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Thank you for that kind introduction, Rick –– it’s a little weird for me calling you “Rick” as you have been the “boss of me” at least three times –– I’ll have to try to get used to that!!
Fellow Flag and General Officers, Sailors and civilians, leaders of industry, ladies and gentlemen … as your VCNO of six days, it’s a pleasure to be here with you tonight and to engage you in a discussion about our Navy.
To our sponsors and SNA team … and in particular Rick Hunt, Dave Hart, Bill Erickson and Julie Howard … thank you for your hard work and dedication. You’ve put together yet another fantastic program this week. And as our banquet closes out this year’s SNA, I also want to acknowledge Bill Erickson’s 22-year tenure as Executive Director. Ladies and gentlemen, you know him, you love him … the man who’s enabled so much support of our Surface Navy. Please everyone, raise your glasses with me to toast the fantastic career of Bill Erickson! To Bill Erickson!
Now… I think before I begin, I need to address the elephant in the room … why your phones are buzzing this evening. I can’t go into specifics, but as we sit here, our forces are out there in action. Today, I was in a meeting with the Chairman getting briefed on strikes conducted by the United States and United Kingdom against the Houthis in Yemen with support from Australia, Bahrain and the Netherlands.
A true testament to the strength of our Allies and partners, our military and most importantly the training and professionalism of our Sailors. This is a testament of the readiness and capability the world’s most powerful military.
I believe the theme of this year’s symposium…. “The Fight, The Force and the Future” is most appropriate given the state of the world today. We heard from our new SWO BOSS, Vice Admiral Brendan McLane, about the future of our Surface Navy. After working with him for over the last two years, I can tell you he is absolutely the right person for this critical assignment. We heard Admiral Fagan address how the Coast Guard will play an increasingly vital role in our national security. We heard Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard talk about our enlisted Sailors. Tuesday, CNO introduced her priorities for our Navy to get ready for the next fight. And finally, yesterday we heard SECNAV talk about Maritime Statecraft and the significance of incorporating innovation into our shipbuilding industry. What a great line-up!
CNO referred to this symposium as a “Navy Family Reunion.” And regardless of whether you’re here in suit or uniform … regardless of your designator or the rank on your collar—for 36 years this family reunion has provided a recurring and important opportunity to come together, learn about new technologies and initiatives, and to have passionate discussions about how this ‘family business’ should approach the future.
And what a time it is to be in this ‘family business!’ We have Sailors on, under, and above the ocean, in every corner of the world … from the East Med to the South China Sea, and everywhere in between. Our ships and Sailors are ready because of the work you do, day-in and day-out. Thank you all for your continued support, and for enabling us to be world’s premier Navy.
As I reflected on this evening, I noted that the banquet keynote is always reserved for the most important speech … the discussion where we lay out groundbreaking ideas about where the Navy is heading.
So imagine my surprise when Dave Hart called several weeks ago and said, “Jim, I’m in a bind and I’ve got no one else to speak!”
Bottom line …. as your new Vice Chief, my charge is to execute CNO’s priorities … All Ahead Flank!
On a more solemn note, I expect rough seas in the months ahead. We’re in a Continuing Resolution and again looking at the possibility of sequestration and tightening budgets –– and sadly, we’ve become quite adept at this as a service. But it all comes at a cost…. delay or worse, cancellation of maintenance availability contracts, procurement delays for new systems and weapons, and in general….. sub-optimization of our business.
It remains a challenging recruiting environment, for both military and civilians. And our competitors aren’t slowing down.
Today, the collective security we’ve enjoyed is under threat. We see the bedrock principle of sovereignty violated in Russia’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine; the recent Hamas attack in Israel demonstrates an international problem that requires an international solution; and the Peoples Republic of China is increasingly challenging the rules-based system that has been the centerpiece of worldwide prosperity for decades.
The CNO is focused on getting us ready for the next fight. I was fortunate to be part of her transition team in November where she first laid out her priorities for our Navy; and two days ago, you heard about those priorities … and a commitment to and focus on Warfighting, Warfighters, and the Foundation that supports them.
CNO has given us the direction … but it’s up to all of us to make it real. And while it’s easy to lead when the seas are calm, it’s in high sea states that leadership really counts.
We need you … the people in this room … to carry out the charge to effect the change we need.
I do want to talk about a couple of important things that impact us all … Get Real Get Better and Quality of Service … two areas that I worked on while at Fleet Forces, and will continue to work on as VCNO. Both require focus and energy to make sure we’re ready.
First, on Get Real Get Better. I’ve enjoyed the great opportunity over the past year and a half to lead our 21 communities in their individual roadmaps to build a Navy of better and more consistent “problem solvers.” Our competitive edge is shrinking and pinnacle events … I actually think of them more as “valley” events … have weakened our Navy – USS Fitzgerald, McCain, Bonhomme Richard, Connecticut and Red Hill are just a few examples. Simply put, these unforced errors are unacceptable.
As a result of Bonhomme Richard, we stood up the Navy Safety Command with Chris Engdahl as the first commander and adopted a Safety Management System in order to change our approach to safety. The way I see it, successful organizations are safe organizations. Safety isn’t additive … it’s a constant. Our new approach needs to think about safety not as something that slows us down, but as risk we need to manage.
We must adopt a mindset that values transparency, problem-solving, and continuous learning. On a ship visit about a year ago, a CO asked me “DCOM, come on, level with me – what’s with GRGB?” I answered, “At its core, GRGB is about you having faith in me as the DCOM that I will take your issues seriously and get after them. The same applies to every Sailor in your command that he or she has the same faith and confidence in you as their CO.”
Open conversations up-and-down the Chain of Command are essential to our success. And honest discussions with industry when we run into obstacles … like new work or growth work in maintenance avails. GRGB is not a declaration to fix everything now, now, now, but it is a commitment to talk about it with ALL the right people in the room in order to identify and get after our most consequential issues.
Building a learning team comes by establishing a culture of trust and respect. Whether you’re a Sailor, Petty Officer, member of the Chief’s Mess or Wardroom, a CO, a Commodore, a Strike Group Commander … or a leader of industry … we need to reward those who are transparent, who “embrace the red” and ask for help. In general, I have found this not to be our nature as a service … it is most definitely not in MY nature ... it is taking considerable effort on my part to try not to solve all problems by myself.
We must also continue to improve the Quality of Work and Qualify of Life for our Sailors and civilians … together these make up Quality of Service, and are at the crux of the Foundation that CNO is talking about.
Tragically, the suicides onboard USS George Washington and Mid Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center pushed this critical issue to the top of our priority list. I met the CO of George Washington in the shipyard shortly after he and his crew experienced the loss of these Sailors. I recall approaching his ship and seeing him walking down the brow to meet me. He had a “Great, here’s a 3-star coming to tell me what is wrong,” look on his face. I greeted him and on the spur of the moment, elected to tell him of my own family’s personal loss, and I could see his “deflector shields” immediately “power down.”
It was a telling moment for me, as I believe the CO viewed this solely as “his” problem to solve. However, the Navy did not view it this way and took the opportunity to look at the conditions we require our Sailors to live in during maintenance availabilities and committed to addressing them –– the old adage, “if it was good enough for me, it should be good enough for you” is unacceptable and certainly not “world class.” This does not mean our Commanding Officers are not responsible to take care of their commands –– they are. However, it does mean that a learning, self-correcting and root cause seeking Navy takes the opportunity to reset and reframe conditions to take care of all of our Sailors.
Two years ago, at this conference, CNO Gilday announced that we were commencing a culture change to “Get Real and Get Better” –– this transition is not in the “done” column –– far from it. The expression on the face of the CO of GW I referred to … is a testament to this.
Our Sailors must be our “center of the universe.” We need to be seen as the “employer of choice” by future Sailors. We’re in a manning crisis, where reaching our recruitment goals isn’t just an issue … it’s the issue! You’re all here because you care about our Navy. We need to strike a chord with young people and stimulate their propensity to serve. As the SWO Boss said on Tuesday, we need you to “Get out there and propense!”
We need to actively put the well-being of current Sailors, civilians, and their families as our top priority! Taking care of Sailors and their families is commander’s business –– it is not “outsourceable.”
So, we have some work to do. But despite our challenges, I am extremely optimistic –– let me tell you why.
I started this week speaking at the Re-Blueing event for our Warfare Tactics Instructors, or WTIs –– it’s an event where our Surface and Mine Warfare Development Center gathers WTIs together from across the Fleet to align on the latest tactics and training practices. Think of it, the sharpest SWOs in our community gather yearly to rebaseline for consistency and clarity. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to seek them out and to engage them –– I guarantee, you will be impressed.
While speaking with these capable SWOs, I reflected back to when John Wade relieved me as the Commander of SMWDC. He took a hard look at some of the operations we were conducting in the Red Sea and made a concerted effort to improve our way of doing business.
Fast forward to today, and look at the great work our Sailors are doing in that same body of water. You’re all well aware of what’s going on with the USS Carney, Thomas Hudner, Mason, Laboon and Gravely. These crews have thus far collectively shot down 84 UAVs, Land Attack Cruise Missiles, and Anti-ship Ballistic Missiles … 21 of which happened two days ago, 1:15 in the afternoon our time, right as Admiral Caudle was kicking-off this SNA symposium! Or at least the number was 84 before tonight … my speechwriter and I are struggling to keep-up with the tally. These are actions of a learning organization!
I spoke with Vice Admiral Brad Cooper … he said that the COs ARE aggressive and the crews ARE ready. Remember Admiral McLane’s video on Tuesday … the most striking part to me was hearing the Carney Combat Systems Officer talk about how confident she was during the missile engagements … she said “I didn’t hesitate to take those shots, and I didn’t second guess, because I knew” … because she had done it all before during her Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training, or SWATT, and during her deployment certification exercise. That’s what this “Big Navy Team” is doing … from industry providing the capability, to WTIs giving the training… we’re raising the aptitude and confidence of all our warfighters to make us better and ready for anything. Our ships are at the right place, at the right time … doing what they’re trained to do, and what no other Navy in the world could do.
My staff engaged the Naval History and Heritage Command to help contextualize these recent engagements.
In October, USS Carney downed 19 cruise missiles and UAVs. These are numbers we haven’t seen since World War II … when USS Hugh Hadley set a record for most aircraft destroyed in an engagement during the Battle of Okinawa ––– 23. Carney stacks pretty well against those world records.
And then, on December 26th, while most of us were recovering from Christmas dinner, Laboon successfully engaged three Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles … never…. done … before.
The takeaway for us is that our ships and crews were on-scene, and they sensed and acted when the opportunity arose. They were well-trained and ready, and they knew what to do.
The performance of these ships and crews should motivate all of us. It tells us that we’re making the right investments and the right gains … and that we’re holding ourselves to the right standards.
So while there’s much work to be done, what this “Big Team” of uniformed members, supporting civilians, and industry do every day to provide the fighting force that our Nation needs … is “spot on.”
Thank you all for your service to our great country and for everything you do. I look forward to getting after our challenges, supporting our CNO, and working with you as we continue to deliver the most powerful Navy in the history of the world.
Adm. James Kilby
11 January 2024
16 January 2024
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