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October 2002 Join Now

Teamwork, Flexibility, & Sustained Combat Power

Adm. Vern Clark assumed duty as chief of naval operations on 21 July 2000. From the beginning of his tour he has focused on five top priorities--manpower, current readiness, future readiness, quality of service, and alignment. With personnel retention and operational readiness rates now reaching their highest levels in many years, Clark said he will maintain a "laser focus" on recapitalization during the year ahead to avoid placing the Navy's future readiness at risk. Clark also introduced a new Navy operational vision earlier this year, Sea Power 21, to serve as the foundation for current and future Navy policies, programs, and operations. Major changes in the way the Navy trains and educates its Sailors are expected to continue during his time at the helm--as will Clark's emphasis on using fleet battle experiments to move the Navy faster along the path of transformation.

Interview With Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark

Senior Editor Gordon I. Peterson interviewed Admiral Clark for this issue of Sea Power.

Sea Power: Admiral, so much has transpired in the Navy during the past year--with the events associated with 9/11 certainly at the forefront. How would you assess the Navy-Marine Corps team's performance fighting the war on terrorism?

CLARK: Their performance has been fantastic since the very first day of operations. The Navy-Marine Corps team has demonstrated a tremendous ability to sustain combat power forward. One of the things that many people do not realize is that the optempo [operational tempo] picked up at a marked rate during the early weeks of combat last autumn. At one point we had four carrier battle groups--one third of the entire Navy's centerpiece--on station after we surged them to the Arabian Sea. They have not missed a lick. Their readiness numbers are far above our normal rates.

You cannot look back at the past year without appreciating the success of the extended combat reach of our naval forces. Marines off the ARG [amphibious ready group] deployed 500 miles inland. Our carrier- and land-based aircraft conducted combat missions reaching out 700 to 1,000 miles--and they stayed on station for two to four hours. This was phenomenal. The teamwork--not just between Navy and Marine forces but their interplay with the joint coalition--was truly impressive. As I have said many times, we could not have done it without the Air Force.

We also formed an incredible coalition. At one time we had more than 100 U.S. Navy and coalition ships on station. Many are still there today in support of the war on terrorism. This tells you something about the international domain. When nations are called upon to contribute to military operations, they oftentimes do so with their navy--for the same reason that we do. Navies can get there! A navy can operate at sea without the need to bed down ashore. A navy's sovereignty on the world's oceans avoids raising other political issues.

In Afghanistan, we displayed great flexibility in developing and executing plans for operations conducted at extended range with persistent combat power. There was great flexibility demonstrated by the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk when she was called into action to serve as an afloat forward-staging base for Special Operations Forces. Clearly, looking back on operations in Afghanistan, we recognize the important role of Special Operations Forces. I am very proud of the work of U.S. Navy SEALs [Sea, Air, Land]. We don't discuss their secretive work very often, but their performance has been brilliant.

Marines and Seabees also deployed approximately 500 miles inland to Afghanistan. What a wonderful achievement.

I also should note the increased force-protection measures in place around the globe today, including the work of our Navy coastal-warfare people, and the important contributions of the Naval Reserve in surging the support forward that we required to execute operations during the past year. It has been phenomenal.

We have forged an even stronger partnership with the Coast Guard fighting the war on terrorism. Our coastal patrol ships [PCs] have done a wonderful job on the point since we cancelled their deployments and redirected them to major U.S. ports. They are operating day-in and day-out with the Coast Guard and doing great work.

I could not be more pleased with the way everything has come together and the way our people have been able to execute and produce results. I have become a great believer in the importance of output--a product. The Navy-Marine Corps team has produced the right type of output for the nation--credible, persistent combat power.

You have had many occasions to speak with Sailors and Marines on station at sea and ashore during this war. What do they tell you?

CLARK: I can tell you that they respond to their duties with a sense of pride--pride in their ability to serve the nation. Our profession is built around the fact that we are people who believe in service. When I talk to our young people on the point, they are proud of their service and what they are doing. They have a sense of purpose. At every stop during my trip to the Indian Ocean they asked me how long they would be there. I told them that I would do my best to hold them to a six-month deployment--but that I would not blink twice to extend them if it would make a difference in the global war on terrorism. That's all they wanted to know. Our fellow citizens can be justifiably proud of the men and women who are wearing the cloth of the nation as Sailors in the United States Navy. They are magnificent!

Judging from the Navy's personnel-retention statistics, they are truly committed!

CLARK: Absolutely. Our retention statistics are a very important barometer about how our Sailors feel about what they are doing. We are enjoying a period of incredible success in our efforts to retain top-quality Sailors. First-term retention is now at 63.6 percent --the best of any year in our memory. High retention is built upon the fundamental premise that we are committed to seeing our people prosper. Our young people are getting the message, and they are responding.

In light of today's high optempo, will recent gains in personnel readiness be jeopardized if, as has been suggested, the services' personnel end strength will be reduced as a means to fund recapitalization and transformation programs?

CLARK: We have been able to manage our optempo. Our end strength today is 14,000 people higher than it was when I assumed office [in 2000] because our retention is so much higher. The Congress authorized us to exceed our end strength by 2 percent if we had to, and we are at the limit of that increase now. This has allowed us to increase manning and improve readiness. We will keep our manpower equation in balance--it is key and vital to our future combat readiness.

We have made a commitment to our Sailors to adhere to six-month deployments. If we have to surge for wartime operations, we will do that. I will come forward in the 2004 budget to make some end-strength recommendations because we will retire older ships and airplanes. I don't believe these platforms offer the combat capability we need. I face tough decisions when I must make trade-offs between present capability and the reinvestment of dollars into future readiness accounts. The cuts that you will see in the coming year are all about balancing and aligning our forces.

There have been a number of lists of "lessons learned" compiled during Operation Enduring Freedom. What are some of the enduring "take aways" that you associate with this conflict?

CLARK: After 9/11 we formed a "Deep Blue Team" to put a spotlight on warfare issues. When we first called them together I told them that the war would take a while, but that I wanted all issues on the table to address five at a time--not one at a time--so that we could sustain high-tempo surge operations. We learned that the operation placed a great focus on Special Operations Forces. The role of OEF [operational expeditionary forces] and Special Forces cannot be underestimated. The unique nature of the ground campaign involved small numbers of U.S. forces creating linkage with host-nation forces and the air forces providing extremely extended combat reach.

Precise targeting is another key issue. We fought a precision war, and roughly 80 percent of our pilots did not know their eventual targets when they launched on their missions. Just one of the JDAMs [joint direct-attack munitions] they employed produced the same combat effect as dozens upon dozens of unguided bombs dropped during World War II or the wars in Korea and Vietnam. This experience has helped us to sharpen our focus on our vision for the future--it is about decisive combat power and combat effects.

The importance of operating in a coalition with large numbers of ships at sea places a special responsibility on us. It is our task to be interoperable with every one of them. We relearned the importance of interoperability. Lastly, we reinforced again the importance of being an expeditionary force. We are the Navy-Marine Corps team. We are able to take our combat capability and our logistical support and go anywhere to operate out of the maritime environment.

You called the commandant of the Coast Guard on 9/11 to offer him the Navy's support during the war on terrorism. Will such cooperation continue?

CLARK: Yes, it will. We have had a very successful year working with the United States Coast Guard. I committed all Navy PCs to them for homeland defense with money in our '02 [fiscal year 2002] budget. Some of these ships were scheduled to be decommissioned, but we cancelled those plans and have continued funding support for next year to the sum of approximately $63 million. The U.S. Atlantic and Pacific Fleets have done a great deal of work to establish joint harbor-control operations. The Coast Guard stepped up its pace of operations for homeland defense, and we have operated in support of them.

One of our most important areas of collaboration relates to global intelligence. We have established an all-force maritime-tracking operation. I can't describe the details for security reasons, but in cooperation with the Coast Guard we develop a global intelligence picture tracking all ship movements on the high seas. It is paying profound results.

Have recent combat operations validated the decisions that you and Secretary of the Navy Gordon England made to put a top priority and early emphasis on fully funding the Navy's personnel, current operations, and readiness accounts in recent Navy budgets?

CLARK: Absolutely. I believe recent operations prove the point. We did not know this war was coming. We live in an uncertain world. We cannot predict tonight where we will be called upon to fight or who our enemies will be five to 20 years from now. None of us would have predicted that we would go to Afghanistan or need to surge four carriers to the Indian Ocean within a matter of minutes. We did it without blinking an eye because our combat-readiness rates are superb.

During operations in Afghanistan we flew our aircraft at 250 percent of their operational planned flying-hour rates for months. This is a tribute to our people, to be sure, but if your people do not have the right tools and spare parts it is hard to make a difference. I am totally convinced that our recent experience has proved once again that you must be sure to put your money where your mouth is if you want to be a ready force. You must commit needed resources, or you will not have a ready force.

We have seen peaks and valleys in operational readiness in the past. All the indicators today show that the depth of the "bathtub" [the readiness profile during the Interdeployment Training Cycle] is shallowing out, even in the context of expanded operations.

We must keep a focus on manpower. We should never forget that our turnaround in readiness began with funding the manpower accounts properly and buying the increase in end strength we needed to allow us to train the right people for their shipboard assignments and to assign them to their ships seven and eight months before deployment. Shipboard manning is better today than it has been in at least a decade. Full funding for spare parts and all the other components of current readiness followed. We have reaped enormous dividends during the combat operations of the past year as a direct result.

Is there a risk that the Navy will mortgage its future readiness if there is not an increase in the Navy budget's top line allocated for recapitalization?

CLARK: It is a two-part answer. Number one: We must have funds to recapitalize. In the near term, I believe the nation must commit the funds to do that. The nation is committing more funds to defense, so I do not want to be accused of saying that the Navy needs more money without the recognition that the budgets being proposed have markedly more resources in them. Some of those resources are being spent to address the readiness shortfalls in spare parts and maintenance that have built up over time. What is key is that it is costing us more to operate today's Navy and its old air force because of the past procurement holiday.

Number two: An increase in the top line is not needed if we can determine how to channel our resources more effectively. One of the messages you will hear this year in Sea Power 21 relates to "Sea Enterprise." We must figure out a better way to use the resources that our citizens give us. I do not take it as a given that the onus is all on the Congress to provide more money. Part of the responsibility is ours. I do not want my Navy to miss this message: Our task is to be better stewards of the resources that are being provided to us by the people of the United States of America.

We will be searching for resources to divert to recapitalization, but I have no expectation that I am going to be able to find them instantly and rechannel them where they are needed. We will be engaged in this work for several years. You will hear more about it as we unfold the details of Sea Enterprise and the vision of Sea Power 21.

Earlier this year you tasked your staff to increase ship and aircraft procurement rates by the end of the Future-Years Defense Plan [FYDP] to 10 ships and 210 aircraft per year. What is being done to achieve those levels--and will they be sufficient to reach needed buy rates?

CLARK: We have several initiatives underway. This year we implemented a divestiture examination called "Skunk Works." We pulled a team together to ask the people actually working the problem in the Navy to give us their ideas on ways that we can streamline and improve the efficiency of what we do. Without getting into the details of the '04 submission [i.e., the FY 2004 Department of the Navy budget request] before it is approved by the secretary of defense or the president, you will see movement in this direction next year.

I have testified to Congress that I fundamentally believe that it is our responsibility to level our investments and to commit and discipline ourselves to be a better partner with industry. You can't be a better partner with industry if you are spending $10 billion one year and $4 billion the next. They can't work their way through such a seesaw investment strategy. It is imperative for us to move to level investments in the shipbuilding and aircraft-production accounts.

We need to be spending a minimum of $12 billion a year in new ship construction. We need to be spending $8 billion to $10 billion a year in new aircraft procurement. We must find those resources and make it a reality.

Do you sense a growing awareness in Congress of the need to increase recapitalization funding if the Navy is to have the fleet of roughly 375 ships that you have identified as necessary for the Navy to be able to meet current and future
national-security requirements?

CLARK: There is a great awareness in Congress of the need to recapitalize the Navy, and I am encouraged by those who speak out in support. My best estimate today is that we need a fleet numbering approximately 375 ships. We will continue to refine the number as we develop the strategy for Sea Power 21 and build the force profiles and force packages for the future. We are talking about new force-packaging concepts in Sea Power 21. They will be designed so that we can distribute combat power over a wider number of places around the world where it is necessary for the Navy to represent the vital interests of this nation. We are going to need to have more ships to do that, but ship numbers alone are not the only answer.

Credible combat capability is the requirement. You can only be in one place at one time with one ship, and so numbers do matter. Numbers do have a quality all their own.

New aircraft-procurement programs like the Joint Strike Fighter [JSF] are said to be critical to the future of naval aviation. Just how important are they--and what is your outlook?

CLARK: The Joint Strike Fighter is very important, but let me begin by discussing an airplane now making its first operational deployment on the [nuclear-powered aircraft carrier] USS Abraham Lincoln--the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. We must field Super Hornets as rapidly as possible to allow us to eliminate the cost spiral with older aircraft that is robbing us of investment dollars. We now have the oldest naval air force in our history. The high cost of operating F-14s [Tomcat fighter aircraft] and EA-6Bs [Prowler electronic-warfare aircraft] is robbing us of dollars we could use for recapitalization.

I need more Es and Fs [Super Hornets] so I can rapidly reduce the overall age of our strike-fighter force. On the heels of that, just as quickly as JSF is ready to deliver, we will transition to that platform and retire older Hornets. The Joint Strike Fighter force is vital to our future. It will give us critical capabilities and characteristics that are required in the unknown and uncertain world of the 21st century when we are called upon to bring power to bear. JSF will have the ability to reach out at extended ranges without refueling--longer than we have ever operated in the past. It will maximize the independence of maritime forces operating from the maritime domain. The operational reliability, stealth, payload, and "bringback" capability that are designed into JSF will represent a great improvement in combat capability that we desperately need in the 21st century.

Do you continue to support the Marines Corps' requirements for a STOVL variant of the JSF aircraft as the replacement for its aging fixed-wing aircraft?

CLARK: Let me clear up any confusion that might exist regarding this issue, because I don't know how to say it in any stronger terms. The United States Navy wants the STOVL version of JSF produced. We need it. The Marine Corps needs it.

We have been involved in efforts to integrate Navy and Marine Corps tactical aviation more effectively, and this work has led to discussion of why both variants of the JSF need to be produced and compete to meet design specifications.

What Jim Jones [Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James L. Jones] and I have said is that these airplanes will compete for spaces on our ship, and their inherent combat capability will determine where STOVL is placed and where the carrier version is placed. My vision is wide open. I want to deliver the greatest combat capability. We will take that capability to create the best offensive fighting force that we can.

I believe that we need the STOVL JSF, and I have said that it may not be just the U.S. Marine Corps flying that airplane in the future! I have high hopes that the STOVL version will greatly advance the field of vertical-takeoff and landing aircraft. There is a large international market interested in this airplane.

Last spring, the Department of Defense ordered another study of the next-generation aircraft carrier, CVNX. What are your views on the importance of this program and its potential for transforming the Navy's primary sea-based aviation platform--the large-deck aircraft carrier?

CLARK: CVNX opens the door for a great transformation in the future. It offers the potential for new weapons systems and major advancements in the aircraft carrier's operational effectiveness and efficiency. Today's Nimitz-class aircraft carrier is fundamentally a 40-year-old design. We have expanded on-board systems to the limit of its hull form and its embedded power systems--we can't take it any further. It would be irresponsible to build another aircraft carrier like it.

When we look at how carriers change over time as technology develops we must create a carrier for the future that will allow us to enjoy tomorrow's advanced technologies. CVNX-1 will lead us to CVNX-2. It will have greatly advanced systems that will reduce manpower requirements and operating costs over the life of the ship by some $6 billion to $9 billion. A recent Defense Science Board study affirmed that we need to press forward with CVNX. The events of the last year have proved once again the vital importance of carrier aviation and our ability to project combat power to the far reaches of the earth.

Sea Power 21 projects an operational vision of Sea Strike, our ability to project offense, and Sea Shield, our ability to project defense. In order to achieve our missions in each area, the aircraft carrier will remain the centerpiece of our fighting forces. Without it, we do not have the needed combat capability to dominate the battlespace. I believe that assessment is widely recognized, and recent studies have reinforced that view.

Are you satisfied that the "family-of-ships" acquisition strategy for next-generation destroyers [DD(X)] and cruisers [CG(X)], coupled with the design of a new Littoral Combat Ship, have placed the surface Navy on the right course for the future?

CLARK: I am excited about the family of ships and the potential to introduce spiral-development concepts as part of the transformation of the acquisition process. It is one thing to talk about it; it is another thing to go do it! Since we unveiled DD(X) we have had a down-select, and the contract has been let. There was a challenge, but the action of the Navy contracting team was reaffirmed. We are pressing forward, and it is key and vital to move forward with the family of ships.

We hope to develop the LCS [the Littoral Combat Ship] rapidly using spiral-development concepts, because we need this platform and all that it will offer. The longer-range third step in the family is CG(X). During the past year incredible things have happened in the sea-based world of missile defense. CG(X) will be required to create the missile-defense force structure for the next 20 to 30 years that the nation needs. I see CG(X) coming on the horizon in about 10 years as the next step in the process.

You introduced your new Navy operational vision--Sea Power 21--in June during a speech at the Naval War College. Together with the new Transformation Roadmap recently approved by Secretary England, do you believe that Sea Power 21 will satisfactorily address past criticisms that the Navy did not adequately articulate its transformation strategy for the future?

CLARK: I do, because the Navy's Transformation Roadmap recently provided to the Office of the Secretary of Defense was a good first step. Secretary England's Naval Power 21, with Sea Power 21 working in concert with the Marine Corps 21 vision, lays out a good operational construct for the Navy-Marine Corps team in the 21st century. I will release a monograph on Sea Power 21 this month that will detail more of the specifics of its operational vision. The effort actually will take place over the next six months as we unfold the details of our new operational strategy. [Ed. note: See this month's special report on Sea Power 21 on pages 52 to 54.]

Sea Power 21 poses implications for the Marine Corps. Are you joined at the hip with the Marines?

CLARK: Yes, absolutely. We have shared our work with them. The area where they are principally affected relates to sea-basing concepts. We could not be in greater agreement that this must be a primary focus for the 21st-century Navy-Marine Corps team. Our views on the Navy's future operational and strategic concepts are being made in concert with the way the Marine Corps sees its future. We have some interesting ideas on how we can enhance our collective combat capability. This continuing operational thought will proceed into the next year--it is an ongoing process. Sea Power 21 is totally "in sync" with the way the Marines are thinking about their future.

Soon after assuming your duties two years ago you established five priorities to focus the Navy's way ahead on the fleet--manpower, current readiness, future readiness, quality of service, and alignment. Do you plan to rerack these priorities--your so-called trouble list--during your remaining time at the helm?

CLARK: I am not going to change them in 2003. If we lose the battle for people, the readiness calculus gets thrown in the tank. We will continue to focus on manpower and take care of the Navy that the nation has already bought, but because we are doing so much better in these two areas I am changing my primary focus to item three--future readiness.

I am gratified with the progress we have made in two years on the battle for people, our number one priority. I also am very satisfied with the significant progress we have made in priority number two--the challenge of current readiness. It is time today to put a laser focus on our readiness for the future. We must recapitalize our Navy and invest in transformational naval capabilities. If we do not, our future Navy will be at risk.

In closing, is there anything else that you wish to say to the Navy League and other readers of Sea Power?

CLARK: I hope that what I say will never sound old and tired, but I want to make sure that your readers understand how much I appreciate what the Navy League is doing for our Navy and the other sea services. One of the reasons we have been so successful in the battle for people is that our Sailors sense the support of the American public. I want everyone in the Navy League to know how much I appreciate their being on the point to take the Navy message to the citizens of the United States of America. It is vital to our success. *

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