I appreciate the opportunity. It’s a great chance for me, really not just to speak on behalf of the Pacific Submarine Force, but again Admiral Tofalo and I are of like mind and he has duly deputized me to talk about some of the things going on in the Atlantic AOR as well. As Admiral Padgett mentioned in my first introduction of the day, my previous command assignment was Submarine Group 8 out in Naples. So I think I’m still somewhat current in that. What I’m going to do right now, very quickly, is just kind of touch on the theme—or go back to the theme of the conference and talk about some of the capacity and capability challenges that we’ve observed.
So, capability and capacity challenges. The world around us recognizes, as we do, the importance of submarines. They are investing heavily. A little bit of context here, one can plot the AIS tracks of every ship that’s out there transmitting on AIS. That will kind of show where the sea-lines of communication are. It should come to the surprise of no one that this is a very busy and very important part of the world.
I can highlight some of the submarine programs that exist around the Indo-Pacific-Asia region. A lot of times we focus on what is Russia doing, what’s China doing? Clearly, there’s submarine activity among allies, partners, friends, as well as those who are not today allies, friends or partners.
Some of it is force in-being. Some of it is force where procurement plans are in-place. We can also note as well all the nations that now have indigenous submarine building, submarine production capabilities, or are aspiring to have indigenous capabilities We should speak to orders of battle. It’s no surprise to this audience that, at the moment, as we ramp up Virginia and Ohio Replacement construction, we’re decommissioning 688s faster. Over time, inexorably, our force structure is going to dip down a little bit. That’s at a time when many of our peer and near-peer competitors, having started investments either earlier or having started from a lower baseline, are increasing capacity and capability faster than we.
The Russian line looks pretty flat, but of course that’s flat in numbers. They are replacing old, in some cases obsolete, platforms with brand new ones.
The Russians last year introduced the first of their new class, the Severodvinsk, the SSGN. Also just last year the Dolgorukiy, the new SSBN, very capable platforms, as we assess them. The Chinese have gone to sea now with strategic deterrent patrols of their own with their SSBN, the Jin-class. Four of them are in inventory right now. Again, although China began a lot of its buildup by purchasing and borrowing designs from others, this is now an indigenous capability. Also they’ve got the Yuan AIP submarine that recently completed a multi-month deployment. Elsewhere in Northeast Asia, even North Korea is investing in submarine capability.
So let’s focus on Russia just a little bit. Again, as I mentioned in my earlier discussion, I want to focus on what we assess to be capability. I’m not implying motive or intent. I think President Putin does a pretty good job of communicating his intent in places around the world through some of his recent activity. Russia’s military budget has doubled over the last decade and their priority in shipbuilding is their Submarine Force. Again, we’re not the only ones who recognize the value, the importance, the force multiplying nature of submarines. As you transition from an older Oscar II to a Severodvinsk, or transition from a Delta III to a Dolgorukly, you’re getting increased capability, improved quieting, longer ranges or greater accuracy on missions. Russian state media broadcast a video of the land attack cruise missile strikes of the Kalibr missile system that Russia launched from the Caspian Sea into Syria. There are lots of other ways that Russia could have delivered ordnance on target in Syria. Do you suppose there was some strategic messaging behind choosing to use a form of attack that hereto in the world really only the U.S. and the UK have employed, long distance land attack cruise missiles?
That system is assessed to be very capable, of course. We can draw range rings around our fleet concentration areas to represent nominal standoff ranges in either a land attack or an anti-ship cruise missile range arc for that missile system. And so for a stealthy platform getting underway from Petropavlovsk or getting underway from the White Sea area, it’s a couple of weeks of patrol speed transit to potentially be within range. You have to cover an awful lot of ocean if you’re going to do an open ocean search for these folks. So the tag line is, as quieting improves and if you have quiet platforms out in the middle of a big ocean and an uncued search, it’s going to take a lot of assets, a lot of resources in order to try and accomplish what the nation expects of us, to be able to deter or to defeat.
There’s a lot of talk about what the impact is going to be of continued warming and greater commercial viability of Arctic passages. Within the Arctic Council nations, of which the U.S. is currently the chair, that point is not lost on us nor on the Russians.
They have spent a lot of time, a lot of resources lately, reactivating Cold War era bases on their Arctic frontier and building some new ones, adding some capacity. Again, if this in fact is going to become a commercially viable commerce route it could be just about having search and rescue capability for innocent stranded mariners. It could be about the protection of their economic zone. It’s obvious, though, that in many cases—those bases were once Cold War era military facilities. You don’t have to be an Arctic nation or border on the Arctic to have an interest in the Arctic. There are about a dozen nations right now that have requested and been approved for observer status in the Arctic Council, including the Chinese who in their official media have characterized themselves as a near-Arctic state. I’m not sure what the liberal definition of near-Arctic is, but obviously they’re the ones who get to define that for themselves. They recently had, not icebreakers, but modified merchant ships that transited that northern passage in both directions. And from their position in the geopolitical sphere, it saves an awful lot of money, a lot of transit time, getting to America and Northern Europe going through the north. They have also let contracts for their first icebreakers. They are keenly interested in potentially partnering with the Russians in this part of the world.
Back to the Russians, again. In addition to some of those bases, they just have established a new Arctic command, activated or created some Arctic brigades that are based up north as well. So again, a lot of interest here. Getting back to our friends the Chinese, they are very much doing what growing powers do. They are expanding in the nature and the scope and the breadth of their operations, exploring just what are the true capabilities that they’re investing in. We see them operating further and longer at sea and demonstrating greater operational readiness.
As particular instances, a couple of diesels have recently concluded what we would consider a type of normal deployment, going out of area, going in places that their national command authority or naval hierarchy thinks are important, and managing to fix the boat when it breaks and conduct operations. Additionally, they are very Mahanian in their view of coaling stations and infrastructure and logistics. They are actively seeking not just port visits but potentially maintenance and logistics kind of capabilities, along what some of their writers have referred to as a new maritime silk road, that passage between the South China Sea through the Strait of Malacca across the Indian Ocean. So, the Chinese have agreements with Sri Lanka and a lot of reporting of agreements that don’t yet appear to have been concluded, potentially with the Djiboutians. They recently had port visits in Karachi, Pakistan. But again, engaging in behavior that seems pretty logical if you’re interested in trying to expand your influence.
The same for their service operations. And, of course, these are much easier to talk about at an unclassified level. They publish—in terms of messaging they’re very open in talking about some of the things that they are doing, if you were to look at their area of operations five years ago, it would be a much, much smaller area, much, much closer to the coast. We see progressively over time them gaining confidence, gaining operational experience, and expanding the scope of their operations.
Currently underway, they are conducting an around the world cruise, which left a couple of months ago and currently is up in the Baltic. I think they just concluded a port visit in Poland. They will be heading across—they’ve requested to make a port visit on the East Coast of the United States. They’ve announced they intend to go through the Panama Canal. They’re requested to make a stop in Pearl Harbor on their way back to China. So I may have a chance to greet them myself.
Similarly, just recently, just last month they exercised the international right of innocent passage and they had a small surface action group that went through the Aleutian Islands up in the Bering Sea. Again, we certainly see that if they are interested in or aspiring to become an Arctic presence it makes sense for them to do some of their own intelligence preparation of the environment. And it’s not just their military capabilities. On the commercial side, their China Ocean Shipping Company, which handles port logistics, management, etcetera, currently has either controlling stakes or significant interest in port facilities in Antwerp, in Greece and the Suez and Singapore. They are even a minority owner of our own port facilities in Seattle and Long Beach.
And then, also in addition to capability, there’s the capacity challenge. Admiral Swift recently was published having made remarks in Southeast Asia that accurately and rightfully pointed out that the combined order of battle of the U.S. 3rd Fleet and 7th Fleet is the most powerful navy in the world with the exception of the aggregate United States Navy. But even so, on any given day, when you look at the assets we have forward deployed in the 7th Fleet AOR and what’s in the PLA order of battle, it’s entirely possible that on any given day there’s going to be more of them running around out there than there are of us.
Now we still unquestionably have greater capabilities. I don’t say that to raise a specter of fear of any sort, but it’s simply a fact of numbers. If in the past we’ve had the luxury of at least considering going from a zone to a man-to-man defense, man-toman could be a lot harder if you’re outnumbered. I mentioned North Korea a little bit earlier. They claim to have successfully tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile. It’s unclear what it is that may have been successfully tested. There is certainly popular media speculation that that launch has aspects that look suspiciously photo-shopped. But again, that’s popular media, that’s not the official position of the commander of the Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet.
An intel assessment would indicate, based on the technology they’ve demonstrated to date that it might be possible for the North Koreans to be able to hold at-risk some things that the United States values. Additionally, just a couple of months ago when there was the increase in tensions on the peninsula over the landmine incident on the south side of the DMZ, and as tensions heightened the North Koreans in less than 24 hours were able to sortie about 50 submarines and get them to sea. I was, frankly, a little bit surprised that they had that ability.
That said, I have no indication whether any of them submerged. If they did, I have no indication whether they surfaced again. But the very fact that they were able to get them underway, apparently not even under tow, is noteworthy, I think. So there are a lot of sources of friction out in this part of the world. There’s a lot of talk about the Spratlys. The A lot of talk has been going on about the Chinese activity in building or expanding islands, and it is noteworthy. Less than two years ago, early in 2014, the Chinese were occupying seven different outposts in the Spratly Islands, the total aggregate surface area of which was about five acres. Since then, they have created about 3,000 acres of land on various outposts. But it’s interesting to note here that it’s not just the Chinese. All of those nations with competing maritime claims in the region: China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, just in the South China Sea. There’s 71 different outposts that are occupied, divided up amongst all those nations, There are other small little outcroppings in the Spratlys that currently have operational airfields operated by the Filipinos, by the Malaysians, by the Taiwanese, etcetera. So again, it’s a very popular part of the world, apparently. I guess real estate is very attractive there. It’s all about location, location, location. So again, it’s easy to focus on the Chinese, but there’s a lot of activity among all those neighbor states.
The other point I want to emphasize here is that often times we talk about this topic or refer to it or it is written about in the press as a Chinese land reclamation process. I’m very careful here in at least proposing for our use—this isn’t reclaiming because there’s really no land there in the first place, certainly not by the international definition based on the tidal ranges. I mean, they’re creating something that didn’t exist and I think it’s important that we try and be very specific in our words lest we give more legal legitimacy to a claim than might be warranted. And again, precedent is always very important in matters of law of the sea.
So the challenges in the operating environment are not always just the physical environment. It includes the electromagnetic environment. Two particular examples I’ll highlight here, first with respect to the world of cyber, clearly cyber capabilities are of great benefit. They’re a great force multiplier for us. They improve our ability to command and control forces and to achieve effects.
But there are vulnerabilities that come along with it. Our Submarine Force has made some significant investments in the last couple of years to try and improve not just our capabilities but our cyber security. For this industry crowd, I would ask again that we really have to keep in mind that every advancement in capabilities is greatly appreciated, is hugely beneficial, and has to be matched by equivalent increases in security, or the ability to
secure the capabilities that we’re providing.
I think far too often we will find that in our eagerness to employ new capability, we will find that there’s a security vulnerability for which the patch is in progress and may be lagging. And we need to reduce that delta. As I mentioned in my earlier comments today, this is an area where we really have to get faster. We have to be more agile, more nimble in modernization and acquisition. Some of those things that we’ve done in the realm of cyber here recently, with respect to patches for example, we recently contracted for network onsite administrators at each of the ISICs. We were able to go down and help the boat’s LAN division, help the communicator. They’ve got all the latest and greatest tools and patches properly installed. They’re scanning the networks correctly.
We did recognize that there was a bit of a knowledge gap. So referring back to what our panel of JOs were talking about before, we’ve got great sailors, really talented, really want to do things and not in every case have we appropriately identified the necessary training and skills. So we recently made an investment in IT. We recently made a similar investment in officer training at SOBC and SOAC and the command course. And we’re also looking at some organizational and billet things.
It has been many, many years since we had electronics technicians or their predecessors who were devoted to electronic warfare. We’re piloting a program trying to re-establish that as a discipline. Similarly on the LAN side, one of the things that we’ve noted is that there has been a bit of a disconnect between the workload required of a member of LAN division to do all the scans and all the patches and everything that’s required, and the number of hours in a day. So we’ve gone about trying to increase some capacity and are actually looking at potentially some combination or pooling of assets between the communications ETs and the information technology folks. On the other side of the chart, the other end of the electromagnetic spectrum, commercial radars, if there are any fishermen out there you know that you can get a digital solid state radar these days that is cheaper than the old analog types. What’s interesting is the comparison of the two scan displays. That 30,000 watt analog radar is actually less effective, less precise these days than what you would get for a few hundred or thousand dollars with a 250 watt digital radar. That really upends the whole paradigm of what it means to have electronic early warning. Signal strength now is kind of irrelevant against one of these things. So our countermeasures, our sensing capabilities, all, I think, are another opportunity for greater partnership.
Let me spend just a little bit of time talking about some of what we’re doing in the realm of our operations in responding to and leading in this environment. On the strategic deterrence side, I think Admiral Haney appropriately characterized the many challenges, and as well opportunities. One of the things he didn’t say very much about is that STRATCOM just recently got the Secretary of Defense to approve a new Strategic Operation Plan, a family of plans, that really is much more nuanced, much more calibrated. It integrates kind of a whole range of effects that STRATCOM is responsible for, from nuclear to cyber to space. It’s specifically designed to be able to try and provide off ramps, so it’s not just a continuing road of ever-escalating escalations. He mentioned that we recently had a SSBN pull into Faslane. That’s the first time in over 10 years we’ve had a strategically loaded SSBN pull into a foreign port. A little bit of strategic messaging ourselves, and a great assurance of a valued ally as well.
I’ve also emphasized—we talked a little bit earlier today about the importance of trying to get in and out of our maintenance availabilities on-time in order to improve the operational availability, the AO. That is probably my number one priority on the force readiness side. I think I speak for Admiral Tofalo there as well. We’ve certainly invested a lot of energy into that. Recently the CNO revised the funding priorities given to NAVSEA and to shipyards, making the timely completion of SSBN overhauls the number one priority. And so we expect to see the next series of overhauls being executed as scheduled. We recently bought some more billets and increased the manning at the Trident training facilities, because of course as we do successfully modernize equipment onboard the boomers, we’ll increase the demand for the training facilities to certify those crews.
On the SSN and SSGN side, again, you’re very familiar with all the roles and missions. The thing I want to point out, though, is particularly in my part of the world where some would say it’s a tough neighborhood, as tensions rise, as those potential friction points become more frictional, the people who are not China are getting increasingly nervous, and that makes us very popular. So there’s an ever-increasing level of demand or requests for port visits, for presence, for exercises, for engagement, and that’s a great opportunity for us in a very, very important part of the world. On the warfighting side, as I mentioned this morning, hopefully we will always demonstrate such capability, such capacity of our own, that it will deter both conventional and strategic conflict. But we need to be ready to fight should that be required. A lot of things that we’re trying to do at the unit level, as well as at the headquarters level, are trying to make sure that we’re ready for that.
So if you thought that it might be important in some future conflict for an attack submarine to be able to navigate without access to GPS, well we demonstrate that on a pretty routine basis. If you thought that in some future time or heightened tension it might be important to be able to rapidly deploy on short notice multiple attack submarines simultaneously and keep the water space de-conflicted, we’ve practiced these kinds of things. So we’re always trying to keep an eye on that ball and again, it’s certainly important for our proficiency. It’s important for strategic messaging as well.
Another key partner in the undersea domain, of course, is our integrated undersea surveillance systems, both fixed and mobile. This is probably—I know that Admiral Merz, who is my CTF-74 commander out of 7th Fleet, the theater USW commander out there, would not necessarily trade a Virginia-class for a SURTAS platform. But there certainly are situations when it would be more important for him to have a SURTAS platform than to have even another Virginia-class. Capabilities are very important, very impressive, and this is an area where again, over time, we’re dealing with an aging infrastructure. We’ve made some decisions that I’m sure were the right decisions historically, that it’s probably warranted to revisit now both in terms of the investment in the platforms and the investment in the people. There was a time when a special rating, ocean technicians, which we merged into sonar men about 20 years ago. It’s worth looking at whether what we have seen as a consequence, is what we want and what we think we need? And so, as I said, we’re taking a look at it.
All this is against kind of a backdrop of what else has changed in the last 20, 30 years. The ocean environment itself is a lot louder. There’s a lot more shipping out there, a lot more traffic, so it’s a challenging acoustic environment. , The things we might be interested in trying to listen to, to monitor, are becoming quieter and quieter. Certainly on the SURTAS side, although we have very capable sensors that are being maintained very state of the art, the platforms themselves we’re going to have to start planning for replacements.
Just a couple of recent things that we’ve had the opportunity to demonstrate on the unmanned, underwater vehicle side. Those are a couple of REMUS vehicles, autonomous underwater vehicles, that recently were the first to be deployed from a Virginia-class DDS shelter, very successfully. We can operate above the air-water interface as well. A small UAV launched from a 3-inch launcher can give the CO a much better high look than what the Dive usually offers him.
Let me just finish kind of with the topic where it all begins for me, which is on the people side. The theme of the whole conference, of course, is about accelerating innovation. I applaud all the previous speakers for how they’ve tried to capture and characterize the capacity and the capability challenges, and how we’re innovating.
Let’s not forget that people remain our most important asset and we are innovating in the world of people, as well. I think a lot of what the Force Master Chief had to report to you reflects a very innovative paradigm in terms of how we look at, how we assess, how we measure and evaluate our people performance, our people-centeredness. The same is going on at even a more strategic level. We’re trying to make sure that we are thinking about what is changing in the people environment. The Master Chief talked about the millennial generation. I love them. They’re great Sailors. But young Sailors today, it certainly seems to me as an old guy, think a little bit differently. We as leaders need to understand that so we can enable their success.
Another difference with the people environment is that these days, if you look at kind of our standard accession cohort of 18 year-old young men and women, there is only about a quarter, 25 percent or so, of 18 year-old men and women across America today who are eligible for military service. What would make you ineligible for military service? Well, I don’t know, a criminal record, can’t get a security clearance, physically, some medically disqualifying condition, can’t pass a physical fitness test. Maybe it has to do with ASVAB scores. We do have quality thresholds there as well, so any number of things.
But the fact is that the population is small and then from among that population we are competing. So again, the Master Chief expressed his concern about our ability to recruit and attract and retain. Well that’s kind of my concern here as well. From among that population we need to be an employer of choice for that fraction of the population. Not every 18 year-old young man or woman grows up thinking I want to be a Sailor. We have to do a better job of communicating the great opportunities that exist not just serving the country—yes, that is vitally important—but also the ways in which serving the country through service in the Navy is going to help that young man or woman achieve the things in life that matter to them, and enable his or her personal goals. So these are all initiatives that hopefully you’ve heard something about. I just came most recently from working for CNP on that first one. Actually, I worked on all of those in my last job as head of personnel policy. But the CNO’s initiative, Sailor 2025, is a range of things from modernizing our personnel systems, the hardware and the software, down to looking at our culture and how we can be an employer of choice, to what the Master Chief referred to on the learning side. Are we delivering knowledge in ways that are efficient and effective and that are going to enable our folks to be successful at every point in their careers? The SECNAVs Task Force Innovation has adopted a lot of those same initiatives and tried to expand them across the naval team of Navy and Marine Corps and our civilian workforce. And SECDEF liked what he saw and his Force of the Future is currently evaluating a lot of those for application across the entirety of the Department of Defense. So why are we looking at people differently, why accelerating innovation?
The climate has changed. The environment has changed. And as a result, I would say the two big things we’re trying to achieve here have to do with allowing for greater career flexibility; the kinds of things that allow somebody who gets to a point in their career where normally there might be an obstacle that might cause them to leave, to recognize that maybe there’s enough flexibility here. I can accomplish what matters to me personally and continue my naval service.
It’s about being able to better recognize and then appropriately reward the talent, the quality within our quantity. Every year I need about 105 submarine lieutenants to want to go back and serve as submarine department heads. I really want to be in a position where I’ve got all 200 of them who say, I want to go and be a department head, and I’m picking the very best 105, as opposed to hoping that the ones who do sign up are going to be the very best. I say that, not that it’s a problem to be fixed. It turns out we are largely attracting all of the most talented folks, which is great.
But it’s happening because of the inspiring leadership on the deck plates, not necessarily because we have systems and processes and programs in place that allow us to do that. It’s a whole range of things, from changing law, or at least considering changing law, like DOPMA and Goldwater-Nichols, to changing policy, things such as the SECNAV’s recently announced expansion of maternity leave benefits, the Career Intermission Program, which is effectively a sabbatical that allows a sailor to take up to three years off from active duty but maintain their promote-ability; or simply practice the resilience factors that the Force Master Chief mentioned. We heard some of the JOs talk about how tired they were. We’ve paid a lot of attention to sleep management in watch bill and watch rotation over the last couple of years. So a lot of great things intended to try and enable the success of our workforce.
That’s about as quickly as I could get through it. I appreciate your time and attention. Thank you very much.