INTERVIEW WITH THE CNO

By Andrew Koch, Jane’s Defense Weekly Bureau Chief, Washington, DC, January 11, 2006
Forwarded by Dick Blaisdell

New U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Mullen sees the naval services playing important roles in the coming years, especially with the concept of sea basing for all the armed services.

With the availability of bases from which U.S. troops can operate “drying up” around the world and the limited amount of time they can stay at the remaining ones, Adm Mullen says the ability to use ship-based forces will play an increasingly vital role.

Building a navy with the right force structure, size and composition to meet tomorrow's needs such as sea-basing “is my biggest challenge”, he notes. “The centerpiece of that future is a stable shipbuilding account. The fact that we had four ships in the FY 2006 budget was the bottom of the heap as far as I am concerned. We have continued to get a smaller and smaller navy and, in my view, from a risk standpoint it is as small as we can get.”

“The navy has been working on formulating architecture for the future fleet that incorporates war fighting requirements, affordability concerns and industrial base issues, and that plan is being incorporated into the forthcoming Quadrennial Defense Review,” he explains.

“A common problem is the practice of cutting available funding for a given shipbuilding program by 30 percent or more from the time it enters the five-year Future Years Defense Budget to the time the program is actually executed, he explained. “Everybody in the business likes to pay for other things with the shipbuilding funding account. That has got to stop. Once stability is achieved, the expectation is for industry to start reducing costs through better planning.”

To reach the new force structure architecture, the navy is also going to be forced to cut shipbuilding costs in ways it has not been able to do in years. Adm Mullen notes that the service has already chopped an estimated $300 million off the cost of each DD-X destroyer through reducing operational requirements. “DD-X is a very strong program technically and in risk reduction. I recognize that it is not inexpensive and that we have got to take some of the requirements out to make it affordable,” he said.

He added: “I am going to do the same thing with the CVN-21, with the LHA-R and with every single ship we are building, including submarines. I cannot afford to build all of my systems to 'objective' requirement specifications. My very steady approach on this will be to buy to 'threshold' because there is clearly not enough money.”

According to Adm Mullen, the navy will also seek to save future shipbuilding funds by extending the lives of existing ships and through the greater use of existing designs. “We need to modernize, to get full service life out of our fleet and we often have not done that,” he noted. For example, he says that “we lost our way on sea-basing because it became heavily programmatic, based on the MPF-F ship that was originally looking at new designs.” Now he says MPF-F will “leverage current hulls.”

Likewise, the navy has been struggling with the costs of keeping its submarine force structure and needs to start building two boats per year or see that number drop. However, Adm Mullen said: “If we do not get them down to $2 billion per submarine, it is not affordable.” Still, he rejects the notion that the navy move away from a pure nuclear-powered submarine fleet. “It is my view that there is not much of a place for diesel submarines in our navy. The tyranny of distance and sustainability is something that nuclear power has solved for us in a very positive way.”

After solving force structure plans for ships, Adm Mullen says he will turn his attention to similar efforts in other parts of the service. “Step one was to do this for ships. Step two is to do it for aircraft. “The navy is also looking at its personnel force levels, which according to Adm Mullen constitute 60 to 70 percent of all navy investment.

“People are my most important resource and my most expensive resource,” he said, noting that formulating a personnel strategy is his next big body of work. “I have got to understand the right end-strength for us on the military side and I have to answer that question on the civilian side.”

Creating tomorrow's U.S. Navy will involve “more interoperability requirements across joint and coalition nations including greater international cooperation,” Adm Mullen says. He has talked about the need for extending cooperation to allies so that together these partners can achieve “the 1,000-ship navy.” In discussions with such partners about cooperation on global maritime security, Adm Mullen says he “found their appetite for this to be very high,” noting particular interest in regional initiatives. “To make such initiatives effective,” he notes, “our investment needs to be such that for operations, doctrine, training and exercises we are able to leverage that capability.”

To enable that coalition interoperability, Adm Mullen says the allies “need to exchange information in key areas or on key systems, not every system. CENTRIX, the Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System, is an example of that. We are now pressing hard on this.”

He cited plans to put automatic identification systems on all US Navy ships as one example of how this information sharing can be achieved. “What that provides is an opportunity for a pretty good wide-area shipping picture that was difficult to get before. This is an international requirement and it will be an international technology.”

Adm Mullen says this cooperation should include a continued close relationship with the U.S. Coast Guard. Noting that he is a big supporter of the National Fleet Policy, he said: “We have to work together from the operational concepts that we have to the training that we do and the ships that we buy.”