MODERATOR: Greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s London International Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from Europe and around the world for this on-the-record briefing with Rear Admiral Ronald J. Piret, Commander of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command. Rear Admiral Piret will discuss his trip to the United Kingdom and other NATO Allies and the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command’s work with NATO Allies and partners. We will have some opening remarks from our speaker and then he will take questions from participating journalists.
I will now turn it over to Rear Admiral Piret for his opening remarks. Sir, the floor is yours.
REAR ADMIRAL PIRET: Liz, thank you, and thank you for hosting this conversation this morning. And I certainly appreciate the opportunity to talk about our work, the experts who do it, and the partners that we work alongside such as the Royal Navy and certainly our NATO Allies. And I really, particularly want to thank the folks online taking the time this morning and members of the London International Media Hub for having this conversation and helping us highlight how important understanding the ocean is and the importance of our collective navies.
So in our line of work, it’s always an interesting aspect to kind of set the ground floor, if you will, or the understanding of why is it so important to understand the oceans. And certainly for Naval Oceanography, we are the U.S. defense community’s leading authority in understanding the physical battlespace, the environment, the atmosphere, the ocean, and everything that goes on below it, on it, and above it. And it’s not just about the safe navigation of our fleets, but it’s also about the safe operations of those fleets and the commercial fleets around the world too. That is why we say it starts with us. You really need to understand the ocean from the floor of the ocean through the water column, the waves and the surface of the ocean, through the atmosphere, and understanding where we are in the universe and mapping the stars as well.
So we understand that every nation’s economic prosperity and security is dependent upon free and open access to the seas. So when we think about the fact that global trade, 90 percent of that literally floats on seawater, then you understand the importance that every nation have that access to open trade routes. And it’s not just about how well we can do economically. It goes down to food security as well.
So this is why we continually work on better understanding the ocean environment and working with our partners and allies to that end as well. We certainly take a lot of pride in innovation and the experts that we have working on those. So there’s always been a lot of discussion on the operation and use and deployment of unmanned vehicles, whether those be subsurface or surface. And Naval Oceanography has been using unmanned systems for over 20 years. We have several hundreds of thousands of miles of sea time with unmanned systems and thousands of hours of bottom time. And so we understand the critical nature of how to employ unmanned systems to better understand the ocean environment as well as how do you employ understanding of the environment to better operate those vehicles as well.
So our core competency is really about understanding, characterizing, and then predicting changes in the ocean environment, whether that be ocean dynamics or changes in the atmosphere. Because certainly when 70 percent of the world is covered by the oceans, then you’d better understand what’s going on in astrometry, meteorology, geology, hydrography, bathymetry, and biology are just a few of the disciplines that we have that really encompass Naval Oceanography.
So certainly our command and our responsibilities are everywhere the U.S. fleet goes, and certainly we’re constantly supporting our partners and allies as well. I think it’s important to know what our own Chief of Naval Operations and the First Sea Lord have committed to. It’s not just working better together or being inoperable, but really moving into what they call being interchangeable. Can we actually operate as one fleet with the Royal Navy and with our NATO Allies? Can we operate as one fleet, as we have many times?
So when you think about our area of responsibility and operations that it really does encompass everything from the ocean floor to the stars, and so it’s important to be able to use unmanned systems in the depths of the oceans or our radio and optical telescopes for mapping the stars so that we can understand not only where and when we are in the universe but our ability then to predict the changes within the battlespace. And we do that every single day, 24 hours a day. And so that requires us to collect massive amounts of data, millions of observations – both in the ocean and the atmosphere – that we then bring into our ocean and atmospheric models, create predictive services and products.
But the real value is then the expertise we apply to that: the sailors, the scientists, the technicians, the engineers that apply their deep understanding of those tools and the environment and then turn that into a forecast or a true prediction that takes into account naval operations and understands the risks that we take when we go to sea.
So every time a ship gets underway, a plane takes off, or a submarine dives beneath the waves, we need to make sure that we have given them the very best information so they can operate safely and conduct their operations to the best of their ability. So that requires a really diverse team. We are a little over 2,600 personnel of civilians, of sailors, of contractors in industry and academia that really bring all of their expertise to bear. And we are situated in 14 different commands spread across 60 locations across the globe to ensure we are with the fleet everywhere they are sailing or flying.
It’s probably worth a minute just to go back, and how did we start? And certainly being back here in the United Kingdom with such a rich naval heritage – and I take a lot of pride that I got to spend a couple of years with the Royal Navy about 20 years ago in the hydrographic squadron onboard HMS Herald. But during that tour, I realized, boy, the history of hydrography and the UK’s commitment to safe navigation is really something to admire. And so our own history really dates back to 1830 when a young United States and a burgeoning fleet understood the value of navigation and understanding the environment and established the Depot of Charts and Instruments in 1830. And so we’ve evolved over time, as has military operations and our technology at sea, to the state that we’re in now with 2,600 people mapping the stars and mapping the ocean floor and sensing and predicting everything in between. And as I stated, as we keep on the cutting edge with our partners and other navies and academia and industry, we’re using the very cutting edge of technology to sense the environment and deploy sensors to collect that information as well.
So before I just give my closing remarks, again, I would just like to say thank you for hosting this because I think it’s so important to understand why meteorology and oceanography matter to nations and navies. Because changes in the sea, on the sea, or above it impact all of us. And we need to understand that the environment gets a vote in everything that we do, whether we are commuting to work or we’re sailing over the horizon. And that takes a team. It takes a team of scientists and professional sailors. It takes partners in other navies and certainly NATO Allies, and understanding that the ocean is truly tied to our national and global security. When you think about what the maritime commons – excuse me – means to every nation, I don’t think you can overstate the importance of that. And I think for relevancy of understanding the ocean and ensuring that we all have free and open access is just becoming more important.
And I’ll pause there for questions, Liz.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Rear Admiral Piret. We will now begin the question-and-answer portion of today’s call. Our first question is: “Why is the ocean so important for nations to consider when it comes to defense spending and a national focus?”
REAR ADMIRAL PIRET: Yeah, thank you for that question. This is something that we talk about frequently. Again, when you consider the way trade has evolved over the past several decades, that a component built here in the UK is likely to be sold in southern California – so how does that move across the globe? How do we – how does agriculture get grown and then move around the world? Because each country has a different climate and has different specialties or ability to produce different important crops.
So when we talk about a nation’s economic prosperity, food security, you really have to ensure that it got free and open access to the maritime commons. Ninety percent of the global trade – 90 percent of it – travels on the ocean surface. But that’s not all of it, either. Ninety percent of world communications travels along the cables that are laid on our seabeds. That’s how we do economic trades. That’s how we communicate, share information. So when you think about those things, I think it’s hard to overstate the importance that we all have assured access to the seas and that we’re able to travel upon them safely.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question is a pre-submitted question from Mohamed Maher of Al-Masry Al-Youm and Al-Ain News. Mohamed asks, “How do you assess the current state of climate change globally, and what role does the United States Navy play in addressing climate change?”
REAR ADMIRAL PIRET: Well, I certainly thank Mohamed for his question. We are certainly interested in changing climates, and that means a lot of different things in different parts of the globe. It could be rising temperatures. It could be changing rainfall patterns. It could be sea level rise. So I think it’s important to understand that wherever you happen to live in the world, the term “climate change” may mean something different to you.
So with the U.S. Navy, we are, of course, very interested in how the climate may be changing, that it may be changing different aspects of either food security, water security, or access. We can certainly see that the Arctic has become more open during certain times of the year, and that has some impact in terms of the ability to conduct trade and move goods across the world or access to those oceans. So for the U.S. Navy, we’re looking at how does that change behavior? How does that change patterns upon the seas?
The other aspect of what we do in the U.S. Navy is working with our other government agency partners. So the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with the National Weather Service and the Department of Energy – just to name a few – we share information; we understand each of our roles and responsibilities to ensure that we’re not missing any aspects of the climate change discussion and the protection of our own nation and looking towards the future and what we’re sharing with our partners.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question is: “How can robust weather data help shape decision making, both offensively and defensively?”
REAR ADMIRAL PIRET: Yeah, that’s – that is a great question. And it’s what I spend every day, all day, thinking about as a matter of fact. When you think about how difficult is it to model and measure the Earth, that is exactly what we’re doing. We are trying to understand all the dynamics and all the variables in the ocean, in the interface of the ocean and the atmosphere, as well as going all the way up to the ionosphere.
So we take in millions of observations each day and we process those. And we use leading-edge, high-performance computing, and we do this with over 2.3 billion core hours of data, and we publish over 400,000 forecasts annually. And that data is just continuing to grow.
So why is it important? Certainly for a nation, we look at – right now in the U.S., we are looking at the hurricane season. So we are watching as storms develop off the west coast of Africa, travel across the Atlantic, and whether they go up the eastern seaboard, or do they enter the Caribbean, and what impact will that have on those communities along those coasts or when they go in.
And certainly, we do that in the Pacific as well. It’s typhoon season. And if you’ve been watching the news, then typhoon Mawar went across Guam, and we were there. We were there to help survey the port, to ensure that the Apra Harbor was open for business and that that community could start to repair.
The data for the – and understanding the environment for the U.S. Navy really informs every decision from the tactical to the operational to the strategic. How do we look at force posture? How do we do our operational planning? How do we assess risk, whether that’s in surface operations, in aviation, or in submarine operations as well? So it does inform every single decision every commander makes each day.
MODERATOR: Thank you. “What types of data are they providing fleet commanders at the tactical edge to commanders at the operational and strategic level?”
PARTICIPANT: Certainly at the tactical level, we’re looking at, certainly, very detailed risk, right, in terms of what is the sea state, what are the windows of opportunity to, say, do small boat operations, underway replenishment. At the tactical, you might think about strike forecasts in terms of targets. You might look at the currents as well as how are communications and radar being affected.
At the operational level, you’re really looking at multiday forecasts over a period of weeks to maybe months to see what the relevant large-scale atmospheric changes may be during that time or how ocean currents may change as well. So I mentioned tropical cyclone forecasts and things of that nature. Obviously, we’re watching that over a period of several days, and the sea surface temperatures. Are the conditions ripe in terms of for cyclone or typhoon development? So we – every year, we put out a prediction in terms of is it going to be an active season for hurricanes and typhoons or do we expect things like El Niño to help dampen that and maybe there’ll be a less active season.
On the strategic level, we’re really looking at how do we better understand limitations and resources. We talked about food and water security, how will that impact nations, and certainly we work with our other agency partners, to include the State Department, in terms of how does that impact foreign policy and understanding what other nations may need assistance in times of stress.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question is: “Your command is the Navy’s largest operator of unmanned undersea vehicles. How many UUVs do you operate, and what purposes do they serve?”
REAR ADMIRAL PIRET: Yeah, thank you for that question. We have over 200 unmanned systems of various types, from very deep submergence to surface to also unmanned aerial vehicles. And we’ve been doing this for over 20 years, so we have learned a lot during that timeframe, and we couldn’t have learned it without the partners that we have in academia and industry. This really is a full team effort in terms of how this technology has evolved over time, and then where we’re able to share in terms of our lessons learned in having deployed these types of systems in every environment known to man and at every depth that unmanned systems can reach.
So again, we’ve been doing this for over 20 years. We’ve got several hundred thousands of survey miles and hundreds of thousands of sorties or bottom time as well. So we use these every day, and the types of vehicles can be what we call UUVs or unmanned underwater vehicles; buoyancy gliders that use a bladder in the nose of the craft to change its attitude with little wings, and then we can bring it to the surface and take it back down; as well as profiling floats that simply go up and down by changing the ballast in those, and those can go down to 1,000 meters. And we have those deployed across the globe, and we share a lot of that information with our partners and allies as well.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question is: “What other sciences fall under the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command?”
BEAR ADMIRAL PIRET: Well, if any of your listeners are interested in working on hard challenges, we have data scientists, computer scientists, folks who are special – specialized in optics, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, physical oceanography, meteorologists, oceanographers, and the list goes on – physicists who help us build atomic clocks; astronomers who actually apply their trade in astrometry, which is really the measure of stars, to understand where’s the Earth in the universe and what’s the orientation of the Earth. And that’s a little-known aspect of what feeds the time and position that we all use every day in terms of GPS location.
MODERATOR: And that concludes today’s call. I would like to thank Rear Admiral Piret for joining us, and I would like to thank all of our journalists for participating. If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the London International Media Hub at MediaHubLondon@state.gov.
REAR ADMIRAL PIRET: Great. Thank you, Liz. I appreciate the opportunity today.
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