The U.S. Navy has identified thousands of unfilled roles at sea as the service branch faces a hiring gap that has grown from 2,750 vacant billets last year to 9,000 this year.
The Navy is now requesting $33.9 billion for personnel funding for fiscal year 2021, which will fund the hiring of 7,300 new sailors, Navy Times reported. The funding for personnel hiring would represent a $2.1 billion increase over its personnel hiring budget requests for 2020.
The U.S. Navy reportedly wants to shift some of its funding away from building new ships as it calls for its new hiring efforts.
“We are fully committed to closing gaps at-sea as quickly as possible by sustaining our near-record Sailor retention and aggressively increasing our recruiting goals,” Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm John Nowell told Navy Times in an emailed statement. “We owe it to our shipmates at sea to ensure every billet is filled with the right Sailor, who has the right training, and who is hitting the deckplates at the right time!”
The Navy’s hiring gaps have reportedly contributed to delays in pre-deployment training efforts before ships hit the seas.
The Navy prepares for its deployments through the Optimized Fleet Response Plan (O-RFP). The O-RFP, which was established in 2014, necessitates that Navy ships have their full complement of sailors by the time it begins its earliest phases of pre-deployment training. Early phases of training are meant to nail down basic crew functions such as firefighting, safe navigation and effectively using a ship’s combat systems.
Vice Adm. Richard Brown, the Navy’s top surface warfare officer, instead recently testified that many ships are still working to fully man positions on ships by the time pre-deployment training is supposed to have evolved into advanced stages of pre-deployment training. By the later stages of training, Navy crews are expected to have already rehearsed their basic functions and have gone on to form into multi-ship carrier strike groups.
The Navy cited “poor seamanship” in its decision to relieve top officers on the USS Fitzgerald of their commands following a deadly 2017 collision with a Philippine merchant ship.
The Navy’s efforts to overcome its manpower shortages have been a persistent effort for several years now.
When the Navy was first implementing its O-RFP system, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer could expect to deploy with just 240 officers and crew. Lately, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers have been deploying with a larger complement of 265 personnel.
Nowell told Navy Times he hopes the Navy can guarantee that by 2023 the Navy will be able to place around 285 personnel on its Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.
Nowell suggested that renewed competition between the U.S. and other global powers have added urgency to the Navy’s heightened need for more sailors and fully manned ships.
“As a result, we have increased the overall number of billets at sea and are working aggressively to fill the subsequent gaps caused by this large-scale expansion of at-sea billets,” he said.