David Larter, Navy Times
6 August 2015
The Navy's Top Nuke Is Now Confirmed To Be The Service's Top Officer.
Senators on Wednesday night OK'd Adm. John Richardson, the head of Naval Reactors, to be the 31st chief of naval operations. He was approved along with nominees for the Army chief and Marine Corps commandant, clearing the way for a turnover and then beginning a four-year term navigating the service through what are likely to be choppy waters ahead.
"I am honored and humbled to have been nominated and confirmed to succeed Adm. [Jon] Greenert as our Navy's next Chief of Naval Operations," Richardson said in a statement. "Adm. Greenert and his wife, Darleen, have been tireless and superb advocates for our Sailors and their families. I am deeply grateful for their service to our Navy and nation. I am excited to lead the extraordinary men and women in the world's greatest Navy."
Richardson brings a sterling reputation as an innovative leader and submarine boss to the job. Like Greenert, he is a recipient of the prestigious Stockdale Leadership Award. Richardson is also recognized for his integrity and has acted as the consolidated disposition authority for all ethics cases in connection to the so-called "Fat Leonard" scandal.
Five admirals have been censured or cautioned so far this year for noncriminal ethical violations. Still more are caught up in investigations that have gummed up the works, as investigaters probe the Navy's ties to a notorious port services contractor who allegedly bribed officers to steer warships to lucrative ports.
Richardson, a 1982 Naval Academy graduate, is seen as someone who can help the service steer clear of the "Fat Leonard" fallout, while delivering on key priorities, the foremost of which is the next-generation of ballistic missile submarines. These boomers, designed to replace the Ohio-class, are estimated to cost upward of $5 billion per boat – a price tag that would break the Navy's shipbuilding coffers.
"The big challenge isn't Ohio replacement," said Bryan Clark, a retired commander and defense 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 shipbuilding budget?"
The lead boat will cost about $13 billion, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, and follow-on boats will cost between $5.5 and $7.8 billion. The Navy will buy 12 of them between 2021 (the fiscal year after Richardson's four-year tenure ends) and 2035, and the added burden pushes projected costs far over the roughly $14 billion per year typically allocated to the shipbuilding account, according to the CBO.
Some in the surface world are concerned that next-generation boomers will strain the budget for replacing the aging fleet, including its cruisers, and aviators are just as concerned about the impact on replacing F/A-18 Hornets, some of which have been pushed beyond their planned usage.
Richardson will need to find a way to pay for the Ohio-class replacement without stripping 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 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.
In testimony given to the Senate Armed Services Committee July 30, Richardson told lawmakers he was committed to furthering initiatives begun under Greenert, including opening all Navy jobs to women by the beginning of 2016 and continuing to crack down on sexual assault and reprisals in the ranks.
In written testimony, he addressed a number of sailor concerns, including unpredictable deployments and compensation reform.
Long deployments: Richardson said he would continue Greenert's push to drive down deployment lengths and make them more predictable for families.
"In my experience, the dominant factor that is negatively affecting our Sailors’ professional experience in the Navy, and the stress that their families experience, is the frustration associated with things like delays to getting underway, deployment extensions, training delays and gaps, delays in maintenance periods, and last-minute parts availability," Richardson wrote. "These avoidable unpredictabilities are the single biggest detractor to quality of service."
Reigning in deployments, Richardson added, is essential to keeping sailors in the Navy.
"Central to recruiting and retaining high quality personnel ... is our ability to provide Sailors deployment predictability and the resources necessary to carry out their mission," he wrote.
Accomplishing that means contending with the headache hydra of budget cuts, unforeseen maintenance delays and unceasing demand for warships overseas.
Rising costs: For the past two budget cycles, leaders have struggled to find savings by slowing the growth of health care costs and cost of living subsidies. Richardson said he supported slowing the growth of compensation and health care costs, providing the reforms still met sailors' expectations to be fairly paid.
"If communicated properly and put in the appropriate context by leadership, slowing growth, while still meeting expectations regarding those matters that Sailors and their families value most, should allow the Navy to make
appropriate adjustments in a controlled and sustainable manner," he wrote.
Tuition assistance: Richardson said he doesn't see any need to change current tuition assistance, but said he would support some changes in the future, including making reimbursements more targeted.
"As long as we do not become too restrictive regarding our definition of what 'contributes to a Sailor’s professional growth,' I believe that Navy-funded education should both enhance the professional growth of our people and the effectiveness of our Navy," he wrote. "As with other personnel programs this will have to be closely studied and thoroughly communicated in order to achieve the desired positive effect."
Military pay and retirement: Richardson came out in support of retirement reform and reforming the commissary and exchange systems to save money.
"I support proposals to modernize our retirement system so long as our Sailors are given supporting education to make choices to best support their families," he wrote. "My inclination is that the [Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission] recommendation to combine some commissary and exchange functions make sense; I would like to study this more closely."
Richardson is set to turn over with Greenert by mid-September.
Adm. John Richardson
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.
Family: Married 33 years to wife, Dana; together they have raised five children: Lt. Nathan Richardson, Rachel, Daniel, Matthew and Veronica.