Bruce, thank you for the kind introductory words, and I assure you that it’s my pleasure to attend this event and speak to you this evening. Admiral DeMars, Admiral Chiles, Admiral Mies, and Admiral Smith, it’s great to see you, as always. We’re fortunate to have the MCPON, Master Chief (Submarines) Terry Scott here as well.
To the Corporate Benefactors, the real purpose of this event is to acknowledge your strong support and to express our appreciation for all you have done for the Naval Submarine League and the Submarine Force. Let me lead off by personally thanking all of you who contributed to some remarkable successes over the last 12 months. I will leave the details to others, but suffice it to say that it has been a while since we had a submarine construction year like 2004.
On Saturday we will culminate an extraordinary journey when we commission JIMMY CARTER, the last of the SEA WOLF-class and a transformational leap ahead in undersea technology and capabilities. Many of you have helped infuse new technologies in our operating ships. Thank you for supporting our great people and their families in many ways. What you do for the Submarine Force is important and valued.
This is an important year for the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. Fifty years ago, on January 17, 1955, USS NAUTILUS (SSN 571) put to sea and signaled the now famous report, “Under-way on nuclear power.” NAUTILUS revolutionized undersea warfare by freeing the attack submarine from the air-sea interface, allowing essentially unlimited endurance, and the true stealth afforded by the submerged environment.
With the commissioning of USS ENTERPRISE in 1961, naval aviation experienced an equally dramatic leap forward in capability. No longer tied to slow at-sea supply lines and with immense propulsion power immediately available all the time, the aircraft carrier and, more importantly, the decisive air power of modern naval aviation could be responsive to war fighters’ needs in unprecedented ways. As aviation and undersea capabilities have advanced, so has the value of these imposing symbols of national power.
And when considering today’s national security environment and that of the foreseeable future, I can’t think of a time when the advantages of nuclear propulsion for our submarines and aircraft carriers have been clearer. The Navy today values the ability to surge forces anywhere on the globe to quickly amass decisive combat power. Speed is a valued attribute in battle space dominance. As we have become a smaller Navy and our reliance on the avail-ability of forward bases on foreign soil has become more uncertain, it is only logical that we should value ships that can cover long distances quickly and that can remain on station ready to respond to the needs of the Nation, all relatively independent of the traditional encumbrances of fossil fueled ships. Aside from the obvious tactical, operational, and strategic advantages, I believe the business case for nuclear power for capital ships is convincing today. For example, the historical operations and support costs for USS NIMITZ (CVN 68) are only about 10% more than those for USS JOHN F. KENNEDY (CV 67). However, nuclear propulsion provides unmatched warfighting capability, mobility, sustainability, and nearly unlimited endurance.
Additionally, the business case is likely to further shift toward a nuclear option as the market for energy, and specifically oil, continues to become more competitive among industrialized nations. While I am certainly concerned over the instabilities in our world that necessitate the global reach our Navy must provide, I am optimistic that nuclear power in ships is, and will continue to be, a critical enabler for our forces. Of course, I am not exactly an unbiased observer in all this, but since you invited me to speak, I feel free to offer my opinions.
Let me shift gears and speak about the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, as it exists today. I am proud and honored to lead it and ever mindful of the legacy of excellence left to me by my predecessors. If you have ever been to our Headquarters, you have probably seen the four large portraits of the previous Directors, painted by one of our talented staff members, which hang just outside my office. It is not uncommon for the eyes of a well-done portrait to seem to follow the observer. I believe it is unusual, however, for portraits to talk to you. These do! But only to me!
They remind me of the paintings that adorn the walls in the famed Hogwart’s School of Wizardry and Magic, from the Harry Potter novels and movies. I can’t pass by them without being offered a range of strongly held opinions on virtually every topic of the day. Of course the four are never in agreement with each other, with differing opinions on the same topic. For that matter, the same painting often has diametrically opposed opinions on one issue. None can be ignored, of course, and one gets particularly annoyed if not afforded appropriate respect. They argue with each other constantly, mostly on technical issues, of course. Three of them have been observed to challenge each other’s manhood by comparing their Nuclear Power School standings, ORSE grades, and the like. One has little tolerance for such nonsense and makes his displeasure known.
All kidding aside, it’s good to have those pictures prominently displayed. Collectively, they are symbols of the enduring nature of the place, the importance of continuity of purpose. They also serve to remind that there are high expectations. That we must not relent in our mission of providing safe and effective nuclear propulsion for the warships of this Navy. We have all been blessed that there are over 7400 dedicated professionals at Naval Reactors Headquarters, in the field, and at our prime contractors as well as nearly 17, I 00 nuclear-trained personnel in the Fleet who embrace that mission, day in and day out, and I certainly am proud of all of them.
Job One at Naval Reactors is fleet support. Pressurized water reactor technology is relatively mature, and we have a substantial body of knowledge and experience operating them. Day in and day out, we exist to ensure the Fleet has everything they need to operate these plants safely and that the exacting standards of maintenance, operation, and training are observed.
I am very confident that we are delivering what the Fleet needs in reliable, safe propulsion power for our capital ships, and we are continuously striving to improve the operability and affordability of our plants. For example, we are upgrading our reactor instrumentation and controls electronics to a generic system that uses essentially identical hardware for all our plant designs. The difference in operating characteristics of the plants is accounted for, for the most part, in the software. This will improve not only the maintainability and affordability of our nuclear fleet, but also allows us the flexibility to respond to advances in technology more quickly and efficiently.
The key challenge in fleet support is the fact that our plants are aging. The average reactor plant has operated for about 19 years in 2004 and that will increase to nearly 24 years in 2011. With this aging come complexities and some occasional surprises. After all, we are venturing into uncharted territory as we approach end of life on our long-lived cores and as we wring more life out of shipboard components. Again, given the talent, ingenuity, and dedication resident in the program. I am confident in our ability to deal with that challenge keeping it transparent to the warfighters. There are folks outside the Program who view us as being a bit staid, risk averse, and even stubborn when it comes to expanding the application of nuclear power beyond the pressurized water reactors that we have employed at sea for now over 50 years. Similarly, to some, our training processes appear to be old fashioned since, after all, we haven’t even changed the name of Nuclear Power School since its inception. To that criticism, I have two responses.
First, we are staid and stubborn when it comes to designing, building, and maintaining rugged, reliable, and safe reactor plants for warships that will take our Sailors in harm’s way and that will operate in ports in our country and around the world. The recent grounding of USS SAN FRANCISCO near Guam was a tragic event, no doubt about it. And it hit closer to home than you know. The father of Petty Officer Joseph Ashley who was killed in the accident is Dan Ashley, a 25-year employee of BWXT-Barberton, the company that makes most of our heavy components for our reactor plants.
He is part of the Naval Reactors family and we grieve with him. However, if there is a silver lining to that dark cloud, it was that the ship took a shot, what could have been a knockout punch, yet it brought those Sailors home. The reactor plant provided continuity of power, ship’s systems sustained the crew and maintained buoyancy, and the operators drew on their skills honed through rigorous, practical training to respond properly under what must have been chaotic conditions. And while I am sure the Submarine Force will thoroughly investigate the circumstances of the ace ident and apply lessons learned to minimize the likelihood of future recurrence, we do live in an imperfect world. Our plant designs and our training must account for that imperfect world. They must provide safety margin to the unexpected and unforeseen so that our Sailors retain the confidence that their ship will prevail in the most hostile environments, in peace or in war. That imperative under-scores what we do every day in the Nuclear Propulsion program.
Second,just because we can be staid, old fashioned, and stubborn doesn’t mean we don’t have vision; that we don’t “challenge assumptions” as has become popular to say. You can’t assemble a bunch of bright folks like we have in our program and expect them to be satisfied with “That’s the way we have always done it”. If you look in our history, there have been numerous examples of “challenging assumptions” -none more provocative than NAUTILUS herself. The original core on NAUTILUS lasted two years; our submarine cores now last the life of the ship. Plant designs, each building on the lessons from the previous, have become simpler, more reliable, and maintainable. CVN-21 will have three times the electrical generating capacity of its predecessors; yet will require only 25% of the cabling to distribute that power throughout the ship. Further, we believe we can safely reduce the Reactor Department manning on CVN-21 by 50% when compared to the NIMITZ-class carriers.
VIRGINIA’s power plant has fewer valves, pumps, and circuit breakers plus improved control systems that will allow us to eliminate some watch standers and, accordingly, reduce the manning of that class of ship. In total, design improvements for VIRGINIA yielded 40% total construction labor savings over SEA WOLF. We built and proved the efficacy of the light water breeder reactor at Shipping port Atomic Power Station. We tried a sodium-cooled reactor on the SEA WOLF (SSN 575) and experimented with electric drive in capital ships on the submarines TULLIBEE and GLENARD P. LIPSCOMB. A lesser-known fact is that in the VIRGINIA reactor plant, for the first time, we were able to advance the engineering of acoustic stealth while reducing the hull size.
With respect to training, Nuclear Power School today is not the same Nuclear Power School it was when many of us attended. We allow the use of calculators now.
Seriously, Nuclear Power School is home to the full spectrum of learning techniques from traditional classroom teaching to the latest computer based training. Change is evident as, for example, we have reduced enlisted nuclear pipeline attrition from 70% to 30% without even the hint of compromise in quality of our graduates. Looking back on that list I just read, you will note that some of those innovations were more successful than others. To me, that clearly indicates a willingness to push the boundaries of the creative envelope and to take some calculated risk to advance the utility of nuclear power in our Navy.
And we are still pushing that envelope. Recognizing the potential increased energy needs of our ships to power future advanced sensors, weapons, and unmanned vehicles and to ensure we can sustain worldwide surge readiness over the Jives of our ships, we are developing a core that provides 1/3 more energy in the same volume as a VIRGINIA core.
We call it the Transformational Technology Core (TTC). With significantly more energy, we expect to extend ship life by as much as 30%, increase core operating hours per year, and allow operation at a higher average reactor power. The ITC will give us greater operational capability and mission flexibility.
Looking further into the future-beyond the next design most likely, we have three initiatives underway that all converge about similar technological challenges. First, we are looking at an advanced pressurized water reactor with an objective of significantly trimming down acquisition cost while reducing the size and weight of the plant. Second, we are working cooperatively with NASA to provide a reactor to meet the deep space power requirements for the PROMETHEUS project targeted for launch in the middle of the next decade. Third, we are investigating technologies leading toward a direct energy conversion reactor plant that eliminates the steam cycle, converting nuclear energy directly into electricity. In this effort, we are the world leaders in improving cycle efficiency from a meager 4% to in excess of 20% approaching that required for a viable energy source.
Each of these projects presents their own unique challenges, but all involve the use of very high temperature fuels and materials that simply have not been used anywhere in practical applications.
We are cooperating with the Navy/DARPA technology demonstration initiative called TANGO BRA VO to investigate innovations that can potentially reduce the cost of future submarine designs while retaining (or advancing) today’s capabilities. As they look at initiatives such as distributed propulsion, we are, in a separate effort, investigating options for reducing cost of a future power plant that could complement their efforts.
Progressive as Naval Reactors is, we remain grounded in reality -a bedrock value that has endured for the Program’s 56-year history. Admiral Rickover scorned what he called paper reactors: The promise of a reactor that is simple, small, inexpensive, and capable of delivering all the performance we could want, yet exists only on paper.
The march of technology forces me to alter my predecessor’s view in one significant way: Paper reactors have evolved to PowerPoint reactors, becoming more beguiling because of the mesmerizing lure of pictures, graphics, lifelike animation, their tendency to proliferate at light speed, and their seeming legitimacy when emblazoned with appropriate clipart logos. While the above initiatives all represent potentially disruptive technologies worthy of our pursuit, and most have progressed beyond mere PowerPoint, none are sure bets. We have to invest in rigorous design and engineering to bring them to reality, and even then, be willing to abandon them if the leap to reality is too far. Ultimately we must be ready to send whatever we design into combat with every expectation that it will not just survive, but will prevail. The public must remain confident that we will protect them with safe, rugged reactors on the ships operating near their cities. At Naval Reactors, “We get that -we embrace it -everyday”.
In closing, I offer you a quote from coaching legend, Vince Lombardi, who said,
“Individual commitment to a group effort-that is what makes a team work. a company work. a society work …
The Corporate Benefactors are among the MVPs that help make “Team Submarine” work. Good men and women, thank you for your dedication to the development of our Submarine Force, the innovations that allow us to succeed, and your assistance with our readiness to represent and protect America’s interests all over the world. Your individual commitment to our group effort in defending this great Nation is duly noted. As always, you’re out there not just making us better-but making us the best!