Adm. Bill Moran, USN, the vice chief of naval operations, discusses dialogue with China, improving the surface force in the wake of 2017’s deadly accidents, refining Navy culture, increasing ship repair capabilities, harnessing data, improving information sharing across the force and the new Design for Seapower 2.0 with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian at the Surface Navy Association’s annual conference and tradeshow in Northern Virginia. We are an SNA media partner for the event and our coverage is sponsored by Huntington Ingalls Industries, GE Marine, L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS.
Admiral Bill Moran
Vice Chief of Naval Operations
Surface Navy Association Conference
Vago Muradian: Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report. I’m Vago Muradian here at the Surface Navy Association’s Annual Conference and Trade Show here in Northern Virginia, the number one gathering of United States Navy Surface Force leaders from around the world, including senior Navy leaders. We’re partnered in this even with SNA, and our sponsors are Huntington Ingalls Industries, General Electric Marine, L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS.
We’re positively honored to have with us the Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Bill Moran. Sir, thanks very much for the time as always.
Admiral Bill Moran: Thanks, Vago. Great to be here.
Mr. Muradian: It’s a spectacular event. Happy New Year.
I want to start off, the CNO is in China. You haven’t had a chance to have a back-brief with him at this point. An interesting time I think we can say in the relationship where concern about China and great power competition has everybody focused. You talked about that in your remarks. So did Admiral Brown as well as Admiral Boxall, so everybody is focused on the challenge. Yet this is a very, very important engagement mission that the CNO has been on.
There are some folks who are saying hey look, you know, it’s not worth it. We’re just wasting our time. Let’s continue to do those Freedom of Navigation operations along with our allies.
Why are engagements like this important from your perspective as a senior naval leader?
Admiral Moran: Well, dialogue with all of our fellow mariners around the globe is really important. If there’s one thing about being in the Navy or the Coast Guard that is really important for America to understand is that the big ocean, whether it’s the Atlantic or the Pacific or you name it, tends to bring us all together. Mother Nature has a wonderful way of humbling us, so it allows us to have open dialogue about everything from freedom of navigation to international rules to make sure it’s safe and we can continue to keep our sea lines of communication open for trade and commerce that is the life blood of both our nation and other nations in the Pacific.
Mr. Muradian: It’s certainly a challenging time in the relationship. China and Russia are driving a lot of the manning, equipping and training decisions that you and the senior leadership team are making. The Defense Intelligence Agency did a report on hypersonics, although I suspect as you mentioned to reporters you haven’t read in full the report. Although I suspect you’ve spent a little bit of time on that topic as well.
Talk to us about the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Richardson, didn’t release the Design for Sea Power 2.0. Talk to us about how that document is going to be guiding some of the decisions you’re making on manning, training and equipping in this great power competition era.
Admiral Moran: It’s a great question. Design 1.0 was built to establish a framework for how we think about the future Navy. And Design 2.0 was really tweaked to get after great power competition and to start delivering the capabilities that we have been working on for some time now. It’s really kind of a call to action to get things that we’ve got on drawing boards and in the labs and in the fleet, connected in a way that allows us to operate the way we want to operate.
Mr. Muradian: Are you comfortable in where you are? I want to get to the ship accidents in a second, but the ship accidents had a way of catalyzing a lot of people in the Navy to think very critically about, to take stock. I think when you and I talked about it it was a moment to take stock. And a whole bunch of emotions tumbled out. We don’t have the right culture. We don’t have the right training. We don’t have the right kinds of weapons. We don’t have the right kinds of ships. Our magazines aren’t as full as they should be.
You mentioned that progress has been made, but that a lot of work remains to be done. Talk to us about from the standpoint of the VCNO. What you got right, what the force has got, what the Navy does right, and where the Navy has to work. Because you’re trying to thread a delicate balance of sort of saying hey guys, great job. We’re not as good as we think we are. We’ve got a lot of work to do. So that’s always a delicate thing for a senior leader to do.
Admiral Moran: I think first and foremost, we all need to remember that what drove us to this point is a very clear sign that we weren’t on our game in a place where you need to be on your game. So looking deeply at that through Admiral Davidson’s review and a Comprehensive Review, the Secretary’s Strategic Readiness Review. All of those highlighted areas where we needed to immediately in some cases take action that were done in terms of safety; and then a whole series of other recommendations, 111 total when you include those reviews plus GAO recommendations and other reviews.
Mr. Muradian: And the Roughead review was part of that as well.
Admiral Moran: Part of the Strategic Readiness Review, right.
So we took all of those 111 and we said hey, let’s make sure that we don’t just try to implement as many of these as we can immediately, because we would crush the CO’s and the Fleet with more activity and an inability to really assess whether they’re working or not. So we’ve taken a measured approach over the last year-plus.
The Under Secretary, Tom Modly and I have been honchoing that, chairing the meetings. We are supporting the Surface Warfare boss, Admiral Brown, in that effort. We rely on him to give us feedback on whether we’re hitting the mark or whether the timing is appropriate or not for what he’s trying to do. So he’s the supported commander, and I think that’s really important. The Fleet is the customer. We are just the vehicle to deliver what they think they need based on the Comprehensive Review and the Strategic Readiness Review.
So am I comfortable? I don’t think any of should ever be comfortable. I think we should be confident, and I’m confident in the leadership and I’m confident in the path we’re on. Out of those 111, we’ve got about 87 to 90 implemented, and we’re going to close out the rest of those during the remainder of this fiscal year. Then we’re going to assess them on an annual basis to see if what we did actually is working and if we didn’t, where do we need to make up for that?
Mr. Muradian: How do you gauge success in an endeavor which at the end of it is a major culture change endeavor for the surface force? There were a lot of bad practices as we saw in all of the reviews. At the end of the day, there were leadership shortfalls, there were some material shortfalls, there were training shortfalls. How do you know that you’ve succeeded in the cultural reengineering of, as Admiral Brown articulately put it, we’re not just meeting a standard, we’re trying to shoot for things that go beyond a standard? It’s not ticking off a box. I’d rather the guy not tick off the box if they, or the gal, if they’ve got and learned the right lessons from it.
So how do you re-engineer that in an organization that’s very large but built on ticking off boxes?
Admiral Moran: If you read the Comprehensive Review very closely, Admiral Davidson addressed almost every single one of the issues you just raised. To include the culture piece. He gave us a blueprint to go after. We’ve made some minor adjustments in that blueprint, but on balance we have tried to fulfill what Admiral Davidson’s recommendations were and what the SWO boss is sensing he needs more or less of out there.
So I believe in his leadership and we’re supporting the measures he’s taken, and we will be criticized for not moving fast enough in some areas, and maybe too fast in others. But we are, every quarter we are reviewing these to see if we get it right or not.
Over time culture will shift based on leadership, and leadership has to empower our sailors as I talked about in my discussion earlier today. That empowerment builds trust. That trust builds confidence, and that confidence is what’s going to allow us to win.
Mr. Muradian: What about on all of the other metrics? Whether it’s the right kinds of weapons, the right kinds of overall training. We’ve talked about high-end warfighting training. There’s a lot of focus on it here. Doing it in as classified a fashion as you can, but do it as realistically as you can as well as experimentation. We heard about the [Devron] Approach which Admiral Brown is bringing back to the surface force.
How do you rate your progress on all of these other challenge or deficiency areas as the VCNO? Where do you think the Navy’s doing well? Where do you need to apply a lot more effort that goes way beyond just driving the ships, but getting at the ship maintenance piece of it. Getting at the spare parts shortfalls which I want to ask you about in greater detail in a moment.
Admiral Moran: Every quarter the Navy and the other services sit down with the Deputy Secretary of Defense at the time, now the Acting Secretary, and go through how we are doing against the investment and the money that was given to us by the President and Congress to get after readiness and wholeness.
The major points that you just raised are about readiness and wholeness. I see it as my job as the Vice Chief to stay very focused on readiness and wholeness. At the same time, keeping an eye towards capability and capacity that we need to grow to based on a lot of other inputs. We’re trying to balance all that at the same time in the budget process, but also in execution.
So when I look at maintenance, we are buying down the backlog. So the signs are good. The yards are getting better, both public and private. And at some point, we think that learning will start to take off and really begin to shorten the timelines between when a ship comes into maintenance and when it gets out of maintenance and not being extended which causes all kinds of perturbations in schedule.
Mr. Muradian: You had an extraordinary summit. You and Hondo Geurts hosted the luminaries from the shipbuilding industry in order —
Admiral Moran: Ship maintenance industry.
Mr. Muradian: Ship maintenance industry. That’s right, it’s equally key. And all of our yard capabilities were right-sized for a very small Navy. You had a couple of accidents. That taxed the capacity which led leaders like you and Admiral Richardson to ask hey, wait a minute. If we get into a battle damage situation how on earth are we going to be able to get these ships repaired and back on the line as quickly as possible?
That then has opened up a data debate which you talked about in your remarks a little bit.
How much investment is going to be needed and what kind of thinking is toing to be necessary to get the spare parts infrastructure, but also the repair infrastructure of the nation that closed great shipyard after shipyard? I was born and raised in New York City. Brooklyn Navy Yard was one of the more extraordinary — I mean every time I got there I had goosebumps. That yard was building big deck aircraft carriers and absolutely critical to the war effort in two world wars and in peace as well.
Talk to us a little bit about the investment and the thinking. It’s not very sexy to think about shipyards and ship repair capability and spare parts, but at the end of the day, that’s how you generate force. What are some of the things that have to happen for us to get to where — do we even know what it is we need basically for the future we’re going to?
Admiral Moran: We do under the Optimized Fleet Response Plan. So that’s a very good plan for capacity that we need to deliver at different phases of an employment plan for our ships. So we have recently undertaken a new system called the Navy Sustainment System. We’re laser focused right now on our strike fighter community, to get those numbers back up. And what we’ve discovered in that effort is that a lot of our processes have broken down. We got into bad habits. We weren’t analyzing the data. We weren’t able to be predictive. And therefore, we started to fall behind in producing [up-jets].
The same fundamentals of that effort are now being applied to the shipyards, public, and we hope the private industry will learn from us as well.
We believe that if we can get the number of days for an availability down to X amount then we will generate more availability in those yards. So it’s a simple math problem that goes towards if you can shorten the amount of time that a ship is in maintenance, you can get more through in a given year. Pretty simple. You have to improve the processes. You have to improve supply. You have to improve the manpower that does the work. So recruiting, retention, training, all of those things come together in this Navy Sustainment System that we’re working on.
I’m very encouraged by what I’m seeing in the strike fighter world and as we now begin to apply that against the submarine community, the surface community and particularly in the maintenance arena. That’s going to have a big impact on the Navy.
Mr. Muradian: One of the things you’ve talked about and you mentioned here is data and exploiting the data. You made a joke about FORTRAN and a lot of data that you may not be able to access quite as easily. But the challenge is that the data is in multiple stovepipes. It’s within stovepipes within the Navy. Then it’s in stovepipes in industry, where then you have a proprietary label that’s put on it as well.
What’s the way to think about the integrated data sharing architecture we need for the future, whether it’s for predictive, whether it’s to help you as a senior leader make better decision-making. How do you engineer the system to sort of flatten it and get a greater sharing of the benefits of all of this information that resides in places that you can’t now access?
Admiral Moran: The architecture’s pretty easy to understand how you would design the system. Implementing it is the hard part.
Last Friday — this is very recent. We had a meeting of the minds inside the Navy and organizations that support the Navy to get after how do you implement a larger big data strategy. Enable that architecture.
As I mentioned in my remarks, when we get there we’re going to unleash all kinds of opportunity and innovation that will occur because people have access to that data and be able to do things with it that heretofore we’ve not been able to do.
It’s a big problem. My experience at N1 was 55 databases, all with separate data sets, all owned by different people, written in different code. It’s been a journey of five years or so now and we’re now finally seeing the fruits of that labor that’s going to transform the way we do personnel management.
The same thing, the same fundamental principles apply across ship maintenance, aviation maintenance, and our ability to network our systems when you think sensor, shooter, platform, all of those things are exactly the same issue. But it has to start with the data. I think we’re learning that over and over again. It’s a lot of work. It’s nug work. It’s human intensive. But once you get there, like I said, it really unleashes a lot of capability.
Mr. Muradian: How is this going with the sister services? General Goldfein, the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force was sort of in the vanguard of talking about better connecting things to get better outcomes. It’s not a new concept, but he did make that a focus item. CNO’s talked about it, and the other Service Chiefs as well.
If each one of the services is having the challenges that they’re having, how do you get this co-linked in a way that is not only organized within the Navy, but is organized across the joint force?
Admiral Moran: There’s a lot of great work going on in OSD and in other places. You’re absolutely right. All the services see the same problem statement and are going after it in different ways but similar at the same time. So OSD stood up the Joint AI Center led by Lieutenant General Jack Shanahan, U.S. Air Force. We’ve met, we’ve talked. We’re connected to some of their larger DoD-wide efforts, and we’re certainly going to take advantage of what they learned and do things and learn from each other.
But I think right now having each service running to try to tackle this problem as well as OSD with support from DoD CIO in breaking down some of the policy barriers that sometimes can get in the way of innovation, it’s all coming together, and I think this year’s going to be a big year for all the services, getting after data and getting after tools like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and so on.
Mr. Muradian: I have an innovation question or two I want to ask you. But first, everybody talks about the right balance. You talked about the right balance between readiness and capability and capacity. For the new House Armed Services Committee Chairman, Washington Democrat Adam Smith, it’s a focus on readiness. There are others, for example, the preceding Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, was about capacity. Build as many ships as we possibly can. We’ll worry about training, for example, later.
How do you know the right balance when you see it among readiness, capability and capacity? That’s a holy grail. And there are those who argue, you know, readiness for what? Let’s spend less money on this and let’s bulk up on equipment while the money is good, before the money turns down. What’s the right answer here? Is this something that we’ll know it when we see it?
Admiral Moran: The lifeblood of all of that capacity and capability are people. So if you out-pace the people with capacity, there’s going to be a lot of people who do not know how to operate that gear, and you can’t buy that time back.
The same goes for if you don’t fund the readiness account so you can operate that gear and train with that gear, it has the flip side.
So we have undertaken a very disciplined approach using data to try to make the balance come alive in a way that we can evaluate value of the readiness against the maintenance against the capacity and capabilities that we’re trying to buy. It’s highlighting things for us that you don’t sit around and just argue about it based on your position or where you sit.
So we are using that data to get at balance, and it’s revealing a lot of good things for us but balance is key. You’re going to see a balanced approach in our budget submit for FY20, and we’re already on the same path in FY21.
Mr. Muradian: Any highlights you want to share with us?
Admiral Moran: Not at all.
Mr. Muradian: [Laughter].
Admiral Moran: Stay tuned for the budget announcement sometime in early February.
Mr. Muradian: That sounds like it’s a good deal.
Let me ask you about carriers and advanced warfighting briefly.
The carrier deployment schedule was ruthless and back-breaking. We were burning through core, for example, whether it was in the Persian Gulf when we were trying to put pressure on Iran or other wartime demands. Anybody who knows anything about nuclear reactors knows it’s just a big gas tank. The faster you use it at full power hours, the less gas there is in the tank.
For a while, there were no carrier deployments. Now Stennis and Reagan are out, but a lot of other carriers aren’t. And that’s begged the question for a lot of people, why not? Is it because they’re spending more time doing that experimenting and advanced warfighting thinking? Is it that you’re husbanding the cores to try to make sure that you don’t run out of gas at a bad time? What are some of the reasons that you can offer folks about why the Navy appears to be moving back from that forward, relentless deployment pace at the end of the day?
Admiral Moran: I think there are several things at play here. First of all, from an engineering standpoint I’m absolutely confident we have the core life to go the full 50-year service life of the aircraft carrier. Nuclear powered aircraft carrier.
We’re not husbanding that resource. We have an Optimized Fleet Response Plan that takes into account all of those components as well as our conventional ship service life and our submarine community and aircraft. So it’s a very complex schematic, if you will, of how to employ the force to get as much out of it as we can.
Some of the operations that you referred to earlier are part of the DFE Construct that we’ve implemented under the direction of OSD, and you’ve seen that alive and well in the Truman deployment. It just successfully returned from its DFE deployment.
So some of those things are factoring in here. And during the period when you say we had no carriers deployed, we actually, our forward deployed carrier, the Reagan in Japan, was operationally available. So in our book that is a deployment because it’s forward deployed.
So I think we have what we need to be on the path that we planned for. I am very confident we’ll be able to continue on that path.
Mr. Muradian: Do you have to do a lot more aggressive vital fleet experimentation? I mean there are a lot of folks who make the parallel between the inter-war period where the U.S. Navy was not deploying to deploy, but was actively working on solving very, very big fleet problems in concert with the Naval War College, developing those advanced operational concepts that proved to be very, very valuable in conflict.
Do you feel like you’re doing enough of that kind of real world out there, experimenting, playing hard, getting your butt whooped and then coming back and learning the lessons from it?
Admiral Moran: Yeah. We want to do a lot more, Vago. It’s absolutely the right thing to do and necessary to tease out some of the capabilities that we’re bringing aboard, and to make sure we’re working out the capabilities that are already out there.
Now one of the things that’s going to really be a multiplier for us is what we call live virtual constructive, where our simulation capability is getting sophisticated enough where you can do a lot of that experimentation through the use of data, again. We call it digital twins, where we can digitize the Aegis weapon system. We can digitize certain software functions that allow us to play real-time with the hardware, but with a different mode that’s being worked on in a software environment to take full advantage and then be able to plug that into exercises with ships that are at sea operating and those that are tied up at the pier. That’s a place we want to be and the sooner we get there, the better.
Mr. Muradian: Last question. Chinese and Russian cyber. They are first-rate cyber powers. There’s been story after story about penetrations of DoD systems, persistent residence in some very, very sensitive networks. There was a very prominent story last year of Russian penetration of a very important capability. The United States Navy was developing the Sea Dragon capability. And there’s this concern that folks have, we just heard Senator Warner late last year speak to the Center for a New American Security about the extent of the penetration.
The United States has never faced adversaries that were as fully potentially reading our mail as they are now. How does that, and I know that you’ve thought about this and the senior team has thought about it. Do we need to have some sort of tectonic shift about how we handle information, how we revamp security protocols, given that in some cases there is a concern that the Chinese know more about us in a more intimate way than maybe we know about them at this point?
Admiral Moran: Sure, it’s a concern. And I don’t know that it’s worse now than it ever was, but certainly the technology is enabling an ability to be exposed, if you will, through the cyber world.
We’re working hard with industry. They fully recognize that this is on them as much as it is on us. It’s a shared responsibility, to make sure that we protect these important capabilities and the technology.
Mr. Muradian: And you’re confident you’re on the right track to doing that, to keep folks from snooping?
Admiral Moran: From a Navy perspective, I certainly feel like we’ve got the right people working on this and we’re doing a very good job of protecting it from our side. We now are working with partners, especially the smaller business partners out there, to help them understand how to protect the information because we have to exchange it back and forth from time to time.
Mr. Muradian: Admiral Bill Moran, Vice Chief of Naval Operations. Sir, thanks very, very much. It’s always a pleasure.
Admiral Moran: Happy New Year.