VADM Brown kicks off SNA with a 'State of the Surface Force' address

Story Number: NNS190115-15Release Date: 1/15/2019 3:43:00 PM
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From Commander, Naval Surface Force U.S. Pacific Fleet Public Affairs

ARLINGTON, Va. (NNS) -- Calling it “the most important task before us in Surface Warfare,” Vice Adm. Rich Brown, Commander, Naval Surface Forces, urged the Surface Warfare community to drive toward a culture of excellence, reinvigorate mission command, and prepare to transition readiness into lethality to meet the challenges of a renewed Great Power Competition.

“The urgent demands of a renewed Great Power Competition require us to drive toward a culture of excellence — a culture that recognizes that standards are the baseline; a culture of rapid innovation, of creativity across all ranks, and of outcomes that favor our strategic needs,” said Brown. “We must instill toughness and trust in our Sailors as the foundation for this culture of excellence.”

Brown made the comments during his “State of the Surface Force” address at the Surface Navy Association’s (SNA) 31st national symposium.

During the address, Brown reminded the audience of maritime, government and industry professionals, that 2018 was a year devoted to raising standards, improving training, tightening qualifications, re-emphasizing certifications, and reasserting the primacy of command.

“2018 was about being the best!” said Brown. “It was a year of building readiness, but we don’t build readiness for ‘readiness’ sake. We must turn that readiness into lethality. And we do that through an unrelenting pursuit of excellence over compliance.”

Brown stated that compliance is important but needs to serve as the foundation for excellence.

“Compliance is about inspections. Excellence is about superior performance and winning. A culture of excellence demands a sense of urgency in all that we do — not just frenetic activity — but focused action to deliver the outcomes our Navy requires,” said Brown.

Driving toward a culture of excellence expeditiously is a priority, according to Brown, because of the common thread in the National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy, and the Navy Strategy. 

“If you don’t feel this sense of urgency, then you have not been paying attention. The common theme in all of these strategies is that they are Maritime Strategies — strategies that call for sea control whenever and wherever we need it — requiring our Surface Navy to deter, but if necessary, fight and win the battle for sea control now in an age of Great Power Competition,” said Brown. “We still remain unmatched in sea control, but we have to work at it harder now, and we must continue to get better. We must learn rapidly. We must innovate faster. We must be tougher than our adversaries.”

To continue to do this, according to Brown, the Surface community must embrace the concept of Mission Command.

“Mission Command requires combat ready warships — materially sound with full system redundancy — to go to sea and support sustained combat operations. Mission Command requires tough, battle minded crews — trained, cohesive, and eager to fight and prevail over a thinking adversary; crews that have had the opportunity to think, practice, and refine independent tactics before someone shoots at them. Mission Command requires bold, confident, and tough Commanding Officers — driven to win and hungry for the challenge of command. Mission command requires innovation and creativity, experimentation and rapid learning.”

“While we need to deliberately plan for largescale fleet engagements — and we’re doing that — emphasizing mission command will prepare our Commanders to react to an environment rife with the fog of war, loss of communications, and imperfect information —while still executing commander’s intent.”

Brown also called on Commanding Officer to be confident, sensible risk-takers because winning in combat demands it.

“In the first message I released titled ‘Command,’ I wrote that I implicitly trust each of our Commanding Officers. But with that trust comes incredible and unyielding responsibility and accountability. We must continue the hard work of relearning how to train, operate, and fight in a Mission Command environment. We need squadron commodores and warship CO’s focused on building winning teams. We need CO’s to constantly challenge their watch teams to improve their warfighting disciplines, and to talk about warfighting at every opportunity. We need CO’s to boldly embrace and manage risk, not avoid it. I am your biggest advocate with your operational chain of command for giving time back to you and the ship. We’ve set the conditions for our CO’s to be more confident in taking risks by restoring firebreaks between maintenance, training, and operations and we improved training and assessments. Seize the initiative.”

Before ending his address, Brown reiterated his call for a culture of excellence over compliance.

“Compliance stresses processes; excellence stresses outcomes. Compliance focuses on the ‘must do;’ excellence focuses on the ‘should do.’ Compliance sees standards as the goal; excellence sees standards as the minimum. Compliance is about inspections; excellence is about superior performance and winning.

Compliance is about admin; excellence is about warfighting. Most importantly, compliance produces only survivors; excellence always produces winners,” said Brown. “The Surface Force is a force of winners and we will Own the Fight!”

The full speech is available online at

Vice Adm. Richard A. Brown answers questions from attendees at the State of the Surface Forces panel during the Surface Naval Association's 31st National Symposium.
190115-N-SX673-0106 ARLINGTON, Va. (Jan. 15, 2019) Vice Adm. Richard A. Brown, commander of Naval Surface Forces and Naval Surface Force U.S. Pacific Fleet, answers questions from attendees at the State of the Surface Forces panel during the Surface Naval Association's 31st National Symposium. This year's theme is "Ready, Agile, Focused: Own the Fight!" and the event will provide an opportunity to highlight the Surface Navy's vision for the future. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kashif Basharat)
January 15, 2019
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