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Chief of Naval Operations
Proceedings Editor-in-Chief Fred H. Rainbow and Associate Editor Fred L. Schultz recently visited the Pentagon office of Admiral Trost, "'here the 37-year member and outgoing President of the U.S. Naval Institute reflected on his tenure as CNO and shared his views °n the Navy’s future.
PROCEEDINGS: You’ ve stated often in lhe past that antisubmarine warfare was the Navy’s top warfighting priority. Does ASW keep this ranking in the 1990s, given the perceptions that the threats to the United States are in recession and that S|gnificant cuts in the Defense budget can and should be made?
ADMIRAL TROST: Yes, it does. A lot °f things are changing in the world, and °ne of those things clearly is the stated 'Mention on the part of the Soviet Union to dispose its forces defensively. We also *ee the Soviet Union withdrawing from Eastern Europe. What we haven’t seen change is the capability that remains resident in the Soviet Navy. That’s a capabil- 'ty that any prudent military planner, certainly any Navy planner, must take into account in determining what force levels We should retain in the event that political changes in the Soviet Union reinstate the Soviet military as a direct threat.
We must also keep in mind that the Navy’s role around the world has a focus 'hat isn’t only Soviet-oriented, and never has been. We are committed to keeping forward-deployed forces around the
world in support of U.S. economic and political interests. That requires balanced, capable forces that can face a threat from any area in the world, where someone wishes us or our interests ill.
We have to recognize that there are hundreds of submarines in the hands of other countries around the world, some of them in the navies of countries that are hardly friendly to the United States. Those ships are increasingly modern submarines. Many countries are building and exporting submarines, and the Soviet Union is among them. But we have to take into account that potential threat to our forces, who have to operate when and where called upon as part of the forward- deployed commands.
PROCEEDINGS: Approximately one- quarter of the Navy’s five-year shipbuilding budget is allocated to build SSN-21 nuclear attack submarines. How does that plan fit with that threat?
ADMIRAL TROST: I think that the plan fits well. The SSN-21 is designed to be quieter than its predecessors. More important, the SSN-21 will have the growth room for further modernization— which the Los Angeles (SSN-688)-class no longer has—and be able to take to sea a much larger load of weapons. The SSN-21 is a highly capable ship, and we’ll clearly need ships of that capability to face the threats that we must project over the next 30 or 40 years.
PROCEEDINGS: Does the SSN-21 fit against the low end of the threat spectrum?
ADMIRAL TROST: It fits against the low end and also is our hedge against the high end.
PROCEEDINGS: How does the Navy best make its case in the competition for defense dollars without ending up in an interservice conflict?
ADMIRAL TROST: In our testimony to Congress, we continue to make the case for a strong maritime posture on the part of the United States by noting that our country is—and always has been—a maritime nation. The United States is heavily dependent on imports of fuel from overseas; it is heavily dependent on strategic minerals from overseas; and it needs free access to overseas markets for our trade goods and our agricultural products. All this demands the capability to project our own economic and political interests overseas, as well as to protect the interests of our friends and allies. And this translates into a strong Navy and Marine Corps forward deployed.
We also are called upon repeatedly as the force-of-choice in quelling contingency or crisis situations. These requirements, which we don’t control, but simply respond to, are going to continue to demand of this nation’s Navy and Marine Corps a ready force that can react to any contingency that is placed on it.
PROCEEDINGS: You make your budget case by articulating the strong rationale for the Navy.
ADMIRAL TROST: The rationale for the Navy is strong. I don’t try to invent new missions for the Navy, nor do I attempt to challenge the logical missions of the other armed forces in order to make a case for more money for the Navy. I think each of our programs has to stand on its own merits.
PROCEEDINGS: Has the budget-tightening drill damaged the traditional close relationship between the Navy and the Marine Corps? For example, the Marines rated the MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft a much higher priority than the Navy has. ADMIRAL TROST: I think the latter is an unfair statement. The Marines rated the MV-22 as a high priority. The Navy strongly supported the requirement for the MV-22, but when the program was cut from our overall program by the Secretary of Defense, we could no longer support something that would have to be paid for, not by the money we had in the budget before, because we lost all of that, but by additional incursion into Navy aircraft procurement. All planes for the Navy and Marine Corps are paid for from the same account.
PROCEEDINGS: That explains the MV-22. But have the budget negotiations damaged the relationship at all between the Marine Corps and the Navy? ADMIRAL TROST: No, I don’t think so. I think all of us would like more than we have in terms of forces, in terms of force levels, but all of us recognize the need to cut back, and we are cutting back. General Alfred Gray [Commandant of the Marine Corps] just testified before one of the congressional committees this week, and noted that his forces continue to remain ready, that the Marine Corps’s sustainability is at levels that far exceed those of his sister services, and that the Marines are ready to respond to any contingency.
PROCEEDINGS: What impact will the defense cuts have on the size of the Naval Reserve?
ADMIRAL TROST: We’re looking very carefully at the size of the Naval Reserve and its continuing contribution as we go through the POM ’92 deliberation process. When we look at what we need in the Naval Reserve, we look at the
total Navy—what its requirements are, and what the specific drivers are. The major driver is the need for deployable units to meet our forward-deployed commitments, and those units have to be supportable and capable of operating in any contingency situation, with or without the mobilization of reserve elements. So we’ve been careful not to put total capabilities into the reserve component, which might be demanded in responding to a crisis situation.
We, however, depend heavily on our reserve component for day-to-day support in many of our staffs and in other augment units. We have attempted over the years to ensure that we’re properly postured with the balance between the active and reserve forces so we can do the total job.
Having said that, I would foresee that as the active forces contract, there will be some probable contraction in the size of the Naval Reserve Force. Many of the experts here in Washington say that the reserves should play a much larger role, and we should put more active ships and aircraft squadrons in a reserve component. The problem here is that as we shrink, we no longer have the necessary ships and aircraft to go out and meet the forward-deployed commitments without extended deployments. These, in turn, put a burden on our people, who face operational tempos that they will accommodate to in the short term, but they will not stay with us in the long term.
PROCEEDINGS: It would seem that naval professionals who leave active duty as you contract over the next few years would be the most valuable people to retain in the Naval Reserve. What provisions are there to open up billets for these people while maybe at the same time the Naval Reserve is contracting?
ADMIRAL TROST: I agree with you that those people leaving active duty would be especially well qualified, since their training is current and their knowledge of Navy systems is as good as we could expect. I don’t think we will face a problem of having to open billets for them, because in many cases we have not been able to recruit and retain in the Select Reserve people with specific skills, both shipbome and aircraft squadron skills, necessary to man fully the billets in our Naval Reserve Force. So I think we find lots of room to use any and all people who want to be affiliated with the reserve, and we certainly would encourage that affiliation.
PROCEEDINGS: What are your reactions to the recent remarks made by
former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman in regard to the practical nonexistence of the present Soviet threat and the need for drastic cuts in the Navy budget. ADMIRAL TROST: As I noted in recent testimony, I am not aware of the factors that caused Mr. Lehman to change his statements so markedly from the time he was Secretary of the Navy, when he was working for a strong naval capability, until today, when his comments seem totally out of touch with his earlier positions. He has, for example, said that we can put large numbers of units from the current Navy into reserve status and save a lot of money. As I stated earlier, we need a deployable base of ships and aircraft squadrons in order to meet our forward commitments.
The other problem we have is that we don’t save a significant amount of money by putting ships, for example, in the Naval Reserve Force. We find ourselves today manning the 40-plus ships in the Naval Reserve Force at a level of 75% to 80% of the Selected Reserve component we would like to have on those ships because of the problem I noted earlier: our inability to attract—and retain—many of the skills that we need at sea.
The result is that the money we save is a little bit in the salary area and a little bit in the lesser steaming demanded of those Naval Reserve Force ships, because they do not routinely deploy.
Part of the problem we face in expanding our Naval Reserve Force is that we no longer have a lot of people in a given area ready to man locally based forces. We have to fly people to and from the ports or the airfields where the ships and aircraft are based in order to carry out the training. That, too, is expensive. You get to a point where you rapidly find yourself paying more to sustain a force of that type than you would to keep the ship in active status.
Mr. Lehman also noted several other areas in which, he interprets, we have either denigrated or reduced the emphasis on our Naval Reserve. I don’t believe that’s at all true. We have annually updated our total force package with a review of what missions we should assign to our reserve component. We have adjusted to the changing times and the changing force structure size. We have not, as he has stated, “demoted” the Chief of Naval Reserve. We have filled the billet at the two-star level instead of the three-star level, because the Navy’s shortfall of three-star authorizations for flag officers has required us to fill about nine valid three-star billets at the two-star level, including, for example, the billets of the deputy commanders-in-chief of
PROCEEDINGS: What is your reaction to Mr. Lehman’s statement that there is a nonexistence of a Soviet threat? ADMIRAL TROST: I think Mr. Leh- n>an should look at the capability, remember the information he was exposed to while Secretary of the Navy, and reevaluate whether it’s a nonexistent threat 0r simply a threat that has been politically explained away in the current euphoria over world changes.
PROCEEDINGS: When you came into me number one job in the Navy, you obviously had an agenda. What goal that you had established early on do you feel best about now?
ADMIRAL TROST: My principal goal Mien I came into this job was to continue me emphasis on people as the key element of our military readiness. 1 also had hoped that we would be able to continue °ur progress in force modernization, in improving our sustainability, and in raises our force levels to our earlier goals, me goals we set earlier in this decade, ‘hat latter portion, of course, has not come to pass, as the budget has declined every year in real terms since fiscal year *985. We have been able to maintain the Readiness, if not the size, of our current force. We have continued to put our emphasis on people and on their quality of 1 Fe, and we have been able to back up °ur policy of no longer than six-month deployments for our people and of con- tr°l of their time away from home port '''hen they are not forward deployed.
PROCEEDINGS: What became a major fssue that you had not included on your agenda? The biggest surprise, perhaps. ADMIRAL TROST: I guess I didn’t loresee that, even before the current euphoric response to changes in the world’s Political situation, we would, nonetheless, continue to see an effort to drive
°>h the Atlantic and Pacific fleets. So "jhat we’re doing is simply reflecting re- d"ty in our assignment of people.
In terms of funding, Naval Reserve nnding overall has been kept up at a very good level. We have continued the prog- tt-ss started by Mr. Lehman in ensuring .t °ur Naval Reserve forces operate w*lh fully up-to-date and fully compatible equipment, so that when the reservists are 'ntegrated with the regular forces in time °I conflict, we can, in fact, operate well 'ogether. And we can do that today. I see no decline in the emphasis. 1 think those actors that affect the size of our active orce will continue, as I noted earlier, to nve what we do with our Naval Reserve Forces.
down the defense budget year after year, especially after having seen so much emphasis on the part of the American public and the Congress in the early 1980s on building up the military.
It’s difficult to have foreseen, and I don’t think anyone else would claim to have, the dramatic changes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union that are taking place. I also certainly didn’t foresee that I’d have an opportunity in this job to visit the Soviet Union, meet face-to-face with senior Soviet naval leaders, visit some of their front-line ships and aircraft, and have a chance to make a personal evaluation. That’s on the pleasant side of the changes we’ve seen. The downside is clearly the budgetary trend.
PROCEEDINGS: Safety became a major issue in the media last year. Would you put the issue into perspective from your position?
ADMIRAL TROST: First, I think it’s necessary for us from time to time to remind the media and the American public that we, as military leaders, have a responsibility to our people to ensure that they have a safe operating and working environment. We operate in a hazardous environment on, above, and under the sea. We have to do everything possible in ship design, ship operation, and personnel selection and training to ensure that we minimize the dangers to our personnel, and we do so. We take that as a very major leadership responsibility.
When accidents take place, our goal and our responsibility are to investigate them, determine the causes, fix responsibility where appropriate, ensure that accountability is served, and then ensure that we either preclude or minimize the possibility of a recurrence of that type of accident. We do that.
We had a series of accidents last fall, some actually relatively minor, so minor that they would have escaped the attention of the media had there not been a succession of accidents and articles reflecting on those accidents.
Of interest was that we went through a period of about four months last summer with no accidents, and that included a period of time when we conducted PACEX, the large multinational Pacific exercise that included forces from a number of countries, from all of our services, operating in all kinds of weather, in an open-ocean environment.
For whatever reason, possibly complacency, we started having a series of accidents. We ordered the Navy safety standdown just to ensure that people stop to reflect on what they were doing. They did, in fact, review their operating procedures and their safety precautions, and ensured that we were adhering to the safe operating procedures. We also looked very hard at the causes of these various accidents, and there was no common thread. There was no, “All the bolts in this type of thing are failing,” or, “All this electronic gear has suddenly failed,” or, “There’s something wrong with all of our equipment.” There was none of that. There were individual material failures, but they were isolated. In some cases training was inadequate; in others, people became complacent because things were going so well for a long period of time; and, finally, there were cases of clear violations of published operating procedures and safety instructions.
PROCEEDINGS: What were the results of the safety standdown? Have you seen an appreciable change?
ADMIRAL TROST: The results were that we focused on how to operate safely, and we saw a very marked decline in incidents and accidents that affected our personnel. We’re back to operating normally with high emphasis on safety and proper operating procedures. And we’ve seen a very marked decline in accidents since the standdown.
PROCEEDINGS: Did you discover in your safety review that a breakdown in accountability was a contributing factor in this issue?
ADMIRAL TROST: There was criticism that somehow—as a matter of fact, there were several articles written—we suddenly had thrown out accountability. I’d like to counter that. We have never decreased our emphasis on the accountability of people in responsible positions, both for their actions and for the actions of their people. There has never been a change in the accountability of a commanding officer for his command. His accountability is absolute. It has to be commensurate with the responsibility that we have given him. There’s never been any change in that. We did not suddenly become lax and say, “Anything goes.” Nor did we cover up for people’s actions. There is no basis for anyone in the Navy to cover up an accident investigation, because our goal is to find out what went wrong so we can keep the accident from happening again.
PROCEEDINGS: What advice would you share with a young professional who is just beginning his or her career in the Navy, to help him or her plan for a successful career?
ADMIRAL TROST: I’ve always been a proponent of success being based on personal competence and of telling young people that their real competition is themselves. So my advice would be to do the best you can in every job you’re in, get as much training and education as you can, and gain access to a variety of experiences by seeking out billets that will broaden the horizon of the individual assigned to those jobs.
One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard came from one of my early submarine commanders to one of my shipmates. My shipmate asked, “Captain, what advice would you give a lieutenant jaygee who wants to make admiral?”
The response was, “You might start by being a good jaygee.” I think that’s solid advice.
PROCEEDINGS: Is duty in Washington part of that?
ADMIRAL TROST: Duty in Washington is definitely a mind-expanding and a horizon-expanding experience. And I think our people should actively seek assignment to Washington. They’ll gain a better understanding of how the Navy is run, what factors influence what happens to the people in the fleet, and how the military overall fits within the governmental structure and how it operates.
PROCEEDINGS: The next question is a bit more parochial. Should a young professional write for publication in Proceedings and other professional forums? ADMIRAL TROST: Yes. I think that whenever we have ideas and thoughts to share, or things we want to challenge on a high plane, writing for professional publications is a very good experience, and something I encourage.
Our profession—and therefore our nation—has much to gain from the members of our profession freely exchanging ideas and thoughts. It concerns me that there are those in our government who, under the guise of protecting national security, would disfranchise us by making it difficult for us to publish our views in professional forums. Who is better qualified to address issues important to our profession, and who is more motivated to ensure that national security is not breached than a military professional?
We have a responsibility to advance knowledge in our profession. This is done in part through writing. We need to hear from people outside our profession, but to surrender the forum exclusively to outsiders would do the nation and our profession a disservice.
We must be vigilant to ensure that the views of military professionals see the light of day.
PROCEEDINGS: One issue that repeatedly goes back and forth is the technical- versus the more liberal arts-oriented education for the professional officer corps. You’ve stated plainly in the past that the Navy requires professionals with technical educations. Has your opinion on this issue changed, based on your last four years’ experience?
ADMIRAL TROST: No, it really hasn’t. I’ve also been misquoted as to my goals. My view is that in this highly complex Navy, we cannot do our jobs unless we have people with adequate understanding of how things work and sufficient technical background to make them work safely. The degree of expertise required varies from that of keeping nuclear propulsion plants operating safety at sea and keeping the Aegis combat systems on the line, to operating sometimes with much lower technology types of equipment. But the demand is there across the board in our Navy today.
My emphasis on the need for adequate background in science and technology and adequate technical education doesn’t mean that I feel we shouldn’t educate people more broadly in the areas of humanities and social science. I’m especially a proponent of people studying history. I happen to be fortunate because I always found history fascinating, as opposed to drudgery, when I was in school. Perhaps that’s because the emphasis in the schooling I had was less on memorizing dates and events than it was in understanding how things developed and why.
I found that as I’ve become more senior in the Navy, I have an even greater interest in reading military history, because there are a lot of lessons in the thought process involved that I think serve us well.
PROCEEDINGS: We’ve covered a great deal of ground and obviously missed many important topics. Is there another issue that you would like to address? ADMIRAL TROST: 1 have just come away from several congressional hearings this week, in each case testifying before committees that were, by and large, supportive of the maritime services and the role we play. I’ve also been reading a number of proposals, also from members of Congress, which would drastically reduce our capabilities in a very short period ot time. I noted this morning, for example, an article that proposes a reduction in the current Navy force of 14 carrier battle groups, and I’m reminded that we tend not to remember history. We gain experience, but we forget it very quickly.
I am ever mindful of the fact that the Navy had 13 operational carrier battle groups when I commanded Seventh Fleet, and we had a lot of people forward deployed because of events in Iran, due to the hostage situation, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which drove a deployment commitment that resulted in our deploying ships for eight-and-a-half to nine months at a time. I’ve often used the example of the USS Eisenhower (CVN-69) in 1980, deploying from Norfolk for eight-and-a-half months. During that deployment, she spent all but five days at sea. She got a five-day liberty break in Singapore, roughly in the middle of that deployment. I note that very few of the people who served on board that ship at that time, some of whom I still keep in touch with personally, remain in the Navy as a result of that experience.
We are driving our people out by demanding more than we should of any normal human being, and we, therefore, should be mindful that today’s force levels are hardly excessive. They’re permitting us to meet our deployed commitments with a maximum of six months for deployed status. We in the Navy don’t drive commitments; we react and respond to them.
I note also that there has been a lot of reaction to the directed decommissioning of two of our four battleships. We’ve run the gamut of reactions, from “Why did you do such a dumb thing?” The answer is, “We were directed to do so because of the fiscal constraints we face.” The second question is on the other end of the spectrum: “Why are you keeping two of those manpower-intensive old hulks around?” And the answer to that is, “Because they have a role even in today’s modern Navy.” There is no ship in the world as survivable and as invulnerable to potential threats in confined areas as the battleship. The battleship also has upgraded modem weapons capability, in addition to her 16-inch guns, which continue to play a relevant role in a lot of contingency situations. So we’re going to hold onto the battleships.
We are also not going to give in to the demands of either an all-carrier Navy or an all-submarine Navy, because what we really need to do our job is a balanced force and a balance in capability to make sure we don’t have chinks in our armor that somebody can pick at without opposition.
So 1 think it’s necessary for us, as we look ahead, also to look over our shoulder, not to steer by our wake, but to remember that we should save the experiences of past operations and apply them today.