David Larter, Navy Times
13 May 2015
When Capt. Jerry Hendrix was director of naval history, he was invited to a special dinner party at Adm. John Richardson's house to discuss history and strategy.
But it wasn't just Hendrix who was invited, the guests included PhD's and officers from all parts of the Navy whom Richardson brought together for an evening of good food and conversation.
"He was delighted with all the ideas that were coming from all directions," recalled Hendrix, who is now retired and an analyst at the Center for a New American Security. "And he was willing to foster and explore those ideas, and take them on board."
Richardson, the president's pick to lead the Navy, is a career submariner and family man who, colleagues and peers said, will bring extraordinary intelligence and rock solid integrity to the job of steering the Navy through a time of mounting challenges, including preparations for recapitalizing the boomer force and emerging from an ongoing bribery scandal that has rocked the Navy's top ranks.
Richardson was announced Wednesday as the president's nominee to succeed Adm. Jon Greenert as the chief of naval operations, with all sides agreeing that Richardson has the right stuff. The 1982 Naval Academy grad holds three master's degrees and is a recipient of the prestigious Stockdale Leadership Award, a prize given annually to the fleet's two best commanding officers.
He has led the campaign to reduce administrative distractions, which solicits sailor ideas for implementation, and he was called upon in the wake of the 2013 Navy Yard shootings to conduct a full investigation into security lapses that contributed to the tragedy.
"I think he's going to look at how to solve challenging problems using the insights of those around him," the three-star said, talking on background because of potential conflicts of interest. "He's got a unique style and a unique ability – he's very smart, very quick and very personable, and if people offer him an opinion and perspective, he'll listen to them."
Richardson's personal life and outlook should help him connect with junior sailors, the source said. Richardson and his wife, Dana Richardson, have five children ages 13 to 23.
"I've known him for 20 years and he is very much attuned to what junior sailors need," the source said. "He's got several kids that age and he knows from being a parent what's important to them."
Richardson, the source said, has a keen interest in technology and using emerging technology to make everyone's job easier, as with the RAD campaign he led for Greenert.
"I'm honored to be nominated by Secretary Ash Carter," Richardson said in a statement to Navy Times on Wednesday. "I thank the Chief of Naval Operations, the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of Energy for their leadership and support for the security of our nation. I look forward to the nomination process and if confirmed, the privilege to continue serving the Sailors and civilians who make up our great Navy."
Choppy Seas Ahead
If confirmed, Richardson will face plenty of challenges on Capitol Hill and within his own service. As a four-star, Richardson has acted as the consolidated disposition authority for all ethics cases referred to the Navy from the Justice Department in connection to the so-called "Fat Leonard" scandal, in which officials of an Asian husbanding firm bribed naval officers in return for rerouting ships to ports where the company could overcharge the service to the tune of tens of millions.
Five admirals have been censured or cautioned so far this year for noncriminal ethical violations.
Meanwhile, competing priorities for funding are putting pressure on the submarine, surface and aviation communities.
To most, Richardson is seen as the leader to carry on the fight to fund and build the Ohio-class replacement, the next-generation ballistic missile submarine that will – at $5 billion a pop – break the Navy's ship building coffers unless it gets more help.
"The big challenge isn't Ohio replacement," said Bryan Clark, a retired commander turned analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. "The Navy has already said it's going to fund it. The challenge is, what do you do with the rest of the ship building budget?"
Richardson will have to look for creative ways to modernize the current fleet while saving money elsewhere to preserve ship building. Both surface and aviation fields are feeling the pinch.
The fleet's aging cruisers, used as the primary air defense ship for the fleet's carriers, are in desperate need of modernization. But the money and means by which to do it have been in short supply, and there is no replacement in the works for these ships.
Aviators are increasingly concerned about aging F/A-18s because its replacement, the F-35C, has been beset by delays.
All of these concerns will be balanced against what some analysts see as a lopsided drive to field Ohio-replacement class at the expense of the conventional force.
"There is some trepidation in the senior Navy community that the SSBN program is protected," said Bryan McGrath, a retired commander and influential defense consultant with the FerryBridge Group.
Richardson's nomination for CNO is a clear sign that the Navy will continue its push to fund the Ohio-class replacement, he said. Still, Richardson represents the best of the Navy and McGrath said he was pleased to see him elevated to CNO.
"I was disappointed when he was named to Naval Reactors," McGrath said of the position that typically comes with an eight-year tenure. "I thought he had legs as a potential chairman. ... He is competent, capable and should have always been a leading, if not the leading, pick for the job [of CNO]."
Richardson will need to find a way to pay for the Ohio replacement without stripping the other communities of much-needed modernization, said retired Adm. James Stavridis, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe and dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
"The elephant in the room is the SSBN price tag," Stavridis said. "Ultimately, this has to be a national bill and not a Navy bill. I think as a submariner, John Richardson has great credibility to work with Congress and within the administration to talk about the nuclear force and what it means – to really help people understand that it is a different kind of bill than a cruiser or high-performance aircraft."
Stavridis also praised Richardson's nomination to CNO, citing his creativity, strong commitment to the Navy and his family, and his ability to understand the needs of others.
Hendrix also believes Richardson has the tools necessary to lead the Navy well.
"He can speak to the Congress and the White House about any number of issues, whether it's the Ohio replacement, a greater strategic review, which we will be talking about in the next few years, or … about surface forces and aviation, which he knows from his previous tours," Hendrix said. "He is the full Swiss army knife."
Hometown: Petersburg, Va.
Commissioning date: May 26, 1982
Education: Bachelor's degree from the Naval Academy. Master's degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the National War College.
Commands: Attack submarine Honolulu; Submarine Development Squadron 12; Submarine Group 8; Submarine Allied Naval Forces South; Naval Submarine Forces in Norfolk, Virginia; and Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program.
Awards: Defense Superior Service Medal (2); Legion of Merit (3); Meritorious Service Medal (3); Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (4); Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal; Presidential Unit Citation; Joint Meritorious Unit Award; Navy Unit Citation; Navy 'E' Ribbon; National Defense Service Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.
Source: Navy Personnel Command