Sea Service Chiefs Panel at AFCEA West 2021

07 July 2021
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen David Berger, and Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Karl Schultz speak at AFCEA West 2021, June 30.

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Below is a transcript of their discussion:

ROBERT O. WORK:  Good morning, everyone.  And thanks for attending WEST 2021.  And thanks also for attending today’s webinar.  I’m Bob Work and I’m thrilled to be with you today and to moderate the Sea Services Chief Town Hall.  I would like to thank Lockheed Martin for the introduction and also for sponsoring this particular event.  Before we begin, just a couple of housekeeping items.  We will try to allow time at the end for audience Q&A.  So if you have questions during the webcast you can submit them through the question tool on your screen.  We will do our very best to address as many questions as possible during the time we have together.  There will be an on-demand version of this webcast available approximately one day after the webcast.  And it can be accessed by logging back into the virtual event platform. 

So let me start by introducing you to our panel.  I’m going to introduce them in the order in which they became the service chief.  Admiral Karl Schultz is the 26th commandant of the United States Coast Guard.  He assumed that position on June 1st, 2018.  He’s done everything that a Coast Guardsman should do.  He’s commanded an Island-class patrol boat, the cutter Farallon, a seagoing buoy tender, a medium-endurance cutter.  He was the sector commander in Miami, Florida, and was the commander of the entire Atlantic area.  He’s had several staff jobs.  He’s served in Coast Guard personnel command.  He was a command duty officer in a district op center in Miami.  He was chief of office of congressional government affairs, congressional liaison to the U.S. House of Representatives, and liaison officer to the Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.  He was also the director of the Department of Homeland Security Joint Taskforce East.

General David H. Berger is the 38th commandant of the Marine Corps.  He assumed that position on July 11th, 2019.  He’s a Marine’s Marine, commanding at every level – a recon company, an infantry battalion, a regimental combat team, the 1st Marine Division forward in Afghanistan, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific and Fleet Marine Forces Pacific, and the Marine Corps Combat Development Command.  He’s been an assistant division commander, the director of ops and plans, policies and operations at Headquarters Marine Corps, and the deputy commandant for commandant development and integration.  He’s also been the strategic plans and policy director at J-5 on the Joint Staff and was the chief of staff for the Kosovo force.

Admiral Mike Gilday is the 32nd Chief of Naval Operations.  He assumed that role on August 22nd, 2019.  He truly is a lifelong sailor.  He was born into a family, his father was a sailor, and he’s a SWO’s SWO.  He’s deployed on two Ticos and one Kidd-class destroyer, commanded two DDGs, a destroyer squadron, and was the commander of Carrier Strike Group 8 on the Dwight D. Eisenhower.  He’s been the commander of U.S. Fleet Cyber Command, U.S. 10th Fleet.  He served in the Bureau of Naval Personnel and has been on the staffs of both the CNO and the VCNO.  His joint portfolio is extensive.  He was executive assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and naval aid to the president, director of operations J-3.  Was the J-3 at U.S. Cyber Command and director of the Joint Staff.  He also was the director of ops for NATO’s Joint Force Command in Lisbon, and the chief of staff for naval striking and support forces in NATO.

Now, chiefs, generally I like to start with a question taken from today’s headlines.  So my first question will go to all three of you.  How do you respond to those who say that the armed services of the United States are increasingly “woke” and more concerned about social issues than warfighting and service integration?  Admiral Gilday, if possible, I’d like to start with you.

ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY:  So I think it’s an assertion that isn’t really grounded on facts.  And I think if you take a look at the force right now and the things we’re focused on, we’re definitely focused on warfighting first, readiness first.  But an essential element of that readiness has to do with people.  And I fully ascribe to John Boyd’s axiom of people, ideas, and machines – in that order.  We know that diverse teams outperform those teams that are not as diverse.  So we know that there’s strength in diversity.  That is a – that’s a scientifically proven fact.  It serves industry well and it has served the military well.  And we know that esprit de corps within our – within particularly our small units, our ships, as an example, is incredibly – is an incredibly important part of combat effectiveness.

So the nation has gone through quite a journey over the past year or so after the murder of George Floyd.  And I think that we’ve been honest with our sailors, with all of our military members, in terms of understanding better our own challenges with respect to diversity, with respect to respect of each other within the force.  And we’re trying to – I think we’re trying to take advantage of that diversity to give us – to yield a stronger Navy, to yield a stronger joint force.  And talking about those issues that divide us and closing those gaps is an important part, I think, for the Navy and for the nation to get after it and to put us in a better place.

MR. WORK:  Thank you, CNO. 

General Berger.

GENERAL DAVID H. BERGER:  I agree with the way that the CNO characterized it.  I think there are some places on Earth, probably more than a handful, where you’re not allowed to read books.  Books are – certain things are off limits.  You’re only allowed to read this and you’re only allowed to espouse that.  And the great part about America is it’s not – it’s not run that way.  We are a democracy.  We’re a free-thinking society.  So we want to – since we draw, the military, from that society, I think, like the CNO and others in testimony said, we want our servicemembers to read widely.  We want them to actually think, not be programmed.  Not be told:  You must agree with this way of thinking and that’s the only books you’re going to read.

All of us want people who can think on their feet, especially under pressure.  And I believe you educate – we believe that you educate for the unknown.  That’s why you read.  That’s why you study, because all the circumstances you come across in combat, you’re not going to have a pre – a template that tells you exactly how to act.  But you will have been educated enough to make up your own mind and decide and act quickly, so.  And I also don’t agree with the characterization.  And I do think we want our servicemembers to be widely read, to be able to think, to be able to make up their mind, to be able to make decisions under pressure in combat.

MR. WORK:  Thank you, General Berger. 

Commandant Schultz.

ADMIRAL KARL L. SCHULTZ:  Yeah, thanks Secretary Work.  I would foot-stomp both the commandant and the CNO’s words.  Well-spoken.  You know, for us in the Coast Guard it’s a strategic imperative that we look more like the nation we serve.  And I’ve been in this job three-plus years and focused on that since day one.  You know, I talk about the world’s best Coast Guard, and we need to be the world’s most inclusive Coast Guard.  And we need to go out and garner the talent, the innovation, the experiences.  I don’t think any of the five Department of Defense armed services have any more contact with the public than the United States Coast Guard. 

So we’re absolutely committed in, you know, warfighting, frontline delivery of Coast Guard operations.  And they’re mutually reinforcing, or compatible, that we’re working hard to be an inclusive service that better represents the nation we serve.  And I think I’ll leave it there.  But it’s commander’s business, from my perspective.  I think Mike and Dave both spoke very well about the type of thinking, the broad thinking we need to bring to our jobs as senior leaders to continue pressing forward here.

MR. WORK:  Thank you, Admiral Schultz. 

The next question will also go to all three of you.  For the past three years senior leaders in DOD have insisted it will take us steady budget increases of 3 to 5 percent real growth year over year to implement the 2018 NDS.  It appears as though the best case we can hope for over the next couple years is only about 2 percent, which may not even cover inflation.  If that is true, what has been the biggest accommodation you have had to make to your plans for the future?

General Berger.

GEN. BERGER:  Our planning assumption beginning two years ago was that budgets would be flat.  That may prove to be false in the years ahead, but that was our assumption going forward.  With that as a foundation, we have opted to modernize the Marine Corps from within, generate our own resources from within the Marine Corps.  So what do you have to trade if you only 2 percent growth year over year over year?  One is time.  You can’t move as fast as you’d like to move.  Second is there is a healthy part of it, whenever somebody tightens your pocketbook, in that it causes you to look inside your bank account and where you’re spending money, just like in your family, and find out where you might be more efficient, more effective with the resources that you do have.

So it’s caused all of us to look inside our budgets in great detail to find out where we might find some efficiencies, where may be able to take risks.  The challenge, I think – and then I’ll just finish up – I think the challenge overall is that if we did not have a pacing threat, if we were not in a great-power competition, then we would just – we would be focused on trying to make the next-best version of ourselves, whatever that might be.  But when you’re pushed by a peer or a near-peer, OK, now we’re talking about net assessment.  Now we’re talking about how fast are they moving relative to us?  So now budgets take on another, even more heightened importance, because we have to keep not only pace with them, but we have to stay in front.

Our concern I think as a service chief and as a joint chief is do we understand where we are going to accept risk, and are we making that deliberately, intentionally?  Are we letting go of things that we can let go of in order to move and stay in front of the – in front of the pacing threat?

MR. WORK:  Thank you, Commandant. 

Admiral Schultz, I’m not really certain what type of assumptions the Coast Guard was making about their future budgets, but can you talk about the tightening – the apparent tightening of the federal spending on national defense and national security is affecting the Coast Guard?

ADM. SCHULTZ:  Sure, Secretary Work.  Let me start by saying, you know, we’ve bene on a crusade here, of sorts, since 1 June 2018 talking about the readiness of Coast Guard.  And I think we’ve built a compelling narrative.  You know, if you look back across the last almost decade here – sequestration was 2013.  From 2013 to ’18, we lost about 10 percent of purchasing power and operations – to support operations and maintenance budget.  And we need to turn that corner.  You know, I’ve been talking about 3 to 5 percent. 

And actually, I’m encouraged, sitting outside Department of Defense budget inside Department of Homeland Security, is not always an easy place budgetarily.  President’s budget for ’22 actually has us building on a healthy glide slope than where we were in the last couple budget cycles.  So I’m guardedly optimistic.  But for us, when you’re playing catch up ball, you know, we weren’t part of the readiness increase that happened in 2018, to the tune of 12 percent across the DOD services.  So we’re definitely digging out of a hole.  We pull a lot of backlog infrastructure. 

But for us, 3 to 5 percent steady growth, if we can get to that point, if we can make that business case, that allows me as service chief to deliver the Coast Guard the nation needs.  And right now, our budget’s appearing before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee today.  And, you know, initial indicators are it’s on a good trajectory.  So I’m probably the optimist in the crowd here because right now we have maybe turned the corner on some positive glide slope here to get after those things that’ll help me as service chief deliver a ready Coast Guard.

MR. WORK:  Thank you, Admiral Schultz.


ADM. GILDAY:  So I’d like to key on something the commandant mentioned, which is prioritization.  And I think that’s going to be important if we – if we think that budgets are going to either stay flat or potentially continue to decline.  That said, there are a few ongoing efforts in the department that I think are really, really important.  And it does get back to General Berger’s point about prioritization.  Right now we’ve got, within the interagency, work on the new National Security Strategy.  That’ll also – there’s also ongoing work in conjunction with that on a new National Defense Strategy.  That’ll be informed by not only the work of the China Task Force that just finished up with the secretary of defense, but also his Global Posture Review.

And as he said in his confirmation hearing, he really wants to understand what needs, if anything, needs to be tweaked in the NDS.  And also, he’s interested in taking a look at ensuring that the National Defense Strategy is properly resourced.  And what I think that comes down – boils down to, and potentially in a budget-constrained environment, is priorities, as General Berger mentioned.  And so for the Navy, the way I’ve looked at it, that comes down to joint capabilities. 

So I take a look at the Joint Military Net Assessment that the J-8 does that compares – that compares our force against our primary competitors.  I take a look at the Joint Warfighting Concept, and how that’s going to dictate how we’re potentially going to build the force of the future.  And then within that, I’m trying to make investments that are completely in line with that so that the Navy is – the Navy’s contributing to the joint capabilities we need to close gaps that are identified in the capabilities assessment, and also to bring to bear the warfighting power that’s complementary to the Joint Warfighting Concept.

MR. WORK:  Thank you, CNO.

What I’d like to do now is shift to a lightning round.  I’m going to try to ask each of the chiefs two questions.  So I’d ask the chiefs to keep their answer as crisp as they possibly can.

First one to the commandant of the Marine Corps:  General Berger, a new report last week on Infantry Battalion Experimentation campaign plan, or IBX30, caught my eye.  Can you tell us what this effort aims to do?

GEN. BERGER:  We can’t – we don’t have the luxury of setting aside a force to experiment with, but we need to experiment and learn fast.  So the method we’re using is assign one battalion in each division, organize differently, train differently, equip differently.  And over the next 18 months, they’ll all go through their normal workup cycle, they’ll all go through a deployment and come back.  And the goal is at the end of that 18 months we’ll have learned from all three.  We’ll have a much clearer picture of what the battalion of the future ought to look like.

MR. WORK:  Commandant Schultz, you frequently talk about the cooperate, compete, and lethality continuum.  What is the Coast Guard’s role in the realm of all-domain competition, competition, and conflict?

ADM. SCHULTZ:  Yeah, thanks, Secretary.  I would say, sir, I think the Coast Guard sort of sits squarely between Department of State diplomacy and Department of Defense lethality.  We obviously contribute on the high-end fight in the war plans and sit at the table with the other service chiefs.  But I think on a day-to-day place, you know, we model rules-based behavior – the international norms.  As we deploy Coast Guard cutters in support of domestic homeland missions, the enabling of the economy here.  There’s a home game and we’re supporting the combatant commanders across the globe in this increasingly global coast guard.

I haven’t seen a demand for Coast Guard services, Secretary Work, as high as it is today.  And I think we bring niche capabilities.  So for us it’s, you know, where our likeminded partners in the Indo-Pacific, that their navies look more like our Coast Guard or they have Coast Guard maritime forces, we help them build capacity.  They want to partner with us.  We help them get after their, you know, exclusive economic zones, across Oceania and the Indo-Pacific.  Most of those island nations derive 50 percent-plus of their GDP from the sea.  So how do we come in and support them?

I think another location, just to wrap up, is gray zone operations.  That’s a place where, you know, our pacing threat of China is using their using their People’s Armed Maritime Militia as sort of action arms.  I think the U.S. Coast Guard can push back as a credible voice and forces in that conversation.

MR. WORK:  Thank you.

CNO, my understanding is that the recent Integrated Battle Problem 21, IBP 21, focused on exploring how unmanned autonomous vehicles and systems can help pack fleet in any future war fight in the western Pacific.  Can you tell us what the initial findings have been?  Or if you can’t do that, what are your expectations for unmanned systems in the future battle force?

ADM. GILDAY:  Yeah, thanks, Dr. Work.  So if I could just step back for a second.  So the hybrid fleet and the growth in unmanned is part of the journey we’re on with the Nav Plan.  And the Integrated Battle Problem that we did was part of an effort to do – it’s our effort to do more than just talk.  It’s to actually get beyond the PowerPoint slides and get beyond the whiteboards to actually operating manned and unmanned together in a way that we can conceptually understand better how we’re going to use these systems together.

We know that we’re not going to completely go to unmanned very rapidly.  We know that that’s going to be a journey.  So conceptually, what does that look like with respect to war fighting?  How do we integrate those unmanned or minimally manned platforms under the sea, on the sea, and above the sea in the air, in a way – in a complementary fashion with our manned platforms?  So in this particular case we took unmanned in each of those three domains and we teamed them with the destroyers, including a Zumwalt-class destroyer, LCS, our latest DDGs, and a cruiser, to see how we can bring that combat power together and actually deliver effects, which included live firing events.

So I would say that in a nutshell, Dr. Work, what we really – what we’re beginning to learn is how to – how we’re going to actually get to a point where we can make decisions on which platforms we’re going to scale, which ones we can double down on, and which ones we can sundown fairly rapidly.

MR. WORK:  Sounds really interesting. 

Commandant Berger, as part of Force Design 2030, you made the decision to deactivate tank units – active-duty tank units in the Marine Corps.  Do you have any regrets about that decision?  Do you still think that was the best decision for the future Marine Corps that you envision?

GEN. BERGER:  Professionally, no regrets.  I mean, personally, those of us who have fought alongside tanks, there is a nostalgia there that you just – you can’t let go of, because there’s no substitute for one rolling down the street next to you in Fallujah.  But for the future, it’s what we have to do.  It’s what we need to do.  So I don’t have any regrets, no.  It’s the right path that we’re on.

MR. WORK:  Thank you.

Commandant Schultz, how are plans for recapitalization of the cutter fleet going?

ADM. SCHULTZ:  Yeah, Dr. Work, we’re at the pace of shipbuilding that we haven’t been at since the Second World War.  So we’ve taken acceptance of nine of a fleet of 11 national security cutters.  Those ships are our most capable assets.  We’ve got funding for two of three polar security cutters.  The ’22 presidential appropriations puts a long lead in for the third, and that’s the ships to replace our high-latitude capacities.  That’s going to be an impressive ship.  We’re building OPCs, offshore patrol cutters, down in Eastern Shipbuilding Group in Florida.  And we’re continuing momentum there. 

We should take acceptance of the first ship late ’22.  That’s about 70 percent of the backbone of our deep-water fleet.  Those OPCs, a fleet of 25.  And we’re building fast response cutters.  We just sent the first two over there late May to work with Mike Gilday’s team in of the 5th Fleet.  (Inaudible) – part of the world here.  And those will – the first two to replace the six over there, two more this fall, two in the spring.  And then next spring, a little less than a year from now, we’re going to award a detailed design and construction contract for waterways commerce cutters.  That’s the fleet of 35 today, to be replaced by 30 boats that work the aid to navigation in the heartland waterways and some of the coastal communities, particularly the Gulf of Mexico.  And those will be workhorses that allow us to enable $5.6 trillion of economic activity.

So we’re at a good place, and we’re really pressing in bringing onboard C-130Js.  We’ve got to drive down a fleet of MH-65 Dolphins, the composite aerospace – (inaudible) – platforms.  We got 98 of those.  We got to drive up our 60 fleet, the Jayhawks, because the Dolphins are getting tough to support from a part sustainability cost standpoint.

MR. WORK:  Thank you.

CNO, I know Project Overmatch is one of your very top priorities.  Are you satisfied with progress to date?

ADM. GILDAY:  I am.  So we’re in our third spiral since last fall.  We’re actually experimenting in a way that allows us to essentially pass any data on any network to the warfighter.  And so it’s a software-defined communications system that allows us to essentially unpack all of our networks in a way that we never have before, to allow us to take data into rapid – to package it, to send it to a user to be used very rapidly.  And I think in a nutshell, doctor, what we’re really trying to do, and why we think this is so important, it’s not just being able to send a fire control quality track over a different network so that we get a roundup faster than the bad guy.  I think the real power of this is to put us in a position where we can actually decide and act as a fleet faster than – faster than the opponent.

It’ll give us a more resilient network.  And a software-defined communication as a system type of environment will allow the software to decide where that data’s going to go, so that the end user – through an application leveraging micro-processing, much like you’re doing on your smartphone – allows individual operators – the right operators to make the right decisions at the right time to put us in a position of advantage.  And I think that beyond the talk, you know, this goes back to the Nav Plan.  Less say, more do.  We’re actually trying to – we’re actually putting our shoulder into this.  And I’m pretty optimistic about the path we’re on to scale to a strike group in late ’22-’23 and then go beyond that to a fleet.  And of course, it’s going to nest within the joint JADC2 framework.

MR. WORK:  Thank you.

The next question, again, will go to all three of the chiefs.  A top priority of the new administration is to pursue advanced technologies.  What technologies do you think will have the biggest impact on the future warfighting capabilities and readiness of your respective services?  You’ve touched on this – several of you have already touched on this in your previous answers, but if you could just focus on the technologies themselves, I’d appreciate it.

Commandant Schultz.

ADM. SCHULTZ:  Yeah, Dr. Work, a lot of things here.  You know, we’ve kicked off a tech revolution, of sorts.  We’re pulling a lot of aging infrastructures.  We were forced to make tough budget decisions the last decades.  Some of those things, like recapitalizing our enterprise mission platform, our software, took a backseat.  So we’re playing some catch up ball there.  We’re a dot-mil organization, so to stay on the dot-mil domain we’ve got to invest there.  We’re putting mobility in the hands of our people.

You know, the Coast Guard, I think, is a useful place where we can go out and test some things.  You know, we’ve got a pretty robust unmanned aerial system platforms on the national security cutter that we’re bringing across the OPCs.  We’re doing a lot of work obviously as the face of the U.S. maritime presence on a more persistent, but really still episodic basis, in the Arctic.  A lot of opportunities for additional domain awareness, communication capabilities that we’re working with U.S. NORTHCOM, the Navy, other stakeholders on.  We’re looking at AI, machine learning, and how do we look at our service forces logistics center new predictive analysis about maintenance of our national security cutters and things like that.

So we’re in a lot of different places.  I’m standing up this summer a UAS office.  So we’re going beyond aerial stuff and looking at the other domains.  We did about 30 days of test work on the Hawaiian Islands this past early spring.  So we’re trying to up our game.  And we’re sort of a – (inaudible) – organization.  We tend to look at what others are doing and then build out from there, Doctor.

MR. WORK:  Thanks.  And I guess I should say for the record – (laughs) – I do not have a Ph.D.  So, you know, Bob is – Bob is perfect.  I’m not – (laughs) – I’m not a doctor. 


ADM. GILDAY:  Yes, Bob.  (Laughter.)  Thank you. 

MR. WORK:  Over to you, CNO.

ADM. GILDAY:  So let me break it up into a few different areas.  First, I’ll talk about readiness and the power of data analytics we are going to continue to leverage.  We have seen the ability of data analytics to put us in a much better place with respect to fighter readiness, Super Hornets in particular, where we’ve been maintaining 80 percent mission-capable rates for the past 20-plus months.  I also I think gaming technologies that we are applying to both ready, relevant learning and live virtual constructive training has been really critical.  So the gaming community, principally headquartered in Orlando, Florida, has been – has been part of the tech industry that we’ve really leveraged there, and I think has great – continues to have great promise.

As I look around the bend a little bit and I think about future capabilities, hypersonics, we are – we are on milestone or head of milestone in every single test with respect to hypersonics.  Our goal is to – as you’re aware – as most of you are aware – is to field that weapon system on the Zumwalt-class in ’25.  Laser technology also great promise.  That’s where it focused with respect to fleet survivability. 

And then I think – I talk about networking a little bit with JADC2.  Unmanned, of course, that’s the hybrid fleet of the future going into the 2030s.  I would say that the common threat to all of these is AI capabilities that we’re leveraging, not just in warfighting but also in business applications and manpower.  So all of that’s coming together in a way that I think is keeping us focused on not only current readiness but modernizing the fleet as well.

MR. WORK:  Thank you, CNO.

Commandant Berger.

ADM. BERGER:  The challenge of batting cleanup behind the other two is they pick all the great categories of technology that are moving fast.  I would say there’s nothing I could disagree with.  I think for the Marine Corps, you could talk unmanned.  But I would say the combination for us of artificial intelligence and edge computing together, this is going to, I think, enable the force that’s all the way forward – the stand-in force, the eyes and ears sort of thing – to collect, to sense, to make decisions, to be lethal all at the same time, at a much greater speed.

But as the CNO highlighted, I think the value of artificial intelligence in areas like training and manpower management, or personnel management, or talent management, in areas like logistics, we have a lot we still have to untap – or, to tap into there.  I think for us, as fast as we can go, there’s – it’s one of those areas where this seems like the more you peel it back, there’s three more – three more ways that you could use to do something that perhaps you’re already doing today, but at a much faster, much more efficient rate.

MR. WORK:  Thank you.  It certainly is an exciting time in technology.  Another question for all three of you.  The theme of WEST 2021 is the promise and progress of integration.  How would you characterize the promise and the progress to date?  I know it has been highlighted and emphasized heavily by both the CNO and the commandant of the Marine Corps and Admiral Schultz, as he talked about – earlier about integrating into the cooperation, competition, lethality continuum.  So how do you think we’re going?  Are we getting better integrated?


ADM. GILDAY:  I think we’re doing pretty well.  I’d give us – I’d probably give us a B, B-plus right now in terms of where we are with respect to the tri-services maritime strategy.  You mentioned the integration with the Navy and the Marine Corps.  And I think we’re in a really, really strong path.  I’ll talk about a couple of examples in a moment.  I think with the Coast Guard – so we’re operating right now, we’re doing an exercise off of Hawaii.  There’s not a theater that the Navy is in right now where we don’t have LEDETs onboard and we’re not working directly with the Coast Guard – whether it’s 4th Fleet, whether it’s 5th Fleet, whether it’s 7th Fleet.

When you see a cutter sail through the Taiwan Strait, that’s a powerful signal.  And they’re sailing through alone, solo, almost interchangeably with the Navy, in a way, to send a strong signal about freedom of navigation.  So I think that we’ve seen that integration with the Coast Guard get even stronger since the time that I’ve been CNO.  And I’m not taking credit for that.  It’s just – I think we’re just doubling down on what’s a natural integration.

I think – with respect to the Marine Corps, I think that every fleet concept of operations right now, as I get briefed by three-star fleet commanders, those concepts are dual-signed by a Marine three-star from a MEF and from a fleet commander.  And it’s just – it’s powerful because that essentially is underwriting or the foundation for how they’re exercising, training, and thinking about the future fight.

So I think the future steps – I’m behind the commandant 100 percent in terms of where he’s going with his investment strategy to really give life to EABO and LOCE in a very powerful way in terms of how the fleet is going to fight – compete and fight in the future.  So I think we’re – I am very optimistic about the path that we’re on.  And I think the fact that there will always be some friction in a budget-constrained environment.  But we’re trying to work through that and keep our eye on what’s most important – what’s most important for the joint force and the nation.

MR. WORK:  Thanks, CNO.

Commandant Schultz.

ADM. SCHULTZ:  Yeah, thanks, Bob.  I would say, first off, I agree with the CNO immensely.  You know, we just wrapped up that 3rd Fleet, I think, a national security cutter (ran ?) a four-ship Naval-Coast Guard Surface Action Group out there.  And that was a terrific, successful event.  You know, we just had National Security Cutter Hamilton come out of the Black Sea, you know, as tensions were rising in the region there.  And, you know, the Hamilton partnered with the Georgians, the Ukrainians, with the Romanians, Bulgarians. 

Just demonstrates what a warship, when you think about that, through a little broader prism, broader lens, can bring to the strategy.  You know, we talk about the tri-service maritime strategy advantage at sea to build out the 21st century cooperative strategy back in ’07, updated in ’15.  I think here in ’20 that Dave, and Mike, and I all signed on.  I think it really focuses us to think about that integrated all-domain naval power.  So I’m excited about it.  You know, we had a team over on the USS Normandy, a cruiser there in the 5th Fleet, that rolled up a huge cache of weapons, filled up the entire flight deck.  And that’s another place of integrated power.

You know, I haven’t seen the forensics that walks it back, but generally other loads like that reach back to Iranian-backed, you know, Houthi-like forces.  And those are places where we’re cooperating.  We’ve got LEDETs doing the Oceania Maritime Security Initiative – IUU, illegal unregulated unreported fishing, in the far reaches of the Pacific.  We don’t have the platforms.  When you put a Coast Guard team on a naval ship transiting through the region, I think you start to touch the global threat picture in ways we haven’t done quite as effectively and efficiently in the past.

So I’m really encouraged about where we’re at.  And the Coast Guard, we’re putting as much dog in that fight as we absolutely can to be part of the tri-services team.

MR. WORK:  Thank you.

Commandant Berger.

ADM. BERGER:  As always, Commandant Schultz, good reminder from him about it wasn’t all that long ago where the theme was cooperate at sea.  And now it’s integrate.  I mean, there’s a – that’s an evolutionary path.  But I hadn’t thought of it until he mentioned it.

For me, I think for us it’s helpful to separate the physical parts of integration from the perhaps intellectual parts of integration.  And for us, the intellectual parts are actually the foundational elements.  I don’t know whether they’re more or less important, but they got to precede the physical part.  In other words, why are we integrating?  To do what?  What is the goals?  What are the assumptions going forward? 

And I think this is why it’s moving along at the rate that the CNO said, because the conclusions – the strategic conclusions that underpin it we all agree on, because if we didn’t then there’s no need to integrate because we see the future operating environment very differently.  But because we started from a common set of the same conclusions about how the future might look like and what the pacing threat might be, if you begin from there then you have the underpinnings, the foundation that you’re looking for.

I think that’s allowed us now to move into the physical parts that both of them highlight, from staffs to formations to everywhere – things in the building here about how we’re thinking through prioritizing our investments.  Integration, in other words, in a number of different forms.  But it’s – I think it’s, again, founding on the intellectual part.  Do we see the future operating environment in a similar manner?  Do we have the same conclusions?  And we do.

And I’ll just finish by saying the force design effort of the Marine Corps, I think that’s the strongest endorsement you’re going to find for naval integration.  That is naval integration in real life, in real terms.

MR. WORKS:  Thanks to all three.  We’re now going to shift to questions from the audience.  We have about 25 minutes to take questions. 

The first one is a very good one:  Many considered the last National Defense Strategy a success because it moved the needle on China.  However, many thought it underplayed the partnership card.  In what mission sets do you see the best opportunities working with allies and partners?

CNO, let’s start with you.

ADM. GILDAY:  Yeah, I’ll just – so I talk to heads of Navy a lot.  And probably at least once a week I’m talking with a key ally or partner.  And what I’m seeing is a very high interest in now just talking about some of the more consequential missions that have – let’s say anti-submarine warfare against an advancing threat, not only from Russia but also from China.  That has heavy focus, and I welcome it, not only in terms of operating with us but also in terms of what different partner nations and allies are actually putting their – putting their resource against.

Another is long-range fires.  Heavy interest in partnering with us with respect to the path that we’re on with hypersonics.  And I think, you know, I go back to what the commandant just left off with, which was I think essentially talking about future capabilities and keeping us grounded on the Joint Warfighting Concept, as an example, and what we need to bring to bear in the future fight, and maybe not just keep on buying more of the same stuff, right?  It’s you got to – you got to look over the treetops at what the next fight could potentially look like.

And that’s where I really – Bob, I’m optimistic, because conversations with allies and partners are about those key – I think those key mission sets that are going to continue to be fundamental to Navy and Marine Force contributions in the future fight.

MR. WORK:  Thanks.

Commandant Schultz.

ADM. SCHULTZ:  Yeah.  I appreciate that.  You know, I think it’s an era of Coast Guards, of sorts.  As I look across the globe – and let me – sort of we’re focused a little bit on the Indo-Pacific region, so I’ll start there.  You know, I look at the whole of government approach.  So we take excess defense articles, high-endurance cutters, 378-foot ships, we transfer them to the Vietnamese, we transfer them to the Philippines.  We have a former medium-endurance cutter to the Sri Lankans.  They’re going to get a high-endurance cutter.  We layer in Coast Guard mobile training teams.  We put key place liaisons, attachés – just put an attaché in Australia to service New Zealand, to service Papua New Guinea.  We’re going to Singapore.  We’ve got advisors – DTRA and other advisors in the region.

I look at the ASEAN nations there and I think about how do we partner with their Coast Guards?  How do we build up sort of their own wherewithal, their capabilities to press back and be, you know, capable partners in the region when we look at the pacing threat?  I think there’s a lot of opportunities there, and it really layers some in that cooperate, compete, and lethal continuum you asked about earlier, Bob.  It’s, you know, build partner capacity.  You know, the Philippines are partnering with the Japanese, they’re partnering with the French to get new vessels.  How do we get them out of the littorals, maybe a little more deep water?  Their Coast Guard was a few thousand years ago, they’re marching towards 40,000.  I think that’ll almost eclipse their naval and marine corps force by almost a factor of two.

So they see Coast Guards as a tool for domestic law enforcement, as national security, national defense.  I think we can layer in that under that tri-service maritime strategy umbrella, and really build out regional capacity, regional partnerships, strengthen the allies piece of that.  And that’s kind of a sweet spot for us, I think, at the end of the day.

MR. WORK:  Great.

General Berger.

GEN. BERGER:  I think the – I don’t know if it intentionally underplayed in 2018, but there’s no question that in the past three years the events that have happened around the world, the way that the world is shaping up, has clearly driven that to the – to the surface.  Most of us – I don’t know about you, sir – but most of us grew into the – grew up in an environment where there was a tiering of our allies, and there was the top ones, and then the middle ones, and the bottom ones if you had time.  That’s all gone away.

And I think the ones that we clearly have – not rebuilt, but strengthened the ties to – like Australia, and Japan, and South Korea, and the U.K. – all of them are now much tighter even than they were five, six, seven years ago, I think because we have a more common view of how the world is shaping up.  But I think there’s this other layer in there too, that’s not a true, in the conventional sense, partner.  Not an ally.  But now there’s a lot of attention on, as my counterparts said, Vietnam, India.  The ones who are in the middle, caught in the middle and trying to work their way through from their own national perspective.

I think four or five years ago the Belt and Road Initiative sounded like a great deal, a great economic boom, a great promise.  And they took a lot of that handout in the sense that it was going to help build their infrastructure all around.  It’s not working out that way.  So I think the evolution – I don’t know that they deliberately, intentionally underplayed it.  But clearly now it’s key – not just from a physical kind of treaty, you know, kinetic fight, but also just from a day-to-day competition point.  This is – it has clearly risen to the fore, not just in Asia but, as we all know, in Europe, in Africa – in places that weren’t high on the list a couple years ago.

MR. WORK:  Great answers, all.

This next one’s a good one, too.  How do you plan to guard against doing the same or more with fewer people, which leads to overtasking personnel and causes retention issues going forward?  Are you willing to say no to tasking to preserve end strength?  The recent GAO report on the surface warfare officer career path points to this problem. 

Given the reference to the surface warfare officer career path, CNO, I’d like to start with you.

ADM. GILDAY:  So I’ll tell you, one of the reasons why readiness is my top priority, why current readiness and training is my top priority, it does come from the 2017 collisions, and what we learned – what we learned from – what we learned from them.  And, you know, some of what we learned is that investments that we made 10-15 years ago came at a cost.  And so we invested in capacity – that is, shipbuilding – at the expense of maintenance, at the expense of training, at the expense of sailors – numbers of sailors on ship, at the expense of munitions, and magazines, and supply parts and supply rooms. 

And I don’t want to return to that.  I don’t want to return to that place, because the cost was very, very high, in this case with respect to the loss of life.  And I don’t say that to be dramatic, it’s just a fact.  I think that my priority is to field the best Navy we can every day.  And also, at the same time, I am making focused investments into the future in growing the Navy in an affordable way.  I do think that as we come out of this Global Posture Review that the SecDef is leading, I think that’s an opportunity to have an honest discussion, based on the budget that we have right now, in terms of what we want to spend on current readiness.  Because it is expensive.

I do believe that you need and you want a Navy, a Marine Corps, a Coast Guard out there.  We have to be forward to be relevant, to matter.  If you go back to Admiral Davidson’s testimony, I mean, it’s crystal clear we need to be west of – west of the international date line.  So we do need a force out there.  That’s got to be a ready and capable force.  If it’s not, it’s not going to be – it’s not going to be – it’s not going to deter any potential adversaries.  And then it has to be ready to go at a moment’s notice, should it be required to.

And so it’s – and so, again, I go back to the fact that we do need to take a look at – I think we need to take a deeper look at our day-to-day commitments and make sure that they’re prioritized sufficiently with respect to not only what we’re responsible for today, but our modernization for tomorrow.

MR. WORK:  Thank you.

Commandant Berger.

GEN. BERGER:  If I heard right, sir, there was kind of two parts to that.  One was end strength and preserving end strength, and a hollow – sort of a reflection on the hollow force.  And the other one was saying no to tasking.  So I think on the end strength part we are in a different place in the Marine Corps, taking a different approach in the Marine Corps, because we are reducing our end strength.  And we’re doing it because, for the – I think the person submitted the question.  We’re not going to have a hollow force.  None of the service chiefs are going to have a hollow force.  So we’re shrinking the force.  We’re contracting it to the – to the size we can man at 100 percent.  We can have everybody trained.  We can fill – there won’t be holes in our force.  So we’re shrinking the size of the force so that it’s sized to what we can afford.

And the second part, and we’re doing that pretty rapidly.  The second part, I think no to tasking.  I think that’s an easy way to ask the question.  It’s more difficult for the Joint Chiefs when we wrestle with the requests from combatant commands because they’re all genuine, you know, legitimate requests.  But in reality, the secretary of defense has to make hard decisions on where he’s going to accept strategic risk.  And that’s our job, I think, to advise him and say – it’s not saying no to a task.  That’s not the point.  The point is being there’s more tasks than we have forces and capabilities and capacity.  So where, as a nation, are we willing to accept what degree of risk?  And I think this secretary has clearly proven that he’s willing and ready to make those kind of decisions.  And we’re giving him the best advice we can give him.

MR. WORK:  Thank you. 

Commandant Schultz.

ADM. SCHULTZ:  Yeah.  Thanks, Bob.  I would say, you know, amplifying my readiness theme, you know, readiness is number one.  And the key to pulling that is people.  So we need to compete in a very competitive place with talent.  All the service chiefs know how hard it is go find young Americans that are eligible to serve, then those with a propensity.  So we got to work that piece. 

And the Coast Guard, you know, generally being able to say no – generally you have to do, and then follow up and say, here’s what it costs.  So, you know, if we lean in to do more in the Indo-Pacific, I got to make that business case that here’s what we can do, here’s what we can bring to the integrated all-domain naval fight.  If you want some more of this, here’s the budgetary piece.  So generally it’s a say yes, but here is the cost to do that.  That’s what we’ve been focused on.  I think we roll that into our – into our maritime narrative about readiness. 

You know, but at the end of the day, last year – last couple years – I’ve left the equivalent of four major cutter annual days on the table because of some forward maintenance shortfalls.  I left the equivalent of, you know, almost a dozen and a half, two dozen helicopter operational hours on the table because of forward maintenance funds.  So we need to continue to talk about what it takes to be a ready Coast Guard. 

But for me generally I get to yes, and then I make the business case about, hey, if you want that capability and you want an increase in capacities, here’s the cost we need to put Coast Guard against those threats, those opportunities.  And I think that’s worked for us.  I will continue to sort of get to yes, but identify the risks and then make those internal priority choices that allow us to take on what I think are the higher precedent threats that, you know, the SecDef, that the secretary of homeland security define for the nation – and the president defines.

MR. WORK:  Thank you.

This may be the last question.  We might be able to get one more in.  But this question says:  Can you ask each of the service chiefs to discuss how morale sits with their fleet and families today?  What can civilians do to help? 

Commandant Berger.

GEN. BERGER:  I think morale is – you know, it’s hard to characterize a whole force as how is morale.  But I think the rate at which things are changing in the Marine Corps – and I understand, we got – we have to change.  And there’s some energy, some excitement involved there.  I think on the – you know, on the tough side is coming out of the backside of COVID, and the constraints on families being able to take leave, especially if they’re overseas, and the anxiety with moves in the middle of a pandemic, and things that were postponed – yeah, all that is definitely an impact to morale.

I think here that civilians are so important because they’re sort of the continuity.  You know, we pack up and move every two years.  And we get to a new place.  But I think in terms of morale, the continuity in any location that I’ve been in, in any base, any station, is the civilians.  So in other words, wrapping their arms around the military families when they show up, when they move into the area.  Showing them around, making them feel comfortable.  When they’re getting ready to move out, helping them move out – just the sort of settling, calming, I don’t know, welcoming impact is just huge, because the turbulence of every couple years moving takes its toll.  And I think the civilians, at least in the communities that I’ve lived in, huge impact on sort of a calming effect, in a positive way.

MR. WORK:  Thanks. 


ADM. GILDAY:  I think – I think morale’s excellent.  I do think what I – what concerns me the most, I think, is living up to our part of the bargain as service chiefs – or, at least speaking for myself, as CNO in providing best – the best possible support that I can for sailors and their families.  And, you know, particularly with – in a budget-constrained environment, you never feel like you’re doing everything that you can do.  And that’s a bit of a disappointment for us.  But I tell you, the – what we’ve seen from our sailors and our families in the past year during the pandemic has been absolutely eye-watering.  And, you know, we’re deploying at historical op tempo pace and meeting mission and doing really well.

Last night I was at Fenway Park.  And I administered – had the honor of administering the enlistment oath to 10 new sailors that were joining the Navy.  And so when you speak into that crowd in that ballpark, in an area where there really isn’t a heavy military population, because of BRAC, since probably the 1970s.  And when you describe the fact that these young patriots are joining what I believe to be the world’s best navy, serving the citizens of the world’s best country, and you get 33,000 people on their feet cheering – that kind of – I did not expect that, to be honest with you. 

And this almost goes back to the first question about being “woke.”  You know, I’m just not sensing that kind of criticism more broadly from the American public about their military, certainly about the Navy.  So, again, I think morale is solid.  And we can do better in terms of supporting our sailors and their families.  And what communities are doing in terms of welcoming us I think is just admirable, continues to be.

MR. WORK:  Thank you. 

Admiral Schultz.

ADM. SCHULTZ:  Yeah, Bob, I’ll try to be short to maybe get to another question.  But I would tell you, I couldn’t be prouder of our Coast Guardsmen, our Coast Guard family.  So I think about what Dave Berger talked about, the challenge of the COVID pandemic.  You know, we’re a disaggregated force, small numbers all over the country and, you know, not a lot of place to social distance at boat station, national security cutter downrange, no port calls other than to get fuel and food.

But that said, I think our Coasties are excited about places we’re showing up, the work we’re doing in an increasingly global Coast Guard, the families that have stepped to the plate.  You know, we’re in a lot of high-cost areas, so the housing market is exacerbating some of the challenges as military families pack up and move.  So I think that connective tissue with the fabrics where we reside, particularly small places – you know, Coasties come in, the dads, moms that are home or other work, get involved in communities, PTA, coaching sports.  I think we’re generally welcomed in our communities. 

So I’m excited about where we’re at.  I think I had the privilege on Memorial Day weekend to represent the commandant, represent the CNO, and swear in future sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen on a beach in South Florida, in the air show down there and the sea show, and there is an excitement about there about serving.  So we’re all out there trying to find these young Americans.  But the force, morale is high, there’s a bit of fatigue.  You know, we came off the busiest Atlantic-based hurricane season in the history of recordkeeping last year – 30 named storms.  I was down in New Orleans last week.  You know, folks down there responded to eight hurricanes – or, six hurricanes, two tropical storms.  We’re right back in hurricane season. The projections are for a, you know, fairly busy year again this year.

So I would say morale is high.  A little bit of fatigue.  We are ready.  We just need to continue to do those things Admiral Gilday talked about – you know, resources that get after housing, resources that get after, you know, competitive things that allow us to go find the best in America and keep them in our forces.  All those things are important to keep the warfighter, the sailor, the Marine, the airman in the game – (audio break) – at least, you know, taken care of medically and – (audio break) – and going to continue to improve as we get on the backside of this pandemic.

MR. WORK:  Thanks.

Well, we’ve peppered you with a lot of questions.  We’ve got about five minutes left.  What I’d like to ask each of you is:  Is there something – or, is there a question that I did not ask you, or a message that you think you would like to convey to the listeners in these last five minutes that we have?


ADM. GILDAY:  First of all, I’d like to just thank the Naval Institute again for the opportunity to bring the chiefs together to talk.  I think we covered a lot of ground.  I think what I – what I’d leave the audience with is that, you know, every day when you pick up – when you pick up the paper and you read about what’s being written about the services, there is some negative stuff there.  But I would tell you that as we’ve talked, we see much of that as very constructive criticism that actually sharpens our focus and helps keep us – keep us on track with respect to priorities and what we need to be focused on. 

And so I’m grateful for that kind of dialogue – that kind of open dialogue.  I think we need to think critically about what we’re investing in, what we’re doing, where we’re headed.  And opposing views are OK.  And I would continue to leverage the – I would continue to leverage the institute for opportunities like this.  And just like to thank the audience for continuing to participate and to be advocates and supporters for the services.

MR. WORK:  Commandant Berger.

GEN. BERGER:  So, yeah, I would just perhaps start with your military today.  Although we talked a lot about the future, and technology, and where the world’s going, the military – the force today is really, really good.  It’s very ready.  It’s very strong.  Very capable.  And all of us are very confident that, whatever the president needs us to do, it’ll be handled well.  I think the second part – and this forum today is a great indicator of it – I continue to be – learn that even – today, even more important that the relationships between industry and the military, we have to get even closer if we’re going to keep up and stay in front.

And then lastly, I think both the CNO and the commandant of the Coast Guard mentioned it.  I’ll just repeat it.  The individual service members are so incredible.  They are – (laughs) – they are the very best our country has.  And all the technology, all the other stuff put off to the side, at the very center the individual Coast Guardsman, the individual sailor, the individual Marine, soldier, and airman, they’re, like, incredible.  And it is really a privilege for us just to – just to try to do them right.  But they’re very much the strength.  Always have been.  They are – they are today.

MR. WORK:  Commandant Schultz.

ADM. SCHULTZ:  Yeah, Bob.  I’ll just build on my shipmate’s really poignant words here.  I think it is the smartest force we’ve ever had.  But there are different motivations.  How do we keep them in our ranks?  How do we show them opportunities?  How do we show them that we’re forward thinking, that we’re focused on their families?  We recognize there’s many choices. 

You know, 2018, 1 Jan marked a new date in the armed force, with a blended retirement where, you know, a Coast Guardsman, a Marine, a Navy sailor of nine-10 years was maybe thinking about 20 to get a defined benefit retirement.  Now they get to 12 years, you look around, you pay yourself first in a thrift savings plan, and you get some choices.  You know, we have the highest retention in the armed forces, and we need those midgrade and senior enlisted members of mid-grade officers marching towards senior officers. 

So we’ve got to continue to treat our folks well, and recognize the competitive workforce opportunities that are outside our lifelines.  We’re hiring in the Coast Guard.  I don’t think there’s a more exciting opportunity.  New platforms, exciting missions, best integration we’ve had in this integrated all-domain theater.  I’m just really jazzed up about where we’re at.  And I want to thank the populace that continues to support the men and women of our armed services.  And take it back and close with the CNO’s comment. 

You know, discourse is important for the nation.  And that’s what we’re premised on.  And I think absolutely, you know, we – senior military leaders, naval leaders – try to be apolitical, but politically informed and politically savvy.  And these discussions force us to think through difficult issues that are confronting the nation.  You know, I think about what kind of Coast Guard do we want to be as a time when we figure out what kind of nation we want to be.

So just wrap up by saying thanks for the privilege of being here today.  I hope we had a chance to inform the audience across a broad range of issues.  And thanks for moderating the panel, Bob.

MR. WORK:  No problem.

You know, this is such a challenging and exciting time for our armed services.  (Laughs.)  We have a new administration, which has a new view on how to engage with the world.  We’re thinking about updating our National Defense Strategy.  We have new budget guidance, which seems to be a little bit more challenging than we were expecting.  Technology is running all over the place.  So I think I speak for everyone on this – who’s watching this, that we’re extraordinarily lucky to have three gentlemen of your background and experience leading the Navy, the Marines, and the Coast Guard through this time.

So I want to thank you all three for your service.  And I want to than the virtual audience for attending and asking some great questions – really good questions.  Thank you again to Lockheed Martin for helping make this conversation possible.  And I hope that everybody enjoyed our time together.  This is a reminder the on-demand version of the webcast will be available tomorrow and can be accessed by logging into the virtual event platform that you are currently on.  I wish each of you a great rest of your day and a wonderful July 4th.  Go Nats!  Hoo-rah!


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