We can support efforts to replace Ohio Class

Sheila McNeill, Guest Columnist
May 20, 2014

Recently, through this community’s support of The Camden Partnership, I was able to attend the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space expo — the largest maritime exposition in the country.

One of the first panels was with the service chiefs with former chief of naval operations Adm. Vern Clark as moderator.

The current CNO, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, discussed his three tenets outlined in his sailing directions and navigation plan which are: warfighting first, operate forward and be ready.

Gen. James Amos, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, emphasized the importance of the ability to respond to today’s crisis with the force of today.

And Adm. Robert Papp spoke about “navigating through uncertain times and strong seas” and highlighted the importance of having a signed law of the sea treaty.

Vice Adm. Terry J. Benedict director, strategic systems programs, Rear Adm. David Johnson, program executive officer, submarines and Rear Adm. Joseph Tofalo, the former commander of Submarine Group 10 at Kings Bay, now director undersea warfare division (N97) participated in a panel “Ohio Replacement Program Update: A Partnership of Progress.”

The Navy has completed the specifications and has set the length for its next generation nuclear ballistic missile submarine, Johnson told the audience.

The Ohio class replacement program boats (ORP) will be about the same length as the current boats but with eight fewer missile tubes. The extra length was included in the design to improve on stealth, cost and maintainability of new SSBNs.

“It’s not whether we’re going to build a sea-based strategic deterrence. We’ve got to,” Tofalo said. “This is something you do every 50 years and we’ve wrung every single ounce of efficiency from this program. ... Who would have thought, five years ago, that Russia would not be participating in the G8 summit?”

Our task as a community and citizens will be to ensure these boats are funded and that no delay is allowed. When you look at the history of the boomers and realize there were originally 41, then 18, then 14, to now convince Congress that the minimum level of 12 boats must be authorized and funded should be easy. It will not.

I also want to remind our citizens that when the New START Treaty is in effect our submarines will have 70 percent of the nuclear deterrence.

A congressional breakfast was held with Papp, commandant U.S. Coast Guard, Congressman Rod Wittman of Virginia and Congressman Joe Courtney of Connecticut.

Adm. Papp said the Coast Guard needs dozens of new ships to replace its aging vessels but is being forced to live with less than half the procurement funding required although he remains “cautiously optimistic” about the Coast Guard’s modernization plans. The much needed modernization to replace these 40-50-year-old boats is being cut by about $300 million — the same amount that was cut in 2010 when we almost lost our Maritime Safety and Security Team.

A budget of $2.5 billion per year in acquisition funding is needed for this modernization — a very small amount when we see such results from the work of the Coast Guard and their protection of our waterways and borders. They are America’s security.

The banquet was held on Tuesday night and Greenert was the speaker.

“With tighter budgets the rule of the land, the military services need to seek support from each other,” he told the audience. “We need to learn how to depend on each other more.”

While we have heard efforts in the past, this was the most direct I have heard this option and one possible answer to our current budget constraints.

I thought of how important expos are like this to bring our defense contractors and the sea services together to understand how to better support our defense issues.

Adm. Greenert also said, “What are you buying that’s of use to us? Navy cruise missile and mines have been employed from Air Force B-52 bombers, and Army helicopters are operating from Navy ships but the services need to go further.

“We need to avoid overspending on programs that are similar to those in other services.”

Amazing words from an amazing leader.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley told us at one of the luncheons, “We must rid ourselves of any complacency built upon our past success, because the threat is rising. China knows no sequestration in their budgets. They’re rising rapidly.”

I was pleased to see our friend, Papp, selected for the Navy League’s highest honor for his “outstanding leadership, personal integrity, professional achievement and unselfish dedication to America.”

“Never in my career have I felt so humbled to receive an award,” Papp said.

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said that, in his view, Papp has earned his place among American heroes. The DHS oversees the Coast Guard.

Greenert added that when Papp took over for Adm. Thad Allen four years ago, he was the right choice for the job.

The Adm. Arleigh Burke Leadership Award recognizes an outstanding leader from government (civilian or military), industry, or academia, whose life is in keeping with the example set by Adm. Burke. Adm. Papp will join other distinguished colleagues as the 21st Arleigh Burke Award recipient.

It was an amazing four days and this is just a sample of dozens of briefings.

The emphasis that was given the replacement of the boats based at Kings Bay and Bangor, Wash., was effective and reflected the chief of naval operations in his comments that the Ohio replacement program was his top priority.

This community will be depended on to support the efforts to maintain proper funding for this program.

I was honored to participate.