U.S. Navy Chief Reflects on Power Struggle with Russia, China

Published Jan 12, 2016 7:24 PM by The Maritime Executive

U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson delivered a speech at a National Press Club luncheon on January 11, discussing the status of the Navy and the growing competition for global power.

“For the first time in what I would say is roughly 25 years, the United States is back to an era of great power competition,” says Richardson. “When I was deployed in 1983, in support of the Soviet Union, it was a different world. But when the Soviet Union dissolved, cold war ended, we really entered a period where we were not challenged at sea, not in a very meaningful way.

“That era is over. Today, both Russia and China have advanced their military capabilities to be able to act as global powers again. Their goals are backed by a growing arsenal of high-end war-fighting capability,” he said.

“So the competition has sped up. It is moving faster. I will tell you the thing I'm trying to communicate to my team is that we must respond. We must speed up. The margins of victory in this environment are razor-thin, but they are absolutely decisive. So we have to turn to our task and fight for advantages with a sense of urgency because this is truly a game of inches.”

Richardson says competitors are learning and adapting and increasingly exploiting advantages in three key areas: the maritime domain, information systems and in incorporating new technology.

Since 1992, maritime traffic has increased by a factor of four. That far outpaces the change in global GDP which has increased by about 80 percent. “And so it gives you a sense of how much this maritime system is being used, how accessible it is.” Richardson notes new trade routes opening in the Arctic. “Today, the maritime route north of Europe, the northern sea route north of Russia is open to water about two weeks a year. And by 2025 climatologists predict that it's going to be open three times as much, six weeks a year. So that is going to be exploited. This is going to be something to which we must pay attention.”

Richarson also highlighted the growing network of undersea cables that connect continents and also growing information infrastructure.

“When you log onto your computer, it's all there at your fingertips, but the truth of the matter is that there is an infrastructure to this. There are chokepoints. There are nodes even in this global information system which must be acknowledged because they can be exploited.
And on those undersea cables rides 99 percent of the transoceanic Internet traffic, and so something that we've got to pay very close attention to.”

According to IBM, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every day, and its exponential growth is such that 90 percent of the data available in the world today was created in the last two years, he says. “So you get a sense of the acceleration. You can almost feel yourself being thrown back in your seat when you hear data like that. Satellites now envelope the globe. There are more than 1,300 satellites in orbit today monitoring everything from weather, communications, sensors, space exploration,” he said. “But if you look at a picture of, you know, the satellites as they orbit the earth, again there, it is not homogeneous. There is structure, there is form there. And again, just like the cables, just like the physical system of the seas and oceans, that structure provides opportunities and vulnerabilities,” he said.

“In response to the growing importance of the maritime domain, we are going to challenge ourselves and focus back on high-end operations in blue water, and we will focus on addressing those challenges just below the threshold of conflict, that gray war.

“In response to the growing importance of the information system, we will double down on becoming an informationalized force, mainstreaming information warfare into our Navy. In response to the growing rate in adoption of technology, we will adopt, as well, faster, looking for ways to speed up our acquisition approaches and develop and field technology more quickly.

“And then in response to the fact that resources are going to be what they are, finite, we are challenging ourself to look at combining existing things in new and creative ways to develop capability that was hereto unforeseen such that the system delivers something that is more than just the sum of the parts.”

The text version of the speech is available here.