News   Lethality

Naval Engineers Must 'Lean In' to Advance Technological Agility

June 20, 2019 | BY C. Todd Lopez
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Rebuilding "strategic momentum" and growing advantages in the maritime domain are challenges Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John M. Richardson addressed in "A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, Version 2.0," which updated a 2016 document.

At an annual meeting of the American Society of Naval Engineers today in Washington, Richardson said meeting those challenges is a "human problem" that must be met, in part by naval engineers.

A man in a military uniform stands behind a lectern which bears a logo with the words “American Society of Naval Engineers - 1888.”
Naval Engineers
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John M. Richardson addresses an annual meeting of the American Society of Naval Engineers in Washington, June 20, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Raymond D. Diaz III
VIRIN: 190620-N-BB269-1009C

His plan for how the Navy will maintain maritime superiority relies in part on three aspects of agility. "With the joint force, we will restore agility — conceptual, geographic, and technological — to impose cost[s] on our adversaries across the competition-conflict spectrum," the report reads.

For engineers, Richardson focused on their contribution to technological agility.

An aircraft carrier moves through the ocean. In the sky above, 11 aircraft fly in a diamond formation.
Formation Flight
Aircraft fly in formation over the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis in the Atlantic Ocean, May 14, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Seaman Jarrod A. Schad
VIRIN: 190514-N-HX510-0415C

"The technological landscape is changing so fast across all of technology," Richardson said. "It's really fueled by this information revolution that we are in the middle of right now. And so as we think about the Navy as a learning engine in and of itself, restoring these technical agilities is really important. We do need to move at pace."

For comparison, the admiral referred back to Dec. 8, 1941 — a day after the bombing at Pearl Harbor. It was then, Richardson said, that the Navy began a quick transition from battleship-based tactics to aircraft carriers and aerial battles. He said the switch in strategy wasn't a surprise for the Navy, because it had been researching and engineering for that possibility for years.

"We had been 20 years into naval aviation," he said. "This was not just something that we did as a pickup team on Dec. 8. We had been putting investments in with folks like [Joseph] Reeves and [William] Moffett and all those pioneers of naval aviation. We had evidence. A lot of experimentation, a lot of engineering that had gone into that."

A fighter jet lands on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
Arrested Landing
An F/A-18F Super Hornet makes an arrested landing on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, June 16, 2019, in the Arabian Sea.
Photo By: Navy Seaman Apprentice Stephanie Contreras
VIRIN: 190616-N-WF663-1193C

Now, Richardson said, the Navy must again have that kind of experimentation, engineering and prototyping to ready it for the next conflict — and it must get on that mission quickly to stay ahead of adversaries.

"We do not want to be the second navy on the water with these decisive technologies: the directed energy, unmanned, machine learning, artificial intelligence, etc., you name it," he said. "That's the great challenge now: to get out, start prototyping, get at this pace, plus evidence ... to yield a relevant Navy that is ready to defend America from attack and protect our interests around the world."

An aircraft carrier moves though the ocean. In the background are snow-covered mountains.
Gulf Transit
The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt transits the Gulf of Alaska, May 24, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony J. Rivera
VIRIN: 190524-N-XC372-1412D

The admiral said that a knee-jerk reaction might be to cite Defense Department acquisition regulations, like DOD 5000, for inhibiting the type of rapid development, engineering and research he thinks will be needed to maintain maritime dominance. But he said that's not entirely correct.

"I think a new set of rules would help," he said. "But this is, I think, a human problem at the end of the day. If we are all biased for action, if we all lean into this, we will get it done. There is nothing that will prohibit us or inhibit us from getting that done if we are all leaning in."