After his address to the Joint Warfighting Conference on May 11, Adm. J. C. Harvey, Jr., commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, answered questions from attending reporters. The following is an excerpt from that interview on a wide range of topics.
Q: In your remarks you emphasized that the most important asset the Navy has is its people. Why the emphasis?
A: It is based on my 37 years of service, my reading of history, and my take on the tenor of the times we are in. While we have had huge advances in all aspects of technology, in our weapons systems, and what our aircraft and ships can do, they are brought to life by people. They are just so much expensive junk without well-trained, properly educated people, who are also well led and motivated to do the right thing.
[Training] is at the heart of everything we hope to do; it gives our people confidence; it has got to be a firm foundation for everything we do as a joint force — otherwise the rest of it just comes collapsing down around us.
Q: What did you mean in your remarks when you said that the Navy is using "Industrial Age" personnel policies that need to evolve?
A: What I was referring to is the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act that governs how we promote officers throughout the services. It was passed into law in 1980 and began in development in 1971.
Compare the world of 1980 to the world of 2010. It's like comparing General Motors to Hyundai — there's no comparison. It is increasingly difficult to stay within that framework, which I characterize almost as a straitjacket, and still be responsive to the demands of the world as it is and how the force has to evolve in terms of its manpower and personnel policies.
Q: What personnel policy or program recommendations do you have? [Follow-up question added by request of CHIPS reporter.]
A: I believe it is incumbent for our personnel policies to continue to evolve and keep pace with the changing nature of our force and our people. I just mentioned the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act, but there are other policies and programs that we need to continue to keep our eye on and ensure they are delivering what is needed today to sustain the force.
Ensuring we give the best possible care to our returning service men and women who have been wounded in combat needs to be at the top of our list of things we must get right with regards to taking care of our people.
Programs that allow our Sailors to maximize their opportunities to continue their education are extremely important to our ability to man our increasingly technically oriented fleet. And I believe the Navy has its diversity policies right, and we need to continue to emphasize our diversity programs, now more than ever.
Q: You talked about the importance of training and maintenance, and training and maintenance are expensive. Would the money be better spent on developing more efficient technology?
A: The challenge has always been the balance between today's readiness versus tomorrow's capabilities. Today's readiness is based on the people we have and how well we train them.
I look at my job at Fleet Forces and I have been able to maintain the fleet. In the last two years, we have increased the amount of money that we spend on both training and personnel, and we have the right balance. I am very confident that we have what we need to do, and what we are expected to do. It is up to us to do it wisely and to do it well.
Q: In the last five years there have been a lot of mission changes in what naval personnel have to do, like counterpiracy operations, have there been training changes as well?
A:The training has always been on the books, but it wasn't as visible as it is now. The Navy's first overseas deployment in 1803 was for counterpiracy — that has always been a mission.
Our missions have never changed, and that is one of the wonderful things about the Navy. We've always been global; we've always been forward [deployed]. We have always been inherently expeditionary working as a strong partner with the United States Marine Corps projecting American power and presence wherever and whenever it's needed. That has been true since 1775; it will be true for the next 100 years.
It's the balance of activities that we have to focus on. How much emphasis we place on one against the other, and then a growth industry, if you will, on ballistic missile defense where we are taking on a significant mission the president has given us over the next five years for his adaptive approach to missile defense in Europe. A new mission for us, in a sense, but one we have been preparing for and working on for the last 5 to 10 years with our Aegis combat systems and missiles. So we will be ready — it's a matter of emphasis and balance.
Q: The Secretary of Defense said [in his addresses to the Navy League Sea-Air-Space Exposition and at the Eisenhower Library] in May that we need to get rid of some high cost programs but develop different kinds of capabilities to deal with 21st century realities. How do you see the missions of the Navy changing?
A: I think our missions will stay very much the same. My read of the Secretary's words is that he is telling us to challenge our assumptions. When he looks at the cost curve for individual systems, be it a ship, aircraft, expeditionary fighting vehicle, a submarine … he is seeing costs significantly escalating. He is saying our overall budgets are not going to continue to rise, so how will we sustain a force structure that is going to cost us so much more.
The Secretary is taking us back to basics and telling us that we have got to challenge assumptions. The missions, I don't think will change, the method that we execute those missions may change dramatically. It is up to us, he has given us a challenge, and we have to meet that challenge. It is exactly the thing that we should be doing.
Q: With the 5th and 6th Fleets engaged in piracy operations and the rest of the fleet in the Arabian Gulf with operations in Afghanistan, can we really afford to shrink the fleet right now
A: The fleet is not shrinking. We are on a path, with the most recent shipbuilding plan, to grow the fleet to the goal that our CNO has been talking about since he has been on the job for two and half years which is a 313-ship Navy. This most recent shipbuilding plan gives us 10 ships a year over five years. Now how we control the costs is certainly the challenge we have to face. I see the Navy, quite frankly, as being able to continue to grow modestly to that floor of 313 ships which we need to do the job around the world that is expected of us.
Q: Will the Navy be able to maintain the number of carriers we have now?
A: The law stipulates that we maintain 11 nuclear-powered carriers on active duty, and we shall certainly comply with the law. The shipbuilding plan enables us to do that with a temporary dip to 10 that has already been approved [by Congress] when we decommission the Enterprise before the newest aircraft carrier, Gerald R. Ford, comes online.
Q: Will the Navy continue to build the Gerald R. Ford class or will it be one of a kind?
A: When I look in the shipbuilding plan, the Gerald R. Ford [class] is in it, and we intend to keep building it.
Q: Can you talk about the JAGMAN investigation you ordered because of the engineering situation on the San Antonio, and are you looking at the entire class?
A: You order a JAGMAN when you want to be sure of the facts. There was a lot going on that ship since it deployed, and in that class of ship, and I needed to get a better handle on the exact findings of fact for the people side of the house and on the engineering side of the house.
I need to understand how operations were affected by those issues. That's why I ordered the JAGMAN to get that clear and unambiguous picture of exactly what the conditions of that ship are. That's what you use a JAGMAN for, to be sure that when you take your next steps that you take them on the basis of fact and not just the loudest opinion that's been expressed.
Q: You have talked about what leadership thinks, what do fleet Sailors say they want?
A: On my numerous visits to the fleet, Sailors tell me the same thing I said to an admiral when he came to visit when I was Ensign John Harvey on the USS Enterprise in the reactor department.
I said I want more and better training for myself and my people. I want more maintenance on my gear, and I want more time to train. That is eternal. If you went back to the Bonhomme Richard and asked fleet Sailors under Capt. John Paul Jones what they needed more of they would have said the same — more time to train, more money for maintenance, and more ammunition with which to train. That has not changed in 234 years, and I don't think it will change for another 234 years.
It is up to us [leadership] to make sure that we understand Sailors' needs; that we balance them with all the other needs that we have, and be sure that we get it right. When I order the fleet out, I want them to be ready and have the confidence they need to do the mission we've given them. Most of all, our Sailors want the tools, time and training they need to succeed, to accomplish the assigned mission — whatever it is.
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