By Rear Adm. Ron Boxall
Director, Surface Warfare (OPNAV N96)

Shipmates and friends,

Hello from the hallowed halls of the Pentagon! Last month, I relieved Rear Adm. Pete Fanta as director, Surface Warfare (N96). Pete, like those before him, has done a lot of heavy lifting to ensure that our surface force has what it needs to keep our ships, systems and Sailors resourced to the best of our ability. And through his adroit leadership, I believe our surface forces are bearing the fruits of his hard work and that we are making great progress in bringing offensive “punch” back into our surface fleet. I am excited to take the torch.

I am a “repeat offender” to the OPNAV staff. This will be my 4th OPNAV tour, and my 6th Pentagon tour — all since my first command tour aboard USS Carney (DDG 64). It is hard to believe that I was the deputy N96 for now-Vice Adm. Tom Rowden just three years ago. I am heartened to see that we have made great strides in some areas, and in others, we continue to push the ball down the field. But by leaving for a few years, you get to see “snapshot” views of the progress that aren’t always evident in the glacial pace of day-to-day operations. We have to work harder to accelerate the speed with which we get new technology to the fleet. And we will try to do just that.

WATERS SURROUNDING THE KOREAN PENINSULA (March 24, 2016) - Ships assigned to the John C. Stennis Strike Group and ships assigned to the Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy 1st Fleet Maritime Battle Group One steam together during Maritime Counter Special Operations Force (MCSOF) exercise, which is part of Foal Eagle 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Andre T. Richard/ Released)

WATERS SURROUNDING THE KOREAN PENINSULA (March 24, 2016) – Ships assigned to the John C. Stennis Strike Group and ships assigned to the Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy 1st Fleet Maritime Battle Group One steam together during Maritime Counter Special Operations Force (MCSOF) exercise, which is part of Foal Eagle 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Andre T. Richard/ Released)

Before coming to OPNAV, I served as the deployed commander of Carrier Strike Group 3, the John C. Stennis Strike Group (JCSSG), which included the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), Carrier Air Wing 9, Destroyer Squadron 21, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53), and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110), USS Stockdale (DDG 106) and USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93). Our Sailors performed brilliantly, as they always do. As we sailed the waters off Korea and in the South China Sea, it hit home — we must have more offensive punch. We need longer range weapons that pace the threats in the Pacific and elsewhere. The Distributed Lethality concept has to move from concept to reality — and fast. Surface ships and those of us who to go to sea in them need to refocus our pivotal role in being able to control the sea.

So it is those recent deployment experiences, combined with my surface warfare officer experiences over the past 30 years, that have helped shape my “Top 5” investment priorities for N96:

1. Aligning Investments to Sea Control and Distributed Lethality Priorities.

Our nation has returned to an era of great power competition. We must have a Navy that can provide more options to national leaders, from non-conflict operations to high-end combat at sea. Not only must we always be prepared to protect and defend ourselves, we must also remain ready to go on the offensive at a moment’s notice. We can achieve that balance through Distributed Lethality. While we work to maintain and increase our defensive resiliency, we’re going to increase and distribute our offensive power. By increasing the number of “shooters” on our team, we will complicate the defensive needs of any potential adversary, and we will be able to act on high-quality targeting data from a variety of sources.

2. Integrating New Ships and Capabilities in the Fleet.

The Surface Force is moving out with the next generation of surface combatants that will serve our nation now and into the second half of the 21st century. These include:

The first of its class, USS Zumwault (DDG 1000) will be commissioned this October. This technologically advanced warship will provide more offensive options to joint and maritime commanders while maintaining a sleek, stealthy profile that will make it more difficult for adversaries to target.

The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer program has been providing new ships to the Navy since 1991. Over the years, we’ve added capabilities (helicopters, increased VLS lethality, improved Aegis weapon system performance, SeaRAM) without the need for a new ship program and associated delays. The next step in this continuum of modernization is the DDG Flight III with the SPY-6 Air and Missile Defense Radar, which is capable of operating in different environments and mission requirements against a variety of potential targets and profiles. Compared to the legacy SPY-1 radar, Air and Missile Defense Radar will be able to see an airborne object half as big and twice as far — and testing is proceeding apace at Pacific Missile Range Facility, where we have radiated at full power and cycle.

The LCS program continues to provide new small surface combatants to the fleet. These warships will play a vital role in the Navy’s core function of controlling the sea for the nation. In 2030, six out of every 10 warships the nation employs forward will be LCS/FF. The fleet commander of 2030 will face a multitude of challenges while operating forward, and the LCS/FF will be a key element of future adaptive force packages and surface action groups. Our warships must be ready to respond to actions of aggression with credible combat power that will convince potential adversaries that our nation will stand in the face of challenges to international order. The investments we are making in lethality and hardening today will enable LCS/FF warships to execute that role and enable us to control the sea and project power well into the future. We will continue to make improvements along the way — and will see LCS populating the waterfront in quickly growing numbers.

In late 2015, N96 began a future surface combatant capabilities based assessment to guide development of a holistic future surface combatant shipbuilding strategy. The intent of the study was to identify capability gaps as a result of CG 47, LCS, and DDG 51 Flight IIA eventual class retirements. The results of the capabilities based assessment are expected later this year and will be used to inform an initial capabilities document, which will serve as the basis for future surface combatant programs. As this effort progresses to an analysis of alternatives in FY18 and FY19, I intend to use a set based design approach to solving design challenges. That means we will consider a set of solutions rather than focusing on any one specific solution.

3. Continuing to Pace the Threat through Modernization.

The Surface Navy can deliver advanced warfighting capability through shipbuilding and modernization. Shipbuilding enables the Navy to develop and deliver advanced warfighting capability well beyond today’s current capability, but does require significant time from concept development to delivery (15-20 years). The surface modernization strategy enables the systematic introduction of existing and emerging technologies into the in-service fleet. Through modernization, critical warfighter capability gaps can be addressed more rapidly (three to five years), and the lethality of the Surface Force can be distributed across greater ranges without additional force structure.

MEDITERRANEAN SEA (June 24, 2016) The Arleigh Burke Class guided-missile destroyer USS Nitze (DDG 94) follows in formation with the Ticonderoga-Class guided-missile cruiser USS San Jacinto (CG 56) during an underway replenishment with the Fleet Replenishment Oiler USNS Big Horn (T-AO 198). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class J. Alexander Delgado/Released)

MEDITERRANEAN SEA (June 24, 2016) The Arleigh Burke Class guided-missile destroyer USS Nitze (DDG 94) follows in formation with the Ticonderoga-Class guided-missile cruiser USS San Jacinto (CG 56) during an underway replenishment with the Fleet Replenishment Oiler USNS Big Horn (T-AO 198). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class J. Alexander Delgado/Released)

Hull mechanical and electrical as well as combat systems modernizations will continue for Arleigh Burke destroyers in FY17. All newly modernized Aegis Baseline 9C DDGs will be Integrated Air and Missile Defense ships with Navy Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air capability and the most advanced BMD capability. All new construction DDG Flight IIA ships, beginning with DDG-113, will be delivered with Aegis Baseline 9C. Additional planned warfighting capabilities include: Identification Friend or Foe Mode 5, Close-In Weapons System Block 1B, Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program Block II, and the SQQ-89A (V) 15 Integrated Undersea Warfare Combat System Suite. Delivery of these capabilities will extend into the mid-term (2020-2030) and beyond.

The cruiser modernization plan ensures long-term capability for purpose-built air defense commander platforms. The Navy intends to operate 11 CGs (CG 52-62), of which 10 have been recently modernized, while modernizing the newest 11 ships (CG 63-73). The recently modernized CGs (CG 52-62, excluding CG 61) will receive Aegis Baseline 9 through back-fit, as these ships continue to support carrier strike group operations. As the newly modernized CGs (CG 63-73) return to the fleet, each will replace the older CGs on a one for one basis. Additional planned warfighting capabilities include: Navy Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air capability, Identification Friend or Foe Mode 5, Cooperative Engagement Capability, Close-In Weapons System Block 1B, Vertical Launch System upgrades with Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, the AN/SPQ-9B Radar Set, the MK 34 Gun Weapon System with MK 160 Gun Computer System and Electro-Optic Sight System, and the SQQ-89A (V) 15 Integrated USW Combat System Suite.

4. Keeping the Fleet Whole.

Our crews and their ships must be ready, relevant and capable. We accomplish this by adequately maintaining the current fleet, building a future force prepared to meet emerging threats, and ensuring our crews are trained and ready to fight and win. I am fully supportive of the Surface and Expeditionary Warfare Training Committee and Ready Relevant Learning investments. We’re hard at work enhancing and developing new, sophisticated curricula and support tools that will provide better training for our Sailors as they operate more complex systems in an increasingly complicated world. In terms of fleet wholeness, we must strive to maximize the impact of maintenance availabilities. Our goal must be to get each ship out of its maintenance period on-time and on-budget—our Optimized Fleet Response Plan demands it!

5. Using Innovative Approaches to Address Future Surface Warfare Challenges.

Our warfighting capability and capacity is influenced by technological innovations, national priorities, and an evolving threat. The agile use of innovation will ensure we maintain our edge despite these changes. Some of this innovation comes in the form of expanding the mission capabilities of existing technology through hardware and software upgrades as well as new tactics development. N96 is also investing in new technology, including unmanned systems, enhanced integrated fire control systems, directed energy weapons and live virtual training technology.

So there you have it – my top five investment priorities as director, Surface Warfare. I am truly excited for the opportunity to build and shape the Navy’s surface combatant forces. I am committed to those who serve our fine Navy and will work closely with other organizations that share this responsibility with me. As I continue to learn and grow in my new role, I encourage my shipmates and friends of surface warfare to help me and my staff refine these priorities over time. That will require healthy dialogue, honest feedback and frequent engagement.

Again, I look forward to the future of surface warfare and to serving the warfighters who are making great things happen every day throughout the fleet! If you are in the Pentagon, I welcome you to swing by and see the N96 team. I am proud to lead this team of professionals here at the Pentagon as we support those in the fleet!