Below is a transcript of the conversation:
CARRIE LEE: (In progress.) I’m Carrie Lee, public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Singapore. And it’s great to see many of you again, even if virtually.
So this week has certainly demonstrated the strength and breadth of the U.S.-Singapore security partnership. And tonight, we are thrilled to have this opportunity to have an on-the-record roundtable with U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday. After tonight’s event, we will also send out a press release from the Chief of Naval Operations Office – (inaudible).
And with that let me turn it over to Commander Nate Christensen, who will moderate tonight’s event.
COMMANDER NATHAN CHRISTENSEN: Hey, everybody. Thanks for your time tonight and for phoning in a little bit late here. We’ll do the roundtable here on the record. And then what I’ll plan to do is just go down and ask – let everybody have a question. So I’ll just go alphabetically down the list, starting with Bloomberg here in a minute. So before I do that, I’ll ask CNO if he wants to make any opening remarks. And then after that we’ll open it up for Q&A.
ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY: Sure. Thanks, Nate. Thanks, Carrie. Thanks to everybody for joining us tonight to talk for a few minutes.
I’m here in Singapore to take part in the Seventh International Maritime Security Conference, alongside a number of other heads of Navy. It’s been a really fruitful dialogue over the past couple of days with several of my counterparts. I’ve also, while I’ve been here, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with the minister of defense, the chief of defense force and, of course, my counterpart Rear Admiral Beng. This visit was really an important opportunity I think for us to build upon our solid foundation here, and also to discuss ways to strengthen our navies’ partnership and reinforce our commitment to the region.
The U.S.-Singapore partnership, if I just could foot-stomp it for a moment – is really – we view it was the bedrock of America’s military presence in Southeast Asian, and really an anchor for security in the broader Indo-Pacific. So this was an opportunity for me to come here and work together with Admiral Beng to update our discussions for force posture, training, and exercises, as we kind of look around the bend into 2022. And so with that, I look forward to your questions.
CDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right, Bloomberg, we’ll come to you, Kari. Bloomberg, do we have you on the line?
CDR. CHRISTENSEN: Yeah.
Q: Hello. Hi, Admiral, can you hear me?
ADM. GILDAY: Yes.
Q: OK. Great. Thank you so much for chatting.
I wanted to ask, does the military – I’m sorry – the Navy have any plans to take a stance against China’s actions in Taiwan, especially as there’s been more action there?
ADM. GILDAY: So we continue to operate in the Western Pacific on a day-to-day basis. And as you know, the preponderance of our force structure, our ships, are stationed out here in the Pacific. And so on any given day we’ve got about a third of the Navy out at sea. And so we try to maintain a sizable presence in the South China Sea, in the areas of the Western Pacific, and most importantly we’re doing this by, with and through our allies and partners. And so in fact part of the reason here today at the conference was really to underscore the importance of our all reinforcing a rules-based international framework that’s grounded on the U.N. Law of the Sea. And so that’s really the framework that we’re out here reinforcing on a day-to-day basis through our operations and our exercises.
CDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. Channel News Asia, we’ll come to you next. Jeremy Koh, are you there?
Q: Yes. I am. Tensions in the –
CDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. Go ahead.
Q: Yeah. Tensions in the South China Sea have been rising with, you know, different countries in no mood to compromise. Can we expect acceleration of a military buildup there? And how close are these tensions reaching a boiling point in the region?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. Honestly, I don’t see it as – I don’t see it as close to a boiling point. We are trying not to be provocative, but then again we want to – we want to uphold the – we want to uphold international law, international norms. And so we’re doing this, as I mentioned a moment ago, by, with and through our allies and partners. And so we have to do this together. And what we’re trying to do is – you know, there’s a number of frameworks out here in the Pacific. Some of them are bilateral, some are trilateral. As most of you are aware, we exercised the Quad here in Exercise Malabar off of India earlier this year. And some of them are multilateral.
And so it’s taking advantage of all of those frameworks to work together and to show that we really are operating in international waters together because, you know, the point of that is really shared prosperity, right? That the international order that came out of World War II has literally lifted the tide for billions of people. And so our aim is to give everybody an equitable shot at a better future and prosperity for everyone. And that’s what, you know, the – I like to say that the global economy floats on seawater, right? More than 90 percent of the trade is on the sea, 95 percent of our internet traffic travels on transoceanic cables on the seabed. And so that has to be protected and cared for. And no nation or group of nations can take advantage of everybody else.
CDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. Defense News, Mike, we’ll come to you next.
Q: Yes. Hi, Admiral. Thank you for holding this roundtable.
Now, I understand that the U.S. Navy just recently deployed two Littoral Combat Ships to the region. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
ADM. GILDAY: Sure. So we’re very excited about the deployment of the Littoral Combat Ships. They were really designed to operate not in deep – not in the deep, open ocean, but around archipelagos, small islands. And so we’re trying to really take advantage of the design of the ship. And we focused on most recently getting after some of the – some of the problems that we’ve had with the ship with respect to engineering difficulties. And we really feel like we’re headed in the right direction in terms of increasing the operational availability of those ships.
So we’re deploying them down to the Caribbean to do counter-narcotics operations, and also the fleet commander out here in the Western Pacific sees great utility in leveraging Littoral Combat Ships. Here in Singapore, as most of you are aware, we do a rotation deployment of four Littoral Combat Ships. This has been a wonderful model for us in Singapore because we’re able to use – we’re able to use the facilities here as a maintenance and logistics hub to keep those ships out there operating at a pretty high operational tempo.
CDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right.
Q: Thank you.
CDR. CHRISTENSEN: James, we’ll come to you next.
Q: Hi. (Inaudible.)
I was just wondering (to the extent of the resolve ?) of that ship deployment. I think there was a target of having four LCS by 2016, something like that, and then also a target of two – (inaudible). So moving forward, do you have any update for this particular target to deploy four LCS in Singapore? And are you going to increase the – (inaudible) – deployment of – (inaudible) – submarines – (inaudible)? Thank you.
CDR. CHRISTENSEN: Increase deployment – (inaudible) – region.
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. So there are no plans right now to actually increase the numbers that rotate in and out of Singapore. And so we have what we think right now is a solid operating model that meets our operational commitments. In the future I would like to see more LCS operating in the Western Pacific, but we have not yet settled on what the basing model might be for those ships. But again, the rotational model in Singapore works really well. The home port more permanent model we have in Japan is also a real plus for us.
Q: Thank you very much.
CDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. You’ll have to forgive me on the pronunciation. Linhai Zuabobo Wanabo (ph). I’m sorry if I messed that up. Daniel.
Q: Hi. Can you guys hear me?
Q: Hi. Hi, Admiral.
Can I get you to also touch a little bit on any upcoming exercises and operations between the Singapore Navy and the U.S. Navy on – (inaudible)? Thanks.
ADM. GILDAY: Are you asking about exercises that we have done – or operations that we’ve done with the Singaporean Navy? Is that correct?
Q: Yeah. And if there is any upcoming new exercises that you are looking forward to.
ADM. GILDAY: So, I’ll tell you, it’s been pretty robust. If I look back over the past few months, we’ve done Pacific Griffin with the Royal Singaporean Navy. We’ve done – they’ve actually come out and done a passing exercise with the USS Ronald Reagan Strike Group as that strike group transited from the Western Pacific over to the Middle East to provide support for the Afghanistan draw down. And then the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group, we also did dissimilar aircraft training between the Singaporean Air Force and their F-15s and F-16s and our F-35s in that – in that amphibious ready group.
So just a few examples of recently really robust ops with the Singaporeans. And they’re really thirsty to continue to do – to continue to press forward with that kind of interoperability. And we’re happy to work with them because they’re just such easy partners to operate with. In the future, I don’t want to talk about specific exercises that we have planned. I’ll just say that we look forward to even increasing that tempo.
CDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. South China Morning Post, we’ll come to you next. Dewey, are you online?
All right, Straits Times. Min are you there?
Q: Hi. I’m here. Hi. Thanks, Admiral.
My question is I think – (inaudible). You talked about commission of a First Fleet that could be based in Singapore. (Inaudible.) Along with that, there was a review of the organizational structure and posture – (inaudible). I’m wondering if there is any update on that front.
ADM. GILDAY: So I’ll talk about First Fleet for a moment. Right now the United States Navy has no plans to stand up another fleet headquarters, whether it’s in Singapore or anyplace else in the Western Pacific. What we have been exercising is the inherent mobility of our existing fleet headquarters. And so as you’re probably aware, we have fleet headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia and then on the opposite coast out of San Diego. We also have, of course, a Seventh Fleet commander here in – or, in Yokosuka, Japan. We have Fifth Fleet in Bahrain. We have Sixth Fleet in Naples, Italy.
And so sometimes people tend to think of those fleet headquarters as geographically constrained. That is to say, that they can only operate in those specific areas of operation. But that’s not how we look at it. So we’re trying to be more innovative. We’re trying not to self-limit with respect to geography and to use those fleet headquarters in a much more mobile way. And so there are other options besides standing up an additional fleet headquarters to meet any kind of operational demands we may have, whether it’s in the Indian Ocean, the Western Pacific, or other regions. We feel that, based on the training that we’ve done. And we’ve – on many different occasions, we have used our fleets in an expeditionary manner.
I’ll just give you a quick example. U.S. Second Fleet, which is homeported in Norfolk, Virginia, we’ve actually exercised that fleet headquarters in an expeditionary fashion down the coast further south in North Carolina. We’ve actually moved it to Iceland. We’ve moved it aboard a command and control ship in the Mediterranean and up in the high north by Norway and Denmark. And so sorry to give you a long answer here, but the point is no plans to establish another fleet out – another fleet headquarters out here. And we’re going to leverage the inherent mobility of the fleet headquarters that we have around the world.
Q: Thank you, Admiral Gilday.
CDR. CHRISTENSEN: And all right, we’ll end with USNI news, with Dzirhan.
Q: Yes. Thank you, Admiral.
Two questions, one pertaining to LCS deployment. We’ve seen that one of the LCS is spending more time around Guam and Japan. Is there a change in the rotational deployment method?
And, two, can you tell us a bit about the U.S. Navy planned activities with Carrier Strike Group 21?
ADM. GILDAY: So in the first question about LCS, there’s – we’re just flexing to different exercises and moving – and trying to be operationally unpredictable. And so we’re using – we’re using – we’re being very aggressive in terms of moving LCS to different regions out here, trying to do it very quickly and trying to establish a pretty good – some pretty good muscle memory with respect to forcing these – or, not forcing these ships – but putting ourselves in a position where we don’t have to keep them in any given location for very long, that we can move them around to exercises, to short-fused passing exercises with other navies, like Singapore.
And on your question on the strike group, I’m not so – are you talking about the Queen Elizabeth?
CDR. CHRISTENSEN: He was asking about participation as part of –
Q: Yes, it’s on the Queen Elizabeth Strike Group.
ADM. GILDAY: Well, I can’t speak for the Royal Navy, but I can say that we’ve been really happy to have a U.S. destroyer, the USS The Sullivans, as part of that – as part of that Strike Group 21. And it’s been highly successful for us in terms of interoperability and interchangeable, as she plays a – she can play a pretty critical role in that strike group in a number of different mission areas and warfare responsibilities. So it’s been a good exercise for us – not a good exercise, but it’s been a good deployment for us with The Sullivans. And I also should add that, as you’re aware, we have a squadron of Marine Corps F-35s on Queen Elizabeth as well. And that, again, goes to interoperability. There’s a lot that we’ll learn from that deployment. And I think it gives us a lot of flexibility in the future if we need to deploy F-35s, U.S. F-35s, on that aircraft carrier.
CDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right, everybody.
CDR. CHRISTENSEN: I’ll ask one more for South China Morning Post. Dewey, are you on the line?
All right, everybody – you’re there. OK.
I had a question on – (inaudible) – (reference to the signal ?). But you know, I was just wondering if – (inaudible) – does this signal that the U.S. Navy through its operations in the region will support sovereign states’ rights to energy resources, and especially in their EEZ – (inaudible) – under international law? Thank you.
ADM. GILDAY: I had trouble making out your question. Could you – could you repeat that? Just a little bit slower, please.
Q: (Inaudible) – you made reference to the freedom of the seas. Does this signal that the U.S. Navy will support sovereign states’ rights to energy resources, and especially in their EEZs, under international law?
ADM. GILDAY: If the question is – I think, if I heard you right – let me repeat it back – you’re interested in me expounding upon upholding international law for the – for the – I guess the use of natural resources out in the – in the open ocean. Is that correct?
Q: Right, right.
ADM. GILDAY: So we – so the framework that we really operate under out here is UNCLOS, the U.N. Convention for Law of the Sea. And so that framework really sets in place a set of laws and rules that are enforceable. And they’re unambiguous. And so it’s taken a number of years for that convention to be ironed out. And it essentially allows the equitable use of international waters, and including the seabed and the resources in the ocean, so that really everybody can benefit from them, right?
And as I mentioned earlier, this framework has allowed – has lifted billions from poverty and improved prosperity around the globe. And so the aim of the United States Navy out here in the Western Pacific is to work alongside, by with and through our allies and partners to enforce those international laws and to make sure that all nations can benefit. That all economies and all people that want to use those, that have – that they have unfettered, open access to the seas and the airways above them, upon which many people and economies depend.
CDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right, everybody. Thank you very much for your time. We really appreciate it. And have a great night. Out here.
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