September 29th marked the second anniversary of Admiral Gary Roughead as CNO of the Navy. I have only shared about 30 words with the CNO. It was a brief introduction of myself and my wife at one of those famous free beer gatherings with sailors, and 30 words was about all I was able to manage before being rushed over by the CNO to meet the public affairs folks on his staff. Hardly surprising, 10 minutes later I was told by one of his staff members that my blog is seen as part of the modern Navy insurgency. In 10 years we will find out if the Navy blogosphere as the insurgency was a good thing or not.
September 29th passed without any discussion on the internet of the CNOs anniversary, except on the CNOs own Facebook page where he mentioned the anniversary in passing. Two years later, it is time for a review of where the Navy was before Admiral Roughead became CNO and where the Navy is now.
It should be noted that the Chief of Naval Operations for the US Navy is one of the toughest jobs in the world. My job description for CNO of the Navy is: the primary leadership position of the organization responsible for defending the global economic system. Unfortunately, successful execution of the job relative to strategy during maritime peace does not influence the perception of how effective the CNO is, because in today’s economically driven political environment the CNO is a job defined by budgets.
Let us review where the Navy was on September 28th, 2007. In 2007 the Congressional Budget Office was estimating the Navy 313-ship fleet plan shipbuilding budget would cost roughly 35% more per year than the Navy was estimating in budget submissions to Congress. The direction of the Navy in 2007 was being driven by Seapower 21. The Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, signed by all three maritime service leaders, was less than a month old. The 313-ship shipbuilding plan (PDF) of the Navy, as laid out by the previous CNO Admiral Mike Mullen, was dependent upon the achievement of all 5 of the following goals:
- The Navy’s overall budget needed to remain more or less flat (not decline) in real (inflation-adjusted) terms.
- Navy Operation and Maintenance (O&M) spending needed to remain flat (not grow) in real terms.
- Navy Military Personnel (MilPer) spending needed to remain flat (not grow) in real terms.
- Navy research and development (R&D) spending needed to decrease from recent levels and remain at the decreased level over the long run.
- Navy ships needed to be built at the Navy’s currently estimated prices.
The plan left to Admiral Roughead was unrealistic and impossible to execute. In 2007, the Navy had 279 ships, 40 fewer than the beginning of 2000, and that was after the Navy had already shrunk by 230 ships in the 1990s. Shipbuilding was a complete disaster when ADM Roughead became CNO. When you factor in the cancellations to the Littoral Combat Ship, the Navy procured only 4 ships in FY 2006, 5 ships in FY 2007, and 3 ships in FY 2008 in the three budget cycles before ADM Roughead became CNO; an average of only 4 ships a year. When taking a historical view, Admiral Gary Roughead became Chief of Naval Operations when the fleet was the smallest it had been since 1916.
So what has ADM Gary Roughead achieved in two years?
During his first testimony in the House as CNO on December 13, 2007, Gene Taylor looked at ADM Roughead when discussing the Navy’s new maritime strategy and said:
“It’s a nice, really slick brochure — at the end of the day, it didn’t do so much for our country.”
Later, according to Gene Taylor himself in a late July 2008 hearing, it was revealed that ADM Roughead had a private meeting with Gene Taylor (probably that same day) with the suggestion to truncate the DDG-1000 and build DDG-51s again. In a nutshell, you can sum up the first two years of ADM Gary Roughead by these two events. On the public side, ADM Gary Roughead has been publicly taking it on the chin for all the things people get frustrated with the Navy about, and on the private side ADM Gary Roughead has been working behind the scenes, constantly making very difficult and always controversial decisions, to put the Navy on a solid foundation to build forward from.
My assessment is that ADM Gary Roughead has completely changed the Navy in just two years, and that action has made him a lot of enemies. The Navy rejects any changes as an instinct. ADM Roughead has completely blown up the DDG-1000 program, the centerpiece program of the 21st century surface combatant program and one of the cornerstones of Seapower 21. Truncating the DDG-1000 program to three ships, he has restarted the DDG-51 program to insure cost certainty and stability in high end surface combatant shipbuilding. Under his watch the Littoral Combat Ship program has been under constant stress and change. Not only have at least 5 LCS hulls requested in previous budgets been canceled, but the acquisition plan for the LCS has changed every year since construction on the first ship started. The plan for 16 Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF) ships has been canceled, wiping out the Sea Basing industry driven concepts that emerged in 2006, and formed another cornerstone of Seapower 21. The Future Cruiser Replacement program known as CG(X) has been pushed out several years to insure design maturity and reset the requirements for the ship (both DDG-1000 and LCS have been criticized primarily due to the requirements planning process, which drove the cost of both programs for questionable capabilities like stealth and speed respectively).
The Expeditionary Strike Group concept, another Seapower 21 cornerstone, has been tossed out – primarily because it never worked. In just two years, ADM Gary Roughead has erased poor decisions by his predecessors; truncated, changed, and even eliminated poorly executed programs; and is on the verge of revealing a completely new direction for the Navy at the very end of a decade that will be remembered in Navy history as the lost decade.
As Chief of Naval Operations, Gary Roughead has already stood up one numbered fleet, the 4th Fleet, and is expected to stand up a second numbered fleet, the 10th Fleet, in October 2009. Under Gary Roughead, the US Navy has implemented Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 and has developed a joint coordination center in CENTCOM that has brought together one of the largest international naval cooperation in history to join most of the worlds major military and economic powers in fighting the shared threat of piracy, a process that unquestionably represents precision execution of the Navy’s new maritime strategy.
All four of the Navy’s new SSGNs have made their first deployment under Admiral Gary Roughead as CNO. The Navy now provides nearly half the total strike airpower for close air support of troops in Afghanistan under ADM Roughead, and there are more uniformed Navy personnel on the ground as individual augmentees supporting forces on the ground in CENTCOM than there are sailors on ships at sea. The Navy has not experienced a single major scandal since ADM Roughead became CNO.
What is really amazing, to me anyway, is that ADM Roughead has done this with a Secretary of Defense who, despite numerous speeches and articles, has never once indicated he is even interested in the Navy from a strategic perspective. Just as amazing, ADM Gary Roughead has successfully changed the Navy under a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who is legitimately partially responsible for the mess the Navy was in when ADM Gary Roughead took over the job.
ADM Gary Roughead took over as CNO under impossible conditions and circumstances on paper, and has executed his plan to put the Navy on a solid footing heading into the second decade of the 21st century. I have no idea what the new administration or the Secretary of Defense thinks of Admiral Gary Roughead as CNO, but I do know one thing: Gary Roughead was handed an impossible situation and has guided the Navy through the minefield to make the future Navy look a lot more possible, and whether one approves or disapproves of how he has done it, or the direction he is steering the ship…
He has earned the chance to execute his vision now that the Navy is finally emerging from the failed vision of his predecessors.