Admiral Michael M. Gilday,
Chief of Naval Operations
Rear Admiral Torben Mikkelsen,
Chief of the Royal Danish Navy
Commander Nathan J. Christensen,
Public Affairs Officer,
Chief of Naval Operations
Cynthia A. Brown,
First Secretary, Public Affairs Officer,
U.S. Embassy Copenhagen
Date: Wednesday, June 2, 2021
CYNTHIA A. BROWN: Well, I just want to thank you for being here today, everybody. My name is Cynthia Brown. I’m the public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy. I have my colleague here.
COMMANDER NATHAN J. CHRISTENSEN: Commander Nate Christensen. Hello. Nice to meet you all.
MS. BROWN: Mmm hmm.
This is an on-the-record briefing, so feel free to use your recorders. This is for attribution. It can be used in reporting – as all the reporters now scooch closer.
I just want to introduce our two VIP guests. This is Yette Alga (ph) from Jyllands-Posten. We have Andreas Krog from Altinget. And we have Christian Mortensen from Berlingske.
I would like to present to you our guest of honor here, Admiral Gilday. He is the chief of naval operations, CNO, visiting here in Copenhagen. And next to him we have Rear Admiral Mikkelsen from the Danish Navy. I’m going to hand it over right now to Admiral Gilday for a few opening comments and then we will move into the question and answer portion.
ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY: Good afternoon. Thanks for coming today. It’s great to be here in Copenhagen. It’s my first visit. And Admiral Mikkelsen and I met in the fall of 2019. And at that time I committed to visit, but because of COVID I haven’t been able to. So this is really the first opportunity and my first trip in a while over to the continent. And it’s great – it’s just great to be here. I’m here for a couple reasons. One is to thank the Danish Navy for all that they do in partnership with us. And not just partnership with the United States Navy, but all they do in the alliance particularly up here as a rock-solid leader and a rock-solid regional leader, I believe, that we really count on, and I think that the alliance counts on in many ways.
As you know, the Danes and the Americans go back to – we were original signatories of the Atlantic Treaty back in 1949. And our relationship obviously precedes that, but I think our time together in the alliance has been extremely strong. And again, I came today to not only thank both the admiral and senior officials in the department, but also to talk about areas for continued cooperation – particularly in the Arctic and the high north.
We’ve been involved with Denmark recently in a bunch of really important exercises – Joint Warrior, Formidable Shield. And BALTOPS kicks off again in another week. And that’s a critical exercise for us, I think, in terms of reassuring allies and partners and also sending a message to those who might operate in ways that forsake international norms and rules, that we sail together in support of a free and open – free and open maritime commons. So I guess in summary this visit today was an important opportunity for me to build upon an already solid foundation.
REAR ADMIRAL TORBEN MIKKELSEN: Yeah, sir, and thank you very much for the kind words. It is hereby also given back because we have a longstanding tradition of working together with the U.S. Navy. And we just continue to do that. And we have a lot of common things to work on, not least related to the ongoing defense agreement that we’re working on now where we are working on being better at conducting (jointly ?) warfare. And it is an area where we – where we can cooperate with the U.S. Navy for many good reasons. Just an example. So, sir, thank you very much for coming. It’s an honor to meet you again. And I think we will get a chance to meet also later.
COMMANDER CHRISTENSEN: Yes.
MS. BROWN: So I think we can go into the question period. We’ve got about 20 minutes and I want to give everybody an opportunity. But I see Christian has already got his hand raised. So maybe we’ll start with you, sir.
Q: Concerning the new cooperation between United States and the Kingdom of Denmark when it comes to Greenland, what would be the difference seen from the naval point of view from United States of America with this cooperation? Would there be more patrolling from American vessels in the area? Would there be any new initiative in that area? Or what do you see coming?
ADM. GILDAY: First of all, I’d like to highlight the incredibly close partnership, I already spoke about the kingdom, but also with Greenland. And so the three entities together, working together, I think with a common vision – and that is for free and open maritime commons in the area – critical strategic area surrounding Greenland, is a key objective for us. And so working together to ensure that that objective is achieved I think is important.
In terms of our operating patterns, I don’t want to speak specifically about any types of future operations. But I will say this, the U.S. Navy has operated in the high north and the Arctic some 20 times over the past 18 months. Now that’s becoming much more commonplace, is my point, when maybe three, or four, or five years ago it was rare for us to operate – to operate in those – in those areas. And so I think that you’ll see more of the United States Navy. And I think our operations in the area are done in very close coordination with Greenland and the kingdom, so that we make sure that we’re operating together and in a way, again, in pursuit of that common objective.
MS. BROWN: Let’s got to Andreas and then Yette (ph).
Q: Yes. Admiral Burke was here, I think, in the same room in October last year. And he said that U.S. Navy would like some – not bases, but some harbors in Greenland and Faroe Islands where they could dock and refuel and do a little light maintenance for their vessels. Have you today – I guess you also met the defense minister. Have you today discussed more details about that? And do you also – would you also like to have places where you could position your P-8 aircraft?
ADM. GILDAY: So the – to your first question, the short answer is no. If I could speak to a recent refueling opportunity that the USS Ross, one of our destroyers, had in the Faroe Islands, those are the types of opportunities that we are looking – that we are looking leverage, both with Greenland – both with the Greenlanders and the Faroes. I think that those are – from a bunch of different perspectives. First of all, in terms of sustainment of a navy out at sea, needs to periodically pull in for either repairs, or refueling, or both, I think, for stores, is important. The other, I think, is it’s symbolic of friendship. I think it’s a diplomatic – navies have always played in the diplomatic lane, if you will. And I think that’s an important aspect as well. But there is no intention to create U.S. bases in that area.
MS. BROWN: Yette (ph).
ADM. GILDAY: Or, Navy – I should speak for the Navy. Naval bases.
Q: Still speaking about the high north and your cooperation in the Arctic, what could be on the U.S. wish list to Denmark? Where should we invest in our naval structure in the Arctic?
ADM. GILDAY: Well, I tell you, great start. And I think a very strong message for not only the United States but I think the alliance was the supplemental agreement in February of this year. A substantial amount of money was dedicated to the Arctic capabilities package, specifically domain awareness. And I can’t think of a more important gap to close in the high north than a commitment that your government made in February. And I think it speaks also to their commitment to the alliance. And again, I think in terms of capabilities, really making investments in areas that are going to make a difference operationally.
And I think not only operationally but with respect to increased security, particularly if we want to – if we want to maintain good situational awareness of ships that are operating in and around the GIUK gap, where of course there is significant economic flow in terms of trade. This is a significant step in the right direction by the Danish government.
Q: So you don’t have any other wishes?
ADM. GILDAY: So we are – (laughter) –
Q: We are almost there, or?
ADM. GILDAY: I would say that we speak about many capabilities that the U.S. – that the U.S. has or that your navy has that we want to – that we want to leverage for our common benefit. I don’t want to talk about those specifically. And I don’t mean to be evasive. It’s just that those areas, because they’re capabilities, are a bit more classified. But we do have continued and very close discussions about how we can leverage each other’s technology, each other’s industry, so that we both – we turn it into a win-win, not only for our – not only for our economic base, but also for our navies.
Q: Yes. And what would it mean for U.S. Navy if Denmark were to join the ballistic missile defense and equip our frigates with the necessary radars, and so on?
ADM. GILDAY: So I think that that is completely a national decision. The United States Navy would be very supportive in any way we could with respect to that type of capability. Again, I think that’s a national decision to make. And also it has implications within the alliance with respect to capability gaps that need to be closed.
Q: But what would it mean for U.S. Navy? You have the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers really occupied with this – with this task. What would it mean for you if that – if one ally, Denmark or another country, were to participate?
ADM. GILDAY: Sure. I think it extends the possibilities of operating together in areas where we can do this mission together. And I think what it does is – as you see us operate together, we’re not only interoperable, but there’s a point where we almost can become interchangeable, right? Particularly in those high-end missions that only navies can do. Anti-submarine warfare is a good example where the United States Navy has a high degree of expertise. But in terms of the Royal Danish Navy, their high degree of professionalism and geographic expertise is a game-changer up here.
So then you become almost interchangeable in terms of how you can lean on each other, because no one nation can do it alone. And as our own president said, we are at a – we are at a time right now that’s really an inflection point, right, with respect to allies and partners. And we have to lean on each other and rely on each other.
MS. BROWN: Go ahead, Christian.
Q: I would like to hear your assessment on how dangerous are Russia right now in the active area? I’m asking because the debate among scholars in the United States and in Denmark is very different in assessment of how dangerous Russia actually are in the Arctic area. Seen from your point of view, what is happening there?
ADM. GILDAY: So first of all, the Arctic is becoming an increasingly more competitive space, right? Economically, militarily. And so it’s an area where we’re going to continue to see increased operations from a number of different nations, including Russia. I think that one of the great things about allies and partners, particularly navies, is that we operate together to maintain a free and open maritime commons, and to enforce international law. And so I think that our continuing to sail together, along with other regional navies, to show that strong – send that strong message to those that may be interested in malign activity – the Russians might be – that today is not the day to do that. And that we are there to protect the free and open commons, to ensure that commerce flows freely.
Billions have benefited from the international structure in place since the end of World War II. Nobody can argue about that. And I’m proud of the fact that we continue to sail alongside our Danish partners and contribute to that – to that security for our – for our people and our allies.
MS. BROWN: Yette (ph)?
Q: This is your first time in Copenhagen, you say. And it’s also the first time in the global – the high north? Have you been to the Arctic?
ADM. GILDAY: I have not.
ADM. GILDAY: But there could be a trip – there could be a trip in our future where we would go, perhaps even together. So we’re discussing possibilities. I am anxious to go north. And now that – now that COVID is – now that we’re in a better place with respect to vaccinations, we’re just talking – the Admiral and I – we have much more freedom to travel and to visit our navies. And so yes, I look forward to going not only to the Arctic, but to come back to Copenhagen where I can spend more time. I’m only here for a day. It’s a short visit. I’d love to come back.
Q: And you have been speaking to the minister. And what was the subject with the minister? What did you speak about?
ADM. GILDAY: Again, I was very grateful for the relationship there. I wanted to – I wanted to let her know face to face how much we value the relationship with the Royal Danish Navy, with Greenland, with the Faroe Islands, and how together, you know, we have a common vision of regional security that I think there’s no daylight among the four of us with respect to how we do that. I wanted to tell her how grateful I am to work beside Admiral Mikkelsen and the Royal Danish Navy. The exercises we’ve done have been tremendous, really substantive high-end training like we hadn’t seen before in the alliance. And I’m just very proud of it.
And again, we also talked about some opportunities going forward, areas of continuing mutual cooperation that included foreign military sales and other areas – operational areas where we’ll continue to discuss and to have our planners work closely together.
Q: Could you give some examples?
ADM. GILDAY: I can’t. I don’t want to – I don’t want share, ma’am, because they’re – because they’re just – they talk about future operations. But they had very much to do with the high north.
Q: What – if hypothetically a country were to replace their Arctic patrol vessels in the near future, what capabilities would you like to see on the new generation of active patrol ship?
ADM. GILDAY: That’s a good question. I think that anti-submarine warfare has to be a – has to be a mainstay for our navies. So there’s no other element of our joint force that can do that mission. That solely belongs to navies. We own it. We have to be the best in the world at it. And so I think that becomes an area that’s a core mission – that’s a core mission for navies.
I think that one area that is beginning to show promise is unmanned surface vehicles, unmanned vehicles under the sea. And of course we’ve been flying drones for some time. And so in the future I think you’re going to see hybrid fleets across the world that have large numbers of unmanned vessels. I think that in terms of operating at scale, in terms of continuing – and I speak for the U.S. Navy – continuing to operate around the globe in numbers, continuing to bring the right capabilities to bear, we cannot build ships in the future like we did in the 20th Century. And I think that there’s a lot of promise with unmanned, particularly as the technology matures.
Q: What about air defense? Or would that be overkill for an Arctic patrol ship?
ADM. GILDAY: I don’t think so. So I wouldn’t think – I wouldn’t classify ships just in terms of building a ship, just in terms of operating in a specific region. I think you want ships to some degree that are like a Swiss Army knife that you can use in multiple situations, right? And you can also keep a potential adversary off guard trying to imagine what the next employment of a vessel – of a multi-mission vessel could be.
Q: As I have understood, the American Navy is not quite fit for fight in the Arctic region. There has been discussions about icebreakers, and so on. What can you foresee – what can you see in the future? What kind of material do you need to get up to that status, if that is correct?
ADM. GILDAY: I take your point with respect to icebreakers. It’s an area that we have – that we know is a shortfall, and we are building additional icebreakers now. I think there are discussions about how many we should have in terms of the full fleet. I also think that this is another area where you need to lean on allies and partners more, right? And so each of us cannot afford to have – to have high-end capabilities across every area at the same time and to maintain a level of readiness that also is very expensive.
So I think as we talked about earlier in this conversation about specific capabilities that the Danish government is investing in in the high north, that relieves the United States or other alliance members in terms of making those investments, right? Where we’re making investments across other capability gaps. And I think across the alliance if we could do a better job at that, I think we’d all be – I think we’d have – I think we’d have an alliance force that’s fit to fight across all domains and all regions, as well as we’d have the right capabilities at the right time.
MS. BROWN: Go to Yette (ph), then back Andreas.
Q: You said before you have no plans to have a naval base in the – a U.S. naval base in the high north. But do you have other plans with our harbors, and maybe to maintain ships, or to refuel, or to –
ADM. GILDAY: We’d like those opportunities. Of course, one of the great things that navies bring to bear is the fact that we’re a mobile force. We move around. And we sustain ourselves at sea for long periods of time. But we also need to pull in, as I mentioned earlier, for voyage repairs, or for stores, or fuel. And I look forward to continued opportunities in Greenland and the Faroe Islands, working with the Danish government and both of those governments, to look for key opportunities.
Q: And what is the time perspective? When do you think –
ADM. GILDAY: So we’ve been – as recently as two weeks ago we did one. So I think in the future it’s – we look for opportunities at a time when U.S. ships are operating in the region. And perhaps it works out that we can do that. I think it’s – I think it’s a win-win for everybody involved.
REAR ADM. MIKKELSEN: But I agree with you, sir. I mean, just returning to the previous question. I mean, you talked about the ability to conduct anti-submarine warfare, which is a no-brainer. We need to do that. It has been decided by the Danish government. And so this is the direction that we are aiming at. But of course, now we talked about air defense. I mean, air defense includes also a good radar. And the Arctic capability package is actually supposed to give us a better situational awareness in the area. So of course, a ship with a good radar would give us an even better capability to survey the area. And on top of that, we should, of course, be able to exchange the picture. And that is just a technical thing that also can be better – exchange the picture between the allies operating up there. So basically that – I think that is actually some key areas that we could focus on.
ADM. GILDAY: And I think – I agree wholeheartedly. And I think another area as we look at new technologies is perhaps analytic processing that artificial intelligence and machine learning might bring to bear, where you could actually take a closer look at the data that you get from these surveillance systems and be able to potentially pick up trends that allow you to use your own forces much more effectively.
REAR ADM. MIKKELSEN: I mean, you – you need to establish a normal picture to see anomalies. And that is basically what is the intention, I guess.
MS. BROWN: Andreas, yeah.
Q: And Secretary Blinken was here two weeks ago. So we have often visitors. And his – and he and the other foreign ministers at the Arctic Council and politicians generally talk about keeping Arctic as a low-tension area. And you’re talking about ships with anti-submarine warfare capabilities, and so on. And Russia is always talking about NATO and the Arctic. That’s a no-go. Isn’t there, like, a line? And are you not, like, coming closer and closer to that – to that line?
ADM. GILDAY: So I think it’s how you use those capabilities. And you don’t have to be provocative to get your message across. The point is that we do have a presence, that this water space benefits all nations, and that we want to ensure – as we operate in these waters peacefully – that it’s safe and secure for everybody, whether they want to use it for trade, for recreational purposes, that it’s free and open. And so there is no intent – there is no intent to be provocative. I think, in fact, that would be perhaps counterproductive, right? We want to – we want to be clear that we’re there – why we’re there, why we’re operating, and not necessarily give anybody any indication that we’re there to cause any trouble.
MS. BROWN: I think we have time for one more question. Any takers?
Q: Yeah. (Laughter.) Let me just follow up. You said no intent to be provocative. Is that the reason why a U.S. Navy vessel hasn’t sailed the northern sea route to Asia? Or is it because you are afraid of getting stuck in the ice and having to call a(n) icebreaker?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. It has nothing to do about provocative. It has everything to do with timing, exactly. And so as we take a look quite frequently in terms of how we set the globe with the U.S. Navy, it doesn’t always work out that we have the right ship at the right time to make that transit. So I would tell you it has everything to do with timing, and it’s not – it’s not an issue of provocation.
Q: So when will you do that?
ADM. GILDAY: I can’t tell you that.
Q: Look at the calendar?
ADM. GILDAY: It’s a secret. (Laughter.)
REAR ADM. MIKKELSEN: I mean, if I may add, sometimes we have a tendency to set an equal sign between capability and intent. But you actually have to balance it. I mean, capability doesn’t necessarily say that you want – that you have the intent. So, you know, basically there is tendency that if we have a package that is capable of something we also have the intent. Not necessarily.
ADM. GILDAY: I know it sounds trite, we always talk about the free and open maritime commons, but it’s the reason why we have navies. You know, 95 percent of the trade – global trade travels by the sea. Ninety-nine percent of our internet traffic travels on transoceanic cables. You know, the global economy literally floats on seawater. And so it’s important that we’re out there. And if you take a look at what happened in the Suez with the Ever Given blocking the Suez at a cost of 9 billion (dollars) a day across a critical chokepoint, that’s an example of why you need those – you can’t have anybody prevent us from having – prevent us – prevent anybody from having access to those global waterways.
MS. BROWN: All right. I think with that we’ll end the roundtable.
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