Today kicks off the first day of the Surface Navy Association Annual Symposium, an event that offers much opportunity to share our collective course and speed with each other and with the American public. If only millions of Americans could see first-hand what their Navy is doing around the globe, they would quickly realize the amazing work being done by the men and women who keep America safe and help protect our way of life.
America’s sea power is unique, in its substantial influence in times of peace and in times of war; it reflects the very best of our Nation. Every generation of Americans should be exposed to the inextricable links between sea power, prosperity, and national security. It’s something we should take great pride in – something that is truly foundational to our American way of life.
The Symposium offers many young midshipmen, junior officers and Sailors an opportunity to see what is on the horizon – to get excited about what our surface forces are doing. It’s also an opportunity for leadership to meet the future and help deliver a Navy that our Sailors and the American public deserve.
A Navy that is larger and more capable; one focused on innovating, iterating and modernizing the current force, while growing new platforms and capabilities for the future.
A Navy that moves faster; buys and delivers faster, orients and decides faster and shoots faster than our adversaries.
Finally, a Navy that places an aggressive, determined, and unrelenting focus on readiness and warfighting in the here and now.
Ready to fight today and tomorrow
The timing of this event provides us a chance to reflect and ask if we need to adjust course and speed to get a faster, larger and more capable Navy.
After two decades of land wars half a world away, we have tons of recent experience meeting urgent requirements, and little memory of the strategic long game. Like many families who live paycheck to paycheck, we’ve fallen behind on our bills. We are accustomed to prioritizing urgent requirements well ahead of preparing for future uncertainties.
In truth, this new age of rising competition, meeting near-term mission at the long-term expense of equipment and people will no longer be an option. It won’t prepare us for the high-end fight, and it won’t allow us to grow and maintain the Navy our Sailors and the American people deserve.
In light of this, and after years of behaviors shaped by continuing resolutions and sequestration, Congress and the President have laid billions into the budget over the past two years. Funding for ship and aviation depot maintenance, it went towards bringing in more talented young men and women to address manning shortfalls at sea, and higher-end training are at levels we haven’t seen in years.
To be frank, we did not initially respond well to this injection of cash. Our systems and processes were not optimized for speed in execution or for making wise investments in readiness and we remained hampered by a mindset of scarcity.
Nevertheless, after a year of lessons learned and unrelenting focus on process improvements, and greater sense of urgency on the heels of our first National Defense Strategy in more than a decade, we’re now seeing concrete progress where leaders are thinking differently, planning for the future, and owning readiness again. I’m encouraged by the dialogue with private industry, especially our shipyards. We – industry, fleet planners, NAVSEA, OPNAV – have to be on the same page if we are going to meet fleet needs. On time and on budget is a two-way street and a partnership is the ONLY way to work down the backlog, improve reliability and establish configuration control.
We all know that great power competition on the free and open seas that the US Navy defends every day IS BACK IN PLAY.
Over the past two years, we’ve relearned tough lessons on just how unforgiving the sea can be when we aren’t on our game.
Leaders up and down the chain, have re-establish what our standards should be as a force. We’re no longer accepting degraded equipment as “just the price for doing business.” We’ve eliminated waivers and extensions for warfare certifications and consolidated readiness accountability and responsibility under the TYCOMs. As a result, we’re deploying our ships only when our teams are ready for combat.
However, standards are only the minimum baseline of requirements, and requirements do not win wars. People do.
Average teams set rules while champions rise to the standards they set for themselves, practicing and competing every single day until excellence becomes second nature.
Restoring readiness, trust in chain of command
Warfighting readiness is solely about our Commanding Officers and their Sailors having confidence in this massive enterprise. We’re restoring trust up and, most importantly, down the chain of command.
Tangible evidence of progress includes: restoring focus on core proficiencies like “Drive the Ship” and team communications, creating continuous feedback loop Surface Warriors, and reducing unnecessary reporting and training requirements to give our COs time back to grow and develop their teams.
To be brutally honest, Surface Warfare is not alone in this endeavor. Every community has had to dig deep, to take a hard look internally, and renew a focus on mission.
Traveling around the Fleet, it’s clear that Sailors are thinking hard about our readiness to fight, to go to sea, and to be ready to answer the nation’s call. There is renewed energy about doing things the right way, re-establishing good habits.
Simply raising the bar and doing things better than we’ve done for some time – and ultimately better than ever.
Our confidence is steadily building – and that confidence is essential in an uncertain world.
The Surface Force has set us on a course for deep warfighting wholeness. Our Naval Aviation, Submarine force and the Shore and Information Domains, are tracking along similar water-ways.
Adapt to win
Let me wrap this up by talking about professionalism.
Part of the great value of symposiums like this, is where young and seasoned operators join up in frank and open dialogue.
Like many of our most important endeavors, the best place to start is to admit we don’t have all the answers. The further out you look, the more opaque the picture.
So if you don’t see progress or sense improvements, speak up…challenge us to get better faster… because if we are truly going to put the throttle to flank, this must be a “top-down” and “bottom-up” effort.
One of our biggest challenges is determining how we position ourselves in a world where everything is moving faster than the way our system was built to respond and anticipate.
How do we convert our analog Navy into a digital Navy as a force multiplier?
The answers lie in our collective intuition, experiences, and imagination, as well as in our ability to learn individually, as teams, and as an organization. Our collective agility is what sets us above the competition; it allows us to continue to adapt and thrive to the things we can’t readily see.
Our ability to own the fight of the future rests in the power of our amazing people. To achieve a more ready, fast and capable Navy, we have to challenge ourselves to think differently, to place our mission, our future, and our purpose as American Sailors above all else.
It’s believing in our Sailors’ ingenuity, intellect, and courage to innovate. To reflexively support, rather than chide, when they make mistakes. To embrace the pace of change to push our collective frontier out further and it’s about proving by our actions, in addition to our words, that our success depends on their imagination.
For our reliance upon their ability to create, to think critically, to imagine the future unknown is truly the only certainty of tomorrow.