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Well, good morning! I’m going to make this really easy. For our representatives here today, you can put me down on the record – I want more ships! I don’t want a CR. I want a bigger budget, and I want more than one-third. Thank you, Roy, for the kind introduction – and a special thanks to the SNA team led by Vice Admiral Hunt, Bill Erikson, and Julie Howard for making this event so special and such a huge success. I want to give a shout out to our surface warfare leadership – Roy Kitchener, Brendan McLane, Fred Pyle, John Mustin, and so many others here today.
It’s great to be with everyone – and while I hate to admit that this is my first SNA, I am impressed and truly inspired by the herculean effort it took to make this symposium possible this year. For the last two years, we have all experienced how difficult it can be to bring our dispersed teams together, especially in the continuing COVID-challenged environment. And true to Navy Spirit, you have fought, struggled, and grown - overcoming countless challenges – ensuring we are more prepared than ever to deter, fight, and win decisively in any environment, in any situation, at any time we are called to task.
But, before I get too far ahead of myself, I’d like to address the elephant in the room – for those of you who don’t know me already - that in addition to my somewhat vertical challenged posture (or as I like to say – “right sized”), my finely honed southern draw, and my unquestionably good looks - I’m sporting Dolphins on my chest – yes, a submariner by trade. And, while I appreciate the SNA team ensuring I had a podium I could see over, I‘m still getting used to the wide open spaces, large crowds, and abundant sunlight. So, please bear with me – and I promise I’ll do my best to keep the nuclear power quips and “target” jokes to a minimum.
To be quite honest, I’ve been to my fair share of symposiums over the past 36 years, and I can tell you with certainty, this week’s events have met and exceeded all expectations. We’ve had a fantastic lineup of speakers and panelists – all of whom are true patriots - fighting every day to ensure our Navy never enters a fair fight.
So, thanks again to the Surface Naval Association for inviting me to participate, and for so deftly promoting the importance of our surface naval forces to our service members, to our Navy, and to our Nation. Being here today with warfighters, both in uniform and across our defense industrial base partnerships is truly a privilege.
Speaking of true warfighters, I want to thank SWOBOSS, Roy Kitchener, my friend and teammate, for his ardent leadership, and for doing the groundwork necessary to seize and maintain the competitive edge in this maritime era. Our North Star as he mentioned – our mission capable ships, lethal weapons systems, and elite crews – they are the core of our ability to own the seas. As you heard Roy describe - the manner in which this will be accomplished is through the implementation of the Competitive Edge Alignment document and its robust and very timely lines of effort.
I am not the first, and I guarantee you will not be the last person this week, to tell you that we are operating squarely in a maritime era. The oceans have never been more important to our national security. For decades now, we have enjoyed freedom of maneuver around the world and have supported our land and air forces securely from the sea.
Those of you in this room know better than most how the seas have become ever more congested – and I am here to tell you that they are becoming ever more contested as well. Our peer competitors, China and Russia, are developing and fielding the kit, the capacity, and the capability to challenge the long-standing, rules-based order of the maritime commons – and that’s not to mention the very real capabilities of Iran, North Korea, and the constant challenge of violent extremists.
Our leaders across the Navy, from the CNO to ‘Satan’ Conn to Paul Schlise to the SWOBOSS, have worked tirelessly to chart a clear course for us to attack the challenges we face across the spectrum of operations alongside our other joint force services, partners, and allies – but let me be perfectly clear, and this is the main point of my remarks today – the United States surface navy remains the premier, sea-going force. Let me repeat, our surface navy is the premier, sea-going fighting force – no question. Nothing else comes close.
No adversary in their right mind wants to confront our surface fleet. Despite what we may read in the media about China this, Russia that, or even the internal challenges we face with uncertain budgets, manning levels, or the challenges and pace of modernization – I can guarantee everyone listening today, that our surface warriors are feared, and they are absolutely ready to take the fight to the enemy. How do I know – that’s easy – it’s the extraordinary combination of leadership, mastery, toughness, capabilities, and training that transforms our exquisite multi-mission ships into unprecedented lethality. Bottom Line – our surface forces are, and will, remain the critical contributor to our responsibility as a Navy to establish sea control when required, project power globally to deter, and to ensure we are always ready to win maritime conflicts on terms favorable to the United States.
Now, my confidence is not based in meaningless platitudes in order to pander the SNA crowd – I firmly believe that the surface navy is an indispensable component in our integrated deterrence strategy and an essential key part to winning any major power conflict.
Our competitors view the maritime environment as an extension of their territory, access and ownership of the resources they contain, and the veil of safety from direct attack on the sovereignty it provides. And while the ever-expanding global economy continues to depend on the unfettered flow of goods across the seas, the ability of hostile actors to hold vital waterways at risk pose significant challenges that must be met – head on!
In fact, with today’s burgeoning technologies, our peer competitors will likely create scenarios where they deny maneuver, control the flow of logistics, degrade the will to fight, and drive a global narrative that restricts response options to enable their objective of winning without fighting.
With consideration to the tyranny of distance and speed of action, our surface navy remains the most capable maneuver arm of the joint force across an array of mission sets – providing long range fires, protection, and sustainment to our combatant commanders. We will continue to require ready forces to be consistently generated and flowed rapidly to the point of need – to ensure freedom of maneuver - this is precisely why maintenance and delivering more ready ships are of paramount importance in defending our nation’s interests at home and around the world.
To really illustrate what I am getting at today, I’d like you to consider a hypothetical situation – we’ll say this occurs in 2030, but it could occur earlier, as you all know.
To set the stage a bit – by this time, it’s been decades since we have faced true war at sea – and, in response to the accelerated military buildup and aggressive actions by an authoritative regime, we have developed, fielded, and exercised a wide range of new kit and upgraded technologies to achieve capability overmatch across all domains.
Now, over these decades, this regime, or ‘strategic competitor,’ has thoroughly analyzed our tactics and have a firm understanding of our capabilities and response designs – and to that end, they have been patient and calculating, often testing our resolve and appetite for escalation. Their goal: secure control and exploit the maritime environment in a manner that preserves a position of strength, then leverage it in a way that affords a fait accompli scenario, thus raising the cost of escalation to a point where it is deemed imprudent by competitors to take positive action.
In direct response, and in support of our national interests, the US as well as partners and allies, have kept the pressure on in day-to-day competition, deterring aggressive actions, and maintaining the balance of power within the maritime commons of the region.
Over time, territorial disputes and close quarters interactions, coupled with their ensuing political sparing, lead to a rapid deterioration of the status quo. The authoritarian regime swiftly denounces US and allied force presence to the global community, exclaiming overt threats to their national security and peaceful operations in the region. In an attempt to displace our forces and gain control, they sortie their fleet of warships, submarines, and aircraft under the guise of their own “large-scale exercise”.
On the mainland, long-range missile batteries are mobilized and air forces effectively cut-off the airspace by conducting air interdiction missions and sortieing long range bombers throughout the region. At sea, their surface fleet aggressively maneuvers to shoulder allied forces out of the area and deny the free flow of commercial vessels within the commons.
As our FDNF forces swiftly become cut-off from immediate support, and ‘red’ air forces conduct continuous encroachments of allied airspace, it becomes abundantly clear that the authoritarian regime is trying in earnest to push us into a corner and make a bad choice. As the weapon exclusion zone rapidly expands and the multi-threat, multi-vector targeting and fires capabilities close in, the allied surface forces take direct action to deny the enemy immediate control of the sea and de-escalate the situation.
Now, imagine at this point that a red submarine surfaces within close range of one of our Arleigh Burkes, and perceiving a hostile intent, launches multiple torpedoes, crippling the ship’s propulsion plant and rendering it dead in the water. The balloon has just gone up, and ready or not, our fleet has just been plunged into action.
Our nearby surface forces regain the initiative and turn the tide, rapidly maneuvering their ships to find, fix, and engage targets inside and outside the enemy weapons engagement zone, imposing heavy costs on the adversary. In short order, the combined power of integrated and distributed allied strike groups close on the area at flank speed – and from multiple directions, decisively overwhelm and devastate their maritime forces and targeting capacity. The enemy ships cannot keep up with the tempo and breadth of the offensive vectors presented, and the surviving ships quickly relocate within the protective umbrella of their coastal defenses. With the threat of continued escalation, and the complete destruction of several advanced units, the regime formally withdraws.
In other words, they quickly realized that once the American surface navy trains fire and has a foot on their chest, they are not going to let up – that our ability to mass effects and disrupt their ability to command, control and maneuver is overwhelming, and relentless. The trained warriors onboard demonstrate their grit, tenacity, and innovation – warrior traits that just can’t be stolen or reproduced.
The purpose of this vignette is to detail the reality of what the fight of 2030 could look like –multi-domain, multi-vector warfare – speed and consequence – where surface forces will be required to act and execute, whether operating as part of a carrier strike group, an expeditionary strike group, or a surface action group, to secure or deny control of the sea, and with little notice.
Having said all that, here is what I want you to take away:
The Surface Force – its lethality, its sustainability, its reach – is the backbone and the teeth of a maritime force that brings options, creates opportunities, and establishes sea control at a time and place of its choosing. It gives Joint Force Commanders powerful maneuver and fire options to leverage for strategic gain. And when employed as part of a naval team – along with joint and allied partners – it’s synergistic, it’s persistent, and it is winning.
As we project forward and prepare for future competition, we are indeed in a critical decade – a decade that will define, enable, and deliver fleet centric warfighting technologies and capabilities, which will overmatch our strategic competitors, and form the foundation for what we are calling integrated deterrence.
The end-state – a manned and unmanned joint maritime force capable of daily competition in the ‘grey zone,’ the ability to transition rapidly into contact and blunt operations, and as necessary, break-in, hold, maneuver, and sustain in armed conflict.
As Fleet Forces Commander, my efforts are aligned, in this context, to three distinct outcomes:
First, prevent strategic attacks against the homeland for our OPLANS to work we must maintain continuity of government, continuity of decision-making, and continuity of operations;
Second, consistently and affordably generate combat ready forces, and flow them to the point of need; and Third, set the conditions for, and enable our Fleet to, maneuver with purpose and effect in and through all domains – from the seabed to space – in order to deliver decisive, lethal effects.
To achieve these ends, there are a few things we need to get right. You all heard the CNO speak yesterday about the need to become self-aware, self-assessing, and self-correcting – that we must focus our actions on outcomes and performance – I couldn’t agree more. This framework is all-inclusive – it involves material readiness, industrial base performance, Sailor development, tactical innovation and assessment, and force employment, just to name a few. We must lean into these fundamental areas and move forward with a sense of urgency.
Being self-aware, we understand and acknowledge our current state and establish a baseline for performance and improvement. By self-assessing, which is currently stronger in certain communities than in others, we focus our energies on outcomes vice activities –and relentlessly apply both tried-and-true, and innovative problem-solving techniques to expose and get after root causes. And through self-correcting, we close the gap between current state and desired state – enabling accountability for targeted outcomes, elevating barriers to performance to the right decision level, and generating wins through tailored and targeted action.
The key factor to realizing this future state – is our ability to perform as a consistently strong learning organization. This base tenant is foundational to our success as a Navy – to innovate, assess, and execute faster than our adversaries across the spectrum of operations and operating environments.
Altogether, this requires us to change the way our organizations view our capabilities and constraints – fostering a leader mindset and behavior throughout the entirety of our teams. It requires us to be out there – to plan, test, evaluate, and refine our tactics, techniques, and procedures – to take calculated risks when necessary, and to challenge our assumptions. To do that well - we must first embrace and enforce continuous improvement and learning from the deckplates to the flag bridge.
So, what’s Fleet Forces role in all of this?
It goes back to what I stated earlier – the surface navy is now, and will continue to be, the critical contributor in any future conflict. Our imperative is to field a hard hitting, resilient, agile fighting force that is ready in peacetime, and deadly in combat – and there are two sides to that coin.
First, we must forge a combination of the right kit at the right time, and in the right quantities. From the industrial base to the Sailors running the checklists, we must provide, sail, and maintain, more ready ships. Period. At the end of the day that is what it comes down to – ships ready to get underway and throw steel over the horizon – and the hard truth is that 70% of what we have now is what we will have in 2030. Fleet age is a driver for almost ever metric.
Over the last few decades, our weapons systems and sensors have become more technologically advanced, our training and education programs have lagged. This lag has degraded our self-correct both at sea and on the pier – where Sailors are not trained for, nor do they have the tools required to fix emergent issues. This has created an unsustainable and an unbalanced reliance on the need for “OnBoard Tech Assists” – which everyone here knows won’t be available when things go kinetic.
To get after this problem, the Navy has invested significantly in programs like Ready Relevant Learning and Future of Sailor Maintenance to bend that curve. Both of these programs are central to getting our Sailors back to a position of mastery where they can maintain, fight through, and conduct battle damage repair on those weapons systems – so they can take a punch and get right back into the fight swiftly with mission command authority.
In my view, the training and certification of our Sailors is a no fail mission, and there is no room for error. Every single person in this room, and everyone in our line of business – active duty, reserve, FTS, DOD civilian, contractor, and defense industrial partners – has a hand in this. It will take grit and tenacity – we must continue to innovate and take bold steps in how we train, maintain, and fight so that we ensure we have maximized the number of ready ships for tasking.
On the same side of that coin is our need to advance the next generation of surface systems. The good news, as you heard from the N96 and N95 teams, is we are investing in the Flight Three DDG, the Constellation Class FFG, Unmanned Surface Vessels, SPY-6 Radar, the Maritime Strike Tomahawk with the Joint Multiple Effects Warhead System as well as improved electronic surveillance systems. All these cutting-edge combat systems are being designed and fielded in this decade to put more teeth into our surface fleet.
This next generation hybrid fleet will undoubtedly bring significant advances to readiness and capability, but as the SWOBOSS said, and he has it exactly right – with all these expanding technologies, we must focus on excellence in force introduction. This is a once in a century time where we are wholesale upgrading the fleet - we’ve been here before and know the steep costs of what will happen if we do not efficiently and effectively manage these systems through fleet introduction into sustainment.
Data analytics and algorithms have become ever more important in all that we do, and will undeniably be key to managing the transition to the future fleet as we couple our current ships with next generation platforms. That gets back to the self-aware and self-assessment piece – we must put in the right controls to track and monitor progress – and be brutally honest about it.
Forging high-end forces, though, is not enough - that’s just one side of the coin. Specifically, it’s not just our combat systems that need to evolve – we must get after our ability to fight. Our collective mindset must be grounded firmly within the warrior ethos where every training evolution, every maneuver, every action is laser focused on developing the leader, mariner, and combatant in the profession of arms. This imperative extends from the petty officer in the engine room to the Fleet Commander.
I know that it is not lost on anyone here when I say a fight with peer adversaries in this new era will not look like those we have grown accustomed to post-Cold War. Our surface force is premier in the world because of its innate ability to operate, strike, and maneuver within all contested domains – no one else can do that. To sharpen that edge and develop that fleet-centric fighting force, ships and crews must continue to assess, innovate, execute, and refine our operating procedures and create ample opportunities to conduct joint training events.
This past summer, Large Scale Exercise 21 showcased the enormous benefits of Live, Virtual, and Constructive (LVC) technologies – and how they are able to integrate operators across numerous platforms together, while allowing us to practice sophisticated scenarios that simply could not be done with physical forces alone. Working together with our Fleet Marine Forces, we were able to successfully stress test DMO, EABO, and LOCE operating concepts in real time across all AORs.
Exercises like LSE and Fleet Battle Problems, amongst others, are where we make the most forward progress in training our crews for the globally integrated fight – but we need to do more to get that ‘knife in the teeth’ mentality across the board. This really requires bold and enterprising leaders who can think outside the box and maximize underway and pier side training opportunities.
Perhaps best said by Fleet Admiral Ernest King in January 1941:
“There will be neither time nor opportunity to do more than prescribe the several tasks of…subordinates.... if they are reluctant and afraid to act because they are accustomed to detailed orders… if they are not habituated to think, to judge, to decide, and to act for themselves … without their several echelons of command - we shall be a sorry case when the time of ‘active operations’ arrives.”
Breeding a warrior mindset is a full-time commitment – it requires developing leaders who understand commander’s intent and truly exercise the tenants of mission command. Leaders who are steeped in risk analysis and can make swift decisions to seize fleeting opportunities. And leaders who encourage to their teams to take calculated risks, fail often, re-assess, and go after it with passion and flair, truly gain the advantage. That is our special sauce – that is how we grow the most as a warrior class, that is how we inspire confidence and competency, and that is how we breed ownership across the fleet.
I’ll end as I started; I truly believe the surface navy remains the premier, sea-going fighting force and I know that it will continue to hold that distinction well into the future. We squarely reside in a critical decade where next generation systems, technologies, and tactics will be built, delivered, and tested – and the surface force will continue to be successful because of its bold leadership, its purposeful mindset, and its focus on absolute lethality.
As we move forward in this maritime era of strategic competition, we must continue to lean in, learn, innovate, and adapt so that we will win decisively in every encounter. In shaping our own battlespace, remember that you are never a victim – approach problems from a solution centric position of self-sufficiency, a culture of critical self-assessment, of problem resolution, and a warrior’s ethos built on grit, tenacity, and innovation.
Our Sailors are the best in the world – but that professionalism is not born overnight, it comes from training, education, and preparation right out of the gate. In everything you do, prepare yourselves, prepare your ships, and prepare your crews for war both mentally and physically, as well as technically and tactically.
Our surface force is the best in the world because we are trained to fight – to put steel on target – because when they see our gray hulls they think more than just “not today” – they know that it would be the absolute wrong day to confront our Navy.
I’m really excited by what I see out there on the waterfront today and by what I see coming down the line. The surface navy is rightly forged as the center hub of the future fight because the fleet and the joint force needs what only you can provide.
I challenge you all to fully embrace the tenants of Commanders Intent and Mission Command – live it, breathe it, drive it. Develop yourselves and your teams’ ability to assess, innovate, and execute – take risks, accept failure, keep learning. And keep fostering the warriors’ ethos – that ‘knife in the teeth’ toughness that has been bred in our American Sailors for generations.
It’s been a tremendous privilege and honor to speak with you all today. I look forward to your questions. Thanks.