Anchors Aweigh

Navy chief Adm. Gary Roughead stresses a flexible force poised for warfighting as well as disaster assistance.

In September, Adm. Gary Roughead will complete his four-year tenure as the 29th chief of naval operations. During this period, he has overseen command of offshore operations supporting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, counter-piracy missions off Somalia, and humanitarian assistance to victims of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March. On June 9, he sat down with Editor at Large Timothy B. Clark at the National Press Club as part of Government Executive's ongoing leadership briefing series. Edited highlights follow:

What current operations in Libya teach the United States about the reliability of NATO:

The one thing it reinforced was the value of having the Navy and naval forces forward and present in different places around the world. We did not have to move anything, with the exception of one electronic attack squadron, to support the operations there.

The submarines and ships were on station, and they were able to conduct the initial actions that opened the door to establish the no-fly zone. It's important to look at what happened in a positive sense. Events throughout the Middle East were unfolding quickly. But from the time when there were decisions made to act, and within a period of a little over a week, you went from a discussion to kinetic action, with a group of countries-some NATO, some not.

On the growing U.S. role in the Indian Ocean region:

We believe that is where our economy will continue to be healed from and where the most likely security challenges may arise in the future. The presence that we enjoy in the western Pacific is greatly facilitated by the fact that we have a forward deployed force there. If you look at counter-piracy, the main coordination and headquarters take place there. The coalition task forces that operate in the Arabian Gulf with our friends and partners there revolve around the information and the command structure that we have in Bahrain. In the Pacific and the Indian Ocean it's the one area where you see militaries increasing their capabilities. And it's not just China, but Japan and Korea. It has played out for centuries and is why nations have navies. They exist to fuel the economies, to protect the economies, to protect the interests of those countries. We're still at the 90 percent level of all things that move on the planet-goods, resources-move by sea.

Combating piracy near Somalia and the Strait of Malacca:

If it weren't for pirates, I wouldn't be sitting here-because that's how the United States Navy came to be. When the pirates of the Barbary Coast were plundering us, we decided that it was time to reconstitute the Navy. The countries in the area-primarily Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand-came together, developed a very effective maritime scheme, were able to share information that was relevant and effective. But in the areas from which the pirates operated, there was rule of law. In Somalia . . . there's no rule of law ashore. And when the pirates are ashore, [their] business model is allowed to function and to flourish and reinvest in itself so that it could be more effective in garnering money from ransoms. Until we can get that governance ashore, we will continue chasing pirates offshore.

Potential threats to U.S. carrier routes from China:

The [Chinese] PLA Navy is developing capabilities that afford them the option of controlling sea space and increasing distances from their coastlines. Everyone has been [captivated] by the DF-21 missile, the "carrier killer," but there's little discussion about threats posed to fixed bases in the region from which operations would be conducted. The fixed base is not going to go away. And so, because of the suit I'm wearing, put me on a carrier-that's where I'd like to be. The other area of [Chinese] investment is in their submarine force.

Submarines are probably the best sea control weapon. That's why I'm pleased this year that we were finally able to increase construction of Virginia-class submarines. But as the PLA looks at how they want to control sea space, ballistic missiles that are clearly cruise missiles come into play. When we look at military developments around the world, we're also looking at the way that we are able to operate where we want to, regardless of what someone else may feel.

The impact of coming troop withdrawals in Iraq and Afghanistan on sailors:

As we moved initially into Iraq and surged into Iraq, it became apparent there were areas where more capacity was needed, and that capacity did not exist in the ground force. The Navy stepped forward and said that we have certain capabilities that can be employed in ways that we normally would not, but were close enough to adapt to it. We knew we had incredible young men and women who had a culture of getting things done, a culture of flexibility, culture of agility. In other words, if there's something that has to happen, it may not be in my portfolio but I'm going to do it.

The Navy's role in projecting soft power:

How a nation uses its power really defines it. If you look at our strategy, it highlights control, power projection, deterrence, being global. But in our strategy in 2007, we added maritime security because that's how you grease these lines of commerce that run around the world. And then we also were very specific in addressing humanitarian assistance, disaster response. Disaster response is not new. When people started to go to sea, there was always this tradition of mariners that you always help those in need and then you sort out any differences later on. But in the Navy we believe you don't have a soft power force and you don't necessarily have a hard power force. If you look at Haiti, the floods in Pakistan, the tsunami in '04, Operation Tomodachi, which was the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, we didn't say, 'Gee, let's go get our soft power force to help these people out.' We used the capabilities that we have designed for conflict, and because of the culture, the nature of our people who serve, we were able to take this fist of power and extend the soft hand of assistance to those who needed it.

On shipbuilding progress and the goal of a 313-ship Navy:

We have an incredible team of people who saw the need to really stabilize and control the process of how we design, acquire and then build ships. Our strategy was to get a stable procurement and production portfolio going. We canceled a couple of ships- Littoral Combat Ships-early into my time as the CNO. We also turned away from the plans for the DDG-1000 and restarted the DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer because that's where the demands are today- for that type of capability. We are on a trajectory to get to 313 ships.

Managing personnel and the Navy's high retention rate:

I have a problem of too many people in the Navy. We are enjoying retention, the likes of which we have never seen before. We're seeing young people wanting to come into the Navy at a quality we've never seen before, which means the competition is only going to get harder inside. When the all-volunteer force began, retention of our first-term sailors was about 9.5 percent. Today, I'm looking at 72 percent. Regrettably, because of that, this summer we are going to cause 3,000 young men and women to leave the Navy before they want to.

Women aboard submarines and repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."

We made that decision a couple of years ago. We've had young women going through nuclear power school as they've gone out to our aircraft carriers for some time. But now the first young women are going into submarine school, and they'll be reporting aboard the submarines in the fall. And the quality is off the scale. Implementation of "don't ask, don't tell" is moving along very nicely. It has been a process, the likes of which I believe the military has never undertaken before, from the standpoint of the surveys and the engagement that informed us as to what the issues would be, if there were any, to how we needed to address the force and prepare the force. We essentially have about 90 percent of the Navy trained today. It's very tailored to [each] particular community.

On information dominance:

In the Navy we're quite tribal. We have a submarine community, we have a ship community and we have an aviation community. And they tend to really dominate how the Navy sees itself, how the Navy employs itself and where the Navy makes investments. But it was clear to me over time that what we really have moved into is a world where the platforms are not the critical pieces. It's the information that those platforms use to do whatever it is we want them to do. [I told two of my leaders], "I want you to bring intelligence and communications together. We're no longer going to be stovepiped." And there was great interest in this change in the wiring diagram. And then I started moving money around. We brought in all those systems that deal with sensing and countering and the movement of information-all those moved from the platforms into the new organization. And so for the first time, we could look completely at how we were moving information, how we intended to survive in an environment where people were trying to deny that information. And we were able to make investments that were much more coherent.

Then the other piece was the re-activation of the 10th Fleet. We've given them global responsibility for cyber operations. We in the Navy have tended to be, as all the services are, very geographically focused. Cyber doesn't know geography-it just moves on the planet. And then the most important part: the human capital. If you sensed it, if you analyzed it, if you moved it, if you fixed the stuff that it rode on, we took all of those specialties and we created the Information Dominance Corps, gave them an identity. We are cross-assigning specialties into the command positions. And we're very pleased at how those three initiatives have worked out.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec