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Navy Focuses on Internal Change to Sustain and Innovate

Improving existing platforms is connected to introducing new ones.

The U.S. Navy is bearing down on its own internal processes to improve production and speed new technology into existing and future systems. Once-experimental processes now have become everyday approaches as the sea service seeks to cut costs, maximize value and innovate ahead of adversaries.

These efforts apply to existing procurement and upgrade programs, which are steaming full speed ahead, and to new systems that are key to Navy modernization, according to a service research and development expert. Vice Adm. Frank Morley, USN, principal military deputy assistant secretary of the Navy (Research, Development and Acquisition), gave the audience a major rundown on key Navy procurements at the opening keynote on day 3 of WEST 2022, the conference and exposition hosted by AFCEA International and the U.S. Naval Institute in San Diego February 16-18.

Adm. Morley began by describing progress in the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer program. “Arleigh Burke-class destroyers remain the workhorse of the surface fleet,” he stated as he listed the advanced versions under development and construction along with their progress. The Constellation-class guided missile frigate is progressing, and construction may begin this year. The Gerald Ford-class aircraft carriers also are on the move, with the John F. Kennedy slated for launch in 2024. Undersea, the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines have begun production, and new versions of the Virginia-class attack submarines loom as the class continues full procurement.

How the Navy is able to acquire that and future technology is equally important, the admiral noted. Prototyping early, mid-tier acquisition, offers benefits before major resources are committed.

“The mid-tier acquisition concept is vital toward maintaining our technical edge,” Adm. Morley stated. “We all collectively must respect this process.”

Other innovative approaches hold the key to upgrades and innovation. Model-based systems engineering can iterate software-based systems to identify deficiencies and correct problems early, he noted. The Navy can iterate these systems broadly.

Big data algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) can allow naval aviation to move from preventative maintenance to predictive maintenance, he added. And, the Navy must be even more cost-conscious to obtain best value. “We must extract cost wherever we can to maximize the American people’s resources”, the admiral declared.

For overall procurement, the Navy is working to ensure that it does not suffer from supply chain issues. The pandemic has laid bare the perils of overly relying on the supply chain, and those problems could become even more serious if Asian chip supplies are cut off. “We are working to align sustainment strategies across the Navy to ensure supply chain continuity,” he offered.

The Navy must continue to exploit its advantage in innovation, he continued. This will be essential to maintain the Navy’s standing among other nations, which look to the United States to be a confident and reliable partner. “Folks want to believe in us,” Adm. Morley declared. “We are the good guys, we are the winning team.”