Vice Admiral Hank Mustin on the Politics of Naval Capability Development

Vice Admiral Hank Mustin served in a variety of positions that focused on developing the capabilities and tactics of the U.S. Navy at the peak of the Cold War. Mustin helped pioneer the development and fielding of many assets that are now recognized today as mainstay capabilities of the modern surface fleet. But in Mustin’s time, the path to fielding these capabilities was unclear and influential opposition threatened to kill critical programs. 

Below are select excerpts from Admiral Mustin’s oral history, conducted by Dave Winkler of the Naval Historical Foundation and republished with permission. In these excerpts, Mustin discusses navigating the opposition surface fleet programs faced from the highest levels of Navy leadership, methods for securing programs with funding and top cover within the OPNAV staff, and how certain projects were created or cancelled.

Be sure to explore more CIMSEC republications of Admiral Mustin’s insights in “Vice Admiral Hank Mustin on Naval Force Development” and Vice Admiral Hank Mustin on New Warfighting Tactics and Taking the Maritime Strategy to Sea.”

WINKLER: The threat at the time…was the Soviet Styx missile?

MUSTIN: That was just becoming a threat. And the feeling in the Navy leadership was, which was dominated by aviators, we’re not going to let anybody get close enough to shoot one of these missiles. The aviators said, if we see anybody out there that’s a threat, we’ll just go bag them at two to three hundred miles. Not to worry. And so we surface types all said, well okay, we’ll concentrate on shooting at air-launched missiles. “Well, we’ll take care of that too, if we ever get enough F-14s.” So we said, well maybe you can’t take care of them all; we’ll continue to pursue this.

Senior aviators at the time fought this rather bitterly. Success rates of these expensive missiles were not high. The performance of the systems was not good. And they viewed this as a drain, unnecessary, on funds that should be devoted to aviation capabilities. This is not a new kind of argument. So things like Aegis, and others, were bitterly opposed by the aviators. My own view is that we’d have never gotten Aegis if Bud Zumwalt had not been the CNO. Because a series of aviator CNOs before and after tried to kill it…

…The aviators—the notion had been since World War II that the main battery of every combatant should be resident on the flight deck of the carrier. So we’d try to put Harpoons on these ships and they’d say, “Hey, no, we’ll just take care of those guys with A-6s.” I developed a line of argument that said that JSOP, the force structure bible, says you need 26 carriers. We’ve only got 12. If we don’t have the number of carriers that we need, how are we going to fill in that firepower gap? This was the argument, it got at the issue without threatening aviation.

March 6, 1987 – An air-to-air overhead view of a fighter Squadron 1 (VF-1) F-14A Tomcat aircraft. (Photo via U.S. National Archives)

All of the issues of long-range targeting came up at that time. All of the issues of the inadequacies of the sonars. And as we built the Los Angeles class specifically to be escorts of the carrier task force—we didn’t call them battle groups—we found all the inadequacies in communications with the submarines while they are submerged. So the things that you see now—submarines with NTDS [Naval Tactical Data System], submarines with Tomahawk and Harpoon, submarines integrated into the striking forces of the Navy when required, the acknowledgement that you’ve got to disperse offensive power through platforms other than the carrier—all of those things were seen by Bud [Zumwalt] and Worth Bagley.

The problem was there wasn’t any technology available to implement them. To get the Aegis and to get the Tomahawk and to get these things, you had to spend the money. That money was going to come out of aviation, and everybody knew it. So the aviators just said there’s no reason for the Aegis ships; the F-14s will do the air defense job. Because it was apparent we were going to have fewer F-14s if we had Aegis ships.

So it was a very, very turbulent time, internally as well as externally. I remember a very senior aviator, who I won’t name, said to me one day when I was a captain, and Bud was still the CNO, he said, “You’d better enjoy every day that he’s the CNO, because you’re not going to see another one during your lifetime who’s a black-shoe…”

…Aegis was just on the horizon, strongly opposed by the aviators, who felt that it was a big waste of money to try and fight air battles with the Aegis ship when you could do it all with F-14s, and they wanted Aegis dollars to buy aircraft. The inadequacies of the Charles Adams class against missiles, and in particular against long-range missiles, were becoming apparent. And the absolute inadequacies of the Talos missile became apparent. So it didn’t take long for Jim Doyle, Bob Morris, and I, who were the requirements guys, to figure out that we needed an Aegis fleet, which was programmed, very slowly. But at the same time we needed a new destroyer. So we undertook to develop the requirements for the DDGX, which became the Arleigh Burke.

VADM Mustin during a Second Fleet exercise, 1988. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

So on Jim Doyle’s watch we brought in Aegis, brought in LAMPS, brought in the vertical launchers, brought in the SM-2 missile, brought in the Tomahawk, brought in the digital computer versions of NTDS. We brought in what is now called cooperative engagement—at the time it was called battle group AAW. We brought in the CIWS, the close-in weapons system. We brought in the SLQ-32, the modern anti-missile ECM suite. We brought in towed arrays. We brought in the new generation sonar. We significantly upgraded the capabilities of the design of the amphibs, the LHAs, the AOEs. It was an amazing time.

…Spruances were new. I was very unhappy with the Spruances. The Spruance had been a McNamara invention. It was to be the DX and the DXG. There were to be thirty DXs, which were ASW ships, and thirty DXGs, which were to be AAW ships, and they would operate in tandem all the time. Then the Typhon weapons system, which had been designed for the DXG, became too expensive, and so the DXG was cancelled. Now you had the DX, the Spruance, the single-purpose ASW ship, with no DXG. So the whole rationale fell apart. Here we had all these ships out there, which were the largest destroyers that we had ever built, and they had nothing on them. They had no weapons to speak of. We were furious at this.

On Jim’s watch we took the Spruance hull and turned it into the DXG with the Aegis fleet, it is the Ticonderoga-class cruiser. But it was ten years behind the Spruance in getting to sea. Then I think that it was [CNO] Jimmy Holloway—it was either Holloway or Tom Hayward—who changed the DDG to CG. I was in charge of the force structure as a captain, and I remember one day, with a stroke of the pen, we went from the Soviets having more cruisers than all of NATO combined to NATO outnumbering the Soviet cruiser force by almost two to one. DLGs became cruisers.

…I don’t know if I told you the story of the LAMPS [Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System] and how that worked. The deal when I got there was that, for the LAMPS helicopter, SH-60, Op 03 would pay for the R&D, which was the weapons suite and avionics. Op 05, the air warfare czar, would pay for the procurement of the fleet of the all-up airplane. Op 05 had rigged it for seven years so that the first procurement was always one year outside of the POM, because they wanted to spend their scarce aviation procurement dollars on tailhook aircraft, and not on helicopters to go on destroyers.

Doyle was furious about this, but they had two aviator CNOs. He said, “We’ve got to do something about this.” So I said, “You know what we’ve got to do? We’ve got to get our nose under the tent. What you ought to do in this POM cycle is, you ought to, number one, accelerate the R&D by putting in more money for two years, and then in that third year you give up FFG 7 and you take that money and buy the helicopter. Then, if you do that and you get that first buy in there, then Op 05 is going to be committed in the out-years to keep on. He isn’t going to like that, but how’s he going to argue with it? And how can he argue with it in OSD; how can he argue with it against the Hill?” In the meantime the people in OSD were saying, every banana republic navy in the world has got helicopters on the fantail; how come you guys don’t? We’d always mumble something. So anyway, that’s what we did. That’s how we got the SH-60 to sea. That was one of my programs in this period.

August 1, 1985- An SH-60B Sea Hawk helicopter participates in flight operations aboard the battleship USS IOWA (BB 61). (Photo by PH1 Jeff Hilton, via U.S. National Archives)

It became apparent that we had to stop building these FFG 7s in order to get the new destroyer, and the principal contribution of the new destroyer should be its land attack capability—with the Tomahawk missile, but there was no Tomahawk missile. Also we had to have some way to shoot it. The then-current version of the vertical launcher was two feet too short to accommodate the Tomahawk missile. So the first thing we had to do was lengthen the launcher, which was an enormously expensive proposition. It required ship re-design to do.

Second, in order to get the Tomahawk in surface ships, we had to get a Tomahawk and we had to overcome the Mark 26 launching lobby, which was the lobby that was going into the first seven Aegis ships. They didn’t want the vertical launcher to come along because that jeopardized the Mark 26 launcher. So we had Tomahawk, which was opposed bitterly by the aviators, because they said we’ll do all that with A-6s; we had the launcher, which was opposed by the vertical launcher guys, because it meant changing their launcher and therefore delaying their program a year; and we had the Mark 26 guys, who did not want to have their launcher jeopardized just as it was entering the fleet. That wasn’t including all the people who didn’t want to do it on the outside.

April 12, 1983- RIM-66 Standard MR/SM-2 missiles on a Mark 26 launcher prior to being fired from the Aegis guided missile cruiser USS TICONDEROGA (CG 47) during tests near the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility, Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Don Muhm, via U.S. National Archives)

We started off with a year’s study to determine the requirements for the new destroyer…The study showed that we knew how to do AAW and ASW modeling—a bunch of missiles come in, you shoot a bunch of missiles at them, and you’ve got them. We knew how to do ASW engagement. But we had no measures of effectiveness for the Tomahawk.

So I devised a series of analyses where we ran an air strike against Petropovlovsk with carrier air, and then we ran that same air strike with carrier air supported by the Tomahawks where the Tomahawks went in and beat down the air defenses before the A-6s went in. We drew a curve that showed the cost of the air strike in terms of aircraft attrition and the procurement of Tomahawks. The cost without Tomahawk was up, because there were so much aircraft attrition; we had all these Soviet capabilities approved by the Director of Naval Intelligence. The costs came way down as you brought the Tomahawks in, and then after a while it started to go back up again if you bought too many Tomahawks, because they’d already killed all the air defenses, so you didn’t gain any more cost reduction by reduced aircraft attrition.

A Tomahawk missile firing off a battleship, c. late 1980s. (Photo via NAVSEA)

We took that analysis to the CNO, Tom Hayward. He said, “I do not support this destroyer.” When the CNO tells you that it’s got a very chilling effect. In the meantime Op 05 was saying he didn’t support Tomahawk. He supported everything except the strike function, which he thought was unnecessary. And besides, Tomahawk had not been service-approved for procurement, which violated all of the “fly before buy” rules. And the Aegis guys were saying, you’re spending too much money on Tomahawks and not enough on Aegis.

…CNO had said he didn’t support it. It was very carefully handled. Anyway, Congress put enough heat on the OSD so that OSD said, all right, we think you ought to do this. We want you to cancel your Charles Adams improvements, a pretty expensive program, and get on with the finalizing of the design of the DDGX. The big issue was the vertical launcher for the Tomahawk. So we got the Congressional language to say that this ship should be capable of firing Tomahawks. Then we went back to the CNO, who was pretty unhappy about this turn of events. He knew who the culprits were, which I found out to my distress later. He gave the go-ahead, but conditionally. He said that he needed more F-14s and the F-18. And he could not undertake a shipbuilding program that requires a lot more helicopters.” So he told us to get out and figure out why we don’t need a helicopter in the Arleigh Burke. If we could, then he’d support it.

So we went out and I did a bunch of analyses which showed that if you made a lot of assumptions about other ships in company with the task force, you had enough LAMPS so all you really needed on the Arleigh Burke was a landing platform so they could hopscotch, and an in-flight refueling capability. So we designed the ship that way, and that’s why the first flight came out with no helos on them. Everybody has said ever since then: Hey, why didn’t you have a helo on them? The answer was because we couldn’t get it through OpNav. And the reason was, the aviation procurement budget was very tight, and the Navy’s priorities were for tailhook aircraft. Jim Doyle and I were really sensitive to this issue, having just gone through the LAMPS flail. And CNO was very sensitive to that, having seen the aircraft procurement money start to go to the LAMPS.

…OSD was of the view that the Navy was sort of irrelevant to the NATO strategy, for the reasons that we’ve discussed. So while we were looking into making these new capabilities, we were developing arguments for why the Navy was relevant. The Tomahawk was the key that unlocked that, because that gave the surface Navy for the first time the ability to influence events ashore, beyond the range of the 5- inch gun. That meant that in the battle for Europe you could now hold at risk the Kola Peninsula with other carrier air. From the eastern Med you could hold at risk targets in Russia, that you could not do before unless you put the carriers way, way up in the Adriatic. So all of a sudden the Tomahawk unlocked a lot of doors in OSD.

…I went to see Admiral Doyle, and I said, “Walt Locke isn’t going to do it.” He said, “Tell him to come over here; I want to see him.” Walt and I walked in to see Jim Doyle. Jim Doyle said, “Walt, maybe once if you’re lucky, in your naval career, you come across a capability that’s going to be a change in naval warfare on the order of sail to steam.” He said, “In my view, Tomahawk is that change during our lifetimes. What we have to do is stop this complaining and get on with it. We’ve got to have the launcher to support it, we’ve got to have the targeting, and we’ve got to have the seeker and warheads to do the job. Because,” he said, “we now have about half of the number of aircraft carriers that we all say we need to perform the Navy’s function in a NATO war, and we’re not going to get any more. So if the Navy is going to stay relevant it has to have a capability like the Tomahawk, and fortuitously the technology is such that that capability is now at hand. So you are the naval officer who will be able to bring that to bear.”

Walt Locke almost stood up and cheered. He walked out of there and he was a convert. It was one of the most compelling senior officer man-to-man discussions that I’ve ever been in. Walt was turned around like that. We gave him the money, and he marched off.

Henry C. Mustin was born in Bremerton, Washington on 31 August 1933, the son, grandson, and great-grandson of distinguished naval officers. Vice Admiral Mustin, a destroyerman, served at sea in the Pacific and Atlantic Fleets in USS Duncan (DDR 874); as Commanding Officer USS Bunting (MHC 45); as a plankowner in both USS Lawrence (DDG 4) and USS Conyngham (DDG 17); as Commanding Officer USS Henry B. Wilson (DDG 7); as Commander, Destroyer Squadron 12, homeported in Athens, Greece; as Commander, Cruiser Destroyer Group 2; and as Commander, U.S. Second Fleet and NATO Striking Fleet Atlantic. He served ashore in Vietnam with the Delta River Patrol Group; as Flag Lieutenant to the Commander-in-Chief Pacific; as Executive Assistant to the Commander-in-Chief U.S. Naval Forces Europe; as Director, Surface Combat Systems Division in the Office of Chief of Naval Operations; as Deputy Commander Naval Surface Force, Atlantic Fleet; as Naval Inspector General; and as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Plans, Policy, and Operations). He retired January 1, 1989. He passed away on April 11, 2016.

David F. Winkler earned his Ph.D. in 1998. from American University in Washington, DC. He has been a historian with the non-profit Naval Historical Foundation for over two decades. His dissertation Cold War at Sea: High Seas Confrontation between the U.S. and Soviet Union was published by the Naval Institute Press in 2000, was republished under the title Incidents at Sea: American Confrontation and Cooperation with Russia and China, 1945 – 2016 in December 2017. He was selected in early 2019 to be the Class of 1957 Chair of Naval Heritage at the U.S. Naval Academy for the 2019-2020 academic year and the Charles Lindbergh Fellow at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum for the following year. Winkler received his commission as a Navy ensign in 1980 through the NROTC unit at the Pennsylvania State University. In addition to a B.A. in Political Science, he has an M.A. in International Affairs from Washington University. He is a retired Navy Reserve commander. 

Featured Image: September 7, 1985 – Aerial starboard quarter view of Battle Group Alfa underway. The ships are: (clockwise, center front) USS REEVES (CG-24) , USS SAN JOSE (AFS-7), USNS MISPILLION (T-AO-105), USS OLDENDORF (DD-972), USS KANSAS CITY (AOR-3), USNS KILAUEA (T-AE-26), USS ENGLAND (CG-22), USS TOWERS (DDG-9), USS KIRK (FF-1087), USS KNOX (FF-1052), USS COCHRANE (DDG-21), and USS MIDWAY (CV-41) (center). (Photo via U.S. National Archives)

3 thoughts on “Vice Admiral Hank Mustin on the Politics of Naval Capability Development”

  1. A sailors sailor. Homeported in Athens Greece as Commodore of Desron 12 his philosophy was attack, attack, attack. +It was the squadron’s purpose to stop the big bad Russians from entering the Med from the Black Sea. The squadron continuously pratice divtacts for that purpose. We might stop them but sure as hell would slow them the hell down – The squadron was a mixed bag, two Forestt Shermans, Barry and Manaly, Page a pressure fired DE/FF, an Adam’s class DDG, and Vreeland the slowest of the bunch, 28 knots, 29 if someone was shooting at you. He was a hard task master, heavy into engineering readiness and someone who most of us would follow into hell. When making approach to a AO he would tell his Captains “No Greek garbage barge approaches” We need leadership and his thinking NOW – instead of this political WOK thinking of the gender neutral current Nay leadership.

  2. The same kind of obstructionism occured within the aviation community when the Hornet was introduced. The “Grumman mafia” in our air wing did everything it could to make the Hornet fail when I was CO of a VFA outfit. I imagine my constant messaging that the missile should be the pivot of fleet design is being resolutely opposed by the naval aviation community.

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