Surface Forces: April 9, 2005

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The U.S. Navys Sea Swap program has addressed the complaints of sailors, and is continuing and expanding. The idea behind Sea Swap was to eliminate the transit time, which can be up to a month, as the warship makes its way out to a far away area (like the Persian Gulf), for a six month tour. With Sea Swap, the ship stays out there for 18-24 months, while the crews do their usual six months at sea before flying home. However, the navy discovered sailors had two major complaints about the program. First, it turns out that the sailors actually enjoyed the trip out and back (up to a month, for those going from San Diego to the Persian Gulf), because the ship made stops along the way and sailors got to go ashore in a variety of exotic locations. The sailors took the old Join the Navy and See the World recruiting slogan quite seriously, and literally. When flown out to the Persian Gulf, the sailors went right to work in a war zone, which was a lot harder than the more leisurely routine practiced during a transit (to a new location) cruise. The other problem was that, ships operating overseas spent more time at sea, suffered more wear and tear, and required more work from the crew to keep everything operational. In the past, ships would come back after a six month tour and spend a lot of time in port.

Moreover, opinion surveys indicated that a majority of the sailors would get out of the navy if they were kept in the Sea Swap program as the program was originally set up. So the navy changed Sea Swap. First, they had the aircraft, taking the crews to and from their distant ship assignments, drop the crews off for some vacation time at places along the way. This way, sailors got to see some places they normally would not have. In addition, ships on distant stations spent more time in port, to reduce the wear and tear, and make more time available for maintenance. New ships are going to have design features that can better handle the longer times at sea. So far, Sea Swap sailors are happy with the changes, and the navy appears ready to make Sea Swap a permanent feature. The crews, since they are kept together as they rotate through several ships of the same class, have taken to naming themselves after their home ship. Thus you have Team Spruance, that would only get to serve on the USS Spruance one third of the time (six months every 18 months).

The concept of multiple crews is nothing new. Ballistic missile submarines have been doing it (using two crews to maximize the time the subs can stay at sea) for two generations. And the air wings (several thousand sailors and pilots strong each) that operate off carriers, have also been going from one carrier to another, with shore assignments in between, for many decades. 

 


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