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CNO Speaks at Atlantic Council's Commanders Series

by Chief of Naval Operations Public Affairs
19 October 2022

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday sits down for an interview with Megan Eckstein as part of the Atlantic Council's Commanders Series, Oct. 19.

WASHINGTON (October 19, 2022) — Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday sits down for an interview with Megan Eckstein at the Atlantic Council headquarters, Oct. 19. The discussion was part of Atlantic Council’s “Commanders Series,” the council’s flagship speakers’ forum for senior military and defense leaders. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Zingaro/released)
SLIDESHOW | images | 221019-N-KB401-1001 WASHINGTON (October 19, 2022) — Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday sits down for an interview with Megan Eckstein at the Atlantic Council headquarters, Oct. 19. The discussion was part of Atlantic Council’s “Commanders Series,” the council’s flagship speakers’ forum for senior military and defense leaders. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Zingaro/released)
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday sits down for an interview with Megan Eckstein at the Atlantic Council headquarters.
SLIDESHOW | images | 221019-N-KB401-1238 WASHINGTON (Oct. 19, 2022) Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday sits down for an interview with Megan Eckstein at the Atlantic Council headquarters. The discussion was part of Atlantic Council’s “Commanders Series,” the council’s flagship speakers’ forum for senior military and defense leaders. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Zingaro)

MICHAEL ANDERSON:  Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the Atlantic Council.  Thank you, everyone, for being here today, and also everyone online who is viewing this event from wherever you are located on the worldwide web.  My name is Mike Anderson and I’m an executive at Saab, as well as a board director here at the Atlantic Council.

On behalf of Saab and the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, as well as its forward defend practice, I would like to welcome you to this exciting Commanders Series event.  It is a great honor and privilege to introduce today’s guest speaker, the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gilday, who will elaborate on how the U.S. Navy will navigate an increasingly uncertain security environment.  Thank you, Admiral, for joining us today.

When Saab and the Atlantic Council first launched the Commanders Series, our vision was to establish a flagship speakers forum for senior military and defense leaders to defense the most important security challenges both now and in the future.  This series has been very useful for defense companies, like Saab, helping us to better understand challenges and priorities in order to inform our investments and partnerships, particularly when it comes to research and development, while better preparing ourselves to meet future capability needs. 

This is the 14th season of the Commanders Series, and today’s event is the third installment of the Commanders Series in 2022.  So far this year we’ve had the honor of hosting Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth for a conversation on the global challenges facing the U.S. Army and commander of U.S. Space Command, Gen. James Dickinson, to discuss how the U.S. military responds to the new strategic realities of the space domain.  Today’s event will add yet another service’s perspective to the conversation we’ve been having on how United States and its allies can prevail on the modern battlefield. 

This summer Adm. Gilday released Navigation Plan 2022 to the fleet, outlining how the U.S. Navy will build, maintain, train, and equip the dominant naval force to strengthen its strategic partnerships, deter conflict and, if called upon, help win the nation’s wars.  There is no leader better situated to discuss the Navy’s role in keeping the sea lanes open and free.  Admiral, thank you again for spending time with us today.  We’re very much looking forward to hearing your insights over the course of the next hour.

With that, it is my pleasure to introduce Vice Adm. John Miller, who will make a couple of announcements and further introduce our esteemed guest.  Vice Adm. Miller is a member of the Atlantic Council’s Gulf Security Task Force, which will be releasing a report later this year.  He’s also the president and CEO of the Fozzie Miller Group.  Vice Adm. Miller has served a distinguished career in the U.S. Navy, serving as commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, commander of Combined Maritime Forces, and combined of the U.S. Fifth Fleet.  Vice Adm. Miller, thank you for joining us today.  Over to you, John.


MR. ANDERSON:  Thank you.

ADM. MILLER:  (Off mic) – kind introduction, and thanks to Saab for their continued support of the Commanders Series.  Welcome to all of you that are here live, and of course welcome to everyone that is joining us virtually today.  It’s wonderful to have you with us.  I’m looking forward to a discussion with a remarkable speaker who is here with absolutely superb timing.  So, CNO, welcome, sir.  It’s good to see you.  And we appreciate you being here.  We’re looking forward to listening to your thoughts.

Here at the Atlantic Council and the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, they work hard to develop sustainable nonpartisan policy positions and strategies to address the most important issues facing the nation.  Consistent with that mission, the Scowcroft Center’s Forward Defense Practice is designed to shape the debate that – shape the debate of the greatest military challenges facing the U.S. and our allies, and create forward-looking assessments of the trends, technologies, and concepts of future warfare.

To provide a bit of strategic context, that future is only becoming more and more difficult as rising substantial adversarial aggression is challenging the United States Navy’s long uncontested advantages.  This is especially true in the Indo-Pacific region, where a rising Chinese maritime threat threatens free and open access to the blue waters and the global commons.  The People’s Liberation Army Navy is modernizing and growing every day.  They’re embracing new technologies and building up their ability to project power, not only close to their shore but around the globe.  They’re also out-building the United States and our allies, and constantly improving their capabilities.

And while China remains the pacing threat, the U.S. Navy must also continue to confront other challenges across the globe, including Russia – which is focusing its naval modernization efforts on submarine warfare, and they are fielding a very capable submarine fleet.  The United States and our allies now face a critical moment where strategies become more important than ever to think through in advance.  Adm. Gilday’s Navigation Plan will help set the course for the U.S. Navy.  It outlines how the service will build, maintain, and equip a dominant naval force.  Today we are fortunate to be joined by Adm. Gilday to discuss the U.S. Navy and how we can adapt our—to the era of strategic competition that we find ourselves in.

As the chief of naval operations, Adm. Gilday serves as a key military advisor to the president and to the secretary of defense.  He has led a very distinguished military career, as you would expect, from command of the USS Higgins to command of U.S. Tenth Fleet, to duty on the Navy staff, the Joint Staff, and with NATO.  He has excelled in a variety of challenging and difficult assignments.  Admiral, thank you again for your dedication, and we look forward to hearing from you.

I’d now like to introduce Megan Eckstein.  She will be moderating today’s conversation.  And she serves as a naval warfare reporter for Defense News.  She’s covered the U.S. military since 2009, and she’s focused on the Navy and Marine Corps, and has experience in four of our numbered fleets.  So we certainly appreciate you being here today, Megan, to moderate.

Before I turn it over to Megan, a couple of administrative notes.  If you’re joining us today on Zoom, please if you have any questions you’d like to ask please do so through the Q&A function on the bottom of your screen, and we’ll collect those during the course of the event.  And Megan will get as many of those questions into the CNO as she can.  We also encourage the online audience to join us via Twitter.  And you can follow us at @acscowcroft and using the handle #forwarddefense.  So with that, Megan, over to you.

MEGAN ECKSTEIN:  Thanks so much.  Thank you to the Atlantic Council for hosting this conversation.  And, Admiral, I’m really looking forward to the discussion today.  So before I jump into my questions, I’d like to give you the opportunity to make any opening remarks you’d like.

ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY:  Thank you.  I’d like to thank Adm. Miller and the Atlantic Council.  Mr. Anderson, I’d like to thank you as well.  And thank you, Ms. Eckstein, for moderating.

I’d like to set the table really to get at the essential question of your invitation to me to speak today about navigating an uncertain security environment.  And so I will use the [2022] Navigation Plan as kind of a launching pad, but I’ll really talk about three time frames.  Really the here and now, looking out (inaudible) inside of this five-year defense plan (FYDP).  I’ll also take a look at the long range in terms of where we want to be the future, in the late 2030s and early 2040s.  And then a critical time I’ll talk about is that transition time frame between.  So really almost a three FYDP model to take a look at the challenges ahead.

In terms of near-term uncertainty, who would have thought that we would be witnessing a ground war in Eastern Europe in 2022?  Not many.  And so I think it’s testimony to the fact that we need to be ready to fight tonight.  And so for our last four budget cycles, readiness has been our number-one priority, followed by modernization of the fleet that we have today, and 70% of which we will have a decade from now, and then finally capacity at an affordable rate.  We have to resource our Navy based on the funding that the president proposes, and then the Congress approves.  And so we have to live within our means.

And so my approach has been commensurate with my responsibility, really, to field the most lethal, capable force that we can now and into the future.  I’ve prioritized readiness as my number-one priority in order to field that lethal force.  And so what that really boils down to is maintaining our ships as they should be maintained, not taking maintenance holidays as sometimes we’ve been prone to do in the past when we made capacity king, to ensure that our supply storerooms are filled with the proper parts so that our ships are self-sustaining at sea.  So maintenance and supply is critically important for a war fighting force and its readiness.

To ensure that our magazines are actually filled with weapons so that a Vertical Launching System (VLS) tube count, whether it’s on submarines, surface ships, or whether it’s in the magazines of our aircraft carriers, really matters and is not just something that’s hollow and nice to talk about [with respect to the missile tube count].  And then finally, investing in our sailors in terms of their training.  And so on every deploying strike group and Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), we continuously assess our certification methodology and the ringer that we put them through before we say that they’re certified to go forward to potentially defense the nation.  And so we increasingly make that certification process more difficult, more challenging, because we’re facing a pacing threat, that is China.

If I look at the trends for, let’s say, 2018 to now in terms of how we talk about China, in the 2018 [National Defense Strategy] NDS we really talked about great-power competition, and that was a focus.  And now, based on what we’re seeing from an increasingly aggressive China and Russia, we are now – we have our eyes on preparing ourselves for a potential fight tonight.  And so that could happen at any time.  And combatant commanders have talked about different time frames.  But it’s a very real thing, particularly when you go back to what I mentioned about Ukraine.

If the Navy decides to put capacity first, in other words if ship count becomes the primary objective, my prediction is we’ll look like the Soviet Navy when I first came in, in the mid-1980s, when their ship count included ships that they kept from the First World War.  So they had quite a ship count.  I’m not sure that many of them were relevant.  And I don’t want to field ships out there in the fight that aren’t lethal, capable, and ready to win.  And so, again, it’s readiness over capacity.  The ships that we put out there have to be ready to fight. 

Secondly, in terms of modernization, the investments that we’re making to make our surface ships more capable in terms of being lethal, in terms of their electronic warfare systems, in terms of soft kill, in terms of their cyber resiliency, with the submarine force in terms of increasing missile payload capacity in our Virginia-class submarines, in terms of making investments in increasingly more lethal and capable torpedoes.  On the surface side, continuing to invest in new weapons like maritime strike Tomahawk.  And, likewise in aviation, continuing to invest in long-range missiles.

The path to a hybrid fleet in the mid-to-late 2030s, and into the 2040s, we’re really setting that path now.  A couple of examples would be the MQ-25 Stingray on our carriers, which increases – as a refueling mission, to replace that refueling mission we have with – we conduct with strike fighters today.  It gives those strike fighters back to the wing commander, back to the strike group commander, actually, and it increases the range of the airwing by hundreds of miles.  So again, you couple that with weapons with increasing range and lethality and speed.  We’re in a better place against any adversary.

I also think that the MQ-25 is really our trailblazer into that transition timeline to inform – into that transition time frame to inform our investments in the air wing of the future.  So the air wing of the future eventually is going to be, we think, 60% unmanned and 40% manned.  And so MQ-25 is helping us conceptually understand that manned-unmanned teaming that’s going to be essential to that mix in the future.  And it’ll also inform what we buy.  I can say the same thing about XLUUV, which is a – which is really the world’s first undersea autonomous diesel – really diesel submarine, with a clandestine mine deliver capability.

The vendor that is actually building that prototype for us, that will go into the water in calendar year ’23, that particular platform, when you think about it, we are essentially from drawing board to fielding – we’re essentially putting a ship class in the water within about five years.  We’re going to test that prototype.  We’re going to run it through the ringer.  It’ll inform the manufacturing process for the vendor.  And we think we’ll be in a better place to make a decision on when to scale and to what degree we scale those kinds of platforms in the unmanned – in the unmanned space.  And again, they’re informing that path into the future of the hybrid fleet.  We’re making other investments in surface ships that I’m sure we’ll get into in the Q&A, that I think is putting us on a more predictable, stable path for our shipbuilders. 

And so with that – with that, Ms. Eckstein, I’ll stop and field your questions.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  Wonderful.  Well, let’s start with the fight tonight comments that you made.  Recently China hosted its 20th Communist Party Congress.  You know, the big headline to come out of that was looking at a potentially faster reunification timeline with Taiwan.  Obviously caught the attention of the secretary of state, who made some comments on that earlier this week.  And I just wonder, you know, the Navy had really considered this so-called Davidson window of 2027. 

And hearing what came out of China in the past week, I just wonder what that means for the Navy, you know, as you look to have a ready fleet for that window.  How can you get to a ready fleet faster?  How can you increase the lethality of that fleet faster?  On the capacity side, does it make you reconsider any of the ship decommissioning proposals you have?  I just wonder how this fight tonight mentality changes your tiered priorities.

ADM. GILDAY:  Yeah, it’s a good question.  And I think it’s a worthwhile debate to have on capacity versus readiness.  With respect to the party congress and what came out of it, that analysis is still ongoing.  But I will say this, it’s not just what President Xi says, but it’s how the Chinese behave and what they do.  And what we’ve seen over the past 20 years is that they have delivered on every promise they’ve made earlier than they said they were going to deliver on it.  So when we talk about the 2027 window, in my mind that has to be a 2022 window, or potentially a 2023 window.  I can’t rule that out.  I don’t mean at all to be alarmist by saying that.  It's just that we can’t – we can’t wish that way.  And I go back to my comments about Ukraine and the unpredictability of that conflict with Russia.

And so what it has led me to – what it has led me to focus on, truly, is making sure that the ships we are fielding today are as ready as they can be.  And that takes time.  We have – we are still recovering, with our carrier force as an example, for back-to-back deployments that we did ten years ago.  And so we’re still catching up on deferred maintenance so that we can get fifty years out of those platforms.  So I’m not going to come off of the maintenance piece in terms of an area where we can save money, because we just – we just can’t.  And I would say the same thing about supply parts, about missiles and magazines, about training and readiness for the force.  I just don’t think we can skimp on that.  There are lessons of the past as recent as 2017 with the collisions that have caused me to rethink anybody challenging the money we’re putting into readiness and training.

With respect to the capacity piece, I go back to the comment I made about the Soviet Navy and ship count.  And so when we make decisions – when we made decisions on which ships we’re going to decommission – the entering argument is the size of the fleet that we can afford.  And an affordable fleet has everything to do with all of those readiness aspects I talked about, being fully funded.  In addition, it’s noteworthy that in a day and age where we have at least 8.3% inflation right now, that 60% of the Navy’s budget rises at a rate above inflation.  And so we have to take that into account, that maintaining the fleet we have is extremely expensive.

With respect to modernization, the Navy – the Nav[igation] Plan talks about eight areas where we’re really putting a lot of focus because they have everything to do with putting us in a better place against an adversary, whether we fight tonight or whether we fight mid-decade.  So those areas would be long-range fires, the investments we’re making in offense.  The investments we’re making in defense in terms of layered defense of the fleet, that I’ve spoken to many times with respect to research in high-power microwave, as well as directed energy – investments we’re making in maneuver.  And so [edit: some topics are] highly classified, but [edit: what we’re trying to get after is] how do we make the ship – how do we make the fleet more maneuverable and survivable in an increasingly complex battlespace.  And then lastly, resupply.

So those are four areas that are critically needed now.  They’re enabled by areas like unmanned and Artificial Intelligence (AI).  And you’re seeing the work that’s been down right now in Fifth Fleet, which we intend to scale, within that theater and also beyond that theater, with respect to unmanned – putting unmanned against real-world problems, enabled by AI.  Networks is another.  And Project Overmatch I think will potentially deliver two things.  One, is I think it will deliver the core of the joint tactical grid.  And so that is the network of networks of the future that’ll be software-defined.  The second, the decision aids at the tactical edge that allow us to make decisions faster than our adversaries.

And then another key enabler would be live virtual constructive (LVC) training that allows us – we’re facing an adversary that has large numbers and it is highly capable.  It is not practical for us to train on a semi-annual basis, let’s say, with getting an entire fleet underway.  So leveraging LVC allows us to train our fleet commanders and to train our operators on our ships, submarines, and aircraft in a more effective way. 

So with respect to the decommissionings, we take a look at stratifying lethality across our platforms.  And we rank those platforms from 1-20.  Twenty is about the number of platforms.  And then we make a decision on – that helps inform the decision on what we’re going to put on the table to [edit: decommission].  And again, it gets back to what we can afford.  So while some of those ships, I regret that they’re on the table, there are others that haven’t seen a dry dock since 2009.  There are some that have 125 departure from specifications (DFS).  And I’ll give you an example on one of those.  It's an engineering directive not to put a tug against, let’s say, a starboard side of a ship because you’re going to put a hole in it, because the steel’s too thin.  123, 125 of those on one of the ships on our decom list. 

For the cruisers, some of them are three years behind in coming out of maintenance, at costs of $80 million or more, with a weapons system that is not going to be upgraded in time to face the threat that the Chinese pose.  So when it comes down to making hard decisions on where to put your next dollar, those are decisions that need to be made and debated within the Pentagon.  And again, it’s coming at the adversary not just on the sea, under the sea, in the air, through cyber, through space.  And so all of those are attack vectors for us that we’re making investments in.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  Very good.  Obviously, you know, how you deal with the threat in the Pacific technologically is one way that you’re looking to make some changes.  I wonder operationally, you know, one of the statements to come out of the Congress over the recent week had to do with China sort of classifying Taiwan as an internal problem, criticizing foreign interference.  Obviously, the U.S. Navy is quite active doing Taiwan Strait transits, doing other operations nearby.  And I just wonder, hearing the rhetoric come out of China, does that change anything for the Navy in terms of your operational approach to the region?

ADM. GILDAY:  No, it doesn’t.  I think what it causes us to do is, you know the more ships we build, the more ships we can generate out there, the more ships that we can put forward.  So I’ll just make a comment about the shipbuilding – our shipbuilding account proposal that’s being debated in Congress right now.  It’s $27.5 billion.  It’s the biggest shipbuilding budget that we’ve ever had go to the Hill.  And so we think – we are hopeful – that that will get approved.  And then we can put ourselves on a healthier path with respect to shipbuilding for industry as well as for the Navy.  You know, it’s no secret, with ground wars that have occupied us for the last few decades we’ve not invested in the Navy like we would have liked to.  So we’re playing a bit of catch up, but we’re putting a lot of focus on it.

I should make a mention in terms of operationally, the things that we’re doing with allies and partners is noteworthy.  So there’s little, if anything, that we do on a day-to-day basis that we’re not doing in concert with our allies and partners.  Those relationships are absolutely critical.  They’re relationships that the Chinese and the Russians don’t enjoy in the same numbers that we do.  We see it as an asymmetric advantage, particularly when we’re enforcing international norms and laws that the Russians, they’re almost arsonist right now in terms of how they’re approaching the international order.  The Chinese are a bit more subtle, but yet bold in terms of how their want to revising the international rules.  And so our standing lock-arm with many other countries – double-digit countries – in terms of upholding those rules and norms on a daily basis we think is critically important.  And we hope that over time it could change behavior.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  To that point, actually, you know, we’ve heard some comments come out of the Office of Secretary of Defense that they’d really like to keep the Navy focused on high-end capability, sort of that lethality to win a fight against China.  Which obviously is important to you.  But there is really an argument to be made for some of the lower-end presence capabilities – maritime domain awareness, partner-building capacity.  And when you look throughout the Pacific, there are a lot of countries that would like to partner with the U.S., that would like help, you know, protecting their fisheries and, you know, sort of keeping their economic zones safe.  And I wonder how – you know, that need to build partners, the desires from them just to sort of have that low-end presence, how does that maybe change the conversation between the Navy and OSD in terms of that high-end and low-end mix you’re looking for?

ADM. GILDAY:  Yeah, I’ll say one thing about that.  If you think about the spectrum of war and the activities that you mentioned initially that are on the far right.  And so that’s the high-end fight to win combat piece.  The middle to the right part of the spectrum is an important part on a day-to-day basis.  This is where our tri-maritime partnership comes in with the Marine Corps and with the United States Coast Guard. 

You see the Coast Guard in particular, for a moment, if I could, just putting their five newest cutters in the Pacific.  They’re leaning forward.  They are our best partner dealing with and teaching and working with allies and partners that are challenged in that space with respect, as an example, of illegal fishing.  There’s no better partner than our – than our amphibious ready groups, with many allies and partners out there, in exercises, in humanitarian assistance.  And so there is a function there as well.

We have to balance all that against, you know, thing one, which is to be ready to fight and win a war tonight.  And so that is the tension in terms of investments in, let’s say, lower-end platforms.  You can’t just wish away that mid-to-right part of the spectrum because it is critically important, particularly when you talk about campaigning.  And then when you talk about how that lends itself to deterrence.  But at the same time, that’s balanced, again, against the lethality piece and what you really need in a fight, given the fact we’re not as big of a Navy as we want to be.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  Congressman Gallagher on the House Armed Services Committee had looked at putting some language into this year’s National Defense Authorization Act that would essentially add presence as a mission for the Navy.  OSD had pushed back against that, and said it takes away from, you know, the high-end lethality focus.  And I just wonder, you know, is there maybe a misunderstanding of the resources that it takes to provide presence?  Obviously, the more ships you have out and about the more people you need, the more fuel you need, the more ship maintenance you need.  And, as you mentioned earlier, those are becoming increasingly expensive.  And I just wonder, is there – does there maybe need to be a re-look at presence and its value, and kind of how much OSD should be spending on that?

ADM. GILDAY:  I think that presence plays an important part in the strategy with respect to campaigning, as an example, right?  But that is a factor in thinking about the capacity of the fleet.  When we war game, when we do our analysis, we also have to account for a second opportunist actor and how we position against a second opportunist actor, as an example, if we’re in a fight with another.  And so that presence piece plays an important part.

I think that, again, operating closely with allies and partners is important.  You hear us talk about interchangeability with some of our high-end partners, like Australia and the U.K., with the French, because they can actually fill gaps that we’re unable to fill.  There’s absolutely value there in the presence piece.  When you – when the secretary of defense directs the services to have certain levels of readiness for response forces, the immediate response force has to be ready in a certain amount of time to be at his call to react in crisis.  The Navy’s immediate response force is at sea every single day.  We’re not tied up.  We’re not bunkered.  We’re out there.  We’re forward.

So I think we’re meeting commanders’ intent in terms of what the [secretary of defense] SecDef wants.  I think the value of forward presence is well-understood in the Pentagon.  I think if you take a look at two carriers that we have right now in the EUCOM – in the European theater –  with a demand signal for a consistent 1.0 presence.  The presence that we have in the Middle East, which is not as great as we would like but, again, you have to prioritize your resources.  That’s a maritime theater we need to be present and active in.  And then the Western Pacific.  And so with [USS] Reagan out there with the [USS] Tripoli ARG right now.  And so we are forward all the time.  And I do think that – I do think that it’s well-understood and valued.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  On the topic of partnerships, you recently attended the Trans-Regional Sea Power Symposium.  And I’d love to hear, there are some fascinating photos of you with other global navy leaders that came out of that.  And I wondered, you know, what the focus of the discussion was this year, and if you noticed any, you know, shifts in tone, any shifts in intentions with some of the partner navies that you work with.

ADM. GILDAY:  I did.  So typically, this was the 13th regional security symposium that the Italians hosted.  The major difference this year was the fact that it was trans-regional.  And so for the first time, as an example, the Japanese head of navy attended.  There were other Asian navies that attended.  The head of the navy of Pakistan attended.  And so it brought more of us together, more like-minded navies together.  It goes back to the points that I made earlier about the power of those partnerships and those – and those alliances. 

The discussions really in bilateral and trilateral forums, where we saw the most progress, in what can we continue to do or what can we put our foot on the accelerator to do more of together, or to do interchangeably, as I spoke to a few minutes ago.  So my – the photos that you mentioned – I met with several heads of navy, including the Spanish, the French, the Royal Navy, and others, the Italians.  And so every one of those was focused on our next steps in 2023 and beyond.  Adm. Ben Key, the First Sea Lord from the Royal Navy, will be in town tomorrow.  And so we’ll have a strategic dialogue that talks about the next 12 months and beyond, across a number of lines of effort.

And so there is rigor to these bilateral and trilateral relationships in terms of putting markers on the board of goals that we want to hit together.  For the first time in tomorrow’s discussion the commandant of the Marine Corps will join us.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  You’ve already had quite a few – whether it’s, you know – multicarrier operations with the U.S. and allied navies, carrier strike groups that may involve ships from multiple nations.  So when you talk about, you know, the discussions being about what more can you do, can you give any examples of, you know, you already have pretty tight collaboration, it appears.  What can you do that’s more?

ADM. GILDAY:  I think fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft integration with the French and with the Royal Navy in particular are of high interest to me.  And so in the United States Navy, that’s a mix that we think is a winner.  We are working real hard with our first two deployments behind us, with F-35s and Super Hornets.  And one of those was a Marine squadron, by the way, that was on one of our deployed carriers.  I see a lot of value in that.  It’s a really good example of how we can work more closely together.  I think frameworks like AUKUS open the floodgates in terms of technologies that we can share. 

We become – I think that forums like that help build trust.  And trust is really important when we’re talking about sharing high technology or we’re talking about sharing information that comes from sensitive sources.  I think that AUKUS is really a positive move in the right direction in this decade to accelerate that kind of stuff.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  The U.S. Navy is doing a lot on the network side, you know, to share information throughout the fleet, to share information between manned and unmanned systems.  And I wonder where partners and allies fall into that, and if you could elaborate a little bit on, you know, how you envision being able to share all that data in real time with partner nations.

ADM. GILDAY:  So some of our allies and partners – I’m not going to mention which ones – but those that we see a higher likelihood of interoperability in the near term, we are sharing our Project Overmatch work with them.  They’re highly interested.  Some of our heads of Navy have been to San Diego to visit Adm. Small and his team at [Naval Information Warfare Systems Command] NAVWAR.  And so it’s not lost on me the power of including them.  We have to be inclusive, or we’re not going to be able to fight together.  And so we are moving forward, I think, at a good pace with our allies and partners in that effort.  We’re not holding back.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  Is there any tech development on their end that may need to occur?  Kind of anything that you’re promoting, that way you sort of grow in a parallel way?

ADM. GILDAY:  Well, I’ll tell you, the technology that we’re actually leveraging, in order for us to package any data set and send it on any network, that technology is applicable to really any network.  And so whatever networks that they have that we don’t currently have a like investment in, I still think that technically that we can solve that problem in terms of allowing that to be part of the framework.  That said, there’s also a cyber-resiliency part of this that one can’t ignore and becomes an important piece of it.  So that has to be baked into any new network that we add and we experiment with.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  Sure.  I want to switch gears a little bit.  You have really pushed for process improvement.  You’ve pushed for sort of a – the get real, get better mentality, which I really enjoy, sort of the, you know, embrace the red.  And a couple efforts under that category that I’d like to ask you about.  You know, following the [USS] Bonhomme Richard fire, there were obviously the command investigation and the major fires review.  But since then, we’ve seen the Learning to Action Board, which has tackled that, the Naval Safety Command being elevated to a full command.  And I just wonder, you know, as you look at these changes that have come about since the fire, what do they mean in total?  And how does the Navy change the way the Navy is looking at safety, looking at fire safety specifically?

ADM. GILDAY:  Yeah.  So I’ll tell you one of the most important aspects of get real, get better, it really has to do with war fighting.  When I talk to the fleet, and I talk about readiness, and I look at the Ukrainians as an example and how they have actually learned war as they’re fighting war, in ways that we did in the interwar years between World War I and World War II.  We need that kind of spirit.  We need that kind of inclusiveness at the lowest levels in the force.  We need those kinds of critical thinkers who are going to help make us more agile, more flexible, more lethal, more survivable in a fight.  Ukraine’s doing that now.  I think they’re really setting an important example.

The will to fight is an important aspect of this.  Absolutely critical.  But the other thing is, they’re learning from each other and they’re learning very, very quickly in a cycle.  And so for me, that’s an exemplar for get real, get better and what that really means to us as war fighters, right down to the deck plates.  I think that the emphasis the secretary of the Navy is putting in education, particularly for the enlisted force, gets right at this, in terms of developing and valuing critical thinkers at that level as well.  At the end of the day, it all comes down to war fighting.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  Specifically on the fire safety, we’ve heard that Naval Sea Systems Command is looking at rewriting their fire instruction.  A few other documents are being re-looked at.  And I just wondered what you hope will come out of this effort in terms of fire prevention, fire response, as well as just waterfront command and control, and trying to, you know, clarify all of those?

ADM. GILDAY:  Yeah, the key thing really that has to come about is that any changes that you make are institutionalized.  And so they need to – they can’t just – when we do an investigation, as we did after the Bonhomme Richard fire, you would expect we hold people accountable.  That’s what we do as a military.  You would expect that we would make changes.  What we’ve not done a good job at is learning from those catastrophes and actually ensuring that down to the lowest level in the fleet that people embody those changes, and they’re actually putting them into practice.

And so that’s what the Learning to Action Board helps us do, is to identify those aspects that need to be institutionalized, and a path to do that.  Also, a cadence of accountability to hold ourselves accountable is critically important.  And part of that is the transparency, embracing the red piece, where you have to reward that kind of thinking, that kind of initiative, that kind of behavior, and not punish people for doing it.  And I have to say, that has not been part of the Navy’s past. 

And perhaps we’re not the only service with these challenges but, you know, when you walk into a room and you give a briefing to your boss, as an example, your two goals are, one, if you’re using stoplight charts you want to show that everything’s in the green.  And the second is you want to come out of there with any tasking.  And so we’re trying to reward behavior in the other direction.  But part of this, we have to value that behavior.  We actually have to measure it.  And so we’re taking a look right now at how we might change fitness reports, evaluations that we do on flag officers at the one- and two-star level, so that we can then set the tone at the top in terms of those behaviors that we value.

This is going to be a long process for us.  It has to last way longer than one, two, or even three CNOs.  And so it’s my hope that, you know, a decade from now, when I come back to a Navy conference, that we’re not even using the phrase “get real, get better,” but it’s just part of our DNA and how we think.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  A lot of times get real, get better comes back to shipyard performance, which I want to ask you about next.  But first, you know, as you try to get the Navy to embrace this mindset, I wonder if there are any examples where you’ve seen real progress with embracing the red that have maybe surprised you.  Any applications that you weren’t expecting, or places you didn’t realize that there was the need for improvement, where maybe sailors have brought things to your attention?

ADM. GILDAY:  I’ll give you a really good example.  And it was the actions that we took during COVID, that sailors took, in order to deploy ships COVID-free for six months at a time.  Important, and how you really have to trust sailors to do the [restriction of movement] ROM process, to isolate themselves for two weeks.  This is pre-vaccine.  But to hold themselves accountable.  And then when they report to the ship, and the ship gets underway, and it’s not going to pull into port maybe once or twice during deployment, and it won’t go beyond the pier.  But all of those things that they have to do to maintain, you know, sanitary conditions, they have to not only hold themselves accountable, but hold the sailor to the left and to the right accountable.

And so doing that takes courage.  It’s part of the mission.  They realize the importance of it.  They realize that they’re playing an important role in it.  And they’re realizing that down to the lowest level in the United States Navy that you can be a leader and that you can motivate group resources and generate positive outcomes.  And so that, for me, was an example of people just not faking it.  You know, there is fake get real, get better too that we have to be – we have to be care of.  People attach get real, get better to a lot of things.  But that, for me, was an example, I think a shining example, of the kind of behavior that we’re looking for.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  On the shipyards piece, I believe it was the first Surface Navy Association (SNA) Conference that you spoke at after becoming CNO where you kind of put down the marker and said:  You know, we want to get rid of, you know, maintenance delay days.  Like, we don’t want to be stuck in the shipyard rather than being out, you know, training and on deployments. 

The Navy started to make some pretty good progress in that direction, but most recently we’ve heard that the Navy’s sort of backsliding, whether it’s due to COVID impacts still remaining, whether it’s due to workforce challenges, materials challenges, inflation.  It sounds like there’s a lot of issues sort of swirling together to create some pretty strong headwinds there.  And particularly, you know, to circle back to the beginning where you spoke about the fight tonight mentality, what more needs to be done to really get after maintenance, given all of these additional challenges you’re now facing?

ADM. GILDAY:  Yeah.  So, first of all, we’re still learning.  And we’re always learning on the maintenance side.  We’ve gone from – and some in the audience have heard me say this before – but from 7,700 delay days out of shipyards, and I made that announcement at SNA, down to a little over 3,000 today.  We are nowhere near where we need to be.  I will say that between 40% and 50% of those delay days I can attribute to six or seven ships that we’d like to decommission because they are old and they’re not fit to fight against the current threat.  They were designed in the 1970s for a fight a bygone age, but we’re still holding onto them.  In any case, they are – so they attribute, for a high percentage of those delay days.

In some shipyards, as you would expect the progress across not all the shipyards is not equal.  And so they are in competition with each other now to drive down those delay days.  Yes, we’ve seen workforce issues.  Everybody has, across all industries in the United States.  And, yes, we have supply chain issues.  But those can’t be excuses. 

On the supply chain side, as an example, in order to try to mitigate those problems instead of contracting with a private yard, within 30 days of the beginning of the maintenance availability, our goal is 120 days.  I would like it to be 365 days where we could get those contracts way out to the left, identify those parts that we need, get them purchased.  And the Congress has given us the ability to use funding across fiscal years to do this.  So they’re with us.  We have to prove ourselves that we’re going to deliver on this with respect to those authorities that they’re giving us.  But I think we’re making progress, but we got a ways to go.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  I still have a few questions, but the audience questions are pouring in here so I want to try to get to a few of those now.  We have two here from Byron Callan (sp).  And I’ll just kind of combine them together.  But, you know, given everything we talked about at the beginning, how are, you know, the changing threats in the Pacific, changing threats around the globe, affecting the FY-’24 considerations happening in the Pentagon now?  And then additionally, how is inflation kind of fitting into that, and maybe changing what you’re able to afford.

ADM. GILDAY:  Yeah.  I’d say the first challenge is the continuing resolution (CR).  And so those delays are inefficient.  They don’t make us more ready.  They don’t make us more lethal.  They’re a problem.  And so the quicker that we get a budget for ’23, the better, truly.  With respect to ’24, I think I’m encouraged by the process that we have in the Pentagon right now, really prioritizing those things that threaten our pacing threat the most.  And so leadership in the Pentagon doesn’t have a lot of time to have discussions about nice to haves.  We’re talking about what we must have in order to threaten – in order to deter and fight and win.  And so I’m encouraged by the path that we’re on right now.

I’m not saying that every decision goes our way.  And we shouldn’t keep score like that.  We have to – I am happy to put the Navy’s capabilities against others in different mission sets, and may the best capability win in a joint force.  We have to face it that way.  Our leadership is certainly driving us to look at problem sets much less parochially and more in terms of the metrics it takes to – the analytics that in the end prove one capability over another.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  And on the inflation side – and I’ll add to that half of the question – you know, the Navy’s looking at some big multiyear contracts coming up for the next Arleigh Burke destroyers and for the next Virginia submarines.  How do you even begin to consider that with such inflation issues?

ADM. GILDAY:  We’re going to have to deal with it.  I mean, it’s part of the reality.  The one thing that obviously those multi contracts allow you to do is it gives us more predictability and stability with respect to what we’re going to need.  And so there are economies of scale that we can leverage.  And I am an optimist when it comes to surface shipbuilding and the trends that we see right now.  Fincantieri up in Wisconsin has just started bending steel on FFG-62.  And they are comfortable right now with the profile that we had in the ’23 budget of 1-2-1-2-1 in terms of a building profile.  They are going to get to two a year.  They are phasing out – they are now almost done with LCSs, and so they can focus purely on the frigates.

In Bath, Maine, we want that yard to increase their capacity with respect to the DDG production line.  They’re now done with DDG-1000s.  So Zumwalts are out of the yard.  They’re focused on Flight III DDGs.  I could say the same thing in Pascagoula with HII.  Really good trends down there in terms of their shipbuilding performance.  And I’m hopeful that it’ll improve even more.  Austal has shifted to steel.  They’re working on a cutter for the Coast Guard.  They have contracts for salvage ships.  They’re doing work for another vendor for elevators for the Ford-class carrier.  And NASSCO on the West Coast is doing a great job, I think, on the John Lewis-class oilers.

And so I’m encouraged by those trends.  And I’m hopeful, as I said with a $27.5 billion proposal, that we can give these shipyards a much more predictable and stable set of headlights for shifts that, no kidding, we really need to do two things – project power, and to control the seas.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  Sure.  You’ve mentioned in sort of the capability-capacity debate not wanting to go back to go back to where the Navy was, you know, maybe a decade ago, where capacity was king.  Given the plan that you have right now, do you think you can fully maximize, you know, what industry’s willing to do, and what they can build for you right now?  Or do you just not think the Navy quite has the money to, you know, fully leverage what they look like to you?

ADM. GILDAY:  I think the Congress has been outstanding in terms of plussing-up the Navy’s budget.  They see the need for new ships.  They want to – [in] my conversations with members of Congress – they want that stable, predictable funding line.  The exemplar that I use is submarines, where you can look out to nearly 2040 and count on a couple of SSNs and an SSBN in a year.  That’s where we want to be on the surface side. 

And I think, as—I also think that if we’re going to transition to another ship – let’s say DDG(X) – that that needs to be a planned and smooth transition that’s factored in.  I’m a big fan of Flight III DDGs.  They have a tremendous capability.  We need to get on step with those shipyards up in Bath, Maine, and down at Pascagoula.  Need to produce those ships on time.  And then we can move into a DDG(X).  It’s the same thing with FFG-62.  We’re stable and hitting our marks up there in Wisconsin, then we take a look at expanding to a second shipyard.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  Sure.  I’m going to combine a couple questions here, because we have several people asking about unmanned, human-machine teaming, artificial intelligence.  One question is, you know, you talked about ranking priorities.  I imagine that it’s pretty high, but, you know, how did those technologies rank in terms of naval spending priorities?  And then additionally, you know, what Task Force 59 is doing in the Middle East, how can that be applied elsewhere?  How are you planning to, you know, apply that into some other regions?

ADM. GILDAY:  Well, I’ll just let people’s imagination take them wherever they want to with where we could use that capability in different [areas of responsibility].  But there’s definitely – I definitely see value in the key operational problem that Adm. Cooper is getting after.  We’re not just experimenting for experimentation’s sake.  We are learning from what we’re doing, but the key operational problem we’re solving is increasing maritime domain awareness in an area of responsibility where we have fewer ships than we’d like to have.  And so we’re closing that gap with unmanned and we’re learning from it.

And as a result of that, working closely with allies and partners, we’ll be able to field capability in this FYDP.  I would say that with respect to fielding platforms, whether they’re manned or unmanned, that things have changed.  When I say that, we have to take a look at what we learned in the past from LCS, from Zumwalt, from the Ford.  What we want to do is prove to ourselves and prove to the Congress that the investment that we’re asking for in order to scale the capability, that we have a high degree of confidence that the technical risk is acceptable, that these platforms are operationally relevant, and that they’re going to deliver on time and within budget.

So the work on unmanned that we’re doing with Task Force 59 helps inform what we’re going to buy and scale.  It’s the same thing, I’d say, with unmanned surface, where we are doing – we’re going to do land-based engineering testing up in Philadelphia, to essentially give us a better understanding of the engineering plan that we need.  I talked about [Project] Overmatch and what we’re doing with networks.  The command and control (C2) of unmanned is an important part of it.  And then lastly, I talked about XLUUV for a moment, and putting a prototype in the water in ’23, with potentially four more to follow in ’24.  Using those in exercises extensively to learn from them, and then coming back within the Pentagon and up on the Hill and saying:  Look, these work.  We should invest more.

We’re just approaching – we have to prove to ourselves that the investment is worthwhile.  What we don’t want to do is put a lot of money against something in a budget-constrained environment where we’re making decisions, wrong decisions, we have to live with potentially for decades.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  We have a few minutes left.  I want to see if we can get through a couple more.  We have one from Pierre Leblanc, the president of the Arctic Security Consultants, wondering about Chinese presence in the Arctic, and specifically Chinese submarines.  And just wondering if you could talk a little bit about that security threat, and kind of how you’re poising yourself to deal with it.

ADM. GILDAY:  We’re thinking differently about it.  Why?  Because the trade routes between Asia and Europe are going to fundamentally change over the next 25 years.  That space is going to become more competitive for resources, for presence.  And so we are working increasingly more in the Arctic with allies and partners.  Bringing Sweden and Finland into the NATO alliance, as two countries that border on the Arctic, they’re key players in this as well.  Iceland is an example that we typically think of Iceland in the NATO alliance in a transatlantic perspective.  Now they play potentially an important role in a transpolar perspective.

So we’re working very closely with allies and partners.  We’re operating more up there.  We’re much more comfortable working up in that area.  I would expect the Chinese are going to be the same way.  And so we will meet in that free and open Arctic space, and hopefully operate peacefully together.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  Sure.  Let’s try to get one more in.  From Katherine Elgin with CSBA. 

She wants to know, in light of the war in Ukraine the defense industrial base has been asked to surge production of a lot of different types of weapons that are being sent over there.  Wondering how that affect the Navy.  And then maybe just to kind of close out on the Ukraine note, after answering that question if you just wanted to address any other aspects of the war in Ukraine and how that’s affecting naval plans.

ADM. GILDAY:  Sure.  On munitions.  So I think a good indicator is my unfunded list.  That essentially, I am trying to maximize domestic production rates of weapons that really matter in a fight, and to give industry a clear set of predictable, stable funding – you know, a demand signal, so that they can plan to it with respect to their infrastructure, with respect to their workforce and their supply chain.  I think multiyear buys of weapons, like we do for ships and aircraft, is absolutely in our future.  It’s being talked about.  It’s being talked about publicly now.  And I think it’s a smart thing to do.

In terms of what we’re learning from Ukraine, lots of things in terms of the use of information, in terms of how more broadly we share information with allies and partners.  You saw this in the run-up to the war.  You continue to see this now.  We’re a lot more transparent, I think, with sensitive information with our allies and partners than perhaps we have been in the past. 

And so I think that clear and present danger always brings change.  I think in this case, you’re seeing it in terms of how we’re sharing information, in terms of how we’re thinking tactically, again, learning war and how we absolutely have to be more agile and flexible, and that we can’t put all our eggs in one basket with respect to a certain platform or weapon system.  We have to be more diverse.  We have to be more distributed.  So we’re learning those things.  We’re learning those things from how the Ukrainians are fighting on the ground.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  We saw early on a surge in naval forces to the European theater.  Can we expect – I mean, maybe not a surge to that degree – but can we expect any other changes in Navy operations on account of the war?

ADM. GILDAY:  I just think that there will be a continued high demand for naval assets.  Case in point is Ford has a scheduled deployment next year.  We sent her out this fall for a reason.  And it has a lot to do with what’s going on in Russia-Ukraine.  So there are allies and partners that are going to be out there operating with us in concert.  We will not be out there alone.  It makes us stronger, more powerful.  And I think it sends a stronger message to the Russian president in terms of who he’s potentially dealing with.

MS. ECKSTEIN:  Wonderful.  Well, this has been such a lovely discussion.  I really appreciate your time, Adm. Mike Gilday.  Thank you so much for being here.  And thank you so much to the Atlantic Council for hosting this conversation.

ADM. GILDAY:  Thank you.  Thanks, Ms. Eckstein.


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