Posted by: arbeam | March 17, 2013

DDG hull swap saves cash, keeps sailors at home

About 500 sailors recently completed one of the surface Navy’s most delicate and tedious tasks: They swapped ships. It involved handing off gear and logging broken systems. It meant weeks’ worth of 11-hour days for two destroyer crews new to each other.

The Russell’s crew drove its ship to San Diego and, in late January, completed the shift to the Halsey. They then sailed Halsey to their home port of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, while their old ship will undergo its midlife overhaul in San Diego with its new crew.

“We’re on the same team,” said Command Master Chief (SW) Ken Nist in an interview three weeks after the ships’ Jan. 25 turnover. “We took pride in USS Russell, and now we’re on USS Halsey and taking that same ownership and pride.”

The concept of swapping ships to boost deployment time doesn’t seem to be gaining headway beyond the few communities where it’s routine, such as with minesweepers and coastal patrol craft. But crew swaps are standard practice for ships headed into extended overhauls outside of their home port, allowing crew members to remain in the same home port and save the Navy millions in relocation costs. The Halsey-Russell swap saved the Navy $35 million.

MIDLIFE MODERNIZATIONS

Upkeep swaps have been commonplace with the gator Navy and will become more frequent for cruisers and destroyers, the oldest of which are approaching their midlife overhauls. Halsey was the first Pearl Harbor-based destroyer to be swapped as part of the upgrade, said Leon Stone, Naval Surface Force Pacific’s deputy assistant chief of staff for maintenance and engineering, who is based in San Diego. “The industrial resources here are more robust than in smaller ports of Hawaii and [the Pacific Northwest]. So we have the capacity here to do the midlifes with no disruption.”

The cruisers Antietam and Cowpens swapped Feb. 7 in Japan so Cowpens can return to the states for its overhaul after 13 years forward-deployed. Halsey, meanwhile, has a 15-week availability in Pearl Harbor before beginning its work-ups.

Deployed crew swaps, on the other hand, are a means for the Navy to get more forward-presence bang for the buck. Relieving crews fly to a forward base and take over a deployed ship, eliminating the transit to and from theater.

SETTING UP A SWAP

Jan. 3: Destroyer Russell leaves Hawaii for San Diego.
Jan. 9: Russell arrives in San Diego; crew swap begins with destroyer Halsey.
Jan. 25: Turnover complete.
Feb. 5: After completing crew certification, new Halsey crew leaves San Diego for Hawaii.
Feb. 14: Halsey arrives in Hawaii.

This is more or less the model for Ohio-class subs, coastal patrol craft, mine countermeasures ships and the LCS. But the rest of the fleet has resisted such swaps, and officials abandoned them after criticism that continuous, forward-deployed crew rotations degraded ships and demoralized crews.

Last year, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert asked surface Navy leaders to revisit sea swap as the fleet strained under deployment demands.

Officials are leaving the door open to another experiment. Asked whether the Navy was looking at future sea swap trials, SURFOR spokeswoman Cmdr. Tamsen Reese said: “Nothing is off the table. There are discussions and planning afoot for hull swaps in the future, but specific ships have not been announced.”

CREATING COMMON GROUND

In the Halsey-Russell exchange, the destroyers had differences. Russell is a Flight I variant, which lacks the helicopter hangar added to Flight IIA destroyers like Halsey. And each ship had a different Aegis-weapons system suite. Nist said about 20 sailors from each crew, mostly fire controlmen, remained with their hull to properly maintain the ship’s unique combat systems.

“The ships are slightly different,” explained Stone. “The Aegis differences are famous that we have all these different baselines.”

With most sailors switching hulls, the key to the handoff was communicating with counterparts and getting them up to speed on their new ship. Snipes onboard both ships discussed the design differences between the ships via email.

These exchanges proved crucial, one Halsey crew member said. “Once we got onboard and we actually met each other, it made everything so much easier,” said Engineman 1st Class (SW/SCW) Al Jones, the leading petty officer of the auxiliaries division that took over Halsey. “It felt like, basically, we already knew each other.”

In San Diego, Russell moored outboard Halsey on the pier and crew members walked back and forth, training each other and counting everything from bullets to ball caps over the two-week-long turnover.

“We were both one big Navy crew, basically, on two ships,” Jones laughed. – Sam Fellman

Navy Times article

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