After four turbulent years as chief of naval operations, Adm. Jon Greenert is stepping down Sept. 18 and handing the reins to Adm. John Richardson, the current head of Naval Reactors.
During an era of slashed budgets and unrelenting demand for naval forces as two land wars drew to a close, Greenert has been seen by many as the steady hand at the tiller that the Navy needed.
Greenert leaves a number of items on the table for his successor: overseeing a yet-to-be enacted deployment plan that promises shorter and more predictable deployments; plans to one day replace sailors' blue cammies with a more practical and flame-resistant uniform; the controversial push to build ties with China's growing Navy, which is locked in disputes with its neighbors and has had high-profile run-ins with the U.S. fleet.
Greenert sat down with Navy Times and Defense News in August for a wide-ranging interview to discuss his time as CNO and the challenges confronting the service he is retiring from after four decades of service. Questions and answers have been edited for brevity.
Q. During your tenure, you hiked career sea pay and implemented a new pay for long deployments. How has that gone over in the fleet?
A. I'm told by sailors it's been received well. One thing it was definitely not designed to do was to justify long deployments or time at sea. I felt — as did [Chief of Naval Personnel Vice] Adm. Bill Moran and the MCPON — if people exceed what is a normal, notional deployment length, they should be compensated. We said, 'Look, we need to pay them if we can't be smart enough to get to a notional deployment.' And then we said, 'What's notional?' And that is seven months.
So I felt if the world calls on our sailors to do more, they say, 'You bet, we're here to serve my country.' The other side is, we'll do our best to compensate you.
Q. Experts who have looked at the plan to make deployments seven months and more predictable say it is going to be tough to pull off. The carrier Harry S. Truman is hurrying to deploy to relieve the Theodore Roosevelt, and the hurry-up offense is going to be the norm until the carrier Gerald R. Ford arrives in the fleet. Is this plan going to live up to its promises?
A. We have been at seven months with amphibious ready groups now for two deployments. Just a few years ago the [Bataan ARG] went on a nearly 11-month deployment. And we have nine of those, with America coming in now with another big deck, Tripoli, coming online now in the not-too-distant future.
Now, with carriers: Who approves the deployment lengths? The secretary of defense approves it. The chairman for the Joint Staff approves the process. So we went and said, 'Here is the presence we can provide to the world over the next five years ... is this going to be enough globally?' ... And they said, 'That will work.'
The fiscal year 2016 global presence [requirements] are higher than they were in '15, where we have a 1.0-[carrier] presence in Central Command. So that's why we were very upfront, those are the numbers and, by the decision of the secretary of defense, Central Command gets two less months. Central Command said, 'I don't agree with that.' That appeal is taking place at the Joint Staff.
Now there are options, and there may be a world dynamic that says we need to provide an equivalent capability. ... We have options. You can extend the Theodore Roosevelt or you can bring the Truman sooner.
This gets easier as we get into the [next five years]. The Ford comes online, we get better capacity in the shipyards, and we get better at manning up sooner. So, subject to a rudder breaking, a collision or another untoward carrier incident, another campaign somewhere else in the world: We can do this.
Q. You and MCPON Mike Stevens have been considering designing a future fleet uniform similar to the Coast Guard's Operational Dress Uniform, a blue 2-piece working uniform where the shirt is worn untucked. Where are you in the development process?
A. There is a large inventory of the [Navy working uniform] out there, so that's our uniform. But if I could move things along more quickly, I think we'd be better served by what you just described. So, how do you move that along? First of all, the fire-resistant coveralls that we have out there, we have to make sure they are the right ones. So we've quickly distributed them on the ship, we want you to be safe.
So that's number one, that's the material. Now, given that its intention is fire resistance, is it good quality? Is it cool? Does it fit well? Does it launder correctly? We've got to get that right. When we get that right, we can move on to a more effective uniform.
We're a good 18 months to two years away from that.
Q: DDG 1000 was truncated, and the LCS under your involvement has morphed into a frigate with more capability and more survivability. From a strategic perspective are you satisfied with your surface-combatant shipbuilding plan?
A. I am satisfied with where we are right now. You can't wish away — gee, I just wish we weren't in this situation right now where we are retiring the frigates. I've got two more left for one more month and then that's it for the Perry-class frigate.
We're now building, and we're in serial production for the littoral combat ship. But on the other hand we have four out there in the fleet. We're still evolving and introducing these ships into the fleet as we've done other classes, and their performance to date when you compare with others is remarkably similar, and in some cases advanced.
We need to integrate these ships into the fleet. We need small surface combatants. We've just retired the backbone of our small surface combatant. So, it's the littoral combat ship for the future.
Q. Defense Secretary Ash Carter wants innovation, and you've made pushing new capabilities to the fleet — such as new laser technology — a priority. How do you see innovation and the offset strategy?
A. You mentioned one, the laser. The railgun is another, and there are cyber areas and electromagnetic-spectrum manipulation that are classified and I can't go there, but that's the high tech.
There's another one, which we call the repurposing. That would be taking something you have today and using it differently. Taking a missile or a torpedo and you plug in a new warhead, a new seeker, and it suddenly becomes a better weapon, a different weapon that you can now put in a different location, and you can employ it differently.
And then lastly, asking our people. Take junior officers. I have this CRIC, [CNO's Rapid Innovation Cell]. I'll give you a little bit of money. What do you guys see out there, what would you do if you wanted to do something differently; we've gotten great return on that. It's technology, repurposing and unleashing the innovation of our kids.
Q. What are the options to build the replacements for the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines?
A. We haven't decided the strategy to fund the Ohio Replacement. In other words, we've looked at things like, if we understood what the funding will be, we might be able to work on a multiyear [contract]. You say, 'a multiyear for something like that?' Well, yeah. We can probably get 12 for the price of 11. That's how multiyears work. The vendor can plan. The vendor can buy in quantity.
But we've got to come to grips in the Department of Defense how are we going to address the strategic modernization programs — Ohio-replacement followed by the [Air Force's new bomber]. By the way the nuclear command and control needs to be upgraded. The missile is right behind that. I think we need to take a broader approach to all of that.
Q. How is Adm. John Richardson going to do as the next chief of naval operations?
A. He'll do great. You know, each person who comes into the job has a little more experience in one area or another. Adm. Richardson has a nice understanding of the acquisition community and where it's going. Some very critical decisions there in the future, so he has a [nice] addition.
People used to say about me that he knows all this financial management and we're about to go into the Budget Control Act and sequestration. So maybe we're lucky in having good candidates or maybe we're smart in picking the right leader. But he has all the other attributes as well … He'll do a fine job.
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.