Sea Power September 1, 1999 Cover Story


Revolution at Sea for Surface Combatants

Improving Combat Capability for the Fleet and Quality of Life for Sailors

Editor in Chief James D. Hessman and Senior Editor Gordon I. Peterson interviewed Rear Adm. William W. Cobb Jr. for this issue of Sea Power.

Rear Adm. William W. Cobb Jr. assumed duties as Program Executive Officer (PEO) for Theater Surface Combatants on 3 December 1998. He is responsible for the development, acquisition, and life-cycle support of the Navy's Aegis surface combatant warships, selected combat and weapons systems, and theater ballistic missile defense programs. His career includes diverse assignments at sea and ashore, including service as commanding officer of the guided-missile destroyer USS Coontz and executive officer of the guided-missile cruiser USS Jouett. Rear Adm. Cobb's department-head assignments were served on the destroyer USS Carpenter, the fleet oiler USS Milwaukee, and the destroyer USS Fletcher. Ashore, he served as the Aegis program's chief of staff at the Naval Sea Systems Command and at the U.S. Atlantic Command, the U.S. Atlantic Fleet's Naval Surface Force, the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, and the Bureau of Naval Personnel. A 1968 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Rear Adm. Cobb received his master of science degree in operations research in 1975 from the Naval Postgraduate School. He also attended the National Defense University's Industrial College of the Armed Forces, the Defense Systems Management College, and the University of Michigan Graduate Business School's Executive Program. Rear Adm. Cobb was a board member of the U.S. Naval Institute from 1976 to 1979.

Sea Power: You lead one of the Navy's largest program executive offices--how would you describe your responsibilities?

COBB: I am responsible for construction of new Aegis guided-missile destroyers [the Arleigh Burke DDG-51 class] and life-cycle support for the surface combatants that are in commission -- Aegis destroyers and cruisers, Spruance-class destroyers, and the FFGs [Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigates]. We have 27 guided-missile cruisers in commission, 27 Aegis DDGs, and roughly 70 other surface combatants.

The third part of my job is Navy theater air defense. It includes area missile defense, which is the low end of ballistic missile defenses against Scud-type [theater ballistic] missiles, and Navy theater ballistic missile defense--which goes against higher, faster, longer-range ballistic missiles.

My job also includes responsibility for several other programs--the Standard Missile program, for example--and a number of ship-defense and combat-system programs, including the Cooperative Engagement Capability [CEC] program.

With some exceptions, I am responsible for most weapon-acquisition programs for combatant ships.

What does life-cycle support entail?

COBB: Life-cycle support involves the maintenance and modernization for commissioned ships and systems. Life-cycle support includes periodic major overhauls and shorter selected-restricted availabilities for ship maintenance and modernization. The cruiser-conversion program, for example, is one of the most significant life-cycle support issues we're working on today.

You report to the chief of naval operations for your life-cycle support mission, right?

COBB: That's correct. I report to two people. I report to the chief of naval operations [Adm. Jay L. Johnson] for fleet support through Admiral Nanos at NAVSEA [Vice Adm. George P. Nanos Jr., commander, Naval Sea Systems Command]. I also report to the secretary of the Navy [Richard Danzig] through Dr. Buchanan [H. Lee Buchanan III, the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development, and acquisition] under my acquisition hat. I have different chains of command for each function.

How is the merger of the Aegis program with the PEO for Theater Air Defense working out--has it achieved the goals for consolidation?

COBB: In May 1998, we placed one officer in charge of many systems that have to do with surface combatants when we combined the PEO [Program Executive Office] for Surface Combatants and the PEO for Theater Air Defense. There is no question that the merger has improved the integration of our present systems and that of the new systems that are being developed for surface combatants. It has already started to bear fruit. We are in the process now of refining the organization and making some personnel changes to better define what we ought to be as a total organization, but that's a normal thing that's going to go on for several years.

The reorganization was an important step forward and has helped both organizations become more effective. As an example, we were able to get the Navy Theater Wide [Ballistic Missile Defense] program through acquisition "Milestone One" in the last few months--a significant achievement. The briefings to the secretary of defense and his staff were greatly simplified by having a single point of contact for both the Navy Theater Wide program and for the pieces that go into the program--the missile, the computer program, the peripherals. It has greatly enhanced that process and made for a fairly straightforward transition.

The merger's other advantage involves the tradeoffs that you make when you are building a new ship. For example, how much new technology are you going to be able to put on an Aegis destroyer during its five years of construction? We're continually being exposed to new technology with commercial-off-the-shelf equipment. Through the engineering change process, we are not only able to build a new ship, but we're able to incorporate necessary changes in technology during construction. We're able to make those decisions from both a financial and a warfighter's perspective -- all under the same organization. This greatly enhances our ability to engineer these systems correctly and to save money in doing so.

Is the merger saving money?

COBB: Not yet, but it will soon. We're still a relatively new organization and are developing those kinds of metrics [i.e., performance measures], but it's a good question. Certainly, the procedures and the systems-engineering approach eventually are going to lead to savings. We will consolidate many of our larger contracts. Along with contract administration, there are a whole host of administrative processes that cost money, and we will generate significant savings when we consolidate several of our contracts and realize the obvious efficiencies.

Another area where savings will be made involves the reduction in total-ownership costs for our ACAT one and two [high-cost acquisition category I and II] programs. Each one has a performance initiative in place to reduce total-ownership costs. I estimate we will save a total of approximately $1 billion over the course of the Future-Years Defense Plan. That program is an outgrowth of the emphasis of the secretary of Navy, but now that we're one organization it makes it much easier to identify where those savings are. We have greater visibility, and we avoid having people work at cross-purposes.

Multiyear contracting also generates significant cost savings, correct?

COBB: I'm glad you mentioned that. The multiyear contract for Aegis [the March 1998 multiyear contract for 14 Arleigh Burke-class DDG-51 Aegis ships] was a great triumph. It occurred before our reorganization, but it is a superb example of the contract savings I'm talking about. The multiyear contract for Aegis destroyers saved the government $1.4 billion in documented savings, so we essentially paid for two extra destroyers as a result of the way that the contract was negotiated with Bath [Bath Iron Works] and Ingalls [Ingalls Shipbuilding Inc.].

Will multiyear contracts be used for the remaining ships in the class?

COBB: The Navy is still deciding what to do with the 02 and 03 contracts [contracts projected for 2002 and 2003] to close out the Aegis buy.

There are 24 Aegis DDGs under contract now and 27 in the fleet. Is it going to be a multiyear buy or a competition between Bath and Ingalls for a proportion of ships for each shipyard? We don't know the answer yet. We're in discussions right now with the assistant secretary of the Navy, Dr. Buchanan.

Do you plan substantial system upgrades for these last DDG-51 ships?

COBB: Absolutely. A ship's design evolves over time. DDG 51, [USS] Arleigh Burke, doesn't look anything like the latest DDG that we just commissioned, USS Higgins [DDG 76]. There are all kinds of new systems on it. The engineering-control system has been significantly upgraded. The combat system has been significantly upgraded. The helicopter-landing lights are now inboard and recessed. All outside lighting, including the helo deck, is coordinated through a LAN [local-area computer network] and controlled from a single box. Virtually every system on the ship has been upgraded.

DDG 79, Oscar Austin, will be commissioned next year as our first "Flight IIA" ship. DDG 79 and the remaining ships in the class will have two permanent hangars for SH-60s [Seahawk helicopters]. That is a significant departure from the design of DDG 51 through 78.

This will give the ship improved ASW [antisubmarine warfare] and ASMD [antiship missile defense] capabilities.

COBB: It sure will! As a matter of fact, speaking of ASW, as ships get built down the line, the SQQ-89 system -- the heart of our ASW system -- gets more and more digital. The more it gets digital, the more you can remove their big cabinets. The latest version of the SQQ-89 is much smaller and much more efficient than the old system.

One other significant thing about DDG 79 is that it is our first ship completely designed by computer-aided design [CAD]. We saved money by designing it by computer. Bath and Ingalls work very closely together in this computer-aided design project. They are both on the same sheet of music -- it is quite elegant. I'm happy to report that the DDG program is doing just fine. The ships are coming out on time and under budget.

During his first year in office, Secretary Danzig has placed added emphasis on improving a Sailor's working and living conditions aboard ship. Are these priorities reflected in ship-design and modernization programs?

COBB: Absolutely. We are improving the interior habitability and living conditions on our ships by backfitting new equipment on ships that are already in the fleet and by installing it on ships under construction.

Take our reverse-osmosis desalinators, for example. They are what another generation of Sailors would call "evaporators"--they make fresh water and are tremendous machines. One of the quality-of-life challenges you once faced at sea was to provide sufficient fresh water. With the old boiler steam [propulsion] plants, you always had to worry about water--there was frequent water rationing on smaller ships. Our new ships, of course, don't have boilers; they have gas turbines. Even with gas turbines, distilling plants were inefficient and maintenance-intensive. With the new reverse-osmosis machines, however, you make more fresh water than you can possibly use and the mean time between failures is way down. All but seven of the DDGs have been backfitted right now.

Another improvement is the new and efficient trash compactor. It's a tremendous machine that allows us to comply with the environmental restrictions on disposing of trash and garbage over the side. Sailors don't have large amounts of trash lying around awaiting disposal on a barge--the compactor makes compressed disks that you just dispose of when you can. We also will put the new sit-up racks [berths] into the new DDGs as soon as space and crew size allow. Sailors can actually sit up and work in the rack.

A number of quality-of-life improvements relate to "Smart Ship" technology that we are incorporating into the DDGs and the cruisers. Most ships now have ATMs [automatic-teller machines]--the old pay line is fast going by the boards. We are greatly reducing the amount of paper that's on the ship--freeing up space for other purposes.

Smart Ship technologies also will enable us to reduce the size of the crew--the goal for DD-21 [next-generation land-attack destroyer] is under 100. It's an ambitious goal, but if they are able to achieve it, the savings over the life of that ship compared to a DDG--which has a crew of roughly 300--are enormous. It is on the order of billions of dollars. The other thing about a smaller crew is that you have more space for improved habitability or other purposes.

Other quality-of-life improvements include e-mail--you now can e-mail your spouse while at sea. We now have TV-DTS--Television-Direct to Ships and a robust VTC [video teleconferencing] capability. The most important thing I can do as a PEO is to get combat capability to the fleet and to improve the quality of life for Sailors. One way to do this is to make equipment better--make it so that it does not require as much maintenance.

In Yorktown [a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser], the prototype Smart Ship, we took a very structured engineering approach to reduce the amount of preventive maintenance on that ship by 47 percent--without affecting the readiness of the combat system. That translates to less work for Sailors--or 10 to 20 people you don't need on that ship anymore. That is the kind of quality-of-life improvement that we're talking about on the Smart Ship.

And, with less maintenance, perhaps more liberty for the Sailor?

COBB: Absolutely. This is more of a fleet issue, but I participate as part of my fleet-support mission with both type commanders [Naval Surface Force commanders with the U.S. Atlantic and U.S. Pacific Fleets]. Each has very innovative programs underway to attack the interdeployment-training cycle, and we talk regularly. The marriage of technological, procedural, and policy change will enable us to improve a Sailor's quality of life significantly. I am one of the people who facilitates the technology that allows it to happen.

All of the systems commands and the fleet are pulling together to improve interoperability; how do you play in that effort?

COBB: We have a substantial role and have made significant improvements. CNO directed NAVSEA to become the focal point for interoperability in the Navy under SEA 05 [Warfare Systems Directorate]. We focused first on [aircraft carrier] battle groups. During their predeployment cycle, they go through a very structured procedure at sea to run all the systems to see if they work together.

Ashore, we use the computers and simulators of the Distributed Engineering Plant--a group of shore stations--to take a battle group at sea and "plug in" to see how all their systems work--communications, information systems, and the like. We can identify any significant problems many months before they deploy.

We are on our fourth battle group now, and it has allowed us to integrate the [acquisition] stovepipes in our more complex world. The systems being built have to be able to interact through computerized information and communication systems. The idea of interoperability is to test all those systems before they go on deployment. We have a lot more to do, but compared to where we were two or three years ago, it has been a real success story. This emphasis on interoperability also greatly enhanced our ability to handle the Y2K problem [computer-software problems associated with the year 2000 date change].

Are our allies addressing the interoperability issue?


Yes. The issue is worked on three levels--the Navy level, the joint [multiservice] level, and the coalition level. It is not enough to make sure that your own systems talk to each other-- we have to make sure that you can talk to an Air Force commander. We do pretty well at that now compared to where we were at Desert Storm--look at Kosovo. We are concentrating now on the Navy's battle groups and joint warfare. The business of our allies is beyond my scope of responsibility.

Mr. Hamre [Deputy Secretary of Defense John J. Hamre] has said that our allies need to put greater emphasis on the technology needed to fight a modern war.

COBB: I'm aware of that, yes. We do, however, have a very close cooperative relationship with a number of our allies in foreign military sales. In the case of Japan, they have built four Aegis destroyers with our systems -- the Kongo-class guided-missile destroyer--and they are considering an option to buy two more. Many of the systems on that ship are U.S.-built, although some are Japanese. Lockheed Martin and other contractors integrated both the Japanese and U.S. systems. The U.S. Seventh Fleet has a very close cooperative relationship with them in the Western Pacific.

Our other relatively new program involves Spain. We are providing the Aegis combat system to their new frigate -- the F100 Bazan class. They will build four of these frigates. I attended the keel-laying ceremony for the first ship earlier this year. Several other countries are talking to us about the possibility of buying Aegis, and we are very excited about that.

Japan also is very interested in our Navy Theater Wide and Area BMD programs--as well they should be since two missiles have been fired over their country [by North Korea]. We are talking to them about working together to develop part of the missile that goes with the Navy Theater Wide program.

The Navy has several PEOs responsible for surface ships--separate PEOs for expeditionary warfare's amphibious and logistics ships, the DD-21 program, aircraft carriers, and surface combatants. Does this stovepiping hamper systems integration across platforms?

COBB: The challenges are being met without too many problems, but the process is complicated by having a large number of ships that are in existence even as we design new ships for the future. One challenge involves legacy systems -- systems that have been around a long time supported by the normal supply system. A challenge occurs when you have a ship with both new and legacy systems -- a combination of the two. What do you do about configuration control?

I meet with my fellow PEOs regularly to talk about these problems and discuss how we can help. There are many IPTs [integrated-process teams] in place to look at these issues across the PEOs. Integration may not be seamless, but it is a challenge that certainly can be met. It is a matter of coordination.

Do your regular meetings with Admiral Nanos and NAVSEA's Executive Steering Committee assist in this process?

COBB: Absolutely. We also have close working relationships from a personal standpoint. One of the things that we do is talk about organizational issues and strategic planning. For example, as the Aegis program winds down and the DD-21 program winds up, how do we organize ourselves? The last Aegis destroyer will still be in commissioned service sometime after 2040. We may want to merge my organization with DD-21 at some point in the future. I don't know. That decision is years away, but it is something we are going to talk about in the next couple of years if we are to maintain our destroyers, cruisers, and the DD-21 program properly.

You also have industrial-base considerations.

COBB: Absolutely. I should say that our relationship with industry has continued to improve. It will get closer still as the number of companies goes down, new industry teams are formed, and these companies recommit themselves to working with us to save money and meet schedules.

The future for the Navy's surface combatant warships promises to be exciting, don't you think?

COBB: Yes, I do. For example, we are developing the Cooperative Engagement Capability -- an exciting new capability being tested at sea right now on four ships. CEC provides the ability to take sensors and net them together to put weapons on target in a different way. You also have a network for passing of all kinds of information in ways that we have never done before.

This means that a ship that does not hold [i.e., track or have a firing solution for] a target on its own radar is going to be able to shoot missiles at the target based on information obtained from another ship. That will vastly increase the battle group's battle space, but the other thing that CEC brings is the ability to transmit and receive an incredible amount of information over the network in real time. We have never had this capability, and it will enable the joint warfighter to participate too.

Frankly, we had some tough interoperability challenges that we had to solve on the [guided-missile cruisers] Hue City and Vicksburg in 1997 and 1998, but they are mainly behind us now. Recent reports indicate we've made lots of progress here. The first all-CEC battle group will deploy in 2003. CEC will spark a revolutionary development in our warfare doctrine.

How would you describe your leadership style?

COBB: The most important thing we can do around here is to take care of our people. My leadership style is to be a mentor. Nobody is indispensable, so I am active in the business of training my potential relief. I expect all senior leaders to do the same thing. I am committed to getting the level of responsibility down as far as it can go in our organization so our younger people can learn and be trained. We monitor that pretty carefully.

I also think you do much better when you are on a business-like even keel -- treating everybody the right way. I have a very complex organization with many things happening. I also have to deal with Congress almost every day, with the giants of industry, and with other staffs. All of that lends itself to people who are calm, cool, and collected. I think that the synergy of what my organization is trying to do with NAVSEA under Admiral Nanos is very important. You can do anything if you don't care who gets the credit!

In closing, is there anything else you would like to say to the readers of Sea Power?

COBB: I would like to take this opportunity to pass my personal thanks to Navy League members for their important and unswerving support to our nation's sea services. We need them to continue their work as advocates on our behalf. Due in no small measure to their good work, I continue to believe that the Navy is on track for the 21st century. The road ahead won't be easy -- there will be budget fights, political pressures, and real enemy forces with which we have to contend, but I am confident we will prevail.