Prospective recruits at a Navy recruiting station (file image) The U.S. Navy is looking to grow its end-strength force to 345,000 sailors by 2023, the highest level since 2006, and it is adjusting its personnel policies to encourage current servicemembers to stay.
Higher manning levels will be needed if the Navy is to field more warships, and it is hoping to expand the fleet by 46 vessels over the next five years. There is an overabundance of qualified officer candidates, according to recent testimony from chief of naval personnel Vice Adm. Robert Burke, but bringing in and keeping enough ratings will require changes.
To start, the Navy is working to retain its existing manpower. It has already stopped removing servicemembers automatically for too many failed fitness tests; it is adding billets for promotion opportunities, especially at the E-5 and E-6 levels; and it has raised the high year tenure limits – the “up or out” time limits that trigger automatic departure from the service – by two years. In addition, the 2019 budget includes nearly $320 million for reenlistment bonuses in certain specialties, and for sailors in demand, the Navy is increasingly willing to talk about the details of their next assignment as part of the “negotiation” of their orders.
The Navy is also attempting to reduce manning shortfalls and turnover in specific overseas commands, a problem that was identified as a contributing factor in last year’s deadly collisions. First-term sailors in Spain, Guam and Japan are now eligible for privileged selection in their next assignment if they extend their sea duty to at least 48 months. For some senior enlisteds in technical specialties, this extension would come with a bonus of up to $1,000 per month, paid up front.
For new recruits, the Navy says that it faces stiff competition from the private sector in a growing economy. To make matters worse, not many potential recruits qualify: about 70 percent of the 17-to-24-year-old population does not meet basic Pentagon requirements for physical fitness, education, aptitude and criminal background, and the Navy’s standards are stricter. This means that the pool is relatively small, and to attract the right people, the Navy needs signing bonuses. Its 2019 budget has $90 million for enlistment incentives – three times the amount allocated in 2017. The Navy’s updated recruiting campaign, released December 2017