Below is a transcript of the interview:
BRADLEY PENISTON: Hello, everyone, and thank you for joining us today. I am Bradley Peniston. I’m deputy editor of Defense One. It is my pleasure to welcome you to the third event in our month-long State of Defense Series, “State of the Navy.”
Today, we’ll be discussing the future of the Navy and how the service branch is rethinking its fleet, its operations, its manpower, its mission as it evolves to face new threats. Joining me for this conversation is Admiral Michael Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations for the U.S. Navy.
But first, a brief housekeeping item. To the right of your screen, you’ll find the chat box and this is where you can put questions for the CNO, and you can also chat and interact with your fellow attendees. Toward the end of our discussion, I’ll put some of your questions to Admiral Gilday. But don’t wait till then to get them in. File them at any time and we’ll take a look at them.
Admiral Gilday, welcome, and thank you so much for joining us.
ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY: Thanks for having me this morning. It’s great to reconnect again with everyone.
MR. PENISTON: Terrific. Well, let’s start off by talking about the force design studies that I know you’re involved in. You’ve said in the past that it’s important for the Navy to rethink its force design.
Of course, over the past few years, there’s been a little bit of churn in that. Battle Force ’45 started – 2045 was released near the end of last year. But I know you’ve got a new study looking a little bit further in the future. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
ADM. GILDAY: Yes. So we had a number of studies that we’ve been building upon. We had the Integrated Naval Force Structure Assessment late in 2020 – excuse me, late in 2019, and we moved from that to a broader study under Secretary Esper that looked out to 2045. And that was delivered, as you mentioned in late 2020, and now we’re just in the next iteration of that.
And so based on insights we’ve gained from additional analysis, from the large-scale exercise that we just – that we just finished, from the integrated Battle Problem that we did with manned and unmanned about three or four months ago, to every single iteration of fleet Battle Problem that we do with deploying strike groups, carrier strike groups and amphibious ready groups, all that is informing the how we fight these, which is Distributed Maritime Operations, which is really foundational to what we need to fight, giving us an understanding of what we need to fight with in terms of capabilities and then platform. So that – the next round of the force structure assessment that won’t be finished in 2021. More like 2022 and possibly into ’23.
We’re just in the beginning stages of framing what kind of questions we want that study to actually get after.
MR. PENISTON: Gotcha. OK. Well, let’s talk then a little bit about there’s lessons that the Navy has recently learned that are starting to inform that study. You mentioned, of course, large-scale exercise. What were the most important things to come out of that, in your view?
ADM. GILDAY: So in December, I expect to have – expect to have a much deeper analysis completed on the large-scale exercise. But I watched the large-scale exercise both from Norfolk and then from Hawaii, and so probably best to just explain it through a couple of vignettes.
So while I was in Norfolk, one of the things that I found very interesting was our ability to transpose geography in the high north, so off of Norway, off of Finland, and to transpose that geography or that setting off of the VACAPES.
And so within the VACAPES op areas off of Norfolk and the Carolinas, we had a carrier strike group. We also had an ARG. But we also were able to use live or constructive and virtual U.S. ships as well. So the Iwo Jima ARG as an example, it was underway, and 5th Fleet in the Middle East that was transposed into that scenario. There were ships that were pierside in Norfolk that were actually part of the exercise but they were virtually transposed into that battle space.
It allowed us to – it’ll allow us to exercise Distributed Maritime Operations and, essentially, operate and fight as a fleet rather than just singularly as an amphibious readiness group, as a carrier strike group, or as a surface action group. And that, of course, was all run from the fleet maritime operations center that over the past several years we’ve been – we’ve been refining.
One of the neat things – one of the neat things about a live virtual construct is its ability to let us transpose adversary characteristics on U.S. platforms, and so we can make a Super Hornet look like an adversary aircraft both in terms of its electronic signature as well as its – as well as its weapons that it carries.
We can do the same thing with surface ships, and so you can actually create more opposing forces by being a lot more – a lot more flexible with how you use everything possible that you have that’s both underway and in port.
Besides being able to train at the fleet level, I see the value of the live virtual construct in allowing us to do reps and sets almost continuously, right, where down to the individual level. This is down to the individual sailor, the individual lieutenant on a ship. They’re actually – they actually get to experiment, right, with the concepts that we’ve laid out. They actually get to give us feedback. So they are vested players or stakeholders in the formulation or the refinement of our operating concepts.
And so those were some of my insights from Norfolk. When I went to San Diego – I mean, when I went to Hawaii, excuse me, we had – the 3rd Fleet commander had taken his maritime operations center and turned it into an expeditionary maritime operations center. They were actually operating out of tents at Pearl Harbor.
And so one of the neat elements that they were exercising as part of their command and control was something that we refer to as the maritime targeting cell. And so the maritime targeting cell allows us to take organic sensor data that ships and aircraft are collecting real time, as well as to take nonorganic sensor data from other platforms and to fuse that together in a way that gives us a much, much more robust common operating picture.
It also allows us to use technology to create fire-control quality tracks very quickly from this fused data that we’re actually able to push out to different platforms that they can shoot.
When I went to Kauai when I was out there in the Marine Corps as part of this large-scale exercise, that’s when they fired their Nemesis System, which were, you know, ground based – actually mobile – a mobile missile system that they fired on using their expeditionary targeting cell, which was actually a sister to our maritime targeting cell.
So we did get to exercise the concept of Distributed Maritime Operations. We got to exercise that with a lot more platforms than we typically would have in a conventional exercise. And, again, I see the value of this as we move on and refine it and continue to invest in it down to the individual level where we can train, train, train continuously with the operating concepts that we think we need to fight and win.
MR. PENISTON: Mmm hmm. So I know you said that you’re waiting for more detailed analysis in a couple months. Does any of this suggest anything about future force design?
ADM. GILDAY: It will. I think – one thing I didn’t mention was the fact that we also folded unmanned into this as well, unmanned under, on, and above the sea. And so those operating concepts are now beginning to nest within the Distributed Maritime Operations concept.
One of the things that – one of the things that that we’re doing right now is just standing up a new task force under the U.S. 5th Fleet commander in Bahrain, Task Force 59, which is an unmanned task force whose real focus is to inform the refinement and the maturation of our operating concepts with unmanned to, essentially, inform what we’re producing, right, in the production line at a much faster, tighter rate, allowing us – allowing us to experiment, allowing – in some cases, we succeed, in others we don’t. It helps us make informed decisions about what unmanned platforms we should double down on and which ones we should sundown very quickly and focus our attention on stuff that works.
MR. PENISTON: Oh, that’s fascinating. We’ll be watching that very closely, I’m sure.
Admiral, you’re about two years into the job now, and in the past you’ve been very vocal about what you see as the need for a larger Navy, more ships, a larger budget to face the threats that you’re facing. I think it’s fair to say that Congress has not given you a substantially larger budget and so now you’re – now you’re, you know, dealing with those conditions and moving forward.
What are you – what are you thinking about the tradeoffs that you’re going to need to make now as you try to do what – you know, try to set the Navy up for success?
ADM. GILDAY: So I can tell you where we don’t want to be. What I’ve said was – what I’ve said consistently, including in my posture hearings this past spring, is that the Navy’s top line has been relatively flat since 2010. In other words, our buying power has been, essentially, static during that time frame.
During that same time frame, the number of ships in the fleet has increased. We’re at the point now where we saw after the collisions in 2017, what we learned through the strategic review, from the comprehensive review has informed our focus and our priorities so we never get back to a place where we’re – where we’re increasing risk unnecessarily on the backs of O5 and O6 COs out there on ships, on submarines, in command of squadrons.
So that has driven my prioritization of readiness and training, and then modernization, or we call it capabilities, and then capacity at an affordable rate and, of course, we’re also investing in people. And so where we don’t want to be, Brad, is we don’t want to be in a place where we have a smaller fleet and that smaller fleet is also less ready, less capable, and less lethal.
I want to take the money that – I appreciate and support the president’s budget, and what I’m trying to do, what we’re trying to do as a Navy, is deliver the most capable Navy that we can based in the money that we have. And so I think that prioritization is right. I’ve been consistent in terms of putting readiness number one because I do believe that we need – we all believe that we need to be ready to fight tonight, and it can’t just be a bumper sticker.
As some examples of what that – what that investment strategy has yielded, first, in terms of people, so now our gaps at sea are down to just 3 (percent) or 4 percent of the total 140,000-plus number of billet – number of sailors that we need out there to man our ships.
We’ve driven that down from – you know, from probably 15,000 gaps down to a much, much lower level, and so that’s allowed us to do things like implement the results of the sleep studies we’ve done in the surface community to reduce fatigue out there, to give people a good night’s sleep, then, again, to reduce risk, to put the right number of technicians out there to keep these – keep these older ships operating at the level that they need to be operating, to sufficiently man watch teams out there. And so that’s an example with respect to manpower.
I could say the same thing with respect to munitions. So we’re now filling magazines with weapons that have – that have speed and range where we were reducing those numbers in the past, and so that needs to be a steady investment as well in terms of readiness. And in terms of ships, submarines, and aircraft maintenance, we’re not yet where we need to be but we are making steady progress. COVID has had an impact, particularly in the private shipyards.
But we are rebounding, and I am optimistic about the direction that we’re heading on using Perform to Plan and other analytic – the analytic framework that we’ve adopted – we’ve adopted at Echelon I in the Pentagon to help get us in a better place with respect to – with respect to maintenance and overall readiness.
I hope I answered your question, but I’m ready for a follow-up on that. I know I went in a couple of different directions on it.
MR. PENISTON: Well, let me – let me ask you this, Admiral. So you’ve talked about improvements in manning the ships. You’ve talked about improvements in maintaining the ships. Both of those things help to make a more effective fleet.
But as you say, the Navy’s budget has remained, essentially, flat. As you adjust to new threats – you know, great power competition, not counterterrorism anymore or not primarily anyway – are you thinking about altering the force posture? You know, changing the way ships are forward – ships and forces are forward deployed, moving them somewhere, responding to demand signals from the COCOMs differently? You know, these sorts of things, you know, sort of outside the United States?
ADM. GILDAY: So right now, there’s a number of – a number of studies in play – studies and efforts in play in the Pentagon and so, really, at the OSD level, right, and at the interagency level. So one of that is a new National Security Strategy that’ll be followed up with a new National Defense Strategy that’ll be informed by a Missile Defense Review and the Nuclear Posture Review.
There’s also the ongoing Global Posture Review that the secretary of defense is still in the middle of. I think that Global Posture Review will, to some degree – actually, to a large degree – inform how we’re going to posture the globe against the five problem sets that are identified in the National Defense Strategy.
So the Defense Strategy prioritizes China as number one, Russia as number two, and so on, how we posture the globe to deter and to put us in a position to respond to threats, to assure allies and partners, and to be able to pivot or to give the president options if things escalate with any one of those problem sets.
I think how we’re postured is going to be informed by that review, and I think it’ll put a punctuation point on the fact that China continues to be our leading competitor or our pacing competitor, and I think it’ll shift much more emphasis on China. And some of that, of course, will be in the INDOPACOM AOR but it’s actually a global problem set.
And so each of these problem sets, but in particular, Russia and China, we view as transregional and all-domain problem sets. And so it’s not just – it’s not just the Navy. It’s really the Joint Force and so to get to the multi-domain piece, and it’s also competing with China outside of the INDOPACOM AOR.
MR. PENISTON: Well, let’s talk about the INDOPACOM AOR real quick. There’s been some news there. Australia is about to get nuclear-powered submarines to replace its conventional powered submarines. You’ve talked a lot about the need for the U.S. to work with its allies in projecting naval power. What’s that change going to mean for you?
ADM. GILDAY: So interesting, we just came off of a week up in Newport, Rhode Island, where we were able to gather over 140 heads of Navy and Coast Guard together at our International Seapower Symposium that we have every other year. Australia was – Australia tuned in virtually for that – for that particular event. The French were there, the Brits were there, and, of course, a whole host of other navies.
The AUKUS announcement was made during ISS, and so I think, strategically, that’s a very, very important and, I think, brilliant stroke with respect to our posture in the Pacific, particularly vis-à-vis China. And I think that the effort that’s ongoing as a result of the agreement that was announced has the United States Navy working very closely with the Australian navy to help determine what the optimum path will be to safely deliver not solely the submarines but the enterprise that has to support them.
This is everything from a defense industrial base in Australia to a community inside the Australian navy that’s able to man, train, and equip those submarines to sustain them to the oversight mechanisms similar to what we have in the United States Navy to oversee those nuclear-powered vessels.
This is a very long-term effort that’ll be decades, I think, before a submarine goes in the water. It could be. I don’t see this as a short-term timeline. We have an 18-month exploratory period that’ll get after a lot of these questions and help Australia come to grips with exactly what they need to do to get in a path akin to the United States Navy.
I know that a follow-on question will likely be about the French. I would tell you that last week at the Seapower Symposium my French counterpart was there. We met four times last week and talked about this and other things, and what we committed to, although, you know, this was a bit – this announcement was a bit contentious for the French, what we committed to at our level was continue to work together.
And if I could talk about the French real quick and what they’ve done in conjunction with us. Most recently, the Charles de Gaulle carrier strike group – the French strike group – actually served as our task force under our 5th Fleet commander. So under the operational control of our 5th Fleet commander was a French strike group with French ships, and we had U.S. ships and others that were part of that – that were part of that strike group.
That is a step beyond interoperability to interchangeability when you can have a foreign strike group fill a carrier gap in a theater force seamlessly. There’s no reason why we can’t look to having that same arrangement in other theaters, whether it’s in the Mediterranean or whether it’s in the 7th Fleet.
So the bottom line with the French is that we continue to work lockstep with respect to our navies marching together, fourth-, fifth-generation operations in the air as an example, our ships operating together, our submarines operating together. And so I’m very confident that that’s going to – that that’s going to continue at pace without any – without any bumps in the road.
MR. PENISTON: OK. Thank you. All right. Let’s yank it back to the United States and the U.S. Navy for a second. Let’s talk about Project Overmatch, you know, your term for the effort to build a robust network that can support future warfighting needs. Where is it and where does it need to go?
ADM. GILDAY: So we just – we just had our first year, really, with Overmatch, stood up and – Rear Admiral Small and NAVWAR. And so August 24th was the first birthday of Overmatch. I went out there to get a face-to-face update from his team. We were just finishing our third spiral inside this first year where we’ve increased the number of networks and data sources that we’re experimenting with to get us to a place where we can scale this effort to a strike group and then to a fleet and then Navy wide.
So, essentially, the task for Small is – and his team is to develop a naval operational architecture that’s software defined – that’s a software-defined network of networks. In other words, to be able to take data from any system and to actually transport it onto any network to any other system so it can be deciphered and used.
We’re able to actually containerize data packets. We have the technology to do that. It’s working very, very well. We’re leveraging best practices from industry with respect to algorithm development, application design and development to make that process much more tighter in terms of – in terms of our ability to update those applications.
So as an example, instead of embedding those applications deep inside of systems, we’re now having them ride on the backbone on ships of our – of our CANES network. And so what it allows us to do is when sailors using these applications with this data on these networks, when they have suggestions on how to improve these applications to better – to better conduct operations, we’re able to much more quickly modify those applications and then – and then push them out to the fleet. In terms of time frames where that might have taken us weeks or more than a month in the past is now taking us a single-digit hour, so less than three or four hours to do this fleet wide.
So we are – I’m satisfied with the pace that Overmatch has taken and what – the goal here in late ’22, early ’23, is to be able to – is to be able to deploy a carrier strike group with this first spiral, if you will, of a naval operational architecture that allows us to take data and to use it on any network.
MR. PENISTON: Now, I know that one of the adjectives that goes along with Project Overmatch is robust as in, you know, hard to defeat, hard to spoof, hard to shut off. But, inevitably, you know, the wi-fi goes out or something like that and, you know, a ship or a unit is left out on its own and needs to operate on its own. What kind of emphasis do you put on that sort of thing, getting ready for, you know, when the network dies?
ADM. GILDAY: So every – the vision is every ship, essentially, has a tactical cloud, and so that cloud is sometimes connected to a data lake back in the United States or in Hawaii or in another, you know, forward location, if you will.
But there are times, as you said, when either we elect to isolate a ship or a fleet, or when our adversary decides to do that, that then those applications that ride on those networks, on those platforms, have to be able to use the data that they have and the additional data that they’re pulling in from their own sensors.
And so, yes, there has to be the capability for those ships to operate independently as part of an overall framework of mission command when there may be the time when they are disconnected from the broader network.
But it doesn’t mean that they’re going to be helpless. They will have that micro processing power. Just like you have on your phone, they will have it on their ship with those applications to use it against the data that they have. Some of it may be a bit dated, but other data will be refreshed, given the sensors that they have, or other networks or other connectivity they may have with other platforms out there operating with them. Does that answer your question?
MR. PENISTON: Yeah, that’s good. Thank you, Admiral.
Let’s turn to personnel. You had mentioned the effort to reduce manpower gaps. But another big priority of yours is starting – well, it got a lot of focus last year is the notion of diversity, inclusion, racial tension, and you had put out to the fleet your request that people start talking about it, have conversations, you know, get to understand it, get their – wrap their heads around new ideas. How is that going, in your opinion?
ADM. GILDAY: I think it’s going pretty well. I think it’s going to be a long-term effort to get us where we need to be with respect to a diverse force and where, you know, we, ultimately, have a force where respect is – respect is part of it part of everybody’s DNA, right.
I think – I think in the end what we’re looking for is people to respect diversity, and I think my goal is to put the Navy in a place over the next 20 years where we’re the most diverse service in the DOD and we happen to be one of the most diverse organizations in the country. Because I believe – well, scientifically, it’s proven that diverse organizations are more innovative. They’re more effective. They’re more efficient.
And so – and I believe that to be competitive in this century, I think diverse organizations are going to play a major role, and I think that if we don’t – if we don’t change – if we don’t change how we think, if we don’t change how we act, if we don’t change the way we attract talent, retain talent, manage talent so that we look a lot more like America, not just in terms of the color of our skin but in terms of a broad range of experience and backgrounds that we’re able – that we’re able to put together in the Navy, I think that if you don’t – if organizations don’t have that mindset, they’re not going to be competitive in this century. If anything, we’re getting more diverse, not less diverse, and we need to welcome it, we need to embrace it, and we need to use it to our advantage.
MR. PENISTON: OK. Here’s another personnel question from an audience member, who writes, what do you feel the likeliness of the Surface Warfare Officer Leader Enhancement Act that was introduced to Congress a few months ago – is that likely to pass and, if so, what do you think the impact on the Navy will be?
ADM. GILDAY: So I can tell you that there are aspects of that that I support and there are aspects of that that I don’t. I don’t support the specialization aspect that would have engineers, that would have, you know, maybe a navigation track, maybe a combat systems track. I think that in the United States Navy we’re trying to produce commanding officers that have a broad understanding of all those areas.
We have, over time, I’m convinced that that’s the right model for the United States Navy. Specialization models may work for other navies, but I think – but I think the way that we’ve cultivated officers in the United States Navy and grown commanding – and matured commanding officers, and to that point, the improvements that we’ve made based on the comprehensive review and the SRR coming out of the collisions with respect to the surface warfare officer training pipeline and to enlisted training as well is making us even a better surface force.
And so I’m committed to – when asked, my best advice is to maintain status quo with respect to – with respect to how we develop officers and don’t move towards specialization. I just don’t see the big bang for the buck there.
On the other hand, I do see – I do see some value in the certification – the discussion about certification. So in other words, right now the United States Navy surface community is doing bridge resource management training. They’re doing training on – for radar operators. They’re doing navigation training, and that’s all sanctioned to Coast Guard standards.
And so I am supportive of seeking certifications at a Coast Guard level that are also transferable to the Merchant Marine community if a sailor or an officer decides to transition from the Navy and they have a future. Let’s say they elect to have a future in the maritime industry. Those certifications would follow them.
That said, I don’t think that the surface community should be forced to – or the Navy should be forced to have every certification that a civilian manager has – that a civilian mariner has. So as an example, there are certifications for shipbuilding in the civilian mariner community. We have people – we have, you know, engineering duty officers that are specialists in that particular area. We don’t need every surface warfare officer to get that type of certification nor do we need every surface warfare officer to be certified in stores and cargo handling.
And so there are some examples of those certifications that I’m supportive of because they benefit – quite frankly, they benefit the United States Navy and they make us a more professional surface force. But there are others that I don’t.
MR. PENISTON: All right. One more question from a listener who wants to know about recruiting. This person notes that the recent propensity to serve survey, the twice a year survey taken by the Defense Department on just how likely young men and women in America are likely to sign up, join the military, has dipped in the past few years by 2 percent, I guess, overall. What are you seeing in the Navy numbers?
ADM. GILDAY: So we’re seeing – we’re meeting all of our quotas with respect to recruiting. In fact, at the beginning of COVID, we accelerated – we were already going to do more stuff virtually, more recruiting virtually. And so we accelerated that effort and actually have brought in 39,000 sailors into the Navy through our virtual recruiting efforts.
At the end of that virtual process, there is a – there are face-to-face meetings with a recruiter in order to make sure that, you know, everything is lined up and it’s a good decision for both the Navy and the candidate. But, you know, having a better interaction online with gaming community, as an example, has allowed us to attract talent that we typically would not be able to reach out and touch just through our recruiting centers, you know, and you pick a city.
So to answer your question, we haven’t seen that dip in the Navy yet. We’ve actually seen the value of shifting to more virtual. It’s played to our favor. Admiral Velez has done a great job with this. There were things that we’ve done that haven’t gone so well in the virtual we learned from and pivoted away from. There are other efforts that have gone really, really well. Our marketing campaign has had some traction. And so we’re going to continue to double down on the virtual aspect of recruiting.
MR. PENISTON: All right. Let’s try to get one more question in, sir, if you’ve got the time. Somebody wants to know what are we learning from those fleet Battle Problems that we’re doing with every deploying strike group and ARG – amphibian training?
ADM. GILDAY: So every – thanks. Every one of those is a little bit different, and so as an example, we’re testing aspects of Distributed Maritime Operations. So one of those – one of those deploying strike groups, we may – we may focus a fleet Battle Problem completely on counter C5ISRT.
So, basically, how do we – how do we blind the adversary so that they can’t see us? What are the different methods and techniques that we can use in order to put a strike group commander or a fleet commander in a position of advantage, particularly early in a fight? There are other aspects with respect to contested logistics that we’re practicing with ARGs.
And so we’re trying to take a different aspect of Distributed Maritime Operations and deep dive into it, and then to pull out lessons learned so that we can refine the overall concept. The integrated Battle Problem that we did a few months ago with manned and unmanned is a good example of that that really helped us accelerate the learning from a standpoint of refining those operational concepts.
MR. PENISTON: All right. Well, Admiral, do you have anything that we didn’t talk about that you think is important to get out there?
ADM. GILDAY: I’d just say that if you take a look at our NAVPLAN that we – that we published about a year ago, it’s not just sitting on the shelf. So there are about 17 discrete areas that I have – that we have a flag officer that’s in charge of, that we have a cadence of accountability for that organization in charge of each of those areas. So ship, submarine, aircraft, maintenance would be an example.
Admiral Small with Task Force Overmatch would be an example. Admiral Williamson, the N4 on the OPNAV staff and contested logistics, is an example. Counter-C5ISRT under Admiral Trussler as the N2/6 as an example of areas that we have tried to develop a mission statement, put somebody in charge, give discrete timelines on deliverables, and to hold people accountable so that we can get after this stuff in this decade when it counts, when we believe it needs to count, to put us in a position of advantage against China, where in areas where we have overmatch – undersea would be a good example – that we maintain that overmatch and continue to increase our strides, and those areas that we know that we need to – we know that we are either behind or could fall behind that we double down on. And so we’re very much focused on the implementation of the NAVPLAN and not just – you know, not just admiring the words in it.
MR. PENISTON: Well, let’s leave it there, Admiral. Thank you so much for speaking with us today. And thank you to our audience for tuning in.
ADM. GILDAY: Thanks, everyone.
MR. PENISTON: Please stay tuned for a word from our underwriter, ServiceNow, and then two expert panels on the future of the Navy.
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