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Surface Navy Association, SURFACE WARFARE: The Competitive Edge

by Vice Admiral Roy Kitchener
11 January 2022 CNSP-logo-for-Word-docSNA National 2022 Remarks
Host: Surface Navy Association
Location: Hyatt Regency Crystal City (VA)
Time: 1300 (EST), Tuesday, Jan 11, 2022
Estimated Audience: Surface Warfare Community (AD, Reserves), Industry, Former SW Community
Media:  Yes
Length of Remarks: [70min block] ~35 min remarks w/ Q&A
Uniform: SDB

Good afternoon Surface Warriors past and present, SNA Members, Industry, and Surface Force teammates – it’s great to be here!  The energy in this room and throughout the venue is impressive.  First, a huge thank you to the SNA Team, VADM Rick Hunt (Ret.), RADM Dave Hart (Ret.), Bill Erickson, Julie Howard, and everyone on the SNA team who pulled this together.  It’s great to see that, like our Navy and Surface Force, SNA and industry have adapted to operating despite COVID. 

I relish every moment I get to talk about the state of the Force; how we’re doing and where we need to focus… and with such a diverse group listening, I’m really looking forward to your questions.

In the time we have today, you’ll get a view of how the Force looks entering the New Year, some progress updates and areas still requiring attention, and then we’ll shift to the horizon and beyond – as there are a lot of exciting and important things on which we need to move out smartly.  You should all have a copy of our new Surface Force guiding document, the Competitive Edge, which details the strategic imperative to align the Force for the challenges we face now and in the future.

More on that later…

Last January you heard our top priorities for managing how we would Man, Train, and Equip the Force in 2021, and each objective was centered on producing more ready ships to our Fleet Commanders.  To achieve those aims, we are applying data analytics and leveraging insights to produce more ships ready for tasking

We are now using existing big data and aggregating cross-domain information to better understand our readiness issues and risk areas.  We’ve done a good job of using these tools to precisely focus resources on ships that need help, and as a result, our decisions are becoming better informed and more timely.  We’re using data streams that already exist in the Force – no additional reporting requirements, just a smarter and more efficient way to do business.

This analytic approach allowed us to update our methodology for measuring ship readiness, and we automated the tracking process to improve our prioritization and allocation of resources across the Force.  Most importantly, by aggregating already available readiness data and re-assessing operational commitments, we now have a really good idea of how many ready ships we need at any given time.  There’s more work to do but... we now have a number in mind, guiding everything we do to produce more ready ships – THAT NUMBER IS OUR NORTH STAR! 

Last year I introduced Surface Manning Experience (or SURFMEX), which is a new fleet readiness metric based on Sailor experience and demonstrated capabilities.  We know the level of technical experience aboard a ship significantly influences operational availability.  With that knowledge, we are evaluating ship classes, system baselines, and Sailor experience levels to create two distinct personnel thresholds – one for deployment, and one for transitioning from Maintenance to Basic Phase, which we call “Red Line Plus.” We will use Sailor experience aboard a ship, measured against the appropriate threshold, to assess a unit’s posture better than traditional Fit and Fill manning metrics.  We’ve piloted six ratings to start and the information compiled is helping us to better match skills for short-fused manning actions – a CRITICAL step in filling and avoiding gaps at sea. 

Within the Wardroom, SWO retention continues an upward trend – a 5% increase over the past five years – exceeding or remaining on par with both the Aviation and Submarine communities.  While a positive indication, there’s still much room to improve – and we will, by looking at the entire career spectrum through an analytical lens to determine what our officer retention goals should be.  We need to think differently about how we manage retention. Past retention policies may not help us retain the best talent in the future.  

We’re reviewing how other Services and high performing organizations manage their talent pool and intend to look at important factors such as childcare and family planning. We’re also devoting resources to retention in a number of ways and throughout the SWO career path, with increased compensation, diverse education opportunities, tours with industry, and additional flexibility in the career path.  We have some work to do and we’re committed to the task.

Another topic we’ve discussed over the past year is the Navy’s $5-and-a-half-billion-dollar investment in Surface Training and Virtual Environment programs, or STAVE.  Most notably, the Mayport and Sasebo Shiphandling Trainers opened for business; and the Mariner Skills Training Centers in San Diego and Norfolk began hosting a two-phase Officer of the Deck course.

The shift from a JOOD course to a two-phase OOD curriculum freed up the Advanced Division Officer Course to expand its focus on Maritime Warfare.  ADOC is now providing junior officers with three weeks of Maritime Warfare training instead of one, allowing us to lay the warfighting foundation earlier in an officer’s career.

On the warfighting front, we are installing virtual operator trainers, or VOTs, in all homeports to provide Sailors with training for the AV-15 SONAR system and Aegis Baselines 9 and above.  In Yokosuka, Pearl Harbor and San Diego, the SONAR trainers are up and running, and the Aegis VOTs in Yokosuka and Pascagoula are soon to follow.  Never before has our Force possessed this level of warfighting training systems in our homeports, and they are available to Commanding Officers to build their teams’ skills.

We’re also applying an analytic approach to maintenance, which remains the single most important factor in achieving our North Star of more ready ships.  

Our maintenance and modernization efforts are capitalizing on our use of data analytics. We are using Root Cause Analysis in both planning and execution to identify areas with the largest return on investment for performance improvement.  We’ve seen improvements in two key metrics we use to gauge our progress: Days of Maintenance Delay and On-Time Completion rates. 

Since 2019, we’ve reduced our days of maintenance delay by 41%.  And our On-Time Completion is steadily INCREASING, from 34% in fiscal year ‘19, to a projected 59% for all 2021 avails – including those ongoing that began in fiscal year ’21.  We’re by no means done with this work, or satisfied with our results, but we’re seeing progress and continuing to find ways to improve

As we move forward, we’re focusing on reducing administrative barriers to integrating class-wide upgrades, validating DDG modernization risks and mitigations, fortifying fire safety (protocols), and establishing forward expeditionary maintenance hubs for LCS and DDG 1000.
We also haven’t let up on sparing.  This year we were able to realign $25-and-a-half million from other funding accounts to procure more than 55,000 parts for the Force. 

Getting parts and tools in the hands of Sailors remains a key factor in allowing us to remain forward and deny competitors battle space. 

In April we stood up Task Force LCS, led by Rear Adm. Rob Nowakowski, to consolidate efforts and drive actions across the LCS program.  The task force is focused on a number of things, but we’ve seen the most gains in LCS reliability and sustainability.

These ships are operating more reliably – we executed nine rotational deployments in fiscal year ’21, four are deployed right now, and we are expanding LCS presence to Fifth and Sixth Fleets.  Those are vital contributions to the North Star effort.

As the Navy pushes further into unmanned technology, the Surface Force’s contribution to the unmanned effort is both impactful and dynamic. Not only are we working to ensure Unmanned Surface Vessels can abide by the maritime rules of the road, we are routinely employing USVs equipped with effective payloads in tactically relevant ways.  

Last year, USVs SEA HUNTER and SEA HAWK participated in five large Fleet exercises, integrating with operational task groups and executing tactically relevant missions in anti-submarine warfare and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR). 

Surface forces were also at the heart of the first Unmanned Systems Integrated Battle Problem, where the capstone event leveraged an integrated network of manned and unmanned assets to establish a track for USS JOHN FINN to launch an SM-6 missile, striking a target at range. 

OUSVs RANGER and sister ship NOMAD were at sea last month prototyping USV kill chains as part of exercise Steel Knight.  And our teammates at Task Force 59 in Bahrain are experimenting with many small and agile unmanned systems designed to achieve persistent maritime domain awareness in relevant geographic areas.

This summer we will stand-up USV DIVISION ONE, an Afloat Commander command reporting to SURFDEVRON that will operate out of Port Hueneme, California. DIVISION ONE will be focused exclusively on USV experimentation and fleet advocacy with our program offices.

The future of our Surface Force is a formidable manned and unmanned team, where unmanned elements enhance the decision speed and lethality of our commanders and surface forces.  Our deliberate approach is paying off.

Everything we do as an enterprise focuses on producing ships ready to fight and stay in the fight. Clearly, there is more work to do but I submit we are succeeding.

Just look at how our competitors reacted to the presence of our ships in the past year… 

Vladimir Putin specifically called out U.S. warships operating legally in the Black Sea, saying they could be seen in Russia’s crosshairs.

The PRC repeatedly made false claims that they chased our ships out of the South China Sea. 

The mere fact that our competitors routinely comment on our continued, stable operations proves that being there matters.

We’re only able to get there – and stay there – because of our Sailors. 

The engineers who cleaned and repaired lube oil coolers at sea when contaminants threatened the entire propulsion system.  The Quartermasters who identified drift patterns to avoid clogging the ship’s systems with volcanic ash floating in the water.  The Boatswain’s Mates who disassembled the seized fuel probe and receiver so the ship could safely break away from a replenishment at sea and continue operations.  And the Fire Controlman who spent 78 hours troubleshooting and fixing two weapons systems underway in the Mediterranean so that his ship could enter the Black Sea on time.

These are actual, recent examples of our Sailors’ ingenuity and determination.  They are unrelenting and inspiring…

they prove it every day through cumbersome pandemic restrictions, deployments (85 in the last year alone), operations with our partners and allies at sea, and consistently denying our competitors battlespace. Each and every story of a Sailor going above and beyond is a testament to the toughness – and boldness – of our Force.  Even with our recent strides in data analytics that improve many facets of our readiness, we will always need bold Sailors to interpret that data and, in turn, keep us ready.

To make sure we stay ready and ahead of our competitors, I want to talk to you about the future of the Surface Force.

There are looming challenges that demand our attention, and we must address them directly, with purpose and urgency. 

Specifically, the Surface Force and the Surface Warfare Enterprise must better align in order to get in front of the challenges we face—challenges stemming from serious strategic competition and the complexity of the force we are becoming.

As I said earlier, we’ve given you a copy of “Surface Warfare: The Competitive Edge.”

I urge you to take the time to read it.

We must all understand that while some of the press reports out there about the technological wizardry of China and Russia are overdone, the progress they are making is substantial and the threat they pose is real.  Russia is getting better without getting bigger, and China is getting bigger and better.  Much better.  We must align and accelerate our efforts to maintain our warfighting advantage.

When I examine the future of this organization… when I look at the bright Junior Sailors, Chiefs, and Officers who will soon lead the waterfront, I see they’ll face challenges unlike anything we’ve seen in decades.

Challenges we will overcome.

The good news is we aren’t sitting idle. We are using our energy, our activity, and our industry—to prepare for a complex and challenging future.

You see, over the next ten years, at least ten new or newly-modified platforms will be acquired and/or fielded into the Surface Force, along with a number of commercial sensors and capabilities.

The platforms are:

The Flight III DDG… modified Flight IIA DDG’s… The Constellation Class Frigate… The Light Amphibious Warship (LAW)… LPD 17 Flight II… upgraded LCS… DDG 1000 with Conventional Prompt Strike… Large USV’s… Medium USV’s… and DDG (X).

The capabilities are: 

The SPY-6 family of radars… SEWIP Block III … AEGIS Baseline 10… F-35 integration… TLAM Block V…. additional SM-6 variants… Conventional Prompt Strike… and the beginnings of an Integrated Combat System. 

The point is…there isn’t a person in this room who served in a Navy with that much complexity joining the force in so short a time, and we must focus our efforts to do it right, because:

The threat is real.

The challenge is considerable.

And what brought us here isn’t going to take us forward.

That’s why we put this document together. [Competitive Edge]

Its contents are simply the starting point; they are the first steps toward recognizing the magnitude of the challenge, splitting it into component parts, assigning ownership and responsibility, and demanding results.

Many of you in this room were part of ship’s company, either in the wardroom, the Chiefs’ Mess, or the crew.  You understand implicitly what we are doing here.  Your Department Head didn’t stand at Khaki Call in the morning and read out actions without specifying expectations and due dates.  Your Chief didn’t stand before the division and hand out jobs without assigning Sailors to them.

To that end, we’ve identified five “Lines of Effort,” they are:
  1.  Develop the Leader, Warrior, Mariner, and Manager
  2.  Produce More Ready Ships
  3.  Achieve Excellence in Fleet Introduction
  4.  Create Clear and Innovative Operational Concepts,     and;
  5. Establish Infrastructure for the Future Force.
Each line of effort has an “owner,” a responsible Flag Officer in charge of working with supporting organizations to answer specific tasking designed to lead the target.

I have a theory, and it goes something like this.  If we were to study some of the more notable examples of poor or inefficient fleet introduction of new platforms or capabilities, we’d find a series of common factors, the vast majority of which were known or knowable before they impacted success.

The theory goes on to contend that over time, organizations and processes that once mitigated these factors were diminished, consolidated, or have disappeared altogether, mostly in the name of efficiency, but often at the cost of effectiveness.

It’s time to rethink this, and that’s why we’re tackling the next decade with our eyes wide open.

What the Surface Warfare leadership team is doing with this alignment document is looking ahead and laying down the predicate for future success, as the warfighting environment changes around us rapidly

Let’s go through the Lines of Effort, but first – as we developed this paper and the responsibilities it lays out, I couldn’t have been prouder of the folks we are tasking.  They took immediate ownership, and in virtually all cases, they made their own tasking more complete, more impactful, and more relevant than we initially considered.

Our first Line of Effort is to Develop the Leader, Warrior, Mariner, and Manager, and I own this one.  This recognizes the obvious centrality of human beings in accomplishing our mission, and it aligns nicely with the Surface Warfare Navy Leadership Development Framework or NLDF.  We are dedicated to improving the character, connections, and competence of our force.

Preparing for the future fight requires we continue to develop and support our greatest asset in the fleet: our people.  We need leaders to continue strengthening their own physical and psychological readiness, as well as engage with Sailors and coach them to do the same.

Our next Line of Effort is to Produce More Ready Ships, and I also own this massive effort.  We need to think differently about the Force we have, and determine if the way we plan and execute its readiness results in less availability. 

We need to think about what being “ready” means, and consider approaches that identify sufficient readiness guidelines outside of a one-size-fits-all pattern for ships, irrespective of their tasking.  

We need to increase our application of data analytics in our entire readiness approach, and we’re off to a running start. 

We need to continue to build on the progress we’ve made in identifying recurring spare part issues, to include stockpiling some parts and replacing others with more reliable options.  And maybe it’s time we follow the Submarine and Nuclear Power communities, and start treating our repair enterprise like a nationally protected asset.

RADM Brendan McLane at SURFLANT owns Achieving Excellence in Fleet Introduction.  Participants in this CRITICAL LOE are going to be at ground zero, identifying challenges to ship acceptance and Force delivery, and they are charged with creating processes designed to hold program managers responsible for known milestones.

Introducing a new platform or capability to the Force is not easy.  There are operational, logistical, training, administrative, and other support functions that have to be considered… take USV DIVISION ONE for example, a command that will actively shape decision-making in the process before acquisition of USVs.  One of the key tasks in this LOE will be to reimagine the scope and fidelity of similar Fleet Introduction Teams to provide the focus and attention these tasks require. 

Next, Rear Admiral Chris Alexander at the Surface and Mine Warfare Development Center (or SMWDC) owns an incredibly important LOE: Creating Clear and Innovative Operational Concepts. 

Contrary to lore or established practice, it is not the job of the acquisition program manager to create concepts of operation for their program.  Their job is to respond to operational requirements created with and by the Force, which clearly identify the need for the capability being developed.

Our growing community of Warfare Tactics Instructors (or WTIs) will interpret and shape the warfighting requirements that dictate capability development.  

And as the WTI powerhouse, SMWDC is becoming the Surface Warfare version of Naval Aviation’s Fallon – at all security levels

SMWDC will provide advocacy and stewardship to the waterfront while taking input from commands offering vital contributions to the development of operational concepts – like Task Force 59, SURFDEVRON ONE, and ships or squadrons.  We’re only beginning to reap the operational rewards of our investments in WTIs, and now we need their expertise and unique perspective to feed into the acquisition and systems commands at every stage of system procurement.

Finally, our two main Surface Force resource sponsors— RDML Paul Schlise (N96) and Brigadier General Dave Odom (N95), who will speak here later today—  own the Establish Infrastructure for the Future Force LOE.  Let’s face it — the means to control our sensors, weapons, and systems are INFRASTRUCTURE… and perhaps the most important element of that infrastructure is the Integrated Combat System – which will be the warfighting backbone for the entire Force, including aircraft carriers and amphibious platforms. 

RDML Schlise will talk about ICS in detail during his presentation, and he’ll be working closely with RDML Seiko Okano, PEO IWS, who is responsible for bringing forward a capability roadmap laying out what is within ‘the art of the possible’ over the next ten years, given a consistent and predictable level of resourcing.

We have to get this right.

By December of this year, we’ll have a ten-year plan for capital investment in land-based engineering sites, training systems, and other general purpose facilities.  We need to use ashore test facilities to reduce risk, and we need to pursue the necessary resources to do so.

To maintain the competitive edge, we also need to invest heavily in our digital infrastructure.  CAPT Pete Kim leads our enterprise Analytics and Artificial Intelligence initiatives, and his team will publish an enterprise Data Strategy and Artificial Intelligence roadmap extending out ten years.  It will specifically address how we manage data, retain digital talent, and deliver the tools to enable AI and machine learning in the areas of lethality, maintenance, and administration. 

We’re committed to delivering automation to improve our warfighting capabilities and reduce the admin burden on our crews – you can hear more of the specifics at the AI panel discussion. 

To put this in perspective, our ships are the most complex platforms in the Department of Defense and every day, a single warship produces more than 115 terabytes of data – that’s more than 290,000 CD-ROMs!  The multi-mission nature of our platforms also means that we have the broadest spectrum of

AI and machine learning opportunities in the Navy; and we look forward to continuing to partner with industry and academia to help us scale AI quickly in these areas.

Make no mistake, this is not a plan designed to admire a problem.  The ultimate and enduring aim is to prepare our Force for combat at sea with a real and well-known threat.  This plan is the lens that will focus enterprise efforts on our preparedness over the next decade.

We will use a data-centric approach to illuminate actionable improvements within the Surface Force, and where we must advocate for higher level intervention.  When we must request resources or organizational changes, we will fervently communicate our position as a unified voiceBut if we can affect necessary change without higher approval or resources, we’ll do so in a deliberate manner.

This effort’s horizon extends into the next ten years, and even if we succeed in getting in front of everything we foresee today, we will still encounter problems along the way. We must be honest with ourselves, stay motivated, and stay the course because it will be difficult to accomplish our goals.

That’s Surface Warfare culture.  We meet our challenges head on, and WIN…  or learn and live to fight another day.

This is an all-hands effort.  The Force, OPNAV, the Navy Yard, NAVWAR, the test community, industry, Navy civilians—everyone.

Five lines of effort to focus our enterprise…

Know where you fit.

We need your:
Unbridled critical thinking,
Personal commitment,
And our institutional accountability to succeed

That’s how we keep our force ready to fight and win.

Thank you.
To learn more about the Surface Warfare: The Competitive Edge, visit
Commander, Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, 2841 Rendova Rd. San Diego, CA 92155-5490
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This is an official
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