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CHIPS Articles: Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michelle Howard Talks about Platforms, Policies, Processes and People

Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michelle Howard Talks about Platforms, Policies, Processes and People
By Sharon Anderson - January-March 2015
VCNO Adm. Michelle Howard underscored the need for the Navy’s platforms, policies, processes and people to be reliable, relevant, flexible and adaptable at the 19th annual Naval Expeditionary Warfare Conference Nov. 19 in Norfolk, Virginia.

The admiral spoke about current security challenges, the instability in the Middle East and the uncertainty regarding many trouble spots in the world.

“We will be surprised [by world events], if you look at 9/11 and the Arab Awakening, who could have predicted the outcome... All we can do is focus on the mission and better position ourselves for the next surprise.”

Howard talked about Navy’s newer innovative ships and the versatile ways that the Navy can employ its existing platforms.

Designed to increase inter-theater agility, the Navy’s Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) is a highly flexible ship class that provides logistics movement from sea to shore supporting a broad range of military operations, Howard said. Leveraging float-on/float-off technology and a reconfigurable mission deck to maximize capability, the MLP provides a seagoing pier when access to on-shore bases and support are unavailable.

Afloat forward staging base USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15) continues to support military operations in the 5th Fleet area of responsibility, Howard said. Ponce is able to stage people and equipment to support anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, anti-air warfare, mine countermeasure (MCM) operations, patrol craft (PC) and command and control.

The USS Makin Island uses a hybrid-electric propulsion system, Howard explained. The ship's hybrid-electric propulsion system is designed to run on auxiliary propulsion motors at low speeds and on gas turbines at higher speeds. By using this unique propulsion system, the ship burns 50 percent less fuel. “What that means to me is more time on station doing the mission,” Howard said. “We want to provide the geographic combatant commanders with the right force, at the right place, at the right time. We want to project power and sea control in all domains ensuring access in all domains.”

Howard said the Navy must modernize its platforms and equipment whenever possible. But technology is not the only path to innovation, she said, processes are equally important.

“We used to do everything by brute force … Now we want processes that are less labor intensive, getting away from manual processes,” Howard said. This includes taking Sailors out of hazardous working conditions, such as those in well decks or on flight decks, for example, where temperatures can soar above 200 F. “We want to get them out of these areas and back into the fight.”

Exercises like Bold Alligator with Sailors and Marines training side-by-side provide valuable lessons, she said, but processes must be stabilized to be interoperable with the Marines and coalition partners.

“We want our Sailors and Marines working smarter not harder. We want to get away from complex maintenance and tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs). We want to keep processes simple and reliable,” Howard said.

Howard places high importance on coalition partnerships.

“We have to focus on partners … We have got to have a better understanding of how we share information with our partners. Information sharing has to be less complex... This could involve a policy change,” Howard said.

China is not a threat yet, but as a country with nuclear weapons, it is a cause for U.S. concern, she said. China is creating a maritime environment that is anti-access/area denial designed to disrupt U.S. power projection into the western Pacific.

“When we are in the same operating area, we have to have a way to communicate with China. The code of conduct is there for China and the West Pacific nations,” Howard said. “We need more mil-to-mil exchanges to lower tensions and eliminate miscommunication and miscalculations,” Howard said.

Anti-access and area-denial can occur in any part of the world, Howard said. Other countries use this tactic, for example, in the Mediterranean and Middle East.

“In 2005 Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz… What asset can we bring to the fight for A2/AD domination or to create a corridor?” she asked.

The littoral combat ship could be the answer. “The LCS is self-deployable,” Howard said. It is also speedier than other Navy ships. Howard said she is confident in the capability of the LCS and its mission packages, especially in comparison to the legacy mine countermeasures ships.

Speed is going to become increasingly important, Howard said — both the speed of information and speed of forces. “We will have to create maneuver space. We have to get to surface, air, and subsurface superiority to create this umbrella of protection to bring in forces when we have to.”

How do you rework technology so that we can gain access to those areas and then be able to sustain access in those areas, so that if we had to, we could dominate in a fight?” she asked.

One of the admiral’s biggest worries is sequestration. Howard believes the Navy has clearly articulated to Congress the impact the Budget Control Act would have on shipbuilding and readiness.

“The CNO has testified but some staffers may be less familiar with the Navy,” Howard said. “Educating them would make a difference.”

Sequestration or not, the Navy continues to work on total force integration bringing new technologies online, streamlining TTPs, and working with Marine forces and coalition partners preparing for the full range of military operations, Howard said.

Heather Rutherford contributed to this report.

Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michelle Howard
Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michelle Howard
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