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CNO and Chief of the French Navy Hold Media Availability

28 June 2022

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Mike Gilday and Adm. Pierre Vandier, Chief of the French Navy speak with media following a full-honors welcoming ceremony, June 24, 2022.

ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY:  It’s a real honor to have Admiral Vandier here for the second time in 2022.  I think he's the only service chief that’s been here twice this year, within six months’ time.  So it gives you an indication of our close working relationship at our level.  He’ll spend the day today with our deputy chiefs of naval operations talking about a lot of strategic initiatives that we’re working together.

France is our longest-standing ally, back to the Revolutionary War.  And in my remarks, I mentioned – I referred to the Battle of VA Capes, when they actually set us up in a battle against the – between the French navy and the British navy that set up George Washington for victory at Yorktown, and it secured our independence.  So we haven’t forgotten about that victory and how important it was.  And that cooperation continues today. 

We’re operating together in the Pacific, in the Middle East, in the Mediterranean, and in the high north.  Our navies are trading and cooperating – trading information and cooperating on high-end – on issues like unmanned vehicles, fourth and fifth-generation fighter integration, artificial intelligence.  And so some of the most important technological advances. 

And I think more importantly than that, though, our sailors and officers train together as well, and sail together, fly together and sometimes fight together.  So again, it’s a real pleasure to have the admiral here with us.  And he brought his wife this time, which makes it even a more special visit.


ADMIRAL PIERRE VANDIER:  I’m very honored to be here.  As Adm. Gilday says, the French Navy is present on the four oceans due to our overseas territories.  And so it gives us a commitment and engagement to be there, to participate in peace efforts, to build our common picture, and to prepare ourselves to bad weather, which seems to be – seems to happen.  And so the links we are tightening in several years, tightening in a quick pace due to global rearmament, the war in Europe.

And so what we are doing there is tremendously important because it help) us operate joint, to be interoperable.  And so despite the fact that we don’t share exactly the same equipment because we have a French military industry, we ensure that during our common exercise and operational deployments we are fully interchangeable and interoperable.  And that is a real effect on the global posture of the free world.

STAFF:  Justin.

Q:  Hi, Admirals.  Justin Katz with Breaking Defense.

I was wondering if you could speak a little bit about some of the things you’ve seen on your trip here, in addition to speaking with Admiral Gilday.

ADM. VANDIER:  So this trip has been organized by Admiral Gilday in order to help me to see what in the future technology and tactics I should work on in France.  So, you know, the budgets are – in Europe were raised, and so the effort is back in France and Europe.  It was not the case, and now it’s the case.  And so we have to make the good choices.

So I went to San Francisco to see the tech and Silicon Valley to have – to feel the mood of this high-tech industry.  And then I went in San Diego, visit some smart ships, as the Zumwalt class.  I visited to the unmanned fleet.  I visited a new project in communications.  And so that has been a lot to give the good advice to my teams and to prepare the future.

Q:  And in terms of the technology you’ve been seeing, does it mirror the technologies that the French navy and industry in France is looking at, or are there big differences?  You know, what do you see in terms of the focuses?  And –

ADM. VANDIER:  All the countries are working on unmanned issues.  It requires huge amounts of money, especially for surface unmanned ships.  We are going to unmanned ships for mine hunting, and so the first system would be operational at the end of the year in France.  But we don’t have that overseas big ships that are going to do 10,000 miles autonomously.  But we are working on it and what we’ve seen is very interesting.

The main advance, I think, the U.S. have is in IT.  It’s all what has been done in the tech, in the Silicon Valley, the data-centric operations, the cloud, and all the things which have been developed with big cloud initiative.  And so it is something I think Europe is late on, and we need to make the good choice in the future to be interoperable in managing huge amounts of data.

Q:  Thank you, sir.

STAFF:  Megan.

Q:  Yeah.  Hi, sir.  Megan Eckstein with Defense News.

I understand the French navy recently put out an undersea and seabed warfare strategy, and I wonder where that fits in with some of the technologies you’re looking at while you’re here.

And then, for Admiral Gilday, I just wonder if there are any other technology areas where you see there’s a lot of potential for the French and the U.S. navies to work together.

ADM. VANDIER:  So the aim of the French seabed strategy is to reconquer a domain where we lost our efforts in the – at the end of the ’90s.  We think that the technology which is now available in the industry, and especially in the offshore industry, is able to let us find some objects in the depth, to monitor the undersea cables, and to see what bad guys are doing in these – in deep areas.  And so for the global protection of our boundaries, of our submarines, this domain is critical. 

ADM. GILDAY:  I would say, with respect to technology transfer, the thing we have to be careful of is self-limiting.  And I think that the cooperation we’ve seen across NATO during this Russia-Ukraine crisis, and the sharing of information and intelligence from the United States has also given us momentum to break down barriers in trade, information, and technology with our close partners, like the French.  We have to.  So a really good example is fourth and fifth generation – fighter generation.  The F-35 is a highly technical, highly classified platform.  But the first time that we worked together with the French, with their jets and ours, can’t be in conflict.  It has to be now. 

And so we’re taking a much more practical approach.  The secretary of defense is urging us to do that, to look for areas like unmanned.  And so with unmanned as another example, artificial intelligence and the software integration into those platforms is also really important.  The French joined us in the international maritime exercise in the Middle East a few months ago to just – to get after that problem set itself.  So we’re trading information and concepts of operations from the seabed to space, so that we can operate more closely together.

Q:  Thank you.

Q:  Hi.  So France is going to be participating in RIMPAC.  Is there anything besides, like, working, like, interoperability – is there anything that you want your navy to, I guess, teach the other navies and to take away from the exercise?

ADM. VANDIER:  So France is present in the Indo-Pac.  We have overseas territories in La Réunion, in New Caledonia, and in Polynesia.  And so we take advantage of our presence and forces which are located there to develop some partnership with all the countries that are there, and RIMPAC is one of the examples of the exercise we play in the area.  And so, for us, it’s a way to be – to show that we are aligned, we’re allies, that we work together, we develop internal community, we have common goals.  And so we do try to replicate that in the several areas where we have that kind of exchanges.

Q:  But is there, like, anything specific that you want to kind of take away from the exercise – like, anything besides just, like, working with the other countries?  Is there any, like, type of, like, drills or command and control or anything from the exercise you want to take away?

ADM. VANDIER:  So the ship which is participating this year is, (obviously, a special boat ?), so it’s not a very complex ship.  The level of the exercise for the French side is not that high.  We experimented a high-standard exercise in POLARIS last December, where it was full-combat, full-spectrum warfare during 15 days.  And so this exercise provide us much more value and lessons than a possibility in RIMPAC for us, because the high standard of RIMPAC, we can’t participate at that point.

Q:  OK.

ADM. GILDAY:  Can I make one follow-up comment?

Q:  Yeah.

ADM. GILDAY:  I think what’s noteworthy about U.S.-French coordination is the term – going beyond interoperability to interchangeability.  So we talk about that sometimes, but in real tangible terms, in the award presentation we mentioned Admiral Vandier providing the Charles de Gaulle Strike Group to stand in as Task Force 50 in the Middle East.  They were under the tactical control of U.S. Fifth Fleet commander.  And so that’s an example – one Navy can’t do it all.  Two navies can’t do it all.  But that partnership, where we train to such a high end that one can do the job that – they filled in a strike group when we couldn’t.  And so the same thing in the Mediterranean, our strike groups are working very closely together in this crisis.  So I think that is – that is the example that’s illuminated for other navies.  And I think it’s something that we continue to refine.

ADM. VANDIER:  Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the two carrier groups – our Charles de Gaulle and the Harry Truman – have been working together.  They weren’t on the same command, but the links that were established were very close.  And so they made a common – (inaudible) – to deter and to monitor the area.  And so it’s a good example of how training goes to operation.

STAFF:  We only have a couple more minutes.  We’ll go Audrey and Mallory to finish up.

Q:  Hi.  Audrey Decker with Inside Defense.  Thank you for speaking with us.

Admiral Vandier, I was wondering if you could touch on what the French navy’s role is going to be in the Indo-Pacific.

And, Admiral Gilday, how are you guys working together in that area?

ADM. VANDIER:  OK. So thanks to our overseas territories, the French maritime domain, it has taken on a role like the U.S.  It’s 11 million square kilometers.  And so it’s a huge, huge responsibility because it’s related with climate change, whether fishing, whether sustained development, whether impact of climate change on sea borders, nations, and so on.  And so our commitment is huge.

And the second commitment is related to security.  You know that some navies are developing very fast, and that their development has – exceeds a lot the original problems.  And so we need to cooperate to face these new issues together – so to signal to the extent it will make sense and then to act, as we talked about.

ADM. GILDAY:  I would say our converging interests in the Pacific drive us to work closely together.  And so when a French submarine or French ships deploy, as they do routinely, to the Pacific, they are integrated into things that we’re doing on a day-to-day basis.  So the French don’t find themselves operating alone, but we find ourselves operating together.  And the Pacific, unlike the European theater where you have NATO as a more rigorous structure, in the Pacific we bring bilateral, trilateral, multilateral connections together in a powerful way.  And so we’re going to continue to do that, I think, and maintain some positive momentum on the upslope.

Q:  OK.  Mallory Shelborne with USNI News.

For both admirals, I’m curious.  Admiral Gilday, you were just at BALTOPS.  And with the prospect of Finland and Sweden joining NATO, I’m curious what you both see could change operationally for both navies if Finland and Sweden were to join NATO, and what that would mean for that general area of operation.

ADM. GILDAY:  So, from my perspective, there are – first of all, they’re high-end operating militaries that have worked with us for a long time in very close partnership.  So their transition into NATO is – I would predict it’s going to be virtually seamless in the military dynamic.  I think about the Arctic basin, and I think about the real estate, their coastline along the Arctic basin.  And so I think that in the future as we see the polar ice cap receding, we see trade routes between Asia and Europe change, and resources – competition for resources get more competitive in that area, I think that’s an example where Sweden and Finland, where we leverage their geostrategic position in a powerful way for the good of many.

ADM. VANDIER:  Yeah.  I do concur with what Admiral Gilday says.  A huge change.  In fact, joining NATO for Finland is something even Stalin did not achieve.  So it’s a huge strategic change for Northern Europe.  And so the strategy in the Baltics will change because there is continuity of NATO, which now has a new border with Russia.

And considering the great north, climate change will open routes, and probably we’ll see more and more activity in the big north.  Perhaps we will see one day a fleet crossing from the Pacific to the Atlantic.  And so it is for Europe a major strategic change.  And so having these two country with us will contribute to more stability and more political and military balance.

STAFF:  Thank you all for coming out.  Thank you, gentlemen.

ADM. GILDAY:  It’s good to see you all in person.

Q:  Thank you.  You too.

ADM. GILDAY:  Finally.



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