Interesting article, I’ve read ADM Davidson’s comments before, it’s a lot of promising new assessments and training, but no mention of resources being allocated to attain it.
But the root of the issues are more systemic, one of the bigger ones being the up or out mentality of the armed forces. Without firsthand knowledge, I understand that on the merchant side if you wanted to, you could stay a third mate for 20 years. This is not so on the Navy side. Without accepting promotions and greater responsibility you are shown the door.
The numbers of promotions are driven by several factors, some of them being the number of “control grade” billets that need to be (or are desired to be) filled by SWOs. The other big factor is the production of SWO Department Heads, of which about 275 are needed every year. Big Navy goes through several machinations in order to get SWOs to commit as early as possible to being DHs, and until recently there was not much of a quality control cut being made.
Combine these external demands, along with attrition though officers meeting their minimum service requirements, non-attainment of OOD/SWO, and many, many lateral transfers into other officer communities, and there is massive throughput of Ensigns onto ships to try and qualify SWO. I did a pull once and found one cruiser with 18 1160s (SWO trainees) on her, to make no mention of all the 1110 (qualified SWOs) ENS/LTJG who should be standing bridge watches also. Throw in limited duty officers and others who want to try for OOD letters and there is a massive number of people trying to get bridge time, and especially special evolution time. As a Training Officer I assisted the Senior Watch Officer in trying to manage the qualification process on our ship, and some OODs were only getting one or two Sea & Anchor details (pulling into or out of port) under their belts before their boards.
I don’t know how many cadets or 3/M a typical merchant carries, but I suspect that at some point far below the Navy the captains would push back and say “no more!”. But then the maritime academies have training ships, and who knows how much bridge time each cadet can manage there.
The at-sea apprenticeship program that SWOs operate under breaks down with the numbers of 1160s being sent to sea. If Big Navy really cared about this problem they would send fewer numbers of more highly motivated SWO candidates to ships, and a lot of these ancillary problems may solve themselves.