MIRA RAPP-HOOPER: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for joining us today for this lunchtime discussion on Asia-Pacific security. My name is Mira Rapp-Hooper and I’m a senior fellow in CNAS’s Asia-Pacific Security Program. The very impressive turnout at this session today is a testament to the remarkable speed with which security dynamics are changing in the region and the stakes implicated by those trend lines.
Just two years ago, freedom of navigation operations were not in the public lexicon, even though they occurred all the time. Land reclamation was an esoteric construction technique. China’s anti-access approaches and technologies posed a longer term problem for military planners while grey zone opportunism beneath the military threshold seem to be the present tense concern.
In 2016, however, a great power competition takes the form of rapid-fire island-building and navigational assertions to protect freedom of the seas. A2AD and gray zones are rapidly converging in the South China Sea. This competition is rapidly evolving and engages the interests of the entire region. It is as its core competition over the future of order in Asia.
At the Center for a New American Security, these dynamics fly at the heart of the research that we do every day. Just this year, our team has released studies examining the technological requirements for partners and allies in engaging A2AD challenges from China. We’ve produced a framework moving towards a common operating picture for maritime domain awareness. We’ve contemplated the future of defense cooperation with Taiwan, begun a new series of workshops on the strategic role of Southeast Asia and explored the implications of the South China Sea arbitration decision which we expect any day now.
We’re at work on a new project that examines how Beijing is likely to react to Washington’s initiative under the rebalance and are exploring how the United States and its partners can realize a truly networked security architecture in the region as Secretary Carter and others have spoken about. In each of these endeavors, we aspire to produce findings that will meaningfully inform the policies of a new administration. We believe that there are pragmatic, bipartisan answers to Asia’s biggest strategic questions. Indeed, that the region is of such pivotal important to 21st century geopolitics that nothing less will do.
Outside of the think-tank world, the proverbial front lines of maritime Asia, there are few leaders, be they military or civilian, who are more deeply engaged in this evolving strategy environment than Admiral John Richardson. Shortly after assuming the role of Chief of Naval Operations in September 2015, Admiral Richardson observed that friction in the waterways of Asia would be the new normal, that the rules of great power competition had been revised to include multiple domains and a faster rate of change than ever before.
Admiral Richardson has also been a consummate leader on direct engagement with China on its Navy. During his tenure, communications between the U.S. and Chinese navies have improved, which may reduce the risk of dangerous encounters at sea. Admiral Richardson holds regular video conferences with his Chinese counterpart. And when a journalist pressed him on the value of these interactions, Admiral Richardson stated matter-of-factly, I want to be the world’s expert at not going to war with Russia or China. Few leaders could be better positioned to chart the course for the U.S. Navy in Asia or our discussion today.
We’re also very privileged to be joined on the stage by Doug Jehl, foreign editor at the “Washington Post,” and by my colleague, Dr. Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at CNAS. Please join me in welcoming the 31st chief of naval operations, Admiral John Richardson, as well as this distinguished panel. (Applause.)
DOUG JEHL: So, Admiral, let me start off – we’re going to talk a lot about China and a lot of about Asia in this next hour but I think – I hope we can start by talking a little bit about the global challenge and the global challenge you face as you have a Navy in number of ships is as small as the Navy has been since before World War One. How do you maintain the kind of global presence that you’re asked to maintain and orchestrate a pivot to Asia that you’re also asked to maintain with a force as large or small as you have?
ADMIRAL JOHN RICHARDSON: Right. Well, a great question. And before I get started though, I do want to say how terrific it is to be here in this company and also just put a plug in for the Center for a New American Security because they just are so – the thinking is so clear there, their products are so pragmatic, they’ve certainly helped me think through some of the tougher decisions. So it’s a real honor to be here in this venue.
With respect to the changing security environment, I would say just as the introduction said, that it is getting complex in so many ways, right? I mean, we were discussing just before we came in here that while we’ve been at sea, if you will, for a millennia, the traffic over the seas has picked up between 300 and 400 percent, depending upon the area of the world that you’re talking about but tripled to quadrupled in the last 25 years.
And so you can see this growing importance of the maritime. I think that these next 20 to 25 years are going to be very important for the maritime, very important for maritime security for the United States and will put responsibilities and demands on the entire maritime security team, which is not only the U.S. Navy but also the Coast Guard, also the Marine Corps, also the merchant marines. And so that whole team is going to have to really step up and address those responsibilities.
With respect to how we address them, you know, one, I’ve really made the point that we have got to move faster to keep up with this pace. And we talked about the classic maritime traffic. That’s picked up tremendously, but, you know, that shape that arises from Moore’s law, that exponential shape is everywhere that we look, right? And so the amount of information in the world right now is doubling roughly every two years. The rate at which technology is moving into the system is increasingly fast and it’s not just information technologies. It’s, you know, three-dimensional printing, it’s genetic technologies, it’s artificial intelligence, all those things that are enabled by IT. And so the Navy fundamentally has to be able to move faster to be able to meet our potential as close as we can and certainly meet our responsibilities to stay ahead of our competitors.
To do that, we’ve been given relatively flat, if not slightly declining resources. And so that growing gap is really what consumes our leadership right now, how are we going to address that. And I believe fundamentally that it’s not going to just be new technologies or new things but it’s going to be, you know, the combinations of those things in unique and creative ways that are going to allow us to ride that exponential curve as closely as we can.
MR. JEHL: And in terms of the competitors out there, Patrick, maybe you can help us set the stage in talking not just about China but maybe, first, remind us of what’s changed in the atmosphere, the environment with capabilities and ambitions of Japan, India, Russia, other naval powers.
PATRICK CRONIN: Well, fortunately, many of those capabilities are allies and allied capability. Japan in particular has really taken the sort of gloves off by taking the restraints of politics and removing them and essentially trying to become a more normal, regular power but doing so still very defensively, still focused on defensive capabilities. But the idea that Japan now under their new national security law and the new bilateral defense guidelines that Secretary Carter mentioned in his speech can think about collective self-defense means that they can now cooperate with other U.S. allies like Australia and emerging partners like India or Vietnam or other allies like the Philippines. So that’s a good development from a U.S. perspective, where we’re no longer just the predominant power. We need increasingly contributions and more burden-sharing from other like-minded countries and allies and partners. That’s good news.
The bad news is that everybody is getting bigger and stronger and more capable. Innovation has been driven not just by the United States, by any means. It’s increasingly being driven by others and non-state actors but also China now. You look at the supercomputer gains that China’s made that was reported in today’s “Wall Street Journal,” for instance, there’s no doubt that the United States may not always have the lead in a lot of these technologies that we hope will be part of a so-called third offset strategy that will kind of rekindle our ability to allow power projection even where there are ubiquitous precision strike regimes, as some colleagues would put it.
North Korea, of course, is quite different from the China program. Not everything looks like China. China’s not a threat as much as a competitor, a long-term competition, and a challenge for cooperation at the same time. North Korea’s a definite threat and could change the situation for the 7th Fleet and in Northeast Asia and beyond very quickly, especially if it starts to be able to deploy even an intermediate-range nuclear missile.
And then you’ve got the low line grey zone areas that Mira Rapp-Hooper was referring to, this convergence between great power competition for the long term and the short term grey zone, salami slicing irregular warfare, political warfare, information warfare challenges that are going on. And we see this throughout the Middle East. We see it with Russia. We see it with China. This is a global problem as well.
And then there’s just the everyday protect the planet, the people, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, search and rescue operations, trying to just cooperate on anti-piracy. You think about what could be going on in the South China Sea outside of the South China Sea, off Borneo, for instance, in the Sulu and Celebes Seas, for instance, where Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, off Mindanao, where President-elect Duterte is coming from. There is a growing cooperation for patrols for anti-piracy but there’s enormous trafficking and piracy. U.S. as an ally of the Philippines perhaps could get involved with that operation. It seems like a great place to send maritime patrol aircraft as well as to participate in anti-piracy issues. But I wonder what Admiral Richardson might have to say about that.
ADM. RICHARDSON: Well, I would advocate and completely support anything that really goes towards a major security architecture that is a shared responsibility primarily for maybe those nations in the region supported by the United States where we can useful. And so you see – in fact, as I moved around the world, everywhere I go, whether it’s the 7th Fleet in Asia, whether it’s the 5th Fleet in the Middle East, 6th Fleet in Europe, those multi-national architectures from a maritime context, they’re everywhere we are and they have very unique challenges but they’re addressing those challenges in very unique ways. And so you mentioned piracy. You know, that off the Horn of Africa has been pretty much eliminated for now and that is a multinational, you know, coalition that has addressed that problem.
And so, you know, one of the opportunities that this information age provides us is the chance to bring these multinational coalitions together with a wide spectrum of capabilities and – yeah. They’re going to be able to contribute to different extents but by virtue of these information technologies, we can – everybody can find their place of maximum contribution, and so, you know, there will be folks who can really participate at the high end, very technically demanding parts of maritime security. There will be folks sort of in the middle and then folks who are contributing capacity more than capability. But these information sharing type of technologies allow us all to maximize the overall contribution from that maritime coalition.
MR. JEHL: So focusing on China for a bit, now, we’ve all focused in the last three or four years on China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and the sense of tension there. Tell us what is it about China’s capabilities that have changed, that are changing that present a challenge to you and your forces?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Well, I think there is this long range precision strike capability that certainly – everybody says A2AD. A2AD is sort of an aspiration. The actual execution of that is much more difficult. And so sort of my summer project, trying to put that in perspective that exercising anti-access and area denial is really nothing new. It’s been something that’s been part of warfare since, you know, it began. The combination of ubiquitous ISR, long-range precision strike weapons takes that to the next step and demands a response.
And so that’s one dimension that is not only in the South China Sea but really as it proliferates around the world is growing more challenging for everybody everywhere. That’s extended by the land reclamation and then the militarization of those things so that type of technology gets extended out potentially by virtue of those sorts of measures, really raising a lot of questions, destabilizing that region, just because there’s not a clear understanding of what the intentions are there.
And so I would say that either that combination of technologies, to give you that suite of capabilities is really one of the pressing concerns right now.
MR. JEHL: In practical terms though, what does that – what does that mean? And you can’t get safely as close to territory as you might have done?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Well, it means that in the cleanest form, right, the uninterrupted frictionless plain, you have the ability to sense a target much more capably and quickly around the world. You’ve got the ability then to transmit that information back to a weapons system that can reach out at a fairly long range. And it is precision guided towards those coordinates that the – you know, the ISR provided it. And so, you know, you’re talking about hundreds of miles, right, now. And so that raises a challenge. And, you know, our response would be to inject a lot of restriction into that system, right? So we would just at every step of the way look to make that much more difficult.
But what you see often is you see a display, let’s say, which – here’s a launcher. He’s a circle with the radius of 700 miles, and it’s, you know, solid color black inside that, like, hey, you can’t go. That’s just not the reality of the situation. And you’ve got this highly maneuverable force that has a suite of capabilities that force can bring to bear to inject uncertainty and difficulty into that entire system.
MR. JEHL: So you have two carrier battle groups operating today, at least this weekend, in the region of the Philippines. What signals should allies and adversaries draw from that?
ADM. RICHARDSON: I think that there’s one for us. We don’t get to do two carrier operations very often. Just our readiness model has been leaned out. You know, we are not that often have two carrier strike groups in the same body of water. So it’s a terrific opportunity for us just to do some high-end war fighting and training. But I think both here and in the Mediterranean, it’s a signal to everybody in the region that we’re committed, we’re going to be there for our allies to reassure them. And for anybody who wants to destabilize that region, we hope that there’s a deterrent message there as well.
MR. CRONIN: And, Doug, if I could just jump, I mean, that’s obviously a critically important question. And the question is, can the United States maintain that capability going forward over the coming decades in light of other changes in the region, especially China’s modernization. So the anti-access area denial moniker, the idea that China could really complicate a forward presence in defense of, say, Taiwan. Back in 1995-’96, 20 years ago, the United States used two carrier battle groups nearby, in the vicinity of Taiwan when China had fired exercise missiles near Taiwan in protest of tensions.
Could we do that today without worrying about a higher degree of risk from the missile threat and from the submarine threat that China’s – any air threat as well – that China’s now built in, or, conversely, not at the high end but at the low end, building up non-military capabilities that are dual use. The island-building of the South China Sea, if after the arbitration ruling that may come as early as next week now, China doesn’t like the result, what if they just ignore the carriers that we have in the vicinity of the Philippines, ignore the new president-election of the Philippines and say, we’re moving our dredgers into Scarborough Shoal and we’re actually not just commandeering the waters and the reef; we’re actually going to build our own artificial island here as well. And what are you going to do about it? It subverts international law through grey zone, salami-slicing technique.
So the question is, can we harness our considerable power and presence to reassure allies, to build regional common view of what the rules ought to be that should be constructive? And can we get China ultimately to join that inclusive rules base. And that’s a huge strategic challenge.
ADM. RICHARDSON: Exactly. And so we have to – even though things are coming faster and faster, changes – you know, those curves are steep. There is still kind of a long view to this thing. And at the end of that longer timeline, we want a healthy, cooperative China who has really benefited from this architecture of rules-based type of trade. You know, it’s also important to mention, while we touch on trade that, you know, the security element is just one part of this, right? There is an economic element, which is tremendous, at least as important as security in the eyes of many of the partners in the region. And then there’s certainly the diplomatic element.
And so there’s a number of things that have to – you know, they could combine together to move this thing gradually in the direction that would be beneficial for everybody. Certainly, you know, cooperation would be great. Competition is fine. Conflict is the thing that we really want to avoid.
MR. JEHL: There’s been talk at various points about the idea of stationing a second carrier at Subic or Cam Ranh Bay or somewhere else. Is that a realistic possibility?
ADM. RICHARDSON: The economics of that are tremendous. And so just the hosting of a capability like that is a huge undertaking. And so we’d have to examine that for a long time. And then, of course, in the host nation, you know, they have – they have to invite us to do that and so there’s a few steps that we have to get through. That’s not a unilateral decision.
MR. JEHL: Ain’t going to happen is what you’re saying. (Laughter.)
MR. CRONIN: Not without a real significant change to the regional security environment and the recognition at home that we have to do more. It’s much easier to move smaller pieces and components. I mentioned the maritime patrol aircraft. That squadron can be anywhere in the region within a few days. It would be a significant presence.
ADM. RICHARDSON: Yeah. You’ve mentioned these maritime patrol aircraft a couple of times and we are doing an awful lot not only to establish maritime domain awareness in the region for ourselves but also for our partners. And the P-8 aircraft is one of these things that has really been almost a partnership building type of a capability that just as everybody is looking for, you know, more information, more awareness, this has, you know, been a terrific fulcrum, if you will, to allow that.
MR. JEHL: As tensions have ratcheted up in the region and as you do things like increase the tempo with the second carrier group, how conscious are you of what you need to do to try to reduce tensions, to keep them from getting out of hand, to make sure the signal is interpreted in the right way.
ADM. RICHARDSON: Well, that’s really what we try and do. We’re not out there to increase tensions. I mean, we mentioned freedom of navigation operations in the introduction. I mean, what could be less confrontative (sp) than just an operation that sails a ship completely consistent with existing international law just advocates for that system. And so those types of things are advocating for the right thing without being confrontational.
The RIMPAC exercise is another, you know, great example. So the invitation is still there for the Chinese to participate in RIMPAC. And these are the sorts of things that, you know, bring us all together in sort of positive, constructive ways that as, you know, my counterpart and I and my counterparts around the world talk about, it’s our responsibility to increase decision space for our leadership. And I think that these sorts of exercises do that.
MR. JEHL: We were talking ahead of time and you said you were going to make a visit to China next month to meet with your counterpart. Talk about the importance of that kind of personal relationship.
ADM. RICHARDSON: I think that they’re extremely important. And so it’s – you know, as is pointed out, I’ve had a number of conversations with them already, and I look very much forward to meeting him in person. And these personal relationship is extremely important particularly if something should happen and we need to talk to each other on short notice, perhaps deescalate a situation or explain what really happened. This is what, you know, I intend to do. This is what intend not to do. And so we keep things on an even keel.
MR. JEHL: And as you look at what could happen in the weeks ahead with arbitration decision, what do your forecasts say? Is that going to be a moment that’s particularly fraught?
ADM. RICHARDSON: I think it’s a great opportunity. We’ll just have to see it unfold. The only thing that I can say about my predictions is I’ve got them about 100 percent wrong and so I won’t try to extend that record here.
MR. JEHL: Yeah. Patrick, can you weigh in on that front? What should we be expecting as people wait to hear this ruling?
MR. CRONIN: Well, a lot will depend on China’s reaction. And China’s watching to see whether they’re going to be significantly disadvantaged by the ruling and by the actions that others, like the Philippines, take in response to the ruling. So it could quickly ratchet up and escalate in terms of political tension. It’s not likely to lead to military direct confrontation but you can never be sure. It’s also not likely to be resolved this year or by one international ruling, no matter how brilliant the arbitrators are.
So it’s going to be a long-term inheritance for the next administration and for the region, but one thing that we might look for some hope for is that the Chinese have been looking to ratchet down the tensions, even while they keep trying to move their influence forward. They’ve certainly made inroads with the other four Southeast Asia claimant states – Brunei, Malaysia – and they’ve been citing Malaysia as an example for the Philippines to follow.
And now the President-Elect Duterte of the Philippines coming into office on the 30th has at least signaled that he wants to study the ruling, would be interested in new investment; may not immediately take a ski jet out to Scarborough Shoal and plant the flag. We’re not sure. That’s a bit of a wild car. And Vietnam, very, very important to this, has been willing and has a longstanding understanding of how to balance that relationship with China, pushing their interests but, at the same time, not too far.
So there’s some hope after the admiral’s visit that maybe we’re going to be at least managing the tensions and looking for constructive solutions. But those tensions are not going to end anytime soon.
ADM. RICHARDSON: The fact that the court is addressing this – you know, this is a process by which these disputes should be resolved. And so that exercise of that authority I think will be a move in the right direction.
MR. JEHL: So as we head into this moment though, what should the Philippines expect from the United States in terms of standing up for its interest? And, on the other side of things, what should we expect to countries like the Philippines and Vietnam to be doing with their own navies and asserting their own interests?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Well, we’re going to be there in that region for the Philippines, our ally, and so, you know, that goes without saying. And then, in my interactions with my counterparts, with the Philippine Navy, with the Vietnamese Navy, there is a growing sense and a growing desire for cooperation, collaboration, and so we’ll just continue to try and develop those relationships. They’re going to have, you know, a combination of regional interests and national interests that they’re going to have to pursue. We’ll certainly have common interests. I mean, it’s kind of fundamental. I don’t mean to be too basic here, but there – I would say that, overall, there’s a growing enthusiasm for cooperation, and we look forward to partnering with those folks.
MR. CRONIN: We truly are trying to build up some minimal effective credible defense for our partners. We’ve put out a new report called “Dynamic Balance,” and we talk about a roadmap for building allies and partners in the region over the next 10 to 20 years. This is a long-term process. It’s an international process as well. It’s not just the United States. There are many countries that are eager to build this sort of network of security relations, including starting with information sharing, information sharing being almost a public good for the region for all to be able to partake to deal with disasters but also to understand what is transparent and should be transparent for all what’s happening in places like the South China Sea. But there’s still no substitute for a major power like the United States remaining engaged, present, credible, clear, and yet keeping its options open.
ADM. RICHARDSON: You know, Patrick hit on a couple of things that are sort of the building blocks for starting these types of relations so information sharing certainly being one humanitarian assistance and disaster relief types of exercises and cooperation is another. You know, many nations in the region are getting some Marine forces and there are aspects of submarine operation, submarine rescue, submarine safety, those sorts of things, where there’s a good opportunity for a cooperation to everybody’s benefit. And so these are the building blocks by which you can start to build a more meaningful relationship, you know, with the backdrop of our presence there in the region as well.
MR. JEHL: And you talked a bit about limited resources at the beginning and we were talking ahead of time about what you called a readiness deficit, the cumulative impact that the last 15 years of conflict has had on the Navy. How does that consciousness of that deficit, of those limits play into your decisions as you figure out how to handle these tensions in Asia in particular.
ADM. RICHARDSON: Yes. It has been a long term sort of accumulation of readiness debt, if you will. It’s a hard thing to articulate because it manifests itself in subtle ways, you know, ship maintenance, aircraft maintenance, maybe even personal rotations. The leading indicators of these things are often really faint and hard to detect. And so you sort of find yourself in a challenging situation without a whole lot of lead time sometimes. So we’re watching that all very carefully, establishing what might be called a sustainable or supply-based type of an approach, where we’re not putting more debt on our readiness credit card. And so right now I can’t say that I’m at the point where I’m taking that debt off. I’m not making that debt any smaller, but I don’t think I’m making it any bigger right now either. I’m kind of being able to make my monthly payments and so – you know, because the demands are still considerable.
But, you know, with respect to people we’re still making our marks with respect to retention and recruiting. We are looking very heavily at our maintenance programs, both in the public and private shipyards and the aircraft depots to make sure that we are really applying the most sophisticated techniques to get that important work done.
MR. CRONIN: And, Doug, I think the CNO has done a terrific job so far in setting a new direction but I hope the country doesn’t shortchange – this is not the D.C. Metro. You know, we can get by writing bike share in Washington, D.C., to get to work, but I don’t think we want our national security to depend on a bike share program for our Navy. So, you know, this is a serious business. I know you’re going to want to take some questions from the audience as well.
MR. JEHL: Yeah. I think we want to shift and open it up to the audience for questions for the CNO. We’ll start over here with this gentleman. And I think we want him to wait for a microphone.
ADM. RICHARDSON: And don’t forget Dr. Cronin either. He has a wealth of knowledge.
MR. JEHL: If you could introduce yourself.
Q: Thank you very much. I’m a retired naval intelligence officer. As a matter of fact, just as a joking aside, I’m a retired commander of naval intelligence with an official designation of 007, that being the code for the leading three digits of the Social Security number where the number was issued, in my case Maine.
That aside, my concern is with Taiwan, which on the one hand in a very real sense is an ally in the sense of Japan, the Philippines and whatever. And, on the other hand, we have the longstanding position that Taiwan is part of China. They say one China policy on both sides and not talked about as much now as it was in the era when I was on active duty. But to what extent is there any sort of naval relationship that helps the U.S. policy that mainland China and Taiwan should be mutually beneficial, and, ultimately, in some future utopia, reunited, but there must be no use of force involved in any reconciliation. What can we do with Taiwan that is useful but not provocative on that issue?
MR. CRONIN: Well, if I can just say a few words about that important relationship. I was just at the presidential inauguration in Taipei, and it’s very moving just to see the democratic process of Taiwan. This is the third time that they’ve moved from opposition parties to opposition party taking over through a peaceful democratic election. That in itself is just impressive in terms of what’s happening.
They’re very keen to do something on defense but they’re also very realistic, and we can’t do more than what the Taiwan people in government want to do. They’re talking about spending more on defense but they’ve been talking about that for some time. My colleague, Harry Krejsa, has written a wonderful paper that I encourage you to read on our Taiwan security relationship.
And there’s a debate over when you get to the specific issue of naval cooperation, can we help them with their submarine program? This is sort of this idea that if they could only have new submarines, then they could really deter the threats. But that’s a very, very hard sell. And even if they build it indigenously, it’s a long-term investment. And that’s really where the new democratic progressive party wants to focus.
So things like smart mines suddenly become a much cheaper anti-access area denial capability that’s very defensive, that might be realistic. It may not be from the United States directly but the idea of helping them with professionalization and training and strategic discussion, those are areas that I find that there’s easy report but, Admiral, I’d be interested to hear what you have to say.
ADM. RICHARDSON: You’ve articulated it exactly right. And your framed the question just right, right? It is exactly with that balance in mind, that long-term view for peace and stability, you know, whichever way it goes, that all of our cooperation is framed, within which it’s all framed. And so, you know, while we have had discussions about what we can do to help them with a submarine force should one arise, I know those are all very balanced discussions. Kind of going back to those fundamental things, let’s make sure that it’s a professional submarine force that it’s adequately safe, that, you know, if something should happen, we’ve got a rescue capability that – so that they’re stitched into sort of the – the tactics and techniques of running a modern, safe submarine force.
But with respect to the specific technologies, certainly Taiwan’s going to have first and foremost decision to make in terms of what those sorts of things best suit their long-term interest. And so it’s really navigating that knife edge as we move forward.
MR. JEHL: I think we have the next question back here please.
Q: Thank you. I’m Peter Shotley (ph), retired State Department Foreign Service Officer. For two years in the mid-’80s, I was a member of the American Incidents at Sea negotiations with the Soviets at the height of the Cold War sort of in the early Reagan years. And my question to you, Admiral, is what are the chances of a similar kind of an incidents at sea agreement or negotiations with the Chinese?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Yeah. We have one actually. And so, first, let me talk about that Incidents at Sea agreement with the Russians, which is still active. And, in fact, we just concluded the most recent annual, you know, validation where we all get together, we talk through the health of the agreement, talk through some incidents that, you know, these are the sorts of things that this agreement is exactly designed to avoid and let’s avoid them going forward. And so that is alive and well, the Incidents at Sea agreement with Russia.
In Asia, we have what’s called CUES, and so it’s this – you know, ways to manage our way through unplanned encounters at sea, okay? And so I was just out on the John C. Stennis. I paid a visit to the strike group when they were in the South China Sea. And they’re there in a very, very busy neighborhood, as you can imagine. And so you can see from the Stennis, you know, that there were ships from the People’s Liberation Army Navy invisible range and many more outside visible range that the strike group had awareness of.
And as I talked to the strike group commander and the carrier CO and all the warfare commanders in the strike group, you know, that has been, by and large, a very professional – what we would call routine types of interactions with all of those ships interacting with each other, even these freedom of navigation ops have by and large been conducted consistent with the arrangement in these CUES agreement. And so we have that in place.
We’re looking to try and expand that now beyond navies to Coast Guards and throughout the region so that we’ve got these tactical rules – again, you know, kind of architectural rules and behaviors that allow us to coexist in there in productive ways and certainly result in a miscalculation or something like that that would, you know, have to be addressed and could potentially lead to some kind of an unnecessary escalation. So we have that I guess is the long answer to your question.
MR. JEHL: Yes, please. Back here.
Q: Thank you. My name is Genie Nguyen with Voice of Vietnamese-Americans. Admiral, what is your reading in the recent two incidents where the Vietnamese flight SU-30 has disappeared or sank in the East Sea of Vietnam and then the rescue group of nine people came out to rescue and also disappear. You have any information on that? And I think Vietnam is trying to ask China to help because that is in the disputed water and Vietnam is asking for permission for China to come out and help. Would you be talking about that when you come out and meet with the Chinese leadership?
ADM. RICHARDSON: It might come up. I’m not aware of any of the details of that incident, but –
Q: (Off mic.)
ADM. RICHARDSON: Not really in any detail.
MR. JEHL: Let’s move up here please, if we can do a question from the front, sir.
Q: Good afternoon, CNO. Thank you for joining us. Don Lauren (ph), retired naval officer. For both you and for Patrick, let’s move a little bit north, a little more globally a second. Any hope on making progress on the U.S. Convention on the Law of the Sea so that the increasingly important area of the Arctic, especially for the United States Navy and the United States, especially with the competition of other global nations comes into play. Are we going to move off top dead center and get something done so we can have a vote at the table?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Well, I’ll just open it up and then Patrick can take it from there. You know, you raise an important point, that as we work through this court of arbitration decision and these emerging issues in the South China Sea, as the Arctic recedes and opens up continental shelves that were not available before, even as more and more of the seabed becomes accessible because of technologies, you know, this UNCLOS, you know, is a terrific set of rules by which we can all adhere. We sort of adhere to them by tradition right now but signing on to that would be something I would advocate for.
MR. CRONIN: While ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea would be important, we should do it as a nation, but it’s not likely to happen this fall or even in the next two years perhaps. One thing we have to worry about in terms of U.S. national security for allies and partners is our own credibility though. And as China chips away at the relevance of the rule of law by essentially making their own law, we have to recognize that we’re putting all our eggs in the basket of a rules-based system and China’s undermining the potential – we don’t want to get into that situation. We want to join forces with China and agree with the region as a whole equally that we all want rules that we can live by. And UNCLOS is one of those sets of rules we can live by. So we really do need to get serious about this. The time has come.
MR. JEHL: Yes. Over here please.
Q: Gentlemen, Sydney Freedberg, Breaking Defense. Hi. A question primarily for the admiral. You mentioned that just having the two carriers out there at once in the Pacific it happens but it could be anywhere allows you to do kinds of training we do not normally get to do or operations for that matter. We’ve mostly been parking carriers off places and sending them off to sorties ashore. We’ve not been doing kind of fleet operations the way we did in the Pacific theater in World War Two. So what extent are we having to sort of reinvent wheels that we just haven’t practiced for a while? And to what extent we’re having to do a new and more complicated kind of operation, you know, with these cross domain and, you know, cyber, electromagnetic aspects that you and other Navy leaders have talked about that add a lot of complication.
ADM. RICHARDSON: Well, I think that there’s a little bit of both, right? So in the document that the Navy released, a design for maintaining maritime superiority, we talk about the need to sharpen our thinking in terms of blue water operations and war fighting. And so these types of opportunities allow us to explore that.
And so one might think that, in many ways, this is sort of back to the future, where we are now in competition for maritime superiority in a way that we haven’t been in 25 years. This is sort of a manifestation of this return to great power competition. But even as we do that, we have to make sure that we don’t snap back to, you know, purely the muscle memory that we did before because there is so much new to that challenge right now.
And so if you think about, you know, what has happened in space, what has happened in the information domain, what has happened in terms of unmanned autonomy, those sorts of things provide us new dimensions, new levels of complexity to this challenge. And so it’s certainly everything that we did before but so much more now because of those added – that added dimensionality, that cross-domain complexity, where, you know, you just – we just don’t have the luxury of concentrating on, you know, under sea, on the surface and in the air. You’ve got to look at everything from, you know, the sea floor literally, all the way up into space and you’ve got to be competitive in this information domain as well. So it’s a much more challenging problem.
I will tell you though, that the teams are moving through that extremely quickly. They are really being creative in terms of how they approach that challenge coming up with new ways to operate and, you know, very, very clever in terms of the way they stitch together. A chance to do that with dual carrier strike groups, you know, operating together is just another chance to take that up to the next level. So it’s been a terrific opportunity for us.
MR. JEHL: Let’s go back here please to you, sir. Yeah.
Q: Thank you. Kevin Merry (ph) with NAV Consulting (ph). From the operational perspective, now that Japan has changed its policy to allow exercise collective self-defense, how far would you operationally like to see Japan go in terms of integration into the U.S. and networking? For example, would you like to see them get the cooperative engagement capability, integrated fire control, and issue – probably within a year I think the Japanese are going to start talking about a counterstrike capability. Is that something operationally you would welcome or would you see a problem with that?
ADM. RICHARDSON: I think that we have been moving steadily closer and closer in our cooperation with Japan. And I talk frequently to my Japanese counterpart, Admiral Takei, who is a very forward thinker in this regard. And so in terms of information sharing, in terms of technology sharing, in terms of exercises that we do together, in terms of just concepts of operations, we are very, very close and moving closer all the time.
The new dimension to that too is now we’re partnering more and more with South Korea. And so that trilateral type of a cooperation is another aspect of this changing dynamic in the region that, you know, is very encouraging in terms of another step in this network of partners that is advocating for this rules-based structure out there to manage growth and, you know, move this in a direction that continues to be non-confrontational, non-conflict.
MR. JEHL: Yes, sir. Please, right here, in the front.
Q: Yeah. Name, Mitzi. Joe Lieberman. I know a lot of people who have asked questions describe themselves as retired. I call myself a recovering United States senator. Admiral, thanks for your service and your leadership. I wanted to pose a hypothetical to get directly to the sort of theme of this CNAS meeting. Let’s assume election has occurred and the president elect calls you in and she or he asks you, from your perspective as CNO, what are the top two or three things that I should know and be prepared for or, I suppose in a more direct sense, that you need to help me, the new president, be an effective president?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Well, Senator, that’s a terrific question, super-insightful, very consistent with everything that you do, sir. So thank you for that fast ball. (Laughter.)
I would say, one, my sense is that the next 20 to 25 years are going to be extremely important for the maritime. The United States has always been a maritime nation. We get 90 percent of our trade from the sea right now; 95 percent of our information rides on undersea cables; we have increasing deposits of energy and those sorts of things that come off the sea floor. And so my sense is that this acceleration in the maritime domain and its contribution to our national prosperity is only going to continue. And so this year, the United States Navy is going to be a pivotal capability to provide the stability by which that will grow in a non-confrontational, non-conflict environment. And so we want to be ready to meet those responsibilities.
You know, navies in particular require sort of a steady application of resources. And so, you know, stable funding, stable commitment allows us to man, train and equip that Navy in ways that build confidence with our partners in the industrial base which is, you know, such a key part of our – not only our national security but our national prosperity. And so we would advocate for a steady commitment to keeping this Navy at sea and erasing that readiness debt which it is just kind of a burden that we carry right now.
And then, moving forward, I would say that we have it in our, you know, bag of responsibilities to make sure that we do that in a way that is completely judicious and responsible, that does not miss any opportunity to provide, you know, the American taxpayer with a Navy – the American people with a Navy that they need, that addresses all of the opportunities that this new information age is going to bring upon us. And so that would be I think, you know, my pitch to the new president.
MR. JEHL: I think we have time for just a couple more questions. So let’s take one right here, please, from you, sir. Yes.
Q: Mike Misenick (ph), PBS Online NewsHour. According to Mr. Jehl’s newspaper, the 7th Fleet is at the heart of a criminal investigation, the Fat Leonard case, and that you reportedly have advised 20 flag officers that they may be under legal scrutiny. What kind of an effect is this having on fleet operations, particularly, you know, gumming up promotions in the movement of high-level personnel?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Yeah. Let me back up a little bit and talk about a part of that design for maintaining maritime superiority that I spent a fair amount of effort putting together. And it addresses the core attributes of behavior that allow all of our behaviors to remain consistent with our values of honor, courage and commitment.
And so, you know, those core attributes of things like integrity and accountability, initiative and toughness are going to be extremely important going forward. They are absolutely critical to maintain a trust and confidence certainly with the American people, and, just as important, within our ranks because it is that trust and confidence which enables us to go off, operate in a decentralized fashion, go over the horizon, if you will, and be confident that you understand the fundamentals with which that remote commander is going to operate and they’re going to bring their team back stronger than when they left in many regards.
So we are committed to moving through this, cooperating with the Department of Justice in any every way that we can, but we do want to move through it. And then, with respect to how it is affecting operations at sea, the commanders at sea, as you have seen in many other reports in the paper, are operating absolutely brilliantly, making very tough decisions and often in a very, very short timelines. So I couldn’t be prouder of those folks that are at sea doing the job right now.
MR. JEHL: And, right here, sir, if we can. Yes, sir.
Q: Admiral, I’m General Chun (ph) from the Republic of Korea Army. How do you evaluate the anti-ship ballistic missile developments by the North Koreans? And can you just say a few words about the Japanese, Korea and U.S. fleet cooperation that you see? Is it good, bad? What are the challenges? Thank you.
ADM. RICHARDSON: Okay. I think that, you know, the proliferation of anti-ship ballistic missiles is just a fact of life that we’re going to have to address. I think I, you know, said a few things at the very beginning of my remarks about that. So this is a technology that is upon us and we’re just going to have to deal with that from an operational and a technological standpoint. The fact that it’s in the hands of North Korea, a leader who has been less predictable than many of the others just makes that – it brings another dimension to that equation.
But the other part of your question is I think a big part of the solution in terms of maintaining stability, keeping that unpredictability in check, which is this growing trilateral cooperation between the United States, Japan, and South Korea. And so I think that that is obviously something I support. We work hard to enhance that type of collaboration everywhere that we can and it move forward in terms of this growing regional security architecture that is based on, you know, a shared understanding of common values and rules that lead to everybody’s prosperity.
MR. CRONIN: I’d just add, Doug, a few words on that because the admiral had mentioned earlier the importance of growing this trilateral cooperation. North Korea’s making that possible, as General Chun knows very well, maybe better than anyone in this room what North Korea’s capable of. So the missile defense cooperation and the exercise that will happen on the margins of RIMPAC is one example of trilateral cooperation.
But also the potential for joining bilateral streams of training on anti-submarine warfare. Since 2010, the United States Navy and Japan have been working on ASW, and since after the Cheonan incident in 2011, the year after the incident, Korea and the United States have been moving on ASW. So we could put those together and start to cooperate in that area as well. It would very much help in a third area, namely to go beyond the limited information sharing agreement that has been struck, which is a real step forward to having an honest to goodness intelligence sharing – (inaudible) – agreement.
MR. JEHL: I think we could probably take time for just one last question here. You, sir, with – yes, please.
Q: Frank Luster (ph), retired Marine Corps officer and also a small unit advocate. So my question is about the Mark VI, one of the Navy’s newest coastal crafts, 85-foot coastal craft. Can you give us a little insight into how that Mark VI could be used in the Pacific area, especially looking at Indonesia – (inaudible) – the Philippines? And also, can you give us a little insight into the acquisition strategy, maybe probably getting more Mark VI crafts?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Okay. I’ll address it at a little higher level than – also a small unit advocate as a part and parcel of a coherent fleet design that addresses all aspects of maritime security. And so not every problem can be solved with a carrier strike group or a DDG or – you know, one of the innovative things we have going right now is this Pacific Surface Action Group that’s working out there, just three ships, a little bit different command and control structure as they’re being command and controlled by the 3rd Fleet, even as they move forward.
But you extend that even further now and you’ve got all sorts of opportunities that arise for smaller types of ships, small crews. There are many nations out there and many missions for which those smaller ships are ideally suited. And I would extend that even, you know, the next step is maybe to do as many of those in an unmanned type of a structure as you can. And so, you know, I look forward to – we’ve got a lot of studies going on right now to take a look at future fleet designs, future force structures. And I would think that by the July-August timeframe, we’re going to have a lot of exciting ideas in terms of how to move that forward.
MR. JEHL: Well, this has been a terrific hour. Thank you to all of you for all your great questions. (Applause.)