Ship Shape and Ready for Action.
Mission Readiness Evaluation and Training (MRET) LÉ EITHNE 2017
Reproduced here with the kind permission of the Editor of An Cosantóir, this is my Article which featured in the July/August 2017 edition.
The delivery of a professional service by the Navy with a high degree of certainty requires specific fleet standards, quality control and the monitoring of personnel and equipment in action. The standards necessary to operate the fleet, are the ‘bedrock’ of an effective service. Their importance is heightened when the ships taskings become more complex. It was deemed vital to establish an organic operational evaluation capability in order to meet the delivery of these requirements and to this end, in September of 2008, the Flag Officer Commanding Naval Service (FOCNS) directed the establishment of the NS Fleet Operational Readiness, Standards and Training (FORST) section within Naval Operations Command (NOC).
The aim of FORST is to facilitate organisational learning and continuous improvement by highlighting best practice and the fleet standardised processes required for the generation, maintenance and evaluation of our operational capability (GMEOC).
Within ‘House 50’ on Haulbowline, there is a small team of specialised staff who are subject matter experts. With these eleven personnel under the direction of Commander Ken Minehane, FORST achieves its mission by assisting ships’ Officers Commanding by providing guidance, sea training and assessment to generate and maintain the five pillars of operational capability.
Cdr Minehane says that ‘FORST has made a significant contribution to the elevation of standards within the Naval Service. We are now operating with proven confidence on an international stage’. He also sees that one pathway of growth and development which lies ahead for FORST may be ‘from the point of view off accreditation of the FORST procedures, through the NATO operational capability concept. To have our assessors be accredited to a NATO standard’
FORST is continually working to ensure that the base competency levels of Core Mariner Skills of Naval personnel serving at sea, which are inextricably linked to the operational capability, are maintained to a high level of proficiency at all times. During the various training periods and evaluations these skills will be assessed externally by the FORST section.
The Core Mariner Skills are broken down into the following categories: Bridge Management & Navigation, Seamanship and Ship Handling, Damage Control and Fire Fighting (DCFF), Communications and Fleetwork, Helo Operations, Above Water Warfare (AWW), Search and Rescue Procedures, Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIO) and Naval Boarding Procedures, Ships Protection Operations (SPO), Ships Organisation, Command and Control and Engineering Casualty Procedures.
By using the external evaluation and sea training provided by the FORST section, the ships will be enabled to avail of objective internal and external confidence checks and ensure standardisation of operational capability, procedures and equipment across the fleet.
In order to achieve all which has been laid out above, the FORST section co-ordinates the efforts of Operations, Support and Naval College Commands to ensure that a Plan/Do/Check/Adjust loop is completed, tailored to each individual ship.
Plan: FORST plans the correct approach to achieve the op capability based on the requirements directed by the OCNOC and in liaison with Support & Naval College Commands.
Do: FORST co-operates with Naval College & Support Commands to ensure a delivery of high quality service to the fleet that is constantly changing to meet current demands.
Check: FORST checks the standards, equipment, personnel training competencies and op capability through assessment and sea training.
Adjust: Having worked through the first three stages FORST will now, by advising of the necessary adjustments to training and support efforts through feedback from the fleet after assessment and sea training.
FORST will also give feedback to Officer Commanding Naval Operations Command (OCNOC) on the fleet’s ability to implement policy.
The Five Pillars:
Operational Capability has five essential pillars.
These are Operational Viability, Sustainability, Readiness, Interoperability and Deployability. A brief examination of each will give an overview of the complexity which is required in the military maritime environment.
Operational Viability is ensuring the NS ship can prevail in an operational situation. It is achieved through the synthesis of personnel, equipment, military doctrine, organisation, training and command and communications.
Sustainability is ensuring that capability continues and the NS ship can maintain a mission tasking, at the required operational tempo, for the duration required.
Readiness is the immediate ability of the NS ship to execute a designated mission while balancing the constraints of time and capability. Many factors combine in this, current levels of personnel, training, equipment, command, control, communications and intelligence. Readiness must be underpinned by appropriate doctrine and should be continually shaped by lessons learned.
Interoperability is concerned with ensuring that NS ships can operate ‘jointly’ and successfully with other force elements or ‘combined’ with other military organisations or civilian authorities. It entails familiarity with other operational procedures. Consequently, this requires suitable equipment, personnel, systems and infrastructural programmes, policies and procedures.
Deployability is concerned with ensuring that an NS ship can deploy to a mission area in a given time frame. It entails raising force elements to deploy nationally and/or internationally with the required training, preparation and equipment in place.
The current pinnacle of seeing the Five Pillars in action are the ‘OP PONTUS’ humanitarian missions currently underway in the southern Mediterranean off the Libyan coast.
MRET LÉ EITHNE:
A FORST team is embarked for the first seven or eight days of these missions as our ships steam South. They conduct a Mission Readiness Evaluation and Training (MRET) period onboard over this week which is short but intense; on completion of the MRET the ship will be at full operational capability, ready to meet whatever challenges exist in the area of operations (AO).
Speaking on the overview of the MRET process Cdr Minehane says ‘I think the MRET is a fantastic development and through the mentoring style adopted by FORST, the crews of ships participating in OP PONTUS gain a significant amount of knowledge about the operation as well as proving their capability before they ever take a migrant onboard’
Each MRET is tailored to the specific mission to which the ship is assigned at home or abroad.
The MRET conducted on an OP PONTUS bound vessel starts by having the basics reconfirmed; response to emergencies such a Fire or Collision, then Ships Protection Operations from small arms to main armament which are tested, drilled and fired. As these competencies are being confirmed the ship’s company are still working each day to adapt these patrol vessels for the mission by the temporary addition to the ships superstructure of items such as washing facilities, sun-shelters and shuttering around medical treatment areas.
Then there is mission specific training delivered by instructors with direct mission experience such as SCPO/SEA Philip O’Connell, CPO/ERA Ruairí de Barra and PO/HA Declan Tighe on a wide range of subjects such as Migrant Handling and the use of Personal Protective Equipment, Searching Techniques and Intelligence Gathering, Gender and Cultural awareness, Emergency First Aid and CPR.
All the training culminates in full ship’s drills where rescues are simulated, each individual becomes familiar with their role and the location of each item of equipment is tested, checked and rechecked.
The next time these suits will be worn, these RHIBs launched, these guns uncovered and that body armour strapped on will be for real; when the ship is fully operational perhaps at night with the lights of Tripoli glowing over the horizon and a migrant craft in distress to leeward with 150 persons crammed onboard. There, the balance between life and death is at close quarters. All the training and experience and the resolve of the crew is required to complete the mission without fear or failure.
The training programme for the MRET recently conducted onboard LÉ EITHNE was designed by Lt Cdr Cian O’Mearain, Fleet Marine Engineering Officer (FMEO) and Lt (NS) Jamie Cotter, Fleet Warfare Officer (FWO)
‘There can be little doubt in my mind that a MRET period add to and assists in the success of a mission. This is a concept that is NOT entirely new in the NS, it is a vital and key enabler to mission success that we have been carrying out for a number of years. The MRET is in fact only part of the third phase of a multiphase format followed by the unit as they prepare for overseas deployment’ Lt (NS) Cotter explains.
‘Phase 1 is the Individual Training where personnel are ensured to have completed TOETs, Annual Range practices, Medical and Fitness tests; Phase 2 is Collective Training this is conducted by the various branches while on standard Maritime Defence and Security Operations (MDSO) patrols and the final Phase 3 is the Validation Process this is where we do mission specific training’
Lt Cdr O’Mearain says ‘This at one level is a team building exercise but organisationally what we are doing is proving we can turn knowledge into capability’. He offered the following example of the proving of operational capability onboard LÉ Eithne ‘During the transit through the Mediterranean to Augusta, Sicily, the port propeller shaft became fouled. This vessel was able to successfully deploy surface, sub surface and aerial assets to carry out the necessary work and return the ship to its operational tasking in short order. We are better able to conduct these operations with FORST having had a rigorous assessment and fixing the capability gaps when we find them’
Lt Cdr O’Mearain feels that ‘Because there is now a culture of assessment embedded within the NS and throughout the fleet; There is no place for complacency and units are constantly preparing for and anticipating potential scenarios’
The FORST deployment provided the author with the opportunity to speak to Commander Brian Fitzgerald, Officer Commanding, LÉ EITHNE who is on his first OP PONTUS deployment. ‘I am looking forward to the mission, I think that one of the reasons that you join the NS is pursue an exciting military career that can make a difference. This particular mission is probably the highlight in terms of operational taskings that the NS has had over a sustained period’
Cdr Fitzgerald is convinced ‘that MRET is essential and valuable. The NS has extraordinary experience in some of the roughest seas in the world off the west coast of Ireland and we pride ourselves as having a skill set that is finely tuned by constant operations. The Mediterranean presents different challenges. So, to have a team of specialists with direct experience of this mission, come onboard for an extended period is excellent’
Cdr Fitzgerald was very pleased with the MRET and FORST ‘I think the key thing that FORST have shown is ‘Mentoring’. The ability to transfer information & their knowledge through the systems that FORST have well developed. It has allowed me to witness my crew move in the space of just a week, from a routine MDSO standard to an extraordinary level of mission readiness. I don’t believe that this could have been achieved as effectively if you did not have an objective team of experienced instructors from FORST mentoring us through this process’
At the end of the MRET I asked Cdr Minehane for his final thoughts. ‘The crew of Eithne engaged completely with the MRET and there was a significant amount of learning outcomes which have proven to us that they are now ready for operations. That training and that assessment will stand to them when they get those first migrants onboard’
As the FORST team made ready to depart LÉ EITHNE, the crew of the flagship of NS gathered on the flight deck in the bright Sicilian sunshine. Fell in, in three ranks the OC thanked them and the FORST team for their work. He spoke with great honesty about the challenges that they would face in the weeks ahead. He spoke of his pride in the crew and reminded them that their home, this warship beneath their feet, was the first vessel undertake a mission in 2015, he assured them that they would not just follow in that wake but lead.
He also made reference to the proud history in which they would play their part, a tradition of peacekeeping and international humanitarian efforts stretching back many decades; that the tricolour on their shoulder and its companion flying off the stern marked them as part of an Irish team who would face the mission to come in the finest traditions of the service.
 Surface Assets: Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boats with inboard diesel engines. The workhorses of any ship.
 Sub Surface Assets: LÉ EITHNE has a Naval Diving Team onboard. NS Divers also have another ‘normal’ day role.
 Aerial Assets: LÉ EITHNE is the first ship to deploy a drone onboard for aerial surveillance during migrant recovery operations. While diving it is used to provide a look out for threats to the team while sub-surface.