Navy leaders have decided to start three major programs to combat personnel problems, including record-high desertions.

"Changing times outran us," Vice Adm. James D. Watkins, Navy personnel chief, told The Washington Post in describing how the Navy sailed into such troubled waters and how it plans to get out of them.

The Navy, he said, "simply did not recognize the new breed" of sailor entering the service and thus failed to make enough changes in personnel matters.

But today, said Watkins, the top leadership of the Navy agrees that enlistment bonuses, remedial education an broad-scale leadership training must be implemented as quickly as possible.

Part of the get-well plan approved by Navy Secretary W. Graham Claytor and Adm. James L. Holloway, chief of naval operations, calls for paying a bonus of about $2,000 for sailors who sign up for four years to tend the ship boilers below decks, Watkins said.

The job of boiler tender, he said, is such an unpopular one that sailors assigned to it are high on the list of those who go AWOL (absent without leave), creating further unhappiness and turbulence when new men must be trained for the job.

Watkins said enlistment bonuses for boiler tenders, which will be started within six months if no problems crop up, may be followed by other cash incentives to fill the more unpopular jobs below deck.

Staffing boiler rooms with men who chose to serve there ratther than sailors who signed up for different jobs is one of several maagement changes the Navy expects to lower its record-high rate of 31.7 desertions for every 1,000 sailors - the figure registered for Fiscal 1977.

Another step Navy leaders have decided to take, said Watkins, is the broadest remedial reading program ever tried by their service. The details, he said, currently are being worked out in high-level meeting with the U.S. Office of Education.

The idea is to raise the reading level of todayy's sailors by two grade levels. Thirty-one per cent of the young men coming into the Navy today read at the ninety grade lvel or below, often causing them to be frustrated as they try to follow the simplest service manuals.

Watkins said the plan is to establish reading clinics at Navy boot camps in San Diego, Great Lakes, III., and Orlando in hopes of bringing sailors up to at least the tenth grade reading level and, it is hoped, higher.

Currently, he said, the Navy's remedial reading program is limited largely to volunteer instructors working with sailors whose reading level is sixth grade or below. When the expanded reading program will start and how much it will cost is still uncertain, although the blueprint has been drawn.

While Watkins predicted the enlistment bonuses and reading clinics plus tougher rules for deserters, such as sending sailors who desert back to the same ship they left rather than transfering them to shore duty, will help, the Navy personnel chief said better leadership is the long-term answer.

The Navy was not prepared for "the more qualified, more competent, more mature, more inquisitive and more demanding" young people who started coming the service in the large numbers in 1972, Watkins said.

This new breed of sailor, Watkins continued, "seems to be less equipped to adjust to the military structure; less ready to accept authority without a rather significant rationale; well aware of his rights to counsel. All of these things have emanated from the difficult Vietnam years."

Although we now have "a very complicated individual to deal with," Watkins said, "I would have to say that our leadership and management programs to deal with that complex individual have not kept pace with the changes."

For the past two years, Watkins said, the Navy has been experimenting with leadership programs in hopes of effecting a better matchup between Navy leaders and sailors.

By May, he said, the most effective of these new leadership courses will be started for chief petty officers and commissioned officers. Eventually the courses will be given Navy-wide.

Today, continued Watkins, "in many cases our leadership can't bridge that gap between the hard, driving need to keep our fleet readiness up and the concerns of this new breed of indiviual."

While expressing concern that the navy's desertion rate is climbing while that of other services is falling, Watkins said "what worried me the most" is the exodus of chief petty officers with eight to 12 years' service.

These chiefs, he said, are "really the guts of your leadership." Yet 2,600 more chiefs with eight to 12 years service left the service in Fiscal 1977 than the Navy had anticipated - the biggest such drop on record.

Watkins blammed the departments on the chiefs' perception that their future "isn't as bright as it used to be." That feeling, he warned if not corrected, "can only infused through out an organization."