choose either a conventional steel and aluminum ship built by a contractor group led by Lockheed Martin, or an all-aluminum trimaran built by a General Dynamics contractor group.

13. THE FIGHTER GAP

Congress added nine F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets into the annual budget last year for a total of 18, but that won't resolve concerns about the looming shortage of tactical aircraft. The F-35 Lightning II is on its way, but Hornets are wearing out faster than planners predicted. The Navy expects the shortfall to be 200 to 300 aircraft, peaking about 2015. And now that Washington has resolved other key aviation issues — ending the Air Force's F-22 program and the overpriced presidential helicopter program — the Navy's fighter gap may draw more attention from lawmakers and lobbyists.

14. THE FUTURE OF AIR

Key advancements coming for naval aviation:

• The X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator will have its first test flight during the first quarter of 2010.

• The F-35C, which is the carrier variant of the Lightning II, will continue testing at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., with a target ready date of 2015.

• The first EA-18G Growler squadron, Electronic Attack Squadron 132, known as the Scorpions, will deploy for the first time in 2010.

15. BMD PLANNING

The Navy has one year left to come up with the ships, sailors and plans to guard Europe from Middle Eastern ballistic missiles, a mission the service was given with apparently little internal notice.

The Navy and the Missile Defense Agency will spend 2010 figuring out how to coordinate ships, deployments, numbers of missile interceptors and the other essential elements of providing a BMD cover for Europe by 2011, when the U.S. has committed itself to defending the continent from the sea.

With an operational tempo that fleet officials say is already high, the Navy will have to apportion additional ships for the Euro-BMD mission.

16. HOUSING CRUNCH

The Navy will try to get more sailors into shore-based housing, but the crunch will likely continue as major bases will be at least 3,000 beds short of the Homeport Ashore program's stated goal of giving every sailor a place to live (other than the ship) by 2016. Meanwhile, budget cuts may begin to make it "difficult for regions to manage and operate bachelor housing," according to a 2009 report from the Naval Inspector General.

17. WOMEN & SUBS

It will be roughly two years before women will be underway as part of a sub's crew, but their training and selection begins in 2010.

Plans call for four integrated crews: the blue and gold crews of a ballistic-missile sub on one coast and the blue and gold crews of a Tomahawk shooter on the other. The female element of each will come from the Naval Academy's Class of 2010, where half of the 32 ensigns planning to head to nuclear propulsion school were women.

Integration will occur only in Ohio-class submarines. Attack boats are tightly packed, and modifications to accommodate women would be exceedingly expensive.

Because female cadres need to have one senior member to act as mentor, female supply officers or surface warfare officers who have served on a mixed-gender crew may also be selected for sub duty to assist in the transition.

18. ‘DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL'

President Barack Obama's promise to repeal the law barring service by openly gay people was moved to the back burner in 2009, overwhelmed by concern about the sagging economy and the war effort in Afghanistan.

That will change in 2010. And although the outcome is far from clear, Congress in the coming months will face the long-delayed review of the law and policy that bans open service by gays.

Extensive hearings are planned in the House and Senate, with testimony from current and former troops, as well as from military leaders.

In June, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he and Obama had discussed the issue, with a focus on whether "there's at least a more humane way to apply the law until the law gets changed," as Gates put it.

Most Americans — more than two-thirds — favor allowing gays to serve openly in the military, while about one-third are opposed, according to a May Gallup poll.

According to the latest figures available — through 2008 — 10,507 troops had been discharged under "don't ask, don't tell" since the Pentagon began tracking such discharges in 1997, according to spokeswoman Cynthia Smith.

The fight over changing policy will come to a head when lawmakers try to pass the 2011 defense authorization bill, which likely will happen in early spring in the House of Representatives. Those who want to repeal the ban will try, and probably succeed, in getting an amendment attached to the bill that would allow gays to openly serve. It appears they will have enough votes to get the measure approved by the full House, especially if Obama gets directly involved in selling reluctant members on the idea.

But House passage may be as far as the effort goes because advocates for repeal have not come up with a strategy to overcome the 60-vote majority that would be needed for approval in the Senate if opponents in that chamber try to filibuster over the issue.

With midterm elections coming in the fall, and with Obama sagging in public opinion polls, it will be difficult for conservative Democrats concerned about re-election to vote in favor of allowing gays to openly serve in uniform.

———

Staff writers Mark D. Faram, Lance M. Bacon, pewing@atpco.com?subject=Question from NavyTimes.com reader">Philip Ewing, atilghman@atpco.com?subject=Question from NavyTimes.com reader">Andrew Tilghman, rmaze@atpco.com?subject=Question from NavyTimes.com reader">Rick Maze and bmcmich@atpco.com?subject=Question from NavyTimes.com reader">William H. McMichael contributed to this report.

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