Admiral De Mars, thank you for that warm introduction and for The invitation to address this Symposium for the eighth year in a row.
As I’ve done each year, I’ll begin this symposium by giving my view of where we are and where we’re headed. I’ll touch on operations, people, submarine numbers, and what we ‘re doing on the cutting edge of experimentation. I know that Kirk Donald, Paul Sullivan, Joe Walsh, and others plan to fill in a lot of the details, so I’ll be brief. There’s a lot of good news, and we’re taking on many challenges.
As we address the challenges, especially the ones that arise inside the beltway, we as a community need to stay on the high road. Recent leaks of internal budget deliberations are not helpful-not that I believe the leaks came from our community. I don’t. But the wild stories that followed are simply disruptive, as is the creation of stories of an “us versus them mentality inside the Navy. Those kinds of tactics are beneath our dignity. We must stay the course of simply telling the truth and emphasizing the facts.
The submarine requirement is grounded in solid analysis, which is a fundamental underpinning to long-term commitments by not only Navy but also OSD and Congress. No one can challenge the factual and historical basis for the need for submarines-not even those who claim “they’re just too expensive. Not only do I participate in, I support the process of internal deliberations that are necessary for the very difficult budget decisions that have to be made. The submarine voice is heard. Enough said?
I’ll start my tour d’horizo11 with operations. At last year’s symposium, I talked about the significant, decisive role our submarines had in the success of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. Now I can say that the after-action analysis confirmed this point, proven by the recognition our submariners earned. As you’re probably aware, 12 of our skippers received the Bronze Star for their combat action. What’s not so widely reported-because the facts undermine the juicy, negative Navy Times headline to the contrary-is that the crews led by those skippers received a total of 497 personal medals as the result of their performance in combat. Eve1y generation of submariners can be proud of what this generation has accomplished.
As the war on terror continues, appreciation for the value of submarines has, in fact, grown. Right now, we’re deployed all over the world, collecting actionable intelligence, and working with special operations forces. I’ve recently had briefings from four skippers-Bill Frake, formerly of MONTPELIER; Andy Hale, formerly of SANTA FE; Lee Hawkins of GREENE VILLE; and Steve Oxholm of PHILADELPHIA. I came away convinced that the work our boats are doing is highly prized by the combatant commanders because it is relevant and unique.
In fact, the combatant commanders’ respect for, and reliance on, submarines is reflected in their demand for SSN JSR services, which outstrips what today’s SSN numbers can provide. This year, for example, they asked for a continuous forward presence of more than 13 boats, whereas today’s force structure can only provide around 9. The bottom line is that our submarines are fully engaged on the front lines of our country’s war on terror while conducting intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance for future contingencies.
Now let me talk about our submarine people.
On the officer side, retention numbers are impressive. Thanks in no small part to quality leadership by our commanding officers, we’re seeing historically high numbers of junior officers rolling to shore duty, and a greater proportion of these officers wanting to go back to sea as department heads. Junior officer retention has increased to 43 per cellt for those beginning their department head tour-the highest it has been in 10 years.
Because retention is so strong, we’ve been able to reduce our officer recruiting goals: in mid-year, we cut our goal from 440 to 399. We’ve already made that goal for the fifth consecutive year Achieving a 9-percent reduction in accessions while satisfying the increased demand for junior officers is a phenomenal success story, resulting in huge savings to the manpower account, and certainly in keeping with the CNO’s Sea Enterprise initiative
The enlisted numbers are also a great success story: our recruiters have achieved accession goals in the nuclear ratings every year since 1994, and for all ratings every year since 2001. We’ll make goal again this year.
In the nuclear training pipeline, we continue to win the battle against attrition. Today, 7 out of 10 who join the Navy as prospective enlisted nucs make it to the Fleet. Contrast these numbers with what we were achieving just a few years ago-just the opposite: 3 out of 10 reaching the Fleet. Put another way, we have reduced our enlisted recruiting requirements by over 1,600 sailors while Fleet requirements have increased. I credit our enlisted leadership at our training commands for this success. Just imagine how much this has reduced our recruiting and training costs. That’s another huge savings for Sea Enterprise.
At the other end of the equation, enlisted retention continues to improve and is exceeding the Navy average in all reenlistment zones. More and more boats-Tridents and fast attacks-are achieving retention levels over 80 percent. Put this in perspective: remember about 5 years ago when we’d have been happy to have numbers that were half as much? I take my hat off to the many deck plate leaders who are making this happen.
So what’s in store for all these sailors and officers when they hit the Fleet or return for a department head tour? Let me shift to our submarine fleet, both composition and size.
My discussion of operations is centered around the indispensable role of our Los Angeles-class SSNs in winning the ongoing war on terror. Our Nation needs every one of these very capable submarines. We’ll continue to make the case for refueling the remaining first-generation 688s. As I’ve said many times, 10-12 years of front line service for $200 mill ion is a phenomenal bargain-money well spent for a clear national-security advantage.
However, the undersea superiority our submarines so capably deliver today is not sufficient to confront the national security challenges of thefi1t11re. The solution is the Virginia class. As I did at NORTH CAROLINA keel laying, let me make one key point: VIRGINIA is our Navy’s only major combatant ready for delivery to the Fleet that was designed with the post-Cold War security environment in mind.
VIRGINIA embodies warfighting and operational requirements developed and approved nearly 4 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall-a point that, to my great frustration, is lost on so many commentators. The lead ship of this most capable class of SSNs ever built will begin sea trials soon, deliver this summer, and commission in the fall. These dates meet the schedule of the Acquisition Program Baseline that was approved over 11 years ago-a remarkable accomplishment for the first of a class.
Right now, there are l 0 Virginia-class ships under construction, the last 5 under a multi-year contract that brought significant cost savings. TEXAS (which will be christened by the First Lady at the end of July) is over 85 percent complete, and HAW All is over 60 percent complete. NORTH CAROLINA, the subject of the keel-laying ceremony officiated by the beautiful Mrs. Linda Rich Bowman on 22 May, is over 45 percent complete.
In the longer view, we needed to get to a Virginia construction · rate of two per year 4 years ago, as originally planned-and currently scheduled for FY09. Only the build rate of Virginia class directly controls our force structure low point. With two per year not starting until FY09, our fast-attack numbers bottom out at 43. Each year we delay getting to two per year will take the bottom number down by one. This makes the never-ending studies and debates almost moot-we’re heading right now where the Nation can’t afford to go.
We have awaited the futuristic, even revolutionary Virginia class for many years now, and I am very excited that it’s almost here. Let’s keep sight of the fact that we need more of these crown jewels. And in case I forgot to mention this point: Virginia class is the only ship in the Navy ready for delivery to the Fleet that was designed with the post-Cold War security environment in mind.
Just as anticipated has been the arrival of USS JIMMY CARTER (SSN 23). I had the honor of escorting President and Mrs. Carter to Groton this past weekend to christen this truly revolutionary boat. I expect sea trials in late August and delivery this December.
The last chapter in this force structure discussion is SSGN. Right now, OHIO, FLORIDA, and MICHIGAN are well into the refueling overhaul and conversion process, with GEORGIA scheduled to follow early next year.
The key attributes of SSGN-the inherent stealth and endurance of the Trident class, payload that is unprecedented in volume and flexibility, and an onboard joint battle management center-will make these ships the combatant commanders’ platform of choice to directly influence events ashore. When OHIO returns to the Fleet in early 2006, followed by the other three SSGNs, we’ll say with authority and legitimacy that these platforms are the Navy’s biggest contribution to transformation.
Seapower 21 Sea Trial: Experimentation
As we look forward to many near-term advances, we need to keep working to maintain undersea dominance well into the future. I’m intentionally not going to talk about what’s on the drawing board or in someone’s imagination or in the ether. While those things may have promise, I want to talk about real hardware getting wet and real operational concepts undergoing rigorous tests … even at the risk of leaving daydreaming headlines to others. Once again, we ‘II stick to the facts.
Later this year, USS GEORGIA (SSGN 729) will participate in SILENT HAMMER to continue to define and demonstrate the SSGN-SOF team. GEORGIA will embark the Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF) commander in an onboard battle center. He’ll be fully engaged-on scene, receiving high-data-rate communications, with full situational awareness, and directing action ashore.
A variety of aircraft will act as UA V surrogates. Both the SOF ashore and the SSGN battle management center will receive UA V data, including data relayed from unmanned ground sensors. With input from four sources-the UAVs, the ground sensors, the SOF ashore, and GEORGIA’s own sensors-the embarked joint commander will develop a clear tactical picture that he’ 11 send up the line as information, rather than just raw data. This is a giant step forward in capability for what is already a submarine specialty-battlespace preparation.
When the scenario develops to warrant forcible entry, GEOR-GIA will do a clean hand off of tactical control to the Expeditionary Strike Group. But the SSGN’s direct role will continue with rapid precision strike from close-in to support forces ashore.
GEORGIA will perform an at-sea launch of the capsule technology that has been under development for the past 3 years. The capsule will use a standardized, wireless interface to connect the payload to onboard control systems, minimizing the shipboard hardware changes needed to accommodate a variety of payloads. In this experiment, the payload is a simulated UAV; but it could just as well be anything that can fit in a Trident missile tube. And of course, just about anything fits in a Trident missile tube.
But at the same time, much of what we’ll demonstrate in SILENT HAMMER will have utility beyond SSGN, such as a VIRGINIA multi mission module or advanced sail-concepts that could be built into follow-on Virginia-class ships as early as 2010.
SILENT HAMMER will be more than a demonstration of what SSGN as a Sea Base can do. It will also show what Industry-in this case, Team Forward Pass and Team 2020-can do for the warfighter.
Let me wrap this up. I said at the beginning that we are undertaking changes that are radical by any measure: the kind of operations we’re engaged in to win the ongoing war on terror, unprecedented accession and retention of quality people, the most advanced submarines in the world-VIRGINIA and JIMMY CARTER-about to put to sea while the transformational SSGN takes shape and is being proven at sea.
These are exciting times for the Submarine Force, especially for those officers and sailors taking boats to sea. But exciting as these times are, in one profound way, they are no different from our last 104 years. Every generation of submariners has proven over and over again the spirit of innovation, adaptability, courage, and ingenuity-in short, the “can do” spirit that shines through, every time our relevance is challenged, every time someone claims we ‘re in search of a mission-the “can do” spirit that permeates our culture and our people to respond to the challenges of the day.
We’re responding decisively in these times. And our future, led by the submariners who are just now joining our ranks, looks very bright, indeed.
Now, let’s have a great symposium!