Submarine Review: What are your reflections on the two years as COMSUBPAC? How has the job changed with all the changes in the world?
COMSUBPAC: The most significant change, of course, has been the restructuring of the world and the Soviet Union’s demise, the so-called end to the Cold War, and the shift in the submarine focus which has accompanied that. When I got here, we were focused on deep water ASW missions and primarily against the Soviet Union, and rightly so . That was the focus for the last 40 years. It really spans my entire career in the Submarine Force. The CNO’ s …From the Sea policy clearly laid out a different approach for the Navy. The Submarine Force has adopted that full bore. It’s an issue that we see as very forward looking and one that we can support with out multimission platforms. V ADM Roger Bacon USN(Ret.), when he was OP-02, laid out in 1991 the roles and missions of the Submarine Force. It’s a well written document and provides the blueprint for what we’ve accomplished here in the Pacific, and for what V ADM Hank Chiles, Command-er of the Atlantic Submarine Force, has done as well in the Atlantic. The submarine platform, that was focused on ASW for at least the last 20 years, has taken on the new roles and missions of mine warfare, handling special forces, providing strike warfare with Tomahawks and providing support to the carrier battle groups, in addition to the intelligence and warning missions and covert surveillance of submarines. It’s just been dramatic. We’ve been involved with virtually every carrier battle group that’s deployed. Since I became COMSUBPAC, one or more subma-rines worked up with each carrier battle group and then deployed with it and provided direct support. TOPEKA was the first SSN to go into the Persian Gulf, and we’ve maintained a regular presence with the battle group there since. PASADENA is currently deployed with the LINCOLN battle group in the Indian Ocean.
SubRev: Are the submarines serving as intelligence gathering platforms for the battle group?
COMSUBPAC: Multimission. They can do everything. They can provide ASW services if required. The Iranian Kilo is an issue that we are paying attention to. Our submarines can collect intelligence in one location while the battle group is in another. They can provide antisurface warfare support. We have taken over the MAGOPs concept which are Maritime Action Groups developed by VADM Bill Owens when he was the Sixth Fleet Commander. lock, stock and barrel and said we can do that in the Pacific. We’ve taken his manual and applied it here in the Pacific. It’s the use of the submarine in many different roles and missions with carrier battle groups or pieces of the battle group. USS LOUISVILLE worked with a P-3 and an Atlantic Fleet destroyer, which happened to be in the Red Sea, and was involved in a drug interdiction operation. So there were three different platforms, one being covert, the LOUISVILLE. It was one of the biggest drug busts that we’ve had in recent history. The ship was intercepted by Turkish forces after it went through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean. But it was tracked by LOUISVILLE with the other platforms.
SubRev: What changes have been made in your operations to address the downsizing?
COMSUBPAC: Remarkably enough, the Pacific Submarine Force has not yet downsized . When I took over, we had 36 submarines and now we have 35 . Two new submarines have arrived since I’ve been here and we’ve decommissioned three. So there hasn’t been a dramatic loss. The strategic Submarine Force has been stable at eight Trident submarines. Most of the downsizing has affected the Atlantic. They’ve decommissioned squadrons, and they”ve reorganized entirely. we’ve not done that in the Pacific. It’s coming. I would say in the next three or four years we will see some downsizing. What I’m eager to have happen is a redistribution of assets as well.
SubRev: What do you mean?
COMSUBPAC: Traditionally, the Submarine Force has had 60 percent of the submarines in the Atlantic and 40 percent in the Pacific. 1 think we need more submarines in the Pacific. We are hoping to get a 50-50 split. Admiral Chiles and 1 have talked about bow we would redistribute the pie. 1 have submarines deployed in the Indian Ocean and all through the Western Pacific today. I even have a submarine in the Caribbean doing operations in support of SUBLANT’s efforts. As you can see we are spread pretty thin. If we get the 50-50 split, we will see that as a minor decrease in the size of the Submarine Force. By minor, I mean four or five submarines.
SubRev: Why do you think there should be a greater presence of submarines in the Pacific?
COMSUBPAC: With the new world reality and with the dimin-ishing of the Soviet submarine threat and the growing ports of the Pacific, we need to pay attention out there. Two-thirds of our trade is with the Pacific and two-thirds of the world’s gross national product is in the Pacific. Southeast Asia is the fastest growing region in the world. The Navy will pay attention and I think the Submarine Force needs to be a player.
SubRev: Do you think there should be a greater than 50-50 shift?
COMSUBPAC: I would like to see the 50-50 (laughs). That’s not a new controversy within the Submarine Force. We’ve joked about it for a long time. Joked is probably an understatement. It’s been a bone of contention for a long time.
SubRev: Who are the new threats in the Pacific Command’s area of responsibility?
COMSUBPAC: We definitely think China is building. It’s a very strong military and building dramatically. There are negotiations going on now for China to buy Soviet submarines. North Korea continues to be a threat. Although it is an isolated threat, it is a strong threat and a little bit outside the ihtemational community and they’ re kind of on their own. Of course, there also is Iran which is buying submarines from Russia and developing the capability to bottle up the Strait of Honnuz as is the stated objective of Iran. I would say those are the significant threats of today in addition to Russia. We shouldn’t forget Russia. They still have a very powerful Submarine Force, the biggest one in the world.
SubRev: Do the countries that broke away from the Soviet Union have submarines?
COMSBUPAC: Only Ukraine, and it only has diesel submarines in the Black Sea. They are not a significant issue.
SubRev: How many submarines did the Iranians buy?
COMSUBPAC: Apparently they bought three. One they have been operating for a year. The second is about to be delivered if it hasn’t been already. We don’t know when the third will be delivered, maybe in a year or so.
SubRev: Are the Russians training them?
COMSUBPAC: They’re training them, correct.
SubRev: There’s been taJk in Washington of taking one of the boomers and making them conventional missile shooters. What kind of changes are being considered?
COMSUBPAC: There’s been a couple of things. One is the possibility of putting a conventional warhead on a Trident missile. It’s a very accurate missile and you can do a lot of damage with a conventional warhead but it’s not a nuclear warhead so it’s not quite the same escalation. The other thought is to convert Trident submarines to carry Tomahawk missiles. Both of those are being looked at in addition to other thoughts of converting some Tridents to carry speciaJ forces, which we have done successfully with older SSBNs. I see them as unique options to fully utilize the capabilities of an extremely capable submarine. All of those are nice discussions but none of them are happening. The discussions aJso are predicated on a couple of things. One is that we will not need the same level of strategic forces that we have today. We are going to have 18 Trident submarines and there are discussions that we don’t need them all. The second thing is the Trident I missiles that are here in the Pacific will reach end of life some time in the next decade. When that happens, what do you do with the submarines? Because right now there are no funds for a replacement (frident n or D-5) missile that has gone into the ten Tridents in the Atlantic. The Navy has recommended funding the replacement missiles. When those missiles actually will expire is still unknown. Our experience on those missiles shows that some last 20 years whiJe others last 25. So it’s not clear when they would expire.
SubRev: Everyone seems to think you are a natural for your new position. What are your goals for that position?
COMSUBPAC: Clearly, the Navy is struggling with downsizing. Downsizing is not only capability and hardware, but people. People have been and will continue to be my focus. It has been that way my entire career. My new position is my fifth tour in Washington; that’s the bad news. But the good news is it’s my fourth tour in Washington outside of the Pentagon. I had one tour as the Executive Assistant for OP-02. All the others have been in the people business either in the Bureau of Naval Personnel or as being the Commander of the Naval Recruiting Command. So, I’ve had a chance to work lots of people programs and I have a pretty good understanding of them. In my last tour as Command-er of the Naval Recruiting Command, I reported directly to ADM Mike Boorda, as the Chief of Naval Personnel. He is a superb individual and really is one of my heroes. His background is most unusual . He went from Seaman ‘to Admiral. He came in as a high school dropout and is now a four-star admiral . He’s just a brilliant man with a love of his country and a love of his Navy and, most importantly, a focus on what saiJors are all about. The Bureau of Naval Personnel has that now with the current leader-ship. I think I can continue that focus . I look: forward to focusing on the needs of today’s sailor. We are going through a traumatic time. We’re downsizing and it’s a tough problem. You can’t sugar coat the pill. But you can at least make sure they under-stand what it’s all about and what options are available. I think that has been clearly articulated today. I would say the Navy has worked hard to send a clear message that we’re not interested in RIFing anybody. We’re protecting the career saiJor, both officer and enlisted. And that’s been very clear. We have programs in place to ensure that each individual gets through to their retirement. Now, the early retirement program in 15 years kind of surprised a few people but in fact it’s a good program and one designed to selectively retire those individuals that probably don’t have much of a future with the Navy. Once you reach 15 years and the Navy doesn’ t see a future for you, then retirement is the right option. I think we are working in the right direction. But we are not going to throw people out at the 12 year point. l think the other services have been forced to do just that. When I was in recruiting and Desert Shield was just starting up, you could just see the Army turn on the recruiting machine to bring in more people because we were going to go into military action. I went to Admiral Boorda and said I’m not ready to turn on the Navy recruiting machine unless you think I should and he said “Abso-lutely not, we don’t need to do that.” He said we need to stay exactly where we are which was at that point on a glide slope down. We knew the Navy was going to get smaller. If we tum it on we are just going to bring people in that we are going to have to throw out in two years. That’s wrong. We just kept the recruiting quotas at a manageable limit. It paid off because of that. We’ve right sU.ed the Navy’s personnel force. Although there is a lot of anxiety, I’m pretty comfortable about where we are headed.
SubRev: Since the Submarine Force is such a small community, people may see limited career paths and may not go that route or the ones in the community may get out for the same reason. What are your feelings on this?
COMSUBPAC: Ever since I have been in the Submarine Force it has been growing. I came into the Submarine Force when we were building 41 ballistic missile submarines, which had two crews for each. We were grandly expanding the Submarine Force and we have been playing catch-up every since. It’s driven us toward a significant increase in the percentage of individuals selected to become Commanding Officers. Some would say the selection is too high. I happen to be one of those. I would say that during my time as a commander and a captain an awful lot of people that were very good and some that weren’t quite so good. We would have been a better-off Submarine Force had we not selected the not-so-good ones for command. But we didn’t have any options. My command tour was four years long. All my contemporaries also had four year command tours. There also was a three and a half year XO tour. Those were long tours. But that’s what was required to make it happen. Virtually everyone had a shot to reach command. I think that is unhealthy. I think the selection opportunities for command and for Executive Officer that exist in the surface and aviation communities of around SO percent is a pretty healthy selection opportunity. That’s good for them. They’ve picked their best to put in command. I think we have to have a similar percentage in the Submarine Force. I would say a little higher, maybe 65 percent. But I sure would like to see, and we are seeing that now, a selection where some people don’t make it to command. I continue to tell my people to focus on the half full glass; don’t focus on the half empty. You started out your comment talking sort of about, well, all these people aren’t going to get a chance. I’d say yes but look at all the good ones that do get a chance. They’re the ones I want to focus on, the half full glass. As I look at my commanding officers in the Pacific Submarine Force today, everyone of them is a super star. They are awfully good. But they’ve been selected. I think that’s healthy. I guess I don’t really worry about it. I think we are a better-off Submarine Force today. I have to compare what I’ve seen today to what I saw as a Squadron Commander in the Mediterranean. I probably saw 30 submarine skippers come through on deployment in the Mediterranean. Of those 30, there were IS really good ones and maybe five or six pretty good ones. There were ten not-so-hot skippers. I don’t see those not-so-hot skippers today. Now they are all good. I feel good about that.
SubRev: Is there anything else you would like to stress to the submarine community?
COMSUBPAC: I think the Submarine Force today has the highest quality people we’ve ever seen. They’re truly the best of the best. It goes back to what I said before. We are selecting for positions of leadership the best that we’ve ever selected out of a tremendous crop of talent. That’s very positive. The individuals that are running the forces today-my squadron commanders, group commanders and commanding officers-are the best. I see chief petty officers that are enormously talented individuals and the best. That’s the good news. But I guess I would like to talk a little bit about my focus in command of the Submarine Force. I’ve talked positively and I’ve talked about the best. But there’s another side to it. And it has to do with competition. As I ride the subma-rines, I see junior officers not having as much fun and enjoying what they are doing as I did when I was a JO and when I had command and seeing the spirit of my wardroom. I’ve seen some that are pretty good. But I’ve seen others that are not. I’ve seen commanding officers that are extremely capable and have great execs, but the wardroom is kind of uptight. They realty are. They don’t seem to be having a good time, with the give and take and the enjoyment of their business as much as they should. I don’t think ifs because I’m the Admiral and riding the ship that they have this sort of attitude because after awhile they realize that rm a regular kind and not too interested in formality . But I still sense that they are not having a good time.
SubRev: Why do you think they aren’t having a good time?
COMSUBPAC: I think a lot of it has to do with the mentality in our business to make no mistakes. We are going to be an error free, zero-defects operation. And when you get that mentality, which is driven from the top, then individuals tend to get very uptight because they are afraid to make a mistake. Granted there are mistakes that you don’t want to make. You don’t want to sink a ship obviously and you don’t want to run aground. When I had command of SEAHORSE (SSN 669), my philosophy to the wardroom was there are only three things I really worry about. One is running aground. If we are going to run the ship aground then I’m going to be involved and making the decisions. I’m not going to sit by and ignore it. The second is having a collision. If we are going to have a collision, I’m also going to be involved. You can count on me being around. And finally, shooting torpedoes. That’s what I do. I’m the Captain. That’s why I’m being paid. But the rest of this business is yours. You run the ship. You’re the department heads. You’re the chief petty officers. You make decisions. Don’t come to me to ask me to solve your problems. Just make the decision. If you have a problem that you can’t solve, come to me with the options and we’ll talk about the solutions. But make the decision on your own. I will not try to tell you how to do things. I want you to do it and enjoy it. Did we make some mistakes? You bet. We made a Jot of mistakes in SEAHORSE. But I think those junior officers and chief petty officers grew because of the fact that they got involved in making their own decisions. One of them is right next door. He’s my Chief of Staff and still makes his own decisions. He does pretty good, doesn’t he? To me, that’s very important. What worries me in today’s Submarine Force is that fear of making a mistake. I’ve worked really hard to overcome that and to get the junior officers to enjoy things a little more and get the COs to focus more on it. The way I’ve been doing it is by trying to drive to the chief petty officers an awful lot of the day to day running of the ship, maintenance decisions and how to deal with the people. The chief petty officers are an enormously talented group of people. They are our best. They are wonderfully qualified. Focus on them and let them run the ship. Let the officers learn how to fight the ship. I think that the message is getting across . I watch some skippers do this and they are wonderful at it. I rode onboard RICHARD B. RUSSELL and the skipper at the time was Chuck Munns, who is now back in Washington. I stated this publicly in my speech at his change of command. He’s the best skipper I ever saw, bar none. What was so great about him? He never said a word. He let his wardroom and his chief petty officers run the ship. While I was on the ship, he explained to me what was going on while everyone else was running the ship. It was marvelous. Did they learn how to do all those things and make all that happen because they just all came aboard with that capability and talent? No. They were just the same cut of officers that is on every ship. But he created an atmosphere where they knew they could run the ship. Sure they made a few mistakes. But if the ship were to run aground or have a collision, I bet the skipper would be involved. That’s exactly how he ran it. He had complete confidence in what they were doing. The crew understood it and they went ahead and ran it.
SubRev: In the business world, they call what you advocate empowerment.
COMSUBPAC: Yes, absolutely . But it’s very hard to do in the Navy because of our chain of command. But you have to take the step. I think that is critical. To me. again I go back to the Submarine Force’s roots, that’s what has made the Submarine Force such a great place. It’s the cohesiveness of the crew and closeness of the crew, the sense of unity, and the fact that everyone trusts everyone else. Everyone believes in what everyone else does. My last act as COMSUBPAC is pinning dolphins on two enlisted men. The reason why I want to do that is kind of symbolic. I truly believe that is a very, very important symbol in our business. It’s not because I pin it on as the Force Commander. It’s more important that it’s done on the ship. But once in awhile I get a chance to participate in that because I happen to be riding the ship. But it’s the ship that’s made the decision. The ship’s crew, the Captain and everyone else, has had a say, a vote, or a check mark in that guy’s qualification that says he is good enough to be one of us-we trust him. That’s what the dolphins really mean. You’ve gone through that final screening by your shipmates, not the school and not some instructor somewhere. That’s important. I’m privileged once in a while to pin dolphins on an individual . I didn’t qualify him. It was his ship. I really think the most important thing we can do for the Submarine Force is empower our leaders, our young officers and our chief petty officers, to run the ship. We have a way of saying submari ‘ner. In the Royal Navy they say subma ‘riner and that probably is more appropriate. My motto is let’s put rna ‘riner back into submariner because I really want to get our junior officers as mariners, competent seamen, so they can take a ship to sea and run it. Take the example of periscopes. I have yet to see junior officers today that have the skill with a periscope that Red Ramage or the other submarine heros of World War II had. They were tremendous submariners because they had great skill with the periscope and a great ability to visualize relative motion and put their ship where they could launch a torpedo. That’s a skill that has atrophied a little bit over the years with all our modern torpedoes and modern computers. But when you get right down to it, a submariner ends up having to make those decisions today even with the assistance of all these modem day computers. He has to have a sense or feel for where the submarine is and put it in the right place.
SubRev: Would you say the empowerment of your officers and chief petty officers is one of your crowning achievements so far?
COMSUBPAC: We haven’t achieved it yet. I wish I could say it was an achievement. I certainly set it as a goal, and I’ll turn it over to my relief.