Despite fiscal winds, sub group on course

Rear Adm. Kenneth M. Perry, left, shakes hands with Rear Adm. Richard P. Breckenridge, with Vice Adm. Michael J. Connor, center, after the Submarine Group Two change of command from Breckenridge to Perry in April, at the Submarine Force Library & Museum in Groton.
Rear Adm. Kenneth M. Perry, left, shakes hands with Rear Adm. Richard P. Breckenridge, with Vice Adm. Michael J. Connor, center, after the Submarine Group Two change of command from Breckenridge to Perry in April, at the Submarine Force Library & Museum in Groton. Tim Cook/The Day

Groton - On Rear Adm. Kenneth M. Perry's first day in command of Submarine Group Two, he was asked to relocate temporarily from the front office suite so the carpet could be replaced.

The cost to lay a new carpet and clean the 2,250-square-foot suite was $50,000. He said no, cancel the installation.

Perry said that while the carpet is a trivial example, every decision he makes in the current fiscally constrained environment must be responsible, if not austere. A plaque hanging in his office reads, "We can't direct the wind, we can adjust the sails."

"The fiscal environment, that's a directed wind in some ways. Certainly, sequestration is a directed wind. I can't control that," he said. "I can adjust the sails and we have had to adjust the sails a bit to make sure that with the resources we have, we're still focused on job one, mission readiness."

As the new Group Two commander, Perry is figuring out not only how to accomplish his goals with the resources he has, but also how to bring enlisted women aboard submarines and get his submarine captains used to operating more independently.

The automatic spending cuts known as sequestration require that the Pentagon make $37 billion in cuts by the end of the fiscal year next month, and 750 civilian employees who work at the Naval Submarine Base were furloughed for one day each week beginning July 8.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced last week that the number of furlough days would be reduced from 11 to 6, but if Congress does not act, the Budget Control Act requires that the Pentagon cut an additional $52 billion in fiscal 2014.

Perry, who took over from Rear Adm. Richard P. Breckenridge in April, is responsible for the 25 attack submarines on the East Coast.

Past group commanders have all had the same responsibilities, but they have approached the job in different ways. Perry said his focus will be on making sure the submarines and their crews are ready for their missions.

Each crew must understand how the gear on board their submarine operates and how to exploit that technology, he added; otherwise, the capabilities really are not capabilities. He told his staff that anything that helps a boat get ready must be their top priority.

Five submarines from Groton are deployed around the world, Perry said in an interview last week. Sequestration has not delayed any deployments. While the submarines are ready when they leave port, he said, some of the maintenance that was not critical has been postponed.

"I'm very pleased and proud of the force we have, the sailors and the civilians that support them, the work they're doing, and really the focus on getting the mission done," he said. "We aim to deliver this mission readiness in an efficient way, as well as effective. I take it seriously that I'm charged with responsible stewardship of the resources - money, time, personnel, equipment. It's a big challenge. We're a very technical, complex force."

Preparing for women

Perry is also charged with leading a task force that will figure out how to bring enlisted women aboard submarines.

The Navy lifted its ban on women serving aboard submarines in 2010 and started assigning female officers first to the larger, ballistic-missile and guided-missile submarines. The Navy announced in January that female officers will begin reporting to attack submarines in fiscal year 2015, and, as the next step, enlisted women will be considered for sub duty.

So far, the task force experts in personnel, policy, ship construction and resourcing have begun discussing how to recruit and promote women in the submarine force and give them the same career opportunities as men, Perry said. The submariners and members of the Navy's surface and aviation forces who are working on this issue are spread across six time zones and talk mainly by video conference.

Perry said he is enthusiastic about the opportunity to bring enlisted women on board, but the task force is in the early stages of gauging how many enlisted women will want to serve on submarines.

Perry has told the members of the task force that all submariners will continue to be volunteers. Enlisted women will be assigned to submarines where female officers are already serving, and female chief petty officers from other areas of the Navy will be assigned to these submarines as part of the integration.

A comprehensive "Plan of Actions and Milestones" is due by January.

"We're in good shape," he said. "We're making real progress."

Perry is a career submarine officer who previously commanded Submarine Development Squadron 12 in Groton. Before returning to the base to take command of the group, he was the vice commander of the Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Warfare Command in San Diego.

One thing he has stressed to the submarine commanders in the group is the need for them to be able to operate independently, should their communications systems ever be compromised. Vice Adm. Michael J. Connor, the commander of the submarine force, recently told The Associated Press he is reaffirming the need for autonomy because of the growing threat of cyber warfare.

Submarine crews typically contact headquarters frequently during their deployments, unlike years ago when technology was far less advanced and it was rare to communicate during a mission, Perry said.

"Sometimes that ability to communicate so readily, if not harnessed in the right way, can actually degrade a ship's ability to think independently and conduct its mission to the full measure," he said.

His message, Perry said, has been well-received by commodores, captains and students. Every skipper wants room to maneuver, he added.

Perry said he is proud to lead the group.

"I think we're well-positioned. We are organized with a mission focus. We are staffed with a mission focus," he said. "… I feel good about that."

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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