The following are Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran’s prepared remarks for his keynote address at the Tailhook Association Reunion on Sept. 8, 2018.
It is an honor to be here with you tonight. So many heroes in the audience, too many to single out.[I] think you’d all agree that Tailhook, if nothing else, is a wonderful collection of patriotic generations who come together in the interest of national defense and to renew old friendships and to make new ones. There is nothing more American, so thank you for allowing me to join you tonight.
I know you all want to hear about what the future looks like, especially for naval aviation, and I’ll get to that, but let’s first take a look at where we are as a joint force, and where the future fight might be taking us. Thanks to Secretary [James] Mattis, we finally have the first real National Defense Strategy in quite some time. And if you look closely at the words and the important themes – words like maneuver, unpredictability, and lethality – it all sounds very much like a maritime strategy, because that’s exactly what it is.
For the cold warriors in the room, it also sounds and feels an awful lot like how we used to employ carrier strike groups in the North Atlantic to keep our adversary guessing and reacting to us. For Tom Hayward – a naval aviator, who will always be my first CNO – it was his idea to take the offensive, or in his words “lean into the Soviets in the northwest Pacific.”
This was the first step of the Maritime Strategy back then that helped to win the Cold War.
Makes complete sense that a naval aviator would be the one to make us think offensively again – back when we needed it the most.
And makes equal sense that another combat-proven naval officer, a Marine general, is doing it for us today when the stakes loom just as large for our nation.
There are two important warnings in this strategy:
- That we had better innovate, and quickly, in order to win.
- And that we have no pre-ordained right to victory.
So, if you haven’t heard, our Secretary of the Navy and CNO have challenged all of us to pick up our pace, to establish a greater sense of urgency and to think differently about solving platform, capability and conceptual gaps across our force.
Their message, and mine, is clear – it’s going to take learning. Quickly. Shared and honed throughout the institution. Something aviators are pretty good at, and have been for a long time. Pretty good, but we can get better.
And I gotta tell you, the panel discussions, especially the one led by Satan, Rear Adm. Conn, this morning on the future of the carrier air wing have been terrific. We are fortunate to have leaders like them throughout the enterprise, and it should give all of you great confidence for our future.
Aviators are also good at looking in the mirror, and perhaps admiring the view, to self-assess and stare at cold reality.
And as the big of the Navy, it’s my role to remind folks of the realities of the day.
I can’t help it, because those realities are what I deal with every day in this job, and they usually come in three bins, our platforms, our people and our purpose.
The bottom line driving all three is usually money.
And after two decades of land wars half a world away, most of you know it all too well a large part of our equipment is worn out, and readiness levels below the standards we seek to achieve and maintain, so Congress and the president have laid billions into the budget.
Now, the secretary is rightfully asking us to provide “receipts” for that money, because without them, those funds might not continue.
And after years of behaviors shaped by continuing resolutions and sequestration, when planning meant next to nothing, I’m seeing good signs of leaders thinking differently, planning for the future, owning readiness again.
The Air Boss and his team are all over this, and they’re making good progress – more up jets are on the flight line than we’ve seen in years. And it’s going to get better still. We must make sure of it.
So the reality of carrier aviation today is stronger than it’s ever been.
We are bringing amazing capability to the fleet.
A new carrier class, built to incorporate technologies that were just ideas on the drawing board not that long ago. A new fighter, the F-35, now, finally a fleet reality with VFA-147 in the lead with an aircraft that has 300,000 individual components and nearly a quarter billion lines of code! A technological marvel, hard for us old analog folks in the room to imagine, that’s enough text to fill up over 60 Rhino NATOPS manuals.
A new unmanned tanker is on contract, which will finally return Rhinos back to the role they were built for, and extend the archers even further out.
But my caution to all of you is that at events like this, we can get too enamored with numbers of platforms when in this case it’s all about the capability of the future carrier air wing.
We have to think differently – when cyber, EW and electronic maneuver warfare are the new coin of the realm.
To sustain the institution, we will challenge our very identity, we have to, in order to renew a relentless focus on mission rather than on rice bowls or tribal interests.
Put another way, when the power of the air wing becomes irrelevant, so too does the aircraft carrier.
The essential factor remains the human element, and the power of our amazing people. People who know what it’s like to have the port engine on fire behind the boat at night when you’re just below BINGO.
People, like Lt. Cmdr. Michael “MOB” Tremel, who have had the power of a precision guided weapon at their fingertips and been empowered to use it.
— flynavy (@flynavy) September 8, 2018
People who recognize that there’s nothing better than being the best in the world at what you do, especially in a flight suit and with the full support of families who understand that they too serve the cause of this great nation.
Which leads us to our purpose – to fly, fight, lead and win. I see our biggest challenge as creating a heightened sense of urgency for the things we can’t readily see.
That come from a fusion of technologies that blur the lines between the physical, digital, and biological realms.
Our adversaries over the past couple of decades have been minor league teams, throwing the 80 mph fastball, and we got use to knocking it out of the park.
The fight of the future includes 120 mph fastballs, breaking balls, wicked curves and sliders that enter the strike zone at the corners, perhaps all at once.
Our warriors will have to be ready in the on-deck circle, reading every pitch, understanding adversarial capabilities, ready to respond to that first salvo.
Truth is, when we look at cyber, EW and other capability threats, it’s likely we’ll have to fight just to get to the fight.
Americans may not perceive this change, and they’ll largely rely on us to lead through it for our national security. They also need to be confident that despite all the challenges of this big, massive enterprise, there’s never been a time when naval aviation was more powerful. And that more, not less, carrier striking power, more capability and capacity, and yes, even more unmanned, autonomous capabilities are needed.
Naval aviation is not alone in this. Every community has had to dig deep and find a new sense of urgency especially after last year’s tragedies at sea. Because today is not tomorrow and tomorrow will be tougher than anything we’ve seen. Because no force in the world has had more impact on that distinctly American capability to project power from the sea than the warriors in this room.
Again it comes down to the ingenuity, intellect and courage of our people. Our future CAGs, commodores, CO’s and WTI’s will deal with things we can hardly imagine – hypersonics, cyber effects and deception, machine speed at the tactical edge and directed energy weapons – this is going to be heady stuff. And the reality is that our future success will depend on imagination and leaders empowering their people.
Let me close with thoughts of Senator McCain’s recent passing and this year’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Operation Rolling Thunder.
Vivid images and scenes from the Vietnam War, and a legacy etched by Carrier Air Wing 16 – Bloody Sixteen – where aviators like then-Cmdr. Jim Stockdale, Lt. Cmdr. McCain, and so many more, some in this room tonight, who showed us what ready looks like, showed us what courage is all about, showed us why we are aviators, showed us why we love this profession, showed us what the meaning of our oath is all about – allegiance, faith and obligation to a service above self, to each other, to this great country.
To a country as captured in the timeless words of Sen. John McCain,
“This country – this big, boisterous, brawling, intemperate, restless, striving, daring, beautiful, bountiful, brave, good and magnificent country – needs us to help it thrive.”
God speed to you, and God bless our Sailors and Marines on watch over the horizon.