National Press Club

Navy Chief outlines growing challenges from technological change

January 12, 2016 | By Ken Dalecki |

Adm. John M. Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations, speaks at a Jan. 11 National Press Club luncheon.

Adm. John M. Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations, speaks at a Jan. 11 National Press Club luncheon.

Photo/Image: Marshall H. Cohen

The pace of informational and technological change is accelerating so fast that the U.S. Navy is revamping the way it educates personnel from the lowest to the highest ranks, Adm. John M. Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), told a National Press Club luncheon audience on Monday, Jan. 11.

"We have to develop and field technology more quickly" and "learn and adapt faster," he said.

A submariner who has served as CNO since Sept. 18, 2015, Richardson noted that the Navy faces its greatest challenges since the end of the Cold War with the reemergence of Russia and development of China as naval powers, new threats posed by Iran and North Korea, and the adaptability and persistence of terrorists.

The four-star admiral said Russia is operating at sea "at a tempo not seen since the mid-'80s," and the challenge from its submarine fleet has been persistent. He said the U.S. "must modernize" the undersea leg of its deterrent force.

Richardson said the U.S. and its allies will continue to assert longstanding rules of free navigation in the South China Sea and wherever else they are challenged. The cost of becoming a military threat are declining and "the margins of victory are razor thin," he said.

To meet these and other challenges, the Navy must develop new training methods, the admiral said, citing as an example the use of tablets rather than printed manuals for enlisted personnel. Since he became CNO, he has done away with a thick daily briefing book and now accesses the information via a tablet. He said war game simulators are becoming more and more realistic for training.

According to Richardson, technology is changing so fast that the risk of falling behind is growing. When he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1982 the Internet had not been invented and the founder of Facebook was not even born. In 1983, he and his submarine shipmates learned that the Washington Redskins had defeated the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII by a one-line message with the score, 27 to 17. Today submariners watch the Super Bowl in real time if they can air an antenna. His audience laughed in light of the Redskin's recent record when he said "it truly was a different era."

The importance of naval power is increasing with the development of northern sea routes opened by diminishing ice fields, a four-fold increase in maritime traffic since 1992, the likelihood of a 50 percent increase in deep water mineral development in the next 15 years, and the laying of additional undersea cable that carries the vast majority of data transmission.

In answer to the final luncheon question from NPC President John Hughes, Richardson predicted that Army's football team will one day beat Navy, which has won the last 14 inter-academy games, "but not on my watch." The CNO serves a four-year term.