Below is a transcript of the press conference:
COMMANDER NATHAN CHRISTENSEN: OK, we’ll go ahead and kick it off here, everybody. First of all, thanks so much for your time, for calling in today. I know it’s a busy day with SecDef going out, so appreciate you guys dialing in. Just a few housekeeping notes here. We’ll keep it on the record and then we’ll start with a few opening remarks from the secretary, and then the CNO will offer a few remarks, and then we have just about 30 minutes for discussion. So all of you – I won’t get to all of you all today, but we’ll do our very best to try and do that. Also we’re here in Newport for the wargame. I know it went out in the press advisory, but just to foot-stomp. We won’t be able to read out the entire wargame as, you know, if you ask a question on that likelihood is we won’t be able to say a lot.
So with that, Mr. Secretary, I’ll turn to you for opening remarks.
SECRETARY CARLOS DEL TORO: Good afternoon, everyone. This is Carlos Del Toro, the secretary of the Navy. I’m so proud to be here with you today. And I want to thank you for dialing it. It’s great to be here with Mike Gilday, our Chief of Naval Operations. I do believe that this might be my first engagement with some of you, and I look forward to many more, hopefully in person, and getting to know you a little bit better. Tremendous, deep respect for the press. Having been born in Cuba it’s extremely important to me and I look forward to interact many times with many of you.
As mentioned, we can’t go into the details of Global Exercise 14 due to classification levels, but I do want to point out, however, that although it was hosted by PAC Fleet, it very much included a joint force units from across the United States and I was very impressed by the exercise. One of the primary purposes of the wargame is to inform myself, the Chief of Naval Operations, the commandant of the Marine Corps, and many of our other senior leaders of the requirements and the future capabilities that are necessary to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific.
As some of you are aware, I recently returned from our first international trip, where I met sailors, Marines, allies, and partners in the Indo-Pacific and Hawaii, Japan, Republic of Korea, and Guam, and Papua New Guinea as well, too. It was a tremendous trip. I also released my strategic guidance to the department last month, which is designed to fully support the CNO’s navigation plan, as well as the commandant’s force design 2030 as well too.
So with that said, I’ll pause. I’d like to leave enough time for questions. I’ll turn it over to the CNO for remarks. And I very much look forward to answering your questions.
ADMIRAL MICHAEL GILDAY: Thanks, Mr. Secretary, and for everybody tuning in today. Thanks for your time. It’s great to be back in Newport again with the secretary. We were just here a couple months ago for an international sea power symposium with over 140 heads of navy from around the world, and it’s good to be back again at the war college. As the secretary mentioned, we’re here today to observe our Global 14 wargame, which was focused on the Pacific.
And we can’t get into a lot of details, as the secretary mentioned, regarding the specifics of the exercise because of its classification. But I think we can say that it underscored for us the importance of naval forces forward. That is both the Navy and the Marine Corps, and the integrated naval power that we bring on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s contributing in the economic domain, in the diplomatic domain, certainly in the military domain for the commander of INDOPACOM.
The game really helped us, I think, identify challenges associated with complex warfighting environments. We had more than 475 people that played, supported, or attended the discussions that involved this wargame this week. They included senior leaders, not only the secretary of the Navy and the commandant of the Marine Corps and myself, but also the commander of Indo-Pacific Command, the commander of Pacific Fleet, the commander of Pacific Air Forces, Marine Forces, and Army Forces Pacific, among others. As a department – speaking for the Department of the Navy – we are clearly focused on the Pacific.
And just briefly, over the past months in my travels, which reinforce many of the – many of the things that the secretary touched on just a moment ago. I’ve been overseas to Tokyo and Singapore to meet my counterparts. And most recently in India as well. I’ve also been to Guam, San Diego, and Hawaii to see a broad range of not only Navy but Marine forces. And with that, happy to join the secretary and take your questions today.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. Lolita Baldor from AP, we’ll start with you.
Q: Hi. Thanks so much for doing this.
I wanted to sort of address a larger kind of force readiness issue, the vaccine. The Navy, as I’m sure you’re all well aware, has done fairly well in its percentage for getting the vaccine. But I’m wondering at this point, as you face the deadline, just a week away, have you started processing any of your sailors for refusing to get vaxxed? Do you expect that you actually will have to do that? Because how do you think this will impact your readiness and your ability to fight in areas like the Pacific? Thank you.
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. Thanks, Ms. Baldor.
So with respect to initial dose, we’re up to about 99.7 percent. And so our vaccination rate right now is right around 97 percent overall. So we think we’re going to close beyond 99 percent. That’ll leave a number that either work through religious, or administrative, or medical exemption requests that they have. And we’ll make factual based decisions and recommendations in terms of – in terms of next steps for those. And then there’ll be others that may just refuse to get vaccinated. And we’ll deal with those. We have a process that – we have a process to deal with those, both on the enlisted side as well as officers. Our intent is to do this equitably, whether they’re active or reserve, whether they’re officer and enlisted, and do it with a degree of speed.
SEC. DEL TORO: And, Lolita, that same policy and approach actually applies across the entire Department of the Navy, including the Marine Corps as well, which is approximately somewhere between 93 and 95 percent fully vaccinated. One of the things I’ve been pleased by, quite frankly, is the maturity and the responsibility that our sailors and Marines, and our civilians, are stepping up to the plate actually to get their vaccinations. I think it’s really impressive. And therefore, the numbers are actually quite low. And I think will have a minimal impact on our overall readiness.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. Courtney Kube from NBC, we’ll come to you next. (Inaudible.)
All right. We will move on to the USNI, Sam LaGrone.
Q: Good afternoon, gentlemen.
It looks like there’s another CR coming. And I think the initial comments from the Navy were that one CR is manageable, two CRs things are going to start to get a little dicey in terms of new starts and other considerations. What kind of anomalies are you all looking at potentially moving into what could be a new continuing resolution? Thank you.
SEC. DEL TORO: So, Sam, as you mentioned, we are operating under CR now, which does result in some program and operational limitations on our – on our operations and our programs. That said, this CR, I mean, it allows us to continue to fund and support our sailors, civilians, and their families. We are trying to manage funding and anticipate really no significant near-term impacts for the time being. We do remain hopeful that the fiscal year ’22 defense bills are going to be passed prior to the end of the current CR. However, and I can let the CNO speak in mores specificity, if the CR does continue beyond three months and six months, it will start having a very negative impact on our operations and our ability to fund new program starts that we’re relying upon to meet our operational requirements around the globe, but also very specifically in the Indo-Pacific as well too.
ADM. GILDAY: Thanks. Mr. LaGrone, I’ll just add to what the secretary said, by saying in addition to – in addition to program starts that we’re sensitive to – and I don’t want to get into details about those – we’re also sensitive to the – to the impacts – potential impacts on our military personnel accounts. And so our ability to move people on time, PCS moves, if there’s a disruption that causes families – and down to the point where it affects children transferring into new schools, et cetera. We’re very mindful of that. And the secretary and I spent a lot of time talking to Congress, articulating those impacts so that it’s on their mind as we close on the deadline around 3 December that we can get a new budget passed, and give both the department as well as industry a set of headlights in terms of what a stable budget means for all of us.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. Andrew Dyer from the Union Trib in San Diego, we’ll come to you.
Q: Hi. Thanks so much.
I want to ask about this – the wargame in the Pacific. And I’m curious if the Navy has tested or fielded any of the outstanding mission modules on its LCS ships, and whether LCS was part of this exercise.
ADM. GILDAY: I will say that LCS was part of the exercise. We have not reached initial operating capability with our mission modules yet, specifically the anti-submarine warfare and mine mission modules. The mine mission modules are a bit ahead of the ASW. They’re both progressing at a pretty good pace. And they definitely played in a positive way in the game, I will say that. LCS was designed to operate in shallower waters around archipelagos. And that’s exactly how they played in the game. And found them very useful.
SEC. DEL TORO: And let me just simply add very quickly that, you know, I’m very enthusiastic and hopeful about the roles that our LCS’ are going to play in our fleet moving forward. I think they have – we’re going to move them very aggressively in the CNO’s concepts of operations in the Indo-Pacific and around the entire globe. So I’m very excited about that.
ADM. GILDAY: And I think there’s – I’d just add, again – it’s a good question. I’d just add again to the synergy that we have here with the Marine Corps, right? So they’re using their expeditionary advanced bases to move around islands in order to provide fires to – for sea control and power projection, to essentially support the fleet. LCS is being used in the same way – same kind of mobile way, with a lethal capability, with missiles, and also with mine countermeasure capabilities.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. Megan Eckstein, Defense News, we’ll come to you.
Q: Hi. Thanks, y’all, so much for doing this.
I have been sitting in Submarine League all afternoon, so I have a submarine question. I understand obviously that there are several reviews ongoing, including the Nuclear Posture Review, the Global Force Posture Review, you know, future force design studies. But I just wonder how you’re looking at the submarine force now, and if that sort of that 12 Columbia – you know, building out one Columbia a year, plus two Virginias, still seems like the right assumption to be making going forward, or if you’re seeing anything in this whole swirl of reviews that maybe makes you reconsider what you want for the submarine force and from the industrial base.
SEC. DEL TORO: Well, let me just open up in answering that question from an acquisition perspective. The Columbia program is our number-one acquisition priority in the Navy. And it plays an incredibly important role in our strategic posture moving forward. So it’s on track. You know, it’s a program that we’re making major investments in. And I’ll let the CNO pick up on the more operational and tactical side of the issue.
ADM. GILDAY: Thanks for asking about submarines. I’ll just say that we are very bullish on undersea warfare and submarines. Where we’re headed with the industrial base is to essentially go as fast as they’ll allow us to go with respect to producing capability off the assembly line. And so again, as the secretary said, getting Columbia fielded on time is an absolute priority for us. We are very excited about block four, block five Virginia-class submarines and the capabilities that they bring to bear. Nobody can do undersea warfare except for the United States Navy. We own that mission. It has to be a priority for us. We dominate right now, and we’ll continue to dominate.
SEC. DEL TORO: And I’ll tell you – let me just reinforce that, you know, during – I’ve been here now a couple of days, but my first stop was actually at the undersea – the Naval Undersea Warfare Command here in Newport. And clearly demonstrated to me the tremendous tactical and operational advantage that the undersea warfare brings in all of our efforts to provide national security in the Indo-Pacific and around the entire globe.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: We’ll come to Breaking Defense and Colin Clark.
Q: Afternoon. Just for your information, I’m going to be heading to Sydney as of December 1st, so –
SEC. DEL TORO: I’m jealous. Can I come with you?
Q: No, but I’ll definitely take you to lunch.
SEC. DEL TORO: (Laughs.) I’ll have to pay my own way, but that’s OK.
Two questions. One, did allied forces play in this game?
ADM. GILDAY: The answer is – the answer is – were they considered in the game? And the answer is yes. They were – allied forces were involved in gameplay.
Q: A second question is, there’s been an enormous amount of talk over the last few years about capabilities versus numbers. Did you find – where was the balance in this game? Were numbers in and of themselves really important, or were capabilities more important? And do you see that affecting your decisions in the next three to six months for acquisition?
SEC. DEL TORO: So let me open up by answering that. And it’s a question obviously that’s been asked of me much in these past 16 weeks. And I’ll tell you, this wargame to me proved, more importantly than ever, that it’s not just about numbers. It’s about capabilities. It’s about the numbers of platforms, ships, submarines, aircraft that we have, and the lethality as well that goes along with those capabilities. And I would say that that – all of that was proven very much so in this wargame.
ADM. GILDAY: Mr. Secretary, I’ll just pile onto what you just stated. So the capabilities piece, first and foremost – first and foremost is absolutely critical. And this isn’t just Navy capabilities for Navy’s sake. This is about Navy and Marine Corps capabilities that close joint capability gaps. And so what the joint force needs to deter and then to fight and win. I would say that the numbers themselves are an aspect of capability, right? And so we over the past six years, the Navy and the Marine Corps, have matured our warfighting concept, distributed maritime operations.
We have a very good sense of how we’re going to fight, which is informing what we’re going to fight with. And in order to come at any adversary in multiple vectors we need numbers – you know, high numbers of ships. Every study that’s been done for the past five years concludes that we need a larger, more capable Navy. So those two aspects still are, I think, sounds and on good ground.
Q: Do you see that affecting your decision?
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right, Caitlin Kenney, we’ll come to you next. Hey, we’ll go ahead – for the sake of time, Colin, I apologize, we’ll move to Caitlin Kenney, Defense One.
Q: Hi. Thank you.
My question is can you give, like, an update on Project Overmatch? And also, do you believe that the hardest part for Overmatch is still ahead? Thanks.
ADM. GILDAY: So, certainly the challenge – the challenge with overmatch ahead of us it scale it, right? And so we’ve had the taskforce operating for about a year. The secretary just went out and met with that taskforce within the last couple weeks for an update. So what it allows us to do is to take a look at a network of networks in a software-defined environment to move data across any network, very quickly. And so if I could draw an analogy to your cellphone that’s connected to both 5G and wi-fi, the phone makes a decision on where the data’s going to travel, in order to get, you know, information to an app on your phone or to another endpoint, in order to get to a decision very quickly.
We have that same aspiration. We’re in our fourth technical spiral right now. We’re just about to begin our fourth technical spiral. We think that by late ’22 early ’23 we’ll be able to scale this to a strike group, and then to a fleet after that. It’s one step at a time here, but we are highly encouraged with the progress that we’re making. And the work that the Navy’s doing in this, along with the Marine Corps, is actually going to product the joint tactical gird that’s fundamental to JADC2 or Joint All Domain Command and Control.
SEC. DEL TORO: And I’ll you, every time I visit them I’m still very much impressed by the interconnectivity and the interoperability that gets enhanced by Project Overmatch, and the amount of private sector innovation that has gone into this. This is a huge return on investment for our Department of the Navy, for the Navy and the Marine Corps, and for our military in general.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. Geoff Z., we’ll come to you, from Navy Times.
Q: Thanks. Thanks to you both for taking time to speak with us today.
My question has to do with the USS Connecticut and the collision that happened. You know, when the Fitz and the McCain collisions happened, that was kind of a red flag that there were some real readiness issues going on in the surface fleet. Do you feel like that, you know, Connecticut collision is a similar red flag? And if so, why? And if not, why not?
ADM. GILDAY: So I’ll say upfront that we’re taking – we’re taking that collision very seriously. And so as we said publicly, Connecticut hit a seamount. It’s a gut punch when you lose – when you lose an asset like that. And so up to the secretary’s level we’re taking a deep and very thoughtful look at the investigation. What do we need to learn from that force-wide, and then apply it very quickly? Take a step back and make sure that we are measuring twice and cutting once with respect to the conclusions that we draw, and to ensure that down to – right down to the deck plates, Mr. Z., that we’re getting – we’re going to get those insights out as quickly as we can.
But we also want to make sure that we get through this investigation, that we get through any follow-on administrative actions that have to happen, and then we’ll – and then – we’ve already – I can say that we’re already beginning to get some information out to the fleet. But we will get out as many details as we can in a very thoughtful manner.
SEC. DEL TORO: I couldn’t have said it better. And, you know, as the CNO mentions, you know, the sea is a very dangerous environment. And we have a very important responsibility to learn the lessons when things don’t go right and apply those lessons to the future so that we can protect our people, protect our capabilities, and our platforms, and provide real return to the American taxpayer as well.
Q: Will those investigations be made public then? Or will a public version of those investigations be released?
ADM. GILDAY: Like all of our investigations, we will be transparent, have been transparent with the Congress thus far. And then we’ll get to a point where we can release those investigations, absolutely.
Q: All right. We’ll go to Stripes’ Caitlin Doornbos.
Q: Hi there. Thank you.
Hey, without getting into the classified problem sets of this exercise, I’m wondering if you can speak to the challenges that this exercise was meant to tackle, or aimed to tackle, if that’s A2/AD, et cetera.
ADM. GILDAY: Hmm. Yeah, that one’s a difficult one to answer without really getting into the classified areas. And I don’t mean to evasive. But it really – it really takes a look at, based as the force that we intend to field a number of years down the road, are we making the right decisions with – back to the secretary’s point earlier – about the right kind of capabilities? And then are we putting those capabilities on the right platforms in order to generate the effects that the joint force requires to deter? And then if we fail to deter, to fight and win? And I just don’t want to get into any more details than that, except this is a gut check really I think for senior leaders on are we going in the right direction? Not only in terms of how we’re going to fight but, as I said earlier, what we’re going to fight with?
SEC. DEL TORO: And I would also add, you know, are we making the right choices with regards to, you know, where we preposition capabilities and platforms and people, in conjunction with our allies and partners, and how we operate together. A real long series of very important decisions that were thought through very, very carefully. And I’ll tell you, this being my first very complex wargame since I’ve become secretary, I walked away from the experience very inspired by the – by the wargame and, more importantly, inspired by the people who participated in the wargame with regards to their strategic thinking about these very complex problems.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. James, then Mike Fabey, over to you.
Q: Oh. Well, thanks, both of you, for doing this, taking out of your busy schedule.
And I’m going to ask a wargame question. And I’m trying to get it so you can talk about it in whatever terms you can. In that, did you explore some of the new concepts the Marines are putting forward in the 2030 plan, for example? The advanced expeditionary base operations? Did you kind of explore that a little bit to get an idea of how that’s going to work, especially out in that region? Thanks.
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah, absolutely. We’re stitched with the Marine Corps 110 percent. I mean, I don’t think in the history of our two services we’ve been working as closely together as we are right now. The concepts of operations that our fleet commanders are working forward – I’ll give an example. The Seventh Fleet commander’s most recently operational concept is signed out with the three MEF commander in Japan. And so – and so one hand informs the other in terms of how we’re going to operate together. The commandant and I are completely committed, and the secretary is holding our feet to the fire, to make sure that everything that we’re doing with respect to manning, training, and equipping, and then ultimately operating – that we’re doing it in lockstep.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. Seapower, Rick Burgess. Over to you.
Q: Thank you.
My question’s a little esoteric I think, but regarding the wargames of the 1930s that the Navy relied so much upon, what similarities do you see in what you just went through just now, compared to what the Navy was trying to do in the ’30s. Thank you.
SEC. DEL TORO: Well, let me open up with that first. They tell me I’m the only secretary of the Navy who’s actually graduated from the Navy War College. And having studied here back in 1996 I studied many of those theories and wargames that did take place in the early 1930s. And, you know, the value of those wargames was the strategic thinking that took place well before our forces had to engage in World War II. Planning out all the potential options and possible outcomes that might result from those many different options based on the capabilities that they had the time, and also the capabilities that they were preparing to field as well too, when you start thinking about the growth in naval aviation, for example, and how submarines were going to be more efficiently used in World War II, and many other advances in technologies that took place during World War II.
Those are the similarities. I mean, we are now as part of this wargame looking at the many new technologies that we have, and looking at the platforms that we have today, and those that will come online over the course of the next five to 10 years. And it really is impressive – extraordinarily impressive. And it gives me confidence that the United States Navy-Marine Corps team, and the United States military in general will be able to actually stand up to any adversary that we face over the course of the next few years. So obviously the technologies are different, but the theory is very much the same. And I often make the statement that what distinguishes us often from our adversaries is that we truly train our people to think, where others perhaps grip their people to act. And there’s a marked difference between the two.
ADM. GILDAY: Thanks. I’ll just add onto that the history here at the War College in terms of war gaming is, we feel, the best in the U.S. military. We really do think that we’ve set the gold standard here in the Navy and the Marine Corps in leading the way. And as the secretary said, these gains really inform how we think about – how we think about fighting, and that informs what we’re going to fight with. And they go hand-in-glove with exercises that we’re doing. As an example, Large Scale Exercise 21 that we did this summer with five different fleets and, you know, across 17 different time zones. Every deploying amphibious ready group, as well as carrier strike group, conducts a fleet battle problem, which looks at an aspect of our distributed maritime operations in terms of how we’re going to fight and test it.
We are taking a deeper look – these games help us take a deeper look in how we will nest under the secretary of defense’s new National Defense Strategy, his concept of integrated deterrence, the Joint Warfighting Concept that’s going hand-in-glove with that, taking a look at how we’re going to fight in the future and what we’re going to fight with. We bring in some of the best intelligence experts in the country in the Department of Defense and the U.S. government, as well as subject matter experts that actually understand the culture of our adversary and how they think. These are very – man-years of work go into putting these games together, and they’re very important for us.
SEC. DEL TORO: And we also include the political leadership, the civilian leadership that’s involved in often having to make political decisions that go along with that.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: Chris Cavas from DefAero Report, we’ll come to you.
Q: Hi, folks. Thank you very much.
Especially for CNO, you’ve just been reviewing the reports on the fixes that Lockheed Martin and RENK have been doing to the collecting gear on the – the drivetrain on the LCS-1 class ships. You just talked about LCS using LCS in these wargames. Are you satisfied now that Lockheed Martin and Naval Systems Command and Marinette Marine can fix the LCS’? And what’s your outlook for the Freedom-class ships in the immediate years ahead? Are you looking to use those aggressively once this fix is implemented? Thank you.
ADM. GILDAY: So I’ll tell you, the issue with the combining gear is probably the most challenging engineering problem that we’ve seen on any class of ship since I’ve been in the Navy. And so we held industry’s feet to the fire. As you know, we stopped delivery of these ships until we get this right. Reliability of LCS is our number-one priority with respect to that ship class, and then lethality. As you know, we’re backfitting those ships with some significant weapon systems. And so we really forced industry to do some – to go back to the drawing board with respect to the fidelity of their engineering work, to do significant and rigorous shoreside testing before we approve that final design, that actually just got installed in the first ship.
And, yeah, to be honest with you, our intent is to scale the use of LCS around the globe and to get as much as we can out of that platform. Earlier I mentioned the value we saw in this exercise. We’re going to continue to double down and get as much as we can out of that – out of that hull.
Q: I’m sorry, “scale.” What do you mean by “scale”?
ADM. GILDAY: What I mean by “scale” is increasing the numbers of LCS’ that we’re deploying, not only down to the Caribbean in support of U.S. Southern Command, but to U.S. Fifth Fleet in the Middle East, to U.S. Seventh Fleet in the Western Pacific. That’s where – we’re deploying them to the Western Pacific now. When I say “scale,” we intend to increase the numbers of those deployments.
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right. And the last question we’ll have we’ll go to Jeff Schogol with Task & Purpose.
A question for the SecNav. I believe you said that about 93 to 95 percent of the active-duty Marines are fully vaccinated. So five percent of the Marine Corps is about 9,000 Marines. How many of those do you expect to have to separate?
SEC. DEL TORO: So let me first correct myself. The 93 to 95 percent, I was referring to their very first shot, OK? So one would hope that they would remain on track for their second shot, so the numbers will actually increase as well too. I don’t have the exact numbers but, again, I go back to what the CNO said. You know, we’re going to treat each and every one of these cases in a very respectful manner. We’re going to counsel these folks. We’re going to make sure they understand the consequences, we’re going to make sure they – try to find out, you know, what’s their problem and hold up in getting the vaccine, try to counsel them the best we can, offer them an opportunity to change their mind with regards to the vaccinations. And hopefully they’ll get the vaccination at that point in time. And if they don’t, obviously then they’re not going to be able to continue serving in the Marine Corps.
Q: Thank you. But if they’re not vaccinated by now, they’re considered unvaccinated. So does that mean you are giving them a second chance to get vaccinated past the deadline?
SEC. DEL TORO: We will be addressing each case on a case-by-case basis is what we’re going to be doing. We’re just not going to all kick them out on the day of the deadline itself.
CMDR. CHRISTENSEN: All right, everybody. Thank you so much for your time today, and for dialing in. We really appreciate it. Out here from Newport. Thanks so much.
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