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Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Mike Gilday spoke at the First Sea Lord’s Sea Power Conference, hosted by Adm. Sir Ben Key, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff of the United Kingdom, on May 5. The panel also included Adm. Pierre Vandier, Chief of Staff of the French Navy, and Rear Admiral Eva Skoog Haslum, Chief of Royal Swedish Navy. (Moderated by: Nick Childs, Senior Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security, International Institute for Strategic Studies) Below is a transcript of the panel:
NICK CHILDS: So, ladies and gentlemen, we come to the final special session of our event for today, an event which, I think, has already shown itself to be an extremely stimulating and engaging and valuable discussion. So I’m very pleased about that and thanks to everyone who participated up to now.
But as I say, we’ve come to the point of a final special session, which I called “The Chiefs,” for very good reason. We’ve discussed the wide horizon of scenarios and missions that navies are taking on from presence, to naval diplomacy, to complex high-end operations. We’ve looked at the multiple challenges that are faced – state-based competition, what does that mean, against whom; economics; the environment; technology – and there are opportunities as well.
But key to all this, I think, in terms of going forward is how do the chiefs – the professional heads of the navies – grapple with these issues, identifying the key priorities and delivering the key capabilities as they see them, and what more can be achieved jointly and through cooperation to regain and retain advantage.
As I say, it’s a great privilege of me to be able to introduce a really, really strong panel. We have, from the United States joining us remotely, Admiral Michael Gilday, the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, who took over as the 32nd CNO in August 2019. We also have Admiral Pierre Vandier, the chief of the French navy, who has had that role since September 2020. Those two admirals will make some opening remarks to help us as we start to put together our thoughts on – and our reflections on the day and the issues at hand. And we also have on hand Admiral Sir Ben Key, First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff, who will join the discussions as well.
So without further ado, and it’s a great privilege for me to introduce for the second time from the United States, the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Gilday, and, sir, over to you for some opening remarks. Thank you very much.
ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY: Nick, thank you for your kind introduction. I’d like to thank up front Admiral Sir Ben Key for allowing me to join in from across the pond. I think this is an important dialogue in these consequential times. Hearing from all perspectives allows us to unify our efforts and unify our message.
I also want to thank the Institute and the Royal Navy for putting on such a tremendous event. I’m honored to take part in a panel like this with leaders like Admiral Vandier and Admiral Key. I have tremendous respect for my fellow panelists and I also value their perspectives and draw inspiration from their examples.
Russia’s unprovoked invasion of a sovereign neighbor broke Europe’s hard-earned post-World War II peace; is bringing catastrophic, unnecessary loss of life and human suffering at a scale that we’ve not seen in our careers. The extraordinary will of the Ukrainian people and the leadership of the Ukrainian government, along with the steadfast support of like-minded nations, has inspired the world and reminded would-be adversaries of the global intensity of purpose to uphold a nation’s inherent right to freedom.
NATO and all the other nations that respect the free and open order must stay strong and hold fast. We are at an inflection point, I believe, in this critical decade, and the whole world is watching. Russia’s war of conquest in Ukraine has extended into the maritime with the sinking of the Moskva and, most recently, the two Russian patrol boats, and thus has implications for navies and the Joint Force.
A key takeaway thus far has been the importance of intelligence sharing among our allies and partners. Before the invasion of Ukraine, the combined international community warned the world that Putin would attempt to topple the government of Kyiv. By sharing and amplifying the facts through open sources, our collective information efforts helped take away the strategic and tactical surprise that Putin relied upon during his 2014 capture of Crimea. The Kremlin’s attempts at false flag operations met stiff resistance, as the international audience had seen the tank buildups along the Ukrainian border.
In the digital information age, transparency is the greatest cure to disinformation. Corrupt authoritarian governments will lie, cheat, and steal for the sake of regime stability. Nations who desire to uphold an international rules-based order must share information and data to shine light on malign behavior. In the long run, lies must be fought with the truth. This will never be an easy fight, but it will always be a worthy one.
This conference comes at a critical moment in global security. In collaboration with NATO and global allies and partners, we must reinforce robust deterrence. To keep the seas open and free, I prioritize for our United States Navy readiness, modernization, and capacity, in that order. Readiness for us remains thing one. In any scrap, our fleet will certainly perform to the level to which they’ve been trained. Prioritizing increased shipboard manning, better maintenance performance, increased weapons inventories, more training for our crews, and enhanced spare parts availability is critical.
Modernization. We need a modernized, lethal, connected force – lethality in terms of long-range fires like hypersonics. Increased range of our air wings is another important attribute. With respect to survivability of the fleet, we’re investing time, effort, and resources into groundbreaking technologies like directed energy, high-power microwave energy, and electronic warfare.
Capacity. Our aim is for a larger hybrid fleet of manned and unmanned vessels. Our efforts right now in the unmanned domain have been substantial, particularly in the Middle East out of our [U.S.] Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain with our new Task Force 59.
More specifically, we have prioritized four efforts for alignment in the near term to integrate, accelerate, and deliver our most critical capabilities to close gaps over the next few years. This includes long-range fires – how we shoot; counter-C5ISRT – how we maneuver; terminal defense – how we defend the fleet; and contested logistics – how we resupply. These capabilities will help us maintain combat credibility in increasingly transparent and contested seas.
After a day of fantastic panels, I think it’s safe to say everyone here appreciates the importance of the seas for our people, from trade and transit, to energy and food security. We also know that over the last eight decades free and open seas have served as a rising tide, lifting all boats and improving the lives of billions around the world, and that the peaceful resolution of disputes has served us well as we use diplomacy and dialogue to settle our differences and uphold a common set of rules to govern life at sea.
This rules-based order at sea does not exist in a vacuum. It rests upon the shoulders of a global network of maritime nations committed to protecting and preserving the rule of law and the principles of a free, fair, and open-minded maritime commons. It takes the dedicated efforts of like-minded navies patrolling lonely frontiers far from home to keep the peace and to protect the freedom of the seas.
The price of peace, the cost of prosperity, is maintaining a vigilant watch of suspicious activity on, under, and above the sea and sustain the forward presence of a combat-credible naval force to deter would-be aggressors from stepping out of line.
Our world seas are too vast for any single nation or even small group of nations to handle his burden. It really takes all of us coming together. That’s why the United States Navy is operating in lockstep with our allies and partners around the globe, driving force interoperability with cooperative and integrated deployments. From the Black Sea to the Arabian Gulf, from the Arctic to the Indo-Pacific, we are steaming and we are flying together to keep the peace, safeguard opportunity, and preserve freedom of the seas.
Our maritime cooperation is a daily occurrence. We see it with France’s [FS] Charles de Gaulle, whose continuous patrols provide a mission of presence in the Mediterranean. In March, she conducted tri-carrier operations with our [USS] Harry S. Truman Strike Group and Italy’s [ITS] Cavour in the Ionian Sea. We saw it with the U.K.’s [HMS] Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group sailing with the United States Navy, U.S. Marines and Dutch naval forces integrated, and it’s evident with a myriad of multilateral discussions, combined training and education opportunities, and senior leader conferences.
Already this year I have met with – I have had the great honor of hosting both Admirals Vandier and Key in Washington, D.C., where we had productive discussions on how our navies can take it to the next level and deliver real tangible outcomes in force development and combined operations.
In January, I reflected with Admiral Vandier on the importance of achieving not just interoperability but interchangeability. Representing this ideal standard, [FS] Charles de Gaulle boldly led Commander Task Force 50 in 2021, launching aircraft to provide supporting fires in our combined fight against ISIS and violent extremists in the Middle East.
Along that same vein, this past year HMS Queen Elizabeth, on her maiden deployment, saw American and British sailors operating alongside the Royal Navy’s flagship with embarked Marine F-35s aboard. That deployment showcased the combined sea power of our nations.
As I wrap up, I’d like to just point out without a doubt that our greatest strength lies in our unity, speaking out, and taking cooperative action to keep our seas free and open. The challenges ahead loom large, but I’m confident in our ability to face them down together. Thank you, and I look forward to this afternoon’s dialogue.
MR. CHILDS: Admiral Gilday, thank you very much for those remarks. You mentioned that we’re at an inflection point and I think that’s very much been characteristic of the discussions that we’ve been having. You spoke of your priorities of readiness, modernization, and capacity, which, I think, are the nub of the challenges that we’ve been – we’ve also been grappling with today and are at the core of the challenges, going forward. So thank you for that.
I’ll now hand over to Admiral Vandier to take the stage and offer his thoughts from his perspective. Thank you very much.
ADMIRAL PIERRE VANDIER: OK. Good afternoon to everyone. First, I want to thank you, and especially Ben and Dr. Chipman for the invitation, and thank you, Nick, for always including the French perspective in your very successful events. It’s a pleasure for me to be here with you and also a pleasure to be back in London.
I would like to, briefly, give you my views on the question posed. A lot of things have been said today and they are fully relevant for French navy.
First of all, we have to recognize that the vision of warfare that we have forged over the last 30 years has just collapsed. What was that vision? It was based on two main principles – peace dividends and expeditionary warfare. By peace dividends, we mean a continuous decrease in budgets and formats. The choice we made in the French navy was to keep a full spectrum format, ranging from nuclear aircraft carriers to mine hunters and maritime patrol aircraft.
Expeditionary means recognizing that we can discretionarily decide to intervene in world affairs at the time and place of our choosing. Our armored forces, excluding deterrence, have also been structured by this principle – first entry, hit and run interventions, if necessary, at the expense of endurance, and this model has only been tested in practice against medium or low-end adversaries who do not have conventional opposition credibilities – capabilities. Sorry.
The French navy, like other Western navies, thus, benefited from the greatest freedom of sea to carry out its operations – most often power projection toward land where, with rare exceptions, air supremacy and maritime control were easily acquired. Most of our operational engagement during this period required only basic training, such as allowing a boarding party to a visit of merchant ships suspected of various illicit trades or undertaking the evacuations of nationals.
Therefore, it required the application of standard operating procedures without the need to put much thought into it or to invent new tactics. It is now clear that these priorities have changed dramatically. There have been many warnings, such as the return of high-level challenges to freedom of navigation, massive rearmament in the Indo-Pacific and the Mediterranean region, and the increasingly difficult of hiding on the high seas. But today, the game has suddenly changed and elevated significantly.
In response to this, our first line of efforts has been to change the mindset of our sailors, now the normal level of tactical thinking as we turn to the symmetric nature of naval combat against peer-like opponents. All our actions must be guided by the idea of fighting and winning a naval battle, not only in coastal areas but also on the high seas with an offensive mindset against an enemy of at least equal military value in potentially degraded situations, using all possible resources, following tactical patterns that are not necessarily in the manual, and this applies all the way from [offshore petroleum discharge systems] to carrier strike groups.
The situation I’ve described may seem bleak, but every cloud has a silver lining. Our sailors have a clear sense of urgency and are on the ball when they are given a lucid assessment of the situation and clear guidance. I saw this change of mindset firsthand last year during the advanced POLARIS exercise in the Mediterranean in which many Western nations, including U.S. and Royal Navy ships, participated. A very positive dynamic has been set in motion and this was highlighted during the POLARIS exercise last year, which was organized to provide complex multi-domain combat training, bringing together all the components in a combined force.
In that exercise, we prepared for precisely the kind of environment we have been in since the 24th of February. The carrier strike group was able to switch mission within hours from the Syrian theater to reassurance in the skies of Romania and was fully prepared to deal with Russian naval pressure. Moreover, there is nothing like a realistic exercise conducted under real threat to reveal the weaknesses of our forces and target the right priorities in the short and medium term.
What are these priorities? First of all, in the short term, we must build a capital of moral strength of the same level of that Major Howard’s men who seized Pegasus Bridge or that of Major Rudder’s rangers at the bottom of the Pointe du Hoc. In short, the priority is to arm our sailors with this breadth.
Without it, the battle is lost before it has ever even begun. Then we must take stock and ask ourselves, as in Apollo 13, how to square the circle. That is to accept that we have to fight with what we have. We have to overcome the shortcomings of existing equipments with our intelligence. This can come from using our capabilities in a roundabout way or from adding inexpensive and quickly available capacity to boost them in very short term.
Secondly, in medium term, we need to accelerate the strengthening of our fleets, completing the replacement of aging units with those that can perform at the same level of our competitors. This is particularly true overseas where some of our ships no longer have the minimum military value necessary to meet the challenges imposed by the world’s rearmaments we are witnessing.
We also need to find a way to upgrade our capabilities more quickly in an incremental way with a timetable that matches with the rapid evolution of technology that has been said today. We can’t wait 15 years for a frigate to get a new radar or a new capability. In this context, we want to rapidly integrate the available technology means that allows us to face at lower costs the new threats that we see emerging.
For example, directed energy weapons, as Mike told, are one of the appropriate responses to the evolution of space capabilities, the growth in the use of drones and the prohibitive cost of latest generation of anti-aircraft missiles.
Third, finally, today, in the long term, one of the main challenges we face is the ability to maintain sufficient interoperability to fight together in the future. Of course, there are different levels of interoperability, whether strategic, operational, or tactical. In the face of incoming and demanding threats, these capabilities are decisive. We need to find ways to get our staffs to work together at the appropriate battle pace. We need to find ways to build lethal and robust tactical tools that can deal themselves with threats despite the diversity of systems, which I, truly, believe offers far greater resilience, and it’s with cyber consideration, particularly.
This means that our respective acquisition programs must be designed to be fully interoperable and complementary as far as possible. But why is this interoperability so important? The first reason is a matter of numbers. The war in Ukraine shows, once again, that symmetrical conflict leads to heavy casualties, as seen with tanks, fighters, helicopters, and ships. In this context, resilience comes from numbers. Interoperability will give us numbers.
The second reason is effectiveness. The diversity of military cultures and means is a disadvantage for all adversaries – we had this discussion last night – because it complicates their task and their calculations. We must ensure that we are sufficiently combined and coordinated to create these complications. From this perspective, tactical interoperability requires a very strong will on all sides. Without this strong will, we risk having our capabilities diverge.
Less than a century ago, a common language enabled us to connect the largest combined joint operation in history. Limiting our ability to communicate and operate together in combat would be a terrible step backwards at a time where – when the threats level at sea seems to be growing every day against all of us.
Thank you for your attention.
MR. CHILDS: Admiral Vandier, thank you so much for those remarks, again, I think reinforcing some of the messages that we’ve been chewing over during the course of the day. You talked, essentially, about a step change in our view and vision of what warfare means now compared to not so long ago when expeditionary warfare meant power projection on a benign maritime domain.
You talked about the need for a change of mindset and also some of the challenges around the need to accelerate the replacement of fleets. The raising of the bar of challenge in contests around the world means changing the view of what minimum military value is in terms of capabilities in units and the challenge of rapid development of technology. So plenty to chew on from both our admirals’ opening remarks.
Before I open it, generally, to discussions in the room and online – and, again, for those of you joining us online, I encourage you either to put questions in the Q&A box or raise your hand and we’ll come to you. But before I do that, I’d just like initially to ask Admiral Key if he has any initial responses to what he’s heard so far from his colleagues.
ADMIRAL SIR BEN KEY: Firstly, Mike, thank you very much for taking the time out to join us from Washington and to Pierre for making the journey over from Paris. It matters hugely to me that our two closest allies on each side of the Atlantic as your leaders made yourselves available for this conference. My thanks.
Mike, you didn’t have to listen to what I had to say this morning. Pierre, kindly, sat through it, and we recognized in there that I have been charged by the prime minister to create the foremost navy in Europe, and I’m sure that President Macron has said the same to Pierre.
We’d undertaken in the lunch break to make sure this genuinely is competitive for mutual benefit rather than destructive rivalry, and we’d like to bring you into that because I think what I’ve heard over the piece here, if one can imagine a Venn diagram, is a lot of overlap but just sufficient difference that we can take comfort in challenging each other to be better together.
We do not see everything exactly the same. We have differences of scale, of differences of capability, and we have differences of perspective and governments and that, I think, actually adds to the benefit that Pierre just touched upon and which I know you might have also reiterated, which is the importance of integration, interoperability, and persistent activity with allies.
So I’m really delighted, if I may say, that I was confident it would be the case that both of you have said things that have resonated and chimed with what I have done, but actually have given just enough difference that I know that we will have continued constructive dialogue rather than just the safety of groupthink.
And my final point before we open it up to the conversation is that this is the real risk for us now, I perceive. We have identified a problem set that we have all seen. Something has changed. We have all been horrified by what we have seen and we have respectively drawn a number of lessons into the maritime domain.
Where we will fall flat on our faces is if we take too much comfort that, actually, we have found all of those answers, and the inquisitiveness of the people within our organizations is going to be critical, I think, to our ongoing success in answering the problem set that sits in front of us, even if some of the basic principles of the maritime domain and the means by which sea power is enabled, I think, remain consistent.
And with that, Nick, to you.
MR. CHILDS: Admiral, thank you very much. I’m going to exercise the privilege of the seat I’m sitting in to open the discussion, if I may, and it’s really to go back to a phrase that Admiral Gilday used in his remarks in terms of the challenges, that, actually, he talked about the priorities for him in forging a way to the future, which were the priorities of readiness, modernization, and capacity, and I think that’s probably shared by all of you.
But I would venture to suggest that delivering on that is actually also an exquisite problem of tensions between those different elements of readiness, particularly forward presence at the time when you’re trying to transform the forces while also maintaining and improving with emerging technologies your capabilities and capacities.
And so I’d like to put that to all of you of how you square that circle of those different issues and maybe, Admiral Gilday, to you first on that.
ADM. GILDAY: Thanks, Nick. So, in a nutshell, we won’t have a navy bigger than one we can sustain and so it’s really important to ensure that our ships are manned properly, that they’re maintained properly, that their supply rooms have adequate spare parts, that we continue to invest in flying hours and steaming days so that we really do have a relevant force. The antithesis of that is – I think a good example would be 125 Russian battle groups that surrounded Ukraine and have proven to be ineffective.
I also would like to underscore a point that Admiral Vandier made about ensuring that our sailors are imbued with a moral strength, and I would say – I would extend that to a degree – a high degree of confidence that they’re going to be able to win in a fight. And so you can’t fool a fleet. They know when you cut corners on readiness. They’re the first to sense that.
And so what you want is a confident fleet that’s ready to fight, and so that just underscores to me the importance of readiness, number one, and, of course, balancing that with modernization of the fleet because I think our navies are all similar in one respect and that’s we’ll probably have 60 (percent) to 70 percent of the fleet we have today who will still be sailing a decade or so from now and so we need to take care of that fleet.
And, lastly, the capacity piece. If you make capacity king – at least in my Navy – our experience has been you’re going to pay for it with manpower, with people, with ammunition, with spare parts, and with maintenance. And so I have tried to avoid going back to making capacity our priority, and I’ll pause there.
MR. CHILDS: Admiral Vandier, would you like to pick up on that point?
ADM. VANDIER: What I try to push in the French navy is sort of a sense of reality – of realities. So I tell to my sailors you won’t fight with the missiles you don’t have, with the ships you don’t have, with the people you don’t have so I’m working to give that to you. But you need, in your mindset, to be able to fight without what you don’t have. And so it’s what we enforced during POLARIS, for example.
This exercise lasted – the live exercise – lasted seven days and the rules of engagement were a short ship had to quit the game. So the ship that was done the very first day. It was finished for. And so it made everything change in the mindset of the COs because it’s easy to be proud and to take risk when you say you will regen or reload every day.
But if you are out and everybody laughs at you because you have taken unconsidered risks, then it changes everything. And what happened – what they learned during this week – was huge. The commander of the carrier group that was in the central Mediterranean during the beginning of the Ukraine war – he told me how much this exercise had changed the way his team, his crews, had faced the Russian crisis and the Russian fleet. They had two Slavas. There was one which was alongside the U.S. carrier, one with us. They had frigates, submarines, and so it was a very complex environment and they were prepared by this change of mindset.
So I think it’s – the core of it is – the will to fight with what we have. For decades we have spent a lot of time to try to fight for what we don’t have. I’m still – I’ll give an example [inaudible]. The French frigate program at the beginning of the 21st century was to deliver 18 frigates in 2016 and we will finally commission the last of the eight next year for the same price.
And so it’s just a nightmare. And so if you expect to fight in our decade with what you will never have, then the sailors’ mind set is not a good one. So it’s the major change, I think, we have to do.
MR. CHILDS: Admiral Key?
ADM. SIR KEY: So I agree. I think one of the – and, Mike, I loved your phrase you can’t fool a fleet. There is something for us now as the senior leaders of navies to be utterly honest on where we find ourselves today. For very good reason, our predecessors have juggled that ambition versus rewards tension which is implicit in any sustained period of, in inverted commas, “peace” – or at least a period where, as Pierre was talking about, we were not being challenged directly at sea, and so you could take comfort in a series of assumptions that may or may not be true but you were never going to be lifted on. And yet, the fleet could sort of be aware of them, but our job was to – our predecessors’ job was to manage that tension and try and keep as much in play as we could because there wasn’t a political imperative to support any more.
That has changed. It changed for us in the Royal Navy 40 years ago, as I said this morning, with the sinking of Sheffield when we had to confront some very uncomfortable truths through the Falklands War about where some of our readiness and capability was, and we are being brutally reminded again, now 40 years on, about what happens when, for reasons that will probably still resurface but are probably difficult to guess, a major ship was lost in, apparently, a fairly simple engagement.
So we have a responsibility now to articulate to our political leadership the realities of where we find ourselves. Not as an excuse, absolutely not, but so that we can articulate the risks that we are carrying today, what we’re doing about them, and also so that we can fulfill our obligations to those who will deploy and, potentially, fight, which is to prepare them as best as we possibly can for the question set that that we’re placing upon them.
And I like both in the way that Pierre, Mike, and myself we’re not that far apart in the way that we’re characterizing this tension that we’re playing out. But I think now that absolute understanding that the nature of the fight in the maritime has changed in its character, not in the overall sense of the brutality of war but in the sense of the risk that we could find ourselves in very soon is a very real task upon us.
MR. CHILDS: Thanks very much. We’ll go to a question in the room now and Alex Burton in the fourth row here.
Q: Admirals, thank you very much. This is a real privilege to see the three of you. Alex Burton, Rebellion Defence, and that’s with a C and an S and j’espère a Q in a while.
I want to comment on the interchangeability. And having been in the navy and served alongside both of your navies, sirs, the cultural complementarity, I think, is a given, and to some extent we’ve had a lot of talk about the hardware and the aspirational and the pragmatism around the hardware that you’re going to be delivering over the following years.
I think the nub of the interchangeability that you’re touching on is that neural network that has to keep pace with the technology that in the civilian world is just accelerating beyond our imaginations, and I just wonder how, between the three of you and your respective governments, you’re approaching that both on a sort of counter bureaucracy approach and also on a technological approach.
MR. CHILDS: So the challenge of accelerating technology. Admiral Vandier, would you like to take up the reins first?
ADM. VANDIER: I think more than bureaucracy there are two subjects, which are not far away from interoperability. First – the first one is the secrecy standards, and so you may know that France is not a part of the Five Eyes community and so the networks are not easily linked. It may work but it’s – each time it’s a big effort to be assured that we are properly linked, and so it’s a constant effort and enduring efforts to achieve it. The [task force commander], the carrier group commander, told me that we’re – he has remarked – that we were changing between fight and plug, and now it’s fight to plug, which is a newer term.
And the other point is the industrial issues. Everybody is picking up technology. When you launch a technology you want to be the first on the market and so you want to impose your standards, and so cooperation is not something which is inside the commercial approach. And so it’s easier to try to impose your standards with the others and make interoperability through selling what you have.
And so we know that that will not happen for France so we will still have to find ways to make different systems able to discuss, and what I said in my speech, I think if you consider that on a cyber perspective that gives you much more resonance because it’s not sure that if you have found a breach to come in your system you will be able to make it work in another system, even if they discuss.
And so there’s two things. I think secrecy and the industrial considerations need to be addressed at the political level. That has already happened in history. It was in the ’70s where the NATO standards were put in place, and so in the ’70s we had fully interoperable forces, despite the fact that they were not on the same module standards. And so I think it’s something we need to construct, especially in face of – in peer-to-peer competition because, as I say, number matters, and if we want to defeat the growing size of the emerging countries’ navies, we won’t make it by producing more ships, each of us, but making them fully plug-and-fight compatible.
MR. CHILDS: Admiral Gilday, would you like to add something?
ADM. GILDAY: I would. I’m a lot more optimistic over the past two months in our – not only our ability but now our willingness to share information with allies and partners. I think that the Russia-Ukraine situation has accelerated that to a degree that we had not seen earlier.
Many barriers have been broken down because of that conflict in terms of exchanging information. We can’t wait until we get into a conflict, as an example, as the first time we integrate our fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft, and so I think of the French navy and integrating more closely with them in terms of our air wings and how we’re looking for ways to do that because, as Admiral Vandier said, it’s not necessarily the technical piece. You know, you have to fight with what you have. And so my key takeaway from what he said in his remarks had to do with the art of war more than the science of war and how important that is that, conceptually, we’re able to fight together, able to operate together. And to do that, we’re going to have to train at the high end more consistently and we’re going to have to push the boundaries with respect to technology transfer if we truly want to become more interoperable. Thank you.
MR. CHILDS: First Sea Lord?
ADM. SIR KEY: It’s about risk appetite, and one of the things that we would all observe is in the operational space risk appetite tends to be greater than in the policy space – or, necessarily kind of in the home base – if we are confident of our security and stability. We’re less confident of our security and stability and, I think, as a result of that risk appetite increases. And as Mike has just described, the appetite for information sharing in order to achieve ends has changed really quite dramatically in the last few months, and that is a prize that we mustn’t let slip out of our hands now.
But having gained it, banked it, that’ll then liberate technology transfer, it will liberate an ability and a willingness to change and exchange, and I think we have an obligation to go back to the policymakers to now describe what the loss will be to us in terms of operational capability of allowing slipback in this area.
The risk appetite – the risk that we are entertaining -- is that we’ll make the odd mistake, we’ll waste the pound, dollar, or euro, and a small amount of information will leak. That’s the risk we’re entertaining. The benefit we will accrue is a rapid maintenance of momentum in what we need to do, which is a sustained operational advantage.
And I think sometimes we focus on the loss. It’s a human instinct. Loss aversion matters more to us sort of intuitively than gain. But right now, we’re facing a period where the gain, I think, has to be the thing around which we orientate the conversation.
MR. CHILDS: Thanks to you all. I’ll take, right behind you, Peter Hudson.
Q: Peter Hudson from BAE Systems.
I was struck by the conversation throughout today of the frequent references to the unity of NATO in the wake of the crisis in Ukraine, both political and military, and, of course, we’re approaching the next NATO summit in a few weeks’ time. I wonder if the – as heads of the three most powerful navies within NATO – you could reflect on how you should see that organization through the maritime environment evolve and change in light of what we’ve seen in Ukraine.
MR. CHILDS: Who would like to take that first? First Sea Lord?
ADM. SIR KEY: Noting, Peter, that you used to be the NATO maritime commander – (laughter) – I’m tempted to ask you how you think we should be evolving and changing. But I recognize that your job is to ask the question.
I think, and there’s a certain amount of reflection upon the Royal Navy, that we were taking slightly for granted a consideration that by saying NATO was the cornerstone of our defense policy that could actually accord us some liberty in the consistency of our commitment to the NATO standing forces and the investment we made into how they were developed and delivered.
We weren’t, perhaps, noting our size, the most habitual – you know, people to turn up. And I think what that is changing for us now is an understanding that, actually, we do have that obligation to play our part on a routine basis. That’s not to say that we need to do everything that everybody else does, and I think the sophisticated part of the conversation now needs to be across the NATO piece.
What are the things that each of the navies of NATO brings and contributes to the collective whole? Where are we best or better at it and, therefore, we double down on those contributions, rather than trying to spread everything really thinly and make a kind of a veneer set that because, to some extent, the task list is, largely, full that that looks like a proper warfighting capability.
Because I think when you look, therefore, at some of the skill sets that are offered by some of the smaller navies, actually, they have deep expertise that we should be rejoicing and celebrating just in the way that as the three largest navies, we, for instance, bring carrier capabilities of significant scale that need to be into the mix. And I think we’ve just got to think in a slightly more sophisticated way about that, not only because that’s the right thing to do but because that will appeal more to us to actually front up and make the contributions in a meaningful and persistent way.
MR. CHILDS: Admiral Vandier?
ADM. VANDIER: On my points, NATO has changed two major things. First, they worked on de-patternize the activity and that was in force, thanks to the Ukrainian crisis. And so the pattern of life of NATO forces – naval forces – was two years’ planning – (inaudible) – change, and so it was not very efficient because you weren’t in a good area when something would happen. And so they changed that and I really enjoy it.
The second point, and it’s quite recent, the NATO de-regionalized itself in considering naval issues, and so it was the discussion we had with MARCOM, you know, with Admiral Blake. There was a strong pressure to regionalize the naval commands. So the Turkish wanted their command, the Italians, the Germans. And so the idea was to have some local issues, and if you consider the Russians, which are shifting or tilting their forces from the northern fleets to the Black Sea, I don’t think that it’s such regionalization of the programs.
And so it’s a good point to see that MARCOM has been raised at the level of outcome, which was the first to give a response to the Russian invasion. What has to change, on my point, is to try to provide more high standard training opportunities. We participated through Formidable Shield, which is, on my point, a very good exercise – (inaudible) – fighting against very intense air threats. And so that’s – it’s that kind of exercise that we mutualize the targets, the missiles, and the knowledge and the lessons we have. And so I think we should do more in that.
And third, what NATO, on my point, has to do is to enforce technical standards in the technological race, what I said in my speech. So in terms of IT on the combat systems, on comms, we need to set up the new standards to be sure that each of us will be able to communicate in these three ranges of action, despite the fact that we have our own borders and (inaudible) and so forth, and I think that may work.
I’ve heard recently that the U.S. are buying the THALES sonar CAPTAS-4. That means that some of the equipments that are built in Europe are compatible with U.S. systems. So I think it – all our systems in the next decade and other arriving through the 2030s, that kind of interoperability it will be awesome for peer competitors.
MR. CHILDS: And, Admiral Gilday, from a U.S. Navy point of view, do you have anything to add on the trajectory of NATO, particularly, in the maritime space, going forward?
ADM. GILDAY: I’d say, first, up front excellent points made by both my fellow panelists.
Looking at this through the lens of opportunity based on current events, I really think that this is an opportunity, and if I could just foot stomp a comment that was made earlier about being able to fight with what we have, to be realists with respect to that. And I think that this is an opportunity to more closely examine command and control in [the] maritime given the immense battle space that the alliance is responsible for. It’s probably been a good period of time since we’ve taken a clear-eyed view of how we would carve up that battle space in various kinds of conflicts.
And so this might be the opportunity to roll up our sleeves, to take down our force shields, and to maybe have an open conversation about how we can honestly take a look at that. I would say that the U.S. Navy, for the first time in the history of the alliance, gave command and control of the carrier – [USS] Harry Truman Carrier Strike Group to a NATO command and so that hasn’t happened before. That’s what, in my mind, is the potential opportunity here to take a look at, Nick.
MR. CHILDS: Great. Thank you very much.
I’m going to turn to our online audience and a question from Graeme Mackay, and it’s great that he’s asked this question: How do the new space forces integrate and assimilate into the maritime domain effectively? I think that’s a great question, space – the space domain and its likely role in the future and the makeup of maritime capabilities, going forward. I’m going to turn it right back to Admiral Gilday, perhaps, if he could – if you can think of that – respond to that, sir.
ADM. GILDAY: So there’s almost nothing that we do in the maritime that doesn’t leverage support from spacecraft. And so, recently, we have – the U.S. Navy has stood up a component – a maritime space component command that falls underneath U.S. Space Command so that we can tie in more tightly in that domain from both a supported and a supporting – with both the supported and supporting relationship in mind.
And so I think that’s our initial big step here to becoming more integrated with respect to the Space Force. I think an important point here is that we need to develop space expertise within our maritime forces, within our navies, so that we can understand that domain better, understand how to better connect and ensure that our equities are looked after in both day-to-day operations and in conflict in a way that we have high confidence that we’re leveraging those capabilities in a way that’s most beneficial for us.
MR. CHILDS: Admiral Vandier, would you like to –
ADM. VANDIER: Yes. In terms of space, I think a big change is the arrival of a new space with constellation and low orbits. That provides huge changes in the way we operate space, first, that there are more and more links with civil services. And so we, in the French navy, for example, we have a contract with a startup, which name is Unseenlabs, that provide a radar and an IAS comparison and we use that to monitor our Exclusive Economic Zone from illegal fishing and this service has been given by a startup and then by the military. These low orbit satellites give resilience especially in the comms and the new comms constellation will provide us more resiliency in front of jamming, for example.
And third, the quality of intelligence and especially visible [intelligence] – the photos are better in quality and in frequency. And so taking the space information in the decision loop is more and more important, and so we’ve taken that in account and especially in our training.
We don’t have sufficient people to create a maritime space command in the French navy but we – I am strengthening the links with the space commander of the air force – which is led by the air force in order to add not only the quality of service but a quality of design of the new space needs and the ability to interoperate with them and I think – we had the discussion yesterday with the chief of air force. The last room of use of the space capabilities is to protect our ships to make some space denial for more ships with, for example, laser dazzlers, and so we need to cooperate with Space Command to do that.
ADM. SIR KEY: I think the only thing I would add, I absolutely echo and reinforce from my fellow panelists the obligation for us to learn and understand much more about space and our reliance upon it.
But we also need to understand better when it’s denied to us what the implications of that might be because it is as contested an environment as any, if not, potentially, more so in the way that it’s set up and the resilience, whether that’s in some of the examples described by fellow panelists, or if we cannot access it even for short periods of time, I think, is really important, and we’ve been doing some work.
[HMS] Prince of Wales was put to sea with a quantum clock, the first time that that’s been done, certainly, for the Royal Navy ever, and that’s for us to understand what that means if actually we’re denied space-based precision timing for navigation systems. It’s fascinating to think that Harrison’s clock was the first time we tried to resolve navigation at sea and now we’re looking at the modern equivalent.
So we have to understand space and what it offers and our dependence upon it. We also need to be very allied to the fact that it could be denied to us because of its contested nature of it. You know, romantic though the sense of navigating by sextant might appeal, that’s not probably the solution in a modern contemporary maritime warfare environment.
MR. CHILDS: You never know.
A question from Lee Willett, which is directed particularly to First Sea Lord and CNO and it’s to do with U.S.-U.K. interchangeability, and he says CSG-21 demonstrated significant U.S.-U.K. interchangeability – F-35s, surface ships, and people.
What do the First Sea Lord and CNO see as the next case study for demonstrating increased U.K.-U.S. interchangeability, or is this now something that should just be seen as more routine? So that’s specifically U.S.-U.K., but I’m sure we can bring in the broader trinity of cooperation that is here. First Sea Lord?
ADM. SIR KEY: So, actually, I’m going to take the opportunity because I know that the Second Sea Lord Martin Connell was in Washington very recently looking at the areas where our continued close cooperation needs to be advanced, and one of those is so what does closer integrated interchangeability actually mean for us and how ambitious are we doing in that.
CSG-21 was a fantastic outcome in all sorts of ways and we learned a lot from each other. But in many ways against what all three of us have just described, all that did was set a new baseline. It didn’t establish where the boundary was. It merely said that that’s the basement. It’s the foundation of what we’re going to do. We’ve got to go again and we’ve got to go further.
And I absolutely recognize the observation that Admiral Vandier meant that some of our historic constructs, of which Five Eyes would be one, may not be as applicable in the modern environment as has stood us well for some time. And so we have to be really confident that we’re putting in place mechanisms that will liberate interchangeability rather than confirm what we’ve achieved so far.
MR. CHILDS: Admiral Gilday?
ADM. GILDAY: I agree with everything the First Sea Lord said. It has to be purposeful, and so the next steps, as the Second Sea Lord just came to Washington, is taking a look at what that next bold step – bold steps look like with respect to interchangeability.
One thing that I would offer, we’ve been working on a capability called live virtual constructive training that allows us to tie together units, whether they’re out at sea or whether they’re tied up at the pier, but to tie those – the latter – in virtually to conduct training at a much broader, more complicated level than we have in the past.
So not just a carrier strike group or an amphibious ready group but, rather, teaching ourselves to fight as a fleet, to have a recording capability so we can go back and critique the decisions that we made not only at an operational level but at a tactical level.
And so the French Navy as well as the Royal Navy are working with us closely in this project and I think that is a step with respect to interoperability in terms of, you know, back to the art of war piece in terms of how we’re going to fight, how we’re going to operate. I think there’s a lot of opportunity there that we can harness in the coming years.
MR. CHILDS: Thanks very much.
We have a couple of questions here in the – in the room from Jeremy Stöhs and Alessio Patalano, and I’ll ask them to ask their questions in succession. So we’ll take the two together. So Jeremy first.
Q: Thank you.
The question to the admirals, who represent the three largest and most capable NATO navies, is: How do you cooperate with small navies moving forward? In particular up in the Baltic and in the Black Sea? And how do you intend to leverage what you mentioned before, these capabilities that they bring to the table? And how far can you actually support them in communicating better, both to policymakers as well as to the public, what navies can do, what they’re there for? Because as you’re sitting here, larger navies probably are less risk-averse than small navies because they have more critical mass, because especially you have more history in offensive operations.
And do you believe that there is a risk that small navies, if they are in a conflict, if they lose platforms, that they will back out of it or they will feel pressure not to be able to continue the fight? So how could you help communicate the role of small navies? Thank you.
MR. CHILDS: And Alessio as well.
Q: I wonder if I could ask, since we’ve been talking about working together and quite a lot throughout the entire day and does a – let’s look at this for a second from the other side of things. Does a weaker Russia that welcomes a closer embrace from China, brings the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific theaters closer together? And how do we approach that? Does that mean that we need to start thinking about the Arctic not just in the high north as this Russian question, but perhaps as a Russia-China question? Does that change how we look at the [Arabian] Gulf or the Indian Ocean, particularly the western Indian Ocean? Any thoughts about this? How does sort of partners coming together at the other side of that fence reflect upon how we prepare for this more-contested space that we’ve been discussing today? Thank you.
MR. CHILDS: Thanks to both of you. So, for all the admirals in turn, engaging with and cooperating and integrating smaller but, potentially, I suppose, capable navies with their own – with their own advantages, but also the challenges of integration. And then this question of greater integration on the other side, if you like, the Russia-China, potentially, strategic relationship. What that does for the dynamics of interoperability, but also perceptions of the indivisibility and – of the theaters, I suppose, to some extent. And what it means, as far as you’re concerned.
ADM. VANDIER: First, for cooperation with small navies, of course, there is NATO, and it works well. The Exercise Cold Response was a good indication of big navies in a local exercise. A big one, but which integrated some middle-sized navies, for example, the Norwegian one or the Swedish one. So I think NATO is a good frame. Then we have bilateral exchanges with all these navies, depending to their requests and needs. For example, we have exchanges for NH90, the European helicopter. We have divers. We have anti-submarine warfare exercise, bilateral. We have officers exchange on surface combatant or on submarines. And this is enforcing links with them. And so it drives the ability to understand ourselves and to visit ourselves.
About the second question, just one week before beginning of the Ukraine crisis I had a call with my Norwegian roommates. And so we were discussing about the Russian submarines, because the pattern of life of the submarines in the northern Atlantic for the Russian is slightly different than the one it was before. And so we had this discussion. And in fact, he told me a little of this and much more about the icebreakers the Chinese are constructing.
And he told me: I’m very concerned by the fact that in a few years, perhaps at the end of the decade, we will see commercial routes from the north, but we would see forces that will – that would rock from the Pacific to the Atlantic. And so it’s his feeling. I have no intel about that. I don’t know if the Chinese have the intent to come in the Atlantic. I know that they are trying to buy or to build a base in the Gulf of Guinea now, and so they would need to come from somewhere to go there. I just think that the day the Chinese will operate, as a sense, in the Atlantic will be a day that will make things change deeply for all of us.
MR. CHILDS: Thank you very much.
ADM. GILDAY: Yes. A key concept that comes to mind – comes to my mind in speaking about China and Russia potentially coming closer together, and we think they’re going to remain closely knitted together for some time, is the whole idea of deterrence. And so both Russia and China are really global problem sets for us. And it only becomes magnified as they work closely together. So they’re a transregional as well as an all-domain problem set for us. And I think it’s – I think it’s work to be done by policymakers, not just – not just in the maritime, but broadly across all elements of national power of our nations, and how we come together in a more rigorous way around the world to cause both Russia and China to think twice about their malign activity and whether or not they escalate, or have any desire to escalate, that we keep that in check.
With respect to the point about leveraging smaller navies, or navies of all sizes, I think that the First Sea Lord said it very well earlier when he said we need to leverage, and we need to celebrate those capabilities. And we need to knit that together in a larger construct. We need to be much more inclusive, I think. I remain an optimist in terms of where we’re headed. There was some 75 NATO ships underway at the height of this crisis. And so we were leveraging forces of all sizes, right, from the high north all the way to the eastern Mediterranean, I thought in a pretty impressive manner. Sometimes we don’t give ourselves enough credit for what we’re doing. Not that we can’t improve, but I think that we’re headed in the right direction.
MR. CHILDS: First Sea Lord.
ADM. SIR KEY: The only other observation I’d make on leveraging the abilities of small navies actually is sometimes certainly we in the Royal Navy need to listen a little more humbly. I was very struck when I was traveling to sea training, and that – for those of you who are aware, the Thursday war [game], you know, the weekly coming together of the forces of orange and blue – that when we had a couple of the Swedish craft come through, the game – that Thursday’s war game proved utterly inadequate for something that could move at 50 knots with a radar cross-section of a very small fishing buoy.
And so actually the staff were left with an outcome that had been concluded by about quarter past nine. Now, clearly Thursday wars never finish at quarter past nine. We thrash them till 16:00. But the result had actually been achieved. And we need to rethink quite dramatically how we set a problem set for people who are deep experts at maneuvering the ships that they have. So there’s something about humility.
On the Atlantic-Pacific question, the only thing I would add – and I agree with Admiral Gilday’s observation. This is now transregional. Because we have got to get better at recognizing that cause and effect could be happening in completely different parts of the world. We’re used, traditionally, to boxing it all up and saying, if it was an Atlantic – you know, if we deliver an impact in the Atlantic, we’ll see a response in the Atlantic. And I don’t think we can make that assumption anymore, whatsoever.
We will see something. It may not even be in the maritime. Or the maritime act might be in response to something else. And so our understanding – that kind of neural network intelligence sharing, but the analysis that gives us our understanding, is something that we are going to have to invest in if we’re to truly understand both the actions, but also the signals that are being sent.
MR. CHILDS: Thanks very much. And actually, thanks to all of you. We’ve pretty much come to the end of our time. And I’m particularly grateful to the three admirals for this session, which has been the culmination of our discussions today. It started with a sort of barn storming setting out of the maritime case from the minister for the armed forces, which is heartly endorsed and supported by the First Sea Lord, certainly.
But we also really get into the – you know, the deep issues around this step change, or the need for a step change in the mind section of perceptions of what needs to be addressed in terms of the challenge of war at sea, particularly high-end war at sea, and the demands that that potentially produce. Remembering also that all the other challenges, the day-in, day-out challenges, are not going away. They’re actually evolving themselves.
And I think the discussion we’ve had just now with our chiefs here assembled has also underscored that all navies, pretty much, are grappling with the same issues, grappling with the same constellation of issues. Size and scale mean some cases qualitatively change the discussion and the choices to some extent. But there’s an awful lot of commonality. And that is what is driving the sense of increased cooperation, increased integration.
And that integration thing also comes to the point that we’ve just really ended on, which is the indivisibility of security concerns. Yes, there are nuances in some of the challenges that are faced, but across the spectrum there is an indivisibility to some of the security concerns that we were talking about, and that is particularly the case in the maritime domain.
So with all of that, I’d like to thank certainly Admiral Vandier, particularly Admiral Gilday for doing this over the satellite, as it were, from his office in the Pentagon. Very good to have you. And First Sea Lord. I don’t know, First Sea Lord, if you have any final remarks or vote of thanks for all those who’ve participated. But, from my perspective, it’s been a great culmination of today’s event.
ADM. SIR KEY: So I think – yes, Nick. I would just like to thank all those that have contributed – through the panelists, those who spoke and contributed from the floor, for those who have traveled from afar to be here. And a number of people have traveled from distant shores. It’s been a tremendously thought-provoking day. I recognize a huge amount of work went on IISS and my staff to bring it all together, and to settle on a format that I think has worked very well in terms of the contents that we tried to address.
I’m reassured that no easy answer was suddenly revealed at about quarter to three, because that would have meant that we should have probably worked it out previously. But actually, I think the richness of the debate, the conversations we’ve had, have definitely advanced our understanding and reaffirmed the wonderful maritime community that is committed to trying to deal with some of the very complex problems that sit for us today. So, Nick, for your particular championing advocacy and the hauling of all of this together on my behalf, I’m extremely grateful. Thank you very much, one and all, for being here. (Applause.)
MR. CHILDS: With that, I’ll draw the proceedings to a close. And for those of us assembled here in the room, there is a reception to be – to be enjoyed right now. Thank you very much.
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