San Diego, California - Seven Navy flag officers talked with members of the naval aviation community Sept. 10, participating in a flag panel during the last full day of the 2016 Tailhook Convention in Reno, Nevada.
The panel members were Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, commander, Naval Air Forces/commander, Naval Air Force Pacific Fleet; Vice Adm. Paul Grosklags, commander, Naval Air Systems Command; Rear Adm. DeWolfe Miller, director, Air Warfare; Rear Adm. Bruce Lindsey, commander, Naval Air Force, Atlantic; Rear Adm. Michael Crane, commander, Naval Air Force Reserve/deputy commander, Naval Air Force Pacific Fleet; Rear Adm. Kenneth Whitesell, assistant commander, Navy Personnel Command; and Rear Adm. Dell Bull, chief of Naval Air Training.
All the panelists are also leaders of the Naval Aviation Enterprise -- a partnership of naval aviation stakeholders focused on sustaining required current readiness and advancing future warfighting capabilities at best possible cost.
As each panelist and NAE leader provided remarks before opening the floor for questions from the panel audience, one overarching theme appeared -- a focus on warfighting readiness.
"As you look around the world, the demand for naval air forces is not letting up at all," Shoemaker said. "Our number one priority is generating readiness so we can continue to send forces forward, as well as recovering readiness after 15 years of combat and the effects of sequestration."
Naval aviation leaders appeared united in their effort to recover and generate readiness, acknowledging the need for close collaboration and teamwork.
"No single organization in the Navy owns the entire readiness picture," said Grosklags. "We as the Naval Aviation Enterprise have wrapped our arms around that, and we are making incremental progress."
Shoemaker addressed some of the readiness challenges the naval aviation community is currently facing, including risks the community is accepting during certain phases of the Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP).
"Our ability to give squadrons the numbers of airplanes they need in maintenance phase has been very challenging, based on getting the airplanes and the parts," Shoemaker said. "That's led to some limited flight hours for junior officers. We've taken that risk so those squadrons going through work-ups and deployments are getting resourced with what they need."
The focus on warfighting readiness was echoed by Lindsey, who recently served as commander, Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 10.
"In all phases of the OFRP, the supported commander is the carrier strike group commander," Lindsey said. "That means I, as a TYCOM [type command], am supporting each and every one of those carrier strike group commanders. It's a privilege to do that -- to get them the manning, the training and the equipment they need to assemble a great team that will go forward."
Following the panelists' remarks, audience members asked questions on issues ranging from live, virtual, constructive (LVC) training, to the future roadmap of cyber effects, to questions on manning and experience levels.
"The 'Air Boss' (Shoemaker) has a metric called Aviation Maintainer Experience," Whitesell mentioned, in response to a question about squadron maintenance manning, which gives NAE leaders visibility into the experience levels of E-5 through E-9 Sailors across all type, model, and series for several maintenance-related ratings. "We're working on getting the exact right Sailor at the right time to the squadrons."
Leaders also addressed a question about the perceived value of performing administrative work versus demonstrating tactical excellence, hammering home the importance of warfighting readiness once again.
"The most important thing you ought to be graded on as a junior officer is the way you operate your platform and how proficient you are," Shoemaker said. "Everything we do focuses on warfighting."
The Tailhook Convention is an annual event run by the Tailhook Association -- an independent, fraternal, nonprofit organization supporting the aircraft carrier and other sea-based aviation