Transforming the naval training system

When Vice-Admiral Mark Norman released his Executive Plan for the Royal Canadian Navy in late 2013, it laid out specific divisions of labour for the commanders of Maritime Forces Atlantic (MARLANT) and Pacific (MARPAC).

MARLANT assumed responsibility for fleet readiness and warfare policy while MARPAC now oversees individual, collective and operational training for force generation, as well as the force employment elements of operational planning.

For Rear-Admiral Bill Truelove, the change has meant a transformation of the entire naval training system, what is being called NTS 2.0. Not only is the commander of MARPAC overseeing the amalgamation of five independent schoolhouses into one unified command – what he called a system of systems – he also has responsibility for the Naval Reserves and four Personnel Coordination Centres.

During an interview at Maritime Security Challenges 2014 in Victoria this fall, he explained how that change has allowed him to look at the competencies and skill sets required for tomorrow’s fleets; at better training and integration of the Reserves and how they can augment the crews of all ships in the conduct of operations; and at how sailors are deployed across the country to ensure “all personnel are in the right place at the right time for the right length of time to continue their progression while still ensuring the operational output for the mission sets.”

Do new ships mean re-examining competencies and skill sets, especially as the environment becomes increasingly digital?

As we see future ships coming off the slips, we need to understand that the structure of our navy today, the occupations if you will, may not necessarily be those occupations that we need on the new ships. We learned this when we stepped up from steamers to frigates. Those that walked on the frigates on their first days will opine now, years later, that maybe we missed a step in that we took a construct from a steamer and we made it work in a frigate. [So] as we see these future platforms coming, what do we need to do to restructure our occupations that makes sense when [sailors] walk aboard those first ships on the first day?

What then are the priorities of NTS 2.0?

As we move through this next spiral of naval training system transformation, in many ways it is about catching up with where many other academic and training institutes are already and moving to concepts like a campus model, moving to greater use of technology. For example, we now have a universal classroom that allows me to have students in Halifax and Victoria sitting together virtually, with an instructor on one coast teaching them all in an interactive mechanism.

And then exploring more the concepts of quantity control – how many people do we need in the system, and when, to get the right outputs? – and quality control – how much is enough to allow them to effectively carry out the duties they need to carry out? Those are two concepts we continue to work down as we look at the five schools and all the supporting pieces. Is this the right construct as we look ahead 10-15 years?

If one of the selling features of new ships is often smaller crews, and so less resources to operate, how are you approaching that quantity versus quality equation?

It’s a longstanding debate. We have watched partners and allies go through this debate. I think the littoral combat ship provides one of many case studies on this. As we move through design phases of the platforms, clearly the conversation will be about not only quantity but also what construct, because the two go together.

Back to my comment that the occupational structures we have today won’t be the occupational structures that move aboard these new ships: As we adjust those structures, that in turn will open up flexibility. You might not be solely one occupation, but several, and therefore I don’t need to have as many of that occupation. How that plays into the crew design is something we are looking at.

All of that then drives a training requirement which won’t get any simpler, especially if you start to amalgamate trades, to provide them that breadth of training they are going to need to perform whatever the functions are that are resident in that occupation.

Does the ship still need to be your primary training platform or are you able to do more through simulation and a networked structure with your schoolhouse centres? And are you also re-thinking how you do training onboard a ship?

It is all of that. When we talk about training we have to be careful because we are talking individual training, small team training, and all-of-ship training. And each is different to varying degrees. But we are always looking to enhance onboard training. Indeed, as we look at future systems like we have installed on the frigates, once we understand the operational effect it can deliver, then we need to understand the training package that comes with it to enable onboard training. Take the Harpoon weapons system as an example: there is a very robust training package onboard that comes with that.

The final element is linking this with the Reserves. How do I get 24 Naval Reserve Divisions linked to the naval officer training centre so I can train all of my officers across the country in a virtual, networked environment? How can I in the future have ships on the east and west coasts connected through a network so that I can conduct warfare training exercises? And how do I do that with my partners across border?

Given that much of your work is done in coalition task forces, is the next step coalition-wide training as you deploy into a theatre?

Nations have been looking at this for a very long time. It briefs well but there are a range of complexities, not the least of which is access and security. But at an unclassified level, we need to keep moving that way. And what I hear when I talk to colleagues is a shared appetite for this, for obvious economic reasons among others.

Author: Chris Thatcher (from Dec/Jan 2015)

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