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CHIPS Articles: Interview with Rear Adm. Charles E. Smith

Interview with Rear Adm. Charles E. Smith
Vice Commander, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command
By CHIPS Magazine - July-September 2007
The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command is one of the Navy's five major acquisition commands, and is headquartered in San Diego, Calif. SPAWAR develops Navy, joint and coalition interoperability architectures, networks and systems and has a workforce of about 7,600 employees. It serves as the Navy's command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) chief engineer, the chief architect and assessor for FORCEnet.

SPAWAR is strategically partnered with the program executive offices (PEO) for C4I, Space Systems and Enterprise Information Systems (EIS) to deliver C4ISR and FORCEnet capability to the joint warfighter.

Due to the benefits derived from close proximity to Fleet Forces Command (FFC), Naval Network Warfare Command (NETWARCOM), the Atlantic Fleet concentration centers, and the SPAWAR Systems Centers on the Eastern Seaboard,the SPAWAR Vice Commander, Rear Admiral Charles "Grunt" Smith, is advantageously located on the Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek, Va. He came to SPAWAR with years of fleet experience as a test pilot, nuclear surface officer and acquisition professional within the Naval Aviation Enterprise. The admiral has commanded a carrier-based squadron, a helicopter carrier and most recently the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69).

Rear Adm. Smith told CHIPS that he was eager to get back to the fleet, so we asked him to discuss his role as SPAWAR's vice commander and what his presence on the East Coast means to fleet customers.

CHIPS: What are your mission objectives?

Rear Adm. Smith: In brief: improving C4ISR current readiness for our warfighters through direct engagement on the waterfront and our shore nodes; help the SPAWAR family transition and enjoy the benefits of competency alignment; help facilitate the Defense Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) Commission consolidations of our East Coast system centers; assist NETWARCOM as it takes on more traditional type commander (TYCOM) functions and C4I force provider roles; as well as help foster and extend sound enterprise work within the Naval NETWAR FORCEnet Enterprise (NNFE) and across all of the Navy's enterprises with respect to C4I.

I am excited about the numerous opportunities within this warfare area. There is work to do with potential benefits for the Navy. It's very motivating to be working with such a cadre of great people across the entire SPAWAR family. The best and brightest are good words to describe this team.

CHIPS: Can you discuss your work on the waterfront?

Rear Adm. Smith: That is the fun part, Sharon; we have already started visiting ships and receiving significant C4I improvements during maintenance availabilities. We've now done ship visits in Norfolk, San Diego, Pearl Harbor and Japan with our Forward Deployed Naval Force. We do these with our ship supervisors driving our C4I installations on a daily basis, and our strike group officers from the systems centers who are key players in the execution of our program of record capability improvements brought forward by our PMWs (program offices) from PEO C4I.

We've also established a good feedback and assessment follow-up effort with our ships, the PMWs that we support and the individual platform TYCOMs as needed. The mission here is to ensure the ultimate customer, that those ship's captains, combat systems officers, and all our info-tech warriors are receiving our very best. We are executing our installations at or below cost, on schedule, and delivering quality capabilities to put those ships and crews back into the Fleet Response Plan and Forward Deployed Naval Force — ready for combat and all other missions of our Navy.

We look at installation planning and effectiveness, training, installation execution, cost drivers and the quality of our teaming with all stakeholders. We ensure the ships know and value SPAWAR as their C4I enablers. The same concept has now begun for our all-important shore installations.

This is not just about short-range immediate needs for our ships undergoing yard periods. We are striving to make long-term improvements in cost, schedule and performance over our C4I installations and ship-class modernization efforts. This is one of the biggest areas of the C4I business we can look at to derive cost and schedule savings while fielding significant improvements to our fleet.

We are determining how we can better employ ourselves to gain capabilities while reducing costs. We will never be content until we are assured we are getting the greatest gains for our warfighters in the most cost effective and timely manner. This is a team business where our diverse private sectors of C4I procurement, public shipyard expertise and our driving procurement workforce all work with the warfighters and providers (like NETWARCOM and our Regional Maintenance Activities) to make every dollar and day count in ship maintenance and modernization.

Ask my flag writer, YN1 (AW) Brian Carr, any day I can get down to the waterfront and walk the decks of ships with Sailors and listen to the warriors who own those ships is truly a great Navy day!

CHIPS: Will you be working with FFC over the Fleet Response Plan?

Rear Adm. Smith: Everything that SPAWAR, NETWARCOM and the NNFE do should ultimately be directly linked to supporting Fleet Forces Command and the Pacific Fleet as the Navy's providers of combat capabilities and combat readiness. The Fleet Response Plan is a framework we have to get better at ensuring we are on time to support.

There are subtle differences and straight forward requirements we, as C4I providers, must meet to put the different classes of ships and their crews into the Fleet Response Plan and sustain them throughout their FRP window and forward deployments.

The newly stood-up Current Readiness shop, N43, at NETWARCOM is now linked to Fleet Forces Command's N43, the Regional Maintenance Centers and the N43s of the platform TYCOMs. We cannot bring cost-wise C4I readiness to the fleet without those close ties today and forever.

The next important effort is to improve our daily coordination and support to the operational fleet commanders and their forward deployed naval units around the world — this has special importance for our Forward Deployed Naval Forces.

CHIPS: Based on your fleet experience, when you came to SPAWAR did you have any specific goals that you wanted to accomplish to serve the fleet?

Rear Adm. Smith: Sharon, the one focal point I had coming into this job, or these jobs, that I had seen from my ship command tours was that I wanted to make sure the SPAWAR contribution was up-front, proactive and fully understood by the ships and platform TYCOMs.

I always thought there was not enough engagement and integration of the C4I effort in the planning and teaming cycle before a yard period, and not enough personal deck-plate contact with the ship during execution.

I am interested in how we interface with the ships, the shipyards and the planning yard efforts. The success in the shipyard has much to do with the quality of the planning, ship checks and teaming that should go on long before that ship crosses the dry-dock sill and starts an availability.

In this area I have already seen improvements driven by Jeff Klein (SPAWAR's installations and logistics lead) and his team and in the PMW 700 ship integration teams. With a first cut now on ship availabilities under our belt, we can focus on critical areas like installation maturity, error-free integrated ship checks, crew training and accurate operational testing.

What I'm looking for now is to see if we have that same level of effort in our vital nodes, our shore installations. I will not act on preconceived beliefs and will seek true data before making a judgment.

I am part of the SPAWAR team now and very proud and excited to wear the SPAWAR triangle.

CHIPS: When you talk about the shipyard period, are you referring to the schedule for SPAWAR's system installs or the ship's maintenance period in the shipyard and total maintenance life cycle?

Rear Adm. Smith: Great question, which leads me to our focus on C4I current readiness. You are right, it cannot be just to get the shipyard period right, but in getting the total life cycle of our ships right from completion of yard periods, through work-ups, the Fleet Response Plan windows, deployments, future availability planning and on with C4I road maps and procurement strategies that take our C4I readiness, keep it healthy and ahead of any threats for the life of our ships and the integral needs of our strike groups and fleets.

That same emphasis must also apply to our C4I shore installations. If they are not combat ready, our ships will not be either. Accurate and timely information helps us deter conflicts, win when in harms way — and keeps our warriors safe.

CHIPS: What will be the next step in improving fleet readiness?

Rear Adm. Smith: Our next step has started with the eager support of the senior NNFE leadership. We are building what is now called an Information Technology Readiness Review (ITRR). Though still in the definition stage of work, we have assembled stakeholders involved in all aspects of C4I readiness assessment; anything that has to do with manning, equipping and training our warfighters in C4I.

Ultimately, we want to take the good of the present, identify shortfalls in how we prepare our warfighters in those three areas today, and become more proactive in ensuring our ships and shore installations are ready in all respects when called upon tomorrow.

In short, we are tasked with shaping and managing 'a set of measurable assessment events over the deployment life cycle of a ship and shore system combined to forecast and deliver the whole C4I capability to meet current readiness requirements of the Fleet Response Plan and our Forward Deployed Naval Forces.‘ We will start with our IT-21 shipboard and supported systems, and then go after our shore IT readiness as rapidly as resources permit.

CHIPS: Recently I received an article from SPAWAR headquarters that talked about the NNFE looking at C4I as a total package because there is more than one organization in the Navy involved in delivering C4I capabilities.

Rear Adm. Smith: We say we have four primary PEOs (C4I, Space Systems, EIS and JPEO JTRS) we support from SPAWAR, each bringing in C4I for the Navy and the joint world. We also have a closing seam between what is C4I and what comprises an integrated weapons system (IWS). In reality, we directly support PEO IWS and all platform PEOs delivering air, surface, undersea and expeditionary warfare capabilities; one does not exist or have maximum value without the other.

The networks we provide do everything from passing rudder commands for safe navigation on some of our more advanced ships to weapon launch commands, and let us not forget that those same systems provide educational tools for our crews and keep them in contact with their loved ones back home. Systems engineering, integration of ship systems and reduction of the numbers and types of C4I systems are the emphasis. Our C4I is a weapon system and the enabler for all weapons systems.

CHIPS: What do fleet customers tell you? Are they satisfied with SPAWAR's performance?

Rear Adm. Smith: Well, Sharon, that's probably the $64,000 question your readers were waiting for you to ask me. Our customers' degree of happiness personally encountered to date has run the scale from the DDG commanding officer who praised the efforts of our ship supervisor and PMWs who delivered 100 percent maturity of their installations on time. This made it easy to get the DDG's C4I installs and training to the strike group commander on the tip of the spear, who was worried about the C4I readiness of his flag ship and strike group.

Then there is the fleet commander who felt we were falling short in meeting operational needs for his area of responsibility. We have work to do, and it will be a SPAWAR, NNFE and platform TYCOM family effort.

The global war on terrorism has put significant importance and demand upon our C4I capabilities. Depending on time, location and environment, nothing short of 100 percent C4I availability will satisfy our warriors' needs, and in those cases, they certainly deserve 100 percent.

It was not so long ago I was sitting on the bridge [of a ship] and that makes me very conscious about not letting my shipmates down. The fleet has big expectations from the collective SPAWAR family. In this business, the warfighter sees an immediate impact when what we provide does not muster up combat ready when needed. This is great work — work that we all can find great reward in by making a real difference for the fleet.

CHIPS: You talked about visiting the different mission areas of SPAWAR, have you talked with Rear Adm. Victor See, PEO Space Systems?

Rear Adm. Smith: I have made the journey to Space Systems shortly after coming onboard and recently attended the National Reconnaissance Office conference in June.

The SPAWAR domain, diversity and technical range of expertise is incredible; everything from sea lions to space.

CHIPS: Can you tell us how you got the nickname "Grunt"?

Rear Adm. Smith: In the naval aviation world, one is given a distinct call sign, and I say given because it is poor form to try and name yourself. There can be three pilots in the air on the same radio frequency named Joe, but the chances of having three answer up when the call sign, 'Grunt' is used over the radio is slim.

Call signs have a function, they avoid voice communications confusion; they also are a ready room tradition and a symbol of the esprit de corps within naval aviation.

I came into the military through the Virginia Military Institute which has a strong Army and Marine Corps influence. When I showed up in my first squadron on my first aircraft carrier, it didn't take long before the landing signal officers had my name picked out for me.

Rear Adm. Charles E. Smith
Rear Adm. Charles E. Smith

SPAWAR Vice Commander Rear Adm. Charles “Grunt” Smith (middle) is advantageously located on the Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek, Va., and close to fleet customers. Smith told CHIPS that he couldn’t wait to get back into his washed khakis and onboard a ship. The admiral is shown here aboard the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) with members of the ship’s company and crew and a SPAWAR installations team in April 2007.
SPAWAR Vice Commander Rear Adm. Charles “Grunt” Smith (middle) is advantageously located on the Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek, Va., and close to fleet customers. Smith told CHIPS that he couldn’t wait to get back into his washed khakis and onboard a ship. The admiral is shown here aboard the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) with members of the ship’s company and crew and a SPAWAR installations team in April 2007.
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