Below is a transcript of the conversation:
ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY: What really brought me to Norfolk today is the transition of the Navy Safety Center to the Navy Safety Command. And so the reason why that’s important more broadly is the effort that we’re really leading in the Navy to become a more – a better learning organization. And so if I can give you an example of that, taking a look at the collisions we had in 2017, and how we came back from that with institutional change in the surface Navy. However, we had fires – we had a fire on board the Bonhomme Richard in 2020 and we lost that ship. We’ve had other incidents as well, a fuel spill at the Red Hill fuel farm in Oahu in Hawaii, and it's impacted the fresh water supply.
And so what our investigations have led us to conclude is that there’s too much of a variance across the Navy between those commands that do exceptionally well and those commands that struggle and then make big mistakes – whether it be a collision, whether it be a fire, whether it be a fuel spill. And so I want to put us on a path where we’re better at self-assessing and self-correcting individually as Sailors, as officers, as commands to reduce that variance between the very good and the poor, so that we’re all good, we bring up the standard. And this isn’t just about compliance. It’s about reaching or excellence.
And so Navy Safety Command, some of you are familiar with our INSURV – our INSURV, that command and the process we have in the Navy to take a deep look at our units, at our ships, and then to certify them for continued fleet service, within Navy Safety Command. And part of what they do is they actually take a look at the command’s ability to self-assess and to self-correct. And that’s an important part of that INSERV deep look inspection. I want to do the same thing with Navy Safety Command. So I’m elevating it to a two-star command. That command will report directly to me. And then we will do safety assessments at a deeper level across the Navy. So down at the ship level, the squadron level, the submarine level. And this is part of that self-assess, self-correct kind of behavior that I want to institute more robustly and more fully in the Navy.
So with that – actually, this afternoon I have a chance to go aboard a couple of ships. USS Mason, of course, is one of our frontline destroyers. And I’m going to head to the cruiser USS Gettysburg later on this afternoon. With that, I’m happy to take your questions.
Q: After a time, does it become a pattern and become worse? I know they don’t have anything to do with each other, but this summer we have a Navy SEAL commander doing fast rope and he perished, and then just in recent weeks we had the F-35 at the bottom of the South China Sea and seven guys got hurt. Does that give you a reason to think that we need to re-take a look at what we did after McCain and Fitzgerald, like, really push this again?
ADM. GILDAY: So thanks for the question. This is really a page – what we’re trying to do right now is actually – we’re pivoting from what we learned after the McCain and Fitzgerald collisions. We took a deep dive look with a comprehensive review and the strategic review. And we made institutional change within the surface community that’s really changed behavior and then helped change culture within the community. It’s the same thing we have to do with respect to safety, but it’s got to be Navy-wide. I would – I don’t mean to be evasive about your point about the accident and the unfortunate death of the SEAL commander, and then the F-35 crash that we had a couple weeks ago.
So very different – but the point there is, and I think what I’m trying to get at, is, can we get back to, you know, why did those happen, right? And then besides just doing an investigation and being a one and done, you know, what did we really learn from that with respect to how we face day-to-day operations? And how do we self-assess and self-correct on a daily basis? How do we debrief after every evolution that we have to learn what went right and what went wrong? What do we double down on? What do we correct?
Q: Admiral, so when the new Safety Command was rolled out, one of the sort of datapoints that was talked about was that in October of that year they had already done 172 spot checks. And out of those, only two required reinvestigation. Are you able to give us any more data from, like, kind of nuts and bolts of what the command has been doing?
ADM. GILDAY: I missed the beginning of your question
Q: So when the new Safety Command was stood up, it was announced that they had at that point, October of ’21, they had done 172 spot checks already, but the only two required reinvestigation. Sort of a notion that, to your point, this is not a fleet-wide issue. Do you have new data, sort of to follow up on?
ADM. GILDAY: So we’re instituting a new – we really believe in data analysis and the ability to leverage that data. If I could just give you an example of how we’re trying to take a look at the data we collect and correct from it. For 10 years we couldn’t get Super Hornet readiness above 50 percent. We just couldn’t. And we accepted it. And we thought that if we – if we shot for 80 percent Super Hornet readiness, we would have to increase the amount of money we spent on those aircraft by that amount, right? It wasn’t the case. We took a look at our processes, which were dated by 25 or 30 years. And so we self-corrected inside the Navy.
We began to take a look at – when I talk about self-assessment, where you are now, where you want to be, and then what do you need to do to close that gap, there are things that you’re doing that are going really well that could help close that gap that you need to continue. There are also barriers that prevent you from doing better. And you need to identify those. If you can’t break them down yourself, then you need to ask for help to break them down. Which is what I talk about in my charge of command I issued a few weeks ago.
With respect to Safety Command, elevating it – it’s not just elevating in rank. And the next Safety Command commander will be a post-strike group two-star commander. But it’s also giving them direct access to me. It’s also taking their results and taking a look at what that data tells us with respect to recurring trends, so that we can get after it more holistically. We haven’t done that. We haven’t done that as well as we should have with the data that we’re collecting from the Safety Center, which your data points are indicative of. So we got to improve.
Q: Admiral, you noted that this is a Navy-wide enterprise. But you also note that some are struggling, some are doing very well. Some of the recent fires, for example, have shown up in ships’ availabilities and maintenance. Is that something that you’re sort of looking at more? You’re seeing something more in that particular area that you haven’t focused on? Are you going to get the ones who are doing well to sort of help the ones that aren’t? I mean, how’s that going to work?
ADM. GILDAY: So not all of those. So after the Bonhomme Richard fire, one of the things we did is a deep dive investigation, of course, on that particular incident. And that ship was in maintenance. We also took a look at 14 fires over a 12-year period – what we consider to be major fires, significant losses. Not all of those – not all of those were in maintenance, although some of them were. And what we found is that when we visited – part of the major fires review, we visited about 40 different ships. Many – and squadrons. Many of those were in maintenance availabilities, right? And so within those ships and maintenance availabilities, there were a number – in fact, many of them were doing really, really well. There were a few that were doing poorly.
So I would tell you that that variance wasn’t just isolated to ships in maintenance. We also saw that on ships like Mason that were sitting in the waterfront in an operational pattern. So in my charge of command I talk about getting real and getting better. And I really believe that we need to become a better learning organization. If not, we’re going to pay for it. And the real strength of the Navy is in our Sailors. And you would expect me to say that, but I absolutely believe it. The Sailors in the Navy are the game changer in any fight. You know, it’s not just the technology.
Q: Admiral, in regards to safety, you brought up the Hawaiian fuel spill. I know we had one here Oceania. Is there any comment you could make on the status of that, or any comparisons, lessons learned about that?
ADM. GILDAY: So I would tell you that we’re still looking deeply at the incident in Oahu. There’s a command investigation that just finished up. We hired an independent engineering company to do an assessment. The commander of INDOPACOM is taking a look at fuel requirements out in Oahu, so that we can get a holistic view of what we’re dealing with not only with respect to that facility but respect to what fueling requirements are required across the Pacific. Now, we haven’t taken a direct look yet at the linkage between perhaps what’s happened in Oahu and what’s happened in other – in other incidents. But that’s work to be done.
Q: Admiral, if I could ask one more question – (off mic) – safety and readiness, have you deduced what the impact on readiness is going to be with the COVID vaccine noncompliers? You lose hundreds of sailors. What impact do you think that’s going to have?
ADM. GILDAY: So with respect to vaccinations, so the Navy has enjoyed the highest vaccination percentages in the military. We’re at 98 percent who are immunized. So there are a number – a couple of thousand or so, less than 2 percent of an almost 315-sailor force who have waivers – waiver requests for religious reasons, waiver requests for medical reasons. And we’re working our way through that. Based on the fact that those numbers are relatively small, we haven’t not seen any kind of readiness impact to speak of that would cause me any concern.
I do think that the vaccinations will make us a more ready force. This is about being ready. We’ve been through two years now of operating during the pandemic, much of it without a vaccine. And we’ve seen how difficult it is to do that out at sea, and to keep a ship, you know, clean of any – of any infection. So I welcome the vaccine. I think it makes us a more ready force. And I think the fleet – I think Sailors have responded very well to it. We’re trying to give everybody every opportunity to become immunized. And you know, last but not least, it’s a legal order from the president.
Q: Sir, back to the Naval Safety Center, when you talk about the variance between the very high performers and the lower performers, obviously the Safety Command will play a role. But it sounds like there might be, you know, some personnel and some education and things. How will you manage the whole portfolio to address that issue?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. That’s a good question. So we’re beginning to address this as soon as next week, with the Vice Chief of Naval Operations making visits to Norfolk, making visits to San Diego. We’re trying to talk to senior leaders about where we want to go. We also need to get this into our schoolhouses, down to the petty officer level, they understand what we’re talking about. Chief Petty Officers will be central to this in terms of getting any traction. If they’re not on board, it’s going to be a hollow campaign unless we can get people on board. But I think that we can. We’re not trying to overthink this. You know, there’s a lot of literature out there about learning organizations and how powerful that can be. And that’s what we’re after.
COMMANDER COURTNEY HILLSON: We have time for one more question.
Q: Sir, if I can ask something that has nothing to do with safety? So you put the Ford on something that’s sort of a different kind of deployment, you know? I’m just wondering what you’re hoping to get back from that. Why the different deployment? And what do you have to gain back when you put it out there like that?
ADM. GILDAY: With Ford, I want to keep the momentum. She needs to be operational. And I’m going to push her out there to deploy. I’m not going to talk about specifically where she’s going to go or what she’s going to do. But I’m going to tell you she’s going to make a difference. Last year her op tempo was as high as any ship in the Navy – 250 days underway, 8,100 traps on that ship. We used the Ford as our carrier qual ship for East Coast aviation squadrons, for TACAIR squadrons, in 2021. She’s itching to go.
Plus, we made it a point not to sidestep requirements like the shock testing. We went through that. She’s going through a maintenance availability right now and, quite honestly, her program deployment was in , and I didn’t want to live with that. We didn’t want to live with that as a Navy. So we’re accelerating it. The point is, there are allies and partners itching to operate with the Ford. And we are very anxious to get her out there. If you – if you meet that crew, and I encourage you to, they can’t wait to get back to sea. This is a win-win for the Navy and for the Ford.
Anymore? You sure? Go ahead, ma’am.
Q: In regards to the Hampton Roads fleet here, any talk about repositioning anything further to the West Coast and the Pacific to deal with the China threat?
ADM. GILDAY: No plans right now. So the Navy’s done a pretty good job over the past years since the administration before last even, in terms of positioning 60 percent of our resources to the Pacific. So I’m also mindful that we have a resurgent Russia that’s a handful, as you know, in the news right now. So I don’t just take – I don’t just look west. I’m also looking east. And so I’m just as concerned about readiness and modernization on the east as I am on the west coast. We’re going to keep what we got. We need a budget, though. (Laughter.) We need a budget.
So the impacts of a year-long CR, and there’s the possibility of that, will be significant in the Navy. It’ll be significant across all the other services as well. Let me give you a couple of examples. So the National Defense Authorization Act was recently signed into law by the president. That authorization act, or that legal action, requires a 2.7 percent pay raise for the force, which is well-deserved. That said, that money’s got to come out of a ’21 level budget. We’re also – we’re looking at 8 percent inflation. And in the personnel cost area, in medical costs, those costs tend to rise above inflation anyway. And so we’re going to have to pay for that 2.7 percent pay raise with something. And we’re going to have to do it within the personnel accounts, because we’re restricted on how we move money around.
So we’re going to have to take that money from places like accession. So, think new recruits. At a time when we’re trying to close the gap on gaps at sea in terms of manning, we’re going to face that as a challenge if we – if we have to cut our accessions. We rely on that pipeline. And, oh by the way, we kept moving that production line at great lengths and in the Naval Academy even through the pandemic. So that’s thing one. But that won’t be enough money to pay for the 2.7 percent. We’re also going to have to take a look at whether or not we reduce retention bonuses, right? So that’s going to hurt for reasons that are obvious.
And a third area would be permanent change of station moves. So if we have to cut them by as many – by as much as 50 percent, that’s also a detriment for us with respect to current readiness. In terms of maintenance availabilities, we would look at impacting five SSNs and two carrier availabilities. Big impact. Big impact on the economy. Big impact for the Navy. So, you know, our message to Congress and service members has been very consistent, that we all benefit from predictable, stable funding. And we really need it right now, particularly given the sense of urgency that we’re we’re trying to get after with respect to China.
Thank you, all. Appreciate you coming aboard. Thanks for your patience. Thank you.
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