In my tenure as Secretary of the Navy, I have focused on four themes with a vision for the future: readiness, technology, efficiency, and people.
Readiness simply is no longer an issue. I have no doubt that America is getting a solid return on its investment in the Navy and Marine Corps. Here are a few examples:
- When Saddam Hussein moved some of his force toward Kuwait early last summer, the Navy-Marine Corps team was right there. Within hours, we had strike aircraft flying sorties. We responded, and Saddam pulled back.
- The rescue of Captain Scott O’Grady was a complex, difficult mission that our team made look easy. At his press conference, Captain O’Grady’s first words were: “I'm not the hero. The real heroes are the sailors and Marines out on the Kearsarge."
- U.S. military leadership brought Bosnia's warring factions to the peace table. The Theodore Roosevelt and America battle-groups, including the cruiser Normandy's air and Tomahawk strikes last September, made the difference.
Training is the key to our readiness. When the Arleigh Burke was christened, Admiral Arleigh Burke told the crew, “This ship was built to fight . . . you had better know how.” We must ensure that our men and women of the Navy and Marine Corps “know how,” that they are properly trained and ready to fight. That is our business.
Five years ago, the world watched as our ships and submarines launched highly accurate Tomahawk cruise missiles in the Gulf War. Tomahawk’s performance exceeded all expectations in its first operational use—it wasn’t perfect, but it was an important element in the first days of the war. We could have stopped there; people would have said that success rates approaching 60% were good enough.
Navy leadership didn’t believe it. We weren’t satisfied with Tomahawk’s success—and the Department had a vision to make a better missile. The improved Tomahawk cruise missiles launched last summer into Bosnia had a better than 90% success rate. We took a great product and made it even better.
We have some important programs in the works that indicate our commitment to the technology necessary to win the wars in the Navy after next. One is the next-generation aircraft carrier—the CVX. We don’t know yet what it will look like. The easy thing would be to build aircraft carriers just like we have been. Instead, we are spending the time, money, and creativity on research and development to ensure that we have the best aircraft carrier for the future.
Other platforms include the Seawolf and New Attack Submarine. These new-generation submarines are at the leading edge of our littoral warfare strategy. And there are more programs across all sea, air, land, and special forces requirements that we will need to meet the challenges of 2015 and beyond. It is important that we invest in science and technology, that we invest in research and development, to ensure that we will have what we need for the Navy and Marine Corps after next.
One area where our vision for the future rests on changing the way things have been done in the past is in acquisition. My top research, development, and acquisition leadership have a mandate to develop, build, and buy systems according to the most successful industry models. In November, at the First Annual DoN-CEO Conference, our acquisition leadership met with top industry executives to map out our relationship for the future.
The first major acquisition reform success story is the F/A- 18E/F Super Hornet. We have used a modem business approach to develop an aircraft that is on time, on budget, and underweight—three crucial elements of the right way to buy military hardware.
Another example is the Joint Strike Fighter. The Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force all need a new fighter-attack aircraft by 2008; if each service approached this requirement individually, the cost would be around $27 billion. By combining forces and funding this project together, 80% of the avionics and technology will be common. We will end up with an airframe unique to each service, but that can be produced for around $17 billion. United Kingdom participation in this program will improve the economies of scale even further.
We are more efficient, more innovative, and more productive. Our operational strategy is aggressive and forward-looking, and the Department has matched tactics with technology and equipment. I point with pride to the fact that in 1994 the Naval Air Systems Command won the Presidential Quality award—the highest award the President offers to recognize excellence in government.
We have the best people serving in the Navy and Marine Corps that we’ve ever had. They are better educated, high quality men and women. Recently 1 was in the Mediterranean visiting with troops deployed with our ships and squadrons there. Their morale is high, they know their mission, and they are proud of what they are doing.
Of course, everything is not all “hearts and roses” in the Department of the Navy. We are an organization of tremendous cultural and social responsibilities. In an era of peace, the non-warfighting aspects of the Navy have become more visible. This is the area where we have been in the public eye—and we’ve made some mistakes.
Moving forward always creates friction—throwing off sparks and introducing heat and light to some of the dark comers of the organization. A few of those sparks have attracted a great deal of attention in the public forum. This is a good thing.
Open discussion of a Navy problem brings fresh ideas and creates fertile ground for change and improvement. It hurts the entire team when even one individual fails to meet our demanding standards of conduct, but the process of review that results leads to organizational introspection—and corrective action.
There is a price to pay for identifying problems—embarrassment, wounded egos, and self-doubt—but that is the nature of change. The more open the forum, the better the environment for organizational and public feedback. This steady give and take is critical to maintaining public confidence in our institution.
Now, more than ever, we are a Navy in transition. For more than 200 years, our combatant force essentially was all male. Just five years ago, we had six aircraft carriers fighting in the Gulf War. Not a single woman was embarked. Today, the Nimitz is maintaining the peace off the coast of Kuwait, with women serving in nearly every aspect on board.
With these changes has come a change in our culture. Not every one of our men and women absorbed the message right away. There are some who still don’t get it. unfortunately including some of our flag and general officers and senior enlisted personnel. But the message is clear: the Navy and Marine Corps have zero tolerance for any behavior that threatens the dignity and respect of any individual in this Department. My goal is to have zero tolerance for sexual harassment and fraternization as well.
Although change will take time, we are making significant strides, and I intend to speed the process along with some long-term, in-house remedies. For example, in many of the behavioral problems we have faced the common element was alcohol abuse. I have asked the Chief of Naval Operations and Commandant of the Marine Corps to take a hard look at the matter and to recommend how we can deglamorize alcohol use. From those recommendations will come some changes, with the goal of creating a healthier, safer atmosphere for our people.
The Navy and Marine Corps are committed to lasting change in the way we do business. We are reemphasizing our tradition of strong character and ethical behavior. This renewal of our core values is a crucial part of the military’s self-help cycle, and we will emerge stronger. We are poised to remain the preeminent military force—the force of choice for our nation’s leaders—for decades to come.
Mr. Dalton is Secretary of the Navy. This article is adapted from his address to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on 14 February 1996.