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Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Mike Gilday speaks during a media availability at WEST 2022 on Feb. 18, 2022 in San Diego, Calif. Below is a transcript of the engagement. (Moderated by Cmdr. Courtney Hillson, Public Affairs Officer to the Chief of Naval Operations)
Q: So new Nav Plan, ship numbers? Are you determined to make news here today?
ADM. GILDAY: So I thought that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to talk about those numbers in terms of what we’ve been planning to. Those numbers are in the public domain. And they are consistent with the last shipbuilding plan we put out. But I think, importantly, the real message I wanted to get out of those numbers is they’re actually grounded on how we’re going to fight. And so I really do believe we have a good sense of where we’re going with the concept and how we’re going to – how we’re going to get there.
Q: Just a couple of clarifying questions.
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah.
Q: So this is – this is the idea of what the force would look like in 2040? Is that –
ADM. GILDAY: So that was the – that was the endpoint was 2040, right. So –
Q: All right. And then – and that seems consistent with the high end of the estimates that were in the last shipbuilding release.
Q: And then when you say frigates, are you just talking about frigates or, you know, where is mine warfare and LCS in that mix too?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. So LCS was in that mix. Mine warfare is going to be robotics. It’s going to air based as well. And so separate minesweeping units, with the exception of the – you know, the capability we have on LCSs. But the robotics and the way we’re going with fish in the water, leveraging AI and ML with those assets has been pretty exciting.
Q: Admiral, on robotics, so Mk18 – things like the Mk18 – family are out there today.
ADM. GILDAY: Correct. Exactly. Exactly.
Q: Are you envisioning something larger than that? Like a dedicated MUSV or something that would be a mine ship?
ADM. GILDAY: So with respect to MUSVs, where my head is on MUSVs is I think that we may be able to leverage small unmanned in higher numbers. So as an example, the insights we’re gaining right now from exercises like IMX in the Middle East give me a lot more faith in those small, unmanned assets and how we can configure those on a number of vessels – including I spent time on an ESB yesterday, which really had my mind turning in terms of a mothership. As we begin to get to a point where we – where we deploy unmanned surface, as an example, or unmanned under the sea, as an example, we’re still going to need something out there that’s going to be able to repair them, that’s going to be able to, let’s say, change out payloads. And so these exercises that we’re doing give us a chance almost at, like, a DevSecOps kind of – kind of framework to try things out, to experiment. And if things aren’t working, to shift to a better idea.
Q: Admiral, can you talk about what steps the Navy is taking to fix the maintenance issues that were – that were highlighted in the recent GAO report? Sailors saying they’re not trained enough, saying that they’re just putting Band-Aids on ships so they can get underway, saying that a lot of their equipment is obsolete. How is the Navy going to respond to that?
ADM. GILDAY: So I haven’t read the report that you speak to. It’s a –
Q: GAO report.
ADM. GILDAY: It’s a GAO? Right. I just – I just have not read that. I have not seen that GAO report. I can tell you that we’re not ignoring maintenance, right? So I talked earlier about the fact that we’ve come from 7,700 delay days down to just shy of 3,000. And my goal is to get to zero. A lot of that is predicated on putting money against a problem instead of deferring the maintenance and walking away from it. So some of those problems with GAO reports are looking, you know, a year or two years back. I’m giving you data here and now. I’m putting money against the problem. I will tell you that maintenance is funded to executable levels, as are, with respect to training, steaming days and flying hours.
Q: The issue seems to be training and also the requirements for op tempo are so high there’s no chance to do actual maintenance, just trying to, as they said, put Band-Aids on the problem.
ADM. GILDAY: Well, I take exception to the comment about op tempo. And so we’ve been pretty good over the past 18 months in terms of keeping an eye on op tempo, moving into an environment where 100 percent of crews have the vaccine, as an example. We’ve been able to stick to those seven-month deployments, by and large.
Q: So, piggybacking on that, CNO, there was reportedly last year – about the GAO again – regarding LCS and, you know, maintenance issues. And they noted that the Navy doesn’t own all the technical data on that platform to be able to do – and you know, as a reporter, as an American citizen, it was kind of shocking. I’ve heard kind of anecdotally that there’s some negotiations to change that. Can you comment on –
ADM. GILDAY: So if you take a look at what Admiral Kitchener’s LCS Task Force decided on, it’s exactly that. It’s pivoting from a contractor-centric model to a sailor-centric model. That’s where we’re moving towards. It’s going to take us some time to get there, but when we originally planned the class with 40 sailors, it was definitely contractor centric. We’ve learned through successive deployments down at Fourth Fleet, as an example, that we need to be much more self-sufficient. So that model is going to end up – we’ll end up transitioning away from it. I don’t have the details at the moment, off the top of my head, in terms of timeframe from that. But that’s where we’re headed towards.
Q: That’s fascinating, that you’re going to go sailor-centric on a platform that was supposed to be minimally manned. Is that – is that possible?
ADM. GILDAY: So we’ve increased the manning, right? Seventy sailors. So that manning has increased. We’re also taking a look at what sustainment models do we need out there during deployment. Do you use a mothership that provides a mobile maintenance capability? Forage repairs, those types of things? And so we’re getting better at that. At Fourth Fleet we’ve been able to maintain a pretty good op tempo down there with respect to the ships that we have deployed. And we’re increasing those deployments. You see LCS out – deployed in numbers out in Seventh Fleet, soon to follow in Fifth Fleet, soon to follow in the Sixth Fleet.
Q: Is that technical specs ownership question solely limited to LCS, or are there other –
ADM. GILDAY: No, we’ve had other proprietary issues. I think it came up on one of the panels yesterday. I think the panel at the – the cyber panel was an example of a frustration. We need access to the information. I mean, so we are really harvesting – we do a lot of data analysis that has gotten us to a point, as an example, where we’ve been able to drive down those maintenance delay days, where we’ve been able to cut gaps at sea from 10,000 to less than 5,000 over the past year. That’s all being done not by just lathering it with money, but by taking a look at the data and where it’s driving us to find problems that we need to fix.
Q: Admiral Gilday, a clarification on something you said while you were on stage. You went through a few numbers of ships. I was wondering, are those the 2020 FSA numbers, are those new numbers? Where do they come from?
ADM. GILDAY: So those are grounded on the 2020 FSNS, but we’re doing another force structure assessment right now that’ll inform the 2024 POM.
Q: OK. So those numbers were all from the 2020 –
ADM. GILDAY: There’s nothing new about those numbers. They’re being refined by those constant – example, those battle problems we’re doing with every single strike group that’s deploying, the large-scale exercise we did last summer, the unmanned exercise we just did in Fifth Fleet. So we’re collecting data as we do those exercises, were do those battle problems. There’s additional analysis that’s going on based on the Joint Warfighting Concept. And so those numbers will get refined over time. But I will say this, we haven’t seen a study since 2016 that’s gone – that has – that hasn’t gone below 355.
Q: But your impending FSA is not going to give you those numbers – (inaudible) –
ADM. GILDAY: I don’t think they’re going to drop. I think – again, I think that the warfighting concept, distributed maritime operations, and underneath that LOCE and EABO is nested – I think we’re proving that that’s a good way – that’s a good way to fight. At least the war games that we’ve done, Global 14 we just finished last summer, was another insightful war game for us in terms of testing that concept. It’s consistent with the way combatant commanders are looking at the world in the future. It’s consistent with the way that the Joint Staff and OSD are looking at it. So I think – I think the way that we’re envisioning the force is going to operate and fight is consistent with the way leadership looks at it.
Q: Admiral, thank you for doing this. In you remarks you mentioned being serious about the shift away from legacy platforms, and that it is a warfighting imperative. I was wondering if you could maybe expand on that. And what are you specifically looking for? And which future platforms is the Navy looking to invest in the coming budget?
ADM. GILDAY: So if I could just talk about legacy for just a second. So I was talking about cruisers. And so if you take a look at the beginning of this budget cycle, there was a – there was a – the number seven. You know, the Navy was going to be forced to keep seven cruisers. I think in the NDAA we ended up with two. I wish – I wish the number was zero. We need to transition from those platforms for a number of reasons. I talked about the 2,700 delay days that we have right now out of – out of private yards. More than half of those belong to the cruisers that are in maintenance right now, that are in there for the cruiser upgrades. Those upgrades are costing us tens of millions of dollars over budget. Why? Because of growth work and new work that we didn’t expect with ships that are over 30 years old.
For us to pivot, under the budget line that we have right now, to pivot to a more lethal force, we need to give up some stuff. And you can’t just look at it through the lens of surface VLS tubes. So if I take a look at mid-decade, and I take a look at what we’re investing in, right? If I start with under the sea, we’re delivering Block IV – Virginia Block IV submarines now with an extended-range weapon. We’ll be on the cusp of delivering Virginia Block Vs. Block V Virginia-class are going to have hypersonics, right? They’ve got an increased missile capacity, a VLS capacity. They’re our most – they’re our most survivable strike platform. If I take a look at on the surface, right, frigates will be delivering in ’26. We’re delivering flight three DDGs. We’re investing in SM-6, we’re investing in maritime strike Tomahawk. We’ll have hypersonics on Zumwalt in ’25, right, leveraging what the Army’s doing with their mobile hypersonics platform in ’23. Same weapon system.
If I – if I go to the air domain, just for a second, and I take a look at the integration in fourth and fifth – fourth and fifth-generation fighters, we just finished up a highly successful first deployment with an F-35 squadron on Vinson. Half of our strike – half of our carrier airwings will be fourth/fifth gen integrated by the middle of the – by the middle of the decade. LRASM, JASSM extended range, MQ-26 pushing the battlespace out even further. So you need to look at where that money’s going, right, in terms of modernization, to take the fleet that we have now and make it even more powerful. And I – it’s difficult for us to do that under a – under a top line that’s been fairly static for a while.
COMMANDER COURTNEY HILLSON: We have time for one more question. Megan, did you have one?
Q: Yes. Hi. You were talking about sort of getting requirements from industry for things you may not have thought of yet. There’s obviously a lot of opportunities to do that on smaller things, where you hold, like, an ANTX in terms of these ideas. But when you look at the bigger platforms, such as ships, I mean, I know there’s a lot of ideas on how to evolve, you know, production lines to maybe meet your future needs. And I just wonder if there’s any discussion of maybe having, you know, more opportunities to pitch new and different ideas to kind of develop your platforms –
ADM. GILDAY: So I’ll give you an example where we have to get better. It’s in aircraft production, right? And so how long has it taken us to get the F-35 fielded? About 30 years, right? We can’t do that with sixth gen. And so it’s not just the technology in those platforms, it’s the way you produce those platforms that have to change. If you go to some of the shipyards, and the way that they are introducing new technologies, where you’re in a workspace that’s the size of a football field, but there’s only six workers in there because everything’s done robotically, it’s very, very impressive. And so I think those are examples. I think that industry is taking a look way downfield. Directed energy is another example of where we could – where we could use a lot of focus in order – game changing technologies in terms of fleet survivability.
Sam, you had one follow up?
Q: Just the personnel side. If you’re talking about a fleet this big, you know, that’s a lot of people.
ADM. GILDAY: It sure is.
Q: That’s a lot of training. That’s a lot of sailors. The recruiting pool is always going down. How – where is that in the calculus?
ADM. GILDAY: So as we take a look at – so, that shipbuilding plan being a roadmap to build that fleet of 500 – so the 500 is a requirement. That’s what I say we need based on the analysis that’s grounded on the way we’re going to fight. Whether or not we’re going to get that 500, everything – we’re not going to get it unless everything else comes with it. So my priorities of readiness, modernization, and then capacity – I think that’s a pretty good model for CNOs follow, because if we don’t what we’re going to end up doing – give you an example. Back during sequestration, we flipped that model. And we kept the production lines of ships going, right? And at the time, we thought that was a really important thing to do.
Well, when your top line’s fairly static, the way you pay for those ships, where can you get the money quick? People, right. And so what do you see climbing pretty rapidly? Gaps at sea. You stop buying – you stop buying the weapons that you need to fill magazines. You stop buying the parts you need to fill storerooms. So the second and third-order effects of flipping that model are significant on the – on the readiness of the current fleet. And, you know, as we’ve talked about here today, as you see in the news, they got to be ready to go.
Q: Can I just ask one current events question? I know you’ve got to go.
ADM. GILDAY: Sure.
Q: So right now, in the Mediterranean, you have an aircraft carrier. They’re operating with two other aircraft carriers, the French, the Charles de Gaulle, and the Cavour. The Russians have arrayed three carrier-killing ships in a triangle formation around you. The Project 1164s, the Slavas. What do you make of that disposition? That’s an interesting disposition for those three ships. One’s in – one’s near Crete, one’s near Syria, one’s in the Black Sea.
ADM. GILDAY: We operate in and around the Russians and the Chinese all the time. And so this is nothing new. I would say that given this current situation the chance for miscalculation is greater. And so that’s why we train to a very high standard, right? A very high standard, so that when we find our ships in situations like this that COs make the right moves, that we act in a way that’s not provocative, that we communicate very clearly that we’re not cowboys out there. So our intention is to be responsible professionals out there at sea.
To give an example, recently in the Fifth Fleet AOR we had a patrol boat that was up in the northern gulf. It came point to point with an Iranian IRGCN vessel at night. Their lights were out, their guns were uncovered. That took a CO – you know, he handled that the right way to deescalate the situation, and at the same time make sure that his crew was safe, and at the same time make sure that he wasn’t putting himself in a position of disadvantage against a potential adversary. That is – that takes a lot of training, in order to get a CO with the right judgement level to make those right calls. So –
Q: While you were on stage, President Biden said he thinks Mr. Putin’s made his decision, and he expects an invasion to begin in a day or three. Are you – can you determine where it is?
ADM. GILDAY: I stand behind everything – so I don’t have operational control. The Truman right now – the Truman is forward deployed in the EUCOM AOR. And for the foreseeable future, as far as I know, is going to stay there.
CMDR. HILLSON: That’s all the time we have.
ADM. GILDAY: You need to be forward to be relevant. So they’re in the right – Truman’s in the right place.
Q: Thank you, sir.
Q: Thanks for your time.
Q: Thank you.
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