Summer brings with it many things; some important, some pleasurable, and some both. Among the things I place in the “both” category are baseball, time with family, and the Surface Warfare Flag Officers Training Symposium (SWFOTS) in San Diego – scheduled coincident with the waterfront Surface Navy Association (SNA) symposium July 13. I am particularly excited for this year’s SNA and SWFOTS, because there are a lot of exciting things to talk about. As a preview to those discussions, I want to share some of my thoughts with you.
In the last few months, the CNO released a new Force Structure Assessment setting a requirement of 355 ships for our Navy to accomplish its critical missions around the world. To put this in perspective, a 355 ship Navy is about 25% larger than the Navy we have today (275 ships) – a significant increase. Exactly how, and when, we get to 355 ships is a matter for the folks in Washington to hash out, but there appears to be a rising consensus that the Navy must get bigger to protect and sustain our global interests.
Another area where there is clear consensus is the topic of readiness – Surface Force readiness – and the importance of focusing additional resources to buy more of it. Specifically, I mean properly resourced training, fuel needed for meaningful at-sea operations, time and money necessary to get both routine and emergent maintenance done, threat pacing modernization, and at-sea manning that ties it all together. Current readiness is so important that our new Secretary of Defense James Mattis made it his #1 priority upon taking office in January, and that priority is front and center in the recently submitted fiscal year 2018 Department of Defense budget. He and the uniformed leadership of the Navy have been making a persuasive case to Congress, that even before we grow the fleet, we must shore up current readiness accounts, and their case is carrying the day.
What does all this mean to the Center of the Universe – namely you, the crews of the Surface Force? Most importantly, I think it means we may have turned the corner on “the lean years,” where surface ship maintenance routinely served as a bill-payer for other Navy priorities. It means we will be able to get our ships the maintenance and repairs they need, while ensuring we are able to provide for meaningful at-sea training throughout the work-up cycle. Additionally, it means we can begin to replenish the stocks of some of our tried and true weapons like TLAM, while simultaneously being able to turn on full rate production for new and exciting ones like the SM-6.