FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii — Scientific innovators will need to “bend” elements of the Navy’s current technology to meet the force’s future needs, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command told a group of international scientists and defense engineers meeting Tuesday in Honolulu.
“You don’t have the industrial base to build a whole new navy for a whole new threat,” said Adm. Samuel J. Locklear during the opening address of the 16th annual Pacific Operational Science and Technology Conference.
The U.S. and its allies in the Pacific region have built a “magnificent force” with “unbelievable capabilities,” he said.
But that force “can’t remain stagnant” and must “be morphed to be credible in the next 25, 30 years,” he said, noting that about 80 percent of the craft used by the Navy today will still be in use 25 years from now.
This will require defense industry engineers to re-examine the components of the Navy’s legacy fleet and “bend them toward the future,” Locklear said.
It’s not a new approach, but one that’s going to be used even more in an era of budget cutbacks.
Locklear cited several past examples, such as the B-52 aircraft, now in use for about six decades.
“Now, are they what you want 60 years from now?” he said. “No, but we’ve been able to bend them in that direction. And that’s because of work done in groups like this.”
Likewise, the Aegis ballistic missile defense system now used by the Navy had Cold War origins for defense against potential long-range attacks by the Soviet Union, he said.
“But those systems today perform amazingly well in the ballistic missile defense environment,” Locklear said. “They have been bent through [science and technology] fixes when new issues have been thrown at them.”
The weeklong conference is sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association and PACOM’s Science and Technology Office. Attendees include representatives from ally and partner nations in the region, but attendance to many of the presentations about the most cutting-edge technology are restricted to U.S. citizens.
Locklear urged the defense researchers attending to “sit with my folks for the next couple of days” to get a better idea of what PACOM’s needs are in the region.
“Let’s look at what we already have and see if we can’t, in an affordable way, use it differently or make it work in a different way,” he said.
“Bending” aside, however, he did not want the innovators to lose sight of “the next big thing.”
“And how do ya’ll get us to the next big thing through the S&T community?’ he said. “That’s particularly hard, because no one wants to let go of the old one, right?”
Locklear was asked to comment on the Navy’s newest line of craft, the littoral combat ships. The first LCS, USS Freedom, was commissioned in 2008, and the new line is slated to replace old generations of frigates and mine-sweepers. The ships, however, have been troubled with cost overruns and structural problems that included cracked hulls, corrosion and equipment malfunctions.
Locklear defended the Navy’s need for the LCS design, and he may indeed have some pride of parentage in the concept.
“I was in the room the day the littoral combat ship got thought about in the Navy,” he said. “It was called Streetfighter at that time.”
The idea behind it was to build ships quicker than the usual 17-year concept-to-launch timeframe, he said.
“We tried to cut that down, let industry give us some R&D,” he said. “Faster ship. Reconfigurable. Went from a ship of 350 people on it to one with 75 on it. We tried to make it multi-mission. And we tried to make it cheaper.
“There are things about those ships that I really need in this theater. I need that reconfiguration. I need the speed. I need littoral capability.”
But that line is not the future of the U.S. Navy, he said.
“That’s the future of the littoral Navy. But I have other things I have to worry about. Ships have to do ballistic missile defense. Ships have to do anti-submarine warfare. Ships have to be able to stay at sea for weeks and weeks and weeks because of the enduring nature of a security problem. We have to eventually be able to operate north in the Arctic Circle.”
And all these ships have to be able to operate alone, together and with allies and partners — with the right level of lethality and acceptable level of survivability, he said.
The region under PACOM is “the most militarized part of the world,” Locklear said, with seven of the 10 largest armies in world and all the globe’s biggest navies.
The U.S. and its allies “have to, on one hand, believe that we can maintain peace and prosperity in this part of the world for another 100 years,” he said.
“But we also have to hedge, if we don’t.
“[I]f you’re hedging the future, you’ve got to be able to operate in a much higher environment,” he said. “And you need [science and technology] to bend what we have to do that.”