Sunday, June 1, 2008


There is an old saying: "Amateurs concern themselves with tactics, professionals concern themselves with logistics." So let's look at logistics.

Every unit had three levels of supply priority open to them, which basically were "urgent," "priority" and "routine." The Navy's supply system had fifteen priority levels, numbered from one to fifteen. Which of any command in the Navy had what priority depended on what they did and where they were.

Nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, not surprisingly, had priorities one through three. A surface ship in home port might have a priority of five for the top level. A ship deployed might have a three for its top priority level. A ship in overhaul might have an eight for its top level. What this meant was that as far as the naval supply system was concerned, a case of toilet paper for a boomer had the same priority as a vital repair part for a deployed surface ship.

Every part in the Navy was assigned a naval stock number, or NSN. There were a shitload of digits in a NSN and there were massive catalogs on each ship listing them. Each department and division had manuals for every piece of gear that gave NSNs for the entire unit, for major assemblies, for sub-assemblies, right down to every screw, nut or bolt.

Supplies were in two basic categories: Consumables and repair parts. If you could solder or clip or insert or bolt something into a piece of gear or to the ship itself (and generally, if you could turn the used one back in), it was considered to be a repair part. Ships had budgets for repair parts, but the budgets for repair parts were generally flexible. If you needed a part to get underway or for a major piece of equipment, you got the part. A single "part" could be as small as a circuit card or as large as a towed array sonar (which came on a huge cable drum). Often, if you could turn the old one back in, you were charged only a small fraction of the cost of the part, as the turned-in parts were sent off for repair, refurbishment and reissue into the supply system.

Consumables were, as you might expect, everything from rags and paper to paint, grease and lube oil. Ships were given a budget and it was up to the Captain to divide it among the various departments. Since the consumable budget was a zero-sum game, it could get into bitter arguments between the department heads over who got what, and then at the the department level, between who got what.

There was never enough money for everything necessary. At one point, due to an accident on one ship, some genius came up with the idea that the engineering departments on ships should issue flame-retardant coveralls to everyone in Engineering who worked in the main plant. This idea didn't work for two reasons: First, the flame-retardant properties would not stand up to being laundered, so the coveralls soon became just heavy cotton coveralls. Second, and more importantly, the consumable budgets for the ships were not increased in order to issue two sets of coveralls to every engineer. So, for the most part, only the engineers who were in the fleet when the dictate was issued ever got one pair.

Food was a separate budget category
, all ships received the same amount of money to feed each sailor. (Officers were paid directly and then the officers, as a group, bought their own food.) Ships were free to augment that money, if they wanted (and some did), but of course, some other area of the consumable budget had to be cut.

The Navy operated on the Federal fiscal year of October 1st through September 30th. Like most large organizations, if anyone finished up a year with consumable money left over, you were not lauded for being a good manager. What happened was that "we obviously gave you too much last year" and your budget was cut. If you were into September and you had consumable funds left, you would go buy the "nice to have" items that you normally did without.

Money was not rolled over into the following fiscal year, either. The food on ships often became much better in September as the Supply Officer would buy fancier food items, such as good steaks and lobster tails, in order to use up the food budget. This was an area where ships that were "welded to the pier" because they were not in good shape made out like bandits, as good portions of their crew could be expected to eat some of their meals off the ship, while ships that spent most of their time underway fed almost everyone all of the time.

When you needed a part for a radar set or a tube of grease, you would write down the item description, its unit cost, its NSN and you would give it to the supply petty officer for your division. The supply petty officer would fill out a 1250 form, which was simple request for the thing you needed. The supply petty officer would take that form to the division officer or the department head for signature. The supply petty officer would then give the 1250 to the Supply Department, who would then type out a 1348 form for the requisitioned item. 1348s were little more than punch cards. If the ship was at sea, the 1348s would be compiled into lengthy teletype messages that were sent off by satellite UHF link. If the ship was in port, the 1348s would be taken to the Naval Supply Center on the base.

If the ship was in port, then every day or so, a truck would come by and drop stuff off. It was a whole different story if you were at sea, and that will be the subject of a later post


physioprof said...

What about fucking booze?

The Earth Bound Misfit said...

No booze, other than for special occasions. That's a story worthy of another post.