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NEWS | Oct. 4, 2017

CPI in the nuclear Navy

By U.S. Navy Capt. Kevin M. Byrne, commanding officer Naval Nuclear Power Training Command

Leading companies in any field are characterized by their ability to improve their products, processes, service and technology. This is commonly known as Continuous Process Improvement (CPI). While the military does not sell a product or look for a larger profit margin, the best commands are marked by their ability to self-assess, identify weaknesses and strive for greater efficiency and safety.

CPI is not simply a mission statement from the commanding officer; it has to be a culture adopted by the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen or Marines. Even the most junior person can identify process inefficiencies, safety hazards or material discrepancies. Organizations rarely fail from a single catastrophic event. More often, a series of small incidents, combined together, at an inconvenient time lead to injuries, equipment malfunction or death.

After weaknesses have been identified, the organizational environment must allow for unobstructed communication. A well-functioning chain of command takes subordinate inputs and addresses them with appropriate assets, in a timely manner, to correct small deficiencies before they fester into larger, more consequential failures.

The Navy Nuclear Propulsion Program has been executing this system since the first nuclear powered submarine, USS NAUTILUS, sailed in 1955. The Navy’s nuclear fleet has cruised over 151 million miles. Through periodic inspections and audits, the Navy ensures the overall safety of each nuclear reactor. Each command is evaluated on their emergency response, maintenance, and operation and held to the highest standards.

However, these inspections would be inadequate if individual commands did not adopt a mindset of CPI. Each commanding officer, division officer, chief petty officer and seaman is trained to look for deficiencies, communicate within the organization and address problems with adequate resources to prevent possible large scale failures.