The Navy is testing an alternative crewing model that could apply to the entire fleet to improve manning shortages, but the service needs to somehow bolster recruiting efforts to remedy deficits, according to the commander of Naval Surface Forces.

There are about 9,000 operational sea-duty gaps, with the highest gaps appearing in the most sea-intensive ratings, the service told Navy Times in November. These numbers fluctuate on any given day due to permanent changes in station, ship decommissionings and the movement of ships into maintenance phases.

Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener said the Navy is experimenting with a new pilot program aimed at eliminating the number of temporary additional duty, or TEMADD, sailors that are taken from their primary duty stations.

“We are piloting an alternative manning model onboard destroyers in the Nimitz Strike Group to decrease the amount of TEMADD sailors,” Kitchener said Jan. 10 at the annual Surface Navy Association conference. “Reducing this number provides an immense benefit for the ships in the maintenance phase by keeping those teams together to complete the difficult shipyard work on time, while simultaneously allowing those sailors to attend critical schools and increase their personal readiness. As a learning organization, if this pilot proves its merit, we will expand it fleetwide.”

Additionally, Kitchener said the Surface Manning Experience program, or SURFMEX, is expanding as it strives to place sailors in the right jobs at the right times. The effort, which kicked off in 2021, initially examined ratings including sonar technician, AEGIS fire controlman, gas turbine systems technician, engineman and quartermaster.

“SURFMEX analysis is defining breadth and depth of skill sets required on all our ships, set against two readiness thresholds — one for maintenance and basic phases, and one for deployment,” Kitchener said. “We’ve gone through the first seven surface ratings, and we’re well on our way to reporting on the next seven.”

Even so, Kitchener said the Navy needs to bulk up its force.

“The reality is we need to buy more people,” Kitchener said. “And I think right now we’re committed to buying more people; we’re just having a hard time recruiting.”

The Navy met its active duty enlisted recruitment goals for fiscal 2022, but fell short among active duty and reserve officers, as well as reserve enlisted personnel. The service is also prepared for an even more challenging year in recruiting; it drained its Delayed Entry Program pool to the lowest the service has experienced in 40 years to meet its active duty enlisted recruitment benchmarks for FY22.

The Navy is offering multiple enlistment and retention bonuses to recruit and keep sailors. For example, future sailors or veterans who re-up right now can combine the maximum enlistment bonus with a maximum student loan repayment to cap out at $115,000 — if they ship out before March. The Navy first introduced the policy last year and kept it for FY23.

Other efforts specifically aimed at improving gaps at sea include the Detailing Marketplace Assignment Policy that launched last year, which offers sailors in sea-intensive ratings at E-4 and below who complete a four-year apprentice sea tour up to $800 a month and other benefits if they agree to another three-year journeyman sea tour as an E-5.

The first phase of the policy applied to the following ratings: aviation boatswain’s mate (fuel); aviation boatswain’s mate (aircraft handling); gas turbine system technicians (mechanical); and culinary specialist. But the Navy aims to expand the policy fleetwide.

Likewise, the Navy is introducing a new Senior Enlisted Marketplace in March to improve gaps at sea through a billet-based advancement system.

The marketplace’s launch coincides with the FY24 senior enlisted advancement cycle for promotion to E-9. The service will roll in E-7 and E-8 advancements and detailing to the marketplace in the future.

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