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Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday spoke with Richard Fontaine at the Center for a New American Security’s Special Event, “The Future of U.S. Naval Strategy,” Apr. 7. Fontaine is the Chief Executive Officer for the Center for a New American Security.
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Below is a transcript of the conversation:
RICHARD FONTAINE: Good morning and welcome, everyone, to this conversation on “The Future of U.S. Naval Strategy.” I’m Richard Fontaine, CEO of the Center for a New American Security. As the United States navigates this competitive global environment, there are few issues really that are more pressing than the enterprise for naval forces around the world. From South China Sea, to the Arctic, to other parts of the globe, U.S. naval strategy and the strategies of its competitors will help define the future of geopolitical power.
And so to discuss that strategy we’re really pleased to have with us today Admiral Mike Gilday. Admiral Gilday is the 32nd chief of naval operations, a position he took up in August 2019. He has commanded Carrier Strike Group Eight, U.S. Fleet Cyber Command, the U.S. 10th Fleet. He served as director of the Joint Staff, and has a number of other distinguished command and staff assignments.
So we would like to welcome Admiral Gilday to the Center for a New American Security. He’s got some opening thoughts that he’ll share for a few minutes with us, and then we’ll get the conversation going in earnest. Admiral Gilday, welcome and thanks for joining us this morning.
ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY: Richard, thanks for having me. And to all those tuning in, thank you for the opportunity to talk to you today and to engage a little bit in certainly what’s going on in the world, but also where the Navy’s going in the future. Most of my remarks today and my answers to your questions will largely be focused on implementation of my Navigation Plan. And so that really gets at force development and force design, and where we’re headed – where we’re headed as a Navy and our focus.
But to just step back for a second, last fall the commandant of the Marine Corps and the commandant of the Coast Guard and I signed a tri-service maritime strategy. And nested below that tri-service maritime strategy were the commandant’s planning guidance and my Nav Plan. That tri-service strategy really takes a look at how we employ naval forces or maritime – how we employ forces in the maritime domain across our three services, and then how we get at the complex problems of force development and force design together in the years ahead. And so we are lockstep, the three of us, in terms of integrating more soundly together, particularly in this decade which we see as a key timeframe for us, in order to – in order to not – in order to maintain advantages that we have against China in particular, and to close gaps in areas where we know we may be slipping behind.
My navigation plan really speaks to Navy leadership, and it directs Navy leadership to take a look across about 16 different discrete areas that I want to put focus on in this decade – key problems that we need to solve. And they fall in four broad areas of capacity, so fleet size, capability, sailors, and then readiness. And mention readiness last, but readiness tends to be – tends to be my primary area of focus because I believe that if we do have to fight tonight or if we do have to fight in 2025 that the force that we fight with may not meet all of our expectations, but they’re going to fall to the level at which we have trained and resourced them.
And so that constant focus on readiness and training is really important, particularly when you – when you think about the fact that the fleet that we have today of 298 ships, we will have 70 percent of that force a decade from now in 2030. So it’s really important that we take care of it. And from a practical standpoint, the Hill shouldn’t expect that we ask for more money and more ships if we can’t maintain the fleet that we have.
So with that, Richard, kind of setting the table, I’m happy to delve into any areas that the audience would like to go more deeply into.
MR. FONATINE: Great. Thanks, Admiral. And I’m going to kick it off with some questions of my own. And as folks in the audience have questions, if you want to put them in the Q&A box and we’ll take those up as we can. But let me actually start with this question of readiness and maybe give us a sense of the current readiness of the fleet and also the effect that COVID has or hasn’t had on readiness. How has that impacted things?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah, thanks. So we’ve been able over the past year – deep into COVID, deep into the pandemic – we’ve been able to maintain our mission profile of keeping about a third of the Navy at sea. That’s taken a lot of work in terms of ROM-ing crews, testing, changing behavior on ships including, of course, PPE, masks, social distancing, but also in terms of how people move about ships, right? In small groups or small cohorts. Typically, those people are going to be working on the same equipment together or standing watch together in the same space. Try to keep them together when they eat. We extended meal hours, of course. We transit forward and aft on a ship in different ways than we had before so that we maintain that difference.
What that’s yielded for us at this time is less than a quarter of one percent of the force being positive with respect to COVID. So that’s not only due to good guidance that we put out, I think, from our headquarters staff here. It really comes down to the individual behavior of sailors. And so if those directive aren’t followed, if people aren’t wearing their masks, if they’re not washing their hands, if they’re not cleaning up after themselves then we’re not going to be able to maintain that low rate of positivity and we’re not going to be able to get ships underway that are ready for anything.
And so that’s been a key – that’s been a big challenge for us over the past year. Consistently, I’d say, over the last eight or nine months we’ve been down at the 1 percent of the force being positive or well below that, as we are right now. Vaccinations, of course, are going to help. And right now about 35 percent of the force is vaccinated. As soon as we get those doses we are putting them into arms as quickly as we can. And that’ll get us to a better place.
It has affected – COVID has affected the industrial base, as you could imagine. It also has affected the supply chain. The silver lining there is I think a noticeable lack of opaqueness between industry and the services in terms of where we stand with not only new production lines – think F-35, think ships coming out of shipyards like DDGs – but also in the supply chain. And we’ve been able to focus on the brittleness, in some cases, of that chain that has been affected to the point where if we only have a single-source provider, for example, and if its – if that single source is out of the country it really can complicate things in a serial production kind of framework in terms of repairing a piece of equipment. It can put things to all stop.
So it’s really taken a look at – forced us to take a look at working with industry as where can we find alternative parts, where can we fix things faster instead of buying new. And so it has changed that – it has changed our behavior. But I think, as I said, trying to look for the silver lining here in terms of what’s making us better. I’ll pause there for any follow-ons, Richard.
MR. FONTAINE: Well, just on this question of vaccines. So is there an issue of vaccine hesitancy? You know, sailors – I mean, all of those things that you talked about, the masks, the hand washing, all the things, you know, changing what you do, it’s almost like if you could imagine there was just one shot that people could take that would make those things less necessary – and in fact, of course, there is – but it’s not mandatory. There’s a call from some lawmakers for the commander in chief to make it mandatory. There are a lot of jabs that are mandatory for sailors and Marines. Do you have a problem with vaccine hesitancy in the Navy? And is it a good idea to make vaccines mandatory?
ADM. GILDAY: So with respect to the hesitancy, yes, that is concerning. Because I’d like to get – I’d like to get every ship underway with 100 percent immunized crews. In some cases, we’re up at 97-98 percent. We found that instead of bringing the crew to the vaccine if we bring the vaccine to the crew, and we line the crew up, let’s say – let’s say together at the ship, or at the submarine, at the aviation squadron, as they stand there and as they – as they talk amongst themselves there’s a bit of peer pressure there that tends to bend things in a positive direction in terms of people saying, yeah, OK, if you’re going to get it, I’m going to get it. We’re in this as a team. Again, it is voluntary at this point so we can’t pressure anybody to take it.
In terms of incentivizing, as we understand the effectiveness of the vaccine better, I think we’ll begin to see a loosening up of restrictions. Again, this has to be balanced against a potential ’nother surge here in the country, right? So really our safest speed is slow here in terms of taking this a day at a time, a week at a time. Taking a look at our immunization rates. Taking a look at the ongoing studies that are trying to determine whether or not immunization affects your ability to transmit COVID, which is still an unknown. And so we’re just stepping through it a day at a time right now, Richard.
I would like to get to the point, based on science, if I could incentivize a little bit more – say, if I could open up places on a base to people that were immunized in a way that would give them a little bit more freedom and make it a little bit more attractive to get the vaccine – I certainly want to step in that direction. But again, we’re in – since we had the problem on Theodore Roosevelt over a year ago, we’ve been on a daily basis in contact with not only the CDC but public health officials in every single location where we have a base to understand – to understand the nature of the – the nature of the virus day to day.
MR. FONTAINE: Great. And let me just switch gears a little bit. You mentioned the four priorities in your Nav Plan – readiness, capabilities, capacity, and sailors. And, you know, there’s obviously always going to be tradeoffs among current operations and investing in more capabilities for the future and capacity. If we have a flat or even declining defense budget how are you thinking about the allocating resources among those various priorities?
ADM. GILDAY: So what the Nav Plan, I hope, is going to help us do is understand better what those priorities are. So in the Nav Plan what I made clear is that the Navy exists – the functions that the joint force needs from the Navy are sea control and power projection. And some might consider that trite, you know, or not worth – not worth repeating – same old same old. But there have been occasions in the past where when you lose sight of those ends – you know, what your main – what your main thing is – you can get off track and you can put money against – you can put precious resources against big programs that don’t advance the Navy, or any service, with respect to those – with respect to those ends.
And so, first of all, I wanted everyone to be cited on the fact that the things that we’re going to spend our money on are going to make us more lethal and more effective with respect to sea control and power projection. And that also goes hand in glove with the Distributed Maritime Operations Concept and how that fits into the broader joint warfighting concept that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs is working on with his staff, and I would expect the secretary of defense to ultimately endorse. And so those 16 areas that I talked about really receive our highest priority. We assembled virtually all of our flag officers in the Navy two weeks ago to talk about the implementation of the Nav Plan.
And so, as an example, over the past year and a half we’ve had great success with a framework that we called Perform to Plan. And what that’s helped us to do with respect to Super Hornets is to get readiness – is to get mission capable rates up from 50 percent, where they’ve been a decade, to a sustained 80 percent – but to do that without lathering it with money, but rather to take a look at what is the output. The output that we’re seeking is 80 percent mission capable rate. What are those key activities at our depots and our maintenance facilities that we need to leverage in order to get us to 80 percent? What barriers do we have to remove in order to help get us to 80 percent? Who’s ultimately identifying who’s ultimately responsible for achieving the 80 percent?
And who is responsible for supporting in their discrete requirements in that enterprise to help achieve a goal has been a framework that we have now transferred to public shipyards, in driving down delay days in public shipyards. My first year in the job my goal was to drive down those delay days by 80 percent. And so when I came into the job, as an example, in public shipyards we were only getting 30 to 35 percent of our ships out of maintenance on time 35 percent of the time. That’s unacceptable. And so using this same kind of process that we used with Super Hornets, we’re transferring that to public yard shipyard maintenance, private yard shipyard maintenance, challenges that we have in the manpower area in terms of manning the fleet at 100 percent.
And so we’re trying to take that same framework and apply it to each of those problem sets within the Nav Plan. We believe in many of those cases we are following industry best standards. That’s what we learned from our journey in naval aviation with Super Hornets. I hope that’s helpful, Richard, in answering your question.
MR. FONTAINE: Yeah, it is. No, thank you.
Let me pick up a question that’s come in from the audience. And here’s Demetri Sevastopulo from the Financial Times with a typically direct question for you: Do you share the concern with some of your colleagues that China could try to seize Taiwan within six years?
ADM. GILDAY: I don’t think that we should ignore that possibility. Admiral Davidson was pretty adamant in his testimony when he talked about that. And so what I think about – what I think about with respect to the investments we’re making today, with respect to the concept development that we’re doing with the Marine Corps in particular, is developing the fleet that we need to win in 2025.
Having a fleet – having a fleet ready to win tonight is important. Looking out to 2025, 2030, 2045, and taking a look at our investment streams, again, are going to drive us towards a Navy that can provide sea control and power projection, are critically important. And I can talk about, you know, some of those – some of those attributes that we’re actually trying to provide the fleet and are providing the fleet, but it gets us to a bigger, better, more capable Navy in five to 10 years.
MR. FONTAINE: Let me pick up on that and ask you about the 30-year shipbuilding plan that the Trump administration released in December. So this is around a 500-ship Navy by 2045. Not just expand the size of the fleet but also shift the composition, emphasize smaller surface vehicles, unmanned ships, increased survivability, and lethality. Some people are saying the plan’s unaffordable. Secretary Esper said, well, maybe not enough changes necessary to compete with China. Other folks say, well, the Biden administration’s going to come in and change it anyway. So what do you – what’s the current status of the thinking behind that plan, and how do you – how do you see that plan today in terms of the kind of challenges that the Navy has going forward?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah, thanks. So I’d just say initially that if we take a look at the studies that have been done, if we go back to five years before the NDS and then the studies that have been done since the NDS, they’ve all consistently pointed at one thing: We need a bigger, more capable Navy. That over the past two decades we have tended not to put strategic investments behind the fleet like we probably should have. And so we find ourselves in a position where we’re falling behind.
But it’s easy to get seduced by the numbers, and we shouldn’t. What we really need to be focused on is capabilities, and particularly what capabilities the Navy can close for the joint force. And so that has led a – the shipbuilding plan, which was based off the Future Naval Force Structure study, was really focused on operationally relevant metrics, right? Things like lethality, survivability, operational reach. Those things are going to – they’re going to – they’re going to allow the Navy to synergistically be much more effective within the joint force.
But also to factor in – you know, to keep it real with respect to things that you can’t ignore, which are things like total ownership cost, maintenance cost, technical risk of new programs versus operational risk in the transition of sundowning legacy programs, thinking about industrial base capacity and what the art of the possible is or is not with respect to certain platforms. So in the end, Richard, what we become more focused on with respect to the analysis that we’ve done is the composition of the fleet, right, with respect to capabilities that then translates into platforms. And what the FNFS did – the Future Naval Force Structure study did, is it allowed us to think about what that – what composition makes us most effective in those areas that I mentioned over the long term?
So you see a heavy emphasis on undersea, as an example. You see more emphasis on smaller ships because we’re going to flight in a distributed manner rather than larger ships. You see an emphasis on capabilities like hypersonics, from an offensive perspective. Capabilities like directed energy, lasers, from a – from a fleet survivability focus. And emphasis on logistic ships because we need a sustained and distributed force. And so that is – I think that analysis is sound. My take on the current discussions inside the Pentagon with OSD, as we – as we close on the ’22 budget we are grounding decisions on that analysis that was done last year under Secretary Esper.
I will say this, that that analysis is not static. And so we have ongoing experiments, fleet battle problems, exercises, war games, and analysis that further updates that Future Naval Force study assessment that was done – that finished in the summer of ’20. And so we shouldn’t look at that as a static document. In another month – actually this month, in a few weeks, we’re going to do a big unmanned exercise off of California that’s going to further inform our understanding of where we need to go – where we need to go with unmanned. Particularly the capabilities and then eventually the numbers.
I hope that’s helpful, Richard.
MR. FONTAINE: Yeah. Can I just pick up on one aspect of this, and that’s on the future carrier airwing? How are you thinking about that, and particularly in the mixed of manned and unmanned aircraft?
ADM. GILDAY: I’ll say upfront that – so if I go back to what do we need to win in 2025, right? Among the changes that you’re going to see is the doubling of F-35s out there in the fleet. And so a doubling of – from where we are today. And so we begin to get to that 50-50 fourth and fifth generation mix, right, using those capabilities together with a wing, with weapons with more range and greater speed, that put us in a much better position of advantage if we have to get into a fight with a near-peer adversary.
With respect to manned and unmanned, you know, recently Admiral Kilby, our deputy CNO for integration, he spoke to the fact that we will – we will go from a 40 percent – from a 40/60 mix of unmanned and manned eventually to a 60/40 mix of unmanned and manned into the 2030s. We’re making good progress right now with the MQ-25, the Stingray, which was originally designed as a refueling platform, that will have the capacity to put other payloads on it. And we’re operating that off of carriers now. We’ll go IOC on that particular platform in a few years. And that is – using that – using the MQ-25 in conjunction with current airwings and F-35s is giving us a better understanding of what that manned-unmanned teaming is going to look like.
So as an example, you could think about a flight or division of four ships in the air, right? And one of those is going to be manned and three are going to be unmanned, as an example, right? And that’s how we would operate and fight. But it’s going to take us some time to get to the point where conceptually we’re comfortable with operating in that fashion. So this is an iterative approach. We do have a sense of urgency but we’re also trying to be very deliberate, because what we don’t want to do is make rash decisions on buying things in great numbers that aren’t necessarily going to serve us well, you know, a decade or more from now when we – when we have them in greater quantities.
MR. FONTAINE: Great. Let me pick up on another question from the audience. This one is asking how the various programs of the Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Army are coordinated vis-à-vis China, as it appears each service is going its own way? So and then there’s – well, there’s another question about coordination, but maybe I’ll pitch that one to you first. (Laughs.)
ADM. GILDAY: So there are tough discussions ongoing at Pentagon in terms of – in terms of what we’re going to spend our money on. And as I said earlier, for the Navy I’m really focused on what I need to – what I need to bring to bear not just for the sake of the Navy but really for the joint force. The real question is how am I contributing to the joint fight? Not how am I, how is the United States Navy contributing to the joint fight? We very rarely operate, you know, alone anymore. Nearly everything we does – anything we do has some type of joint – other joint component involved. And so I can’t just think, you know, narrowly or stovepipe fashion with respect to the Navy.
And the other services are the same way. And I think to really answer the question, particularly as the Joint Warfighting Concept becomes more mature, I think that then becomes part of the yardstick in terms of – in terms of what we’re investing in against a near-peer like China. I also think that the assessments that we’re doing now, led by the Joint Staff and CAPE – OSD CAPE, the Joint Net Military Assessment gives us a much better understanding across a range of warfighting areas where our gaps and seams are with our major competitors.
We’ve not done an assessment like that in decades, right? It wasn’t until we finally had the Chinese breathing down our neck that we stepped back and said, hey, look, the way that we’ve done things in the past, which is kind of the core of the question – gets to the static, you know, one-third, one-third, one-third split across the services – is that it’s going to have to change. It is changing. It has changed under the last administration, and I think will continue to evolve and change under this one.
MR. FONTAINE: There’s another question about coordination here. This is from Tony Capaccio. The INDOPACOM commander – so I think we’re talking about Admiral Davidson here – said he’d like to install post-INF range ground-based weapons in the region. So we’re talking intermediate range ground-based missiles, presumably that can hold decisive risk in and around China. What type of coordination with the Navy would that require?
ADM. GILDAY: A lot. (Laughter.) A lot. And so we wouldn’t want to do anything singularly with any service, right? And so anything that we do, particularly looking at China. China – that’s a global problem set for us. Russia’s a global problem set for us. And so it has to go – those problem sets need to be looked at transregionally and also all-domain. And so we can’t just get cited on a – I’m not being critical of anything that – anything in the Pacific Defense Initiative or anything that was said in testimony. I’m just saying that the way that we need to look at these problem sets is much more holistically, right, so that we come up with a solution set that isn’t a single – there’s no single gold ticket, if you will, that’s going to solve all of our problems.
Again, it does – I think you have to go back to take a look at where are the gaps that we have and how best do we close them across the joint force? And so we have to consider things like maneuverability, survivability, placement, right? The Global Posture Review that’s currently going on, led by OSD directed by the secretary of defense, will get at some of that, right? Will get at bases and places in the Indo-Pacific AOR, as an example. It’ll get at the posture of the joint force not only in the Indo-Pacific but across all – across the globe, so that we have a better understanding of how we’re going to use that force, supported by those bases and places, to compete and potentially put us in a position to beat our adversaries, if we ever get to that – if we’re ever placed in that position.
MR. FONTAINE: You mentioned, you know, an important point that I think sometimes gets lost at the sort of strategic-level discussions, which is this transregional aspect to the China problem. It’s quite obviously why we would be focused, first and foremost, on the Indo-Pacific. But some of our allies, in Australia, for example, have begun to talk at a strategic level not about regional balancing but global balancing, and things like that. So from a naval perspective – a Navy perspective, what – outside the Indo-Pacific what does the China challenge look like and how do you deal with it outside – in other AORs or in other domains?
ADM. GILDAY: So let me give you an example. A year or so ago we deployed a hospital ship down to the SOUTHCOM AOR that Admiral Faller used for about five months. And so that ship did dozens of port visits and provided medical care to tens of thousands of people down in South America. But many of those people were refugees from Venezuela, OK? And so that is providing care for people that they will never forget. We changed lives. We gave – you know, children now have eyeglasses. They couldn’t read before. And so it’s remarkable some of the things that those doctors and those medical personnel did. Some 2,000 surgeries, I think 60,000 patients were seen over the course of that deployment.
At the same time, China deployed their hospital ship, the Peace Ark, to the same region. Their care was primarily focused on Venezuelan elites. And so that’s the competition space and an example of how you can use naval forces in a way, non-kinetic, no guns involved, you know, no brandishing of weapons. You know, the Russians and the Chinese are extending a fist and we’re extending a hand. That’s an AOR where you can make a big different in terms of bringing that kind of capability forward.
I think that if you take a look at what happened in the Suez a couple weeks ago, right, that’s a – that should get everybody’s attention on the – in terms of how fragile those chokepoints can be. And so when the Suez – or the Strait of Hormuz would be another example. The Bab al-Mandab would be another, where particularly for global commodities like oil it can have a significant effect for all of us, right? And so maintaining a presence in those areas, making sure that no single country feels that they can have control over those international waterways is really important.
And so our day-to-day operations with likeminded navies, likeminded partners and allies is critically important. I think it directly supports what the president has said publicly and has written in his interim national security guidance. And it’s part and parcel of what the Navy does every day anyway. I think that, you know, when you take a look across the dime, the Navy – the Navy not only plays in the military lane, but also historically in a diplomatic lane and in the economic lane.
MR. FONTAINE: Did the Suez blockage change your thinking or Navy thinking? Or is this more of a we told you this stuff’s important, for all of those who haven’t been reading about the consequences of blockage of critical chokepoints in the front pages of their newspaper?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. So, you know, people take security for granted. And people expect that the United States be secure. And we owe them – we owe them that – we owe them that security. I thought that Naval Forces Europe sent out a really powerful tweet this past Christmas. And it had a photo of ships on the left-hand side and a Christmas tree with presents under it on the right-hand side. And the banner beneath said: You can’t have presents – Christmas presents – without naval presence. And so I thought that was – (laughs) – at least for me, that was powerful. Probably most people don’t – most of my fellow citizens don’t appreciate it, but this is what we’re supposed to do.
And again, I go back to, for the leadership of the Navy in terms of what we invest in, why does the nation need us? They need us for sea control and power projection. That’s why we exist, to keep – to keep any potential foes away from the United States. We need to be forward. We need to be present, to be relevant, and to provide that security and that sense of security. And so it does come down to the main thing for us on a day-to-day basis.
MR. FONTAINE: I guess a sign of the times too when the chief of naval operations can refer to a really powerful tweet. (Laughter.) Tell STRATCOM to kind of keep its hands off the – some of the keys on the keyboard. That’s just a joke.
ADM. GILDAY: It’s powerful. It sure is powerful, isn’t it?
MR. FONTAINE: Let me go to another question. This is from Chadd Montgomery with Senator Sasse: How are the Navy and Marine Corps cooperating to ensure that Marine Corps anti-ship/air defense systems can be employed from the Navy ships transporting them?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. So we are working very closely together. So the expeditionary advanced basing concept, we are practicing that all the time. In fact, I went out to visit I MEF out at Camp Pendleton last month. And I met not only with that – not only with the I MEF commander but with the Third Fleet commander out there, because our staffs were working hand in glove on problems just like that. I’m going to meet with the Seventh Fleet commander today. And he is working together, and operating together, and exercising together with the III MEF commander on a monthly basis as well. And their staffs are, again, connected. We’re seeing the same thing in Norfolk, Virginia. We’re seeing the same thing in Europe. And so nearly every meeting that I go to has a Marine Corps general in the room here in the Pentagon.
And so we are trying to integrate not only in terms of how we operate, but in terms of how we invest. The fleet battle problems that we do with all of our ARGs – all of our deploying ARGs and all of our deploying carrier strike groups really take a look at elements of distributed maritime operations and EABO for the Marine Corps, which those are – those are – those concepts need to be exercised hand in glove. And so we’re exercising elements of that on a monthly basis as we move – as we move carrier strike groups and amphibious ready groups back and forth around the world.
To that point about EABs, that’s a concept that, you know, early in development here, but that we are continuing to put focus on in a way that exercises it, I don’t want to say continuously, but on a frequent basis we are learning from and revisiting challenges associated with how we’re going to employ advanced expeditionary bases in support of sea denial and sea control.
MR. FONTAINE: Could you talk for a minute more about the distributed maritime operations, particularly from the technology perspective. What technologies are necessary to make this a reality? And then also from the architecture point of view? So, you know, each of the services is – wants to connect all of the sensors and shooters together. But each has its own network architecture and communications systems. So are those going to plug into each other? Kind how does – how is that going to work?
ADM. GILDAY: So I’ll say first that all the service chiefs are meeting this week to talk about JADC2 and to make sure that we understand at our level what each service is doing to contribute to the overall architecture. For the Navy, I put a two-star in charge of a taskforce called Overmatch. And that project is being run out of San Diego, largely by a very robust group of technically savvy civilians who have great connections with industry. What I’m trying to do, Richard, is – what they’re trying to do is take the networks that exist in the Navy and allow us to transfer data – any data on any network to give us much more agility.
So if you think about how we operate on a single – in a single network, right, typically we do frequency hopping in order to keep, you know, any kind of adversary off guard with respect to what portion of the spectrum is actually used in the transfer of data. I refer to this as network hopping. And so what network can I use, right, that might be – might have a low probability or detection or a low probability of intercept, to pass critical data at a critical time? What has to be all software controlled. It’s like your iPhone, where right now you’re connected to a 4 or 5G network, and you’re also connected to the wi-fi in your home or your office. The software in the phone is making a determination of what network to use to push that data. The phone is using micro-processing with respect to the apps to give you the information that you need when you need it.
And so with the Navy’s network of networks kind of construct, there are four big areas that we’re focused on. One of them is the infrastructure. And that’s largely software, to be – to be honest with you – and to use industry best practices for bringing new software or patching existing software within hours rather than weeks. So it’s testing in a containerized fashion to make sure it’s not going to have an adverse effect on other operating systems and deploying that software quickly. So that’s the infrastructure piece.
The networks piece is the second part – and I kind of alluded to that with a network of networks approach – with some hardware that allows us – that allows the system of systems to make a determination of what path you’re going to choose to send the data. The third bucket is the data itself and standardizing that data, to some extent containerizing it in a way that it can travel on any network and be readable at the other end – at the far end. And then the last are battle management applications. They’re the applications that you need to bring this all to life, right? It’s useless unless you can use that data on demand at a time and place where it’s going to make a difference.
The reason why this is so important is, first of all, we need to maintain decision advantage over the adversary. There’s an awful lot of information out there. John Boyd talked about an OODA, right? Observe, orient, decide, and act. That second part, the orient piece, that’s a really important part of OODA to take advantage of all the information that’s out there to put you in a decision – to put you in a position of advantage to decide and to act faster than the adversary.
With respect to JADC2 and what we’re trying to do in the Navy operational architecture, there’s a – there’s a lethality element of this where we can pass targeting data very quickly across any net, from sensor to shooter, that may be disassociated. That is to say, that typically in the past the sensor and the shooter were co-located. Now we’re moving away from that construct to a disaggregated construct. But that’s just – the lethality piece is just a part of it. I think the information advantage piece is the real power of JADC2 in terms of where we want to go.
I know that was a rant and a bit of a mouthful, Richard. I’m happy to take any deeper questions on it.
MR. FONTAINE: Yeah. So there’s one actually – a more specific question from Mallory Shelborne with USNI News about the battle management aid that was recently fielded on the Carl Vinson, helping the Navy create a tactical data network it can use across the fleet’s platforms and systems. And I think the question is how’s that going? Is that working? Can you give us an update on that kind of specifically?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. So what Overmatch is trying to do this year is four big spirals, so four big tests that allow us to bring more network – to bring more networks into that network of network construct, right? So that’s testing more data on more networks and introducing more battle management aids to make – to make the end user in a position where they can see the battlespace better, they can make decisions faster, to put them in a position of advantage where we haven’t before, where they’ve had to search for data on disparate systems that weren’t integrated.
And so the applications that we’re applying now are much like the applications on your phone. They just – you know, when you go to your Amazon app and you type in, you know, tennis shoes, it pulls in information from hundreds if not thousands of websites, and puts it all in the same format so it’s easily readable and you can make a decision very quickly. That’s where we need to be tactically and operationally as well.
And I’d just say, as we move to a hybrid fleet – on the sea, under the sea, and in the air – in order to move the terabytes of data that we’re going to have to move in order to command and control those platforms, we need to think differently about command and control. This naval operational architecture’s absolutely critical in that regard with respect to moving data at the right time to the right people or platforms.
MR. FONTAINE: Great. Let me go to another question that’s come in. This is from John S. Lewis. How effective are defensive countermeasures against Chinese and Iranian surface-to-surface cruise missiles? And then the second part of this question, or really second question will be pretty familiar to you: Aren’t our carriers particularly vulnerable?
ADM. GILDAY: So on the – so let me speak to that more broadly in terms of where we’re going. We’ve always had a defense in depth approach to defending the fleet. Where we’re going with this and where we’re pouring a lot of R&D money and actually experimenting on ships right now is with laser technology. And so if you take – you don’t want to make any investments without taking a look at what your competitors are doing, right? And so our primary competitor, China, is putting a lot of money into space and they’re putting a lot of money into missile systems. So they want to be able to find you, target you, and then put a missile on you.
And so we can defend ourselves with a lot of very expensive, exquisite missiles which is, quite frankly, unaffordable. Where I want to go, and what’s definitely achievable, is a move towards laser technology. When you take a look at the Ford-class carriers, specifically to the last part of your question, they generate three times the electrical power that the Nimitz-class did. And so they have the capacity for laser technology. The same with the Zumwalt. And I would argue that the same with unmanned.
We can look at unmanned platforms, and those unmanned are going to work together with manned – think of the surface action group and they have a couple of manned ships and it may have a number of unmanned platforms with a bunch of different capabilities. One of those capabilities could be laser technology to defend ourselves. Today, right now, I’m confident that we can defend the fleet. In the future this is a missile race. And just as it has been over time, over the span of warfare over centuries if not thousands of years, we’ve seen weapons or implements of destruction being developed that have longer range and that have faster speed. That’s not going to stop. And so we’re trying to stay ahead of that with things like laser technology.
I do think that carriers are survivable today. There is no more survivable airfield in the world than a carrier. So if I look out my window and I take a look at Reagan National Airport, it’s going to be in the same place tomorrow morning. But if that were an aircraft carrier it could be off of Miami, it could be off of Newfoundland, and if it could go west it’d be west of the Mississippi and Missouri. And so you can’t move airfields like you move an aircraft carrier.
And don’t just think of survivability with respect to what that carrier’s carrying on it to defend itself or what the carrier strike group’s carrying. Remember we’re using all domains now, right? So we’re leveraging space, we’re leveraging cyber. We exercise to that. We practice to it frequently. We feel like our force is pretty survivable now. But, again, not taking anything for granted. Laser technology is our future.
MR. FONATINE: OK. And let’s go back first to the people side for a moment. And Secretary Austin has made it a priority to eliminate extremism in the ranks. He and Secretary Hicks have talked about inclusivity and diversity in the ranks, and the importance – and of course, they’re not the first to do that. Maybe you can give us a sense of where you’re thinking and where the Navy is headed on both diversity in the ranks at all levels, and then extremism. Is there an extremism problem in the Navy?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. So let me talk about that broadly. I will get to the extremism piece. So after the tragic death of George Floyd we stood up Taskforce One Navy to take a look at what institutional barriers are in place that are a problem for us with respect to systemic discrimination. And so the way we got insights into barriers was talking to the fleet. We did hundreds and hundreds of listening sessions with sailors at all pay grades – sailors and officers at all pay grades.
And we got some really good recommendations that help us think about how we break down barriers with respect to recruiting and admitting candidates into the Navy, how we promote, advance, and manage talent during their careers in the Navy. Barriers that we had in place that we just couldn’t even see that were right in front of our eyes. And then, you know, how we promote and retain them as they get more senior was a third area that we took a deep look at.
There were some 60 recommendations that came out of that work that we are in the implementation phase right now. We had some really good discussions as a result of the direction from the secretary to have a stand down on extremism. And the real power of those stand downs are in the listening sessions with sailors. And we are compiling our observations from across the Navy. And I owe those to the secretary of defense, and I know that he wants to speak to those more broadly. So I don’t want to – I don’t want to get in front of him on that.
But I will give you a couple of big observations that I was really pleased with. One was the widespread anger and disgust at recent incidents that have happened across our country and within our Navy. And so that gave me the sense that the preponderance of our sailors out there do not accept this kind of behavior. And the second was just the disproportionate impact that a small group can have that can stain the reputation of a service, or really cause a big problem for the country. It’s a very small – it’s a very small minority that are causing these problems. But nonetheless, we can’t just ignore that.
And so within the Department of Defense and the Navy we’re taking a look at how do we identify these people within our legal means before they enter the service, so that we can just simply say: No, we don’t want you in our group? Secondly, in the far end, at the end of somebody’s career – as we saw with the events at the Capitol on 6th of January there were some prior military involved. So we now believe that as people leave the service that they are being actively recruited.
So I think we owe it to the force, we owe it to the country, to make sailors aware – sailors, soldiers, airmen, Marines aware that they are going to be actively recruited. And that those are not – in general, those are not groups that they want to be associated with. They’re counter to the values that we have in the Navy and across the military.
What I think in terms of long-term solution here, it’s not a program that you can put money against. It really comes down to individual responsibility. And I talked earlier about the behavior of sailors out there with respect to COVID, right? Following the rules, not only holding themselves accountable but holding the sailor to their left and to their right accountable as well. And it’s going to be the same thing here with the extremism and the racism piece, right? We just can’t accept it in the service. It’s just not part of who we are. It’s not part of – it’s not part of the attributes that we aspire to uphold from each and every one of us.
And so I don’t mean to get too dramatic, but that’s really – that’s the secret of success, the magic sauce is at an individual level. To have people standing up and being leaders, no matter your pay grade, and taking responsibility for your own actions, owning it when you did make a mistake, when you did something bad. Owning it, and then you’ll be held accountable, but also holding others accountable as well. Same thing I would say with sexual assault. Similarly, that approach is right down to the deck plates at the individual level.
I hope I – I hope I scratched the itch on that one, Richard.
MR. FONTAINE: Yeah. Yeah, you did. I just wanted to ask – you mentioned in the first part of your response about the barriers that you identified, some of – to advancement, and so forth – some of which the Navy may not have been fully aware of. And I know you said that you want to not get ahead of any recommendations you make to the secretary, but can you give us maybe a sense of a little bit of what those barriers are and how they might be addressed?
ADM. GILDAY: Sure, I’ll give you a couple. And so the aptitude test that we give all sailors, it’s in English. Should it be in English? If somebody – you know, maybe everybody has to have a command of the English language to serve in the U.S. military. But some people might do better in a written exam like that if it’s in Spanish. And so why not offer that to get a better sense of what their – what their attributes are, what their aptitude is, so that we place them in an optimum career path in the Navy that turns it into a win-win for them and for the institution?
Another example might be the requirements that we have for SAT scores for those candidates that want to go into an ROTC program, right? So our average ROTC scores are 1450, all right? If a minority candidate scores a 1450 on SATs, as an example, it’s a competitive environment. They’re going to be recruited by some of the best colleges in the country. And so then there’s the Navy, or the Army. And so should we take a look at a more balanced approach with respect to how we look at those – how we look at – how we look attracting those candidates to the Navy? Is SATs – is that – is that – do we place too much weight on a standardized test, as an example?
And so there’s a couple of examples. There’s more context behind that, Richard. But it gives you a sense of the things that, you know, we didn’t set a high standard, you know, to – we were trying to set a high standard in order to attract the very best. But it’s not the single metric that determines what the best really is, right? And so we didn’t intentionally do that to limit minorities, but over time that’s what happened. And if you take a look at the officers – if you take a look at the enlisted forces versus the officer force, we have a much – we have a much – our enlisted force really does reflect America. We need to do better in the officer side, and certainly within the flag ranks.
MR. FONTAINE: No that’s helpful. Thanks.
Just to switch gears to another question from the audience here in our couple remaining minutes is – there’s one on Arctic security, control of the Bering Strait, how does Arctic security relate to control of the Indo-Pacific? Obviously, this is an increasingly important issue every year as there’s more water – (laughs) – up there. So how is the Navy tackling that phenomenon?
ADM. GILDAY: So we’re an Arctic nation. And we have to compete up there. Other nations are competing. We see at an increasing rate China and Russia in particular. I said this in a forum a few days ago, but a few years ago our operations in and around the Arctic Circle were rare. The Harry S. Truman did a deployment up there a few years ago in 2018. We heralded that as the first flight ops above the Arctic Circle, you know, since the late 1980s. But I would tell you that it’s no longer rare.
In the past year we’ve had some 20 operations and exercises in the high north and above the Arctic Circle. We’re doing some of that by ourselves, but we’re doing most of it with allies and partners, either bilaterally or multilaterally. We’re about to do an exercise up in – under NORTHCOM up here off of Alaska in the coming weeks. And so we are operating in the high north much more frequently than we have in the past.
There are three different combatant commanders that border the Arctic. So you have U.S. Northern Command, Indo-Pacific Command, and we also have U.S. European Command. And so within the – as the Joint Staff makes recommendations to the secretary on how we ought to posture the globe, the Arctic certainly has to factor in. And I think that the Global Posture Review that the secretary – that the secretary has instituted and is ongoing right now I think will give us – I think will take the Arctic into account. How we want to operate up there probably more frequently as a joint force, and how we may have to change the distribution of forces in order to do that.
And so I would say more to follow. I’m not trying to be evasive on that, but I think more to follow as a result of that – as a result of that assessment that gives us – that sharpens our view and insights into how we ought to operate globally across those problem sets that are identified in the events strategy.
MR. FONTAINE: Well, we’re just about at time, and we got to let you get back to the people’s work, and everyone else as well, but maybe I can just put you on the spot as a final question. Are there any particular conundrums that – knotty problems that have yet to be worked out? You’ve given us a lot of answers, but – and to this interrogation – but are there things that are – that are still challenges that the sort of strategic class, I guess you could say, of people thinking about national security should be particularly focused on as the Navy moves forward with this evolving set of challenges, and all of the issues that you raised in the Nav Plan?
ADM. GILDAY: I think I’m a real optimist with respect to the National Defense Strategy. And I really thought in 2018 how important that strategy was because it really – it really – first of all, it laid out priorities, which should help inform not only how we employ the force but also our investment strategy, right, and where to compete and win in the future. I do think that most recently we’re having a lot of debate about the employment of the force. And being able to get that right with respect to the strategy, and balancing current readiness and future readiness. Future readiness would be the – would be the – would be the modernization of the force.
And so I think we have to – we have to think more carefully about how we employ the force, where we employ the force, and in what numbers, right? So it gets back to Secretary Mattis’ intent to be operationally unpredictable. In the example of the Navy, to use the Navy’s mobility to our advantage across different AORs. I get back to a global approach or a transregional approach to those problem sets. I just think that there’s so much more to talk about there. I think the Global Posture Review – I’m very optimistic – is going to help us think more clearly about how we operate as the strategy intended against those – against those top priorities in a way that puts us in a better position to compete and then, if we have to, fight and win.
MR. FONTAINE: Great. Well, that is helpful on the end of those who, you know, try to think about some of these things. At CNAS we’re doing work across some of these issues. So watch this space. We look forward to being in touch on those things.
But, Admiral Gilday, thank you for your time today and for sharing your thoughts with us. We really appreciate it. Some of the supporting documents, we should say for folks in the audience if they’re curious, are out there – the Nav Plan and other things that have been issued over the past few months. And thanks to everybody for joining us in the audience for the questions today. And, Admiral, once again, thanks to you for being with us.
ADM. GILDAY: Richard, thanks. I really appreciate it. And thanks for what your organization is doing. It’s important work.
MR. FONTAINE: Great. Thank you. Have a good day, everybody. And we’ll see you next time.
ADM. GILDAY: Thank you.
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