Speaker: Admiral Michael M. Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations
Moderator: Commander Nathan Christensen, Public Affairs Officer, Chief of Naval Operations
Time: 9:30 a.m. EDT
Date: Wednesday, September 15, 2021
COMMANDER NATHAN CHRISTENSEN: Good morning, everyone. Nate Christensen here with Admiral Gilday. We will go ahead and have Admiral Gilday open with a few remarks, talk a little about ISS. And then we have just about 20 minutes here for the on-record call, and we’ll go around and try to get you all. So thanks for – thanks for joining him today.
CNO, over to you, sir.
ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY: Good morning. And thanks for joining us, everyone. It’s good to connect.
Last night we kicked off the 24th International Seapower Symposium here in Newport, Rhode Island. And we opened the conference formally this morning with some remarks from both myself and the secretary of the Navy. This year we’re welcoming 135 delegates of navies and coast guards and senior leaders from about 104 countries. That includes 66 international spouses that are joining us as well as about 30 U.S. flag officers and their spouses.
I’d like to just emphasize the spouse piece for just a second. We have a separate program this year for the spouses that actually gives them the opportunity for both cultural events and to join the delegates in all of our discussions. And so it’s great to have them sitting side-by-side with us through most of the substantive discussion we’ll have for the rest of the week.
ISS really – it’s a unique gathering that we only do biannually. And it’s a forum for dialogue among our international navies and coast guards to bolster maritime security by providing the opportunity to give us all the opportunity to develop trust, to sustain old friendships, to make new friends, and to further Navy training and dialogue. The theme of this year’s ISS is strength in unity. And I believe that peace does not happen by accident. It really does take a unified effort to maintain this 70 – continue to maintain the 76 years of great power peace that the world has benefitted from. And that’s why we sail with likeminded navies around the globe, to keep the seas open and free, because we believe that we all benefit from that security and the prosperity that comes along with it.
So with that, everybody, I was just kind of setting the table for ISS, I’m happy to take any questions that you might have.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. Sam, since you’re here, we’ll go ahead and kick off with you.
Q: Sir, in the theme of your opening remarks, I think the international navies from the old World War II rules-based – or, post-World War II rules-based orders have started to see some challenges, particularly in the gray zone. So you see examples, for example, in the Black Sea. There’s a pretty good chance that the state actors faced the maritime positions the AIS systems. You’re seeing gray zone tactics in maritime relations. And with this theme of international cooperation, how does the U.S. fit into that picture when these rules-based orders are challenged like that?
ADM. GILDAY: Well, one of the goals we have coming out of this is we’d like international navies to continue to see the U.S. as a leader in this effort. And so we’re trying not to make the conference, or the dialogue in the conference, an us-versus-them type of – type of discussion. What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to kind of set the stage for collectively resisting actions and behavior that undermine the free and open system that not only underpins their security but also yields the prosperity that, as I talked about in my remarks a few minutes ago, has essentially been the tide that’s lifted all boats, right? Billions have benefitted from the economic globalized economy that was set in place by those discussions in Bretton Woods in the 1940s. So your points about – your points about friction, whether it’s in the South China Sea or Black Sea, are points well-taken. And the U.S. Navy just wants to consider to be – wants to be a leader in setting the right tone with respect to international – following international law.
Q: Is that more bilateral agreements, or more sort of formalized agreements with potentially, like, partner navies moving forward? Is that something that y’all are looking at?
ADM. GILDAY: So if I could use the Indo-Pacific as an example, it’s really layered. And so distinctly different from the European theater, where you have NATO and you do have a formal structure among NATO nations. In the Indo-Pacific, you have bilateral, you have trilateral. We have a quad now. You have multilateral engagements through institutions like ASEAN. And so we’re trying to leverage all of those layers. When I – when I do a multilateral – or a bilateral, trilateral discussion in theater, as I recently done – did in Singapore, I’m trying to leverage all of those different pieces together so that we can, you know, collectively benefit and move the ball forward with respect to international norms, and set the example collectively – whether that’s two of us doing a PASSEX together between our navies or whether we’re going a gigantic exercise like RIMPAC.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. We’ll go to Sylvie from AFP.
Q: Hello. Do you hear me? OK. You spoke about the 104 countries. Were Russia and China among these countries? And are they invited?
ADM. GILDAY: No. They were not formally invited this year to ISS, in keeping with higher level guidance we received. So we did not invite them this year to attend. So you won’t see Russia, China, or Taiwan among the nations attending, as an example.
ADM. GILDAY: So it’s just where we are right now with respect to our relationships with those countries. And so this wasn’t necessarily a forum that was, I think, in keeping with the policies of the – the broader policies of the U.S. government.
Q: OK. But were they invited previously?
ADM. GILDAY: At different times during the course of the last 50 years of this conference, yes, they have been. And so that has been on again/off again, depending upon – depending upon, you know, broader strategic level relations with those nations.
Q: OK. Thank you.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. Jen McDermott from Associated Press, we’ll come to you.
Q: Great. Thanks so much. This is kind of a two-part question, but on the same topic. First, kind of big picture, I’m just wondering if you could tell me a little bit about how the mandatory vaccine process is going across the Navy.
ADM. GILDAY: It’s going well, actually. So the Navy’s immunization numbers have been above 80 percent. And so we feel like we’ve been leading the way across the services. We’ve been promoting the vaccines since we started vaccinating last December/January timeframe. The closer that you move to the tactical edge in the Navy, the higher the take rate of the vaccine is. In other words, for destroyers out of places – home ported out of ports like Yokosuka, Japan we’re seeing take rates at 98 and 99 percent, before we even made the vaccine mandatory.
There are areas of the Navy, whether it’s due to – whether it’s based on geographic location or based on, let’s say, a particular community, we’ve seen varying – you know, we’ve had varying success with take rates. But overall, we’re moving in the right direction. And I’ve not seen any resistance yet. We’ve been – our vaccination numbers have actually gone up since we’ve made it mandatory. Right now our goal is to get the entire active duty force immunized by the 28th of November and the Reserve force by the 28th of December. And we think we’re going to hit both of those marks. And for those that don’t want – that don’t want the vaccine, we’ll deal with those on an individual basis, as those challenges come up.
Q: Perfect. And then the second part of the question is you mentioned very briefly in your opening remarks, when you were talking about shared issues and challenges, you briefly mentioned combatting COVID-19 and ensuring the health of sailors and coast guardsmen. So I realize the traditional focus on the symposium is to cooperate on, you know, ensuring maritime security. But given what’s going on in the world, how do you see the attendees there working together to combat COVID-19 and ensure the health of sailors and coast guardsmen, like you mentioned?
ADM. GILDAY: So as you all recall, in the March of ’20 we had – U.S. Navy had a big challenge with the Theodore Roosevelt in those early days of COVID-19. After we went through the Theodore Roosevelt and the challenges that we had with TR, and we put out – we learned from that – we put out much more specific guidance across the U.S. Navy. And then we shared that with any navies that wanted our information. And we also – so when I say we shared with we learned, they were also sharing what they learned, because together we were – we all had the responsibility to put ships to sea every single day, and deploy them, whether it was locally or whether it was internationally. And so we all had the same challenges.
We’ve been connecting for a year and a half on – and leveraging each other’s good – you know, best practices, and also challenges. To that point, one of the other symposium topics that we’ll cover this week is mental health which, as you all know, those concerns have spiked during COVID as well. So it’s been – so this isn’t the first time that we’ve been – that we’ve been talking about this openly amongst ourselves. This will be just a more formal discussion this week at ISS.
Q: Perfect. Thanks so much.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. Paul McLeary from Politico, over to you.
Q: Hi. Good morning. Curious how much the push and pull from combatant commanders is changing the Navy’s perspective here. We’re obviously out of Afghanistan, but there’s the over-the-horizon strikes. The Indo-Pacific has a lot of challenges. The Reagan’s out in the Middle East. So wondered if you could speak a little bit about how you’re allocating forces and how you expect that to change, if at all, in the next couple years.
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. That’s a good point. I think that the ongoing Global Posture Review that the secretary of defense has directed drew some conclusions before the draw down from Afghanistan. I think that based on where we are right now, and the fact that we are still formulating an executable plan for over the horizon counter violent extremist organizations tactics and procedures into the future, that will certainly change the posture or the laydown of forces globally. And I think the Global Posture Review will help give the secretary a better understanding of how he wants to allocate forces to combatant commanders and why.
So across the spectrum, everything from competition – which really is global – global competition with countries like Russia and China. But understanding the best way, the best manner in which to position capabilities transregionally so the combatant commanders can make the best use of them kind of – you know, the best use of the right capabilities at the right time. As an example, for U.S. Southern Command, their biggest demand might not be for a guided missile destroyer or a cruiser, but it might be for a hospital ship or a field hospital to provide medical support – to provide medical help to some of the nations in South America. And that might be the best manner in which we can use those particular assets or meet his or her challenges down in SOUTHCOM.
And so I do think that the – I don’t mean to be evasive. I just think that post-Afghanistan drawdown that we are still formulating what the global posture laydown’s going to be going into the future. I do think that you’ll see decisions made fairly quickly here to that end.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. Mike Fabey from Jane’s, we’ll come to you next.
Q: Thanks a lot. And thanks, CNO, for doing this. Really appreciate it.
I was struck in your remarks at the beginning about the need to protect shipping lanes and things like that and show net strength. And I’m just wondering, and give some of the things you just were saying about the Global Posture Review and where we’re going with extremists and everything, but where do the big assets, especially carriers, fit into all this? It seems like the debate is starting to percolate again about how many carriers, what type of carriers. I know there’s some review on that. Is that something that’s going to accelerate now with the Global Posture Review? I’m just wondering where we sit with that. Thank you.
ADM. GILDAY: I think the – thanks. I think the Global Posture Review will be a part of a bigger puzzle. And so I think a National Defense Strategy that right now is aimed – the secretary of defense is aiming in 2022 for release of an updated National Defense Strategy – should give us additional guidance in terms of how the globe is going to be postured, how he sees us in the competition phase and then poised for potential crisis against China. And it’s not just in the Indo-Pacific. Again, it’s transregional and it’s also multidomain. And so I do think that the NDS is going to – should refine – should refine how our forces are postured and how we’re going to use them. And it should also give us probably more refined guidance on what our investment strategies need to look like going into the future.
So I hope I’m answering – I hope I’m answering your question. I think that – I think that as an example, you know, carrier strike groups, what – if I could just – if I could just go back to the 2018 NDS. One of the things that the 2018 NDS changed was a – was to essentially create a supply-based and not a demand-based model from which we allocate and apportion forces to combatant commanders. And what I mean by that is in the past it really was a demand-based model. It was driven by the combatant commanders. Now it’s a top-down approach. It’s supply based. So the secretary of defense takes a look at the challenges across the five problem sets –so Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and then violent extremist organizations – and then he makes a determination of how the globe is going to be postured against those – across those five problem sets and across the spectrum of warfare, everything from, you know, peacetime to conflict.
So it gives him the ability to say, well, I need X amount of aircraft carriers deployed on a – on a daily basis. And I need – I need Y number of aircraft carriers – carrier strike groups ready to get underway in, let’s say, 30 days or 60 days. And that’ll give us direction with respect to how much readiness we need to resource in the coming years. So I think what we’ll see out of the NDS is I think we’ll see – we’ll see more structure with respect to what the readiness of the force – of the joint force looks like into the future.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. Vago Muradian, we’ll come to you from DefAero Report.
Q: Thanks very much, Nate. CNO, thanks very much for doing this. Sorry about how the game turned out on Saturday. The sadness. The sadness. I hope it’s better in the season.
So the United States has been very proactive, striking a tripartite deal a couple of years ago between the United States, the U.K. and Japan. And as you said, looking at many different sort of multilateral and bilateral agreements. News reports from Australia suggest that the government today is going to announce the cancellation of the $90 billion program to acquire French attack submarines. In terms of the U.S. and the United Kingdom for nuclear-powered ship – I know this has been a long-running discussion – is it turn to nuclear-powered ships or host, as a source told me this morning, the U.S. and British nuclear attack submarines in Australia?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. Unfortunately, I really don’t have anything to announce at this time, and I don’t have anything for you. I’m going to have to ask you to direct any of those questions probably to the NSC. That’s where those – the level of those discussions reside.
Q: Is there – are there United States Navy equities in this, though, that you might be able to address? In terms of forward-basing of ships and the like? I mean, I remember Bruce DeMars, as you know, sir, as a very retiring figure who has trouble expressing himself. And I remember having written an editorial advocating for nuclear attack submarines for the Australians, and he had some sharp words about why he thought that was not such a good idea. Are there any equities and thinking on your part, whether this is a good idea or not?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah, again, I do appreciate the question, but I just don’t have anything for you right now on that particular issue.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. Megan Eckstein from Defense News, we’ll come to you.
Q: Hi. Thank you so much. I wanted to ask you about one of the comments that you made in your speech. You talked about operating during the competition phase. And I understand that at the recent SWO Flag Officer Symposium you also talked about that topic, and sort of, you know, not just being present of deployment by sort of being in the way a little bit more, being a little bit more proactive. Not necessarily looking for a fight, but just being perhaps a little bit bolder during deployment. So I wondered if you could elaborate on what exactly it is you’re looking for from the U.S. forces. But then also kind of how that dialogue might go this week with your allies and partners, and how you’re hoping maybe they could contribute to some of that change in tone.
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah, that’s a good question. I don’t think that the United States necessarily needs to be provocative. I do think we need to be out there. I do think we need to be out there in numbers. Our presence matters. And the reason why we have a Navy, of course, is to ensure if anything does go wrong that we’re in a position to give senior leaders options, number one. And number two, if things do escalate, that we keep any type of – you know, any type of conflict far away from the shores of the United States.
And so it’s why, Megan, readiness and training have been my top priority right from the beginning, is that it doesn’t matter how big a Navy you have if you can’t sustain it, if it isn’t ready to go, if its magazines aren’t full of ammunition, if you don’t have the right people in the right billets on those ships, if you don’t have – if you don’t have the right training, if you don’t have parts in storerooms. And so our presence out there matters on a day-to-day basis. And so that was really – that was really my point.
It’s easy to – it’s easy to take – it’s easy to take peace for granted. It’s easy to take the prosperity that our country has enjoyed for a long time for granted. But as I said in my speech, really global commerce does float on seawater. And that’s not just an assertion. It’s backed up by facts. And I think the – I think Navy and Coast Guards have a critical role to play in that regard. The seas are getting more contested and more congested.
And so as I said in my remarks, more than ever, you know, not just commerce travels over the sea lanes. So do ideas, right? Our internet connectivity – almost 100 percent of our internet – of our internet connectivity is connected through transoceanic cables. And so, again, it’s critical not just – that security really underpins and yields prosperity for all of us.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. Defense One, Caitlin Kenney.
Q: Thanks for doing this. Kind of just throwing a question out there on, you know, rules and norms. Your speech talked about, you know, being able – navigating the seas and how important that is, and upholding, like, the current rules and norms in the international order. And was just wondering if there was any talk on – you know, since things change in the world, things change and evolve. Is there anything that the navies, you know, around the world are kind of considering to, like, add to those? Like, are there any challenges that should be addressed in some new norms or policies? Or is this like the form to kind of go over, like, what other things that they’re seeing on the high seas that should be addressed more broadly, than just kind of upholding, like, the current world order things?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. That’s a good question. Here’s how I want to answer that: International law, with respect – you know, we’re trying to uphold international law to maintain free and open – free and open maritime commons. Everybody has a stake in that, obviously. And it’s not the size of the navy that matters in shaping those international norms. Everybody carries the same weight, right? So the ISS – the ISS has some similarity to the United Nations, right? So the United Nations, there are some large countries that may not – that may not appreciate the power of the U.N.
But the U.N. provides a level playing field and, most importantly for those small nations who share in those common problems as large navies or large nations, but also many have uncommon solutions that the big nations may not have thought of. And so I think it’s really important at ISS – and one of the things we’re trying to do this week is to make sure that this is not – that this is not a U.S. Navy or a U.S. Navy-centric discussion, that everybody’s – that we value everybody, right? That everybody’s ideas matter, everybody respects each other, respects what you’re bring to the table.
And back, you know, years ago there was a former CNO that talked about a thousand-ship Navy. And people ask me about, you know, 355 ships. And, you know, I think about the thousand ship Navy and the power of that. And I say, why not 10,000? Why not have a 10,000 ship Navy? You know, why can’t we all come together and enforce these norms that we’ve all benefitted from. And it’s – I think it’s day in and day out executing those freedom of navigation operations, sailing side-by-side with allies and partners. That’s what likeminded navies do.
And over time, our hope is that some of those countries that are trying, perhaps, to set an alternative framework to the international norms that have been established over the past seven-plus decades, that over time – that that remains a very isolated group of countries, right? And that the free and open order that’s been established continues to be supported by the framework that we all recognize, right? And the international laws that we all recognize. So I don’t think it’s as much about changing the laws that are in place right now, it’s that we continue, large navy and small, to enforce them.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. We have about two more minutes, so we’ll be quick. Justin Katz, Breaking.
Q: Can I have a really quick follow up? Just is there anything like –
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: No, we got to move along.
Q: Hi, CNO. Thank you so much for doing this. Sir, I don’t mean to dance around other questions, but I was hoping you could speak in broad terms about the importance of the United States’ ally in Australia, you know, especially in the context of the Navy’s, you know, strong focus on the Pacific. If you could speak to that partnership, and do you see a need, sir, to grow that partnership given the focus on the Pacific that the Navy continues to have?
ADM. GILDAY: I’ll tell you, my goal is to grow partnership in every single nation, to the point where the discussion I’ve had with U.S. flag officers here is that I would like them to eat each meal with representatives from a different country. There’s no one country in particular that I’m focused on this week or focused on day-to-day in my job. I am trying to strengthen relations with a broad range of partners, which I think is very consistent with President Biden’s direction and his international security policy.
And on the Australian piece that, you know, was discussed in the news earlier this morning, I just – I just don’t have any comment or announcement on that right now.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. And the last question for Rick Burgess at Seapower.
Q: Thank you. Admiral, given the – your efforts to increase the network of the Navy, as far as the weapons and sensors, like through Project Overmatch for example, do you have any concerns about leaving our allies and partners in the dust with regards to interoperability? Thank you.
ADM. GILDAY: I hope not. And so, you know, I think you do have to be realistic, sir, that you’re never going to – that it’s never going to be – we’re not all going to have the same, you know, level of systems where we’ll be completely interoperable. But there is a – in my view, you know, if I were a – if I were the coach of this – if I was in charge of this global 10,000 ship Navy, my message to the heads of Navy here this week is that nobody sits the bench. Everybody plays. Everybody brings something to the table.
And we have to be creative and innovative enough between our navies – among our navies and coast guards to leverage all that talent and to leverage all that capability. Shame on us if we leave anything – you know, if we do leave anybody on the bench. Everybody has a role there to play, whether it’s in the shallow water or the deep blue ocean. And we can find – we can find ways innovatively to give everybody a role that matters.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: Thank you guys so very much. We have to split here. Appreciate your time joining us today. Out here. Thank you.
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