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Remarks by Admiral James O. Ellis, Jr. Commander, USSTRATCOM Submarine Technology Symposium Laurel, Maryland 14 May2003

Good evening distinguished guests, colleagues, in uniform or out, and friends, old or new. It is truly my privilege to be with you here tonight and to share this dais and this hall with those in whose wave, or should I say baffles, I have sailed and whose lead and example I have proudly followed for now nearly 34 years. Admiral Kelso, thank you, sir, for that overly generous introduction. As a service and as a nation, we will always be in your debt.

We are all gathered here tonight as supporters of America’s vital submarine capabilities. That may sound strange, coming from an aviator and a fighter pilot, but it is true. As has been noted, I am a late-in-life nuke. My first memories of Naval Reactors are that of the interview process in early 1986 and being squired around the maze of the old NA VSEA 08 by someone I now know was really a Second Class Petty Officer and being constantly referred to in the third person as she would knock forcefully on Al Forssell’s door and announce, “I have the aviator here.” I knew then that if wanted this to work, and I did, that I would have to work. I needn’t have worried. To this day, I freely admit that I would have been a better strike fighter squadron CO if had been through the Nuclear Power training before rather than after that tour.

But in reality, my fascination with the submarine service and nuclear power had begun decades earlier. You see my Mom is from New London, my uncles all worked at Electric Boat and I had grown up crossing the Thames River Bridge and reciting hull numbers from memory, much to the consternation of my Naval Aviator father. I can, here tonight, admit for the first time that my seventh grade science project was an attempt to build a working model of the George Washington plant. I am embarrassed to admit to Admiral Bowman but I got a “C” when I suffered a loss of coolant casualty and spilled red Kool Aid all over the gymnasium floor.

Having established my expertise, I should now, in all seriousness, congratulate Admiral Archie Clemins and all who had the vision and, yes, courage to put this symposium together. The challenges are as real as the opportunities and newer, high-tech versions of the old solutions simply will not work. It is not enough to be outside the box; we must blow the box up. I firmly believe that the future of our submarine fleet depends on our ability to chart a course over the horizon to a point beyond our current vision. We need to develop a fresh paradigm that perhaps we now can neither see nor fully understand.

Consider for a moment the professionals who design videogames. One of the companies producing those games today is Electronic Arts. The President of that company says it takes 18 to 30 months to make a top-quality game for the PC. When the studio team begins its work, the PC they’re creating the game for hasn’t even been invented. This company is working right now on theoretical models for games that won’t appear in stores until 2007. Ladies and gentlemen, that is for developing a game. The stakes for developing and coordinating all systems important to our national security will be much higher and require that level of foresight and much more. Our bottom line is much different from that of industry. We, as a nation, cannot simply declare Chapter 11 and reorganize to forestall our creditors.

Tonight we stand at a pivotal point in history. The fabric, theory and practice of the world security environment have changed dramatically over these past two years. There are a much wider variety of threats today than there were during the Cold War, and a much broader range of capabilities is required to defeat them. Some would argue that a thousand snakes have replaced the dragon that was our Cold War rival.

We are now examining as never before the technological, organizational and operational capabilities that we have and that we need, fully mindful of the delta between the two. We share an interest in keeping the United States on the cutting edge of defense technology. We must ensure we have the systems absolutely essential to our national security well into the future. Many of you are full partners in that effort, but we must accelerate. It reminds me of the immortal words of my first CO, as he would slam his hand on the podium and bellow, “I want patience and I want it now!”

Things are changing, not just for the Submarine Force and the Navy, but also for all of us, as my assignment to United States Strategic Command attests. As most of you know, the roots of STRA TCOM’s relationship with the submarine community go back to the early days of the Strategic Air Command. SAC was established in 1946, followed by the US Air Force in 194 7. Our strategic forces were very small and consisted exclusively of bomber-delivered weapons. The next decade saw development of Anny, Navy and Air Force ballistic missile systems, but submarines were also evolving. A mere 50 years separate the first A-Class harbor defenders from the message sent of J 7 January 1955, from Com-mander Wilkinson in USS NAUTILUS-“underway on nuclear power.”

The Cold War provided a compelling incentive to develop new technologies. It was through the initiative and foresight of Admiral Raborn and his project staff that the Navy’s ballistic missile development brought parallel development of our nation’s first ballistic missile submarine, delivering this capability in an incredible five years; well before others thought possible. Can you imagine the conversation in the Pentagon in the early fifties? “Let me get this straight you want to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile from a submarine underneath the water? Right!”

All of the nation’s nuclear capabilities were soon integrated in the first strategic deterrent war plan. In 1960, integration continued as a Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff stood up at SAC Headquarters in Omaha. It was the first joint staff of its kind.

Continued advances in submarine technology kept us ahead of our Cold War counterparts. Our SSNs played a key role in strategic deterrence by shadowing our adversaries’ SSBNs and collecting intelligence on their deployment patterns and operations. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that our undersea service personnel played a pivotal role in winning the Cold War. In fact, in a recent submarine documentary, an aging commentator opined that Red Raborn should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize!

In 1992 SAC and the JSTPS were replaced by the cross-functional,joint-strategic organization we called US Strategic Command. Over the following decade, STRA TCOM saw minimal change; but there has been a whirlwind of change inside the Department of Defense in just the past year. Following a series of high-level studies that included the Rumsfeld Space Commission, the Quadrennial Defense Review, and the Nuclear Posture Review, the President and Secretary of Defense directed the creation of a new unified command. This new command would effectively and efficiently anticipate and counter the diverse and increasingly complex global threats confronting our nation. These threats to our homeland, our allies, and our interests abroad range from conventional military capabilities to the asymmetric and indirect dangers of cyber attack. Threats also include weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. Each one is global in scale and often transcends geographic or regional boundaries.

Last October we began building this new command by combining the missions and strengths of SPACECOM and the old STRA TCOM. At the time I saw us simply jacking up the existing command and sliding space and computer network operations underneath. It quickly became evident that this wasn’t to be the case. We are truly a new command. We’ve even gone back to classically defining the word “strategic” as meaning more than a synonym for “nuclear.” That being said, I was happy to both preserve tradition and save the Omaha city fathers money by not having to change the local road signs.

The true nature of our new structure was revealed on 10 January 2003, when the President expanded our role by adding four missions previously unassigned to a unified command. These new missions include global strike planning and execution; integration of Department of Defense information operations; global missile defense integration; and what we call “C4ISR.” That’s oversight of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in support of strategic and global operations. Today’s STRATCOM is less than a year old. We must leverage the wealth of experience from our legacy missions to take America’s defense in the direction ordered by the President and Secretary of Defense. Meanwhile, our adversaries will continue seeking to circumvent US strengths and exploit any vulnerability on the ground, in the air, at sea, and in space. We are wrestling now with how to do all of this on a compressed timeline, with minimal staffing increases even as we reorganize externally and internally. A wise old man once told me that you couldn’t have traction without friction. I’m here to tell you that if that is the metric, we really are making progress!

But I was not invited here to speak of my own challenges but rather to address yours. In truth, though, they really are linked and in many ways parallel. Each of us must find a way to build on historic strengths while reshaping what we are for a broader and deeper role. Each of us must reach outside an historic and storied community to integrate ourselves in new organizational constructs and draw insights and expertise from different communities, different services and different agencies. The submarine community has done that in the past; it must now do so again.

Last week I was part of a small group meeting with the NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe as he wrestles with a post-Columbia path for the agency. He seized on the Polaris Program as an example of a multi-dimensional, technological and operational challenge that yielded incredible success, reshaping strategic deterrence concepts in half a decade. I had to remind him that, of the three individuals most often credited with that success, Arleigh Burke, Red Raborn and Levering Smith, none of them were submariners. Sometimes we can gain a different perspective, if we have the courage to but ask. That reminds me of the discussion I had with my back-seater after a long-ago night carrier landing. It was a bad night weatherwise and, as the pilot, I hadn’t made it any easier. The NFO, not a pilot, offered some well-intended technique suggestions, which I countered with the rhetorical question, “How many night landings have you flown?” He responded calmly with the perfect response, ”None, but you don’t have to be a dog to judge a dog show.”

That brings me back to my opening remarks about achieving a vision that extends beyond our current horizon. The Navy has made great strides in joint interoperability and realignment, but there’s candidly much more to do-especially in light of the new missions I’ve just described. This is not foreign to many in this community and this room. Our undersea forces have greatly refined and honed their capabilities since the days of USS NAUTILUS. When it was launched, Admiral Hyman Rickover said, “The nuclear-powered submarine is not just an improved submarine, but a totally different kind of warship.,. He was looking over the horizon. Within a decade, President John F. Kennedy watched a Polaris fired from USS GEORGE WASHINGTON. The President said the “efficacy of this weapon system is not debatable.” Once again, with “41 for Freedom” we had looked beyond the current horizon and pushed the envelope back.

With Sturgeon-, Los Angeles-, Ohio-, Seawolf-and Virginia-Class submarines, we’ve built on that tradition, and it’s time, once again, to look beyond the horizon. The challenge now is for us to look ahead at the same time we find balance between both operational capability and fiscal resources. Before us there are unprecedented opportunities to shape the deliberations on what future capabilities best serve the needs of our nation. But they are only opportunities, and we must have the courage to seize them. We must think integration, not isolation. We must consider real consolidation, integrated operational concepts and streamlined, non-traditional chains of command, not just produce more Memorandums of Understanding or senior steering groups. We must populate an undersea force with elements that are cohesively and collaboratively linked to make it both indispensable and effectively indestructible.

Frankly, I think that’s our biggest challenge. Submarines won the Cold War staying submerged and undetected. The term “Silent Service” bespoke courageous crews, autonomous ops and triumphant returns with brooms lashed to the masthead. How do we maintain a submarine advantage when light-speed communications have become vital to our warfighting capability, when the term network-centric is so much used as to approach over-use, and where responsive re-tasking in minutes is the emergent standard? Our submerged capabilities have not kept pace with our growing needs-a 512K pipe doesn’t satisfy the communications needs of today’s warfighter, much less tomorrow’s. How do we stay submerged and undetected but connected?

To plan for tomorrow, we must have the best information today. That means Integrated Information Operations that rely on the capabilities of our platforms. We cannot skew all our resources from hot spot to hot spot. We must remind ourselves that, though we may prize flexibility and mobility, going blind in vast areas of the world invites challenge and confrontation; it does not deter it. Submarines have always made unique contributions to this area but must have the full sensor suite with robust reach back analysis and connectivity full time to serve our future needs.

More than 54 percent of our nation’s nuclear deterrent is submarine-based. We’ve called our nuclear deterrent America’s insurance policy. That said, SSBN’s remain the ultimate insurance policy for our insurance policy. As important as this is, we must not shy from our task to reassess our undersea capability. If we find the assumptions on which Plan A was based are no longer valid, we need to have Plan B. And as deterrent concepts must account for new adversaries and broaden to include advanced conventional forces yet to be created, we need to assess what role N-T ACMS and conventional SLBMs might play.

We must consider new tools and techniques in order to expand our capacity to offer our leadership and Combatant Commanders more and better options based on rapidly changing global conditions and events. All the data in the world will not help when the time comes to make decisions unless it can be effectively transformed into timely action. It’s said that even a perfect view of a chessboard is of no use if you don’t know how to play chess. And, I would add that we must also have the right pieces on the board and the effective interactions of all of these elements will be crucial. As Secretary Rumsfeld noted, “Possibly the single most transforming thing in our force will not be a weapon system, but a set of interconnections and a substantially enhanced capability because of the awareness [it provides].”

We’ll need to muster the courage to address this now. We must resist the siren song of interim battle management and unique architectures. We need to avoid the concept of operations and command relationship stovepipes driven by artificial timelines. Perhaps most important-we must pace and critique ourselves to ensure we do it right the first time. Our nation’s defense cannot afford the time, treasure and travail to do it over again.

Submarines give us unique characteristics of stealth, endurance and firepower. That is a good description of what they are but not of what they can be. To enhance their asymmetric value, we must be looking at payload capability from many perspectives-including efficiency, balance, flexibility and economy. Consider just one example. To perform specific indications and warning missions, submarines need to take extra personnel and equipment onboard-the highly specialized spooks from our service cryptological element. We do not retain an indigenous or reach back capability for this and other functions. If this capability is important enough to drive force levels, then it is important enough to have full-time.

Some efforts to improve the way we operate are already underway. We’re looking at designing systems that will require less manpower and less maintenance. Other initiatives such as the forward basing of some of our SSNs in Guam will also improve the operational utility of our undersea forces.

Recently we’ve conducted exercises and t!Valuations of new systems and concepts. GIANT SHADOW successfully proved the utility of the SSGN for special operations forces insertion and recovery, use of both unmanned undersea and aerial vehicles, as well as a cruise missile launch platform. It is a great start and shows what can be done even without large dollars and lengthy ACTDs.

We must find new ways to make our investment in nuclear propulsion pay off. That includes a brand new look at how all of our systems integrate so we can modify them to better complement one another.

First and foremost is communications. It’s not easy to push modem information from the bottom of the sea through a tiny antenna. We need new technology to give our undersea forces the same bandwidth to communicate as the other pieces on our chess-board. Future submarine missions will require a revolution in communications connectivity and supporting bandwidth. The vision is to allow submarines to communicate without the current restrictions of depth and speed. We want sufficient bandwidth to maximize the effectiveness of data and intelligence collected by the submarine to achieve real-time connectivity and reach-back. What we want is ELF-like connectivity and fiber-like bandwidth. For our contractors or EDs in the audience, next week will be just fine.

We’ve already started developing Narrowband-based systems that are based on Internet Protocol architecture and a higher data-rate antenna. Ultimately, submerged data exchange and communications will allow us to deploy a new generation of sensors and other payloads-but we need to get there sooner rather than later. We also must understand that today, every weapon system must earn its way into the inventory and onto the battlefield. Whether you’re comparing manned aircraft and UCAV’s, heavy armor vs. STRYKER Brigades, or DDX and the Littoral Combat Ship, there is a new dynamic in play in both procurement and operations.

I do not often use business analogies but there is now a market place approach to our future systems and the metrics are harsh and unyielding. For this community, it is no longer enough to just ask whether the submarine is a capable platform or system for a given task. We must demonstrate that it is the best asset for that task. These tasks will then come to the Submarine Force, not because it is your right but because it is the right thing to do. Toward that end, we must challenge conventional wisdom with approaches that may at first appear neither conventional nor wise. We must switch to low magnification to achieve a wider field of view and encourage fact-based analysis and consideration of other alternatives such as broadband inserted arrays, unmanned undersea vehicles, and next generation surface and air platforms.

We also need to consider the role of submarines as platforms for missile defense interceptors and other innovative concepts-such as SOF insertion to support Computer Network Attack (CNA) and other information operations, as well as strategic deception. We need to ask ourselves, what can we bring to the broader fight and, in tum, what do we need to support these roles?

Those of us who are interested in the future of undersea forces must deal with a strange dichotomy. We’ve grown up in an America that thinks of submarines as very special-with their great tradition of courage, independence and initiative. Just consider the popularity of the recent Turner Network film about the submarines CSS HUNLEY, or our memories of USS NAUTILUS traveling beneath the North Pole. We take pride in undersea challenges well and truly met by elite defense and industry teams. We are a part of something very special that has taken us in just a few years from diesel technology to sea-based ballistic missile systems, and Seawolf-class submarines that are the envy of the world.

However, I must emphasize that the days of the lone-wolf submarine operating in Silent-Service isolation are over. Just as our special operations forces, the snake eaters, stepped out of the shadows to become more integrated with the rest of our forces, and remain an integral part of all operations today, so too must our undersea forces. The future of submarines and their real potential, lie in making them less isolated, less special, not more. Our leadership expects it; warfighters demand it and you must deliver it.

We must consider the best way to build on our success in appropriately integrating all of our capabilities to support everything we do, in or outside DOD. Accomplishing this may make undersea operations a bit less distinctive, but so much more essential. In doing so you will dispel occasional critics by expanding capability, flexibility, sustainability and interoperability so as to more than address their concerns and fully meet the challenge before us. My own experience in joint operations argues that the most effective proponent of what one brings to the nation’s defense is often one who wears a different breast insignia or even a different color uniform than your own.

It is also helpful to have integrated into the warfighting concepts, both of the Commanders who will ultimately employ your capabilities and the services that support them. I always liked the scene from the recent movie The Gladiator in which the ragtag group led, afoot, by the hero defeat the chariot-mounted Legion by uniting in a phalanx of mutual support. Not all good concepts are drawn from looking forward. Indeed, someone once told me, “If you want a new idea, read an old book.”

We must focus on the technology improvements I’ve mentioned and on how our submarine fleet can more effectively support all our operations and new missions. Aim for the heart of what we need; don’t be satisfied with the periphery. But we must also remember that this is more than technological challenge. It is also operational and, yes, cultural. The wealth of talent in this room and in the organizations you represent, can ensure we break down organizational barriers, rethink the possibilities and redefine the way we will fight in the future. Our goal is a completely integrated network to expedite communication, decision-making and response by forces of startling capability.

This system must translate data to information, information to knowledge, and knowledge to wisdom in the blink of an eye. It must be available everywhere, all the time. We cannot accept mediocrity or mendacity, ladies and gentlemen, because the game just got much bigger and is simply too important to lose.

As you have listened with more politeness than I deserve tonight, your thoughts may be beginning to wander. Perhaps you are saying to yourself, “OK, wise guy, so how do we do all this?” Perhaps you have uttered about my remarks a version of my Grandfather’s old saying, “It’s easy to be a clown when you don’t have to run the circus.” Fair enough. But let me give you a few final thoughts on where we may look for new opportunities. I’ve spoken of conventional SLBMs that add a stealth weapon to a stealth platform that could bring effective preemptive suppression of enemy defenses and counter mobile targets. What about non-lethal attack concepts that would allow a counter-proliferation blockade of country X? How about an expanded and intrusive JSR capability that captures more of what we need as we move from merely perfect to now exquisite intelligence? What about a mobile space launch capability using aging boosters to provide tactically responsive space lift inside the current Air Tasking Order (A TO) cycle? What contributions can a submarine launch platform make to integrated global missile defense? The list is as long as your imagination and as wide as your opportunities.

If there is only one act you take away from my remarks, it is this-The organization, planning and technical achievements we must strive for are not optional. As former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said, “The absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously.” America’s defense has always depended on our unique partnership of military, industry and academic strengths. I have every confidence we will realize an alternative future. The rewards for success are too high, and the price for failure is far too great. The submarine community has enjoyed a long storied history of overcoming obstacles through ingenuity, bravery, and courage of its crews.

Taking my own advice, in preparing for tonight I dusted off an old book. It was Samuel Elliot Morrison’s history of submarine operations in World War Two and in it he described the challenge and change of early combat operations; perhaps a tactical parallel to our own changing future. The emphasis added is my own. “Excessive caution was another deterrent to success. This was partly the fault of convention in prewar target practice which imposed severe penalties on a submarine that was sighted before firing. Early in the war, American submarines stayed submerged all day, often waiting for targets to appear instead of seeking them out, fired from extreme ranges, dove deep at the slightest sound of countermeasures. Night attacks on the surface, penetration of enemy harbors, counterattack on escorts -all normal procedures in years to come -were daring innovations in this exploratory year.” Daring innovation is the operative phrase that must drive our shared future.

We can do it; we must do it. Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once noted; “Greatness is not in where we stand, but in what direction we are moving. We must sail, sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it-but sail we must, and not drift, not lie at anchor.”

Thank you for inviting me to be with you tonight, and thank you for continuing the storied contribution of the submarine force to our nation’s defense.

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