NEWPORT, R.I. — At his confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Armed Service Committee on July 11, 2017, the Honorable Richard V. Spencer, Secretary of the Navy, outlined his priorities for the Navy, highlighting the importance of people, capabilities and processes.
As he addressed the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport workforce yesterday, June 12, it was abundantly clear that those priorities remain at the forefront of his mind.
“Spending time with you all, meeting you all and seeing what you are doing recharges the battery,” Spencer said. “I mean that sincerely. This is exciting work that you are doing right now.”
Spencer spent time on his visit touring some of the facilities before addressing a standing-room-only crowd. He was introduced by Rear Adm. Moises DelToro III, NUWC Commander, who briefed the audience on the Spencer’s background.
Spencer added a few more details on his history before discussing the topic of rapid innovation and development.
“I view it as my job to continually challenge what the definition of rapid means,” Spencer said.
When describing the timeframe of a project, he used the metaphor of rocks in a battlefield for how to increase efficiency. While it may While it may have taken great efforts to overcome or maneuver around these huge rocks, Spencer said, in order to improve, project managers need to find ways to initially remove these rocks all together.
“My job for you is to get the rocks out of the way,” Spencer said. “My job is to open up lanes of maneuvering so we can move quicker.”
In order to do that, “we need to hear from you, and I mean that sincerely,” Spencer said. He cited a few examples of personal experiences that have helped him to address problems with processes.
One such instance arose during his confirmation process. He attended an Instruction 5000 presentation from two admirals and two Marine Corps generals in which a Navy lieutenant and Marine Corps captain were in attendance.
Afterwards they asked if anyone had any questions, which Spencer did not, but he said he would like to hear from the two junior officers in attendance.
“The Navy lieutenant exercised his intelligence immediately and turned the question over to the Marine,” Spencer said, drawing a laugh from the crowd of NUWC employees. “The Marine took a deep breath and said, ‘Sir, if it was up to me I’d take Instruction 5000, stamp Top Secret on it, leave it on the Chinese embassy steps and if they adopt it, we win.’
“I don’t mean to rough up Instruction 5000, it works for the big system but you all know we have to think better, faster and quicker.”
Spencer was quick to point out a caveat, however, between rapid improvement and risk management. It is a delicate balance, he noted, and one that requires honest conversations.
“Stupidity will not be tolerated, but management of risk will,” Spencer said. “Risk has expense to it. You can get me to zero risk, but I probably can’t afford it or I can’t afford the time to get to zero risk.
“We have to be able to manage risk and accept risk in certain manners. We have to be able to talk about it and discuss it.”
Speaking candidly was a common theme among many of the questions Spencer fielded from the audience once that segment of the forum began.
A question on financial improvement within the Department of the Navy (DON) led Spencer to discuss the need for an audit.
“The audit is a tool to get you to understand where your value is, where your return on investment is and to become more intelligent about the way your organization operates,” Spencer said. “We have to get there.”
Those frank discussions are not exclusively internal, Spencer noted. It is something that also must be discussed with industry partners to ensure they are aligned with the Department of the Navy’s goals. That, like determining risk management, requires some give and take.
“My definition of a partnership is equal risk produces commensurate benefits,” Spencer said. “We can’t be shouldering 90 percent of the risk, they take 10 percent of the risk and 15 percent of the profits. That’s not sustainable for us, so it’s about coming to a balance.”
Finding that balance is often complicated by finances, Spencer noted. The Secretary was asked directly, given the increased budget for the Navy in FY18, if he envisions it to be sustained or even taken up further in the future. While fiscal years 2018 and 2019 are very promising, there is some uncertainty for 2020, he said.
“I wish I could be Santa Claus and tell you ’20 is going to be great. It doesn’t look like that,” Spencer said. “It looks like it will be flat at best, and we’re really going to have to find the funds inside of the organization through the reform efforts we’ve been talking about.”
Those reform efforts are not exclusive to auditing. While discussing the National Defense Strategy and its emphasis on maritime warfare, Spencer offered an aside on the importance of collaborating with other branches of the military — particularly when it comes to Strategy and Technology (S&T) and Research and Development (R&D).
“Secretary [of the Army Dr. Mark T.] Esper and Secretary [of the Air Force Heather] Wilson and I have a breakfast every two weeks with no staff,” Spencer said. “What we get done as an example is we have the Air Force dropping Navy missiles off a B-52, we have the Navy underwriting along with the Army on a hypersonics project with a goal to have a U.S. Army missile shot off the back of a Navy ship.
“We’re starting to pool funds in order to push urgency and to fund these things across the board.”
Spencer also noted the importance of balancing short-term investments and evolutionary technologies with long-term investment and potentially revolutionary capabilities.
“We have to take more of a portfolio management point of view,” Spencer said. “One or the other is not the answer, it’s what you’re going to weigh in those portfolios.
“We have to really start focusing on where we are putting our dollars.”
That said, Spencer was sure to note that the emphasis is still on expanding the advantage. He referenced the Soviet Union’s successful launch of Sputnik I in October 1957 to note that while the U.S. still has the lead, it is time for it to “flex its muscles.”
“We need to put the curve back up again,” Spencer said. “I know we have the stamina; I know we have the ability; and I know we have the resource, so let’s do it.”
During his visit. Spender visited NUWC Newport’s Rapid Innovation Center (RIC), where he was briefed on the early success of NUWC Newport’s Innovation Initiative. When asked to share its lessons learned, the NUWC team used a “blueprint” metaphor to explain the process for how the RIC was conceived and built, along with the impetus behind the innovation events that are continually being hosted.
Also at the RIC, the Secretary learned of the Submarine Launched Unmanned Aerial System (SLAUS) and how it has delivered rapid developments to the fleet by leveraging existing technologies from industry and the Department of Defense (DoD).
Spencer also visited the Unmanned Underwater Vehicle Lab for a presentation on Unmanned Systems Payload Integration, and he met with NUWC Newport’s Topside Team – winners of an Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development and Acquisition) Dr. Delores M. Etter Top Scientists and Engineers for the Year 2017 Award. The team won for rapidly prototyping and demonstrating the Topside Command and Control (TC3) software as a segment of the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Force’s Theater Anti-Submarine Warfare Offset Project Team, is currently being used as the primary command, control and communications system for SUBFOR’s project.
To see a video from the visit: https://www.facebook.com/NUWCNewport/videos/10155588701922083/
NUWC Division Newport, part of the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), is one of two divisions of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center. NUWC Division Newport’s mission is to provide research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, undersea offensive and defensive weapons systems, and countermeasures. NUWC’s other division is located in Keyport, Washington.