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Fleet Forces Commander: Navy Needs Capacity, Readiness, Not Just Capability

Adm. Phil Davidson, commander, U.S. Fleet Forces, addresses the crew of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike) on Dec. 29, 2016, using the 1MC on the navigational bridge. Ike and its carrier strike group are returning from a 7-month combat deployment to the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of operation in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts. US Navy photo.

Adm. Phil Davidson, commander, U.S. Fleet Forces, addresses the crew of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike) on Dec. 29, 2016, using the 1MC on the navigational bridge. Ike and its carrier strike group are returning from a 7-month combat deployment to the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of operation in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts. US Navy photo.

The commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command called on Navy and defense leadership to move past the Third Offset Strategy’s focus on developing new capabilities and instead balance those technologies with improved readiness and a larger fleet.

Adm. Phil Davidson said Thursday night that capability, capacity and readiness were not separate funding silos that could be rebalanced as needed, but rather were overlapping pools that spill into one another. Taking money out of readiness to add an Aegis Combat System upgrade for an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, for example, may mean canceling two other ship’s maintenance availabilities, which ultimately decreases readiness and capacity for the sake of one more-capable ship.

“When you ask me which do I want to buy – capability, or capacity, or readiness? The only answer is yes,” he said during the final speech of this year’s Surface Navy Association annual conference.

His comments come at the end of what has been a combative relationship between Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Defense Secretary Ash Carter – with Mabus pursuing a legacy of growing the fleet, and Carter seeking a legacy of carrying out the Third Offset Strategy that focuses on unmanned technologies, big data processing, advanced sensors and weapons, and prototyping and experimentation.

In December 2015 Carter directed Mabus to cut 12 Littoral Combat Ships from the shipbuilding plans and instead invest that money in high-tech upgrades such as developing an anti-ship mode for the Standard Missile-6 and Tomahawk Land Attack Missile, and quickening development of future Flight III destroyer and Block V attack submarine technologies. While some these new capabilities such as the anti-surface missiles – which have been rapidly developed and are in various stages of testing and fielding – have supported the Navy’s distributed lethality concept, Davidson called for the end of this sole focus on capability advances via the Third Offset Strategy and a shift in focus to fleet size and readiness.

Referencing the original Offset Strategy in the 1950s that created nuclear weapons and nuclear-powered ships and submarines, and the Second Offset Strategy in the 1970s that brought positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) for precision weapons and communication, Davidson said, “to look back at offset number one and two and evaluate whether they’re successful or not is kind of a false view. You cannot view them in isolation. Why? It was the follow-on investments in capacity and in readiness that allowed them to procure the systems, the capabilities that [research and development] developed, pull them out of low-rate production and build the triad in the 50s and build the conventional force in the 70s that was so good. It is the capacity and readiness strategies that followed those offset strategies that made them successful.

“So, my thoughts on strategy: one, it’s important to have one, and there is one out there. But two, you have to know when to change it, that’s critically important,” Davidson concluded.
“And I’m here to tell you today, I think that time is now. It is time for a bigger, more capable and more ready Navy.”

Mabus gave a farewell address earlier in the conference, highlighting the 86 ships he put under contract in his time as Navy secretary – compared to the 41 in the same time period under President George W. Bush. While he didn’t name Carter specifically, Mabus defended his shipbuilding spree as necessary and an efficient way to manage the industrial base.

“Another argument I’ve heard is, the Navy has prioritized shipbuilding to the detriment of new technologies, weapon systems, things like that,” Mabus said.
“I got two answers to that: number one, we’re the Navy! What else are we going to build? We need ships, and we need enough of those ships. But second is, how are we going to deliver those new weapons? How are you going to get them there if you don’t have the platforms? How are you going to be present around the globe, around the clock, if you don’t have those platforms?”

Davidson made clear that the path forward wouldn’t be easy, going from a 274-ship fleet today that the Navy has struggled to keep ready due to budget constraints to a 355-ship fleet as called for by the new Force Structure Assessment and apparently supported by the incoming Trump administration.

“Well which is it, what do you want? Do you want 274 ready, or do you want 355? That’s a false choice,” he warned.

Davidson also noted that these discussions about how to balance capacity, capability and readiness come amid a complex threat environment around the world.

“It’s a pretty sporty environment out there, and when [Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson] came in and took office and he talked about a gray hybridized environment that was going to be moving at a slow boil, that would require our people to sort peacetime from wartime and respond appropriately and accurately, this last seven months really spells that out,” he said, referring to the Middle East deployments of the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group and the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group. Within those groups, USS Wasp (LHD-1), USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), USS San Antonio (LPD-17), USS Mason (DDG-87), USS Nitze (DDG-94) and USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15) all saw combat actions between June 1 and the end of 2016, he said, and USS Carney (DDG-64) also fired illumination rounds into Libya in support of Wasp’s strikes.
Ike and Wasp, San Antonio as well, flying strikes in Iraq, Syria and Libya because we have the sea control. Mason, Nitze, Ponce, and San Antonio again, they were fighting for (sea control), to establish it there in the Red Sea – not only for their own safety but for the safety and the security of commerce that’s traveling through there.”

  • NEC338x

    I wish they had attributed the photo. I appreciate that it was left at high resolution that could be zoomed in on. Some things that I would not expect to see down in Ike’s plant:
    1. Butt putty instead of a strain relief fitting on the duplex receptacle box.
    2. Duplex receptacle installed inverted.
    3. Mixture of armored and unarmored cable in a non-flex situation.
    4. Cable ID plate improperly secured.
    5. Spray cover missing from exposed 232 connector on panel between NSSMS annuciators.

    On the positive side, there is some damn fine brightwork in that image.

    • Masau80

      How about the CNO wearing a uniform he hasn’t earned – 4 stars and he still has aviator envy!

      • Didn’t know that aviation utility coveralls had to be earned. When you’re a guest on a submarine, the COB may issue you a submarine utility coverall (a.k.a. poopy suit) while you’re on board. Wearing Dolphins on your poopy suit is another matter entirely.

        • Aubrey

          Yeah, but it still is a “macho”, envy thing.

          Kinda like everyone wanting/needing to look “tactical” all the time (*cough*cough* blueberries *cough*).

          It is this thinking that has a large percentage of the cops in the US wearing all black and trying to look like the movie version of a SEAL.

      • Ed L

        I served one Ship were the CO was an Aviator. I remember one time the Helo Det OIC came up to the bridge in his flight suit to see the CO, I was BMOW. The CO looked at the Det OIC and asked if he was flying today? The DET OIC said no. Our CO said we’ll talk later. The det oic looked confused and then left the bridge. Now if the DET OIC had come straight from the cockpit everything would have been okay.

    • Wasn’t Ike the original “Love Boat”? Electrician’s Mate is one of the sexist ratings that Mabus wanted to do away with, so what do you expect.

  • Frank Langham

    The OHPs were undermanned and there was not enough berthing. … They were great ships and so were the Spruence DDs but they were “rode hard and put away wet”.

  • RobM1981

    What is our objective? The Admiral says “we have a strategy,” and I’m sure he’s right – and I’ll even spot that much of it isn’t my business… but, it doesn’t feel as if we are aligned to a “why?”

    Just focusing on the tip of the spear: we have over 60 DDGs and over 20 CGs. If we hadn’t frittered away our treasure on the LCS, we’d have even more small hulls.

    Plus, of course, we have CVN’s, the gator navy, and all the rest. We’re big, for sure – much bigger than either Russia or China, and actually larger than them, combined, in several ways.

    Our SSN force is the finest in the world in terms of both quantity and quality.

    Which is not to say that we don’t need more or better, but: Why? For the last eight to ten years the USN has been on a buying spree, able to buffalo the POTUS into believing “we need this.” They have frittered away a fortune for, what? LCS and F-35? Those two platforms have absorbed, literally, a fortune – for what? The F-35 is clearly better than the AV-8, so the USMC is happy – but at what cost? Do we really believe that the 35 is that much better than the 15, 16, or 18? We know it’s not as good as the 22, so again – what did we spend that money for?

    People have to listen to what Trump is saying, in toto. He’s not just saying More, he’s also saying Cheaper. Knowing what the threat we are countering is has never been more important. Trump has been known to “Ready, Fire, Aim” before – he could easily make decisions based on incomplete information or bad assumptions.

    It falls to the Navy to be able to clearly state what they want, how much of it they want, and why.

    I still don’t see this.

    • Scott

      LCS has not cost a fortune, it is a good ship. These ships are being cranked off the line, at an amazing pace. Sure, the project is still being defined. Sure, changes are being made and upgrades are headed it’s way. Yes, the approach to this ship has changed from it’s initial concept, but when all is said and done, the Independence variant will hold it’s own in combat and will provide U.S. presence and fill a niche that has been deemed necessary.

      • RobM1981

        The project is still being defined?

        The first contract was written about 13 years ago.

        Using two different designs to deliver the exact same capability, aside from being a total boondoggle, should allow these things to be cranked off the line, at an amazing pace.

        Given this: how many are afloat now, 13 years after the contract, and 16 years after the design was started? what is your definition of “cranked off the line?”

        They are corvettes, at best. Once we bolt SSMs on them they will be adequate SSM platforms. They will be mediocre ASW hulls, and unable to hunt for subs in a heavy sea. Given that our underwater adversaries are nuclear, that makes the LCS nothing but a target in a sea state of 5 or higher. It will be all over the waves, like a cork.

        If Russia and China are two potential conflicts, perhaps we should note that they experience heavy weather off of their coasts, routinely?

        And what is their AAW suite, again? How do they defend against air attack? A 57mm gun and RAM?

        We need at least another 1,000 tons, and the platforms that go with it.

  • Ed L

    At least the 1MC has not change from my day

  • Ed L

    Amen

  • Ed L

    November 07, 2016 at 5:55 article by freedberg F-22, F-35 outsmarts test ranges.