It is always an honor to speak to submariners anytime and anywhere. But it is especially meaningful to address you here in the capital of the nation you defend so well, the nation that serves as hope for all the world.
It is a special night and you are a special group.In 1915, Rudyard Kipling wrote that “The submarine has created its own type of officer and man with language and traditions apart from the rest of the service, and yet at the heart unchangingly of the Service.” One hundred years later, that is truer than ever.
The theme of my speech tonight is Admiral Rickover and innovation.I chose that theme in large part because we are very privileged to have Mrs. Eleonore Rickover with us here tonight. Before I start talking about Admiral Rickover and his legacy, I would like to take a minute to recognize Mrs. Rickover’s own legacy. Because you probably all know about Mr. Rickover, but you may not know that before becoming Mrs. Rickover, Eleanor served a full 20-year career in the United States Navy, serving as a nurse and attaining the rank of commander.And you may not know that after becoming Mrs. Rickover, she served on the board of multiple hospitals, did a great deal of charity work, and was invested as both a Dame of Malta and a Lady of the Holy Sepulcher.
Finally, I want to recognize Mrs. Rickover because, as Mrs. Rickover, she stands as a symbol for all the spouses and families of submariners. And as Mrs. Rickover said at the christening of the first submarine named for her husband: “They also serve, those who only stand and wait.”The words are from a poem by John Milton, but I think they are a fitting tribute to our submarine families that give so much. So I would like to pause here for just a moment and ask that Mrs. Rickover and the spouses and family members of our submariners, please stand if you would like and be recognized for everything you do.Thank you all for being here tonight.
Now to Mr. Rickover, the Admiral. When President Nixon awarded Rickover that rank of full, four-star Admiral in 1973, he said that “the greatness of the American military service, and particularly the greatness of the Navy, is symbolized in [this ceremony], because this man, who is controversial, this man, who comes up with unorthodox ideas, did not become submerged by the bureaucracy.” Thanks to Admiral Rickover, he said, “as far as our Navy is concerned, apart from the number of ships, but from the standpoint of technology, it is the first in the world and will continue to be, because his genius was not submerged by the huge bureaucracy that could so often have that effect.”
That was said in 1973.But just like Rudyard Kipling, his words ring true today, too. By any objective measure, the United States in 2015 has the finest undersea force the world has ever seen. Thanks in large part to the efforts of Admiral Rickover, that “Kindly Old Gentleman,” the United States arguably enjoys a greater degree of dominance and qualitative superiority in the undersea domain than in any other.
Over the past 115 years, this nation has amassed an incredible amount of what I like to call undersea power. We have all heard of sea power and its influence upon history.But I am talking about undersea power.For our preponderance of undersea power affords our nation many special benefits.It provides us with the world’s most credible and secure nuclear deterrent.It enables us to surreptitiously collect sensitive intelligence. It has deterred major maritime conflict for decades, and has dissuaded most of the world from even trying to compete with the United States for control of the seas.And it causes bad guys and would-be aggressors around the world to pause, look out to ward the ocean, and worry.
Our undersea forces can be anywhere, anytime.Should anyone test us, they can carry out a wide range of missions at a time and place of our choosing. By leveraging their stealth and long endurance, they can provide what no other element of the joint force can consistently deliver, and that is persistent, undetected, assured access. As the challenges to access in other domains grow, the value of that undersea access is going to increase geometrically. Whether you think the future security environment is going to be characterized by irregular challenges, high-end conflict, or Cold War competition, our freedom of maneuver and action in the undersea domain-and our ability to reach from that domain into others-is something that is going to be of incredible value to the Navy and the nation.
That is the good news.Here is the bad news, given to you straight. Looking ahead to 2025 and beyond, we face a shrinking submarine fleet and a precipitous decline in our undersea payload capacity.Today we have 53 attack submarines of the Los Angeles, Seawolf, and Virginia classes, and a requirement for 48 going forward indefinitely. Even with those 53 boats, we are only fulfilling 65% of the COCOMs’ requests for SSNs-and that is today, in 2015. By 2029our SSN fleet will have shrunk by 25% and we are going to be seven boats below the current requirement. Meanwhile, at roughly the same time, we are going to retire all four of our Ohio-class SSGNs, along with 616 Tomahawk missile tubes, or roughly 60% of our current capacity. Around that same time, we are also going to be going from 14 to 12 ballistic missile boats in our sea-based deterrent fleet.
In short, at a time when our Submarine Force is likely to be called upon to do more than ever, it is going to be smaller in size than it has been at any point since the Second World War. Our capacity is going down and, looking ahead, the demand for submarines is likely to exceed their supply by a considerable margin. And—by the way—that is if everything goes according to plan. At the same time, it does not account for any black swansor surprises that our competitors or adversaries might throw at us, whether those surprises be technological, tactical, operational, or strategic in nature.
So even though we are here tonight to celebrate this incredibly capable Submarine Force that has accomplished so much, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels and lose sight of these longer-term challenges that are coming down the road.
Going back to Admiral Rickover, he said in 1982 to a group of Columbia University students that “A major flaw in our system of government, and even in industry, is the latitude allowed to do less than is necessary. Too often officials are willing to accept and adapt to situations they know to be wrong. The tendency is to downplay problems instead of actively trying to correct them.” Fortunately, thanks in large part to the Admiral and many of you in this room tonight, the Submarine Force has largely avoided this problem. Whether it was regarding innovation or safety, you all saw what really needed to be done, and settled for nothing less than accomplishing it.
Today, we need to have that same clarity of vision and purpose across the whole undersea enterprise-in the Navy,in industry, and in Congress. Because that preponderance of undersea power, and that underwater edge that you have built up over many decades, are in danger of eroding. And we must take action, now, to shore them up and sustain them.
From my perspective, there are several things that we all need to work together to do:
First, we need to make sure that our submarine shortfall does not get any worse by keeping our two submarine programs on track.
One of those is the Ohio Replacement Program, the next-generation class of boomers that will carry 70% of our deployed nuclear warheads and provide the United States with a secure strategic deterrent for decades to come. The Navy has made the Ohio Replacement Program its highest priority, but the $84 billion-plus procurement cost of the program threatens to consume almost half of the Navy’s shipbuilding and conversion budget for a decade.
Last year, Congress created a special account called the National Sea-Based Deterrent Fund to finance the Ohio Replacement Program procurement. But we still have not figured out how we are going to fill that piggy bank up. In the past, the Navy has been given additional resources to procure these strategically critical platforms, but we are going to have to fight hard to get them this time. But fight we must, because if we do not get those additional resources the implications will be catastrophic—either for the Ohio Replacement Program itself or for every single other thing in the Navy’s shipbuilding program.
The second big program is the Virginia-class submarine.Note that I did not say Virginia-class attack submarine,because, as you all know, it is truly a multi-mission platform with a growing range of incredibly valuable functions. Thanks to unprecedented teamwork among the Navy, industry, and Congress, Virginia-class procurement is proceeding smoothly at an accelerated pace of 2 boats per year and the builders have driven costs way down. Looking ahead, we need to make sure that we sustain this incredible momentum as we move into Block 5 of the program and ramp up ORP production alongside it. But even if we keep these programs on track, I fully expect demand for the capabilities that submarines provide, and the effects they achieve, to exceed the limited supply of boats.
So, secondly, we need to make sure that we field as many innovative undersea force multipliers as possible.
The first of these is the Virginia Payload Module, or VPM, which is going to be critical if we are going to fill that shortfall in undersea payload capacity caused by the retirement of the SSGNs. By incorporating the VPM into future Virgini as, we are going to significantly expand the amount of stuff our submarines can bring with them into denied areas. And I am being deliberately imprecise when I say stuff, because it is not just about Tomahawk missiles anymore—although that is still definitely one of the options. Looking ahead, there are going to be a lot more things that can go in those payload tubes that will expand our submarines capability and mission set.
Some of those things are the second force multiplier I want to mention: unmanned vehicles. As aviators are fond of saying, unmanned vehicles are ideal for dull, dirty, and dangerous jobs. So, in other words, they are perfect for undersea work. By leveraging advances in energy and autonomy, we need to field a family of unmanned underwater vehicles that can both augment SSNs and, in some situations, free them up for other missions.But we should not just look at the undersea domain.We also need to be thinking about how we can leverage that persistent, undetected, assured access to do things in other domains.Two years ago we launched an unmanned aerial vehicle from a submerged submarine. I have not heard much about it since, but I hope that is actually a sign that we are already moving in the right direction.
Meanwhile, the third force multiplier we need to be fielding is new and improved weapons. The Navy has decided to restart production of Mark 48 torpedoes. But we cannot just build more of the same. We need to make them longer-legged with greater endurance, we need to make them smarter with better processing and target discrimination, and we need to make them more flexible, with a variety of payloads or different missions. We also need to go back to the future in some other areas.We used to spend a lot of time thinking about mine warfare. It might be time for a renaissance in those capabilities. And as with unmanned vehicles, we cannot just focus on the undersea domain. We need to be thinking about cross-domain capabilities like next-generation sub-launched anti-surface weapons, land-attack weapons, and more. Like I said, there are a lot of different things that could fit in those nice big tubes that will be on the Virgini as, and we need to be thinking about how we can exploit that flexibility to achieve the greatest tactical, operational, and strategic effects.
Now that is all hardware, but we also need to make sure that all this hardware is maintained, crewed, and employed as efficiently and as effectively as possible.
We need to make sure that our industrial base is kept healthy, from the big shipbuilders all the way down to the smallest suppliers of specialized parts. We also need to make sure that our shipyards are kept in good shape so our boats can come in for maintenance and get back out to the fleet as quickly as possible. And we need to make sure that all these employers can hire and retain the amazing engineers and artisans they need. Because our shipbuilding and ship repair industrial base is a strategic asset, and we need to sustain its capabilities and capacities.
We also need to make sure that our intellectual base is kept healthy. We need to make sure that our best scientists and engineers are solving the problems we face, and pushing the frontiers infields like acoustics, energy storage, and autonomy. And as with our industrial base, we need to make sure the whole supply chain for ideas is considered, from universities conducting basic research up to our undersea warfare center doing advance tech development.
Finally, we need to make sure that the submarine service keeps attracting and retaining the best and the brightest officers and enlisted men and women. Then we need to make sure that these men and women are getting the best training and education they can get on shore and at sea.They need to know about engineering, and oceanography, and undersea tactics, but they also need to know about strategy and policy, so that they can appreciate the value of our nation’s undersea power and exploit it to the very fullest.
Perhaps most importantly, we need to teach them and encourage them to be innovative thinkers that are willing to challenge the status quo. Because a lot of new things lie ahead for our Submarine Force, and as Admiral Rickover said: “Everything new endangers something old. A new machine replaces human hands; a new source of power threatens old businesses; a new trade route wipes out old ports and brings prosperity to new ones. This is the price that must be paid for progress, and it is worth it.”
I do not think there is anyone here in the audience tonight who wants to stand in the way of progress.But there might be some out there wondering what all this talk of unmanned vehicles means for the actual submariner, the man or woman with the dolphins on their chest. But even with all this talk of UUVs and autonomy, I do not for a minute think that the United States Navy will ever find a replacement for the Mark 1 Bubble head.Because, as the Kindly Old Gentleman once said: “Organizations don’t really accomplish anything. Plans don’t accomplish anything, either… Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds.”
Looking around this room, I am confident that the Silent Service is still attracting the best people, and that these men and women will continue to do incredible things on behalf of our Nation, our Navy, and the greatest Submarine Force the world has ever seen.
Happy birthday, submariners, thank you for everything that you do, and may God continue to bless you as you defend and protect the greatest nation the world has ever known.