It may take several years for the Navy's new plan for shorter and more predictable deployments to take effect as the service adjusts to new conflicts in Iraq and Syria, service officials said.

The Navy is making substantial progress with the new plan to provide sailors with more predictable deployment schedules as a way to improve training and maintenance and attract and retain potential recruits, senior service leaders said Wednesday at the 2014 Defense One Summit in Washington D.C.

The Navy's support for the ongoing ground war in Afghanistan, coupled with the training and air war campaign over Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has led to lengthy deployments and consistent schedule changes.

"During the last five years, the most difficult issue has been the predictability of deployments. Not only their length but when they end. The lack of predictability affects sailors' planning, families and their time off," said Vice Adm. Bill Moran, head of Navy personnel.

Adding predictability is part of a larger effort to help the Navy recruit high quality sailors. The service has even discussed allowing sailors to vary their time at sea or at home, even allowing them to temporarily leave the Navy to start a family or pursue a private sector experience before again returning to service, Moran said.

Slated to formally begin in 2015 with the scheduled deployment of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group from Norfolk, Va., the new plan aims to add predictability to deployment dates and shorten the current eight and nine month deployments to seven months, service officials said.

"We are already starting with the Eisenhower strike group right now. Our deployments and our work-up cycle will be much more predictable," Moran added.

The effort, referred to as the Optimized Fleet Response Plan, is now underway with Fleet Forces in Norfolk, Virginia, and Pacific Fleet – the organizations which handle force generation and the preparation and deployment of naval forces.

Since first announcing the Optimized Fleet Response Plan in January of this year, the Navy has been progressing with efforts to implement its measures over the next several years.

"Fleet Forces and Pacific Fleet have increased home time by still doing the training that needs to be done but getting rid of duplicative training," said Cmdr. Chris Servello, Navy spokesman for personnel.

The effort, which will take several years to implement, is centered around streamlining maintenance and training cycles so that sailors have more time at home and ships hit their modernization schedules.

"This plan involves the thoughtful melding of people, platforms and schedules -- while keeping the long term health of all three in mind," Servello said.

Navy officials recognize that lengthy and unpredictable deployments can make it more difficult to retain the brightest and most talented people, Moran said.

"What we hear from sailors all over is when sailors are out operating and doing what they joined the Navy to do, they feel a sense of autonomy, mastery and purpose. Where we find problems is when they don't know when they are going to come home or a six month deployment turns into a nine month deployment without reason or notice," Servello added. "What we've seen is one of the main reasons we lose good people is due to a lack of predictability."

Part of the plan involves efforts to get sailors integrated with their ships earlier in the training cycle and work-up in order to optimize time and make sure the ship and its sailors are ready for deployment, Servello explained.

While emphasizing that the Navy's op-tempo is likely to remain high in coming years, Moran said the service is also looking at widening career paths for young sailors as a way to help recruitment and increase retention.

Moran said the youngest generation of new sailors, referred to as "millennials," think differently about careers and service compared with older generations.

"We need to make sure we attract and retain the best people. We're also dealing with a generation of folks who view the world differently than when I came to the Navy," Moran said. "What we've learned in talking to this generation is that they want to see more experience inside and outside service organizations including corporate America."

-- Kris Osborn can be reached at kris.osborn@monster.com