The fleet's top officer wants to boost is focused on upping training to fight sophisticated opponents and deliveringon more predictable and shorter ship deployments.
Adm.iral Phil Davidson, the former U.S. 6th Fleet commander, in December took the helm of the U.S. Fleet Forces Command, which faces significant strategic and fiscal challenges. FFC oversees the manning, training and equipping of missions that man, train and equip all forces east of the Mississippi River. For the entire fleet, FFC also oversees individual augmentees, anti-terrorism training and training plans, which is why the command is tasked to continue the new deployment plan developed under Davidson's predecessor.
The 1982 Naval Academy grad and surface warfare officer assumed command amid unprecedented strategic and fiscal challenges. The fleet has entered a much-needed reset and reconstitution phase after 13 years of surging operationssustained operations, but funds are lacking for the needed overhauls, and deployments have far exceeded been well beyond the once-standard seven months. and tempo has not eased.
Davidson sat down with Navy Times on April 7 for his first one-on-one media interview since assuming command. The questions and answers have The following Q&A has been edited for brevity.
Q. What are your priorities at Fleet Forces Command?
A. My 6th Fleet experience has set a lot of the background for my priorities at Fleet Forces Command. The first challenge was the processing of the chemical agents on the Cape Ray, [a container ship that neutralized 600 tons of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile]. Challenge No. 2 was the Russian incursion into Crimea and the activity that's going on in the Eastern Ukraine. Because it is the job of Fleet Forces Command to do war fighting and readiness, that panoply range of challenges from one end of the spectrum to the other kind of shapes my thinking.
The job is [to be] ready to fight and win, today and tomorrow, and we have three priorities. The first was to see through the initiatives that Adm. [Bill] Gortney had begun. So things like the [Optimized-Fleet Response Plan], especially, and the warfightingare development centers are key to setting conditions.
Priority No. 2 is to be prepared to fight in contested and denied environments of all kinds. [Electromagnetic maneuver warfare] speaks to that, and absolutely the newest iteration of CS21 [Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower], with its addition of all domain access as one of the five core functions, speaks to that as well.
The third priority is to make key processes … run in better synchronization. It about what the headquarters does, how it interacts with its subordinate commands, how it interacts with the other Echelon II commands.
Q. Where does the new deployment plan stand and where do you see it going in the next year or two?
A. We're planning for seven-month deployments. That starts with [carrier Harry S.] Truman and goes on with through Ike, and then O-FRP is designed to maintain that supply of rotational forces on a seven-month schedule. But at the same time it aligns all the processes for manning, maintaining and training in a way that, were it necessary to go to a big fight, we know how we're going to surge those forces. The reset is built in because you're producing the product ready forces on a constant supply-sided basis. Really the advantage we're getting out of it is predictability for the maintenance, predictability for the manning folks, predictability of the training paradigm and all that stuff so that all this stuff is lined up and going out the door.
Q. The Navy is getting back some stability now, but another round of sequestration cuts lies ahead. How would that affect the O-FRP plan?
A. If we don't have the president's budget [for fiscal year 2016] we are not going to be able to execute the strategy as it's written, and that would affect our ability to source that O-FRP as well.
Q. Are you taking any preparations in case it does happen to try to mitigate the effects?
A. We're having the conversation at the Hill right now. … You know, it's a continuing conversation. We propose and the Congress decides.
Q. How confident are you that you are going to make deployment schedules more predictable?
A. We're carefully managing metrics towards that end now. We're already seeing benefits on the manning side of the practices we intend to put into place for the O-FRP. We've already started to inculcate that into the carrier force and we're seeing less cross decks, we're seeing less urgent [temporary duty en route]TDY's, and we're seeing better manning in terms of fit and fill as we get up in advance of the deployment.
Q. Where do you see the future of training going?
A. We've got Group Sail inculcated in the force now; Carrier Strike Group 8 is out with its [destroyer squadron] right now. This is one of the stepping stones to make sure we're doing the preparatory work — basic training to Group Sail to [Composite Training Unit Exercise] and out the door, it's all connected in order to build those skills. One of the things we're trying to get out of the way in the Group Sail is some of the advanced kind of basic integrated multi-shipstuff that'spreviouslygot to happened in COMPTUEX. Plus, we're really trying to bring home the generation of the current operational picture, comms usage, and the beginnings of the planning skills so that when they get to the more advanced integratedive phase, we can spend more time in a higher end fight at the latter part of that COMPTUEX.
So it's kind of a building block approach, trying to deliver those skills so that we can get to the contgested and denied environment piece and how to operate in that environment.
That COMPTUEX is as demanding an exercise as we do on the planet. But our experience looking backwards in the last 15 years was power projection in a fairly benign environment. We would drive to the North Arabian Sea, our aircraft would essentially fly over western Pakistan pretty much on an airline run, it's not like they were getting contested a relatively unchallenged route on the way to the battlefieldtarget. For the future If our aviators, which are exquisitely trained, will need to up their game at be prepared for a contested or denied environments to fight their way to the target, that's what we're trying to build into the training phase. It's not necessarily about more push-ups, it's about a next set of exercises designed to invigorate the skills that are necessary in that contested and denied environment. It's kind of universal; it's in the western Pacific, it's in the Central Command, it's in the 6th Fleet, in the Eastern Med, across the panoply of these operations.
Q. How are you adapting training to deal with the Atlantic Fleet deployers that are contending with a more confrontational Russian military and how do you project that mission load changing?
A. We're trying to make sure that commanders expect a contested and denied environment in the cyber space. This also includes greater anti-submarine warfare skills; it includes greater training in terms of controlpatrol of our own emissions, all that kind of capability. In Europe, we're moving [forward deployed naval force] ships there to assume the ballistic missile defense mission. This is kind of the backbone of the force that will be there in the future. I think the strategy has made clear what our priorities are going forward.
Q. Where do you see the Weapons Tactics Instructor courses going, and are there possibilities that senior enlisted might get to go to those?
A. We're just getting ready to stand up the warfightingare development centers. We've got the conceptual work done now and I think we'll see approval before too long. That's really the gateway to expanding the concept of weapons and tactics instructors. We started to develop the first set of surface warfare tactics instructors already, and the WDC's will put us on that trajectory permanently. The point on enlisted training, it's an excellent one. I can tell you it's not at the heart of the effort that's just getting kicked off, but iIt's certainly something we'll consider over time. … Our expectation is improved capabilities in this contested and denied environment domain, in this all-access domain. I keep coming back and hammering that.
Q. Can you talk about the importance of Electromagnetic Warfare Maneuver, and where you see it going forward?
A. If you are worried about operating in contested environment, you might want to hide your location, you might want to be a hole in the ocean, you might want to be a needle in a stack of needles. Understanding how to do that and when to do it is really, really important. We do it to assure our communications, we do it to assure our reconnaissance, realm — to do our fires and preserve our maneuver while we're trying to deny an enemy their ability to do those sort of things. that, ultimately achieve their objectives? To simplify it down in that realm, it's about radars that might be out there, it's about satellite passes that might be out there. It doesn't necessarily have to be cyberspace or electronic based. There are physical hidings you want to do — certainly we're susceptible to third party targeting, you know somebody that's acting like a fishing boat but actually providing data on the force and that kind of thing. So what we've done here is we've stood up the [Information Dominance Corps Forces Type Command] to help us define all these skills for the force. I've given the task at the operational level to [Navy Warfare Development Command] down in Norfolk to start to put together the skill sets that are required at the operational level to deliver this too; to work in tandem with the ID forces, and towork in tandem with all the warfightingare development centers as they come on line so that we get operational level training done, we get the tactical level training done and it gets down to the unit level and we get all this re-established.
Q. What are the trends you are seeing in op tempo and dwell time, whether it's expeditionary sailors or SEALs, and where are your concern areas?
A. You know The concern is always kind of an urgent change and what [we] might be required to do. We're trying to capture that with this the [OFRP] model to let leadership know you know what's available from a supply perspectiveto it and how we would operate it to fulfill that needlane. That's really kind of the focus of that effort. It's not just a thing that's new; it's trying to define that for the leadership.
Q. What are you doing to improve the health of the helicopter fleet, specifically the MH-53 Sea Dragons?
A. We put another Air Frame Bulletin out this winter, No. 346, as well as a revision to update the previous AFB 343, and we did a much higher level of partnership between [Naval Air Systems Command] and the fleet maintainers at the 53 squadrons to make ensure that those air frames get inspected with increased that kind of rigor. My focus right now is two-fold. One is safe and effective aircraft. So we're after the inspection, certainly the compliance on the back end of it, to make that happen, keeping all the resources flowing so that the piece parts — which, to be fair, the vendor base is kind of gone, there's not a lot of parts on the shelf — that has to be invigorated to get the piece parts in so that to our maintainers andinto can get them in the aircraft.
The safe and effective piece is absolutely priority one. But the other piece is the confidence in the aircraft with our troops. I flew with them about a month ago to make sure that they understand we're relying on that community like we do any kind of niche community that we have in the Navy. You've got kind of a small cadre of folks to do that mission. To raise their confidence in the air frame, make sure that they understand that their resources are flowing and keep that capability going for as long as we need it. We made some other process changes along the way over the last few years. We're establishing an [Fleet Replacement Squadron] for that community that will set up a sea-shore rotation so that we get better skills development.