About a year ago, defense leaders sat down and said, ìWeíre at an inflection point,î the chief of naval operations said March 11.
In a speech at the McAleese/Credit Suisse Defense Programs Conference at the Newseum, Navy Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert said defense leaders were faced with a complicated problem: draw up a new defense strategic guidance that addressed upcoming budgetary changes, the drawdown in Afghanistan and the need to renew focus on the Asia-Pacific region, all without losing influence in the Middle East.
Ultimately, the admiral said, the defense strategic guidance defined 10 mission areas, and those became his investment guidance as he laid plans for the Navyís future.
ìThere are two things of vast importance to me,î Greenert said. ìNo. 1, I have to be present. To me, it’s a lot about forward presence – it’s not just ships, it’s ships, aircraft, it’s drones, it’s the undersea domain [and] it’s the cyber domain – but I’ve got to be present and out there with as much surge as is feasible.
ìNo. 2, I have to develop relevant capability to meet these 10 missions,î he continued. “How do you rebalance? How do you shape the future to make the most out of it?”
Understanding where youíre going, the Navyís top officer said, requires knowing where you are. “We have about 100 ships out there, Ö but what’s most important is not how many ships we have. Ö It’s how many ships we have forward,” he added.
Greenert said his job is to find the most efficient and effective way to get those ships organized, trained and equipped to deploy where and when it matters.
About half of the Navy’s ships are in the Western Pacific Ocean, the admiral said. “It’s been that way for some time,” he added. More than 80 percent of those ships are nonrotational, he said, meaning that they are permanently stationed there.
“That means they can shape [and] respond. Ö We get a lot of leverage,” he added.
It takes an average of four ships in the United States to keep one ship deployed, Greenert said. One is deployed, one has just returned, one is preparing to deploy, and one is undergoing maintenance, he explained. So the most efficient and effective way to operate is to have ships stationed overseas and to have many locations where ships can dock temporarily, he said.
For these reasons, Japan and South Korea are key naval allies in the Pacific, Greenert said, but Singapore is increasingly important.
“We have a ship that will arrive in Japan today on her way to Singapore – the Freedom, littoral combat ship No. 1. She’s on her way to Singapore for an eight-month deployment,” he said. The Freedom will be followed by three more rotations.
Australia has offered to allow the United States to deploy Marines to Darwin, the admiral said. “By the end of the decade, we’ll have 2,500 [Marines] with an amphibious readiness group to haul them around in Southeast Asia.” This is in addition to the amphibious readiness group already stationed in Okinawa, Japan, he said.
Bahrain, Djibouti and Diego Garcia also are critical to the Navy’s plans, Greenert said. And Spain has offered the opportunity to station four Arleigh Burke-class destroyers at Naval Station Rota, effectively covering the Navy’s requirements for ballistic missile defense in Europe, he said.
“Today, I have to set aside 10 of our destroyers to operate from the East Coast to rotate to provide two on station in the Eastern Mediterranean,” the admiral said.
2020 is a benchmark year for the current defense strategy, Greenert said. With about 40 ships under contract or being built, he said, by 2020 the Navy will have 295 ships, and about 114 will be deployed.
“This really becomes the mandate for the future,” the admiral said. “You have to buy ships wisely in the future. It’s an expensive proposition. You’ve got to have the ships that resonate in the right places around the world.”
To that end, he said, the Navy is building littoral combat ships, which are modular, making them easy to modify to meet future requirements. They are also developing modified oil tankers – mobile landing platforms – to perform missions that currently tie up more expensive amphibious assault ships. The first ship, the USNS Montford Point, is expected to be ready in June, Greenert said.
The joint high-speed vessel is another of the Navy’s newest ship types, he said, intended to ferry troops and conduct short missions. “Instead of having a $2.2 billion Aegis ship chasing pirates or doing counterterrorism, Ö I can use this,” the admiral said. The new ships underscore the Navy’s strategy of placing ships where they’re needed, when they matter and at a lower cost, he added.
Flexibility and interoperability go hand in hand with reduced costs and conducting more, smaller missions, he said. “If I’ve got to build something, and I’m building a capability, it’s not just building a platform and then a sensor and [then] a weapon,” Greenert said. These things all have to work together and should be developed thoughtfully, he said.
“We have been building things in too much of a stovepipe manner,” the admiral said, without considering during development whether individual components can work together with each other or with other equipment, services or partner nations.
“We’ve got to start this from the ground up – when we start building,” he said.
The Navy will continue to expand its use of unmanned vehicles, the admiral said. The X47B unmanned carrier aircraft system is flight-deck certified, he said, and will conduct catapult operations this summer. “I would submit to you we’re going to get all wound up when we see this thing. I’m pretty excited about it,” he said.