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SURFDEVRON Change of Command/USVDIVONE Inception

by Vice Admiral Roy Kitchener
12 May 2022 VADM Koehler, RDML Watkins, RDML Steindl, RDML Williams, Commanders and Commanding Officers, staff of SURFDEVRON, family, friends, and other honored guests… Good morning. It’s a pleasure to be here to mark this historic occasion with all of you. Let me first acknowledge CAPT Jeff Heames [OUTGOING], who is joined by his wife Stephanie, sons Truman and Griffin, and parents Richard (CDR (ret.)) and Marianne. In addition to Jeff’s family, joining CAPT Shea Thompson [INCOMING] is his wife Darcy, and parents Fred (CPO (ret.)) and Lynda. None of us who serve this nation and our Navy could do so without the encouragement, support, and sacrifices of our families. Thank you for all you do; these ceremonies are your ceremonies too. 

As an Ensign, if you had told me, that somewhere down the line, I would preside over of the establishment of the first unmanned ship squadron I wouldn’t have been able to fathom the idea of a dedicated squadron of unmanned vessels. You know, when I stepped aboard Dewey in 1985 the first portable CD players were just being released and Grace Hopper had just been made an Admiral. Although, we did get our first Zenith 248 desktop computers halfway through my tour. We were impressed by the introduction of this new system called AEGIS, the new methods we had to detect and engage our adversaries –it was a revolution in warfare. The culmination of decades of research and investment advancing the Surface Force, and ultimately helping to defeat the Soviet Union.

Look around you (gesture to USVs and DDG 1000s). Today, we are again on the brink of innovation. These ships, these platforms, are the results of naval ingenuity, with an eye towards tomorrow’s fight. DDG 1000 is a marvel of integration, where networks governing machinery control, combat systems, and auxiliary functions are all accessible from virtually anywhere onboard. It teams the immense benefits of integrated power and electric drive, technology so important that both the new SSBN and the new Large Surface Combatant—DDGX—will incorporate similar designs. It’s an incredible marriage of operational stealth and long-range energetic strike missiles - the bulwark of a powerful deterrence posture in the Western Pacific. And incredibly, this is only half of what we have achieved.

With the advent of the unmanned fleet we are combining artificial intelligence and machine-learning, enhancing our perception and inviting novel Concepts of Operations necessary for the battlefields of tomorrow . The spirit of innovation and experimentation these vessels represent is inconceivable. And the insights we are harnessing will provide warfighting advantages across the Surface Force, manned and unmanned. Surface Development Squadron One is the driving force for this progress and through Commodore Heames leadership we’ve significantly advanced our efforts: spearheading data-driven exploration of unmanned surface vessel autonomy, and command and control; driving DDG 1000 fleet integration, training, and infrastructure development; and incorporating USVs into fleet exercises to refine the specifics of manned and unmanned teaming. Working closely with our WTI’s we’ve taken the lessons gained from USV and DDG 100 participation and already begun to examine the tactical employment of these advanced capabilities laying the foundations for a new revolution of warfare. It’s an inspiring and monumental project and its culmination will fill our Sailors with the same sense of purpose and connectedness that we first had with the introduction of AEGIS.  

Jeff, you’ve led this bold project with a constant can-do spirit, insightfulness, and positivity. There is no question—integrating DDG 1000 and USVs to the fleet has been challenging and decisions made years ago, in places far from here, have had great impact on the magnitude of those challenges.  But Jeff, I never heard you once be anything but positive about the tasks ahead of you. Your relentless drive in leading your team through fleet introductions, helping guide USS Zumwalt through its first basic phase, advanced phase, and first-in-class Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training has been a model of determined leadership. You have a lot of different responsibilities in your squadron, but none of them were as public and as challenging as the integration of this incredibly important class of ships to the Pacific Fleet.   You’ve advocated at every level to deliver this class and unique capability to the fleet so we can put it in the hands of Sailors to realize the full potential. And from a Navy perspective you’ve strengthened the flow of information between the Surface Force and the Department of Defense tying together our ships, Surface and Mine Warfare Development Center, Taskforce 59, the Strategic Capabilities Office, and the Unmanned Maritime Systems Program Office. 

And now, as  we prepare to inaugurate Unmanned Surface Vessel Division One, the work you and your team completed is paying off. The networks you’ve constructed and teams you’ve built will ensure the swift delivery of USVs to the fleet and new technologies into the hands of our Sailors. Digital lookouts to supplement our Sailors’s awareness, advanced optical sensors to reduce uncertainty, and streamlined information to grant added decision-making time. Technologies that strengthen the human-machine team and bolster risk-management. Jeff, you’ve taken us up to this point and the Surface Force is readier than ever to embrace the reality of unmanned vessels and the tools they’ll provide – aiding the fleet as we navigate the ever-growing complexities of the maritime environment. 

You know, former CNO, ADM Richardson, once said, “Since his time entering the Naval Academy in the late 70’s global traffic across the world’s oceans had increased 400%.  That the unbelievable economic expansion and rise of global economies is convincing evidence of the larger, more complicated maritime environment.”  

We continuously adapt to this environment and the kinds of technologies that will enable unmanned operations –the integration of sensors and machinery controls, faithful application of Colregs, etc, will SOMEDAY also be integrated into our manned vessels helping our bridge watch teams safely navigate waters that were crowded in 1978, but which are as busy as an LA freeway today.  

Captain Thompson as you assume command and stand-up Unmanned Surface Vessel Division One keep this imperative squarely in your sights. You are the Commander. Inspire your team to innovate, communicate, and ruthlessly eliminate problems as they arise. Work diligently with them to enhance our warfighting advantage. You will face failure, trials, and obstacles. It’s the challenge of command, and you must persevere with a can-do spirit – tempered by deliberate, risk-informed execution. Never be discouraged. This enterprise will change the way we fight at sea and win, and harnessing its capability is complex. BUT the Commanders of the future will be grateful for the achievements you and your team will accomplish. Enable them to succeed. The future fight demands it. 

In closing, I’d like to leave you with a glimpse of the future. A vision of things to come. In the South China Sea, a destroyer steams along quietly, with no sensors or emissions, flanked by USVs prickling with instruments and additive launchers. The Combat Information Center is on alert, but the Sailors are confident, encouraged by their numerous forward sensors and detailed battlespace. A USV ahead detects a hostile surface ship, information that quickly flows back to the ship and its Captain. Forward-deployed USVs acquire a fire control solution. The Captain and crew plan the strike and a slew of missiles leave their cells from across the group. The missiles fly forward and by the time our adversary identifies the incoming threat it’s too late.   This ghost fleet is never detected and our destroyer and its USVs steam quietly out of the area.

This is the Surface Action Group of the tomorrow. The Chimera. Manned and unmanned ships tethered together. What once took numerous manned surface combatants takes one. Reducing our risk and increasing our lethality. 

This is the future of warfighting and the coming fruit of our labor. As we advance down the path of naval innovation this is our goal. To expand the bounds of warfare just as we’ve done before -from the ironclad (USS Monitor) to the carrier (USS Langley), to the AEGIS ship (USS Ticonderoga). We are turning science-fiction into reality through collective drive and intelligence. Our leadership and commanders harnessing their teams to tackle the unknown and solve the impossible. This effort we exert today will define the victory we achieve tomorrow!

This is Seapower Through Innovation.

Thank you.

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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