Navy Surface Boss: XO to CO Fleet-up Improves Ship Material Condition, Training
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
WASHINGTON — The Navy’s commander of its surface forces said that the concept of ship executive officers (XOs) fleeting up to commanding officer (CO) of the ship yields dividends to fleet readiness, particularly to the material condition of a ship.
Fleet-up is a relatively recent change in the way an XO and CO are assigned to a surface ship. Traditionally, a lieutenant commander would serve as XO and be promoted to commander while serving in that billet. The XO would then serve a shore tour while being considered for selection to command a ship. If selected, the officer would become a CO, normally of a different ship. With fleet-up, an XO assumes command of the ship he or she is on when the CO is transferred. The concept has been used in the aviation community for decades in its squadrons.
“Fleet-up has actually improved the material condition of our ships,” Vice Adm. Richard A. Brown, commander, Naval Surface Forces, and commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, said Feb. 14 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It has actually improved the training of our ships.
“Under the traditional career path, the average time ashore between the XO ride and the CO ride was four years,” he said. “So, the question is, where do you want to take your degradation of skills, before the XO tour or before the CO tour? There is zero degradation of skills between an XO tour and a CO tour in a fleet-up. The driving factor to go to fleet-up was that there were CNA [Center for Naval Analyses] studies that showed that [with] a commanding officer with command of a ship for three years the number of CASREPs [casualty reports] on that ship significantly decreased because that CO understood the material condition of that ship and knew that ship.
“Given today’s force we’re not going to have three-year CO tours,” Brown said. “But, if you have a CO and an XO that are on that ship for 36 months, then the material condition and the training of that ship will actually increase.”
Brown said that the commodores — the surface squadron commanders — prefer the fleet-up concept.
“The XO is taking a much longer view to the ship’s life cycle,” he said. “Before we instituted fleet-up, the XO tours were running about 12 to 14 months and CO tours were running between 15 to 20 months, depending on whether you did a deployment. The leadership churn on the ships was too much. Fleet-up stopped that leadership churn and really put stability in the fleet.”
Brown pointed out another benefit of fleet-up that the traditional career path never had.
“If you screened for command at the commander command board, you went to command,” he said. “Under fleet-up, if you screened under the XO/CO fleet-up board, you go to your XO ride, but your CO ride is not guaranteed. There is a certification process that happens between the XO ride and the CO ride [in which] the commodore certifies that this officer is ready to fleet up, [a process] that is signed off by the type commander.
“We’ve had 21 officers since the [fleet-up] program’s inception that have not gone to a command tour for a variety of reasons,” he said. “That is a great safety valve.”
Brown also pointed out that fleet-up increased sea time.
“XO tours used to be 12 months, [now] 18 months,” he said. “It increased sea time by six months.”
Brown said that sea time will increase for junior surface warfare officers, by which they will have a longer single tour or two division officer tours on ships and two department head tours on ships.