Good afternoon and thank you Admiral Mies, Admiral Padgett, and the Naval Submarine League for the invitation to speak today. I am honored and humbled to be included in the list of presenters at this important gathering of Submarine Force leadership and supporters. As a former Commanding Officer it is certainly refreshing to have someone interested in my perspective again! Nothing is quite like the first day at your new job following Command at Sea to make you realize that you really aren’t as interesting or funny or even as handsome as you thought during the previous few years. As I look back over the brief six months since I relinquished Command of VIRGINIA I realize how much I truly miss it. The people most of all … for it was the honor of my life to lead the Sailors of VIRGINIA. Together we brought this most lethal combination of stealth, firepower, and sustainable mobility from the dry dock at Electric Boat, through 75,000 miles of testing, evaluations, examinations, and training, culminating in a 37,000 mile journey to the far reaches of the world and back in direct support of our nation’s defense during the first full length deployment for the class. After that experience, there is nowhere I would not go with those men in that ship! As you may have guessed I am extremely proud of my VIRGINIA crew and excited to talk about what they accomplished as well as the promise I see in this new class.
I will center my perspectives on three principal points based on my experience in Command of VIRGINIA. First, I will share as much as I can about my deployment and what we did to be truly ready. Second, I will discuss key VIRGINIA Class enhancements and built-in flexibility that I see as particularly exciting. Third, I will talk a little bit about how I developed my Officers for future leadership.
VIRGINIA deployed on 15 Oct 2009 and conducted operations across a broad spectrum of environments and mission tasking in support of both European Command and Africa Command. As the ship got underway on a typically cold, wet, and windy fall day in Groton, there was great excitement onboard. We were finally through the rigors of pre-deployment training and assessment and looked out on the grey Atlantic knowing we carried I 20 days of food to ensure we could dwell in some of the most challenging environments on the planet. My crew knew the number 120 but I don’t think it was until I put it in terms of food till February that they really understood how long we could be at sea. As it turned out we conducted a 75 day underway that included an appropriate mix of unique and routine days and finally wound down with a port visit in Rota Spain over the New Year holiday that included its own special challenge for VIRGINIA. Because of the holiday the entire Spanish Navy was in port and our assigned berth, was revealed to me by the pilot as wedged deep in the basin between an Amphibious Assault ship and the Aircraft Carrier with about 30 ft to spare at either end. We obviously made it safely, albeit slowly, into our berth, but it certainly gave me pause as that ski jump was apparently hanging over our bow.
Following this welcome break, the action quickly picked up as we began the transition across the extremes of the 6th fleet Area of Responsibility (AOR) moving from EUCOM to AFRICOM support. In fact the very day we got underway from Spain we passed through the Strait of Gibraltar. On our route through the Med we conducted a brief stop in the vicinity of Naples and a port visit in Souda Bay, Crete before executing our southbound Suez Canal transit. While the Med presents many unique challenges, I do not highlight the chokepoints we transited as a claim to anything unique for VIRGlNIA. I mention them as a reminder of just what is required to get there and to point out that our Submarine Force routinely makes the difficult route. As a way of emphasizing this point, I am finely convinced that one of the most challenging events of the entire deployment (from the Arctic to the Equator) was the transit through the southern end of the Red Sea including the straight of Bab el Mandeb. This transit was safe and secure, but required the highest level of planning, supervision, and skill to ensure that our margins to safety were satisfactory on all sides. Another thing clearly on my mind as we moved south was the fact that we surely had to come this way again in order to get home.
Following our arrival on the other side of the world, we conducted a brief port visit in Fujairah, UAE before conducting operations in support of AFRICA Command. While certainly not a garden spot, this port provided us with some of our most unique liberty experiences, including a view from the world’s tallest building, the Burj Dubai.
Our mission time challenged us to think in new ways about how a submarine can be employed as it involved us in some of the latest tasking developed in our continuing national priorities. We not only found ourselves on the far side of the world but dealing with 180 degree changes from our first missions in support of EUCOM. Through it all the ship and the crew adapted to our new environment and just kept working. At the conclusion of our time in the Indian Ocean, satisfied that we had made a direct contribution to combating some of our nations biggest direct threats, we made our way back through the knothole that is the transit from the Southern Red Sea to the Strait of Gibraltar, stopping along the way in the beautiful port of Aksaz Turkey.
The odyssey was long, but very satisfying. The ship sustained 37000 miles at an 86% OPTEMPO while taking some of the harshest environmental treatment dished out. I could not speak more highly of how well this ship held up. In all of that time we pulled in only one time due to a material issue … Fujairah to replace a photonics mast. Just a few days following the deployment Mr. Steve Rogers of Naval Reactors visited the ship eager to know how her various systems, both forward and aft, had held up. I found that over and over again, I simply said “it just worked.” “No issues?” he would ask about each system we discuss and I would reply “No issues, it just worked.”
Looking back I realize that one of the principal reasons that the crew was able to transition this ship from a new construction mentality to deployed success was our mantra that everything leads to deployment. Every test, operation, transit, and inspection was entered from the perspective that it would help prepare us to deploy. Yes, it was important to test VIRGINIA, but the only test that would really matter, the seminal event in her young life, would be successful operations at the far side of the world. As you would expect for the lead ship in a new class, VIRGINIA executed a large portion of the Operational Evaluation used by the Navy to ensure that what it bought really did what they expected it to do. We kicked the tires throughout months of tactical scenarios that approximated real world threat conditions as closely as possible. Everything from more than 50 torpedo shots against unaugmented 688’s and Arleigh Burke destroyers, to ISR in a tiny box with the Coast Guard alerted to our presence, to mine hunting in shallow water. The Navy gained valuable data to validate their purchase, and we on VIRGINIA appreciated that, but we looked at those events as pre-deployment training. Even our long transits into Groton became pre-deployment training as we used the inbound track whenever time allowed to operate in shallow water frequented by trawlers and the merchant traffic moving in and out of New York surfacing within sight of land. Throughout it all we tracked our many lessons and folded them back into our operational plans to do things better, within a consistent lifecycle of plan, train, execute, evaluate, and revise.
The other major resource that we leveraged, as you might expect, was the talent of our Schoolhouse, Naval Submarine School. We engaged early and often with the team there, modifying our plans and updating our individual and team skills based on their feedback. Our Officers particularly benefitted from the advice and counsel of Subschool’s greybeard Capt. Steve Gabriel. This concept of consistent senior experience, as I have also seen in Pearl Harbor with Capt. Glen Neiderhauser, has proven invaluable to deployers across the board. Because VIRGINIA has the unique ability to accurately simulate a challenging tactical environment, including the visual world, we worked with the Subschool team to conduct all of our formal Pre-Deployment attack center training (Intermediate and Advanced) on the ship. This proved to be a huge enabler of success as we were able to refine our processes and communications under the actual conditions we would see on deployment. I can clearly remember standing at the back of control while deployed and reflecting on how accurate the training had been. Those days in the trainer when we said to ourselves, “great training, but there is no way things would happen this fast” were proven false as we saw first hand in theater.
Recognizing that every day on deployment requires the entire team to be focused with an understanding of their personal roll in maintaining the ship safe, I felt confident that our team had it right as we prepared to depart. At the back of my mind, however, a key question kept nagging at me: “How will I know if we began to slide toward complacency, if our standards slowly decline?” After all, some of our least glorious moments as a force have happened just when we thought a deployment couldn’t go any better. My XO, COB, Department Heads, and I put our heads together to discuss this question on several occasions. These discussions in themselves, shared with the rest of the wardroom and the Chiefs Quarters contributed toward a heightened sensitivity to the issue, but that was not enough. With the COB’s lead we put in place a series of checks that every day had nuclear trained chiefs watching operations forward and forward chiefs watching operations aft and reporting their findings to me and the COB directly. Having the Engineering Department Master Chief (EDMC) listen in on the sonar operator net certainly gave me solid feedback on the state of formal communications there. We attacked individual problems when they occurred giving the entire team the clear message that standards would remain high even if I could not personally be far from control. I also took input on the crew’s state of readiness from my Corpsman and Culinary Specialist Chiefs who did not routinely stand watch and were well positioned to see the affects of the long grind of operations on the crew.
Overall, VIRGINIA’s deployment should abolish any thought that this new class is somehow fragile or unready. I will gladly stand our deployed readiness against any other ship in the fleet. Through our diverse missions, comparable in length to other contemporary deployments, I believe that VIRGINIA proved that the new class is ready for full length deployments and has laid the groundwork for a class that will be supporting our nation well past 2040.
Along the way I have come to know and truly appreciate several of the changes that were implemented in the design of the VIRGINIA. I am convinced that these enhancements combined with the solid base of our experience in the Los Angles and Seawolf classes give us absolute superiority over our known threats today and into the future. I will start with one of my favorite topics: Photonics … For a moment, picture yourself as the Commanding Officer of a Los Angles class submarine (not difficult for some in the audience). You are conducting vital Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance tasking in an area frequented by fishing trawlers and other small craft in proximity to a major shipping Jane. It is an overcast moonless night and you hear an increase in noise over the open mic indicating that tensions are rising in control. The 000 has just taken the scope from the JOOD and is discussing various contacts. He begins talking about raising #I scope to use IR. Like any CO worth his Command at Sea star, you proceed to control to get the real picture of what is going on. Clearly not satisfied you get on the scope and immediately see the problem. I am sure that the seasoned submarine warriors recognize the immediate danger and would take the necessary action to keep the ship safe. Clearly there are also additional options such as IR on the # 1 scope, but that takes time. Playing the same scenario on VIRGINJA, the team and I see it immediately in control. If we think the lights are confusing the situation the scope operator would simply tum off the overlay. If I want to know the range exactly (we already know it is close) it is a simple click of the trigger. This visual information is available to the operator all the time on either of our two mission scopes and available to me in my stateroom and the wardroom via our video network. Without a complete breakdown of fundamental principles and extreme complicating circumstances, I submit that it would not be possible to generate this ugly nighttime situation at periscope depth on a VIRGINIA class submarine. Too many people know … too much information is available. Because of this nighttime capability my personal experience on deployment was a sense of relief whenever it got dark for I knew that we literally owned the night.
While I have demonstrated the good of photonics, the bad is the size and unique design of the sensor head, and the ugly is that the resolution of the color camera can not match an optical scope for finding very small contacts. Can it be done safely? I think so when prudently operated, or my deployment would not have been possible. Is improvement needed? Absolutely, and one new version is already deployed to the WESTPAC on USS HAW All! Is photonics as clear as an optical scope during the day? No! I like photonics, but not because I think the system is perfect, in fact it is downright complicated to use properly. I like photonics for many reasons too complicated to discuss here, but the most important reason is that when my crew and I were sent to sea with this system, I was able to trust their lives to its performance … how could I think anything else? Let me be clear to those in this audience who have anything to do with fielding Photonics or its successors, it is absolutely the right path to pursue for our future, but it needs to get better.
An important benefit of our night vision is the fact that the control room remains consistently lit day or night. Anyone that has ever attempted any evolution in a control room rigged for black will appreciate that handy feature. Within this control room the watch leader is surrounded by the information he needs to make decisions. Sweeping around him is everything from Sonar, to ship control, to fire control, photonics, and navigation. This layout allowed me and my Officers of the Deck to more rapidly absorb and integrate available data and tum it into action.
Another enabler of mission success was the new ship control system built into VIRGINIA. I certainly won’t bore anyone with the exciting details of the quad-redundant fly-by-wire setup. I will focus on what it means for the operator … and that is simply more mission time with the scope safely and securely up. The system was able to maintain the ship’s 7800 tons precisely where it needed to be and allowed for operator input or complete control when necessary. While difficult to quantify, I can say that we were able to maintain the ship at PD longer in heavier seas with more consistency than my past experience with other classes of ship. VIRGINIA was designed from the ground up to consistently operate in automatic ship control. Normally this consists of keypad automatic where the pilot would simply type in the depth on a touch screen popup keypad and the ship would do the rest. When seas were heavier we found that the semi-automatic mode of Auto joystick worked best as the pilot could instantly override ordered depth with the joystick control driving the bow planes to dive or rise while the automatic system maintained angle with the stem planes. Releasing the stick allowed the fine controls of the automatic system to settle the ship out. Radical maneuvers at high speed worked best with a combination of manual and automatic control with the planes and rudder split between the Pilot and Co-Pilot.
Having two DOOW equivalent Pilots on watch and no planesmen presented VIRGINIA with an interesting challenge. Given the fact that Navigation division has one billeted CPO, the ANAV, consider your watchbill with two DOOWs at all times. With no COW qualification on which to cut their teeth, careful planning and an aggressive qualification program is necessary. Sometimes it even requires the Sonar Chief, Fire Control Chief, and/or Radio Chief to stand the watch.
Looking to the future for a class of ship intended to carry the load well beyond 2040 there are many changes, improvements, and redesigns coming. I am sure Capt. Jabaley will have all the details for us next, but what of VIRGINIA and her early sister ships? The fact that there will be threats in the future that we don’t see today just like many of today’s threats were unseen in 1980 makes flexibility the name of the game and that game needs space, which is difficult to come by on a submarine. Fortunately, VIRGINIA is particularly well suited to meet the demands of a flexible future requiring expanded mission rolls, new weapons, and yet to be designed remote sensors.
The torpedo room itself is designed for flexibility. It was built to hold ADCAP Heavyweight torpedoes and Tomahawk cruise missiles in cradles that can themselves be off loaded, completely emptying the room, a space large enough that we actually mustered the entire crew there a few times early in my tour. This space opens a world of possibilities for things yet to be imagined such as remote sensor command and support modules in keeping with Admiral Donnelly’s call for submarines to be the hub of distributed/netted sensors. The cradles can also be redesigned to hold future ordinance or remote sensors and must only fit the basic footprint in the torpedo room. Additionally, I think we will eventually look to the lock out trunk for more than SOF operations. It is capable of deploying and recovering a 9-man Special Operations team with all of their gear and the ship is designed to hover indefinitely at periscope depth to support these operations. In that trunk I see a huge floodable volume that can be controlled from inside a ship, which can operate at low or no speed. Just imagine what we can do with that! Along the lines of extra space, the VIRGINIA class mission configurable mast bay provides options for the future. We currently use it for mission specific sensors or improved photonics systems, but the future will tell another story for this bay I am sure. I challenge the industry leaders in the room to think creatively about this flexible space built into the class as you work to meet the inevitable design requirements of the future.
To this point I have spoken extensively about the ship and what it can do, but it is only a true threat to our enemies because of the crew that operates it. The Submarine Force leadership that preceded me on this stage highlighted the fact that our sailors are the most important reason for our undersea dominance … a true National Treasure. I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment and wish to give you one CO’s perspective on how a portion of this treasure was developed on VIRGINIA. I have always believed in my heart that one of my primary goals or legacies in command was to prepare my Officers for future leadership. It was an entering argument as I took Command. With deployment clearly in mind we worked to ensure that all of VIRGINIA’s Officers maximized their tactical experience. With appropriate experience and depth would come the opportunity to give them more challenging real world experience. Leveraging the improved situational awareness of the VIRGINIA control room, I provided each of my Department Heads and both XOs the opportunity to serve as approach officer for the vast majority of our torpedo shots. Importantly, most of these were not scripted, but were tactically challenging engagements with topflight, unaugmented opponents. I was always there to oversee the operation in backup, but it was their approach. When satisfied with the experience of my Department Heads I was able to give each of my XOs frequent time on the bridge while piloting. My Division Officers were taught the art and science of operational planning, required to demonstrate that skill to receive their Dolphins, and then relied upon to initiate and own the plans for our many operations. This approach led to a wardroom of individuals who understood risk management and to a good extent the responsibilities of those above them in the chain of command. It also resulted in three Command qualified Department Heads, and Division Officers with extensive OOD experience prior to deployment. This allowed us to further leverage their broadened experience and advanced qualification to give each of my Department Heads, time as Command Duty Officer and several Division Officers time as OOD during our Africa Command mission.
Giving each of VIRGINIA ‘s Officers increased authority and autonomy while coaching them to success and holding them accountable, when they screwed up, helped to build the team that got this first of the class deployment done right. More importantly though, is the breadth of real world experience and inherent initiative that these Officers will bring to the next level as they move on in their careers. I believe that, in general, we must resist the temptation to remove authority and autonomy from all of our Officers when faced with problems. We should not be afraid to hold individual Officers accountable for poor performance and avoid spending time trying to band-aid bad situations at the detriment of entire crews. Our Navy’s heritage of independent Command at Sea and our WWII submarine experience scream out for us to allow aggressive and creative Officers to lead the way, provide training and guidance to those who will take it on board, and leave behind those who refuse to meet the standard.
In conclusion, it is my hope that each of you not only gained a better understanding of what the crew of VIRGINIA accomplished and what the ship itself can do, but got a glimpse of what it took to get to the far side of the world and back. If you leave here with a sense that the future of our Submarine Force is brighter because we have built a great submarine, are working to make it even better, and manned it with a great team of United States Submarine Sailors, then I have accomplished my mission today.
Thank you … and God Bless America!