Admiral Michael M. Gilday,
Chief of Naval Operations
Admiral Tony Radakin,
First Sea Lord,
United Kingdom Royal Navy
Admiral Pierre Vandier,
Chief of Staff,
Location: Toulon, France
Date: Thursday, June 3, 2021
ADMIRAL PIERRE VANDIER: OK. So there are three of us there who are – who have one share of views of organizing our forces, exchanging experience, and try to coordinate our actions. We three navies share the two main elements, which are carriers – with naval aviation – and nuclear submarines – which are the great core structure of our navies and which give them their political effects. So this cooperation is very important. We have contributed ourselves to all of the wars. And today is a good day because the first two of Queen Elizabeth Carrier Group is the occasion for the Charles Group, which comes back from its mission this year, to – (inaudible) – themselves. And all of us here operate carriers. But it will give the signal that we are working together.
ADMIRAL TONY RADAKIN: So, for me, it’s a – it’s a delight to be here, as Admiral Pierre said. We are three NATO navies, we are three nuclear navies, and we’re three aircraft carrier navies. And the fact that we can operate together, the fact that we have the same shared interests and values, is part of our strength. And that’s a level of cooperation, and we say this word “interoperability,” that exists all around the globe. And its heart is in NATO and Europe, but we operate together in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, in the Indian Ocean, and increasingly in the Indo-Pacific Ocean.
And the U.K.’s first carrier deployment with HMS Queen Elizabeth is a symbol of that cooperation. This is NATO’s aircraft carrier as much as it is the U.K.’s aircraft carrier. But it’s also about us reflecting our integrated review and staying strong in Europe but stretching out to the Indo-Pacific. And the opportunity to work alongside these two great navies is an enormous strength and a great delight.
ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY: First of all, it’s a privilege to be here today in Toulon with both Admiral Vandier and Admiral Radakin. I would say, to echo on their – on their gracious comments, that we do represent three maritime nations. We are three shipmates, we are three allies, and we are three close friends. And I think that symbolically we represent over 70 years of an unprecedented era of peace among great powers.
And through our sailing across the globe, our interoperability and interchangeability, as Admiral Radakin mentioned, we’re able to support mutual security interests and achieve mutual security interests, and at the same time I think have helped deliver economic prosperity to billions through safe and secure trade routes.
So, again, it’s a privilege to be here today. I think we represent shared values, shared interests, and of course three global navies that operate together with other like-minded navies to ensure that the seas remain open and free and prosperous for all.
Q: If I may, I have a question for the three of you on the theme of Indo-Pacific. Sir, in the integrated review there’s great emphasis on this area of the world, and the U.K. has said that they will deepen their engagement there. As you said, your aircraft carrier is heading there right now. How do you see cooperation with the French, given that your navies are, you know, consequent but middle-sized compared to the U.S. one, for example? Is there a possibility that there’s an agreement to share kind of the burden of maritime presence there?
And, sir, maybe could you give us a sense of how the U.S. Navy perceives that increased interest of European partners in this area of the region, which is – which has been for a long time a center of gravity of your strategy? Thank you.
ADM. RADAKIN: So, I – first and foremost, our integrated review makes clear that we continue to be a strong partner within NATO. So we are anchored within the Euro-Atlantic, but we also recognize that we need to stretch out further. And what we want to do is the extraordinary cooperation that exists between all three of our navies and with the other NATO navies, to extend that at the same time. So the conversations that we’ve been having are to share our plans, to share – to confirm the alignment that exists, which is about promoting free and open seaways, to support our countries, to recognize their shared values and interests, and to support both security and stability and prosperity.
And so the more that we can coordinate our activity – and that ranges from sharing information, to sharing our plans, to then coordinating some of our deployments – the better it is for all of us, as well as for the other nations that are our friends and allies. And I think that’s going on in all kinds of spheres, in terms of everything that we do.
Now, at the moment, off Scotland, all three of our navies are being involved in an exercise called Formidable Shield about how we counter some of the most dangerous threats out there with ballistic missiles and supersonic missiles. And we’re working together to combat those threats, and we will work together to support our interests and values all around the globe.
ADM. GILDAY: So, to answer your question directly, you asked me the United States’ perception of increased European activity in the Indo-Pacific. I would say, A, we welcome it; and, B, it’s just natural. If you take a look at where we have been operating or are operating today, from the Arctic Basin to the high north, from the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Gulf, the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic, this is just a natural progression.
And I would give you just a few examples of interchangeability. Just a month ago a U.S. carrier task group, the Eisenhower Carrier Task Group, fell beneath the Charles de Gaulle Task Group as Task Force 50 in the Middle East. Likewise, we are – we have a U.S. ship that is operating as part of CSG-21, the USS The Sullivans. Our ships operate together all the time, sometimes in some very precarious situation. Our command and control is seamless.
And so moving to the Indo-Pacific, I think, is just a natural – a natural move for all three of us. And I think – I think it goes hand-in-glove with the work that we’ve been doing, as I mentioned earlier, over the past 70 years to help underpin an international order that’s benefitted so many.
ADM. VANDIER: For France – for France – to make a French point, the commitment of France in the Pacific is not new because we have there. And investigate - it’s about sovereignty issues. So it was illegal fishing.
As far as the militarization of the area, it is running at a very fast pace. In fact, we are now committed to join our efforts to have a better framework for intelligence sharing and making some exercises that lets our counterparts in the area be sure that we will – we will be there. And we are working together to enforce the security and as freedom of navigation. And so the level of cooperation we have to demonstrate is higher and higher each day, due to the militarization of the area.
Q: Hello, sir. Could I ask you a question about aircraft carriers and the way in which you think that they will play a role in the future, how important that is, and particularly in light of, you know, the capacity of anti-ship missiles now between Russia and China? What’s your sort of vision of how key aircraft carriers are to the way in which you, you know, plan for naval warfare?
ADM. VANDIER: I think if you look at a map –
Q: All three, please. Yeah.
ADM. VANDIER: I think if you look at the Pacific, the U.S. and in fact the carrier warfare – from world war II – because of the size and presence. So moving a bunch of sort of (inaudible)from thousands of capabilities with ammunition, with missile defense, and 1,000 – (inaudible) – is something which is huge in advancing the integration of our aircraft carriers. And so you do not need so much show of support to do that, and you can move the position of the – of the forces whenever they are directed. You can raise the level of – you can raise the level of your presence and it’s very smooth, very easy. And so in a state-to-state confrontation, it’s a very sensible tool. So that’s the politics – to do what they want – and it’s, I think to my point, much more easy to do it from the sky.
ADM. GILDAY: I think mobility is a key point. So if I would draw a parallel, the airport here at Toulon that you flew into today or yesterday will be in the same exact place tomorrow. These two aircraft carriers could be outside of the Strait of Gibraltar, they could be in the Suez Canal, or further south. So mobility is incredibly important. And as Admiral Vandier talked about, that’s an advantage in a vast area like the Pacific.
I’d also like to mention the defense in depth capabilities that we have to defend ourselves against incoming missiles that is also significant.
And the last thing I would say, in terms of versatility in the future, if I think about the U.S. Navy’s first aircraft carrier, the Enterprise, in her time of service, which was about 50 years, 59 different – 59 different types of aircraft flew off the decks of that carrier. In a day and age when we’re now looking at fifth-gen or fourth-gen aircraft – fifth-gen aircraft, unmanned aircraft – there’s significant possibilities here. We believe in – we believe in the carrier force that we have. It is a significant advantage for our countries.
Q: Could I get –
ADM. RADAKIN: Yes. So we’re very fortunate that we have all have capabilities that are the best defended against some of these super missiles and ballistic missiles. The first is we’re all nuclear submarine navies, and so we have that phenomenal capability that is – that is there underwater. The second is that we have these floating airfields, which are the best-defended airfields in the world because they move and they have space-based assets, they’ve got cyber assets, they’ve got layers of defense, they’ve got submarines all protecting them. And this is a phenomenal capability, and it’s one that we can use to demonstrate our values and interests, and it’s one that we can also use in a worst-case scenario for sheer hard power.
And the philosophy of keeping your aircraft carriers as safe as possible, being able to project that power, and the lethality through the aircraft and, in the future, the drones that fly from them remains as consistent as it has been throughout the whole aircraft carrier story. And the absolute proof in all of that is if you look at all the major navies in the world, they are all investing in aircraft carriers.
Q: Admirals, would you say that interoperability is more important than ever to face emerging threats globally? And operationally, how does it translate? You mentioned Formidable Shield and Task Force 50, but do you have other examples as well?
ADM. GILDAY: Well, we just did Steadfast – we just did an exercise off the coast of Portugal, a very high-end NATO exercise that included integrated air and missile defense and very advanced anti-submarine warfare exercises. And so we couldn’t do those singularly. We do them – we do them together in a way that we are leveraging in a complementary fashion each other’s capabilities. And also, if there are any vulnerabilities, we also keep that in mind as we operate.
ADM. VANDIER: The range of interoperability is very wide. We need to join our concepts, our training, our deployment planning, and all capabilities. And so it’s what we do – with our carrier groups – is to be able to check all these levels that we are quickly able to join ourselves. And here in France – also for France particularly in the Pacific or in the Indian Ocean.
ADM. RADAKIN: Yes. And I would say we have interoperability, and we also go frequently a step further with interchangeability. So that we – the level of cooperation and coordination that exists between our three navies means that we can do so much more. So whether that’s that exercise, Formidable Shield, against some of the most serious threats we face – we work in the Caribbean together to support our overseas territories and to also counter illicit drugs. We work together in NATO the whole time supporting our submarines so that they have freedom of maneuver to operate in the North Atlantic. And then you’re seeing that in the Mediterranean today, and then you see it further afield in the Indo-Pacific. And you see it all the time in the Arabian Gulf.
So this is – we are extraordinary – the extraordinary beneficiaries of three navies that can operate together and have similar high-end capabilities. We have a political frame of shared values and interests, and that is part of our strength.
ADM. GILDAY: May I add just one moment on – to punctuate what Admiral Radakin just said? Our interoperability is all grounded on trust. That is the secret sauce. It really, really makes us a formidable force.
Q: Maybe an extra question, may I, for both of you? Are you both concerned that some episode like the Jersey one might happen again between our two nations? And given the fact that you sometimes need to – you know, both navies’ vessels to have to, you know, keep watch or not yet intervene. So is it a concern for you both?
ADM. RADAKIN: So – (laughter) – yeah. So I think we have – we have long and majestic and, if we’re honest, complex histories between our two countries. And we are fortunate that the relationship that we have allows us to be able to pick up the phone to each other, to talk to each other, to express where our particular governments are coming from, and to be both sincere in supporting our national governments but open and transparent to friends and allies. And that applies in the – in the really good times and it applies, importantly, where there might be some frictions.
So I don’t see – to your question, I don’t see problems. I see the benefit of having such a close relationship and an understanding and trust and confidence in each other, both in a personal sense and in a professional and an institutional sense.
ADM. VANDIER: To be very clear, the very day of the Jersey affair – we had a phone call just to say: What are you doing? What are your – are your orders? What are mine? So to be sure that our people on the ground are fully aware of what is the intent.
And so – as you remark it has been well – well. And so it’s the way we work together, and I think it’s a – it’s a good thing for all of us, for our politicians – to know that. So they can do their job and we can do ours.
ADM. RADAKIN: Just to add on, the result of the Jersey situation was about calming a difficult situation and creating a bit more time and space for a dialogue to continue to try to satisfy the disagreement. And that’s what our two navies were able to help with, and that’s where we are now.
ADM. VANDIER: These kind of discussions we have all of the – in fact, it develops quite widely the folder of solutions on these issues so we do not do what is not our job. And when we discuss, we find some things to propose, each of us, to our governments to say, ok, we could do that together because we know it’s a good match. So this is the, you know, aim of all of this, is to build this confidence and find solutions to provide to our leaders.
Q: What about Louisiana? What if France wants Louisiana back? (Laughter.)
ADM. GILDAY: So I will just – I will just amplify what both of them just said. In my opening comments I talked about the fact that we’re allies, that we’re shipmates, and that we’re close friends. I think those last two, shipmates and close friends, allow us to pick up the phone, as Admiral Radakin said and as Admiral Vandier said, and work through – to work through potential difficulties.
Military-to-military relations, and also specifically navy-to-navy relations, they’re a shock absorber. And so they are always consistent. You can always count on being able to pick up the phone on the other end and have a reasonable conversation and work through the most difficult problems. And again, that’s all grounded on trust.
MR. : Thank you all very much for coming today.
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