by COMSUBLANT Public Affairs
Vice Adm. Connor is a graduate of Bowdoin College and has served in a variety of billets at sea and ashore. He previously commanded USS Seawolf (SSN 21) from 1997 to 2000, Submarine Squadron Eight from March 2003 to July 2004, and Submarine Group Seven/Task Force 54/74 from June 2008 to April 2010. Vice Adm. Connor most recently served as Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfare Systems (N9B) on the OPNAV staff.
A: Our vision—and I say “our” because it’s the joint vision of all the Submarine Force leaders—will remain to capitalize on our unique capabilities to access denied areas, enable follow-on joint force access, and continue to fight on the leading edge. Our number one priority and our foundation for success in all other areas is you—our Submariners. Every man and woman who fights, supports, and repairs our ships, is a member of an elite, high-performance team integral and fundamental to our undersea success. Developing your skills and providing you with the tools you need to succeed is our responsibility and is essential to sustain ongoing missions while developing future capabilities.
Q: What is the greatest challenge facing the Submarine Force in the next few years? Over the long term?
A: Our biggest challenge will be to provide the amount of forward submarine presence and surge capacity our national leaders demand with an aging fleet, while maintaining a healthy balance between maintenance training and home tempo necessary for sustained excellence. So, I guess I would say it’s all about pace and balance. While we are known for our ability to quickly respond to areas others cannot, maintaining this ability over decades more closely represents a marathon than a sprint.
Q: What role do you envision for the undersea forces in 2025?
A: We will continue to dominate the undersea domain. Stealth, agility, mobility, and war-winning capability—that is what we have that no other force can bring to a battle. It is one area—maybe the only area—where our Nation sustains a clear advantage against all competitors, and that will not change—but there are some who are working diligently to close the gap. However, in the future, we will leverage the capacity of submarines by using unmanned vehicles and systems where appropriate. We will have many undersea warriors who are serving somewhere other than on a submarine. We will continue to expect a lot of our people—maybe even more going forward than in the past. We will continue to diversify our mission sets—and despite our best attempts to plan and predict, we know that the future is unpredictable.
Q: Can you give us a “progress report” on where you think the Submarine Force is today?
A: The Submarine Force enjoys tremendous credibility with our Nation’s Leadership. This is not by accident; this is based on our ability to consistently provide combatant commanders with expertly manned submarines ready for action around the world. However, the range of challenges we face—in peace and in war—is evolving rapidly. In this environment, if you are not getting better, you are getting worse. We need to adapt to new payloads so that we can do more with each submarine in the future than we do today.
Q: The tenth Virginia-class SSN will be delivered this year, and many of the Virginia’s have already completed multiple operational deployments. How would you characterize their performance in the fleet so far?
A: The Virginia-class Submarines are the best attack submarines ever built. We are at a steady production rate of two per year, a production rate that will slow but not stop the decline in the size of the Submarine Force. We need to keep that production rate at two per year so we can replace the Los Angeles-class Submarines that were commissioned in the 80s. Our Virginia-class program has been the most successful acquisition program in the Department of Defense and the Virginia-class is the platform that underpins the second and third major deliverables of the Submarine Force—covert surveillance and undeniable wartime access.
Q: The SSBN force was recently awarded a Meritorious Unit Commendation to recognize their excellence in strategic deterrence. In the context of the New START Treaty and ongoing discussions about the Nation’s nuclear posture, what role do you see SSBNs playing in the future?
A: For more than 50 years, the U.S. Navy’s ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs) have been patrolling the world’s oceans to provide an assured second-strike capability. Since the commissioning of USS Ohio (SSBN 726) in 1981, Ohio-class SSBNs capable of launching the Trident missile have provided a credible deterrent for any enemies that would seek to use force against the United States, and assurance to allies who depend on the United States for deterrence. The inherent stealth, unparalleled firepower, and nearly limitless endurance of the SSBN provide our Nation with a unique capability. We have established the right requirements in the areas of size, stealth, payload volume, and self-defense capability for a ship that has to meet our platform attributes until about 2080. We need the Ohio replacement SSBN to continue our most critical mission—deterring war between major powers.
Q: The first ever submarine-qualified female line officers recently received their dolphins. Can you tell us a little bit about how the progress of the integration of women in submarines has gone?
A: Our people are the most unique and indispensable resource to our national security. The integration of women aboard submarines happened smoothly, as we expected. Our submarine teams are now integrated, and these men and women are part of the legacy that came before us: The brave heroes who always took the fight to the enemy and who have shaped who we are today.
A: I would say it was the support of the Sailors and my family. People outside the Submarine Force think we are all about technology. Actually, we are all about people—who do incredible things with technology. I benefited directly from the very personal type of support that you get in the Submarine Force from petty officers, chiefs, and officers during my five sea tours. They were the ones who taught me my profession, watched me learn from my mistakes, and helped me improve. My wife, Kate, and our three children allowed me to maintain balance during challenging times. They adapted to the many challenges of Navy life to make our life as a family very rewarding.
Q: What personal advice would you offer to submarine leaders that you wish you had known earlier in your career?
A: We should never underestimate the positive impact we can have on our Sailors through our interest and attention. We are a small enough Force that we can—and should—know our Sailors well enough to help them achieve success in their careers and their lives.
Photo at top: Vice Adm. Connor addresses officers and chief petty officers at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga. on their role in U.S. strategic deterrence.
Vice Adm. Connor salutes as he passes through side boys upon arrival