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Sea Swap / Crew Rotation

Crew Rotation (sometimes referred to as "Sea Swap") is an initiative to extend ship deployment length while swapping crews in mid deployment. This appears to offer significant potential for improving on-station time without increasing either OPTEMPO, PERSTEMPO or, to a great extent, ship wear and tear. Rotational Crewing/Sea Swap is a variation on the multi-crewing themes referred to as "Horizon" suggested by the CNO Strategic Studies Group, Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), and others. The primary difference is that where most multi-crewing options involve more crews than ships; for example 3 for 2 (CNA), 5 for 4 (Horizon), 2 for 1 (SSBN) (Blue/Gold"), or several for 2 (MCM-1), the basic unit of Crew Rotation (1 for 1) is two or more similarly configured ships with an equal number of similarly trained crews.

The Crew Rotation scheme would extend individual ship deployments from six months to a nominal 11.5 months or longer while holding crew deployments at 6 months. At the 5.5-month point in the cruise, a relief crew from a sister ship is flown into theater to man the deployed ship. After turnover, the relieved crew is flown back to CONUS where it mans the non-deployed unit of the operational pair. The deployed unit remains deployed for a total of 11.5 months or longer before being relieved on station in traditional fashion. Essentially, sea-swapping crews reduces ship transit-using instead airlift to replace the crew. The six-month PERSTEMPO limit is not exceeded for any crew.

In the case of deployments from the West Coast to the Arabian Gulf, eliminating every other transit provides an additional 2 to 2.5 months of on-station time for each pair of ships without necessarily changing turnaround ratio or OPTEMPO for either crew or ship. Three pairs of ships in Sea Swap can create up to 20 additional on station ship months over four years when compared to the current deployment methods.

Crews stay with the same ship for approximately 2 years and with same operational pair throughout their sea tour, providing an improved sense of ownership compared with other rotational crewing plans. Ships return to CONUS often enough to reduce or eliminate the need to do major maintenance overseas. The capability to do major maintenance and upgrades (without disrupting deployment schedules) improves because ships enjoy longer periods in CONUS between cruises.

Turnaround ratio - Ship 2.91:1/Crew 2.75:1; Deployment time - Ship 11.5 months/Crew 6 months. Additional ship months generate opportunities for multi-ship action groups to meet emerging challenges or additional ship availability for employment opportunities to support Homeland Security/Defense.

The Navy developed a pilot program to employ the "Crew Swap" concept in an effort to determine the true costs and potential savings, while developing lessons learned to provide a firm analytical basis for recommendations to either expand the concept or look for other alternatives. In maintaining the focus on the fleet and the impacts that a shift in deployment methods may have, Commander Surface Forces Pacific was designated the lead for development and implementation of the pilot program. The current plan will employ SPRUANCE class destroyers beginning the summer of 2002 with the deployment of the LINCOLN CVBG and then expand to ARLEIGH BURKE class Guided Missile Destroyers later in the fall of 2002 with the deployment of the CONSTELLATION CVBG. Both plans have the potential to gain an additional 100 days

In a break with tradition, CDR Randy Hill relieved CDR Mike Gilday as Commanding Officer of USS Higgins (DDG 76) during an otherwise traditional ceremony 24 April 2003 - and brought his entire crew with him. That new crew took Higgins to sea April 28, when the ship departed Singapore to continue its anything but traditional deployment, marking a key milestone and historic first during the second phase of the Navy's "Sea Swap" experiment.

Hill's crew, the former crew of USS Benfold (DDG 65), was the new the crew of Higgins. Gilday's crew, which took Higgins into action during Operation Iraqi Freedom, returned to San Diego and took over Benfold, fully completing the first ever crew swap cycle of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

"History. Some write it, you made it happen," Gilday told the assembled crews during the change of command ceremony, just minutes before his crew passed the Higgins torch to the former Benfold crew. "Today, the eyes of the Navy are on you, Higgins, and you, Benfold, and all that you have done for the past year, and especially the past several weeks to prepare for this moment."

The crew swap keeps Higgins forward-deployed without the need for the timely transit back to the ship's home port of San Diego. During the experiment, Higgins, which is approaching the six-month mark on its current deployment, will remain forward-deployed for 18 consecutive months. The crew of USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) was scheduled to relieve the current Higgins crew later in 2003 year. The reclaimed transit time results in approximately three months of additional forward presence when compared to a typical three-ship cycle.

The former Benfold crew arrived April 16 and following four days of liberty and the arrival of the ship April 20, began the turnover process with the Higgins crew while the ship took on needed maintenance. Sailors said communication was the key factor during turnover. The biggest challenge initially was communication with the other ship, trying to get each other on the same page.

The former Higgins crew, following post-turnover liberty, will fly back to San Diego to end their six-month deployment. In their waning days aboard, the emotional ties to their ship were evident. Naturally, the emotional ties to former hulls go both ways. The new Higgins crew is keeping the memory of their former ship alive with "Team Benfold" embroidered on the side of their Higgins ball caps.

The first phase of Sea Swap took place in early 2003 in Fremantle, Australia, when the crew of the then recently decommissioned USS Kinkaid (DD 965) relieved the crew of USS Fletcher (DD 992). The Spruance-class portion of the Sea Swap experiment continued in 2003 when the crew of USS Oldendorf (DD 972), which was also to be decommissioned, relieved the current Fletcher crew.



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