Editor in Chief James D. Hessman and
Senior Editor Gordon I. Peterson
interviewed Rear Adm. Michael G. Mullen, director, Surface Warfare Division,
Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, for this issue of Sea Power.
SEA POWER: Admiral, you recently
returned from a deployment to the Arabian Gulf as battle group commander on the aircraft
carrier [USS] George Washington; what is your operational assessment of the
forward-deployed U.S. Navy?
MULLEN: I have been in the Navy just over
30 years, and in all those years I have never seen a more focused, capable, and
operationally ready group of sailors and ships. Their preparation and readiness to execute
the mission were outstanding. It was a great success story for the Navy as we continued to
demonstrate its flexibility, mobility, and unimpeded access. We also had great support
from shore bases [in the region]. I felt as though I were living in the Navy of today--but
also the Navy of tomorrow. The deployment was the ideal of what a battle group commander
wants to be doing.
How do you assess the surface
Navy's ability to support joint [multiservice] or, for that matter, multinational
operations based on your recent deployment?
MULLEN: We operated with [the Royal
Navy's aircraft carrier] HMS Invincible. I was delighted that the British strengthened our
coalition with her capability. Their surface ships' readiness was very high. Historically,
there have been differences in the ways various services operate. I had the good fortune
to operate extensively in workups with NATO forces--which made our transition very easy
when we deployed to the Mediterranean and the [Arabian] Gulf. During the [USS George
Washington's] recent operation everything went very smoothly. There were almost no issues.
They typically occur in the C4I [command, control, communications, computers, and
intelligence] area, and there were a few [problems] in this case--but they were easy to
work through. The Dutch and the Canadians also participated, along with the British.
As far as joint forces are concerned, we
[U.S. Navy forces in the Arabian Gulf] worked primarily for a joint commander, who really
had two "hats"--one going to the fleet commander, Admiral Fargo [Vice Adm.
Thomas B. Fargo, commander, U.S. Fifth Fleet], the [U.S.] Navy component commander in the
Gulf at that time. The other [hat] was to work for JTF SWA [Joint Task Force, Southwest
Asia], where I spent most of my time working very closely with a [U.S.] Air Force two-star
[general]. It was clearly a joint operation. That is how we train in the Navy now.
It would be unfair to limit my comments
to the surface Navy. We had two SSNs [nuclear-powered attack submarines] in our battle
group that were very adaptable and worked very hard. We also had air assets, cruisers,
destroyers, and the USS Guam ARG [amphibious ready group]. We worked out how to use joint
procedures and joint equipment; we found the work-ups in training to be what we, in fact,
executed [on scene].
There is a focus on
interoperability, both within the Navy and with joint forces. Is there a similar focus on
interoperability with allies?
MULLEN: Yes. In the recent deployment we
were able to work with our coalition partners very well. We used communication links,
including classified [secure] communication links. There were some "latch-ups"
[improvisations] we had to use to work around some interoperability problems, but none of
the problems were particularly serious.
There have been many press reports lately
about interoperability in the Navy, such as two ships in the [USS John F.] Kennedy battle
group, the [Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers] Vicksburg and the Hue City, that
are representative of challenges down the road. We must ensure that all of the equipment
we are purchasing is capable of supporting combat operations. I think we have caught this
problem in time to fix it.
The specific problem is the interface
between the CEC [cooperative engagement capability] and the Aegis weapon system. There are
some other [interoperability] problems as well, including the Link 16 [the information
link associated with the U.S. joint tactical information distribution system--JTIDS] and
the combat system on our aircraft carriers, ACDS Block 1 [advanced combat direction
Those problems are representative of a
joint interoperability challenge, and I hope to use the solution to the problem in the
Kennedy battle group as a model to solve the joint interoperability challenge.
Is that one of the things you
will be addressing using the $3 billion in funding you were able to obtain to modernize
MULLEN: The $3 billion [committed by the
Navy to Aegis modernization and follow-on ship technology programs] was achieved by the
surface fleet taking a voluntary 10 percent cut in force structure. All of DOD [Department
of Defense] is facing a fiscally challenging environment and is trying to balance
readiness now with recapitalization in the future. We have to meet the QDR [Quadrennial
Defense Review] requirement to come down to 116 [surface] warships so we can reinvest for
The surface community made a conscious
decision when downsizing started in the early 1990s to recapitalize a great part of its
fleet. We are seeing the results of that [decision] in the new Aegis fleet and the very
solid DDG-51 [Arleigh Burke-class] program, as well as the ability to address two very
important and, by and large, new warfare areas--land attack and theater ballistic missile
Recapitalization in the land-attack arena
includes developments in the [naval] gun, munitions, and a strike missile. We also are
transitioning to the tactical Tomahawk [cruise] missile [program], a significant new
development over the last year. In the TBMD arena we have evolved from area defense, the
lower tier, to Navy theaterwide [capabilities], the upper tier.
You were the Surface Warfare
Division's deputy director before you deployed with George Washington. What are
some of the division's more significant changes that you have noted since your return?
MULLEN: I give [Vice] Admiral Dan Murphy
[Daniel J. Murphy Jr., former director, Surface Warfare Division] great credit. In these
times of continued reductions, it is very difficult to achieve change. But concepts we put
together on paper two or three years ago are really coming to fruition. That is
well-established in the naval surface fire support land-attack mission, as well as in the
theater ballistic missile defense mission.
We have maintained--and will continue to
maintain--support for our mine warfare and amphibious warfare initiatives. I support those
areas with my counterpart in N85, Major General Denny Krupp [Dennis T. Krupp, USMC,
director, Expeditionary Warfare Division, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations], as
well as the core-competency missions such as ASW [antisubmarine warfare], which continues
to be vital. I think we still have a significant challenge--and Admiral Murphy did a lot
of work on this--in the C4I world. We must ensure that our requirements for command and
control on ships in the surface fleet are met. That will be a high priority for me during
What other goals and priorities
have you established in the short time since you relieved Admiral Murphy?
MULLEN: My number one goal is to take
care of the people in the surface warfare community. We are coming out of a downsizing
environment, and today's young people are very concerned about their futures. They are
concerned about adequate compensation, medical care, the ability to invest their money,
and a good retirement plan.
We have taken steps to address these
requirements. Young people--both enlisted and officer--do not want to be gone from their
children as much as I was gone from mine [as a junior officer]. We have to get them home
at more reasonable hours [when their ship is in port] and not keep them at sea for
extended periods [between deployments].
Of course they will deploy--that is part
of what we do--but when we are home we need to be home, not away from the family as much
as was the case in the past. Both surface type commanders have worked that issue [the
inter-deployment training cycle] very hard, and we are making inroads.
The surface warfare community has an
incredible amount to offer young men and women--what I call "skills for life."
If you hit the deck of a destroyer, spend several years at sea, get an advanced education,
and have a viable future in the Navy, you are prepared for the rest of your life. I want
to continue to attract our best and brightest. That is a significant challenge and a top
priority of mine.
Programmatically, my top priority is to
continue to fund the fleet to ensure the highest level of readiness possible, combined
with the ability to prepare for the future and to resource the continuing technological
revolution and evolution--in naval surface fire support, land attack, gunnery, and the C4I
I also have a firm commitment to future
shipbuilding in the DD-21 [land-attack destroyer] program; it needs to be a powerful,
capable platform that can operate in the environment of the 21st century. We have to get
Lastly, as I mentioned, I am a great
proponent of theater ballistic missile defense. The cruiser-conversion program is an
important part of our defense investment strategy. Recently the Iranians launched a
ballistic missile; a few years ago the Chinese did. Those threats are very real, and they
are coming faster than we anticipated. The Navy has a powerful long-term answer to that
threat. That is why our cruiser conversion is so important. It will offer the
decision-makers--the CINCs [commanders in chief]--an opportunity to use cruisers as
capital ships. They will be capable of supporting carrier battle groups, and they will
also be capable of being out there independently [operating] in support of that mission.
Regarding your people goal, you
were underway a lot when your George Washington battle group was not forward-deployed
overseas. What was that figure?
MULLEN: For the George Washington,
we were gone 70 percent of the time [on our training cycle] over the 13 months before we
got back. The air wing had the quickest turnaround. While we were deployed, we were
underway 85 percent of the time. I support the CNO [chief of naval operations] goal of a
turnaround ratio of two-to-one [one year in the continental United States, six months
deployed]. The six-month deployment goal has been strongly adhered to by the Navy's
leadership. It is in that 18-month turnaround cycle that we want to reduce time away from
We have to recognize that this will be
different from what we used to do. Because of the quality of our people and the quality of
our ships, there is room for considerable reductions in what we have to do to get ready
[for a deployment].
Congress is very strong on
national missile defense [NMD], and I understand that Aegis is the likely cornerstone of a
powerful NMD program. Do you think you will get more funding for Aegis for the surface
Navy's cruiser conversion program because of the interest in NMD?
MULLEN: The cruiser-conversion program
has been very well-supported since its inception a few years ago. The Navy has staked out
a very strong position in theater ballistic missile defense. That path will go from the
area program to the Navy theaterwide program. Those are essential steps as we move forward
toward a national missile defense program.
Numbers are still important,
notwithstanding ships' current and future increased capabilities. In the submarine and
carrier aviation areas, for example, there appears to be a mismatch between assets and
requirements. With 116 surface warships projected, do you see a similar mismatch for the
surface Navy and, if so, how do we address that without adversely affecting OPTEMPO
[operations tempo] and PERSTEMPO [personnel tempo]?
MULLEN: That is a tough question. Using
my most recent deployment on the George Washington as an example, I do not believe we can
continue to operate on that kind of cycle [85 percent at-sea tempo]. During the four
months we were in the [Arabian] Gulf, with the peak tensions in November  and
February , the sailors and Marines performed superbly. They did what the Navy asked
them to do: They had a mission, they were ready--they did not need any motivating. And the
first-term [enlisted personnel] retention [rate] for the first six months of fiscal year
1998 went up significantly on the George Washington.
But the solution to the retention
challenge is not to keep our people at sea 85 percent of the time. We cannot always expect
young people to stay at sea that long and to turn [them] around that quickly. They will
not stay--they will vote with their feet. We are very much on the edge, but I do not
believe that we have a hollow force. But if our people walk, we will have a hollow force.
We must guard against that, and if we go
below 116 [surface] warships we will reach a point where we will be visibly absent [from
critical, forward-deployed areas of operations]. Investments for the future--like
DD-21--are vital. We must continue to build ships in numbers that, across the full
spectrum of surface warfare, will provide the capabilities that the national command
authorities want. It is particularly important as we transition to the Navy's
distributed-network future from [today's] platform-centric warfare.
Projections indicate, however,
that you are going to have future reductions unless you have a major increase in SCN
[shipbuilding and conversion, Navy] funding. Is there any answer to that problem?
MULLEN: We cannot continue to meet the
[operational] requirements we are currently meeting with a smaller force. We will have to
change how we do business if we get significantly smaller. The math is simple. We need to
build eight or nine ships a year; we are building six or seven ships a year now. I hope
that the nation's leadership and the American people recognize the value that naval forces
offer. The Navy-Marine Corps team is even more important today as we garrison more and
more [ground and air] forces in the United States. The Navy is the one service that can be
the touchstone worldwide, if you will. I would hope that the SCN funding to build more
ships will be provided. If we do not have the funds, we cannot stay the size we are
[projected to be under the QDR].
The young people in the Navy today want
to know if the service has a future for them as we keep getting smaller and smaller.
What is your assessment of the
DD-21 program today?
MULLEN: Last week I spent time with two
of the four defense firms [teaming on the DD-21 program], Ingalls Shipbuilding and
Lockheed Martin [Corporation]. I was very excited by the level of the competitive spirit,
which I believe will generate the kind of innovative ideas we need to make DD-21 work.
These two companies have built--as have the other two [industry partners], Raytheon
[Systems Company] and Bath [Iron Works]--very important combat systems for us for many
years. We need a powerful multimission combat ship, and all of the major players are
working very hard to achieve that goal.
One of my challenges is to make sure we
have the R&D [research and development] effort properly focused to ensure that DD-21
has the kind of capability we expect. I consider it [DD-21] the linchpin to our future
capability in land attack and to the next surface combatant in this family of ships, the
SC-21 [21st-century surface combatant]. Despite the demise of the arsenal ship [the
maritime fire support demonstrator program], there was a great deal of excellent work
done, and there are many ideas from that program that are alive and well.
With DD-21--plus some of the CEC
programs coming along--you are well on the way to your goal of offensive distributed
firepower. What are some of the principal weapons that you anticipate will be in the
surface Navy's arsenal at that time?
MULLEN: I am very excited about the
upgrade to the 5-inch/54 [-caliber] gun, which will be the 5-inch/62 [-caliber] gun,
scheduled to be in the fleet as early as 2001. That gun is tied to the ERGM
[extended-range guided munition] round, which will allow us to shoot at far greater range
than we have had in the past. The challenge [with ERGM] is getting the inertial navigation
technology inserted into a round that will take the "bang" when it goes out the
muzzle. That technology exists, and we have had success with it, so I think that within
three years we will have that capability in the fleet. That is the initial step in the
development of the advanced gun system that will be a part of DD-21.
The land-attack missile is a new piece
for us. CNO supports the LASM [land-attack Standard missile] as opposed to the ATACMS [the
U.S. Army tactical missile system]. For the short term, I think that is where we are
headed. For the long term, we need to evaluate extensively what the right answer is
between those two weapon systems.
Long range, we have dramatically shifted
the Tomahawk [cruise missile] program to a tactical Tomahawk program. I would like to
think that programs we put in place now will, years later, be as robust as the Aegis
system and the Tomahawk system. Those [systems] were bought many years ago for a threat,
and yet they are robust enough to be reconfigured decades later for a different threat.
The tactical Tomahawk offers a long-range land-attack strike capability. It will have a
range of 1,500 to 1,600 miles.
The other important piece is C4I. We are
putting together a fire control system that can handle everything from a joint
perspective--that can coordinate the gun and both of those missiles [LASM and tactical
Tomahawk] in one system. That is a challenge we are addressing now.
Where does the RAM [rolling
airframe missile] fit into this category?
MULLEN: The RAM is a self-defense weapon
system that is an important part of our goal to get away from the CIWS [close-in weapon
system], which is difficult to maintain and costly. It will be an important part of the
self-defense mission in future littoral operations--not just for [aircraft carrier] battle
group operations but for amphibious force operations as well.
We touched earlier on the
interoperability issue. CNO has taken action to correct problems, with the Naval Sea
Systems Command [NAVSEA] given the lead to work with various players. Are you
participating in that effort?
MULLEN: Yes. I have worked extensively in
that area. Both CEC and Aegis are very solid programs; the issue is their ability to
"talk" to each other. We have been actively engaged with NAVSEA and with PEO
[Program Executive Office] TAD/SC [Theater Air Defense/Surface Combatants] in addressing
this problem. I do not underestimate the complexity of the problem, but I think we can
systematically solve it--and use the solution for joint-service interoperability
challenges down the road.
The "Smart Ship"
program demonstrated aboard [USS] Yorktown--how is that program progressing and
how much will the surface Navy be able to use the lessons learned to reduce manning
MULLEN: We have learned much from the Yorktown.
We reduced about 45 billets. I do not see the Smart Ship program as the panacea for all of
our problems, though. We have had some great successes with it, and it is a very important
part of our future. It also, through its development, will have a great impact on manning
initiatives in our future ships.
We are aggressively planning to
im-plement the [Smart Ship] innovations aboard the DDG-51 class next year. We are also
looking at the Smart Ship [lessons] on our supply ships and amphibious-force ships. It is
also being looked at for our aircraft carrier program. It is important for us--where we
have common ground across all platforms--to ensure that these good ideas are shared and
injected into our future.
I chair a committee that does that with
the other [Navy] warfare sponsors. I think we will gain great advantage from that
[process], and I am very optimistic about the Smart Ship program. It is resourced well and
supported well--in the Navy, in OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense], and on the Hill.
You mentioned your deployments on
the George Washington and the critical importance of C4I information warfare--a
skill that surface warriors need to develop. CNO has said that the Navy is experiencing a
strategic transformation in information technologies captured by developments in
network-centric warfare that will be important for the future. What are the implications
for the surface Navy of the 21st century?
MULLEN: We must incorporate the
requirements for C4I in the ships of the surface Navy. We must address it as a mainstream
warfare issue--which we have not historically done. We must recognize the potential for
effectively using the technology that is available.
CNO recently issued a White Paper
on ASW. What are your thoughts on the importance and implications of that document?
MULLEN: I am very supportive of that
White Paper. One of my roles with the [U.S.] Atlantic Fleet was to be the ASW "keeper
of the keys," if you will. It was my responsibility to actively address ASW issues
and bring them to the attention of the fleet commander. I was very engaged with N84
[director, Antisubmarine Warfare, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations] in that regard,
and so this is a great opportunity for me to bring what I just did in the fleet here to
Washington and to support the effort programmatically.
I think Captain Morgan [John G. Morgan,
director, Antisubmarine Warfare Division] is doing an exceptional job in addressing those
issues. The White Paper very much fits my view of how we should be doing business in ASW,
where resources have been drastically reduced. It is my intention, in my own area, not
to take any more resources away from ASW.
Are there any final thoughts you
would like to share with our readers?
MULLEN: Yes, I would like to ask for the
Navy League's help. The support of the Navy League is vital in helping us reach
communities throughout America--in getting the message out that naval forces are an
essential component in America's national security as we face an uncertain geopolitical
future. We have never had a better Navy or better people in it, and my goal is to ensure
that these people, of whom I am so fond, are adequately compensated for their sacrifices.