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U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday participates in a media availability at the Paris Naval Conference alongside Chief of the French Navy Adm. Pierre Vandier and Royal Navy Adm. Sir Ben Key, First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff of the United Kingdom. Jan. 18, 2023.
VANDIER: Thank you for coming to the conference – this is the first time we have come together with IFRI for this kind of event, which co-organized with IFRI. And so the idea, as I told in the session, was to crosscheck our (inaudible) to be sure that what we are thinking about is known, and is challenged by others. And so that gives us momentum in society -- to develop our subjects, as far as what happens is, in open seas, is not that well known by all citizens because it's covered by secrecy. It's, it's far from media. And so that was the idea [to put all these goals into context]
Specifically speaking about what happens in Ukraine. And to this day was very interesting to see that even our land conflict has a maritime dimension, and that was the case with the Black Sea issues; with the Baltic, etc. And so I think that – I thought – it was a success, and so I hope we will be able to repeat that next year; getting some other friends around the table. And anyway…
MODERATOR: Questions from…
AFP (ZAMORA): From AFP news agency. I've started with an initial question on Ukraine. After almost one year of high sea intensity conflicts, what has been one of the main lessons you've learned on the nature of the world, and what has changed in your strategic and political views? And what are your strategy and expectations for the year to come? Because a second year of the (inaudible)…
VANDIER: So my point of view, if we look at all the sequences of the naval aspect of the conflict, we can see quite all the tactics that have been played from the use of halted operations, mining, come to mind – the blockade, using drones for attacking (inaudible) forces, use of maritime platform, the Battle of Snake Island -- all these things are [part of the formula] of maritime warfare. So, nothing new, but the range of what has been done shows that the dimension of the maritime aspect of this war.
Would Odessa have been caught -- the turn of the war would have been made. And so that was very important to have this free port.
The second lesson, and we'll discuss that today is the OODA loop. The speed of learning – and it's really something we share – the speed with which you first you take lessons and then you can advance the next day more is something which is disruptive. And so it's really impressive to see the Ukrainians have been good at that.
VANDIER: If I may say, I think Ukraine is playing something which was like the total war, all the resources are committed in that war. And they do what they can every day. It's not the case for the Russia, which has set up tools, which are not all of them, are employed. And so the question is, would they use new tools or not in the next month?
KEY: I would just add one point to respond to Adm. Vandier’s response…what it has also demonstrated over the last year will continue to be true. So whilst this appears to be a war for the occupation of land, the determination of outcome has a very strong maritime dimension. The loss of Odessa would have strangled the Ukrainian economy because of its inability to export grain. And that would also, then, have created huge food shortage in countries many thousands of miles away from Ukraine. And, therefore, we have to be – I am not someone who sees this as a statement that [the] Ukraine war reinforces the need for continental strategies, and that the talk of a maritime global connected commons no longer really applies. Even in something that has been contained to a small region, the maritime implications of not having secure sea lines of communication are considerable, and will impact international community.
GILDAY: Well, not only to add to the maritime perspective I think, but just more broadly, I think one thing we should all take away is the importance of the will to fight. And it is rare for a single theme or idea to unite an entire country. And I think that the Ukrainians desire to maintain democracy – something that perhaps is taken too much for granted. And to fight for their freedom is impressive, and down to every single person in their society. And I think the role that the media plays – that you play – and keeping this in front of the world every day – is critically important so that we don't lose sight of the support that they need, the moral support and also, of course, the resources that they need to contend with.
NAVAL NEWS (VAVASSEUR): Admirals, can you please each share your vision or definition of “interoperability” and “interchangeability?” And does it mean, for example, procuring the same proper resources?
KEY: So, to my mind, it does not mean procuring the same piece of kit, because in doing so, we lose resilience, and we lose broader innovation. And one of the themes of the conference has been about the need to adapt at the speed of relevance.
Interoperability and interchangeability mean to me two things. One that we have a flow of ideas moving very seamlessly, where we have set to one side some of the traditional senses of classification, so that the practitioners can continue to communicate and share their thinking at the front edge – of the leading edge – and that national concerns about protection of information between militaries are set as much as possible to one side… because as Adm. Vandier has made very clear in his presentation, it is the ability to operate at a quicker cycle of decision making than the adversary that is absolutely key to being able to secure operational advantage.
That is not to say that we shouldn't be able to operate in close company with each other, and we continue to invest in opportunities where our ships can operate and move between international task groups without any sudden loss or capability for the commander. It means as we have seen, between myself in 2021, that we have the United States F-35’s flying from HMS Queen Elizabeth and we have also seen American and French jets operating from each other's carriers. And we do that with confidence— not just to take a photograph – but actually because you can deliver warfighting advantage. That gives commanders enormous flexibility.
And so that is the kind of tactical manifestation of interchangeability. The interoperability, which is a loosely defined term, is actually that we can move collectively faster than our adversary can. And then we secure the space that we need to prevail.
VANDIER: Warfare is a continuous process. So you have new assets, you have new technology, new procedures, new tactics. So because we do not work each day together, but we can control we share something. So the process is first to develop things, you know, then let the others know and share and conference, and see if it's feasible to do things together.
And then to establish tenants, technical operational standards, especially the procedures. So it's much more than buying or building something together. It's employing together capabilities, which are, one day, one moment of that development, fitted to be interoperable. And so they can pick a new plug -- the plug is not only mechanical plug, or it's not only digital plug, it's a concept plug. And so then we can operate in the same theater. Just consider that the naval force – the width of the requirement is thousands of kilometers. And so we are not all the time on the same neck in the same contact, but the strategy and the effects have to be synchronized, and that this is interoperability.
GILDAY: One other aspect of that is a step above the tactical to the operational level, where our staffs can operate together seamlessly, as well. So if we do – and sometimes it happens quickly when you step into crisis or conflict – our staff have to be able to work together well.
So I would point to examples, like most recently, our work together in the prosecution of Russian submarines. So we do that with a very, very high degree of professional competency. And we do that – not only because for all reasons that the admiral stated at the tactical level – but also at the operational level. Another very good example of that was the strikes against Syrian chemical facilities a few years ago, where those strikes were primarily executed from the maritime. They were done with precision, and they were done with a very high degree of collaboration across the three nations that are represented at this table.
INDEPENDENT JOURNALIST (WILLET): As it relates to that same question…put it like one can imagine that putting an aircraft wing or even a single aircraft, on board somebody else's aircraft carrier requires an awful lot of planning and an awful lot of logistics, weapons, same fuel, everything else. But building up on all the points that you've all made about how you can do interchangeability with the right sort of planning. Can you –things hotter now than they have been for some time – can you foresee urgent operational requirements, for example, that may emerge?
Say we need to have a carrier with an aircraft here, we have a platform, we have not the right aircraft, or the right number of aircraft, that you can do that kind of integration that you have between your two carriers or your two carriers with their aircraft— can we do it faster? Are there ways that it can be done more quickly if it needed to be?
GILDAY: I think potentially we can accelerate timelines if we needed to. I think a fundamental piece of this for interoperability and interchangeability is that it's all grounded on trust. We have at our level – and it permeates down our chains of command – we have explicit trust in each other. And I think that's fundamental. And that's something that the Russians don't have. And that's something that the Chinese don't have. And that's an asymmetric advantage that we bring to the table.
INDEPENDENT JOURNALIST (ZACCOUR): I know there's politics and politicians and then there’s you, but was there any fallout or has there been any consequences of a political row over the AUKUS deal for you on an operational level or relationships?
VANDIER: I would say no, in my view. So, my responsibility is to set policies to be prepared to go to an operational [environment], so in my in the range of my responsibilities, I would say AUKUS has no impact.
GILDAY: I would say no. I think one of the important things about military-to-military – in this case naval-to-naval naval – relationships is that we tend to be a shock absorber, so it doesn't matter what the political environment is. The relationship that we have is grounded on professionalism. We've got a job to do. You would expect as citizens of – irrespective of nation – that we act professionally in conducting our nation’s business and protecting national security interests and maintaining prosperity, trade, trade routes, unimpeded access to markets, for our economies, and that's what we're focused on.
KEY: When I took over as First Sea Lord, one of the points that Adm. Vandier made to me – which has really stuck in my mind – and I now understand the truth of it – is that as the professional heads of our respective services, we have an obligation to maintain a depth of relationship that can endure political turbulence.
And when I look at the implications of Brexit, for instance, for the United Kingdom, whatever we thought about that did not affect one job. The fact that the Marine Nationale and the Royal Navy, we're still only separated by a few miles of sea. And whatever happened we were going to have to work together because we had a shared commitment to peace and security on the high seas, for those who trade. And so we are invested – I think as both my colleagues have said – we are invested in professional relationships that can endure. Clearly we have to respect political direction -- that's important – you know, we serve our political masters – but we have to think long term because as we've all seen, political winds can shift on a regular basis.
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