ARLINGTON, Va. — The submarine admiral in charge of the Navy’s nuclear power program said that “getting faster “to meet the challenges of emerging peer nation competitors requires sticking to fundamentals but broadening thinking while adding new iterations of capability and never settling for second best.
“We must continue to do the fundamentals very, very well,” said Adm. Frank Caldwell, director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, speaking Nov. 1 to an audience at the Naval Submarine League symposium. “We must attack anything that weakens those fundamentals. One of those fundamentals is our strategic deterrent mission. We can never waver on that. That is the submarine force’s core capability and contribution to the national defense.
Caldwell, recalling the success of the long career of the now-decommissioned attack submarine (SSN) USS Jacksonville that he once commanded, stressed that “iterations matter. A culture of never settling for second best. The hard [part] now is how we make those successive iterations happen quicker. How do we learn, [with] industry partners side by side?
“We need to open up our aperture in thinking,” he said. “I charge all of us in thinking about how we broaden our thinking in areas of training, tactical development, maintenance, ordnance, deployment, operations and developing our warriors. These all contribute to warfighting and our central focus of owning the undersea domain not only today but well into the future.
Caldwell said that offboard sensors are key to expanding the reach of the submarine force.
“We’ve got to get offboard,” he said. “We’ve got to grow the arms of the reach of each individual boat, and the path is offboard vehicles, sensors, and networks. These don’t have to be carried organically on a submarine; we have to be able to use them.”
The nuclear boss challenged the defense industry to come up with more ideas to make the Virginia-class SSNs even more potent.
“What is the capability you can add to the Virginia class now so we can learn and adapt and iterate quickly?” he said. “Using what we learn from that, what can we do to expand our thinking about the opportunities that might be present in the Virginia Payload Module tubes? And subsequently to that, what can we learn to add to the design of the next SSN?
The defense budget, of course, is instrumental in achieving the desired submarine force.
“Getting faster is absolutely dependent on stable and predictable funding,” Caldwell said. “We can’t execute efficiently if we have to redo our planning every year.”