Press Conference with CNO, Senator Susan Collins, and Senator Angus King at Bath Iron Works Shipyard

by Chief of Naval Operations
12 May 2021
Press Conference with Admiral Michael M. Gilday, Senator Susan Collins, and Senator Angus King at Bath Iron Works Shipyard. Speakers: Admiral Michael M. Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations; Senator Susan Collins (R-ME); Senator Angus King (I-ME). Location: Bath Iron Works Shipyard, Bath, Maine. Date: Monday, May 10, 2021

ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY:  (In progress) – so patriotic and so committed to delivering warships on time to the United States Navy.  And I have to tell you, as a sailor who’s commanded a Bath-built ship and has sailed on another, they are quite a capable warship.  The quality couldn’t be better from any other shipyard in the world, as I would compare it to Bath.

I’m so proud to be here today, but even prouder still to get to meet the folks who work on the deck plates every single day.  Always out of the limelight, but they should be exceptionally proud of what they do for this country.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

SENATOR SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME):  First, let me thank the chief of naval operations for spending so many hours here today.  We toured the fabrication and outfitting facilities.  We visited the academy, which is training new employees.  We went to the land level facility.  And of course, we’ve had the great privilege of touring this magnificent ship.  It’s a great honor that the admiral has taken the time to be with us today and has encouraged everyone he met with to keep up the good work. 

As we toured today, the word that kept coming to my mind was “teamwork.”  We saw an unprecedented cooperation between the management and the workers at BIW.  They are working hand-in-glove to build the best ships in the world.  I’m very proud of what they’re doing.

As a member of both the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, I’m also well aware of how important our naval team is.  We have a goal in law of building 350 ships.  Right now, we’re at about 296.  The Chinese are closer to our goal than we are.  So it is so important that we have an adequate budget so that we can continue ensuring that we have the best naval fleet in the world.  And as long as we are building naval ships, there’s no one who builds them better than the dedicated, skilled, and talented workers at BIW.  It is such an honor to represent them.

Thank you.  (Applause.)

SENATOR ANGUS KING (I-ME):  I agree with Susan.  The first word is “teamwork.”  But the second two words that I thought of today as we went through the yard was “pride” and “excitement.”

I’ve seen a mood here in the last several visits that’s unlike any other I have experienced since I’ve been here.  There’s a new spirit of cooperation between the unions and the management.  And they’re all focused on one goal, which is meeting schedules and meeting budgets.  There’s been significant improvements in schedule – meeting schedules over the last several months.  And it was really great to see the people – young people and people who have been here for 30 and 40 years who are fired up about what they’re doing – who are fired up about the future of the shipyard and serving the Navy, meeting the Navy’s needs.

I was once visiting a national security facility which had a big map on the wall of the whole world.  And it was one of – it was a screen, so it was illuminated, and it had on it all of the assets that our country has around the world.  The most common dot on that map were DDGs.  They are the workhorse of the Navy and they are part of the projection of this country’s interest across the globe.

And I think it’s important to remember that we build these ships so that they will never have to be used.  The purpose is to deter adversaries and for them to know of what they will be facing if they attack this country.  And that’s what these ships are all about.  They’re part of deterrence and they’re part of the long-term strategy of defending this country from adversaries around the world.

I’m proud to be from this community and to have so many shipbuilders.  As I went around today, people said, oh yeah, you’re over a couple of blocks from me in Brunswick or our kids play together in high school sports.  This is a community.  Maine is a community and this shipyard is a community.  It’s performing, I believe, as well as it ever has.

I’m so proud to represent the men and women of this yard.  And I’m so proud to work with a Navy that is moving into the 21st century in a very aggressive way.  And with DDGs, and then the new DDGs coming, the next generation, we’ll carry on that tradition.

So I want to thank all of you.  And I guess now we’ll take a few questions, unless we’ve answered them all.

MODERATOR:  Dave Sharp from AP, I’ll start with you.

Q:  Sure.  This is a question for the CNO.  It’s kind of a big-picture Navy question.  So there’s been problems with the LCS, the Zumwalt, the Ford carrier.  There are also some concerns about maintenance.  So I just wanted to get your thoughts on what the Navy is doing to ensure – (inaudible).

ADM. GILDAY:  We’re on a positive trajectory with every one of those hulls that you mentioned, as well as overall maintenance.

And so, with LCS, the nation – the nation is committed to purchasing 33 of those vessels.  We’re putting missile systems on every single one of them.  We’re putting the anti-submarine warfare packages and the mine-countermeasure packages on those ships within the next 18 months.  They’re operating in the Western Pacific today.  They are intercepting drug runners in the Caribbean today.  They are among the workhorses of the fleet today and will be in the future.

With respect to Zumwalt, they’re the first ships in the Navy that we’ll outfit with hypersonic missiles.  So the future of those ships is extremely bright.  And I know that the Chinese are very concerned about the Zumwalt-class destroyers.

With respect to overall maintenance, those delay days that we saw 18 months ago and beyond, we now – we now drove those down in our public shipyards.  We have eliminated 80 percent of those delay days.  In our (private) yards, over 60 percent.  And that’s a year where we had COVID.  And so we think we’re on the right path to get ships out of maintenance on time.

I’m not saying that we’re satisfied with where we are in any of those projects.  But I am – what I will say is that I think that certainly the trends are headed in the right direction and we’re hitting the milestones on time that we need to be.

MODERATOR:  Channel 6 News.

Q:  I know in recent years, you know, there has been some troubles within the Navy BIW with ships not being built on time.  You know, it sounds like it might be happening a little bit more, might be building ships a little bit faster right now.  Can you speak to that?

ADM. GILDAY:  So let’s speak about Bath.  Bath is on a path here to begin to deliver two ships a year by the end of the year.  That’s a very strong trajectory for Bath Iron Works, and it’s not without a lot of hard work during a pandemic to get to that point.

As the senator mentioned, part of the excitement here is the turnover in workforce to a new generation of shipbuilders in this state that are going to deliver DDG-51s, the new Flight III – the new Flight III DDGs, our new class of destroyers, and beyond.  I’m very optimistic about where we’re heading in shipbuilding.

MODERATOR:  Channel 8 News.

Q:  We talked – Senators, you talked a lot about the threats of China and Russia and their navies last time we were at Bath, at the Brunswick facility again today.  I might change the subject a little bit here.  I’m not aware that they’ve attacked us at sea, but we keep being cyberattacked by Russia or China, including the current attack allegedly by Russia just in the last 48 hours.  I wonder if you wanted to speak to that part of our national defense.

SEN. COLLINS:  The cyber threat is very real and it’s an issue that I’ve spent a great deal of time working on.  I’m in the midst of drafting a bill with Senators Mark Warner and Marco Rubio, who are the chair and vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, that will require mandatory reporting if there’s an attack on our private-sector critical infrastructure.

The attack on the gas pipeline is very serious.  The attribution is not yet certain, but I’m sure that will be an issue that we will be taking up in the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

I would note that I first worked on this issue when I was chair of the Homeland Security Committee.  And Joe Lieberman, who was then representing Connecticut, and I introduced the first cybersecurity bill back in 2012.  And I keep thinking that had we been able to get it passed back then, we would be in better shape today to counter the threat.

Nevertheless, when you add this latest attack on top of the SolarWinds attack, which most likely was caused by Russia, then we know that our adversaries will use asymmetric weapons and weapons where it’s hard to attribute the source in order to strike at us.  And this is going to remain a major threat to our country.

But we can’t forget that we still need a strong Navy to be able to project power and to have presence where otherwise we would not be able to go.  And when we look at all the trouble spots in the world, without the Navy I don’t know what we would do because we are restricted in airspace.  We’re restricted in our ability to go to certain nations.  It is the Navy that allows us to project presence and power, and that is a powerful deterrent.

And finally, it’s not a coincidence that the Chinese in particular are continuing to enlarge their fleet.  That tells us something as well.

MODERATOR:  Channel 13.

SEN. KING:  Maybe I’ll take a – I’ll take a pass.

MODERATOR:  Yes, sir.

SEN. KING:  There’s no question that the most serious, immediate threat this country faces is cyber.  No question.  We have to reimagine conflict.

We think of conflict as army versus army, navy versus navy, ship versus ship.  Eighty-five percent of the target space in cyber is in the private sector.  So we have to forge entirely new partnerships between the private sector and the public sector in order to adequately defend the country.  The pipeline attack over the weekend appears to be garden-variety criminals.  We don’t know that for sure, but that’s the original – that’s the initial estimate. 

But whether it’s criminals, or whether it’s a nation-state, or whether it’s a terrorist organization, we are incredibly vulnerable, and most of that vulnerability is in the private sector.  And they have to be convinced to begin to take – not to begin, because many and most of them have taken serious steps.  But they’ve got to take steps three, four, five, and six in order to protect us.  Sometimes it’s very simple, like no clicking on phishing emails.  That’s how initially a lot of these attacks start, with something very innocent done by an individual.

A secondary problem is the supply chain.  General Dynamics has enormous security issues, as does the other major defense contractor.  The concern is a little six-person engineering firm in Omaha that may not have those cyber protections that could get through the supplier into the – into the prime.

So this is a – I can’t overstate what a serious threat it is.  We keep getting warning shots, like we did this weekend.  And I said recently we’re facing the longest windup for a punch in the history of the world, and we have to be prepared.  And it’s going to take substantial changes both in the private sector and the public sector.

Now, I will say that the new administration has taken some very important steps in the last month on this issue.  The first thing they’ve done is appointed a new national cyber director, which never existed before it was created by Congress last year, and they’ve made that appointment.  They have appointed a very qualified individual to coordinate the overall response of the federal government.

The other thing that they did was announce very serious sanctions on Russia in retribution for the SolarWinds attack.  And that’s one of the things that’s been missing.  Our adversaries have not had any – have not paid any cost for attacking us.

Remember, I talked about deterrence.  In cyberspace, there hasn’t been much in the way of deterrence.  The administration began on a path a few weeks ago in that direction, but I believe they have to go further to make it clear to our adversaries:  If you attack us, you will pay a price.  It may be cyber; it may be something else.  Many of you remember the phrase from the ’90s, “mutually assured destruction.”  My new phrase for the 21st century is “mutually assured disruption.”  They have to understand that they cannot attack the United States in cyberspace with impunity, and I believe we’re taking steps in that direction.

MODERATOR:  Channel 13.

Q:  BIW’s in the process of hiring 2,000 more employees.  Do you expect more hiring in the future?  Are you concerned about, you know, reaching or gaining those people there to get these ships built or – (inaudible)?

SEN. COLLINS:  I wonder if we should have someone from BIW answer that question.  (Laughter.)

But let me say that BIW now has in excess of 7,000 employees.  It has hired a thousand new employees since 2019.  And that’s why these terrific apprenticeship programs are so necessary and so valuable to the Navy, and to BIW, and to the employees.  It gives them tremendous opportunities.

There’s no doubt that, like other employers, BIW is facing challenges in finding enough workers.  And that is a real challenge, no matter where you are in this state or what employers you talk with.

MODERATOR:  Kathleen O’Brien from Times Record.

Q:  After the Navy is done with Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, what do you think is next?  And will BIW be involved with building it?

ADM. GILDAY:  So the next class of destroyers after the DDG-51s is a class of destroyer that we called DDG(X).  We’re collaborating right now with BIW and other shipbuilders as we work on the initial design so that we bring the best lessons learned and observations from previous projects to bear with that – with that effort.

We anticipate that that effort, if the – if the funding is there, if everything comes together as we would hope, it would come together around the 2027-2028 timeframe.  But our requirement is for a new class of destroyer after the 51s, only because the 51s have run out of space and power and cooling to put anything else on them.  We have literally packed everything possible into a multi-mission ship.

Senator King referred to Inouye as one of the greyhounds of the fleet.  And I’ll tell you, these ships are like – they’re like a Swiss Army knife.  There’s a thousand things that you can do with them.  We need more of them.  And so we look forward to another generation of destroyer, and certain Bath is in the future of those kinds of projects.

MODERATOR:  And we’ll come to Ben McCanna with the last question, Press Herald.

Q:  What are the challenges you’re facing right now in Congress to get this passed, based on the current state of affairs with the budgets with the, you know, trillions that we spent fighting COVID?  I mean, are there – do you think you have – do you think you have the support amongst Democrats and Republicans to get this money funded for the ships?

SEN. KING:  She’s the – she’s the one with her hand on the – she’s on the Appropriations Committee.

Q:  Both sides of the aisle, though.

SEN. KING:  Yeah.  Well, I think there’s a consensus that what we’re doing here is important, and that what’s happening with the Chinese and the Russians is real.  It can’t be ignored.  We’re not in a new Cold War, but we’re in certainly a heightened sense of competition that must be responded to.  And we have to modernize and maintain the deterrent.

So I think – I mean, there’ll be debates, of course.  But I think there’s a consensus on both sides of the necessity of maintaining the momentum of what’s been achieved in the last few years.

SEN. COLLINS:  I agree that there is bipartisan support for supporting the Navy and making sure that our fleet is adequately sized.  However, the president’s skinny budget, where he gave us just topline figures, proposes a 16 percent increase in domestic spending on domestic programs, nondefense programs, and essentially would hold the defense budget flat.  That is not adequate to meet the demands of the day.

I believe that the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee will, in a bipartisan way, review the budget.  And we will be hearing from the service chiefs, from the top military officers such as the chief of naval operations, and we generally write our own budget. 

So I don’t see the president’s budget standing in that regard, but there is no doubt there is – and I’m not trying to be partisan here; I’m just stating the fact – there are some on the Democratic side of the aisle that are actually proposing further cuts in the defense budget.  And that would be devastating for Bath Iron Works, it would be devastating for our Navy, and devastating for our national security.  And I will fight those attempts to cut the budget or have it flatline.

MODERATOR:  All right, everybody.  Thank you so very much for your time today.  Have a great rest of your day.

(END)

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