Deputy Secretary of Defense Speech

Remarks at the ACTUV "Seahunter" Christening Ceremony


            Well, good morning.  Wow.  What a beautiful venue.  I've never been to Portland [Oregon] before.  It's lovely.  And gosh, what a skyline and a beautiful day.  Wow.  By my count, I'm the sixth speaker.  So I ask you forbearance for just a few more minutes.  And it would be a big favor to me.

 

            First of all, you know, when friends asked me, what do I do as the deputy secretary, and I say, think of the movie Jurassic Park.  So, I don't get to leave the game preserve very often.  And when I am in the game preserve, I'm usually being chased by people who are trying to eat me.  So anytime I get to escape the confines of the game preserve -- is a great day.  And I get to bring my wife and I get to visit with people and see things.  So that's one reason why I'm very, very happy to be here today.

 

            But I've got to tell you, I mean, I think this has been a little somber up to this point.  And you are all witnessing history.  You are going to remember this day, not because we've had a little problems with the sound system.  And before I go on, I want to applaud those guys for trying to get this thing up.  Great job.  Nicely done.  We are not going to remember you. 

 

            We are going to remember this because how often can you be at the christening of a robot warship?  Now, let me tell you, I'm going to talk a little bit about the Predator in just a few minutes, but in the United States Air Force, there are airplanes and drones.  The Navy cannot make that mistake.  There have to be warships.  And it doesn't matter whether they are manned or unmanned.  They will take the fight to the enemy.  I'm on a ship that looks like a Klingon “Bird of Prey.”

 

            It's – haze gray.  If you look up front of the bridge, at the pilot house, you'll notice big bolts.  You can take that pilot house off and this ship can operate autonomously.  If the Navy falls in the trap of thinking of these vessels as somehow different than the other haze gray warships that send shivers down the spine of our enemies, wherever they may be in the world, they're going to make a damn big mistake.

 

            Now, I've been waiting for this day for a long time.  A long time.  We are in a period of incredible technological flux.  Advances in autonomy and artificial intelligence and autonomous control systems and advanced computing and big data and learning machines and intuitive rapid visualization tools, meta-materials, miniaturization.  They are leading us to a period of a time of great human-machine collaboration.

 

            This will be a change just like other momentous changes in our society.  You see this human-machine collaboration in our business and manufacturing now.  You see it in our daily lives and you're going to see it increasingly in warfare.  So I believe, without a doubt, you're going to look back on this day just like people like you were sitting on the stage when the USS Nautilus was christened, the first nuclear powered submarine, or when the USS Enterprise was commissioned, the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier or when the DDG 1000 was commissioned, our first stealth battleship.  And you are going to look back on this and say, "I was part of history."

 

            Now, let me rewind the tape just about 20 years ago, 1996.  There was a little unmanned aerial vehicle called Predator that was built by General Atomics.  It was produced initially to work as a surveillance vehicle over Bosnia.  It wasn't much.  Didn't carry any weapons.  The only thing it carried was an electro-optical camera.  Couldn't fly in bad weather and it was unreliable.  At that point, it was suffering every single time they sent one up.  Twelve percent of them suffered every mission -- 12 percent of every mission suffered a mechanical failure.

 

            It had to be piloted.  The pilot couldn't be farther than 500 nautical miles away.  And if that were bad enough, there was no pilot who wanted to pilot it because that was beneath them.  Every pilot wanted to be in a cockpit.  So just trying to find a volunteer to say, hey, how would you like to go into this little dark, smelly van and control this unmanned, piloted vehicle 500 nautical miles away, didn't get a lot of volunteers.

 

            But then a visionary officer said, yeah.  He had this a-ha moment.  He said, sure, it only flies 75 nautical miles per hour.  It doesn't even break the sound barrier.  In fact, it doesn't get close to the sound barrier.  In fact, sound probably goes faster than the Predator.  Sure, it only has a TV camera, but it can stay up there forever.  That was the first a-ha moment.

 

            Then another officer said, "Well, wait a second, let's start to brain storm and experiment with this thing."  Pretty soon, they figured out how to pilot, remotely pilot that Predator from 7000 nautical miles away.  Then they said, hey, why don't we put on some new sensors?  So instead of an EO-bird (electro-optical) they put on infrared.

 

            And then they put on a FLIR, a forward-looking infrared, then they put on a SIGINT package to collect signals intelligence and ELINT packages.  And then, somebody said, you know, we're finding a lot of bad guys.  If we put a Hellfire on this thing, those bad guys will disappear.  Well, the rest as they say, is history.

 

            It was the collaboration of machines and humans.  This was the first prototypical human-machine collaborative battle network and it completely changed the way we think of counterterrorism in global man-hunting operations.  It's just been remarkable.  So I guarantee you that this is going to have the same impact on the Navy, unless the Navy makes it not so.  If this doesn't happen, there's no one to blame but the Navy.  Look at this ship.  I mean, it looks cool.

 

            I mean, this would be a ship that you would see gliding down a waterway, and you'd say, what in the heck is that?  It's not armed.  Just like the Predator wasn't.  It doesn't have a lot of payload right now, but it has a lot more than the Predator, about 10 tons.

 

            And guess what?  Unlike the Predator, it is completely autonomous.  As the Navy – as we all know here all too well, the regulations which are called the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, or the COLREGS, they set out the rules of the road.  All mariners have to follow them.  And they're designed to prevent collisions between two or more vessels at sea.  If you can't demonstrate that this vessel can follow the COLREGS, then this vessels is going into the dust bin of history.

           

            But DARPA, with the help Leidos and O&R and all of the other people that everyone has talked about today, we believe that this warship can be in compliance with these strict laws and conventions.  And that in and of itself would be reason to celebrate.  It's a tremendous feat of technology.

 

            It kind of reminds me of story.  A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier steaming along and sees a contact in the scope.  So the captain radios to the contact, "Please divert your course five degrees to the south to avoid a collision."  The contact replies, "Understood.  Recommend that you divert your course 15 degrees to the south to avoid a collision."  The U.S. ship, the captain himself comes on, "This is the captain of a U.S. Navy ship, I say again, divert your course."  The contact replies, "No, I say again, divert your course."

 

            The captain of the ship is now shouting at this point, "This is the Aircraft Carrier, USS Coral Sea.  We are a large warship of the United States Navy, the most kickass Navy that the world has ever seen, divert your course now."  The contact replies, "This is a lighthouse, it's your call."

 

            So to the DARPA team, the one thing I will look for is to make sure that they can distinguish a lighthouse from another ship.  Otherwise, they would have a very short career, but I'm certain they have.

 

            Unlike Predator -- they couldn't fly in bad weather -- this ship, this warship can operate up to Sea State 5 and is survivable in Sea State 7.  And like the Predator, it goes forever in a relative sense, 10,000 nautical miles at 12 knots.  That means that a commander can push a button and all of the technicians can be on the pier waving goodbye to the unmanned warship and it would arrive in Bahrain about 8,300 nautical miles later with 15 percent fuel margin.  That's pretty cool.

 

            And it is designed to be very efficient.  This ship you see before you costs a little bit more than $2 million to build.  It was designed for an operating cost of $15,000 to $20,000 per day, per day.  To give you a sense, a DDG [guided missile destroyer], that's $700k per day.  We're talking $15,000 to $20,000 for this vessel to operate for 24 hours.  An unmanned helicopter operating for 24 hours would cost $300k.

 

            So just like what happened with Predator, I am absolutely salivating to see what is going to happen when this baby gets down to the [Commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet] after O&R has checked it all out, made sure it's safe, and see what our creative warfighters of the U.S. Navy can do with it.

 

            You can imagine anti-submarine warfare pickets, you can imagine anti-submarine warfare wolfpacks, you can imagine mine warfare flotillas, you can imagine distributive anti-surface warfare surface action groups, you can imagine this carrying deception vans, electronic warfare vans.  You can actually envision, just do the math, these -- we can build these for $20 million, five for $100 million, 25 for half a billion, 50 for a billion.

 

            This area right here looks pretty good.  We might be able to put a six pack or a four pack of missiles on them.  Now imagine 50 of these distributed and operating together under the hands of a flotilla commander, and this is really something.

 

            I often recite the story -- this is one of my most famous Navy stories.  Captain Earnest D. Evans, a posthumous Medal of Honor winner, at the commissioning of his ship, the USS Johnson in 1943, said, "This is going to be a fighting ship.  I intend to go in harms way and anyone who doesn't want to go along better get off right now."

 

            Well, thanks to the advances in technologies of these people, represents, and many of you in the audience represent, somebody's going to say, "This is a fighting ship, not a vessel, a fighting ship.  I intend for it to go in harm's way, buckle up, plug in, get nasty, let's go."  And this is going to be a Navy unlike any navy in history, a human machine collaborative battle fleet that will confound our enemies.

 

            The other thing this ship represents is an incredible capability.  We're in a competitive environment right now where the military relevant technologies are happening in the commercial system, AI, autonomy, all of these things, robotics, miniaturization, they're being driven by the commercial sector, not necessarily the government.

 

            We're in a period like the inter-war period, where all of these technologies are available.  Everyone knew there was radio, everyone knew there was mechanization, everyone knew there were airplanes, but only the Germans put them all together in an operational concept called – Blitzkrieg.

 

            So this time is a similar time of technological flux.  It's going to require visionary war-fighters like [Rear] Adm. Girrier and the Sailors of the 3rd Fleet and the Sailors of the 5th Fleet and the Sailors of the 7th Fleet to figure out how are we going to use this in a way that our enemy cannot predict and what will give us a war-fighting example.

 

            So I can't wait to get this fleet.  I hope it transitions from O&R to 3rd Fleet as soon as possible.  I'm so thankful for visionaries like Arati Prabhaker, Roger Crone -- where are you, Roger?  Roger.  The whole Leidos team – Rear Adm. Winter, the whole O&R team, Rear. Adm. Girrier, all of these people who have made this possible.  I guarantee you're going to look back and say, "I was part of history."

 

            So again, I want to thank you all for being here today.  I want to thank the team who has made this possible.  And when I look at a ship like this, I'm reminded by the old Royal Navy quote, "Hell and damnation to our enemies, let's go get some."  This is really cool and I hope my wife is taking a lot of pictures.