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CHIPS Articles: Talking with Adm.John C. Harvey Jr.

Talking with Adm.John C. Harvey Jr.
Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command
By CHIPS Magazine - October-December 2009
Adm. John C. Harvey Jr. assumed command of U.S. Fleet Forces Command in July 2009 bringing with him a wealth of knowledge about the inner workings of the functions and missions of the U.S. Navy — from the Nuclear Navy to three tours at the Bureau of Naval Personnel in a variety of billets including surface nuclear officer detailer, CGN/CVN placement officer, surface nuclear program manager in N13, legislative adviser to Chief of Naval Personnel (CNP), executive assistant to CNP and as director, Total Force Programming and Manpower Management Division (OPNAV N12).

He has also served as the senior military assistant to the Under Secretary of Defense (Policy), and on the Navy staff as deputy for Warfare Integration (OPNAV N7F).

Most recently, he served as the 54th CNP/OPNAV N1 and as the director, Navy Staff (OPNAV).

The admiral is interested in extending the intellectual discussion of the Navy's mission and challenges. He hosts a blog and Commander's Thinking Corner on the Fleet Forces Web site posted with articles and speeches that he considers valuable for professional development and decision making.

The National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) Greater Hampton Roads Chapter hosted a breakfast Sept. 17 in Norfolk, Va., where Adm. Harvey spoke about Fleet Forces Command's posture and priorities. Highlights of the discussion included many factors that impact the Navy mission, including the global economic crisis; cybersecurity; maritime security; fleet maintenance; and the current high operations tempo. The admiral called these conditions a "perfect storm" in sustaining Navy operations.

Key points of Adm. Harvey's remarks and his response to questions from the audience follow.

Budget Constraints and the Operational Tempo

We are in 'Class 6' rapids — that is what the next few years are going to be like. There are huge decisions coming [from the Administration] on Afghanistan that will affect Fleet Forces and the Navy and the armed services writ large. Along with that the international fiscal crisis is impacting us today and will continue to do so. The economic factor sets the stage for everything. For the last eight years, we were in an increasing budget environment. That is over. We are now on a downhill slide.

We have been through these build-up and downsizing cycles before. When I came into the Navy in 1973, it was post-Vietnam, the bottom of a cycle. So now we are on what I believe will be the third cycle during my time in the Navy. This is going to be a different experience for everybody in the chain of command, not just the budgeteers, because it is going to drive how we perceive the force, how we operate the force, how we deploy the force, and how we sustain the force into the future.

My job hasn't changed — provide forces ready for tasking. It is clear; it is unambiguous. The challenge is the demand signal from the combatant commanders has gone up every year in every force category. The money has gone up every year [too], and we have been able to generate more force and what we have generated has been consumed.

Now, we are getting less resources to generate those forces, but we have a demand signal that continues on an upward trajectory, whether you are talking about Africa Partnership Station, Southern Partnership Station, Comfort (USNS Comfort) and Mercy (USNS Mercy) humanitarian deployments, from the South Pacific to Southeast Asia, and single deployers for counterterrorism and counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, requirements continue to rise.

Sixty percent of all close air support in Afghanistan now is coming off the deck of an aircraft carrier. Just think what that does to flight hours. You see that reflected in every part of operations within the force and that demand signal continues to build up while the resources go down.

Today, we have about 48 percent of the Navy underway. We have been sustaining that for a number of years now. Operational tempo drives your maintenance tempo. We are using this force considerably and building up a maintenance bill at the same time we are struggling to procure the future force.

In order to sustain a Navy that is global, that is inherently expeditionary, that is ready and responsive to that commander and to sustain that 313-ship floor, I have to get the existing force out to its service life. Yet, I am using that existing force more than we ever have before in the past on a standard basis.

The good news is that however long you have been out of uniform, when you get the chance, go walk the flight line and the deckplates because the people we get have never been better.

It almost sounds like a cliché, but it is not. If you take a hard-nosed look at the data, where these Sailors come from, their test scores, backgrounds and education, and how they are performing, and what we are doing to advance them, the quality we are bringing into the officer and the enlisted corps, by any measure, we are doing extremely well.

That's what gives me my confidence in the future. Despite being in permanent whitewater, I have the right people in the kayaks to get us through. I told the CNO that the third class petty officers will save the day and figure it all out and make it work for us. I keep that foremost in my thoughts.

The Navy's Core Competency

I think the core competency of the United States Navy, the reason that taxpayers have funded this Navy for 234 years, is so that in a powerful and sustainable way, we can go to a place somebody doesn't want us to be, do things that people don't want us to do, and sustain that activity for as long as we need to. That is our core competency.

Today the Navy is our strategic reserve. Whatever scenario you want to apply that to, I think that means that I have to be able to provide the CNO with four carrier strike groups within 30 days. That is my model for how I look at what we need.

To do that over time, I think I have to start looking at the demand signals and recommending some 'nos.' We did it in '09; there will be more in '10 looking at the Global Force Management process. We need to recognize that if we go beyond what we can do, we are doing real damage to the ability to sustain today's force into the future.

We are very sensitive to saying no; it is not our culture. Now I am saying, 'Here is what I can do with the resources you have given me to answer the bell.'

Discussion with Audience

Q:How do you plan to meet the operational challenge?

A: I did two things right away at FFC that were at the heart of how I view the operational challenge. I took Mark Honecker, who was serving as executive director and chief of staff and lead for the Fleet Readiness Enterprise, and I split his job.

Vice Adm. Pete Daly is now the deputy chief of staff, and Mark Honecker is the executive director and leader of the Fleet Readiness Enterprise. That refocused the FRE. I told Mark I wanted him like a laser on the challenge of readiness in ‘10. How do I produce forces ready for tasking in '10 when I already know that I will have a lot less resources than I had in '09?

I told him that I was not so much interested in more efficiency, but I am interested in effectiveness, the effectiveness of the force that we send forward and not simply in generating more efficiencies within various enterprises where you add it up to the money saved. When we send people forward, they are going to be trained, there is going to be material in the parts bins, they are going to have weapons in their magazines, and they are going to be ready to do what we expect them to do. That is an effective force. That is what we owe the nation.

Now I have a clear line of accountability. It is important to bring that concept back; it is what all of us grew up with, if you had your time in uniform. It is a fundamental understanding; I am accountable and responsible.

Q: What will be the economic impact on training?

A: You have to balance and sustain your force with maintenance and personnel training and unit training to deliver forces ready for tasking. My goal is that whoever we send out is trained for what we expect them to do. I think that is a moral responsibility that I have to deliver on.

What will change is fleet synthetic training. There is an iron law on a flight deck. You launch and recover aircraft safely, or you do not, there is nothing in between. You must train the carrier, the air wing and the supporting cast to do that to an absolute level of perfection. You can't surrender on it. It is binary.

When I take that ship and that air wing that are now a cohesive unit, do I have to get the ship and the air wing underway for a period of time when I have already achieved a level of competence in their fundamental competency? The answer is no, [we can use] fleet synthetic training.

Q: What are your thoughts about controlling maintenance costs?

A: I have a lot of thoughts about controlling maintenance costs. I think we have underfunded for many years the true maintenance costs of a ship. Back in the ‘90s, we went to continuous maintenance rather than coming back from deployment and taking the deep look.

Continuous maintenance assumes that you have knowledge in the crew to self-assess at a sophisticated level, that you have continuous funding applied to deal with the results of that self-assessment and are doing the right things on a routine basis, and eventually bringing in pros for eight months of a deep overhaul for a cruiser or destroyer.

We shifted our fundamental philosophy. Then we took out all of the supporting repair organizations and the experts on how we sustain these ships. If you look at the numbers today, we have six operational carriers, five in deep maintenance. We have 38 operational submarines and half that number in deep maintenance. We have a strong commitment to deep maintenance on the nuclear side.

If you look at surface ships today, I have 51 destroyers available, and I have four in deep modernization. I have to get 30 or 35 years of life from these ships and figure out a way to do it. Name one destroyer class, post-World War II, which we have taken to the end of its service life? We have never done it.

Now, to get to 313 ships with this global view of operations, we have to get to full service life. That is going to be a big issue for me that takes a lot of love and attention constantly. You can't pretend there is a cheap way to do it.

It is a balance between operations and maintenance, training and procurement, to give us a whole force. That is my take-away.If you were going to bury me and carve something on my forehead, it would be, ‘He worked for the whole force, a coherent force that went out there and could do what he said they could do with confidence, and Sailors were confident they could do their jobs.

Adm. John C. Harvey Jr. Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, addresses the audience at a breakfast hosted by NDIA Sept. 17 in Norfolk, Va. The admiral engaged the audience in a discussion on topics that are at the forefront of issues facing the nation and Navy, including fleet readiness, maintenance and training.
Adm. John C. Harvey Jr.
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