by COMSUBLANT Public Affiairs
A native of Decatur, Ala., Vice Adm. Charles “Chas” Richard began his Navy career in 1982 after graduating with honors from the University of Alabama.
His operational assignments include command of USS Parche (SSN 683) as well as Submarine NR-1, then the U.S. Navy’s only nuclear-powered, deep-submergence submarine. He also served aboard USS Portsmouth (SSN 707), USS Asheville (SSN 758) and USS Scranton (SSN 756).
His staff assignments include service as the executive assistant and naval aide to the Under Secretary of the Navy; chief of staff, Submarine Force Atlantic; and command of Submarine Squadron (SUBRON) 17 in Bangor, Wash. Other staff assignments include director of resources, Under Secretary of Defense (Policy); squadron engineer of SUBRON 8, and duty on the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Submarine Warfare) staff. He has also served as a member of Chief of Naval Operations’ Strategic Studies Group XXVIII, studying the integration of unmanned systems into naval force structure.
Vice Adm. Richard’s Flag Officer assignments include command of Submarine Group 10 in Kings Bay, Ga.; director of Undersea Warfare (OPNAV N97) at the Pentagon; deputy commander, Joint Functional Component Command for Global Strike at U.S. Strategic Command, and deputy commander, U.S. Strategic Command.
Upon assuming his current duties as Commander, Submarine Forces in August, Vice Adm. Richard took some time to share his thoughts on the future of the Submarine Force.
When you relieved as Commander, Submarine Forces in August, you told the men and women of the Submarine Force to ‘prepare for battle.’ What did you mean by that?
When I said, “Prepare for battle,” I meant what I said, which is a direct order to prepare for battle. We have returned to a period of great-power competition, great-power competition that is based on the reality that we are threatened by those that seek to change the current global order, balance, and way of life we have defended as Americans for decades. This has required our forces—not just the Submarine Force, but all of our forces—to be ready for the full spectrum of potential conflict whenever and wherever our adversaries seek to challenge the United States. The fact is our Sailors may be called upon to go into a situation where they don’t come home if they don’t do their jobs correctly. Our submarines are equipped with the most lethal weapons and technologically advanced equipment in the history of undersea warfare, but that’s not enough. Keep in mind that we have not shot a torpedo in anger since World War II. This is a credit to our ability to deter conflict, but there are no guarantees in the future. Now is the time for commanding officers and crews to rehearse the fight, our tacticians to adapt and adjust our tactics and processes for the threats we will face, and our enemies to recognize the cost of challenging our combat-ready Submarine Force. So when Rear Adm. Caudle and I say, “Prepare for battle,” our submarines and crews have to be combat ready at all times. Should deterrence fail, we must be prepared to win.
The CNO recently said that our naval forces must be prepared to “operate globally from the sea floor to the stars and in the information domain to deter aggression and to peacefully resolve crises on terms acceptable to us and our allies.” What do you see as the role of the Submarine Force in that effort?
Fundamentally, we are in a threat-based environment. That means our role as a Submarine Force and the greater maritime force has to be focused on the current threats across the full spectrum of geographical and spatial boundaries vice just our own capabilities. I think it’s important to recognize that today’s Submarine Force has an impact within every domain. Whether it be on the sea floor, within the water column, on the surface, on land, in cyber, or in space, today’s submarines are delivering capabilities unlike any other platform in any navy.
As the only survivable leg of our strategic deterrent triad, and carrying approximately 70 percent of the nation’s accountable nuclear warheads, our SSBN force is always on watch, worldwide and undetected. Deterrence is all about denying benefit or imposing unacceptable cost. Without even having to shoot, just having our SSBN force underway every day helps ensure that potential adversaries know the United States has credible and effective options at any level of escalation.
I firmly believe that deterrence has helped prevent major power war for over 70 years. But deterrence isn’t just based on nuclear weapons. With our ability to conduct undetected operations in a denied environment, our SSN and SSGN forces have a unique access that allows them to collect vital intelligence in support of our national interests. Likewise, we have to treat cyber and electromagnetic warfare as warfare domain areas. That touches on how we conduct defensive and offensive operations within both the physical and virtual spheres.
As the CNO has said, the best way to avoid a fight is to develop the most powerful, deadly, and competitive Navy possible. Not only to deter a potential adversary, but to ensure that when called upon, we conduct decisive combat operations to defeat any enemy. That’s no easy task, but I know we have the right people for it. That is one piece. The other piece is to maintain a constructive paranoia about how we measure our readiness and strategically think about the future.
Business as usual will not retain our competitive edge. Instead, we must continuously and aggressively innovate in how we will develop a ready force for today and tomorrow, how we will fight today and tomorrow, and understand what our adversaries are doing today and tomorrow. When you integrate unmanned systems, our access becomes even greater as we grow longer arms, extend our reach across multiple spectrums, and effectively multiply our Force. We’re able to leverage our stealth to penetrate defensive perimeters to deny safe haven, reduce the enemy’s defense, and expand our influence into areas where we would otherwise not have access. Our potential adversaries know all of this, and it’s our ability to remain far-forward, on scene, and unseen that helps deter potential adversaries.
What do you think we need to do as a Navy and as a Force to ensure that we are prepared for the war of the future?
As we published in our Commander’s Intent back in March, the mission of the Submarine Force is to execute the Navy’s mission in and from the undersea domain. In order to do that, we must focus our efforts on warfighting capability, capacity, and endurance. We have to ensure the readiness and operational proficiency of our crews to safely and stealthily execute challenging missions.
Again, for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, we are experiencing a return to great-power competition. With a rising China and a resurgent Russia, the United States’ ability to conduct sea control and power projection is now threatened. Our National Defense Strategy, which is guided by the President’s National Security Strategy, directs our Navy to protect the American homeland, to promote American economic prosperity, and to advance American influence throughout the world. This requires effort at every level; at the Type Commander, within our maintenance organizations, and on the waterfront.
Even under the context of peacetime operations, we must deploy submarines ready to conduct high-end combat operations. This means the ability to surge SSNs in support of Operational Plans, homeland defense, and Theater ASW operations. We must continue to develop, refine, and validate our plans to rapidly respond to all wartime contingencies. Most importantly though, it’s absolutely imperative that we instill a warfighting culture in everything we do. We can do that by developing toughness while guarding with jealousy those aspects of being an elite force. This, at its core, means we must operate with character and integrity because only through trust can our submarines be successful. When our Sailors are underway and lying in their racks at night, or driving home from work, they should reflect on their day and feel satisfied that they’ve done their part to ensure their ship and our Force are prepared to win in battle.
How do you think we prepare our Sailors to have this mindset?
Like I’ve said, we’re in the business of achieving victory in battle. Our Sailors must be prepared to fight and win. It’s important to recognize, though, that the enemy is fighting to win too. So when the day comes when we begin trading ordnance with an enemy, we don’t want to get surprised. Our crews must be ready to respond quickly because our assumptions are not going to hold in battle. We’ve got to make sure that we build resiliency within our teams to ensure they can respond to adversity. To do that, we’ve got to build trust such that every member of the crew knows that every Sailor aboard is going to do his or her job when needed.
We’ve also got to give the enemy unsolvable dilemmas because, in battle, it’s us or them. Our Sailors need to recognize that if we’re not better than the enemy, we won’t be coming home. The good news is that we’ve got an elite Force filled with the greatest Sailors in the world. Rear Adm. Caudle and I know that every one of them is doing everything they can to make sure they are the best. We can look at history and see that, whenever called upon, the Submarine Force has always responded with resounding success. Just this year the USS John Warner (SSN 785) successfully launched Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles into Syria. It’s not hard to find examples of that type of success throughout the recent and past history of the Force.
What are some things that are going on across the Force that will help ensure we can deliver on the imperatives you discussed?
First, we must ensure we have the right equipment to deliver on those imperatives. In support of that, we are continuing to deliver two Virginia-class SSNs per year. It’s absolutely essential that we continue that build rate as we drop to 42 SSNs in the late 2020s. It’s crucial in our ability to meet the requirement of 66 SSNs. The Columbia-class SSBN is on schedule to be ready to replace our Ohio-class SSBN fleet. We continue to work on improvements to our missiles, our torpedoes, and our cyber and electromagnetic warfare capabilities by pursuing a family of weapons that compliments the characteristics of our submarines. We’re also working to achieve a family of unmanned aerial and underwater vehicles. These vehicles will extend our reach more than ever before. They will allow our Force to accomplish missions we are unable to today. Just last year we established Unmanned Undersea Vehicle Squadron (UUVRON) 1 to field all of the Navy’s UUV family of systems to meet fleet tasking.
In addition to equipment, we’re focusing on training. We’ve restructured and retuned the SSN training period for the high-end fight. This includes restructuring the Combat Readiness Evaluation and Pre-Overseas Movement Certification to eliminate duplication and put the right focus in the right place. We’re working to drive competition inside the Force and into our processes to produce winners and losers, like you would have in battle. It does us no good to be “At Standards” when the other guy is “More At Standards.” This will help ensure that our submarine crews are achieving their maximum warfighting readiness for Surge Ready certification while also ensuring that their challenging peacetime mission skills peak for deployment. We’ve also restructured the timing and focused the content of Pre-Deployment Training to maximize that readiness piece even further. Taking a page from the aviation community, we are establishing an aggressor squadron with a team that will become experts in studying our adversaries’ tactics and capabilities in order to more accurately reflect their tactics and capabilities within our trainers and evaluations.
What barriers exist that could prevent the Submarine Force from being able to accomplish its warfighting mission?
There are a few things that we can do as a Force to ensure that we are ready to accomplish the mission. First and foremost, as previously mentioned, we must continue to be a Force that maintains the highest of standards when it comes to character, trust, and integrity. We have to continue to nurture and generate leadership from the most junior Sailor on the deck plate to the commanding officer that recognizes the standards we are held to as Sailors so that, when we are challenged in combat, our success is built on trust with each other. This trust also takes the form of ensuring that an environment exists that welcomes critical feedback regardless if it comes from the newest Sailor aboard or within the Command Triad. Equal is acting on and being responsive to feedback.
Evidence of struggle in this area comes in the form of a poorly executed Plan of the Day, maintenance refit period, or simply a Sailor not knowing what he is doing at work the next day before leaving to go home. We’ve all got a part to play in supporting these goals. If there are Sailors out there with good ideas or some way to better conduct business, I want to hear from them. In fact, give them my email address and they can write me directly (email@example.com).
Shifting gears, over the past eight years, six SSNs have taken or are projected to take 50 percent to 100 percent longer to complete overhauls, with the shortest delay being a non-trivial 11 months. That’s something that we are getting after. These challenges directly impact our ability to provide ready forces, and we have to close the gap.
Second, while today we continue to enjoy a real advantage in undersea capabilities, our competitors are working hard to narrow the gap. As a result, we have to measure our readiness not based on our internal metrics but realities of our adversaries and the threats they pose. I encourage everyone to ask themselves how they know they are ready. I think most people would respond to a metric or evaluation standard; but remember, we defined those standards and metrics, not our adversaries. So we can’t rest on just meeting the standard.
Rear Adm. Caudle and I need our teams to frame everything that they do through the lens of warfighting and do so with a sense of urgency. We have to challenge ourselves, compete internally across watch sections, and drive to develop expertise across the full spectrum of submarining. For example, it is not enough to just shoot a snapshot. We must be able to execute the full range of motion from rules of engagement to the presets to firing the snapshot to drafting the after action report. Again, ask yourself how you know that you and your team are ready for combat.
Third, going back to cyber and electromagnetic warfare, we have to treat our virtual ship the same way we treat our physical ship. Just as the chief walks through divisional spaces, deck plate and command leadership are expected to conduct virtual ship tours. The failure of SUBLAN, the inability to logon to the shared drive to plan maintenance, open a work authorization form, or conduct operational planning can result in the same mission kill as a loss of propulsion or grounding. We have to ensure we treat our cyber and IT aboard just as we do our engineering spaces. Doing this will go a long way in ensuring we have full ship readiness.
Any parting words for our readers?
I can’t tell you enough just how proud Rear Adm. Caudle and I are of each and every Sailor in the Submarine Force, not just because of the amazing things that they are doing every day across the fleet, but because of the decision that they made to defend our nation by joining the Navy and the Submarine Force. It is a rare character trait to raise your hand and pledge yourself to a cause greater than yourself, and that is reflected in just how few people are willing to make that commitment today. More importantly, though, our Sailors have earned the respect and admiration of the American people. I think that sometimes our Sailors are too close to it to recognize just how amazing what they are doing day in and day out is. In August when we had the change of command on USS Washington (SSN 787), every civilian I talked to was in awe of the Sailors they interacted with. They’re taken aback by the technical knowledge and professionalism exhibited by our Sailors. Very few people in this country are willing to do something that requires such sacrifice, and I couldn’t be more proud of our Sailors for doing it. I am proud to be your Force commander. And so to the Sailors of the Submarine Force, thank you for all that you do and for dedicating your lives to this great Force.