Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate


Good morning, everybody. First of all, I’m sorry that I was not here at the social last night. From time to time we get called to go to Millington, Tennessee to do selection boards. Some of you have had the honor, and you don’t exactly have to go if you don’t want to, but if you don’t go your community probably won’t fare very well. So we did the right thing. As a result of that, I missed yesterday. I missed the cocktail social, which I always enjoy. I even missed the post-cocktail social tradition called, “one more drink”. And as a result of that change in the schedule, and despite the fact that I got here at about 1 a.m., for some reason I feel much better than I normally do at this point in the conference. So I think we’re in good shape.

This is my third time speaking with this group. So that probably means this is my last time, but you never know. I want to thank the League. I want to thank the sponsors for making the Sub League such a big part of the success of the Submarine Force.

Thanks to all of you for what you do.

You’ve seen variations of this before, but this is a pictorial of our overall strategy in the undersea. You’ve heard it from us. You may have heard it in a talk earlier today. You might have even heard the CNO talk to it in some forums. And so I’m not going to do too much on the details of it with you, but I want to simply state that this is the Submarine Force vision. Because of the work that people like you do, whether you represent a manufacturer, laboratory, resource sponsor, program manager, whatever the case may be, we have the most coherent, executable plan for the way we build our ships, design the systems that operate from those ships, and the payloads that leave from those ships to do missions on their own. We have the most credible, consistent, cost-effective system today, and we have the most coherent plan going forward to realistically adapt the technology that we have to match our resources and work towards a future than any other part of the US military. I’d go head to head with anyone who thinks that someone else is doing a better job. I want to thank all of you for being the ones that make this happen. So you’ve seen the elements. We have to own the best platforms. We have this thing called grow longer arms, which means we need to extend the range of the weapons and other payloads that we deliver, whether they are delivered above the water or below the water. We need to beat the adversary’s system, which generally means we need to be ready for a Russia, a China, an Iran or anyone else who has recognized the superiority we have today and seeks to develop an A2AD-like network underwater to match what many of them currently have at the surface and in the air. We know that’s going to happen because the fact that we dominate under the water is driving some countries crazy. That’s the bad news. The good news is we know what it would take for them to do that, and we know what we have to do to pace that threat so that after they have expended their valuable resources building a network or whatever it’s going to be that is geared to defeat us, we will have already put the tools in place so we can defeat that effort and maybe, in some cases, exploit that effort to our own advantage. That’s what this plan is all about.

Next, we need to defend our strategic assets, which some of us think of as our SSBN force. But it’s much more than that. It’s the continental US, it’s the national capital region, it’s the huge investment in undersea infrastructure, whether that be oil, gas, communications, whatever. That is part of our vital infrastructure that drives our economy, and we will increasingly likely be called upon to defend it. Next, we need to get on the same page. To some of us, that just means we need to use the same common operating picture software tools. It is that, but it’s actually much, much more than that because as we extend the range at which we can apply the effects that we generate from a submarine, whether it’s underwater or cross-domain, we’re leaving the world that is the sort of fire control problem that many of us grew up with, where everything is centered on the ship that shoots the torpedo and delivers the weapon and so forth. We will increasingly be a part of a world that is based on geographic coordinates, as we are today, say, in the Tomahawk world. That will apply in the future to pretty much everything we do, because we may deliver an underwater weapon that is based on third party targeting. We may even hand over the terminal stages of that weapon to someone else who’s controlling it from another platform or possibly via space. So that’s a mind shift for us, but it requires us to get on the same page. Lastly, as was said many times, we need to get faster. Again, that’s very important. I’m going to talk about that in a minute.

So this is how it all lays down. It’s very logical. The foundation is our platforms, and you can trace the evolution of the platforms that were developed over decades. We’re talking right now about the design effort for the SSN(X). This is an effort that requires decades of concept development, detailed engineering and planning so that we can have the right platform that will operate on the order of 40 years as we’re doing with the SSBNs and be very capable throughout that lifespan. That’s hard work. It takes a long time. Once we go to all of that effort, we need to make sure we build platforms that last for a long time. Within that circle, we have the vehicles, things that by definition will become obsolete much more quickly because the pace of technology is so fast. That’s where we take things like our torpedoes and we make them go further, we make them do a few different things. Maybe they can become a mine as well as a torpedo. Then we bring in more things we can do with a missile.

We’re very good with the Tomahawk missile right now. Someone did ask the question in the last brief, “Should we be thinking about TASM-like Tomahawk anti-ship missile or variants of that?” The answer is, absolutely yes. You may recall we abandoned the TASM a few years ago because we had a missile that would go about 350 miles, and it was guaranteed to hit something. We just weren’t sure what it would hit. That was years ago. Command and control today is much more precise. We have targeting methods that are much more accurate than they were back then. We now posses the ability to have artificial intelligence inside a missile determine the classification of one target among many. So now, that several hundred mile range becomes more like a missile from a submarine which can precisely hit the exact ship that you want to strike from 1,000 miles away. That’s a huge problem for an adversary that can’t detect our submarines from 1,000 yards away. It makes the value of each one of those submarines in our calculus and in the enemy’s calculus that much greater. So even though there’s not a whole lot of, say, warhead on those things relative to, say, a torpedo, we can get a mission kill on pretty much any surface ship with the right missile from hundreds of miles away from a submarine, provided we have its location. I dwelled on that a little bit, but the point is that this payload world is getting to be much more active and fast-changing. As I’m learning from getting into that world, even payloads have payloads now. The same common unmanned vehicle that you produce, might deliver a weapon, it might deliver an acoustic decoy, it might deliver an electronic decoy all from the same weapon, or it may just contain a sensor package. I hadn’t really thought about that until people started bringing it to my attention. That’s an extremely dynamic field.

So the way this is going to play out is that some of you some day will probably build our fleet standard unmanned vehicles, and then many of you will get to build the payloads that go on them, whether they be propulsion variants for longer range, sensor packages, and weapons and so forth. It’s a very, very dynamic field. We expect to be able to turn custom payloads based on real world needs in weeks to months, and as I alluded to in that little picture of the mast on the far right of the picture, we pretty much do that right now. On special missions, we’ll need to go get some signal, and if we can’t do it all with the internal processing of the ship we’ll go build a custom antenna system and we’ll turn it around in weeks to months because we have some very brilliant people more or less on retainer that allow us to do that. It’s amazing.

I just want to make sure you know that in each one of these major areas of activity, we have specific things going on. It’s not a pipe dream. I think we’ve been through the Ohio Replacement and Virginia class stuff pretty much. That’s our biggest investment. We’re doing both of those programs well. Virginia continues to be the only major program in the DoD that consistently performs under cost and ahead of schedule. Ohio Replacement is on the same track with that same level of discipline to develop that very important capability in the way we’ve done with Virginia. We’re going to make some minor modifications to Virginia. We’re going to improve its acoustic superiority even more because we think we’ll have the need to do so with some new challengers, and we have some new technology that allows us to do that. So that’s all good.

In the payload area we talked about re-starting torpedo production, and that torpedo production will be the foundation for an evolutionary program that brings in new technologies and ultimately leads to other payloads. We’re enabling our dry deck shelters to deliver unmanned vehicles while we work on the mechanical ways of doing that, and we’ll be doing that this year. We would be doing that this week. However, someone decided that they’d rather use one of our ships to kill terrorists than to work on the next generation in underwater vehicle development, and I can’t fault them for that decision. Our Prospective Commanding Officer class that is going on as we speak will be employing unmanned air vehicles as one of the ways that they target our torpedoes at long range.

This is a very dynamic system that takes the technology you provide and feeds it into a scenario in which we can try to determine how we can fight better in the future. Eventually it gets down to some young officers saying, “Okay, if I can launch this unmanned vehicle, in this case out of my little 3 inch countermeasure launcher, and keep that thing up in the air for 40 to 60 minutes, somewhere in that range, think of the periscope observation equivalent you can get from that.” It’s amazing. It’s just amazing. There’s a whole bunch of other things that we’re doing in the payloads area – Again, working very, very quickly, particularly in some areas like decoys and so forth.

On to some of our successes – The Virginia class program. We talked about that. Real world missions with unmanned vehicles this year. We talked about that. I thought I heard a program manager apologize for his TB29 towed array this morning. Hey, here’s how I look at TB29s, folks. It’s like crack cocaine. It is so good when it works that the world can’t stand it when they break. I’m a fisherman. I know that when I throw things over the side of my boat sometimes they don’t come back. That’s kind of the real world we live in. Sometimes things fail, but sometimes we have things that we drag through the water for six months and things happen. But that array is by far the most phenomenal array ever built, and we now have the engineering challenge of keeping that performance while ruggedizing it in ways that give us better electronics but don’t compromise the aspects of it that make it so sensitive and so effective. And I’ll tell you, oftentimes the difference between success and nothing is a TB29. Some of you guys know what that means.

As I said before, we’re building torpedoes again, and in the lower right-hand corner is a little shout-out to Penn State for some technology they’re working with. I asked them to give me a propulsion system that would get us a 100 mile torpedo range. They pulled something out of the closet they’d been working on for a while in an ADCAP form factor that will give us a 200 mile torpedo range. I’m not sure I’m mentally prepared for how to employ a 200 mile torpedo, but we’re going to put some thought into that. In the decoy world, we are very, very active. Success is being achieved at a pace much faster than I thought, in large part because the people in our Navy Labs have friends in the Air Force Labs and the good news is they all work together. The D5 missile program again remains the most successful ballistic missile program in history, and is the key to the inherent credibility in our strategic deterrent. All right, so that’s it for the strategy material.

I want to spend the last 15 minutes I have here just chatting about a few things that are going on in the Force. So here are some topics I’d like to talk about. Let’s get right into them.

CO development. I think … I know, in fact, that we have the best commanding officers in the world right now. I put a lot of thought into it before I said that, but here’s why. We’re in a world, and I think Captain Patton might have alluded to this earlier, where much of the Navy and much of the world’s navies are focusing on how they can more precisely control what happens on a ship from a great distance using satellites and the Internet technology (and we have some of that technology), we’re very aggressively working—this is with Admiral Sawyer and myself and others—at going the other way. We’re training our commanding officers to go forward and fight in a highly competitive environment for weeks to months at a time or until they run out of weapons with little to no external guidance other than some broad mission priorities, maybe a little guidance on where they need to operate, and where to go and call home when they’re out of weapons. That’s what we’re training our people for. That’s how we run our commanding officer pipeline training. That is how we actually structure some of the missions that they do on their routine deployments, which tend to involve preparation of the battle space for things that might happen in the future. That’s how they operate. And we’ve made a big deal of doing that, of not being overly prescriptive in how they operate their ships, having them come back and tell us how we could support them better or how they could share those lessons learned from deployments with others. I believe it’s working very, very well.

We have some very, very thoughtful, capable commanding officers out there who know how to do this, and they’re really rising to that challenge. Again, having been in a board, I sat down with my counterparts from other warfare communities, and they’re having some frustrations right now with how to better control what happens on their ships. Some even asked, “What are you doing?” I said, first of all, we’re trying to make sure we have the right people and that they’re trained properly, and in fact, we are not trying to control them because we know that the one thing that no adversary’s intelligence community can ever figure out ahead of time is what some aggressive, thoughtful, innovative, decisive commanding officers might do to ruin their day. Even if they can break the comms between us and them it won’t help. So we put a lot of thought into that. We’re very happy with where that’s going, and I think you ought to be proud of the people who we have out there operating those ships.

Women in submarines tends to come up in a lot of these areas, and so here’s where we’re at. We have over 100 women who have been assessed into our program. Some of them have already completed their JO tour and are rolling ashore. And their reliefs are rolling onboard. We have seven ships, 14 crews integrated right now with women officers. We’re going to pick up two ships next year in Groton. They’ll be Virginia class. Two the following year in Hawaii, also Virginia class, so that as the SSBNs and SSGNs that we started with, as they start to time out, we will have a broad opportunity for those women officers through command. They’re doing very well. Then going forward, 2016 is the year that we expect to bring the first enlisted women on submarines. We’re waiting right now. It’s up to the Congress, and we’ve gone through all the procedures with the Congress, and there’s a certain time requirement for when you tell things to the Congress, and they have to be in session for so many days. It takes 30 days for most things that involve notification of Congress, and you might be surprised how long it takes to have 30 days of Congressional sessions to actually happen. But we think we’re going to make it.

That’s the bottom line. And when we do that, if we do that, because again, Congress hasn’t told us we can yet, but when we do, it will be in the same slow, deliberate way. We’ll build upon the ships that have women officers to lead. We’ll go through a process that brings in senior women at the chief petty officer level, from other communities in some cases, just like we did with the women supply officers so that there’s always the senior mentorship. People who have been to sea before who know what proper behavior at sea is and is not, and we think we’re on a path to slow but deliberate success in that area.

I gather you had some discussions on depot maintenance because the news headlines this morning said something about it. So here’s how I see depot maintenance. Because of the degree to which the Navy as a whole has been run, which is much harder than it has been designed to be run, we have a lack of capacity, particularly in the naval shipyards that handle the nuclear aircraft carriers and submarines. We’re getting great support from the Chief of Naval Operations, who has invested in; (1) growing that capacity, and (2), accessing some private sector capacity in ways that we haven’t done recently. We’re doing that, and so now it’s over to us, and there are a couple of things we have to do to make that happen. First of all, within the public shipyards, as in the naval shipyards, they’re right now operating below their authorized end strength, and they have a fairly senior force. We need to be innovative in how we hire and train new workers, but also in how we find skilled workers in other industries to come work in our naval shipyards.

People, like welders and pipe fitters. As it turns out, there are a lot of people who work on things like oil rigs in the gulf or work on the gulf coast who would be more than happy to work in the safer, secure environment of a government shipyard than to be working offshore on a platform for weeks at a time and so forth, and we have to be a little more flexible in how we manage the civilian personnel system in the Navy to identify those people and bring them onboard. We’re working on that through the human resources folks. It’ll take a while. But we have a way to do that.

In the interim, though, we also need to be more effective in partnering with the private sector to use their capacity, and they have some capacity for submarine maintenance. The way we need to do that better is to have the right types of contract vehicles and a planning process in place so we can bring these resources to bear (we used to call it the one shipyard concept) and do it not at the last minute when we suddenly realize we’re maxed out in the naval shipyards, but do it in a very deliberate way so we can look years ahead and have enough access to capacity. These things are very, very doable, and we’re heading down that path. So yes, we have some work to do, but we’re working with the Naval Sea Systems Command, we’re working with the private sector, and we have the ability to manage this and we will.

One of the little problems I deal with every day is where to send the submarines and what mission to train them for. Of course, I really only get to do the second one because they go where someone else tells me to send them, and we have this whole thing we call the pivot to the Pacific. You’ve read a lot about it. In many ways, it’s a very intelligent way to approach the future, although sometimes we’d be better off if we didn’t talk about it even if we are doing it because somehow inadvertently, we’re sending a message to other parts of the world that, “Hey, it’s game on. Have a ball. You can do what you want.” Which was never our intent. But at some times, it feels like that’s the message that they got. So while we’ve been pivoting to the Pacific, and the Submarine Force is pretty much already there, the European Command Area, southwest Asia, and Africa are very, very busy. The way this plays out is that you can’t send a submarine, for example, to southwest Asia without going past Europe and Africa.
And the way our system works is the guy whose water you’re going through kind of owns you. You’ve all heard the possession is nine tenths of the law thing. Sometimes they don’t get to southwest Asia because someone comes up with a brilliant idea along the way, and then that’s the time when four stars, many of them who don’t wear Navy uniforms, are fighting over submarines, which secretly makes me happy. It’s a busy world out there. There’s a huge demand for what we do, and what we have been doing is saying, “We understand your demand. We will meet your demand to the best of our ability, but not at the expense of having time to properly train the crews for the missions that they’re going on, and not at the expense of running the force into the ground because what we’re running here is a marathon, not a sprint.” We are very careful to watch the ships so that we will be able to get the whole life out of them.

The next couple of topics I’m going to talk about relate to safety. We took a good, hard look at safety. We look at safety all the time, but we took a particular look after a series of events in late 2012, one of which involved USS MONTPELIER. We looked at things like what incentives are we giving to the crews to be safe, what was our experience base, what other back stops might we provide them so they can do a better job and that sort of thing. I want to talk about a couple of those.

The first one is JO tour lengths. How many JOs do we have in the room here today, or recent JOs? Okay, good. We extended the JO tour length to 36 months. I know, some of you guys are going, “Extended to 36 months? What was it?” So it got a little bit less than that, and it was good people making some wellintentioned decisions to make room in people’s careers for things like graduate education and so forth, and joint requirements that are mandated by law. But when we took a look around, so the first thing you have to know before you become a sophisticated joint warrior is how to drive a submarine. So we set the tour length at 36 months, and we further set it such that after you finish the engineer qualification, which means you’re qualified to be the chief engineer on a submarine, that you stay an additional 12 months with no other required schools. That’s the time when your ship driving skills really blossom. It’s the time when the engineer and the weapons officer can delegate those hard jobs to you so your management skills grow, and you get confidence in landing the ship and some of the complex evolutions that we do. It benefits the JO because when they come back, as a department head they have that innate confidence that they know how to run a submarine. Of course, if you send a guy back to a submarine as a department head without giving him that confidence as a JO, nothing spells blood in the water like a new department head on the ship that doesn’t really look like he knows what he’s doing. We think that it’s time well spent, and that COs appreciate it, the department heads appreciate it, and the JOs we did it to didn’t even know we were doing it because they just kind of show up when they’re supposed to.

Next we took a good look at some things that other industries have learned in the area of safety backup and crew rest, and a lot of this originated in the airline industry. There are extensive medical studies, but the bottom line is this: there’s a huge body of evidence that says people perform better if they get enough sleep and if they get it at about the same time every day. It’s pretty simple. It’s been generally ignored for the entire history of the nuclear Submarine Force. So we’re working on that, and part of it is applying the science, but another part of it is telling COs that the measure of success isn’t that everybody on your ship is working as hard as they possibly can until the point where they’re exhausted. It’s that they work hard enough to learn their jobs to be effective, and it really is okay to have a little bit of time to think and relax, and maybe even think about how you can make your ship better.

That sounds simple to say, but those of you in the business kind of know that there’s a certain chunk of our force that is only satisfied if they have worked themselves to complete exhaustion. We sometimes forget about that once we leave the ship.

One of my JO friends decided that he would remind me of this phenomenon by sending me this picture of me in 1982, I think it was. Tell me if you can relate to this, but many of you were basically tired from age 22 to 42. Does that sound about right? Okay, hey, I’ve told you about a lot of things that I think are working fairly well.

So I think we’re doing our job pretty well. We’re wisely spending the resources that we have. We’re developing good ships driven by good people, and we’re buying them good sensors and weapons. But there is a challenge out there. The era of a world dominated by the US, and the good intentions of our friends I think has passed us. We have serious competition out there for who will influence the world and how they will influence it, and perhaps even who will have control of parts of the world. So, as well as we’re doing, we have to do better. We need continued investment in that effort to do better, and I’d like you all to leave here knowing that the folks who presented their programs and plans to you today are taking that mission seriously, they are doing it in a very effective way, and they’re doing it in a very financially responsible way. With that, I will take your questions.

Admiral Bowman: You talked about, correctly in my opinion, the need for adequate sleep. I’ve heard a little bit about the experiments that have been taking place moving from six hour to eight hour watches. Where are we in that?

Mike Connor: So the question, in case you couldn’t hear it, exactly how are we implementing this crew rest and circadian rhythm respect program. We have some notes out on how to do it. We have avoided being prescriptive, but there’s generally two methods that are coming into play. One is straight eight hour watches with a short break at the four hour point, and the other is a series of six hour watches with some fours in there that break up the day a little bit. But you stand watch at the same times every day, and then there’s certain designated times of the day when all hands are expected to be awake for major drills and so forth. Some folks have asked that we not give them options, just tell them how to do it. We have resisted that for two reasons. One, I was very concerned that this is new to a lot of people. It’s not what they did their whole career. And I was very concerned about the potential for malicious compliance because face it, things happen at different times. The maneuvering watches are at a given time, the special evolution you’re doing on deployment, and so we can’t give a one size fits all solution, but we wanted them to adopt the principles. So I just had a ship get back from a very successful deployment. They did eight hour watches. They did a break at the four hour point to get head call and a cup of coffee or something like that, and they had a plan that every month or so, if you’re the day guy you’d be the evening guy after a month, but sort of by the time they got to the Mediterranean, they decided that they just wanted to do the same watch every day because they were in it, they really did feel good, they liked how it worked. Some of the guys were tired of eating breakfast every day before they came on watch. So their solution was, and I never would have thought of this, watches stay the same and meals change. You know… Who would have thought of that? So we’re leaving it up to them to come up with those sorts of solutions. Remember, we sometimes have some folks on some pretty long deployments, and there are people on deployments in areas that are much busier than most of us did our deployments in. Every tool that we can provide them to keep themselves happy and alert longer and also be mindful of the physical limits and when it’s time to pull off and take a port call is valuable. Any tools like that that we can put in their hands makes those ships better and safer.

Rick Burgess: Thank you. I’m Rick Burgess with Sea Power Magazine. Several years ago, the sub force experimented with UAVs. I think it was the Buster UAV launched from surfaced SSNs. Are you continuing that experimentation, or where does that stand?

Mike Connor: We’ve more or less stopped doing that because you said surfaced SSNs. So we’re continuing to fly UAVs, but we’re doing it from submerged SSNs, and we have basically three different delivery methods. One is via the trash disposal unit, one is via the torpedo tubes, and the other is via the countermeasure launching system, which is like a small torpedo tube. We have active programs in each one of those areas.

John Padgett: One more, sir.

A Midshipman: Good morning, sir. I have a quick question for you. So this Tuesday, we had the privilege of having the CNO come to talk to us at the Naval Academy, and he spoke a lot about the future of the Navy and how controlling the electromagnetic spectrum is going to be vitally important. Can you speak specifically to how the Submarine Force is going to enhance our ability to dominate the electromagnetic spectrum, and specifically how directed energy might be one of those solutions?

Mike Connor: Sure. So first of all, to control the electromagnetic spectrum, you have to be able to put whatever your device is that controls that spectrum in the place where you need it. And we have a remarkable ability to take the sensors that we have and put them in the place that they are most relevant because we can get
closer. That has an impact on a whole host of defensive and offensive efforts to control the electromagnetic spectrum. Some of the devices that I mentioned earlier directly play into dominating the electromagnetic spectrum. You asked a question about directed energy. So we are probably at the very early stages of looking at that. There’s a pretty active program on surface ships to do that, and the most efficient position for us to be in right now is to let them get the technology several levels higher than it is, and then we can look at how we can shrink some of that so it’s compatible for a submarine. One of the things that we bring to bear once we do that is we have the power readily at hand to deliver some of those high energy effects, but the size of the packages that they’re working with right now are far too big to not compromise most of the other things that we do.

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League