COMMANDER COURTNEY HILLSON: Before we start, I want to review the ground rules. The focus will be on the future of the Navy. We have about 20 minutes. The interview will be on the record and recorded. I’ll call on each reporter alphabetically to make sure we give everyone a chance to ask a question. At that time, I’ll then open it up to follow ups as time permits. With that, I’d like to turn it over to Admiral Gilday for opening comments.
ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY: Hi, everybody. And thanks for joining this afternoon. It’s nice to get a chance to talk to you before WEST, and then, you know, I’ll have – I’ll be on a panel with both commandants in the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard. And then after that I think we’ll have another media availability as well, so I’ll be able to follow up on any of the questions that you might have.
West is a great opportunity to build an understanding of, I think, the Navy’s relevance, and also increase people’s trust in our ability to execute our mission well. Telling the Navy story is having a positive effect. Looking at Gallup polls from the last quarter of 2021, they actually show this, for the first time in more than a decade the Navy was rated as the most important to national defense out of all the services.
But we still have a lot of work to do, which is why I’m so focused on the now, and as well as the Navy of 2025, 2030, and beyond. Americans see what’s happening in the Pacific, what’s happening in Europe right now with respect to Russia-Ukraine. They see competition and the need to maintain an advantage. Polling showed the American people recognize that we can’t rest of a legacy technology. We need to move forward and maintain our competitive edge. That was one area that they keyed on in that series of polls.
I still believe we’re in a critical decade and the Navy is dependent upon stable and predictable funding – funding that supports our DOD military strategy and our Navy’s Navigation Plan. Based on where we are right now, with the potential for year-long CR, budgets are on my mind every day. The Navigation Plan released last year I believe is still sound and outlines how we will grow our naval power to control the seas and project power across all domains now and into the future. And I can talk about some of those areas, if you’d like.
I’m still focused on readiness, modernization, capacity, and our sailors. And I’m excited about the work we’re doing, from Project Overmatch, to developing our Navy’s open architecture, and platforms that support long-range fires. I think long-range fires are a key attribute – a key attribute of the future fleet that I continue to be focused on.
Unmanned systems have my attention as well, on, above and under the water. Our unmanned campaign framework is our strategy for making unmanned systems a trusted and integral part of the war fight. It’s now supported by the unmanned taskforce that we brought alive about four months ago. And that’s focused on delivering war fighting capabilities to the fleet inside of the FYDP. We thought that was important – or, I thought that was important from a risk reduction standpoint, so that we can begin to mature and then hopefully scale unmanned capabilities at a faster pace.
As we pursue a family of systems approach, we’re testing technology and capabilities so that we can deliver stable programs that are also reliable. We’re doing sprints to – we’re doing sprints with this unmanned taskforce to challenge, and sometimes fail, so that we identify and know when we need to pivot and where we need to double down. A lot of work to integrate unmanned systems and putting them to test in the hands of war fighters, Integrated Battle Problem 2021 that we did last year off the West Coast, MQ-25, which is informing NGAD, or the Next Generation Air Dominance Program. Various testing with aircraft this past year and at sea, testing aboard the Bush. And then right now IMX, the largest maritime exercise in the Middle East, that brings 60 nations together with both manned and unmanned platforms.
So before I open it up to questions, I want to say I can’t get into any details or classified information about Ukraine, but I can tell you that I continue to watch it very, very, closely. The Navy has a pretty big presence right now in the European theater with units and capabilities that are participating in a range of maritime activities in support of our Sixth Fleet and also our NATO allies. Four destroyers recently deployed, as you probably know, to join ships already assigned Sixth Fleet. We have over 20 ships in theater right now.
And with that I’ll open it up to any questions that you might have.
CMDR. HILLSON: We’ll go ahead, and we’ll start with Megan.
Q: Hi, sir. Thank you so much for doing this.
You mentioned unmanned as part of the future fleet. And I guess kind of looking at the portfolio that the Navy’s pursuing, you know, there’s different, obviously, types of unmanned. You know, whether it’s sort of unmanned meant to be a platform versus meant to be a tool for other platforms to use. You know, some of it kind of nests nicely under JADC2 and some of it’s a little bit separate in terms of mission sets. And I just wonder kind of – you know, people like to talk “unmanned” as a group, but where do you see that you are able to move forward quickly and kind of start getting things onto the fleet, and learning those lessons? And where maybe are you bumping into more challenges in unmanned? I guess if we could just kind of unpack that group a little bit and talk about what’s going well and what still needs more attention.
ADM. GILDAY: What the Unmanned Task Force did over about a 14- or 15-week period is they did seven different spirals. And I can’t talk about specifically what those spirals were, because they’re classified, but we’re taking a look at problem sets like payload integration on larger unmanned, reliability with respect to engineering plans or flight controls on other unmanned. So these spirals, taking a look at specific technologies from specific vendors, gave us insights on what technologies we – or, what technologies or lines of emphasis we should continue to pursue, which ones we should absolutely accelerate now, and which ones that we should pivot away from because they just weren’t performing at a level – or, we didn’t get what we expected out of them.
And so these are specific capabilities that right now we’re actually testing some of them during IMX with Task Force 59 and Fifth Fleet. And that effort’s intended to not only help us push these spirals along so that we can actually see capabilities in a real-world – real-world environment, but also it informs our concept of operations and how we’re going to employ them, either alone or in conjunction with other unmanned or manned assets. And so it’s actually helping us – it’s helping us get at this programs, Megan, inside the FYDP, right? So that’s one change with respect to this experimentation.
And on the Unmanned Task Force, another key piece of this is who’s involved. And so it’s led by our – (inaudible) – nine, right, our integrators. But it also, besides the requirements folks inside the nine, whether they’re – whether they’re surface, aviation, or subsurface communities – it also involves the acquisition community. It also involves industry. And as I just mentioned, it involves the fleet. So what we’re trying to do is move very fast and, almost like the Google approach, fail fast if we need to. It’s not a large taskforce. It’s a lean taskforce. But we have put some of the best minds in the unmanned area against these problem sets.
Separately, as you know, we do have programs, like large USV and medium USV, which have run into some problems on the Hill because the performance of those systems has not necessarily been as – I guess, as smooth as we – as we had hoped. We really – we really are focused on taking a more evolutionary approach. I think the Unmanned Task Force is helping us do that inside the FYDP, which I think in the long run – the goal is, in the long run, as we look outside of the FYDP, to put ourselves in a position with – whether it’s large unmanned on the surface or under the sea or in the air – put us in a position where we can scale those platforms and into the 2030s, have those – have unmanned in large numbers available to fleet commanders.
Q: If I can ask just a quick follow up, you talked about learning lessons right now about what works and you want to invest in more heavily versus what doesn’t work and you want to pivot away from. I mean, is that something that has to wait for the ’24 budget submission at this point? Or are there ways to act on those lessons any faster?
ADM. GILDAY: No. No, we’re moving now. So we’re using R&D money now. We are leveraging NavalX through the undersecretary for RDA, to leverage our touchpoints into industry, especially small companies. When I take a look at what Task Force 59 is doing, they’re not only leveraging U.S. technologies, but some of the best technologies out there from countries like Israel and India, who are doing some superb work in this area that’s actually not only giving us insights into new technologies, but also helping mature our concept of operations in terms of how we – how we think about using them.
As an example, if there are small unmanned aviation assets that can fly a couple of thousand miles and have the endurance to do that, and to have payloads that extend our range for ISR, it makes me less dependent upon programs like a medium USV. Maybe I don’t have to buy as many of those. Maybe I just have to invest in smaller platforms that are also more expendable, but allow me to deploy them off of a variety of platforms and extend our ISR range, or even our weapons range if they’re – if we can weaponize some of those variants.
It's an exciting – it’s a really exciting area. And I got to tell you, I’ve always – I think what I – what I come back to as kind of a starting point in the conversation about unmanned is I think about how we’re going to fight. And we have been maturing distributed maritime operations, along with the Marine Corps’ EABO and LOCE kind of nested in there, for the last five or six years. And we feel that we have a very good understanding of how conceptually we’re going to fight in the future. That’s now informing what we’re going to fight with over a very – what we believe to be a very large area coming at an aggressor across many different vectors. So in order to do that, capacity does matter, right? Capability is really important. But that capability is going to be a derivative of capacity.
And so based on – you know, I think you have to be a realist with respect to – with respect to budgets. I think, you know, we are in – in some cases, we’re in a footrace with China. And so we need to move fast. And we need to – we need to build capacity fast, we need to build capability – mature capability fast. And I think that unmanned is a – is a key way to get after those problems.
CMDR. HILLSON: With that, we’ll go to Justin next.
Q: Hi, Admiral. Thank you so much for taking the time.
Sir, I also wanted to ask about unmanned. You know, for those of us who read all of the NDAAs and we listen to you and all of your officers testify on the Hill, the struggle between the Navy and Congress about unmanned technology has been pretty public and pretty clear. I know you won’t speak for your predecessors so I’m asking this only for the time that you’ve been the CNO, do you feel that your messaging to Congress on unmanned technologies and where you’re going has been effective? And by effective, I mean are you convincing Congress that you’re going in the right direction? And, two, should we expect to see changes in how the Navy is messaging unmanned to Congress in the future?
ADM. GILDAY: So, I’ll tell you, I think that I’ve learned a lot about our approach. And so I think that Congress has some really excellent points when it comes to unmanned programs. Not necessarily because they’re unmanned, but if we take a look at what we learn – what we learned from programs like LCS, Zumwalt, and the Ford-class carrier, specifically land-based testing and prototyping – so moving in an evolutionary instead a revolutionary manner in order to deliver a platform that’s going to be reliable, and it’s actually going to perform as intended.
So I’m a big believer in that approach. And I think that with respect to unmanned surface, one area that we could actually learn greatly from are the land-based engineering test sites that we used for DDG-51 that Congress has mandated that we use for the Constellation-class frigate, that we’re also using for the Columbia-class submarines, specifically up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where we can actually take an engineering – let’s say, an engineering configuration that we want to use on a specific platform. And we can run that, under simulated torqued, loaded conditions, for months and months and months. And either are satisfied with that configuration or we’re not.
We’re looking for where it’s reliable and where it’s not. We refine it. We replace – we replace the things that aren’t working well with a – you know, with a better – with a better component. And then we become a much better-informed customer in terms of what we want to buy and scale. That’s really – when you talk about the larger platforms, whether it’s – whether it’s the Snakehead LDUUV or whether it’s – whether it’s the unmanned surface – unmanned surface programs, that shore-based prototyping is going to be really important.
I do not want to put a future CNO in a position where we’re doubling down on a platform that’s going to be unreliable. And I just don’t want to – I don’t want to be in that position. I think we’ve learned a lot, as I said, from those other classes of ship. I think that Congress is holding our feet to the fire on those lessons. And I’m 100 percent in support of that approach.
Q: Thank you.
CMDR. HILLSON: Next up, Sam.
Q: Good afternoon, sir.
ADM. GILDAY: Hey, Sam.
Q: So it sounds like some of the legislative roadblocks that you all had – you know, that had been put in place on purpose, y’all are sort of comfortable with them, or moving ahead with, you know, independent R&D testing? I just kind of want to understand, like, what are y’all doing now directly to address that? I was a little – I was a little confused.
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah, so – yeah, so one of the things we’re looking at is small unmanned – small unmanned platforms, right? Think about – particularly those that could either operate on the sea or in the air. They’re reconfigurable with respect to payloads. They’re highly reliable. They don’t take up a lot of space. And we could actually launch them from any ship that we have. They extend our – they either extend our sensing, our ability to sense and then make sense of the environment and/or they extend our weapons range. So that’s one piece. And Task Force 59, IMX, the work that we did with Third Fleet on the Integrated Battle Problem earlier in 2021 is focused on those smaller – those smaller platforms.
The larger platforms, LUSV, we’re talking – I mean, you’ve probably seen them up close where they’re 2(00) or 300 feet long, 1,000 to 2,000 tons. So they’re not – they’re about the size of a corvette. It is – it is – so, as I just kind of went through, Sam, on those particular platforms the two biggest challenges are engineering – the engineering plant reliability and the ability to command and control with a high degree of confidence. I spoke already to the former, but on the latter, with respect to C-2, that’s where Overmatch comes in, the naval operational architecture, the kind of Internet of Things out there at sea that allows us to control with a software-defined system of systems – all of these unmanned and manned platforms that we think that we’ll need to fight in a distributed manner.
I hope that’s a little bit more helpful, Sam. But I’m happy to go back and pick at that some more, if you’d like.
Q: OK. Well, bringing up the idea of the network, so right now, you know, the high-bandwidth network, in order to make this kind of net-centric concept work, really isn’t there. It seems like (2016 ?) is where it’s at right now. You know, and we spend a lot of time talking about individual platforms, but how do you all feel about the lightning bolts connecting them? And how is that process going? And is that going to be able to keep pace with, you know, the developments of, you know, making a drivetrain that won’t fail?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. I will tell you that more lightning bolts is not the approach. It’s really to take – it’s really to leverage the lightning bolts that we have in a way that’s software defined. So what I mean by that is, just like when you’re – when you’re watching a YouTube video in your house and you’re using your wi-fi, and then you walk outside and the phone – the software on the phone shifts you to a 4(G) or 5G network automatically, you remain connectivity. You don’t care. The phone doesn’t care. You just getting – you’re just getting the information you want when you want it.
It’s that same type of idea, where software would decide, you know, what the prioritization of that data is, and then it would – the system would then containerize it in a way that it could ride on any one of those lightning bolts. It could move on any one of those systems to get to the end point system. It's leveraging the fact that every shooter doesn’t necessarily have to sense the target that you’re going to – that it is going to fire at. That it can be sent the target. It can be in complete mission control. It can be – it can be radio silent with respect to transmit, and it can receive a target over a – over a lightning bolt of choice, and then put a weapon on a target with a high degree of confidence that you’re going to hit it.
So we have done – we’re in our – the very end of a big spiral right now, or series of tests in Overmatch out in San Diego. And we are still on track to deploy a battlegroup with – a battlegroup with the ability to do this in late ’22, early ’23. And then my hope is I could scale it to multiple battlegroups and ARGs in a large fleet exercise.
If I could go back – if I could just shift back to unmanned just for a second, as I talk about this evolutionary approach, and I talk about large and medium unmanned, the path that I want to be on, you know, as we do this experimentation inside the FYDP, is outside the FYDP, let’s say in the late ’20s, let’s say in ’27-’28, to begin to deploy – earlier, if I can. This is going to be a conditions-based approach. But to be able to deploy those types of vessels with deploying strike groups and ARGs.
They may not necessarily be completely unmanned. They may be minimally manned, right? But I want to be in a position where, you know, we can crawl-walk-run, get those platforms out there. You know, after we’ve proven in a land-based test facility that they’re reliable – get them out there with the fleet, actually deploy with them, to put us in a position where we can scale in the 2030s. So I hope that makes sense in terms of the – where my head is with respect to taking a realist approach, an evolutionary approach, to finally getting to the point, hopefully in the 2030s, where we really do have a hybrid fleet, where we can make distributed maritime operations come alive in a way that’s – in a way that would be highly effective, if we actually had to fight.
Q: Yeah, thank you.
CMDR. HILLSON: Brad.
Q: Hi, Admiral. Thank you very much for taking the time.
ADM. GILDAY: Sure.
Q: At WEST so far we’ve heard a lot of Navy leaders talking about, yes, yes, we need to move faster, but also please, please don’t forget training, and don’t forget cross-training, and don’t forget maintenance needs, don’t forget human interfaces. How is that intersecting with what you’re doing with the Unmanned Task Force?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. So it’s going to be evolutionary as well. You already see what we’re doing in the aviation side with commissioning warrant officers who were actually pilots for MQ-25s aboard the Bush as we – as we mature MQ-25s. And that integration’s actually going really well. You see the chief of naval personnel taking a look at a new unmanned rating for the fleet. As I go around to our unmanned squadrons, and I meet sailors that are controlling these unmanned vehicles, there’s a high interest in a separate rating.
So right now, what we’re doing is we’re taking sailors out of, you know, conventional ratings, and they’re controlling unmanned vessels. They’re getting really good at it, but it ought to be a rate in and of itself, and not just – not just kind of an off ramp from an existing rate, and so – or a subset of an existing rate. And so what we want to do is create a highly specialized force that then – that then can also be – have a degree of expertise with respect to helping us build or modify applications that would control these platforms as well.
And so they all have to – they all have to work together. I would tell you that we are in the beginning of this with respect to the people piece and the training piece. It’s an area that we have to place more focus on, but it’s not something that we’re ignoring.
Hey, Admiral, if I can just follow up with something Megan asked, because she asked whether you needed – you’d need to wait a year for the budget to do all these things. You said, no, you’re moving ahead. How does the CR, our current CR, affect that? How are you managing to move ahead on new stuff?
ADM. GILDAY: Well, in terms of big stuff we can’t, right? And so in terms of delays – you know, I can go from TAOs to LPDs to carriers, to LCS, to DDGs, to FFGs, to MQ-25s, where the work on those programs is either delayed or completely stopped. There’s a shortfall. There was a shortfall on Columbia that we think this latest anomaly that’s going to be passed will help – will help correct that shortfall. Columbia, as you’ve heard me say many times, we have no margin there to fall behind.
In terms of – you know, I think about readiness and the effects on things like our MILPERS account, as an example – if I could just talk about that for a second. So the NDAA, which was passed by the Congress and signed by the president, mandates a 2.7 percent pay raise. So operating under a CR, we still have to pay for that because it’s the law. So potentially if the CR goes for a year, I’m going to have to reduce accession perhaps by even 75 percent. I’m going to have to reduce PCS moves – permanent change of station moves – almost by half. And I’m going to have to take a look at withholding reenlistment bonuses.
Because the money is frozen in those accounts, the different colors of money needs to stay in their own – in their own accounts and I can’t move that money laterally, we have to pay – all the services have to pay for that pay raise inside their MILPERS accounts. That’s just an example. And, you know, if I continue down the readiness line with ops and maintenance, I think – if I’m – if I’m correct on this, and I can have Courtney get back to you if my numbers are a bit off – but I think I’m going to end up affecting five SSN and two CBN availabilities. I won’t be able to get them moving under these CRs. Truman’s – or, CVN 75’s RCOH, I won’t be able to move forward on that. We’ll see a 20 percent reduction in flying hours under that program. And there’s others. There’s family housing impacts. There’s training range impacts.
So in people’s mind’s eye, when they see – when they see DOD facing a CR, we’ve been incredibly flexible, right, where we can move stuff around, we can delay stuff to later on in the year. But a full-year CR leaves no room to maneuver. It is – you know, it’s like doing a lunar landing. We have never been there before when you talk about a full year. And the situation we’re in right now under the CR, beyond the impacts that I just talked about, is the fact that we’re still coming end game on ’23. You don’t have a set of headlights on where you’re going with ’22, and then we’re building ’24. And so it’s not a good place to go with respect to having a high degree of confidence of where exactly you want to move out, and to what degree, for all of these key programs that we need to press forward with.
Thanks for letting me go on that rant about the CR. It is – it is something that’s going to begin to have more and more of an impact as the months tick away here.
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah.
CMDR. HILLSON: Ladies and gentlemen, that’s all the time we have. If you have any follow-up questions – actually, we’ll take one more follow up.
CMDR. HILLSON: Does anyone have any follow ups?
ADM. GILDAY: Well, maybe we’ll get you back online after WEST. And, you know, if you want to follow up on, let’s say, you know, the fleet of the future, talk about other programs, talk about, you know, where we want to go more broadly, I’m happy – I’m happy to do that. Or talk about any other areas – like virtual construct, ready relevant learning. You know, there’s a lot of – as you know, it’s a big Navy with a lot of stuff going on. AUKUS, you know, we’re moving forward with the Australians and the Brits in that effort.
I would say, in terms of allies and partners, if I could just park there for a minute, if you stay online for another 30 seconds. (Laughs.) I have met with my – in the past couple of weeks I have met face to face with my French counterpart, with the first sea lord from the Royal Navy yesterday. I had a phone call last week with my counterpart from South Korea. And so those allies and partners continue to be a key focus for me. We are exposing them and collaborating with them in areas like overmatch, in every area where I can collaborate more closely.
As an example, with the French, they’re a great partner. They have – they’re invested in fourth-generation aircraft. They’re not moving to fifth yet. I want to make sure that our fourth and fifth gen squadrons can operate seamlessly together. So that’s an area where we want to work closer with them and our F-35s, where we’ve just finished our first fourth-fifth gen integrated deployment in Vinson. A lot of discussions with my counterpart from the Royal Navy yesterday on areas like hypersonics and unmanned. And so there are a lot of rich opportunities here for us to leverage what each other is doing not only – not only operationally but also in the R&D arena.
I look forward to talking with you again after WEST on Friday. Thanks again for your time today.
CMDR. HILLSON: If you have any follow ups, please give me a call. Thanks, everyone.
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