SWO Boss meets the press
ALEXANDRIA – What a week, Ya’ll.
Surface Navy Association is a crazy thing for me. I spent just four years in the surface fleet and I see people every year who I served with on USS Normandy, often the same faces each year but sometimes it’s someone I didn’t even remember that I overlapped with on that most fine warship.
Truth be told, it makes me a bit self-conscious. Like most 18-year-olds, I was awkward and unsure of my place in the world. But you add to that the discomfort of going from a supportive middle class, South Jersey home to Norfolk Naval Station and 567 feet of steel and aluminum that all the sudden is my home – well I’m just not sure what kind of an idiot I made of myself back then and what people remember when they see me.
But there is also something homey about it as well. Everyone at SNA has a shared experience: Living inside a steel ship with a bunch of sailors; pulling out of the pier on your first deployment; freezing your butt off on the quarterdeck in February; a deck seaman who got in trouble for just the most insane thing possible. These are universal experiences in the Surface Navy and it’s a baseline of common understanding that makes sure everyone there has at least SOMETHING to talk about.
So, another SNA is in the books, and I suppose I’ll look forward to the next one: the annual tradition.
Speaking of annual traditions, for the head of the Surface Navy, SNA is the main event. And every year SWO Boss Vice Adm. Rich Brown and his thick Massachusetts accent hops on the horn to drop his Rs with the Navy press corps.
So, for tonight’s Drift, I figured I’d give you some excerpts from that conversation. Some of it you may have seen reported elsewhere but I suspect a lot of it is new.
So, I’ll shut up now and let Vice Adm. Brown take the helm.
Qs & As W/ SWO Boss
Q: Can you give us an update on how the deployed littoral combat ships are doing? How’s the reorganized system working out?
A: Montgomery deployed May of last year with her blue crew. In September; she did the first crew swap. That went well.
We’re working with Seventh Fleet to see what we can do from the entering equipment aspect. Gabrielle Giffords deployed in September with her gold crew, and she deployed with naval strike missile. In November, she actually shot that missile during an exercise, which is really cool. LCS are operating.
Montgomery and Gabriel Giffords crews will change out again, I think, in February timeframe. So, we're going to get another cycle.
Detroit deployed in October. She went down to SOUTHCOM. I have to tell you she's knocking it out of the park down there for Fourth Fleet. She's already been involved in two take downs--drug take downs. She's been operating with Special Operations Forces. She's been operating with the Marine Corps doing great stuff.
Going forward, we will always have at least one LCS forward-deployed from both coasts, but, most of the time two, and sometimes three. As the LCSs deliver, that will even increase.
Here's an interesting stat that I'm going to give you. We spent the last 30 years building 68 Arleigh Burke destroyers. Within five years, we will have 66 LCS crews formed. LCS is mainstreaming and is already a major part of the surface force. We've got lessons learned. We're learning what breaks on deployment between the two ships. We're changing the parts that we’re forward-staging based on what we're learning. It's exciting. I'm very satisfied with where we are at LCS.
Q: How do you view the role of unmanned ships in the surface force?
A: You probably saw reporting earlier this month where Adm. Grady ordered me to develop the concept of operations for unmanned surface vehicles. That’s why we established the Surface Development Squadron in May of last year. SURFDEVRON ONE is already doing that work and developing the concept of operations.
[Aside: That was my reporting]
Think about what an unmanned surface vessel can bring to the fight, whether it's towing something, whether it has a communications package on it, or whether it has a series of VLS launchers on it in a combat systems. We're able to get a fire control solution in a fire control order to that unmanned vehicle.
Think about what that does to the battle space. Much like when naval aviation was coming on line in the early 30s, we still had a battleship fleet. We will always fight fleet-on-fleet with battleships. Then World War II happened. Right? And we fought fleet-on-fleet with aircraft carriers. I think it's well within the possibility that we'll fight fleet-on-fleet with unmanned surface vessels deep into that fight. That's what SURFDEVRON ONE 's going to do for us. I owe a product back to Adm. Grady this April, and we're moving out on it.
Q: Moving to the accidents in 2017, operations tempo was a driver in some of the readiness shortfalls. That hasn’t gone away but are you having trouble containing it again with hot spots flaring up?
A: The operational demand for the surface force is huge because of everything we bring to the fight. Whether it's from BMD to air defense to ASW, or to just presence, to drug running interdiction, you need surface ships to do that.
That said, unlike in 2016 and 2017, the processes are in place to ensure that the operational demands are not outweighing the manning, the training, the equipping demands that also exist. Right now, every ship that is operating forward is fully certified, fully manned to 92/95, and fully qualified to do what they are supposed to do. If there was ever a waiver request for any of that, that request goes to the four-star. The four-star has never waived any of that, Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Aquilino nor Fleet Forces Commander Adm. Grady.
Me, working with the numbered fleet commanders and Rear Adm. Roy Kitchener on the east coast working with the numbered fleet commanders, we're the gatekeepers. I said this almost two years ago after the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain collision reports, the administrative control voice is very loud now with process. We're just not shy.
It's laid out in what the minimum certifications you have to do whether it's a fleet week all the way up to forward deployed operations. It's all laid out, and any wavering of those requirements has to go to the four-stars.
That said, that doesn't mean there's not a huge demand signal. Really what you see is the workload on my staff has probably tripled, as we make sure that the ships are materially fully combat ready, and that we keep them combat ready so that the crews can go out and do what they need to do.
Q: Do you think that the fact there have been no waivers given to this point is a personality thing?
No, that was captured in the integrated readiness instruction. That was actually signed out in Echelon 1 from OPNAV. It outlines minimum certifications that are required. Like I said, whether you're going out to do deck landing qualifications for helo squadron, all the way up to forward-deployed operations. That was encapsulated. To waive anything requires four-star approval, either Adm. Grady or Adm. Aquilino. And we haven't been waiving things. We're not taking shortcuts.
Q: What’s your view of the need to grow the fleet?
We need a larger fleet. The world is not getting any safer. What the Navy brings to the world security is just tremendous. Like I said earlier, because you don't have to worry about basing rights, you can just move that four and a half acres of sovereign American territory anywhere on the high seas, influence world events, and protect our way of life and our national interest.
That requires ships, but it requires probably a mix of ships from low end to high end. This discussion has been going ongoing for the last 35 years that I've had my commission. I don't think it's a new discussion, but it's an ongoing discussion. Is the number of ships that we have right now the right number of ships? I don't think so.
Do we need more ships? Yes. I believe we need more ships. What's that number? I don't know. But I got to tell you, whether the number is 355, 365, 345, it's somewhere around there. We got to get there, but ships are expensive. Crews are expensive.
I'm the man, train, and equip guy for the surface Navy, but I am not divorced from the future Navy. I have a vote and a role in a discussion in the role of the future surface force because my successors will be the folks who have to man, train, and equip those ships.
We can't make acquisition decisions without understanding the man, train, and equip factors when we're developing new systems and new capabilities, new ships, or anything. So, I’m heavily involved in that discussion. We don't wait to be asked. We assert ourselves in the discussion of what the future force looks like because we provide the feedback, "Well, that's great concept, but how are you going to man that concept?" Or, "That's a great concept, but you know that this brings a training bill that
looks like this." I'm also involved in, "Hey, we need these concepts," or, "We need these requirements as well."
If you missed SNA, here’s a roundup of what was discussed.
SEALIFT!Test of Ready Reserve Force Exposes Need For Newer Ships, More People
Coast Guard is Refining FY 2021 Funding Pitch
Commentary: The US Navy’s so-called budget salvo demands too much
US Marine Corps could soon take out enemy ships with Navy missiles
To combat new missile threats, the US Navy prepares to move forward with destroyer upgrades
Aforementioned ‘Salvo’: ‘We need more money’: US Navy’s top officer says the service needs more of the DoD budget
Surface Navy 2020: Potential USN ammo could turn LCS into counter-drone ship
The two US Navy littoral combat ships will soon share a brain
The surface Navy needs to fundamentally reshape itself to defeat the Chinese threat, study finds