Top US Navy Officer Wants A High-Tech Fleet

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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The U.S. chief of Naval operations, the highest ranking officer in the U.S. Navy, is intently focused on creating the Navy of the future — which will require warships be built around information technology.

During a seminar at the American Enterprise Institute Friday, Adm. John Richardson told the audience that he asks himself what the warships of the future will look like. He noted that while flexibility in size and role is obviously important, a focus on information technology is paramount.

Richardson noted that the Navy is currently updating existing platforms with advanced technology, but he made it clear that “information technologies and information warfare will be in the DNA of the [future warships] from the very design.”

The admiral also believes the crews who will staff the ships of the future may be currently serving Navy. He added there will need to be a move to a new “family of platforms” that can harness the “digital-native” sailors who continue to join the Navy.

The Navy currently has the smallest number of ships in nearly a century, and was just hit with a tighter-than-expected budget for 2017, and Richardson said he is thus often asked whether he focuses on “capacity” or “capability.”

“Truth of the matter is, I’ve gotta be both,” he noted. He explained that depending on the situation, he may have to drift more towards one end of the spectrum than the other. For him, it is about “striking a balance” between the two options.

Richardson admitted that some ships simply cannot be made smaller. But he did note that “mass is becoming a vulnerability” and that he is interested in decentralizing how the Navy operates, so commanders can have more control over issues “only they can see.”

Richardson expressed keen interest in ship adaptability. He said that while he realizes some of the physical attributes of future platforms, such as the survivability of a ship and how long it operates, will mirror today’s ships, some key differences need to be made in order to prepare for rapid advances in technology.

“I think increasingly so, we must make them [warships] very much more modular or adaptable to improving technologies,” he said.

In today’s Navy, when the word “adaptability” is used, military officials and experts alike immediately think of the highly controversial littoral combat ships (LCS).

Richardson said he takes a “non-emotional” view of the LCS. While he appreciates the “open architecture” of the ship itself, he also noted that it will inevitably have limitations and is not meant to fight in every environment. He noted, however, that the LCS does have a legitimate and important role to play in the future of U.S. naval operations.

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