The center of the new Chief of Naval Operations’ strategic vision is competition. “The idea here is: I propose that we’re in a contest for maritime superiority, and the key word here is contest,” he said in recent remarks at the Surface Navy Association symposium. “And it has been some number of decades since we’ve been contested on the high seas. That is what drives my thinking forward.”
The CNO’s “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority”—released on 5 January—brings a submariner’s analytic approach and a desire to identify strategic purpose in the ten pages of plans outlined in it. Admiral John Richardson’s document lays out four lines of effort: strengthen naval power at and from the sea, achieve high-velocity learning at every level, strengthen our Navy team for the future, and expand and strengthen our network of partners. Included is a list of first-year tasks to begin achieving each goal. Though the tasks span the acquisition, personnel, and operational worlds, several themes permeate the admiral’s list: accountability, process improvement, continuous learning, and strategic purpose.
What the strategic direction recognizes is that the Navy’s set of tasks is tougher, and threats are multiplying. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the service operated mostly in support of the ground conflict. Meanwhile, China and Russia both expanded their maritime influence, and the Navy is set to face new, rapidly evolving threats with a budget landscape that shows no sign of improving in the near term. “The character of the game has changed so much and is changing faster still day by day,” Richardson said. “If we don’t address that, we’re not going to be able to remain competitive, not be able to achieve our potential, or worse, even maintain superiority over our competitors.”
Naval Power At and From the Sea
It is no coincidence that the Ohio Replacement Program (ORP) is Richardson’s first bullet point in his first line of effort. “Maintain and modernize the undersea leg of the strategic deterrent triad. This is foundational to our survival as a nation,” he wrote. An official on the Navy staff said this nod to the ORP as the Navy’s top acquisition program doesn’t lay bare any biases Richardson has as a submariner. Rather, the CNO firmly believes that if the Navy and the nation cannot maintain an effective nuclear deterrent, the United States cannot continue as a global leader. Richardson’s background may, however, help him speak more effectively to lawmakers, who are tasked with trying to budget $100 billion to design and buy the Navy’s new ballistic-missile submarines.
After providing a strategic deterrent, Richardson’s second task for his first year as CNO is to improve the quality of and increase the number of military options the Navy–Marine Corps team can provide throughout the entire range of military operations—in blue water, in anti-access/area-denial environments, and amid cyber warfare. He calls on them to “test and refine concepts through focused wargaming, modeling, and simulations. Validate these concepts through fleet exercises, unit training, and certification.”
The CNO’s focus on blue-water scenarios is an important one. Given evolutions in the threat environment, the Marine Corps cannot plan to bring amphibious ships ten miles from a beach to unload Marines on surface connectors, and the Navy does not want its large surface combatants near shores riddled with precision-guided munitions, drones, and electronic-warfare threats.
In the short term, the MV-22 Osprey and F-35 joint strike Fighter will help the Marines stretch their fight over longer distances. Later this decade, the Navy will get its own F-35C—and thus the ability to sneak past enemy air defenses, take out electronic-warfare infrastructure early in a fight, and pass information across greater distances. Work on new technologies such as the electromagnetic railgun and hypervelocity projectile will also provide more options for a Navy looking for increased standoff distances.
Information warfare helps shape the new design, with Richardson writing that his recently signed Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare concept will be expanded to “encompass all of information warfare, to include space and cyberspace.” A working group has been in place for a couple of years to explore the topic and write the concept, and Richardson will take advantage of that momentum and keep going, the Navy staff official said.
Within the Department of the Navy, offices and organizations have popped up over the years to deal with space and cyber warfare, both offensively and defensively. But the department as a whole has not created a culture of considering space and cyber at the start of conversations, the official said. Rather than designing an experiment or writing requirements for a new weapon and only afterward asking “what about cyber?” The CNO wants to integrate information warfare from the start. Doing so may be a challenge, since cyber and space are in many ways cordoned off as separate domains. But the official said Richardson wants the Navy to avoid getting caught up in definitions and organizational structures and instead think strategically. In a future operating environment that will certainly include cyber threats, what does the Navy need to do to successfully meet its objectives? That bird’s-eye view of the end goal helps the Navy work across other domains—air, surface, and subsurface—and may be the key to integrating space and cyber into the conversation.
OPNAV and Fleet Forces
Admiral Richardson also tackles fleet organization as a means of focusing on warfighting. He wrote that he would examine the Chief of Naval Operations staff (OPNAV) organization, as well as “the organization of United States Fleet Forces Command, Commander Pacific Fleet and their subordinate commands to better support clearly defining operational and warfighting demands and then to generate ready forces to meet those demands.”
The Navy staff official said the driver behind these initiatives is to clarify command-and-control relationships, not to move people around, cut jobs, or close bases. Though these bullet points in the design have generated some speculation about what the “right” outcome may be, the official said Richardson is not presupposing any eventual actions as he starts up this organizational examination. Rather, he wants to clean up the command and control between the East Coast and West Coast fleets, as well as between the fleet commanders, type commanders, and warfighting development centers, to operate more effectively.
Richardson is not the first admiral to take on the complicated web of relationships connecting the two fleets and the subordinate commands. In 2000, then-CNO Admiral Vern Clark created the current alignment of OPNAV directorates and type commanders to handle the requirements and the fleet operations of the air, surface, and subsurface communities. The type commanders—two in San Diego and one in Norfolk—would advise the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, which was intended to serve as the top authority of a unified fleet. Clark, however, faced legal barriers and was stymied in his attempt to man, train, and equip the two fleets in a unified manner. Though the type commanders remained in place, the envisioned lead/follow relationship between the U.S. Fleet Forces Command and the U.S. Pacific Fleet never came to be, resulting in a hybrid chain of command.
In March 2012, then-commander of the U.S. Fleet Forces Command Admiral John Harvey wrote in Proceedings that “because a breakdown in C2 [command and control] puts lives and mission at risk, its effectiveness must be a focus for every commander.” He enumerated his efforts with then-commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet Admiral Pat Walsh to clarify command-and-control relationships involving the two fleets, the type commanders, the warfare directors at the Pentagon, and more. Achieving the clarity Clark envisioned, however, has not yet been possible. Richardson, a former commander of Naval Submarine Forces, has seen the good and the bad of the C2 arrangements and would be well suited to participate in a renewed effort to clarify or simplify the relationship web.
High-Velocity Learning At Every Level
Richardson calls for accelerated learning for individuals, teams, and the Navy organization as a whole, using phrases such as “rigorous self-assessment,” “innovation,” and “creativity.” And though he writes that the Navy will invest in learning technologies, simulators, and analytics to aid in this learning push, the Navy staff official said the CNO is after something bigger: incorporating a learning feedback loop into everything the Navy does.
At the top level of Navy operations, Richardson has implemented a new rule: Anyone coming to him for his signature on a CNO decision paper must clearly state a hypothesis for how that decision would affect the Navy and an assessment mechanism. Whereas the acquisition world already has accountability built into it (systems have to meet budgetary and performance measures and pass reviews at specified intervals) personnel and operations policy are harder to monitor and deem successful. Richardson hopes to build a feedback loop into these policy decisions, so the Navy not only knows what it is trying to achieve with each new policy but can also measure success along the way and identify problems in real time.
This mentality of constant assessment and learning will be pushed down the chain, as the service seeks methods to train sailors and civilians faster, opportunities to practice and earn qualifications virtually, tools to measure unit training and improvement, and more. In his first months on the job, the CNO has set the tone that everything the Navy does should be in a learning context: actions should have a strategic goal in mind, with a way to continuously measure progress and hold someone accountable for the outcome.The Navy is at the forefront of modernizing its personnel system and made moves to tweak how it manages its talent ahead of Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s Force of the Future reforms that could prompt legislative action later this year. “As the so-called 9/11 generation begins to leave our ranks, the Defense Department must continue to bring in talented Americans, from your generation and others,” Carter said in a 30 March 2015 speech. “We have to look at ways to promote people based not just on when they joined, and even more on their performance and talent.”
The seven points of the CNO’s design double down on the early drives to better manage and develop the Navy’s current talent pool and recruit new sailors and civilians. “Frankly, when you look at the pool of people that is available to recruit to do this work, it’s shrinking and we’re in competition with industry and corporate America, and we have to do a better job,” Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Admiral William Moran told USNI News in April last year.
First on the Richardson list is to implement the Sailor 2025 program, a slate of personnel-management changes that aims to cherry-pick the best practices the Navy can find from industry while maintaining a military character. Those changes include making it easier for top performers to be promoted faster, expand career intermission programs, and make it simpler for sailors to transition to private industry and then return to the Navy.The plan also seeks to better understand what sailors and their families want from their careers in a pilot program that would use the data to better tailor assignments and pay.
Also on the list is a call for an evaluation of the Navy’s collection of restricted and unrestricted line officers to better correspond to new realities of warfare.Ultimately, the largest personnel change contained in the design would likely inform a larger Pentagon-endorsed change in the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act of 1980 that would remove the “up-and-out” that forces out officers who have been passed over for promotion too many times.
Expand and Strengthen the Partner Network
In 2005, then-CNO Admiral Mike Mullen introduced the idea of the “1,000-Ship Navy,” stating in 2007 that “I believe an international 1,000-ship navy offers a real opportunity to increase partner nation capabilities while reducing transnational crime, WMD proliferation, terrorism and human trafficking.”
Admiral Richardson’s new design takes the initial point and expands it in an environment that in just the past few years has seen an ever-growing Chinese maritime power and a resurgent Russia, each seeking to compete against the United States in dominance at sea. Just into his day-to-day job in Washington, Richardson took an around-the-world trip to visit U.S. Navy forces at work and see how they interacted with international powers. “What I saw was a very effective partnership where everyone rose to contribute to their maximum level of their capabilities and capacity,” he said in a January briefing with reporters. Richardson’s idea of partnerships are expanded beyond those on the high seas. In the briefing, he said:
It’s not just international partners, it’s also enhancing our partnerships locally here to be a better joint force. How can we better partner across agencies? I think there are opportunities there—certainly with industry . . . understanding that the U.S. Navy is an important node in a number of networks contributing to stability and resilience and toughness of those networks.
Domestically, Richardson’s design calls for the Navy to reach out more to research-and-development organizations, in line with Secretary Carter’s overtures to Silicon Valley, and look for nontraditional sources for ideas. If the Navy’s strategic call under the previous CNO—warfighting first, operate forward, be ready—was a mandate for the service to get back to basics, Admiral Richardson’s new design is pushing that ahead to optimize the service for a more complex world stage in an era of tighter budgets.
Ms. Eckstein is a staff writer, and Mr. LaGrone is the editor of USNI News.