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Navy Chief Admiral John Richardson On Maritime Challenges


The U.S. Navy has come up with a new strategic blueprint that goes beyond conventional ships and submarines. It is designed to position the Navy to respond more quickly to threats around the world. The plan's architect is Admiral John Richardson. He outlined some of his proposals to our colleague Renee Montagne.


Admiral Richardson spoke to us from his office at the Pentagon. His report, issued last week, is called "A Design For Maintaining Maritime Superiority." He describes a fast-moving environment where adapting to new technologies has become as important as doing battle at sea.

JOHN RICHARDSON: Over the past 10, 20 years, not only have the actors on the stage changed, but also, you know, the character of the environment has changed. Traffic and activity on the ocean floors - infrastructure on the ocean floors, you know, the information system, some of that information carried on cables that are resting on the seafloor - that's an example of where things have, you know, fundamentally shifted and need to be addressed.

MONTAGNE: Let's stick with that just for a moment, the importance of undersea cables that connect the Internet around the world.


MONTAGNE: Describe that for us. And what is the Navy doing to protect them?

RICHARDSON: You know, a lot of the actual details of those are classified, but let's just talk about the importance of those cables themselves. I mean, something on the order of 99 percent of the world's Internet information travels across the sea on those cables. And if those are disrupted, then, you know, that's a tremendous impact that it would have on, you know, not only security, but economy and, you know, pretty much all the sort of elements of national power, if you will. And that gives rise to vulnerabilities and those vulnerabilities can be exploited, and so we need to make sure that we're paying attention to that.

MONTAGNE: Well, is the concern here that, in some sense, these cables will be attacked or destroyed in some way?

RICHARDSON: I mean, I think that it could run a gamut from a simple attack or a disruption or a disconnection all the way to inserting information into that so that it raises doubts about the validity of the information that you're getting.

What I'm trying to get at here is sort of a broader appreciation of, you know, this just being one element of this environment that is changing.

MONTAGNE: That environment is increasingly high-tech. Richardson's strategy talks about the need for drones to fly, float or dive under the water. But traditional naval ships including aircraft carriers still matter.

RICHARDSON: Ninety percent of the world's trade happens on the oceans. And so, you know, there's a security dimension to that. You know, for instance, since 1990s, the amount of ships traveling the oceans has increased by a factor of four. And, you know, that has supported the rise of many global economies but has also given rise to, you know, mass migration that has been in the news very much recently, also has given rise to more illicit trafficking of materials and peoples and those sorts of things. And so I think going forward, the need for a Navy and all of the platforms that it brings are going to increase.

MONTAGNE: Admiral John Richardson is chief of naval operations.

Thank you very much for talking to us.

RICHARDSON: Oh, thanks very much.

MONTAGNE: The chief of the Navy is just out with a long-awaited strategy for the future of the Navy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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