Union Tribune

January 6, 2002 

Navy's top admiral submits plan for sustaining, improving service
  Costly, ambitious course embraces weapons, people


WASHINGTON -- The Navy's top admiral is plotting an ambitious course for his service's future, proposing major increases in spending for weapons and people and an array of innovations, with a focus on protecting the nation and winning the war on

In a document being sent to the fleet today and in an interview, Adm. Vern Clark emphasized the need to sustain the Navy's readiness to wage the current conflict while making the changes needed to ensure greater combat power in the future.

Although many of Clark's proposals could be accomplished without outside help, the Navy would need a substantial boost in its financing to meet Clark's goals for new ships, aircraft and weapons, and possibly additional personnel.

Clark, the chief of naval operations, called his message "steaming orders," a Navy term usually applied to the directions to a ship or task force for future operations. While trying to shape the Navy's future, Clark reminded his people of the immediate task facing them.

"What I'm saying in the steaming orders is: First and foremost, we are at war," Clark said. "We didn't ask for this war, but we are going to win this war."

Although the Navy cannot fight the war on terrorism alone, he said, "the taxpayers have invested in this Navy and the Navy is going to do its part to win this war."

Clark noted the key role the Navy played in the opening rounds of the war, particularly the availability of aircraft carriers and amphibious ships to start the attack on the terrorist network in Afghanistan.

"This war has affirmed again the value of having forces on station around the world, the value of forward presence . . . of having credible combat power in the far corners of this Earth," he said.

The fact that it took early deployment of ships to sustain the required Navy presence in the Arabian Sea also proved that the current force of 12 carriers and 12 amphibious groups "is the minimum we can have and sustain the kind of operations we're in," Clark said.

The Navy cannot maintain that force with the current rate of buying new ships and aircraft, he said.

In his message, Clark proposed buying 10 new ships and 210 new aircraft annually within six years. That would take an increase of $10 billion in procurement funds over the current budget, which buys five ships and 88 planes.

Clark also calls for developing a fleet of new warships, including a small, fast and relatively cheap vessel called the Littoral Combat Ship, which proponents call the "Street Fighter." Some Navy leaders have fought that concept, preferring large, multipurpose ships.

He also ordered implementation of high-technology innovations to improve the combat effectiveness and precision of current and future weapons.

A large part of Clark's message focused on people.

He called for steps to improve the quality of life and quality of service for Navy personnel and dependents and for experimenting with ways to keep ships deployed longer without
keeping crews away from home more than six months.

That could include sending new crews to take over a deployed ship, instead of the current practice of returning the ship and crew to their home port, Clark said.

The admiral noted the Navy's success in meeting its goals for recruiting new sailors and most of its goals of retaining trained people. That has helped cut the total shortage of sailors on deploying ships to 5,000, down from 18,000 three years ago.

He called for improvements in all those figures this year.

Clark said he is telling his leaders, from the fleet commanders to senior enlisted personnel, they will be judged primarily on two issues: "their personal commitment to mission accomplishment" and their "personal dedication to the growth and development of the people entrusted to you."

Clark's document calls for increased efforts to retain skilled personnel, including improved pay, housing, working conditions, and opportunities for education and advancement.

It also emphasizes better protecting Navy facilities and personnel at home and deployed from the terrorist threats. That includes new technology and a jump in the Navy's security force from 9,800 personnel today to 13,000 next year and 17,000 within five years.

Clark said he demands a lot of the Navy's leaders.

"This document is an effort to communicate with them, to ensure that we are working together as a team, to make sure they understand where the (chief of naval operations) thinks we are today, where he thinks we ought to be," Clark said.