CNO Speaks at the Defense News Conference Discussion with Megan Eckstein

by From Chief of Naval Operations Public Affairs
09 September 2021
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday spoke with Megan Eckstein at the Defense News Conference Discussion on "Modernizing the Fleet," Sept. 8.

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VIRIN: 201123-N-SH402-1080

Below is a transcript of their conversation:

MEGAN ECKSTEIN:  Welcome back to the Defense News Conference.  I’m Megan Eckstein, naval warfare reporter at Defense News.  And joining me today is Admiral Michael Gilday.  He’s the chief of naval operations and a surface warfare officer with past experience in cyber.  So, Admiral, thank you so much for joining us today.  I’m very excited to get this opportunity to discuss naval modernization with you.  So let’s just get started, if we can.

Before I jump into some of the meatier questions, I understand you’ve had some pretty extensive travel recently.  And I wondered if you could just tell us all what you’ve been up to this summer.

ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY:  Sure.  Now that we’re able to travel this summer after we were vaccinated, we took the opportunity to travel to Newport, to look at our schoolhouses up in Newport, Virginia.  Not just the Surface Warfare School but the Naval War College, the Chaplain School, the Supply School, and others, to get a sense of how we’re leveraging ready, relevant learning and moving forward in a way to leverage technology in terms of bringing those schoolhouses forward into the 21st century.  I visited Tokyo and Singapore.  I met with my counterparts in both countries, and also spoke at a maritime conference in Singapore that was largely a regional conference centered on all things Indo-Pacific, and particularly Western Pacific in terms of the interests of those navies.

I visited Guam to see our infrastructure buildup there.  I visited an LCS, the Charleston, while I was in Guam, before she headed back out to patrol.  And I met with leadership in Guam as well, including the lieutenant governor, to thank him for all of Guam’s support for the United States Navy.  I also traveled to both Norfolk and Hawaii with a large-scale exercise.  I was able to see that exercise from the perspective of the operation centers at the fleet headquarters, but also aboard the Kearsarge – so a big-deck amphib on the East Coast – as well as the Carl Vinson, our first carrier deployment with F-35s, off of the coast of Hawaii.

And I also visited San Diego recently to talk to surface warfare leadership.  All the surface flags out there for their annual training symposium.  So I spoke with them.  I also spent an afternoon with the Navy SEALs, the naval special warfare, to better understand their transition, their pivot, from counter VEO – not that they’ve completely pivoted from counter-VEO.  They’ll always have responsibilities in that mission set.  But as they pivoted to – as they’re pivoting to great-power competition, and the things that they’re doing to integrate better with the rest of the fleet.  And lastly, I visited Nav War while I was in San Diego to talk about Project Overmatch and our Navy’s contribution to JADC2, and the glide slope that we’re on with that effort.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  Well, good.  Well, I want to come back to all three pieces of your San Diego trip later in our conversation.  But first let’s start with Large-Scale Exercise ’21.  I understand you got to see several pieces of it.  Media was invited out to a few pieces of the event as well.  And I just wondered, for starters, if you could describe kind of what you saw and maybe what surprised you the most, you know, conducting, for the first time in a generation of naval warfare officers – conducting something of this scale.

ADM. GILDAY:  Right.  So I think scale is the operative word there.  So it was essentially a global exercise across five fleets and 17 time zones, involving more than 25,000 sailors and Marines.  We’re interested in not only taking a look conceptually at distributed maritime operations and essentially get a better understanding conceptually of how we’re going to fight not just as strike groups, and ARGs and surface action groups, but collectively as a fleet to bring all of those sensors together, all of those long-range fires together.  And to bring them together in a command-and-control construct that allows them to not mass platforms, but actually mass effects, in a live virtual construct. 

Which is really important with respect to the future because, as everybody can appreciate, if we want to fight like a fleet, it’s very challenging and expensive to get fleets underway together, and to get all those ships underway together at the same time with a robust op forward to conduct an exercise that’s going to be meaningful.  So being able to do this in a live virtual construct allows us to leverage ships that are tied up at the pier, but they can still, you know, in their CICs, see everything that everybody out at sea is seeing as well, and in the fleet headquarters essentially seeing not only – not only the blue cop, but also the operational picture of the adversaries as well.

I think for us it’s where we’re heading in the future, to put us in a position where we’re actually able to exercise large elements of the fleet simultaneously.  And we think that if we do get into a conflict in the future, we believe that it’s not only going to be transregional but also multidomain.  And so exercising fleets together, exercising those command-and-control constructs, taking a look at the integration specifically of space and cyber, but also Marines ashore with expeditionary advanced bases, and leveraging them in sea control and sea denial. 

So the exercise helped us understand conceptually how we’re going to fight.  And this is really important for us as we continue to refine the underlying CONOPS that support distributed maritime operations.  But it also gives us better insights into what we’re going to fight with, which is really, really important so that we’re making the right investments at the right time going into the 2030s.

I’ll pause here, Megan.  I know that that was quite a mouthful.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  No, that’s great.  Obviously, you’ll be spending the weeks, months, and probably years after this going through lessons learned to try to understand what you can do to improve the concepts, to improve the technologies.  But I wondered what jumped out at you in terms of how effective distributed maritime operations appeared to be, how effective the fleet, as it is today, appears to be, and kind of what you learned about the Navy’s ability of right now to fight in this type of high-end warfare, if it were called upon to do so.

ADM. GILDAY:  I think one of the things we learned is you can’t self-limit.  And so as we begin to take a look at how do you use a distributed network of platforms, right?  And thinking ahead to JADC2 and how we tie everything together.  But not limiting a shooter to the sensors that are on that particular platform, right, but leveraging organic and non-organic sensors in order to fuse that data to not only put us in a position to get a round out faster than the adversary, but actually to put us in a position, probably most importantly, to decide faster than the adversary how we’re going to act, and to stay one or two steps ahead.  To take advantage of the fog and friction of war, particularly early in a conflict, to put our forces – and hopefully we’re fighting as a coalition – that we put our forces in a position of advantage before the enemy is able to understand what we’re doing.

So it’s really about information superiority, if you will.  It’s about decision superiority and putting us in a position to leverage every piece of the fleet and every bit of the contribution from our allies and partners.  So importantly, they’re a big part of this in terms of how we’re going to fight.  Nobody sits on the bench, in our view.  Everybody plays.  And so I think initially I mentioned the term “self-limit.”  And so we tend to do that a lot, thinking nostalgically, as we look in our rear-view mirror, how we’ve used the fleet in the past.  This allows us to experiment in ways that we haven’t before, particularly live virtual where you can run scenarios over and over again at scale and learn – and learn from them without a high cost.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  OK.  And having seen what you saw during Large-Scale Exercise ’21, and just some of the, maybe tweaks to the concept that folks stumbled upon as they were going through these scenarios, what would you like to see next?  I mean what should – if you’re a fleet forces commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, what should they be looking to do next to kind of build upon this momentum?

ADM. GILDAY:  Yeah, one of the things that we need to do in the next large-scale exercise – actually, it’ll be a series of – and we’re planning out the next 18 fleet battle problems which, essentially every time we’re deploying – we either deploy or have a returning deployer with respect to ARGs and carrier strike groups, we exercise or test elements of distributed maritime operations to test those concepts so that we continue to refine them.  So one of the things that I’ll be looking for is how we integrate unmanned at scale into the fleet, right?  Because we know that in the future they’re going to be a significant part of distributed maritime operations. 

We know in order to give us volume, in order to give us firepower, in order to give us sensing power, we need that distributed fleet.  And that with respect to affordability I think that we have to keep that in mind as we build the fleet of the future with a budget that, of course, is going to be somewhat constrained.  It always is.  You never have as much as you want.  And so taking a look at how we can innovatively use unmanned – unmanned platforms that are going to be reliable and that we’re able to, with confidence, command and control, and use them as sensors, and use them as potentially adjunct magazines.  I think there’s a lot of potential there.

And so, again, we did an integrated battle problem a few months ago which was our biggest yet with respect to the use of manned and unmanned conventional platforms, and unmanned platforms together.  We need to continue to scale that and learn from it.  It’s helping us conceptually understand how we’re going to employ not just unmanned but unmanned together with traditional ships and platforms.  And so conceptually it helps us.  It also helps us make decisions on what type of unmanned platforms we want to sundown because they’re not performing as well as we expected and which ones we want to double down on and accelerate.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  OK.  And can you give any insight into where you are looking to make those investments and divestments yet?

ADM. GILDAY:  So the investment – so right now I would say that the MQ-25 that we’re – we just did a refueling operation with E-2Ds and so we’re now refueling our second type of aircraft with the MQ-25s.  We’re learning a lot as we use the MQ-25 off the carrier decks in terms of employing unmanned air into a wing.  That’s given us greater insights with respect to the direction we have to move with the airwing of the future, with both manned and unmanned.  Think sixth generation TAC Air as well as very stealthy, lethal, and capable unmanned platforms.

And so the MQ-25 is really our first foray into the carrier airwing of the future, understanding how we integrate it and how we leverage it, how we’re going to use unmanned and manned together in a way that’s going to be quite effective.  And I should say, with respect to manned, there’s a separate integration piece there with bringing fourth and fifth generation together, right?  And so right now Super Hornets and F-35s, we’re deploying them for the first time together on Carl Vinson.  By 2025, half of our airwings will be F-35 capable.  And so through this decade we’ll continue to move in that direction as well with the integration of manned fourth and fifth gen.

With respect to surface – so we’re very optimistic about the long transits that we’ve made from the Gulf Coast up to Port Hueneme with – two or three times now, which have been quite successful.  The integrated battle problem that we did a few months ago with unmanned, unmanned surface specifically, allowed us to better understand how we use those as remote sensors to build our our common operational picture, to help us with respect to targeting.  And then we actually leveraged what we call a flow targeting cells that fuse information together, fuse data together from both organic and non-organic sources to allow us to – again, give us that decision superiority, but also allows us to fuse data into fire control quality tracks that we can push out in a number of networks in order to put a weapon on a target, hopefully faster than the enemy.

And unmanned, under the surface, there is great potential there.  I don’t want to talk about the specific mission sets, but in terms of command and control of those vessels, I think that we saw significant gains over the past year in terms of how we’re moving forward there, and the payloads that they’ll carry.  Again, where I’m pushing the team is don’t self-limit in terms of what we can do with these unmanned platforms.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  OK.  Well, I’ll move onto Project Overmatch now, since you brought up the topic of unmanned.  As you mentioned, obviously within Large-Scale Exercise, within the unmanned integrated fleet battle problem, and just various exercises over the past year there’s really been this focus on bringing in unmanned systems, integrating them with the rest of the fleet.  And I wondered if you could kind of broadly talk about what you’ve seen over the past year that’s maybe changed your mind about what your expectations are for unmanned, or maybe expanded your ideas of how it could be applied.  Just anything that’s maybe surprised you a little bit over the past year.

ADM. GILDAY:  Well, two things that we knew we had to get our arms around with respect to unmanned – and specifically unmanned surface and under the surface – was reliability.  So really thinking about engineering plans that are going to run for long durations of time with zero or minimal maintenance, right, so that they’re out there at sea for extended periods of time in a way that we can really count on them, without breaking down.  So that’s the first challenge.  And what we’ve seen so far this year in terms of specifically zeroing in on that problem set has been significant progress.

And so we’re not yet satisfied where we need to be with unmanned surface or unmanned under the surface with respect to reliability.  But we are quickly moving in that direction, where – to put us in a position, probably in a few years, where we can go to the Hill and have discussions inside the Pentagon about finally slapping the table and making a decision to move at scale in terms of producing these vessels.  But again, not doing that prematurely until we’re confident that we have a capability that’s going to perform.

The second challenge really – for me, anyway – has been command and control, which was the genesis of Overmatch.  We knew that if we wanted to – let’s say our initial target by the mid-2030s is to have at least a third of the fleet to be unmanned or minimally manned, that we couldn’t command and control, let’s say, well over 100 vessels or well over – you know, approaching 200 vessels, without changing the way that we were networked.  And so Project Overmatch really became my second-highest priority after Columbia in terms of giving us, again, decision superiority and fusing together networks in a reliable fashion to move data quickly.

And so I gave an example recently talking to an audience about – people with military background are familiar with frequency hopping, right?  Where we hop from one frequency to the next in order to give us agility against an adversary.  Well, Project Overmatch is really taking a look at network agility in terms of moving data between different networks at speed, packaging that data in a way that the network on which that data moves just becomes – just becomes a path by which you can move that data to an endpoint to either make a decision or fire a weapon.  And leveraging micro-processing.  So leveraging applications in a way that we haven’t before.

And partly what I mean by that is that, with respect to ships and the CANES network, the CANES infrastructure that we have, having those applications ride on the backbone of CANES instead of – instead of being deep down into individual systems, and so – into individual systems and networks where it’s much more difficult to leverage them in a way, to update them in a way that’s fast and agile.

So this past year we’ve – in the first year of Project Overmatch we’ve done three spirals where we bring together increasing amounts of networks and data sources to see what we can move on – what we can package and on what networks as speed.  We’ve been very optimistic about what we’ve seen so far with respect to performance.  Our first big test is going to be in late ’22 or early ’23 on a deploying strike group.  And after that we would intend to scale at a fleet level, and then continue that effort.

This is the Navy’s contribution to JADC2, for Joint All Domain Command and Control.  And the Navy really has the lead on the joint tactical network.  And so what we’re doing with this network agility has everything to do with a joint solution to – part of a joint solution set to JADC2.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  OK.  And as you look forward to that first carrier deployment, this test that you’re talking about in late ’22 or early ’23, you know, to what extent is that going to be checking to make sure the technical aspect works, versus to what extent will that be looking at the sailor side of it – you know, being able to employ the system, kind of gain some ideas for how to operate unmanned systems in a – in a fleet setting.  I wonder how you’re balancing maybe both sides as you go forward with Project Overmatch, and just understanding the technical and the operational hand-in-hand.

ADM. GILDAY:  Yeah.  Thanks for that question.  So we absolutely need to see what’s technically feasible.  And again, we’re very optimistic about where we’re heading with this from a technical standpoint.  With respect to sailors, an important part of this, particularly with respect to applications, right – think about battle management aids – is how we leverage – how we leverage the thinking of decision makers to improve upon those applications, right?  To make them more usable, to make them more effective. 

And so this is going to be a DevSecOps type of environment where we would actually expect some sailors with the right technical expertise to actually look at making modifications to those applications that can be tested in a sandbox, if you will, and then updated fleet-wide, so that everybody benefits from that – from that new idea, right?  That new twist to an application.  And so we’re absolutely going to rely – instead of deciding the requirements, whether it’s at Nav Sea or Nav War here in the Pentagon, you’ll actually have decisionmakers in the fleet at multiple paygrades having an input into that process.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  OK.  Very good.  Well, I wanted to ask you about one specific unmanned test.  One of the large unmanned surface vessels that the Navy has alongside the Pentagon, the USV Ranger, recently did a test with a modular missile launcher.  And I just wondered if you could tell us a little bit about that recent test and kind of why that was important, particularly in light – I know there’s been some back and forth between the Navy and Congress related to the Navy designing, building, and testing its own purpose-built USV with built-in vertical launch cells.  So I wonder kind of how this test is maybe able to fill the gap a little bit while you work on those reliability issues that Congress is interested in, and kind of how this recent test was able to push the ball forward.

ADM. GILDAY:  Yeah.  So this recent test.  So in terms of technical feasibility, taking a weapons system that already exists, containerizing it, putting it in the back of an unmanned vessel, pushing it out to sea, and then essentially pushing target data, the target solution set to that vessel, and then remote launching.  So all of that really has to do with command and control, right?  And the technical feasibility of being able to do that in a way that’s technically feasible and successful, but also in terms of speed, right?  Can we do that at speed so that we can get a weapon off quickly?  And can we do it with a high degree of confidence that we’re – that we’re controlling that weapon in terms of where it’s going, when it’s going to fire, what the target – what target it’s going to be aimed at, and will it ultimately be successful.

That was a very successful test for us from a command-and-control standpoint, and also from a reliability standpoint with respect to that vessel as well.  I do think, as we look at AI applications for unmanned, I do think it’s going to be a journey for us before we talk about an autonomous fleet, or an autonomous unmanned fleet.  And I say that because it’s one thing to use AI to have a vessel avoid other vessels out there in terms of following the rules of the road.  That’s – it’s important, absolutely important, but it’s a first step in terms of leveraging AI.  To get to a place where you can give an unmanned vessel commanders intent, right, and then have that vessel go out and perform a mission, and then come back and report mission complete – that’s a whole degree of difficulty – substantial degree of difficulty from the first example that I gave.

So I think it’s going to take us a while to get to a point where we’re probably initially going to be minimally manned on most of these platforms.  And I think in terms of manned-unmanned teaming, the manned – the man in the loop is going to be an important piece of this for a while, before we get to a point where, you know, it’s hands-off, so to speak, and with a high degree of autonomy.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  Sure.  And I know this is probably difficult to quantify, but, I mean, how close to your vision does this recent test with the USV Ranger get you?  Is this something similar to how you’d want to be operating in the near term, or is there still significant work to be done to get from where we are with this most recent test to kind of your vision for operating USVs and being able to network them into the carrier strike group?

ADM. GILDAY:  Yeah.  So I’m not yet satisfied with the pace at which we’re working with unmanned.  I go back to Large-Scale Exercise, the question that you were asking earlier about next steps here.  And unmanned is definitely a piece of that.  Over the next few months we’ll be standing up an unmanned task force.  So think in terms of scope, purpose, similar to Taskforce Overmatch, where I have a group of technical experts, along with operators, who put heat on this problem set to move forward in all three domains at speed to make unmanned a reality by the end of this decade, so that we can begin to put ourselves in a position where we can scale these assets and really make them an important part of the fleet, make distributed maritime operations come alive in a way that’s real.  So that’s the next step.  And we’re in the early stages of putting together this taskforce.  But I think by early ’22 I’ll be able to give you more details on that. 

MS. ECKSTEIN:  OK.  What types of folks do you expect to be involved in this taskforce?

ADM. GILDAY:  Both sailors and civilian sailors.  So we have a lot of technical expertise in the Navy today that we can leverage – at our warfighting labs, in our systems commands.  And so that’s where we’re going first, is people with highly specialized skillsets who have a passion for innovation, and they want to lean in and contribute.  So we’re going to leverage the people who we have in the Navy right now.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  OK.  Very good.

ADM. GILDAY:  Just like we do with Overmatch.  And so when you – I was just out to San Diego the week before last and meeting with Nav War and that team of primarily civilians who are leading the Overmatch effort.  And to watch them – to see their enthusiasm with taking charge of that project and moving forward, they’ve been empowered – they’ve been empowered to move forward, right?  To fail, to learn from failure, to experiment, but to stay focused on specific goals, these spirals that we’re doing within Overmatch.  But they’re driving it.  And they’re driving it really, really well.  So I think that that’s an example for me of what we can do from the inside without going to the outside and contracting for more help.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  OK.  Very good.  Well, I wanted to ask you about a topic that you’ve had to talk a lot about this year – (laughs) – of sort of the balance within the fleet between capacity, capability, and readiness.  Obviously, this is a topic that all CNOs have to grapple with.  Coming at a particularly interesting time for you, as you’ve acknowledged, with just anticipating flat budgets coming up in the future.  So, you know, throughout this FY-’22 budget cycle you’ve made your stance pretty well known in terms of what you view as the proper balance between capacity, capability, and readiness. 

And it seems like based on the House Armed Services Committee’s recent markup of their defense bill that they may seem to be finally coming along in terms of allowing the Navy to retire some of the cruisers – not all that you asked for.  Obviously final details to be determined after they, you know, work with the Senate.  But I wondered if you could just talk a little bit about what it’s been like trying to get the lawmakers on board and why you think that message finally resonated this year, even though the Navy’s been asking to decommission some of these older ships for many years now.

ADM. GILDAY:  I would say that whether it’s in private or publicly at hearings, I haven’t really received any pushback on the priorities, which have been Columbia, readiness and training, capabilities – think modernization – and then capacity at an affordable rate.  Because where we don’t want to end up – you know, if I talk about the budget kind of broadly, the Navy’s buying power has been essentially static since 2010.  We haven’t seen a rise since 2010 in our buying power. 

Sixty percent of our budget is operations maintenance and manpower.  And so we see about a 2 ½ percent increase in costs across those areas on an annual basis.  That’s on top of inflation, which this year could be – you know, it was originally estimated at perhaps 2 ½ percent.  It could be 5 percent by the end of the year.  We’ll see.  And so it’s a losing game with respect to buying power based on our top line and based on those increases to inflation and just cost – just day-to-day cost to own, cost to operate.

And so given that, where we don’t want to end up – I’ve been clear, as you said, about the fact that if our top line stays the same, and given those priorities – if the top line stays the same we’re likely to see a smaller fleet.  Where we don’t want to be is to have a smaller fleet that’s less lethal, less capable. And less ready.  And so we’ve got to be very careful there about putting the money in the right bins, keeping that balance correct – keeping that balance right so that we don’t end up – if the top line stays the same or goes down – we don’t end up with a smaller fleet that’s less lethal, and less capable, and, of course, less ready.

And so the sacrifice there really is on capacity.  And so where I don’t want to be is – you know, during sequestration I think that that model was flipped a little bit, and we were building a ship – we were building a fleet that we couldn’t sustain.  And we absolutely have a responsibility to be able to sustain the fleet that we field.  And I feel like that’s a key responsibility that I have on a day-to-day basis, and also taking a peek into the future in terms of where we want to be in five years, 10 years, 15 years.

So, again, there hasn’t been a lot of pushback.  There’s been some disappointment with respect to our shipbuilding numbers.  But again, I look forward to making our arguments inside the Pentagon here with the ’23 budget and seeing if we can make some headway.  And I’m grateful to Congress for this recent potential plus-up of 25 billion (dollars).  And we’ll see how that plays out in conference.  And then we’ll see how the Navy fares in that potential increase.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  Absolutely.  To your point about what you might want the fleet to look like in, you know, the five to 10 years range, just looking over the past decade, it seems like every, two or three years or so the Navy’s embarked on a new effort to do a force structure assessment, kind of a new effort to say, OK, things have changed – the threat has changed, the budget has changed.  Let’s take another look.  And obviously there’s an argument to be made that this is an iterative process, the world’s always changing, you constantly need to update this. 

But it can also be really difficult for industry when the numbers changing within – programmatically.  Is it two submarines a year?  Is it three submarines a year?  You know, you can understand that it would be a little challenging for them to understand where to put their own resources when the goalpost is continuously being altered.  So I just wondered, are you at a place where you’re comfortable to say, the plan is the plan and let’s just work toward it?  Or do you see a need to kind of revisit it, especially given that the plan that’s most recently been done does call for an increase in the size of the fleet, perhaps beyond what the budgets would allow that you’re predicting?

ADM. GILDAY:  I think we have to do a – we have to continuously refine that force structure assessment so that – let’s say ever 18 to 24 months your inputs into the previous force structure assessment take into consideration what changes your potential competitors – what changes have they made, right?  You don’t want to have a force structure assessment that sits on the shelf for five years that you’re still – you know, now you’re dealing off a playbook that’s dated.  And that’s not helpful for industry either.  And it’s not helpful for the Navy or the nation.  So I think you got to do a round turn on the assessment about every 18 to 24 months.

So what are our competitors doing?  What’s China doing principally?  What’s Russia doing?  What did we learn from things like Large-Scale Exercises?  We’re about to do another global war game this fall.  We’re doing analysis all the time.  There’s a number of war games that we do every year.  What are we learning from those games or that analysis?  What are we learning from those fleet battle problems that we’re doing with every deploying strike group and ARG?  Pulling all that together and integrating that into a turn of a force structure assessment to give us a better understanding.  To refine that, you know, let’s say every other year on a biannual basis, I think that’s an important – I think that’s important because that is one big input into the shipbuilding plan that we provide Congress.

Now, the shipbuilding plan – so, first of all, if I could just pause and talk about what I said with respect to the Large-Scale Exercise.  The Large-Scale Exercise gave us – is giving us a better understanding, a lot of these fleet battle problems, on how we’re going to fight, what we need to do to win, right?  And that gives us an understanding of what we need to fight with, OK?  So that foundation, in terms of how we’re going to fight, that’s critically important.  So we don’t want to end up in a guessing game here in terms of, you know, just a – we have a better understanding of what’s required – what’s required to compete, deter, and to win.  And then to fold that into our analysis.  And then that becomes a starting point for the shipbuilding plan.

Now the shipbuilding plan also folds in affordability.  And I think that’s important, because requirements are one thing – and warfighting requirements are critically important for us to have an understanding.  That analysis has to tell us what we need to use to fight and win.  But then you have the affordability piece.  And so that’s where realism gets injected.  And unless you have budgets that are going to – you know, where you have – where you have predictability from year to year, which we often do not, you’re going to see those fluctuations.  And so that makes it very difficult for industry and Congress.

But I go back to, my priorities aren’t going to – my priorities haven’t changed, at least during my tenure, in terms of Columbia, readiness, capabilities, and capacity.  So I’m taking the analysis that we have with respect to requirements, I’m taking those priorities that I’ve explained many times, and then I’m injecting the reality of the budget that we receive, or the budget we are projected to receive over the fall.  And so that ends up influencing the 30-year shipbuilding plan.  And again, that not only – that’s grounded on requirements, but it also has a high degree of affordability integrated into it.

That was a bit of a rant, Megan.  If I need to go into any more detail –

MS. ECKSTEIN:  No, that’s great.  Well, I wanted to pick up on the capability piece of what you just mentioned.  You found yourself in the position where you have your next-generation submarine, your next-generation surface combatant, and your next-generation air dominance, your fighter – all kind of with timelines that have converged in the coming decade.  And I just wondered, you know, looking at the budgets that you’re expecting, looking at priorities that you have on the books, I wonder how you’re looking at that situation, with three major modernization programs that have kind of ended up on a similar timeline.  Maybe which ones need to stay on track versus which ones can be slowed, and kind of how you’re making some early budget decisions related to them.

ADM. GILDAY:  Yeah.  So the short answer is we need to move forward in all three.  But there is a sequencing element of this that we’re working through.  Again, the analysis is helping us, particularly with a look at our competitors and what they’re doing – in terms of where – this is a risk-informed – these are risk-informed decisions on what needs to move faster and what needs to slow down, in your words.  I don’t want to talk publicly about those decisions that we’re making, but they are definitely risk-informed.  We are definitely taking a look at sequencing those programs in a way that makes warfighting sense for the Navy and the joint force.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  Sure.  Is there anything you can say just in terms of, which may represent the biggest leap in technology, versus which may look a little bit more like something we’re accustomed to seeing in the fleet today?

ADM. GILDAY:  So if I could talk about the surface fleet for a minute.  So, as you know, what we’re doing with the new constellation-class frigate is we’re taking a known hull, we’re taking a known combat system and we’re kind of fusing the two.  On DDG(X), what we’re going to do is take a proven combat system and put it on a new hull.  And so that’s not the first time we’ve done that, but we’re trying to minimize risk with respect to how we build these platforms and how we introduce new systems to these platforms. 

As we saw with LCS, as we saw specifically with the Ford-class aircraft carrier, where we had 23 new technologies on that aircraft carrier, the degree of risk there – one could, you know, in hindsight say that we probably should have paid closer attention to that.  And we paid for it at the end with respect to delays to fielding that platform.  So we don’t want to be there with frigate and we don’t want to be there with DDG(X).  And so we’re trying to make – we’re trying to work – first of all, we’re trying to work very closely with industry.  Even now with DDG(X), we are working hand-in-glove with industry with respect to the design of that future ship.  Not only the combat systems elements that’ll go on board, but what does the engineering plant look like that gives us enough cooling power and space for growth in the decades ahead?

You know, with respect to unmanned air, those programs are highly classified.  But we are leveraging what other services are doing as well as we look at efficiencies with respect to those investments.  And we’re also looking at what our competitors are doing in terms of making decisions with respect to the capabilities and those platforms.  And then with SSN(X) – SSN(X) is a program that we’ve already been working on for a while.  We’ll continue to work on it. 

I just – it’s a highly classified program, so I don’t want to talk about any specifics.  But again, this is going to come down to a broad look at how we’re going to fight as a fleet, what capabilities we need to fight as a fleet that’ll be carried on those platforms, and then working a sequencing plan based on both warfighting requirements and affordability that puts us on a good glideslope going into the 2030s, where we don’t end up crashing on any one of them. 

MS. ECKSTEIN:  Absolutely.  Well, we’re running a little shorter on time than I would have liked, so I want to just change subjects on you.  And we’ve had a few questions come in from the audience as well on this topic.  With the military having recently pulled out of Afghanistan and the 20th anniversary of September 11th coming up, I just wondered if you could maybe talk a little bit about what this means for the Navy.  Obviously the last two decades, the Navy’s been heavily involved in supporting the land wars in the Middle East, particularly with the aircraft carrier fleet, which has put quite a strain on the force.  And I just wondered what a post-Afghanistan Navy looks like, and how that maybe helps you begin to recover some readiness, look at some new force generation models?  Just anything to kind of reclaim some of that naval power.

ADM. GILDAY:  Good question.  So I think a lot of this is based on national priorities.  And so right now, with Afghanistan, we’re taking a look at over the horizon counter-VEO in terms of tactically how we’re going to carry that out.  And so I think there’s work to be done there that’ll inform the ongoing Global Posture Review from the secretary of defense, so that he can then make some final decisions on how he wants to set a force globally, what capabilities he needs where, and what numbers and what type of rotational schedule across the joint force he needs to buy down risk.

And so I think the Global Posture Review is going to be informed by the Afghanistan drawdown, informed by the counter-VEO – over the horizon counter-VEO way ahead, before some final decision are made.  And so I think it’s a bit too early to talk about exactly what that lay down is going to look like.  I will say that the Navy needs to continue to be engaged in the CENTCOM AOR.  The extent to which we are engaged, we need to figure that out with respect to other global commitments, but it’s a maritime AOR with three major choke points that we can’t walk away from.  So there has to be a maritime presence there.

And I don’t think it necessarily has to be a 1.0 continuous carrier strike group or ARG presence, but we can’t be absent from that important theater.  Nor can we from EUCOM.  Nor can we, obviously, from INDOPACOM.  So I have high hopes that the Global Posture Review, from a strategic standpoint, will give the secretary of defense better understanding of risk, better understanding of how we can use the force most effectively in a post-Afghanistan world.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  OK.  Very good.  Well, real quick plug, you have an event coming up next week, I believe.  I wondered if you just wanted to say a quick word, in about 30 seconds, for your ISS conference.

ADM. GILDAY:  Very excited about International Seapower Symposium.  So it’s our 24th.  We’ve been doing it since 1969.  So the United States Navy hosts, in this case, about 140 head of Navy and Coast Guard from around the world.  Our theme for this year is strength through unity.  So typically we talk about common problems that include - this year we’re going to talk about COVID.  We’re going to talk about climate change, and those effects. 

We’re going to have regional security forums where we’ll talk about things going on in the Indo-Pacific, in the SOUTHCOM AOR, in the EUCOM AOR, and bring all those together for the audience in a way that should be pretty dynamic.  Many navies that can’t travel are actually going to tune in via Zoom.  And so we’re looking forward to a very lively event.  The secretary of the Navy is going to be here all week with us.  And so we’ll have him present and engaged as well.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  OK.  Very good, sir.  Well, I’m getting the wrap.  I would love to be able to ask you more questions, but you’ve been very generous with your time.  I just want to thank you again, Admiral Gilday, for joining us today.

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