Somewhere Deming is Nodding - Maybe: "Navy Looking to Add Rigor to SWO Candidate Training Ahead of Assignment to Ship Crew"

Somewhere Deming is Nodding - Maybe: “Navy Looking to Add Rigor to SWO Candidate Training Ahead of Assignment to Ship Crew” -EagleSpeak

With that as a lead-in, here’s what the Navy has set out as a plan:

After finding a defect (junior officers who are “defective” in their watchstanding and professional skills);
actually took a look at the system that sends these officers to enter the fleet;
developed a plan to correct or eliminate those defects before they get to the customer - the customer being the fleet, the supplier being the Navy’s personnel and training command.

Boyd again:

Some would look to the Boyd OODA loop as being akin to Deming’s “Plan, Do, Check, Act” (PDCA) but others note differences


1 Like

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.


You had me until you started quoting the numbers of the qualified and non-qualified officers during your particular tour. I’d be MIGHTY surprised to see THAT level of manning on any surface combatant much less one in the C7F AOR. That said, even with less manning, the arrivals and departures are still limited.

I pilot SSBNs routinely and am quite familiar with the how they cycle the JO’s through the process. It’s unfortunate in that any lessons that might be learned during any given evolution are lost by the time they get cycled back around for their next opportunity. And not for nothing, as important as those sea details may be. It won’t make them better watchstanders at sea. I, for one am a big fan of how at least the Dutch and Royal Navies have their Navigators at the Conn for arrivals and departures. THAT process doesn’t solve the problem of improving watchstanding skills at sea, though.

Those aren’t numbers from my particular tour; those are numbers I pulled shortly after JSM’s collision. The average DDG/CG had just over a dozen 1160s onboard. It’s enlisted manning that’s been suffering for years; firemen, deck seamen, maintainers, these are getting thinned out. But they will feed as many Ensigns through the SWO meat grinder as they need to in order to meet DH commitment numbers and have a ready pool of officers to promote to O-5/6.

1 Like

Could it be that Navy ships have far too many watchstanders tripping over each other?

Allen, NEVER would have guessed that.

I was a QM in the C.G. I never saw anyone trip over another. The overall job is broken down into tasks. For example the bearing taker takes bearings, nothing else, stands next to bridge wing compass and doesn’t move much, no tripping.

Everything is like that. I was on the 5/38 gun crew. Not much room inside to move around. I was told where to stand and what to do. I was the powder man. I just loaded powder. Projectile man? Different job. He was probably a foot from me but as long as I stayed where I was told and I did what I was told, load powder, no tripping.


I don’t know how much bridge time each student gets on the training ships, and I’m sure it’s different for each school ship, but I believe all the academies require at least one cadet shipping trip which includes significantly more bridge time than it sounds like Navy OOD qualification requires.

BTW, third and second mates almost always stand 8 hours of navigational watch every day as OICNW (OOD), even on vessels that carry two 3rd mates. There aren’t commonly cadets onboard, when there are there’s usually only one, maybe two. Also, a typical merchant ship generally only has 1 or 2 total persons on watch on the bridge, the mate on watch and sometimes an AB lookout, unless the autopilot is broken and they require a helmsman.


Hutchins’ article is a classic text in computer supportive cooperative work that provides an in-depth description of how a team navigates a large ship. The paper gives a detailed description of the bearing-taking process and the tools that are necessary in order to do it and makes an a number of influential observations about the role of overlapping knowledge, external representations, coordinated work, and distributed cognition within a team working in a highly routinized environment. The essential argument is that a ship bridge represents, “a distribution of knowledge among the members of the navigation team that makes the system very robust in the face of individual component failure.”

Sorry, I just assumed you were being facetious as the question about “tripping” was obviously not meant literally, like you took it.

I think that tripping over each other means getting in each others way. One person probably could have run the gun mount but rate of fire and accuracy would have been less.

That’s what merchant seaman keep saying about the bridge. But with bearing takers and a navigator a 3 min plot can be kept and the OOD is always near the center line looking forward.

We never took a pilot.

It’s a " highly routinized environment."