Why Your On-Station Performance Does or Does Not Matter.


It’s been well over a year since I’ve posted.  I’ve been kicking about some ideas in my head about what I should do with this blog, since I still get hits every day.  This is most likely thanks to the navy employing anti-Google URLs for all their websites, so when people search for VP-30 they get my blog.

Over the last 2 years, I have heard many of our community leaders extolling the excitement of the coming years.  How change is coming, and that change looks, and is, good, and was built upon the results of what we did on station.  So I wanted to look at the changes that have happened in the last two years, and analyze whether those speeches meant anything.  One change that happened is that there are evidently polls that we can embed in these blogs.  If you will, please vote in the above poll.

1.  The readiness system:  It changed, but people still hate it.  The readiness system changes align very neatly with some of the changes I proposed in an earlier post.  Since I’ve been constantly accused of not having a lack of hubris, I’ll play into that perception and take credit for it.

The biggest problem still remains with what we have to do to claim quals (hereby referred to as tasks).  The “checks in the block” for each task simply isn’t robust enough to say concretely that a crew or an individual is or is not capable of meeting the demands of the skills.  We’re stuck in this mindset of having to measure every tiny detail of what a crew does and put a metric, limit, or score associated with it.  Must attack in 5 minutes – 20 points!  Must analyze CPA within 3 minutes!  Must call a sitrep every time the SS2 is confused!

That way of analyzing performance is all about collecting a lot of precise data.  That could work – however our data is inherently imprecise!  Even worse, our means to collect that data is based on the message traffic system, or an excel spreadsheet that gets passed around and saved in a folder labeled S:\Trackers2009 – hardly an efficient process.

So while the readiness system made some strides forward, the biggest hurdle yet remains.  And I don’t think anybody is working on this or even considering changing it because it’s so entrenched in the way we do business.  If we’re to stick with this data-driven evaluation system, the system should get its inputs directly from the sensors and the computer on board.  Furthermore, our sensors must be more precise and the data gained to be verifiable.  Otherwise, create a more holistic approach to evaluation – there’s validation in unbiased concensus.

2.  The budget – we’ve experienced so much turmoil with the budget.  Squadrons might be coming home early!  Squadrons are having their deployments cancelled!  No more flying!  All of these rumors didn’t come true in light of looming budget cuts.  Our leaders’ leaders have gone on about how damaging the sequester is going to be.  How costly it will be to try to regain the skills we’ll lose from the budget cuts.

My question is, “Is nobody even considering just making us more efficient?”  If we’re so concerned with losing our skills due to reduced funding, why not reduce expenses in other ways?  I think the two biggest costs we have are manpower and costs associated with flight hours.  So here are some cost saving tips that wouldn’t reduce our skills:

Admin: in today’s world of connectivity – why do they have to deploy?  They just eat up per diem and other costs that simply aren’t necessary.  The biggest reason to keep things the same is that it’s “sea duty.”  So the entire detailing process would have to be reworked to make it into a shore duty.  But then how could they possible compete for that #1 EP against a deployer?  This highlights how our advancement system sets up these invisible barriers towards organizational progress.

Measuring operational performance based on executing what we’re budgeted for ensures that we are NEVER going to be more efficient in how we spend our money for operational flight hours.  The OPSO is given a certain amount of flight hours to cover each quarter.  That amount is based on what we’re budgeted for.  That budget is loosely based on how many hours it takes to keep everyone proficient.  Our leaders fight to keep those hours from getting slashed.

Meanwhile, our PPCs have found an easier way to be more efficient – simply lie about when you took off and landed.  This cheating of flight hours is rampant – with 20 minutes on either end extremely commonplace.  On a 5 hour DFW, my guess is that the average PPC flies 4 hours and 20 minutes.  That is a 13% reduction in flight hours.  In an organization that values integrity above almost anything else, it’s shocking how acceptable this form of cheating is.  My belief is that many PPCs inherently understand how arbitrary and stupid the way we MUST fly our hours is.  Thinking that bending the rules is ok as long as nobody gets hurt, they do it.  And they do it all the time.

Draw your own conclusions here – I don’t think that bending the rules by lying about takeoff and land times is wrong.  I think it’s a natural result of dealing with arbitrary and outdated rules.  With the high percentage of republicans and libertarians in our ranks, it’s surprising how many don’t extol the virtues of the free market when it comes to P-3s flight hours.

Since it’s fashionable to be budget conscious, why not perform an experiment with one or two squadrons wherein they fly what they need? We have that flexibility.  Not every squadron has to do the same thing!  Further, rumor has it that some squadrons may get the axe – that’s a perfect platform to try something different.

3.  100MB inboxes!!!!  Holy shit our email space doubled!  I was wondering why I hadn’t gotten an alert that I was over my limit in a while.  This must have been a Herculean effort and a monumental cost – unbelievable that they achieved this with all the strain on the budget.  50 extra Megabytes is 0.05 Gigabytes.  Multiplied by the 350,000 or so active duty personnel and you get 17,500 extra gigabytes of storage space, which is 17.5 Terabytes.  You can buy 1 TB hard drives on amazon for $84.65 each, which means that extra storage costs roughly $1500.  Multiply that by 2 to make it a server, then multiply by another 2 for the government rate and you get $6,000 + extra operating costs for that storage.  Thanks NMCI!

4.  The Super-JO program, or Squadron WTI program came…. And quickly went away.  For those unfamiliar, the Super-JO program is where a Weapons and Tactics instructor (WTI) goes back to a squadron after their shore tour in lieu of a disassociated sea tour.  WTIs come from the Wing (ARP Instructors), VP-30 (Weapons School… mostly), CTFs, or NSAWC/NMAWC (very specialized billets).  The idea is that you take quality instructors, make them even better with another 2-3 years in platform, and reinvest that experience and talent back into the squadrons.

So the Super JO program was around for 9 months or so.  To my knowledge, there was zero discussion with the Super JOs selected for the program about whether or not they were making gains in squadron performance.  So why the cancellation of the program?  It seems like a smart idea – have very experienced instructors that have the desire to give back to their community reinvest their experience and knowledge.

Was it competing priorities for bodies?  One Super JO per squadron is 12 bodies.  Are there not 12 people that can be poached from somewhere?  Was it for career progression?  “We have to send people to boat because they don’t understand what’s good for them!”  Last I checked, there were only 24 CO/XO billets, and around 500 JO billets.  Clearly, not everyone is going to make Skipper.  Was it because they couldn’t convince anyone to go back to a squadron?

I don’t know why it was cancelled.  But I know why it was started.  It was started because the MPRWS continually noted the exact same deficiencies year after year after year.  No amount of newsletters or tactical discussions or changes to the ARP program helped.  What could you possibly do but inject MPRWS expertise directly into the squadrons?  Bypass the layers upon layers gained from the “Instruct the Instructor” model (think about your squadron’s CNS/ATM program).

This program’s cancellation is completely and utterly deflating.  If what we do onstation matters so much, why do our leaders’ actions not prioritize it?  What can someone possible reason other than “My performance just doesn’t matter that much.”

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  1. #1 by Anonymous on 3September2013 - 1:44 am

    The problem with relying on the data extract pull from the plane to measure crew performance is the very often occurrence when the extract fails. We see this all the time with SEI especially, and it sucks because the crew can do everything right and still not get the qual. Even if they dutifully log the data in the TACCO/SS3 logs and the purple, they’ll fail the qual if the extract fails, which gives the crew no incentive to take detailed logs as they’ve been trained because what’s the point? And as a result you have yet another crew that is not ISR green.

  2. #2 by Newly non-lobotomized O-5 on 7November2013 - 2:09 pm

    I posted here as Lobotomized O-4 a couple times. Do you get that part of your brain back when you make O-5? Do they do it in the same operation where they remove most of your spine? I don’t feel any different, but I guess I wouldn’t if I was brainless and spineless.

    Anyway, you touched on one of the things that’s been one of my passion projects for a very long time: the WTI program and Super JO. You are absolutely correct: we do not embrace these things fully, and we should. This is one of those things where the more you learn about it, the more obvious it becomes what the right answer is. That makes it all the more unfortunate we’re moving in the wrong direction, and even show a propensity to erase positive changes when they occur.

    The WTI program is an idea that has its genesis in the experience of USAF Sabre pilots in the Korean War. Viper’s speech in Top Gun leads us all to believe it is a Navy invention borne out of our experience in Vietnam, but that’s not true; the Navy refused to adopt the Air Force model previously, was forced to by circumstances, and even then refused to do it the right way. It’s a lot more complicated than that, but the history is pretty cool both from an organizational science and a cool flying story perspective if you ever want to look into it.

    The idea is to both raise the bar tactically through creation of a dedicated school house and, the most important part, create a career path for some (not all) of a given aviation community’s leadership to stay in operational squadrons or at said school house, flying fighting, and teaching the others, ideally through their first command tour, but at least through their O-4 tour. Down the road, the best of these people would compete on an even footing with the best of the folks from other career tracks (test pilots, trainers, and the folks from what I’ll call the ‘generalist’ track that we seem to default to when outside forces don’t make us do something else) for leadership of the service. The benefits are three fold:

    – Dramatic increase of experience and expertise in tactical level units, and increase in experience and expertise level of the people in squadrons doing the hands on teaching of the younguns.
    – Creation of a career path to compete with the generalists, so in community and service leadership you get the best generalists, the best testers, the best WTIs, the best trainers, etc., instead of the best generalists…and the second best generalists…and some more generalists who aren’t really very good, but we only recognize one career track as valid, so they get the nod.
    – Junior people know tactical performance is important because they see resources and career time of good people dedicated to that end, instead of having the clear example set that tactical performance is something you do in your JO tour and the first part of your DH tour, and the rest of your career time should be spent rounding out your resume in other areas.

    The success for the USAF was immediate and profound, and they’ve never looked back. That model, which is almost 70 years old now, has been a resounding success story for every aviation force that has adopted it, both here and overseas (Israel, etc.). In fact, no flying combat community that has adopted this model has ever gone into battle and not made their opponents who aren’t operating this way look like a bunch of defenseless children. It’s that big of a difference.

    Being the Navy, we are institutionally opposed to change, especially using ideas that are not generated from within the Navy. Franklin Roosevelt on working with Admirals: “To change anything in the Navy is like punching a feather bed. You punch it with your right and you punch it with your left until you are finally exhausted, and then you find the damn bed just as it was before you started punching.”

    So, we established Top Gun in the 60’s, but we didn’t do it all the way. We built the school because we were forced to (originally a det of the West Coast F-4 RAG; sound familiar?) but we didn’t adopt the WTI career track even for fighter guys for career progression reasons (really, stop me if this sounds familiar). We didn’t get on board with the idea of a dedicated career track for fighter WTIs until after Desert Storm, again as a result of being forced to by external events and pressures that this is getting way too long to describe. I know a lot of people who were in VF/A squadrons when that change took place and the first Super JOs hit the fleet, and to a one they say it was like night and day in terms of the focus and culture of their squadrons, in a very positive direction. Unfortunately, I’ve seen VFA back away from dedication to this model a little bit recently, again due to the intense, never-ending pressure of career competition.

    Anyway, we in MPRA were the last community in US military aviation to get a Weapons School, and I mean last like cargo C-130s (not gunships; straight stick) had a Weapons School before we did. As you describe, the WTI career track is an on again / off again thing, though one of the guys who did it first time around way back when just screened for Commodore, so that’s positive. Like the Navy as a whole, we’re very change and risk averse. Part of it is many people in MPRA immediately turn off when you use the example of VFA guys because just like the Navy doesn’t like using ideas from outside, most of us don’t think any example from outside MPRA applies to us, especially from VFA which we frankly have an unfounded inferiority complex toward.

    However, in the community’s defense, as outlined above, major positive changes in other communities and other big organizations with strong culture (Apple circa 2000, Wall Street circa 2008…well, maybe they haven’t changed much) have come only when forced from the outside and only after a major disaster or performance shortfall makes the needs for change obvious. The MPRA community is, even to my skeptical mind, clearly changing positively. We’re not doing it fast enough for my taste, but it is happening, and we’re doing it without a major calamity or external pressure holding a gun to our head like the fighter guys needed a couple times to get on board. So, what seems like a poor showing and snail pace is in fact pretty admirable when you look into the history and compare it apples-apples with other similar organizations. Not an excuse, just perspective.

    My concern is what it will take to make really massive strides will be the Lessons Learned conference after a major debacle, like a performance shortfall in war. Unlike VFA, we don’t do small engagements every couple years. We don’t have a steady flow of brushfires to tweak our game. Our only game day will be in the big one, and if we’re not read to play varsity ball then, we won’t get another chance because major naval engagements happen once a generation if that. VP has a weird disease; we think we’re less capable and less relevant than we actually are. I recently came from a position to know for sure, and we are more important and better at our job than most people in squadrons like to recognize, for reasons that baffle me. Everyone else is the opposite; most VFA guys will tell you the fate of US national security hinges on their ability to execute, but for whatever reason we don’t war to believe our job matters at all. It’s a big deal because if we’re not serious about our part of the task, important stuff will get dropped in war. More of our ships will get sunk, and fewer of the enemy’s if we’re not ready. It could be one of the differences between winning and losing if it comes to that. That’s why I think it’s worth an hour and reams of electronic paper to write this; I think it’s a big enough deal that if one other person reads this and gets something out of it, that hour I delayed watching Old School for the fifteenth time was worth it. Well, maybe.

    TL;DR, I know, but this is something I’ve felt very strongly about for years. Hope this added to the discussion.

  3. #3 by Rasz on 3February2014 - 11:29 pm

    Sorry, but let’s be realistic… the VP community needs to drop the hole ASW bit. If the shit hit the fan and we were the last thing left to go out and hunt, track, and kill our submergable foes, we would fail miserably. Not from lack of effort, but the equipment and weapons we have to do that particular job are substandard at best. Unless they float on the surface for us to find or they are really incompentent, we will fail if we are truly called upon (someone might get lucky). Why do you think the P-3 is never called for war fighting? We have had all of what, 2 actual weapons launches in 20 years and neither of them were completely successful.

    Face it people, we are good at one thing and one thing only, ISR. The community needs to come to terms with this and stop pretending we are good at everything else. Yes, I have gotten every qual out there, but how realistic are they truly with the technology we have to go up against. Laughable at best.

  4. #4 by Mark on 4February2014 - 9:13 pm

    The P3 community WAS used in GW1 – and failed miserably.

  5. #5 by fresh 2p on 29June2015 - 4:30 pm

    I see that this blog is pretty old and a lot of the stuff you posted about in this particular segment doesnt directly affect my feels for VP, however some of your older posts do. Its funny reading these posts that are several years old and having the exact same thoughts about the community now in 2015 as what were posted in 2011. It looks like nothing changed – no progress was made. I’m really afraid that the first wave of P8 guys transitioning from the P3 (I unfortunately will not make the cut) as instructors will attempt to pour their maniacal processes into the new platform. I can already imagine what its like, and I’ve never once stepped foot in a P8 – memorization of pointless facts that the plane tells you just because so many other things are taken care of internally by the systems. I’m almost happy that I may get my orders cut short when my squadron transitions…

  6. #6 by Dr. Zhivago on 7July2015 - 9:19 am

    I second fresh 2p’s comments. It is refreshing to know that nothing has changed and nothing will ever change. Really gives me a reason to try and care. Still the same garbage planes and self loathing culture. I’ll do what everyone else before me has done and just count the days till I’m done with this community.

  7. #7 by TerminalNav on 8July2015 - 4:26 am

    It is unfortunate that this blog is no longer alive. It seems that people still periodically check up on it. If those people are anything like me, they come here to know that they are not alone on this earth. Hopefully we can keep this blog alive in the comments.

  8. #8 by Slipp McGurk on 30October2015 - 8:10 pm

    Whatever happened to this guy? I wish I had discovered this blog before I was selected for P-3’s, I definitely would have fought harder to do absolutely anything else.

  9. #9 by Terry Rothchild on 13February2016 - 1:10 am

    I believe a big reason the Super-JO program was killed was that many JO’s would rather eat a bullet than go back to the squadron. I can just imagine the audacious nature in which they would be treated for their less than two year tour (if the gods were merciful, of course).

    After a short check-in period, said Super-JO would find themselves buried under several jobs (NATOPS, Training, etc.) as they are unfortunately qualified to work in those positions. Plus, manning dictates that if one person enters the squadron, the squadron has one less empty seat at the table. Who gets hurt here? Well, not the Skipper and XO, as they would not fill those seats. The Department Heads? Possible, but unlikely that an O-3 would replace an O-4. Another JO? Yes, indeedy; in the Navy’s magic manning 8-ball it is a one-for-one swap.

    But it’s not, is it? Sure, a Super-JO would be nice, full of expertise and knowledge, a practicality you don’t see in any O-4’s. But they are fully qualified, which means they are qualified to do nothing. Does a Super-JO stand watch? If your Watch Officer has no soul, sure. Do they stand Taxi Pilot/Duty Nav? Highly unlikely. Can they sit Nav/Com or 2P/3P? Don’t make me laugh.

    You’re not getting a Super-JO, you’re getting a roadblock. Sure, the O-4’s would be happy, they’ve got someone that can do all the paperwork for them and do all the instructor events. But any up-and-coming JO would find their progress blocked by someone who will always be more senior to them in the plane, blocking up the jobs they need to advance their career, all while manning is low enough to demand said up-and-comer stand all the watches and fly in the upgrader seat.

    All you have is an O-4 lower half (in name, not paycheck) that the other O-4’s can push around to do all the work. Someone who will always get ranked better than the other O-3’s, keeping them from achieving their hopes and dreams.

    Keep your Super-JO’s, and send them back when they make O-4. Stop kicking them out for losers who went “to the boat” and think they know how to run anything more complicated than a stapler.

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