By Geoff Fein

While DDG-1000, with its advanced technologies, low radar cross section and modern weapons will provide a new direction for the Navy’s surface combatant fleet, the ability to operate all of that with crew of no more than 148 could be the greatest benefit to the Navy.

The Navy has been looking at how to trim its numbers and has slowly begun to downsize the force. Still, today’s carriers and destroyers require a good number of sailors and officers to operate and maintain the surface fleet.

"There is no question that our crew sizes have to come down," Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead told reporters at a recent Defense Writers Group breakfast.

"That’s one of the major aspects of LCS [Littoral Combat Ship], bringing crew size down. That’s one of the key technologies in the DDG-1000 that I’m extremely interested in," he said. "To take a ship of that size, that capability, to be able to bring that crew down to about 130, 140 people. And it’s those technologies and initiatives that we now have to get into the modernization program so we can bring people off of the legacy ships."

The Navy has not been as aggressive as it could be in employing the technologies that allow it to take people off ships, Roughead added.

"To be perfectly honest, it’s largely a cultural thing and we’ve got to break through and we’ve got to get our crew sizes down, and we can do it. I’m confident of that," he said.

Over the next few years, the Navy will begin testing and operating LCS, a multi-mission vessel that will operate with a core crew of roughly 50. And, in the coming decade, the Navy intends to operate its next surface combatant, DDG-1000, with a crew of 148, a little less than half of what a DDG-51-class destroyer needs to operate today–for a ship that is going to be almost 100-feet longer than a DDG-51.

While there are many who might second guess whether such a large, advanced warship can actually operate with fewer personnel, Navy officials know they need to reduce crew sizes. And the crew of 148 planned for DDG-1000 was not a number pulled out of thin air.

"This has been from the ground up. Every minute of every sailor of every billet has been accounted for in either workload or some sort of automation that takes that workload away," Capt. Jim Syring, DDG-1000 program manager, told Defense Daily in a recent interview. "It’s not magic."

Although DDG-1000 will have bunk space for upward of 187 personnel, Syring said a lot of the usability testing already done with the technologies and engineering design models (EDMs), have validated the crew size of 148.

"We tested all the software in terms of functions. We tested all of the sonar systems with actual fleet sailors," he said. "We put them at a console and said, ‘OK, here is a DDG-51 ASW (anti-submarine warfare) problem. Now with [DDG-1000’s] algorithms and software, can you prosecute?’ And they are able to do it with one watch-stander doing both passive and active operations. That might take three [watch-standers] in terms of correlation today. A lot of this has been validated over the last five years."

All of that has been modeled, and tested, through each software release with actual sailors and other personnel, in what the Navy calls software usability testing, Syring said.

Every tactical scenario that may have been experienced in a DDG-51 is taken and put it into DDG-1000. Crews are then told they have to take the work load of three watchstanders. Syring said there better be a lot of automation that’s in the software to present the ultimate decision in terms of recommendations to the sailor. "That’s literally what we have done, task by task."

"What we have is a very fundamental construct in terms of how we are going to operate the ship," he said.

Basically there is an operations department that will entail watch standing and a maintenance department that’s going to entail maintenance of the equipment and cleaning and everything else that needs to be done, Syring added. "So watchstanders are going to be watchstanders, and maintenance guys are not. They are not going to stand watch. They are going to do all the other functions of the ship."

Syring acknowledged this is a leap for the Navy; after all, 148 sailors will be operating a ship that is just shy of 15,000 tons.

"We are working closely with the fleet on what maintenance is going to be done on the ship versus off-shore. We are working closely with them on even facilities maintenance," he said. "There is going to have to be basic cleaning done by the crew here, but maybe there is a deep cleaning when the ship comes into port."

Additionally, officers are going to have to vacuum their own state rooms, something the Navy didn’t do in the past, Syring noted.

"Should we be paying sailors, both their salary today and how much we invest in them, their whole retirement and their family burden, to go to sea to clean officers’ state rooms? Absolutely not," he said. "Each one of these folks are going to be highly trained and they are going to have every minute of the day accounted for. We are confident we got it right."

Besides the bridge, the ship’s mission center will be the only manned space when the ship is underway, Syring said.

DDG-1000 will operate with a crew of 18. A DDG-51 needs a crew of 54.

On a DDG-51 there are 10 watchstanders. There are only two on DDG-1000, Syring added.

"This wasn’t us saying ‘OK we are magically going to go to two. What we have here is a set of screens that display cameras around the periphery of the deck house and ship to give these guys a complete awareness of what is going on around the ship," he said. "You want to take look-outs off the deck."

By integrating the displays, nine watchstanders positions were eliminated.

"We’ve done the task loading on the two watch stations. It is absolutely doable in condition 3 (where half of the ship’s weapons are manned and in a ready status at all times).