NATIONAL HARBOR, Md --- The competition for maritime superiority, sustainability and force readiness was on the minds of sea service leadership during day two of the 54th annual Sea-Air-Space Exposition (SAS), May 7, 2019.
Derived from the Chief of Naval Operations’ (CNO) Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority 2.0 (Design 2.0), this year’s exposition theme is “Sustainability, Agility, Superiority.”
In a series of panels, maritime leadership spoke about the current health of the sea services, budgetary concerns, partnerships with industry and inter-service collaboration.
“I think we would say the biggest challenge for the readiness of today’s force is maintaining a stable and predictable budget,” said Rear Adm. John Nowell, Jr., director of military personnel plans and policy (N13), during the sea service update panel. “But we worked hard as the Secretary [of the Navy] tasked us to address [the readiness deficit] and started to fill holes and balance in FY18 and are really starting to build that capability in FY19.”
According to Nowell, that targeted focus on readiness has had a positive effect across the fleet in many ways, including an increase in flying hours for naval aircraft, more steaming days for ships and a decrease in manning gaps for Sailors at sea. In 2012, for example, the Navy had 12,000 gaps at sea. Today the number has been cut by 50%, a figure Nowell described as “unacceptable” but believes is progress.
“We really worked to fill those gaps at sea and we’ve addressed a lot those readiness challenges, but we’re not done yet,” he said. “I think across the spectrum we’ve been able to get after it, and we’ve been able to do that because we had the funding and predictability, which gives us sustainability.”
During the senior enlisted panel, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Russell Smith described how he felt the biggest challenge from his perspective as a chief petty officer was getting Sailors ready for the blue water fight.
“The war of the future is not going to look like what we fought for the last 17 years,” he said. “Some of our skills have atrophied when it comes to damage control readiness and firefighting readiness, so we’re making adjustments we need to.”
From the perspective of Sailors, Smith described the biggest challenge was having too many options to choose from, such as tuition assistance, and then having to balance them while trying to focus on their primary jobs.
However, he explained how the Education for Seapower initiatives, along with the Chief’s mess leadership, would help provide that balance.
“Education for Seapower could not have come along at a better time because it takes some of those things that Sailors have tended to focus on away from those jobs and says, “If you stay with us, we will help get you there. We will quantify what it is you do in a meaningful way so that we can get you the associates degree and later on, the baccalaureate degree”,” said Smith. “But focus on your job, focus on your skills, focus on the things that we need you to so that this nation, this Navy, this ship, this unit – whatever you are a part of – is ready to fight.”
During Tuesday’s keynote luncheon, the Honorable James F. Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, presented his four priorities for the fleet: sustained lethal capacity, increased agility, affordability, and building a workforce to compete and win.
“If you are not careful, you can get focused on what I call ‘scarcity thinking,’ where you’re worrying about sequestration, worrying about not getting a budget, as opposed to, what do we have and how we are going to be relevant going into the future?” said Geurts.
Geurts also noted that this same forward thinking is delivering naval capabilities quickly to the fleet.
“It has been amazing how fast we have pivoted on very important things, in the last two and a half years we have saved about $30 billion by improved acquisition strategies. That’s a lot of capability.”
Geurts explained that the Department of the Navy as a whole benefits when agile thinking takes place at the ground level and through partnerships.
“When we can partner between the industry, the ship’s captain and, wherever we’re supervising on the government side, we get great examples of us delivering great things out to the fleet. We have places like the Naval Research Lab who’s building Apollo spaceships, doing amazing things with very practical output to the fleet and are responsible for creating things like new paints with less corrosion, and more environmentally friendly that have an immediate impact on the fleet.”
Founded in 1965 and the largest maritime exposition in the United States, SAS brings together the U.S. defense industrial base, private sector U.S. companies and key military decision makers for an annual event to share the most current policies, programs, information and technology relevant to maritime service. SAS takes place May 6-8 and will include speaker and professional development sessions and dynamic maritime and defense exhibits on the latest technology and military equipment.