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SNA First Waterfront Symposium

by “Battle-Ready Ships for Today’s Fight”
01 September 2020 It’s a real pleasure to speak with you today to discuss warfighting and the future of our Surface Force.  Thanks to Admiral Rick Hunt, Captain Bill Erickson, and the rest of the Surface Navy Association team for organizing this event online. I’d also like to take this opportunity to officially welcome Captain Kurt Sellerberg as the New San Diego Chapter President. Welcome Aboard Kurt! But first, let me take this moment to say that I am deeply honored and excited to be your Naval Surface Forces Commander.I think it’s obvious that I would have liked to have spoken with you in person, but we are all doing what we can to protect the readiness and health of the force. I’m planning to make it out to the ships on the waterfront at least once a week so we can talk.

Earlier this month I visited, HIGGINS, BOXER, and RUSHMORE, ships with crews passionate about warfighting and maintaining readiness.

I’d like to talk with you for a bit about my thoughts on today’s Surface Force, then I’d love to hear your thoughts and answer questions you probably have for me. 

So let’s get down to business.

The past couple weeks have been busy. 

On August third, Vice Admiral Rich Brown passed the conn to me.  His leadership, vision, and tenacity as the head of the surface community these past thirty months leaves us with the strongest professional foundation our community has ever seen – I’m going to keep building on that foundation.

We also decommissioned three mainstays of the minesweeping fleet, SCOUT, CHAMPION, and ARDENT. The remaining minesweepers in Sasebo and Bahrain as well as the Littoral Combat Ships with the mine-countermeasures package will continue the minesweeping legacy in the Surface Force.  I’m excited about the future of mine warfare.  But, I think we can do better.

This year we welcomed USS HERSHEL WILLIAMS, an expeditionary sea base ship with a massive flight deck and the ability to launch LCACs. This ship provides the Navy and Marine Corps team with the capability to base anywhere in the world.

We also welcomed TRIPOLI, KANSAS CITY, BILLINGS, and ST. LOUIS as the newest ships in our expanding fleet, enhancing our capability to project power overseas.

Despite all of that, we’re still dealing with an invisible enemy that threatens our combat readiness. 

COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future. I need all of you to remain vigilant and consider that our personal actions affect our warfighting readiness. We’ve got to fight through this. Despite the pandemic, we’re constantly learning as an organization and finding better ways to train, maintain, and man ships.  When faced with adversity, we have always relied on the talent of our Sailors to work our way through. 

For example, we’ve developed a pilot to base ATG personnel on ships for bundled Basic Phase training at sea. SAN JACINTO, ARLEIGH BURKE, and MAHAN on the east coast were the first to go through this pilot. 

Because it worked so well, we are now doing it on the west coast with OKANE, LAKE CHAMPLAIN, and STOCKDALE. Doing this makes us self-sufficient and it shows just how resilient we are when faced with challenges. I know that you will continue to prove me right.

But let’s get to why we’re really here today.

The theme of this symposium is “Battle-Ready Ships for Today’s Fight.”  Here’s what I mean by that: You need to make it top priority to fix your equipment and train for battle, because the battle will not wait for you to be ready. Uncertainty during this time of great power competition means that we’ll need to be ready. Despite challenges we’ve been tackling on a day to day basis, we must keep our eye on the ball. We in the Surface Forces are in the business of being prepared to fight and win at sea.  Full stop!

Our charge is to build and deploy combat ready, battle-minded crews capable of carrying out their missions at home and abroad.  Easier said than done.

This extremely complex and demanding task keeps us busy, and it is a deep, demanding busy.  It’s a busy that requires us to fight in the realm of an invisible enemy while preparing to fight an adversary that competes as hard as we do. It’s a busy that demands an unrelenting focus on warfighting, operational readiness, and toughness – the fundamentals of our profession that we must refresh daily.  It is a busy that demands vision, collaboration, and an uncompromising commitment to standards that were borne of our service’s storied combat legacy.

Look no further than the quintessential Surface Warfare Officer, Vice Admiral John Bulkeley.  His actions, which earned him a Medal of Honor, feature the attributes that underpin our community values.  For four months and eight days, then Lieutenant Commander Bulkeley savaged enemy forces without repairs, overhaul, or maintenance facilities for his ships.  He was a forceful and daring leader, willing to take calculated risks, executing offensive actions that demonstrated a resourcefulness and ingenuity which, I believe, makes him an outstanding leader and the epitome of a Surface Warrior.

Those traits are in our Surface Warfare DNA.  I expect all of us to continue to strive toward those warrior traits reflected by John Bulkeley and toward a culture of excellence.

We’re on PIM, and with your commitment we will continue to mature the culture of excellence on which our warfighting readiness depends.  To do this we need to strive for continuous improvement in core competencies such as seamanship, navigation, and maritime warfare — all of which are the critical foundations of complex fleet operations. Our standards are known, proven, and uncompromising – it is imperative that you remain focused on meeting the standards that define us as Surface Warriors.

We in the Surface Force consistently rise to meet challenges head-on. Our historical successes and daily accomplishments reflect this time-tested fact. I was inspired by the resilience and toughness displayed by our

Sailors and civilians during firefighting and damage control efforts aboard BONHOMME RICHARD, an effort that showed proof of the essential ingredients for continued excellence. This track record is not a function of luck. Instead, these events reflect confidence, integrity, accountability, fearlessness, ownership, resiliency and professionalism, the very best character traits in our Sailors.

As Surface Warriors, our strongest attribute is our “can do” attitude – it’s what’s good about our community. That “can do” attitude is ingrained into our culture. For our Commanding Officers, I want you to use that and push you authorities to take advantage of mission command—to have the freedom to act in getting the mission done. But, an important part of that is understanding the risk. We need to assess the risks, properly communicate them to our leaders and crews, and then execute.

Undoubtedly, we will continue to face challenges as we execute our global missions in this new abnormal environment. Just last month, China’s Navy conducted amphibious landing drills in the South China Sea.

They continue to focus on intimidating their neighbors and dominating the maritime commons. Russia is still resurgent, challenging our ships on the sea and resuming submarine patrols not seen since the cold war. Iran and North Korea continue to stoke regional insecurity, and the threat of terrorism remains ever present.

Rising great powers necessarily focus our preparations; but complacency is our constant adversary. We’ll need to remain vigilant as we pursue a higher state of readiness though rigorous shipboard, individual, and team training. 

We will need to hone our seamanship and warfighting skills at every opportunity.  And, we must maintain our equipment in peak operating condition, documenting and reporting any degradation, and swiftly seeing repairs through to the end. 

We need to do these things because challenges rarely occur at a time and place of our choosing – they occur when we least expect it.

The challenges we face will only get harder, and so it is absolutely critical that we become self-sufficient.  Where we operate there are no supply chains nor can we fly a tech up to the Arctic. So, I want you to be demanding of Admiral Cooper at SURFLANT, myself, and our staffs – we need to help you own the fight. 

I demand that you keep your ships in top fighting condition, leaving no redundancy on the pier.  

I firmly believe that self-sufficiency starts in the chief’s mess. 

Chief Petty Officers are THE technical and institutional experts in the Navy.  Chiefs, you own self-sufficiency, and it is paramount that we improve this. 

Nothing teaches a Sailor how to fix their gear like picking up a tech manual and troubleshooting or repairing equipment alongside a seasoned deckplate Chief. 

As we improve self-sufficiency, we will continue to give you the tools necessary to stay one step ahead of our adversaries by bringing you transformational technologies. It is critical that we keep doing this because
warfare continuously evolves – it’s been evolving ever since nations have taken up arms against each other.

In the past, transformational technologies changed the nature of warfare.

SONAR was used by the U.S. and Royal Navies to fend off U-Boats that threatened convoys to our allies across the Atlantic.

RADAR was used by the British to detect the German Luftwaffe and direct their Spitfire and Hurricane fighters to intercept incoming bombers during the Battle of Britain. We used RADAR to outgun the Imperial Japanese Navy at sea.

Cruise missiles, developed in the 40s and improved in the decades after, were first used to great effect during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Egyptian missile boats launched Soviet made Styx missiles at the Israeli destroyer Eilat, fatally damaging the destroyer and putting it to the bottom of the Med. We quickly recognized that the cruise missile had transformed warfare.

The cruise missile brought us into the era of over the horizon warfare, requiring advanced sensors to detect the threat, advanced computers to process an engagement, and advanced missiles to kill the threat. 

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper brought us into the digital age, giving us the computers necessary to deal with the threat. And Rear Admiral Wayne E Meyer integrated the radar, computers, missiles, and guns, bringing us into the AEGIS era.

More recently, we’ve made strides that have made us more lethal in anti-submarine warfare. We were able to take a legacy hull mounted sonar, pair it with a submarine array, and add processing power to develop the SSQ-89 A(V)15 sonar suite that is capable of tracking, hunting, and killing enemy submarines like we’ve never seen before. These are the building blocks of the future force, a future that is becoming reality today.

Ships with the A(V)15 sonar suite are in high demand and continuing to deploy to hot spots around the globe. Littoral Combat Ships are on deployment, equipped with mission packages and the Naval Strike Missile. 

These capabilities give us a distinct advantage in a conflict by making the other guy have to pay close attention to more things that can hurt him. More advanced weapon systems and platforms aren’t far off – you should see them in the fleet and on mission soon.

Rear Admiral Paul Schlise at N96 and Major General Tracy King at N95 are busy integrating American Naval Power with the Marines. The firepower the Marines bring with the F-35B exponentially increases the combat potential of our Expeditionary Strike Groups. 

We’re also introducing new ships. The DDG Flight III has mind blowing Integrated Air and Missile Defense capability with SPY-6 and an updated AEGIS baseline. The contract for FFG(X) is approved.  We’ve selected the proven FREMM as the basis for the hull.  We are now on to execution.  We have selected this proven hull to ensure the ship is delivered on schedule. 

Additionally, we are developing the next Large Surface Combatant with a new hull design with service life allowance for future growth and improved efficiency.

We are also improving the way we train our people. Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training events are becoming more complex. We are improving the most realistic training simulators to train on; the Littoral Combat

Ship Training Facilities, On Demand Trainers, Combined Integrated Air and Missile Defense and Anti-Submarine Warfare Trainers, and Maritime Skills Training Centers—the days of the surface force being without sophisticated shore based trainers are over. 

We’re also taking a closer look at Maritime Warfare training. 

SMWDC (SMI-DIC) is heading up the Maritime Warfare Officer Tactical Training Working Group, focused on improving our maritime warfare training continuum to develop the most tactically proficient warfighters.

Additionally, we’re standing up AEGIS Virtual Operator Task Trainers which will replace the On Demand Trainers at CSCS facilities in fleet concentration areas. 

This new training platform will use actual AEGIS code to simulate full combat system tactical capability as if you were really underway on a ship and standing watch in CIC. What we’re doing is using the same logic that we’ve implemented in mariner skill development and applying it to warfare skills.

Senior SWOs serve in critical warfare commander positions.

For Example: Amphibious Warfare Commander, Air and Missile Defense Commander, Anti-Submarine and Anti-Surface Warfare Commander, and Screen Commander — we ought to think deeply about how we develop the folks that fill these roles. 

I mention Screen Commander specifically because as we employ ships, aircraft, and unmanned vehicles in a less concentrated and more distributed architecture, how we distribute forces to leverage integrated battle networks will be important to optimize combat power.

We are also on the verge of technologies that can transform warfare as we know it. Although they are emerging technologies today, tomorrow they will be mainstream. 

These technologies include unmanned surface vehicles, directed energy weapons, and hypersonic weapons. We have to learn and adapt as these transformative technologies arise. 

SURFDEVRON will help lead in that effort – but, you out on the waterfront will have a role in determining effective employment concepts for these new capabilities.

We need to understand our equipment, the theory behind the technology, and the tactics to stay one step ahead of our adversaries. We are getting after this. Our waterfront capabilities are state of the art. 

ATG is providing high quality basic phase training, CSCS is leveraging new technology to make the virtual combat experience seem real. 

SMWDC (SMIDIC) is conducting advanced training with live missiles. SURFDEVRON is testing new equipment to develop tactics.

Today we are out and operating in the global commons to maintain freedom of the seas.  We are using our training, tactics, and “can do” attitude to get the job done.  Just ask the crew of the JAMES E. WILLIAMS, a ship that showed what it means to be battle ready in today’s operational environment.
Before deployment, the crew worked hard to fix all their equipment, leaving no redundancy on the pier. 
They honed their skills and trained hard on their new SONAR capabilities. They worked hard throughout the training phase to prepare for the fight – and their preparation paid off.
The first few months of deployment tested their training and abilities. They were immediately involved in some hard tests, which included challenging exercises such as BALTIC OPERATIONS and multi-national Anti-submarine Warfare focused exercises. 
Despite challenges, each exercise brought them closer together, growing as a team as they sharpened their skills. 
Then came their first real-world task: To head to the “high north” to find and track adversary submarines.
JAMES E. WILLIAMS had already successfully tracked a few adversary submarines, one down the west coast of Europe, and another through the Mediterranean Sea. While these were less capable submarines, it prepared the ASW team and the crew for the next challenge. 
They quickly found themselves in a much more challenging operation. Working in conjunction with P8s and allied and partner Submarines, for three days, the JAMES E. WILLIAMS Anti-Submarine Warfare team located and maintained contact on a very capable adversary submarine, a first for a surface ship in the “high north.” But what made their mission so much more challenging was an unexpected hazard:  Icebergs.
Like we’ve all seen in the Titanic, icebergs are larger than they appear on the surface, revealing a small fraction of their true size. And what the crew thought were initially islands, turned out to be ice broken free of the coast of Greenland. 
The ship quickly found themselves among these icebergs, some of which were the size of houses and large vehicles, hard to see with a couple feet of ice visible above the water. Avoiding these dangerous hazards, known as Growlers, became a whole-crew effort.  Precise shiphandling and lookouts on the bridge to spot icebergs proved to be of the utmost importance.
Bouncing between CIC and the Bridge, there were times when the Captain wished he were two people.  But, he realized that he had to put his trust and confidence behind his highly trained crew. Despite this immense challenge, the crew rose to the occasion and performed brilliantly.
JAMES E. WILLIAMS successfully accomplished the mission despite the complicated and unpredictable environment they were in. Without a doubt, I know they were able to do this because of the ship’s focus during the basic and advanced training phases, the changes we have instituted in the Surface Warfare Training Continuum, and maintaining the highest standard of material readiness.
These missions — like many others — are not stopping. We are still deploying ships to the “high north” and those ships continue to rise to the challenge. Every day, they are validating their training. They are embodying the “can-do” attitude. They are weighing and understanding the risks.  They are self-sufficient. They are battle ready for today’s fight.
I leave you today with a reminder that we are part of the world’s most powerful Navy with a rich history of success in combat. We all strive to live up to the ideals of John Paul Jones, Stephen Decatur, Chester Nimitz, Arleigh Burke, and John Bulkeley – these are the giants whose shoulders we stand on. We take our place in that history seriously, and we recognize with humility that we must work hard to honor the sacrifices made before us.

Our pride is based on combat readiness, common achievements, a positive work environment, and accountability to our ship, our shipmates, and ourselves.
Lastly, I know that each and every one of you are doing a great job and living up to challenges we face. I want to express my sincere gratitude to you and your families for the sacrifices you make on a daily basis.  Your commitment is profound. I am deeply proud to be your Commander and humbled to serve along such an accomplished group of warriors.

I’ll see you on the waterfront!

And remember, Live and Breathe Excellence
Commander, Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, 2841 Rendova Rd. San Diego, CA 92155-5490
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Commander, Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, 2841 Rendova Rd. San Diego, CA 92155-5490

This is an official
U.S. Navy website

U.S. Pacific Fleet
2841 Rendova Rd
San Diego, CA

Public Affairs Officer

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