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Media Roundtable with Adm. Roughead from the Pentagon

Presenter: Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead
February 12, 2008
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: Good afternoon. It's good to see you all here. And this is a little more formal than I'm used to or what my preference is, but it's great to talk to you and share some thoughts at my 140-day mark as being the chief of Naval Operations.  
            Before I do that, however, I'd like to express my condolences to you and to the McWethy family for John McWethy's untimely passing. He was a reporter who within our military was held in very high regard, a gentleman of great credibility and professionalism on behalf of the Navy. I extend my condolences because I know what it's like to lose a shipmate. And our condolences go out to you. 
            You know, it's really been a busy about four months since I came in and assumed the duties of chief of Naval Operations. I came to this post from a command in Norfolk, U.S. Fleet Forces Command. I was there briefly, and prior to that commanded the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii.   
            But my timing of coming into the office, I think, was rather fortuitous. For the previous year I had worked intimately and personally and directly on developing our maritime strategy. I then took office and shortly thereafter had the privilege, along with the commandant of the Marine Corps and the commandant of the Coast Guard, to unveil that strategy at the International Seapower Symposium in Newport, Rhode Island. That was very early in my tour, about a week into the tour, and that really has set the stage and the direction. It's consistent with my thinking, the experiences that I've had over the last couple of years, as to where the Navy is and where the Navy should be, and what we as a United States Navy must be doing to contribute to the safety, the security and the prosperity of the United States. 
            As you may know, the strategy really defines who we are. 
            The capabilities that we call out for in that strategy are ones that have been with us as a Navy for centuries: being a global Navy, being a deterrent force around the world, being able to project power and being able to control the sea.   
            But the strategy also called out for a couple of other capabilities that we had never codified before. One was maritime security, and the other is humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.   
            So that kind of defines, you know, where we are, how we view the future and what the capabilities of the Navy and the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard bring to the table.   
            Shortly after I took over, I made a trip to Central Command and visited our sailors on the ground in Iraq, Kuwait, and then also on our ships and platforms in the Gulf. It was a good opportunity to see what our young men and women are doing over there and the contributions that they are making. As you may know, we have more sailors on the ground than we have at sea, and Central Command and our sailors on the ground are doing really great work out there.   
            We also have a riverine force deployed in Iraq, something that we have not had for some time -- excuse me, for a couple of decades, actually, since we brought that capability down from Vietnam. And they're out there. I even had the opportunity to do a night flight in a V-22, which is an incredible airplane, but also to spend time with sailors, which to me is the most important thing. The individual augmentees that we have there are doing great work. They bring a range of capabilities and capacities to the ground forces that are there, and when they come back to our units after doing time in either Afghanistan, Iraq, Horn of Africa, they bring a perspective that I think is healthy for our Navy and actually enhance who we are.   
            The other thing that I have been able to do that was very important to me is to go out and visit the shipbuilding industrial base. I visited the major shipyards in the United States, those that are building the products that the Navy is most interested in, to get a sense of what are the new processes, procedures, what are the issues that the shipbuilders face, because at the end of the day, the Navy and the shipbuilding industry have the same desire: to build ships and to build capable ships for our Navy. 
            And that is a high priority of mine because as I look to the future in my role as CNO, I kind of lump it into three very simple things: to build tomorrow's Navy; to maintain the readiness of today's Navy; and to ensure that the policies that we have in place for our people continue to attract, recruit, and retain the young men and women of America who can come to the Navy and fulfill themselves both personally and professionally.   
            So that's what I have been out and about doing, what I have been focusing on. As many of you know, we've just released our fiscal year '09 budget, and the programs that we have in there all fit into our objectives of the maritime strategy.  
            And with that, I'd like to just open it up to questions and get into the dialogue. Yes, ma'am? 
            Q     Sir, I'm hoping you can give us some more information about the weekend incident with the Nimitz, and also your assessment on what the Russians are trying to say by conducting these exercises, and whether or not you think that it's provocative, as some on Congress -- or on the Hill are saying. 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: The patrol that the Russians flew came out -- this is something that was really quite common in the days of the Soviet Navy -- but as you have seen in recent weeks, they have increased the level of flight activity. But they flew out toward Nimitz. We knew they were coming. We saw them coming. We detected them at the appropriate time. We launched out alert aircraft, who escorted the Russian aircraft. There was an overflight of the carrier. And, you know, from my perspective, everything worked exactly as we train to do and as we expect our people and our commanders to perform.   
            So I think what we are seeing is a Russian military or Russian Navy that is emerging, particularly in the case of the navy desiring to emerge as a global navy. They recently deployed some ships through the Mediterranean and I believe this is all part of that emergence as a global -- in the perspective that I have, a global navy. 
            So that's how I see it. I did not consider it to be provocative. And again, the way that our forces responded, our commanders responded, the performance of our systems were -- it was exactly what we expected.  
            Q     How high over the carrier was it? And back in the day, when this happened more frequently, did U.S. military aircraft overfly Russian warships at these altitudes? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: The overflight in this case was around 2,000 feet. And going back into, you know, my experience operating against the Soviets as a much younger naval officer, it was not common for us to overfly the ships. But again, I don't -- I didn't consider this provocative. 
            Q     Admiral, does this recent incident, coupled with the problems last year with China and the inability to get access to Hong Kong -- do any of this -- do all of these issues suggest any need for a change in naval force structure or naval ships in that region? Do you need more? Is there any reason to make changes based on these entities? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: Well, I think one of the things that it does show -- the fact that we had an aircraft carrier operating in the Western Pacific, that we had ships visiting Hong Kong -- it does show that we are a global Navy and that we are out and about. And we are out and about routinely, developing relationships with countries around the world. And our activity is not sporadic. We are there.   
            I will tell you that as I look at the future fleet and the size that that fleet must be, the number of 313 ships is what I consider to be the floor, because in my experience, commanding both in the Pacific and in the Atlantic, is that we need at least that number to be able to engage, to be present, to develop the types of relationships and from that relationship the trust that goes with being able to conduct cooperative and collaborative operations around the world. 
            So to get to your point, I do believe that being out there does require a Navy that has the capacity, and the capability and, equally important, the balance across a range of mission areas that allow us to overate as a global Navy. 
            Yes, ma'am? 
            Q     Is there a protected airspace above our carrier group typically in terms of international law; and at 2,000 feet, is that being violated by the Russian bombers? And why would you not consider this provocative if it was unusual from the past? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: Well, the -- I think it was unusual from the past in that they haven't been out and about. So that is the only thing to me that makes it unusual. The fact that we had such early detection, that we were able to launch our alerts in a very timely way, and when our airplanes joined up on the bombers, it was a very benign flight that came through and we just latched onto them and followed them on in.  
            (Cross talk.) 
            Q     Sorry, just to finish -- the protected airspace -- is there airspace protected above a carrier in terms of international law? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: We do not specify any ranges around the ships, nor would we want to have specified ranges around the ships as we interact with them. That said, we train our commanding officers and our sailors to be able to take in all aspects of what's going on and then make decisions from that. It's very easy to say, you know, give me a black and white space or a clear line. When we're operating in three-dimensional space, whether it's in the air or below the water or on the water, there are many factors that come into play and take everything -- 
            Q     Sir, just a -- excuse me. Given what you know -- you mentioned that you visited Kuwait and Iraq, the Central Command area. Given what you know about Iran activities, how -- what can you tell us about your maritime security operations in the Gulf?  
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: What I can say about our maritime security operation in the Gulf is that the presence of our forces and coalition forces in the Gulf are enabling and allowing the flow of that very important commerce that takes place -- the energy resources coming out, the goods that are going in. And it's that naval force, the coalition naval force that's there that is guaranteeing that free flow and the safety and security of those very precious commodities. That's what navies do. And the fact that we're operating in concert with our friends in the region and other nations who contribute to that coalition speaks to the essence of our maritime strategy, which is one of cooperation and collaboration. 
            Q     Just a follow-up. I would assume you would prefer that the Russian bombers don't do this. I mean -- (inaudible) -- prerogative, but I mean would we prefer that they don't overfly our carriers? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: You know, it's not prudent to fly over an aircraft carrier. But our situational awareness is such that, as I said, we had good detection, followed them in, and in my mind it's not something to go to general quarters over. 
            Q     The Russians said they provided you in advance with warning. Is that true? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: I'm not aware of that. 
            In the back. 
            Q     You've mentioned 313 ships as your floor. What do you see as your ideal number? And also, Congress is looking at the '09 budget request and the out-years request for shipbuilding with some skepticism, saying you're not going to get to a 313-ship Navy. What is your response to that, and again, your ideal number? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: You know, as I've said, 313 is the floor. We're looking at -- you know, if you have a floor, the question is, well, where do you think the ceiling would be? We're doing some work to see what that might be.   
            There's no question that the shipbuilding program is very expensive, that ships today are very expensive. We have to inject in our process the discipline, the control, the requirements that we place into the ships. You know, as I've said, we have to put in there what we need, not what we want. We also have to make sure that we're doing everything to control costs.    
            I believe that as we look to the future, some of the areas that we just explore are more common hull forms. We can no longer design a different ship for every different mission that we have. 
            I think we have to look at some commonality of hull form and then decide what sort of mission capability you want in that ship. So those are some of the things that will enable us to close in on that 313 number. 
            Q     Admiral, you call this a non-provocative, or it's not provocative -- it sounds more like you're saying it's not provocative because the action the Americans took versus the way the Russians were handling themselves. Is that true? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: It was non-provocative in the sense that it was a very predictable flight -- early detection, and then we just followed it in. 
            Q     And you said that you did think this was something to go to General Quarters about. Did the crew go to General Quarters? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: No. 
            Q     Did NASSAU deploy without Marines recently?   
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: Mm-hmm. 
            Q     Is this an anomaly or do you expect to see that happening again in the future, doing train-ups and then deploying on MSC ships or other ships to get overseas? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: The decision was made for the Marines to deploy not using the amphibious shipping. And we had worked up that group of ships, the NASSAU expeditionary strike group, and consistent with our strategy, using those ships to go forward, to be able to conduct operations with other navies and other militaries -- not just in the Central Command area of operation, but to have the flexibility for those ships to do some work, perhaps, in the Mediterranean or even as far as the Pacific area of operations. It gives us a means and a method to be able to do some of this cooperative maritime strategy work that we've been doing. 
            Q     Is it cheaper to deliver Marines on MSC ships? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: There are a lot of factors that go into why we make certain deployment decisions. And, you know, I don't want get into whether it's cheaper or not cheaper. There are just a lot of factors that get into that. 
            Yes, sir. 
            Q     Wanted to ask you about the spread of submarine technology. There are reports that France and Brazil are making here an agreement on building nuclear submarines from Brazil.   
            Is that a problem for you all? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: Well, one of the things that I have seen recent in recent years is the -- you know, the idea that the submarine was a Cold War weapon is just not true. And it's not just navies in South America, but if you look around the world, submarines are proliferating -- the capabilities that are resident in those submarines; the new propulsion systems, particularly the air- independent propulsion systems that allow conventional submarines to stay under water longer without having to come up and recharge batteries. The whole view of the utility of a submarine around the world is something that is, you know, quite frankly on an increase. 
            What that means for us is to have the ability, as a Navy, to be able to counter the most advanced submarines that exist in the world today. I don't, you know, so much focus on what the flag is that they may be flying. I look at the technology and what must we be able to do as a navy to not be denied the sea lanes and the access that our nation may require us to have.   
            So that's how I see the submarine activity around the world today -- very, very good technology that's being put out there.   
            Similarly, we are being challenged in our ability to train against those submarines. As you may know, we have some lawsuits that are in play, that are aimed at silencing our active sonar. The type of submarine that we are dealing with today -- active sonar is a critical sensor that we must be able to employ, but more importantly, that we must be able to be proficient in employing, and that takes practice, and that takes skill, because anti-submarine warfare is an art. It requires many, many different skills. It requires incredible analysis. It requires great patience as this -- as the problem evolves. And our ability to train is absolutely the -- critical. 
            Yes, sir? 
            Q     I'd like to ask a follow-up question on that last point, on active sonar. There's been another court injunction, I believe last week, on low-frequency active sonar. I mean, does that present the Navy with the same kind of issues and problems that mid-frequency active sonar does in terms of denying you the ability to train? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: They do affect our training in both cases. They're different types of sonar. They operate at different ranges. They're employed differently. But each one requires skill and practice, and our ability to conduct the type of training that we need with those sensors, whether it's mid-frequency or low-frequency sonar, is very important. And I believe -- and our record speaks for this -- that we can do both. We can train effectively with that sonar, but we can also be good stewards of the environment. They can coexist. The position that some take that it's one or the other is just not accurate.   
            Yes, ma'am? 
            Q     Back to the Bear bomber incident. Has the Pentagon, the Navy, PACOM, anyone asked for or received any kind of explanation from the Russian government about these actions? And it seems that from the language you're using that, you know, not a provocative act -- is it fair to say that at no point the carrier felt like they were in any sort of danger, that the commander or the captain, no one felt they were in danger from this overflight?   
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: No, the -- as I've said, we knew they were coming. We saw them early. We went out. We saw the airplanes at very close range. And it's -- you know, I do not consider it to be provocative.  
            Q     And the Russian government, any explanation, military --  
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: Not that I've had, no. 
            Q     Has one been requested? Has -- 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: I have not requested one.  
            Q     Congressman Murtha told our front page last week that he would put money in the budget for a 10th LPD-17. He said the service is no longer hesitant about that. Is that case? Will you support that? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: You know, my -- I support the shipbuilding program that I have put forth for the '09 budget. There is not an LPD-17 in that budget submission. So I -- you know, I support the budget that we put forward. 
            Q     Let me ask you about the affordability of the shipbuilding plan. You want to go from 12.4 billion (dollars) in '09 for seven ships to 17.8 billion (dollars) in '013 for 12. I was at a Budget Committee today with Secretary England, and this is what he had to say when asked about this: The way forward, however, in the out years, does require more money than we presently have programmed. That -- so that is an issue in terms of achieving the 313. 
            What's your reaction to that? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: I think the deputy secretary said it exactly right. 
            Q     Well, if you don't have the money programmed, how can it be -- that's a major issue, isn't it? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: Well, one of the things that I must be able to do when I put my shipbuilding plan forward is to be able to say that it is fiscally executable. And so for me, there is a difference in what I say a requirement may be, and then what I believe I'm going to be able to afford to get this balanced fleet. And there's a series of trade-offs that we're going to have to make, and that is the process that we go through as we develop our program to decide, you know, where do we want to spend the money. And so when we built that plan that we have submitted to Congress, I believe that it is executable, and we're going to have to work out and make those decisions. 
            Q     (Off mike) -- that it's not executable in the out years, so there's a discrepancy, isn't there? You think it may be, and he doesn't think it could be. 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: Well, I believe that the plan that we've laid out is one that for the U.S. Navy, that's our objective and we're going to work to fulfill that objective. 
            Yes, sir? 
            Q     Yesterday there were two prosecutions brought about the Chinese -- (inaudible) -- espionage. And one of them involved an arms sales -- arms to Taiwan. And how concerned are you about this type of activity, especially about the possibility of tipping the balance across the Taiwanese Strait? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: I think the safeguarding of information and the safeguarding of our sensitive programs is very, very important. And if there is improper passing of information, that does erode capability. So these are very, very serious issues that require, you know, great attention. 
            Q      Getting back to the shipbuilding plan, you said that there were serious trade-offs you're going to have to consider.   Getting back to the fiscal; reality and whether or not it's feasible, you just said you thought it was feasible. But do you think you're going to have to swap out some more expensive ships for -- 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: That's part of the process and, you know, we're going to have to take a look at that. 
            I will say that, and I keep coming back to this balance term. You know, it's very easy, and I often get the question, you know, well, Admiral, which one is the most important? Balance, for a global navy, is important. You know, we can't be all one type of ship.   
            We are also a blue-water navy. That's what makes us global. So the ability to have the types of ship and the logistics that allow us to have the global reach that we do is key.   
            One of the significant drivers in our number will be the Littoral Combat Ship. As you know, this year, we had to decrement the number of ships, because of issues that we've had with the LCS program, and the fact that we cancelled the 3 and 4. That was a very difficult decision, but I believe it was a very responsible decision, and one that was important for the health of that program over the long term.   
            In the last six months, I have visited both of the LCSes two times. I am very excited about the capabilities. I am very eager to see those two ships out an operating, which they will be this year. From those initial operations, we're going to be able to get a better sense of the acquisition strategy for that important class of ship into the future. But, I mean, you can look at the shipbuilding plan and you can see that LCS is the major driver of the number, and it's not just to drive the number higher.   
            The fact is that we as a Navy do have a gap in what I call the green water. We're really good in the blue. We've started to emerge again in the brown water with our riverine force. But in the littoral or the green water, we gave a gap.   
            LCS fills that gap and LCS is the best ship to fill that gap. It has the speed. It has the shallow draft that expands the amount of area in which we can operate. And it's also been designed to have rapidly changeable mission modules. That's part of the design. So LCS is a very important ship for our Navy.   
            Q     There's been a proposal on the Hill that the LCS be combined with the Coast Guard's new cutter program. Is that a valid proposal? What are the cost benefits that you see in maintaining LCS as a separate program, and not combining the two?   
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: What I see as a warfighting benefit is what I just mentioned to your colleague -- shallower draft speed and mission reconfiguration. That's key. The National Security Cutter does not have that. So, you know, that's one aspect of it.   
            I know there have been proposals with regard to the NSC as far as an alternative to LCS, and some of the cost comparisons.   
            But there are a lot of things about the NSC that doesn't account for some of the additional costs that would be incurred to try and get it to a level of a LCS. 
            Q     Does it make sense on a cost-benefit -- on a cost basis, though, to combine the two programs? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: They're different ships, and the costs associated with a national security cutter don't give us the capability that LCS affords. 
            Q     Sir, can you talk about any repositioning plans for ships or sailors to accommodate the new maritime strategy? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: Well, as you may know, we have made a shift more to the Pacific with our carriers and with our submarines. And that's to account for the activities we have in the Pacific, the size of the Pacific. You know, we are always looking at what is the right balance and force posture and positioning. I continuously look at that when I commanded in the Pacific. That was a key part of what I did, and I'm going to continue to do the same here, to see where we should be looking to have our forces positioned for the future. 
            Q     Admiral, in addition to -- we had the Russian incident, the Kitty Hawk incident, and then you had the speedboats incident. Do you get the sense that other powers are challenging the Navy more than usual? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: The fact that we are about and we are encountering other navies at sea is, as I mentioned, indicative of the fact that we are a global Navy. The events in the Strait of Hormuz -- I thought they were rather irresponsible, but again, I fall back onto the professionalism and the performance of our COs and sailors, again, taking in a lot of different bits of information and making the appropriate decisions that kept an event like that from getting out of control. 
            Q     But these incidents are being reported more often. Is the issue they're happening more often, or that this is the first time they've been reported like this? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: No, I believe what we've had here are some events in close proximity. Does this indicate a trend or not? We'll have to see. 
            Q     If I could just follow up that. And it's -- with the Chinese it's more than just the Kitty Hawk. You had the incident with the submarine. You also had their development of aerial denial -- area denial weapons. Do you foresee a time in the future, the next 10, 20 years, where your ability, the ability of the United States to be a global Navy will be contested by another power, whether it be China or Russia or -- I mean, the Iranians -- I mean, do we foresee -- is this something to be prepared for, something that you foresee? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: Well, I think that it's clear that in the case of the PLA navy, they're increasing in capability, capacity. They've moving toward being more of a regional navy than they have been in the past.   
            The question always comes down to what's their intent. That's why I'm a proponent of being able to engage the leadership of the PLA navy, to be able to get a better sense of what they're about. I've had the opportunity to visit on a couple of occasions with my counterpart in the PLA navy. I hope we have more opportunities to talk, because I believe that being able to understand, you know, where, you know, he is going with his navy, the types of capabilities, is an important thing for us to be able to develop a relationship that I believe can be helpful, particularly in the Western Pacific. 
            Q     Speaking of China's capabilities, how much of an improvement in those capabilities do they now have, given that they've taken delivery of the final of 12 Kilo subs from the Soviet Union and the accompanying supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles that are on those subs? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: Their capabilities are increasing; there's no question about that. They're investing in a navy that is more technologically advanced. They've investing in a navy that has, at least for now, more regional reach. That's the path that they're taking their navy.   
            Q     Do they pose more of a threat to U.S. carriers now in a Taiwan Strait scenario, where -- because of these new Kilo capabilities? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: Well, I think, as I mentioned, the proliferation of advanced submarine technology, you know, around the world provides those who have it the ability to potentially deny areas. And so that's -- you know, that's the navy that they're building. 
            Let's go on -- yes, sir? 
            Q     I just wondered -- the Army has been pretty vocal about its need for the supplemental. I'm wondering, from the Navy's perspective, how important is supplemental funding to operations overseas? I mean, do you absolutely need that to conduct operations overseas, or can you kind of make do with a baseline?   
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: Well, supplemental funding is very important for the increase in operations that we have been conducting. So it's important -- it is not -- the numbers that we have are not of the magnitude of the Army. But it is important to us, and we've been using that supplemental funding over the past couple of years. 
            Yes, ma'am, in the back. 
            Q     Can you talk about what major procurement contracts are on the horizon for the Navy? I believe there's broad area maritime surveillance and also some submarine awards that are coming down the pike? (Off mike) -- coming? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: And so what category were you asking about? 
            Q     What -- I believe some big awards are going to be announced fairly soon or decided fairly soon. What's kind of on the horizon in terms of procurement? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: I mean, the -- we have -- a series of contracts are in negotiation, and I don't want to -- 
            Q     (Off mike) -- ones, the ones that are most important? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: Well, probably the one that's the most significant that deals with what we've been talking about this afternoon is the DDG-1000 and the contract for two ships of that brand-new class that we have. 
            Q     (Off mike) -- that announcement could be made? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: I don't want to speculate on that. 
            Q     Just briefly, you mentioned that you're curious about the intent of these other governments. If that's the case, then why not ask the Russians about the overflight? I mean, what not ask what the intent was, ask for an explanation for why they did this? 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: You know, I -- you know, my sense is that they are, as we talked earlier, stretching their wings, so to speak. They came out. We had a ship out there, they flew out, we intercepted it. I mean, I know I'm not playing this up very much, but that's the way I see it. So you know, they came out to look, we joined up, flew with them until they went home. 
            STAFF: Time for one more. 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: Okay. 
            Q     Part of your plan is calling for extending the service life of the DDG-51 35 out to 40 years. So I'm wondering, within that are you taking a look at keeping that production line open? It would certainly give work to -- (off mike). It would certainly give work to Northrop Grumman. 
            ADM. ROUGHEAD: The -- right now that is not in our program, but it's important that we are able to extend the lives of those ships. They're very, very capable. They are an incredible ship, and I don't say that because I put one of the first ones in commission -- but they really are very, very good ships. But in our program right now, the modernization is what's in there. I believe that the hulls have a lot of life left in them, but it's important that we make the appropriate investments so that we can stretch them out and continue to use that capability. 
            Okay. Well, thank you very much. I enjoyed it, and I hope that in the future we'll be able to continue to talk also in smaller groups and one on one. So thank you very much. 
            Q     Thank you.
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