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WEST 2023 Media Availability

19 February 2023

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday speaks with media following WEST 2023, in San Diego, California, Feb. 16.

CMDR. COURTNEY HILLSON: Alright, we are going to be limited to about 10 minutes. So we'll get to as many questions as we possibly can. All right, who wants to start? Go ahead, please.

USNI (Mongilio): Hi, Heather Mongilio with USNI News.

CNO ADM. GILDAY: Hi, Heather.

MONGILIO: So I just saw that the Navy put out its operational standard guidance for COVID-19.


MONGILIO: And so now all Sailors that don't have the vaccine are considered operational and deployable. Any comments on that? And also, any thoughts on whether the Navy's going to be pursuing reinstation for Sailors?

GILDAY: So we're following OSD’s guidance, which is obviously consistent with the law in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). So, I would tell you that we will continue to monitor very closely our fleet concentration areas with respect to COVID levels, because we want to be – particularly if there's a new strain of COVID – we want to make sure that we have enough of the supplies on board – like masks and those kinds of things – that if we have to – if we have to revert back to the way we're doing things before the vaccine, that we're able to do that fairly quickly.

MONGILIO: And just quickly as a follow up – the SECNAV, before the NDAA, had said that there's going be two classes of Sailors, those who are vaccinated and those who are not vaccinated. Do you think this guidance kind of gets against that?

GILDAY: It's consistent with the law. So we are not creating a – in my view – creating a distinction between both of those.

USNI: Thank you.

GILDAY: You bet.


CHRIS CAVAS: Hi, Sir. Can you talk a bit about some Chinese activities lately in the western Pacific? We know there's a lot of generic stuff out there. They're being more aggressive. They've been making wider forays out to Guam and past – can you talk about characterize what you've been seeing in the last month or three from the Chinese?

GILDAY: I think you've seen increasingly more aggressive behavior after then-Speaker Pelosi’s visit.

So the missile shots, I think, were concerning –particularly for partners, Allies like the Philippines, where some of those missiles landed either very close to or within their exclusive economic zones (EEZ), as an example. There was a lazing incident just this past week, against the Philippines as well. And so those kinds of activities, those kinds of aggressive activities, by the Chinese, we think, highlights the points that we've been trying to make all along with respect to their aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, against their neighbors.

CAVAS: Have there been any more incidents coming out? Going around Guam? That sort of thing? What are you seeing there?

GILDAY: Haven't seen that – haven't seen that lately. Have seen them in a few exercises where they, where they've headed east, but haven't seen any massing of forces in that in that area specifically.


GILDAY: Hi, Sam. Good to see you.

LaGrone: One of the big themes that kind of keeps coming up at this conference is baking in the requirements correctly, right? So that's been, you know, you've got three big major acquisition programs kind of coming at you with SSN(X), DDG(X), and NGAD.

Looking at those, and thinking about how to do that, without really re-litigating Zumwalt or littoral combat ship (LCS), or any of those other things. Where are you all at in terms of trying to figure out how to build in the sustainment costs versus the actual leading edge capability? You could have, you know, 5% more, you know, radar output or engineer output for the interface, but it's going cost that much more down the road. And, you know, NAVAIR made that point, ‘80% of my expenditure is going into maintaining these kind of like exquisite systems.’

So what are you all thinking about? Especially DDG(X)? Is about [inaudible] engineering part of it?

GILDAY: So that's why we're bringing in a diverse group of people. We're bringing in people from Bath, we're bringing in people from HII Ingalls, to get better insights on exactly – besides getting the best design that we can to the capabilities that we need – to take a look at end-to-end sustainment issues that we might face.

So, Sam, it’s part of the it's part of the upfront design. If I could get you together with Adm. Galinis (NAVSEA), I could probably give you more fidelity to that, in terms of how we're doing it.

HILLSON: Please.

Abbott: Richard Abbott, Defense Daily. I saw today that EPF-13 was delivered to the Navy. How important do you think that ship is as you work on the manned unmanned teaming they were talking about in your speech, autonomous capabilities.

GILDAY: Yeah, I think one step at a time. And so, in terms of that ship, it has the capability. But I would integrate it – we will integrate it – to fleet in a very deliberate manner. And so, you know, we won't have a deployment – an unmanned deployment right off the bat. I think what you're going to see in unmanned surface is a phasing – we'll have minimally manned, and then unmanned. We want to make sure we get it right.

And, you know, one ship does not necessarily solve the command and control problems, the engineering reliability problems. And so we're going to want to make sure that we have it right before we move too fast – [both] operationally, and in terms of building more of them.

HILLSON: Justin.

KATZ: Sir, Justin Katz with Breaking Defense. On Ukraine – in the past year, the focus has understandably been on the land war. It's been tanks. It's been on jets. It's been on missiles. There's been some naval elements, but they're not as clearly in the headlines, perhaps. I was wondering, kind of based on what you've seen this past year, what do you think the place of naval warfare is in the fight in Ukraine over the next year? You know, I asked a similar question to ONI yesterday and the point that I took away from him was, he said, Ukrainians have achieved that anti-axis area denial, and that has – that is – going to marginalize how much naval warfare plays a part. I wanted to get your thoughts on that question.

GILDAY: So you've seen the Russian effectiveness from the maritime has been declining, for the very reason that, that the Ukrainians have become better at targeting and using the weapons that that we've provided them. So I think in terms of anti-axis, you hit it right. They've given the Russians – they've limited the Russians maneuverability to put themselves in a better position to shoot. Now, they still have some of the LACMs (land-attack cruise missiles) that they're still firing, but they've been less of a threat directly to the coastline of, of Ukraine.

KATZ: And I'm sorry, LACMs? I didn't catch the abbreviation.

GILDAY: Land attack cruise missile.

KATZ: Thank you.


ZIEZULEWICZ: Hi, Geoff Ziezulewicz, Navy Times. The Navy's HR transformation effort is resulting in disruptions to pay, benefits, retirement paperwork for thousands of Sailors in recent years. You know, are you tracking this? Well, I'm sure you're aware of it, obviously – I didn't mean to imply that. But, you know, they're, you know, by the admission of some other flags has not gone as planned. Are you pretty confident in the path that you know, CNP Cheeseman now has the effort on, and did you want to, you know, offer any comment, into what is, admittedly, a very difficult job in the best of scenarios.

GILDAY: I will. So on both pay and DD 214s, those have both been a “Get Real, Get Better” sprint for us under Adm. Cheeseman. And so in terms of – if I could just give you a discrete numbers – in terms of DD 214s, we have zero Sailors leaving the Navy now without their DD 214. That's not good enough. They need to have their DD 214s 60 days before they get out, at a minimum.

So that's the new aim point for us. And we're trying to find out what the constraints are to being able to have that in their hands at the 60-day point. But we've driven down the, you know, we've driven down the number to zero in terms of those that have separated without, without a 214.

In terms of in terms of travel claims – so our average resolution of a travel claim – of a fully completed travel claim – is now 14 days, the DoD requirement is 30. But that's not good enough, because it takes 60 days to get to the point where you have that finalized travel claim to submit – and then it's processed within two weeks. So again, more work to be done, and finding out what that lag is and getting after it. But I will tell you, Geoff, we are sighted on that and we so we're seeing improvement, we're not satisfied yet, and we owe Sailors better.

HILLSON: Andrew.

DYER: Hi, Andrew Dyer KPBS News. I've talked to Sailors who say that they've been kicked out of the Navy after having mental health problems. What, if anything, is the Navy doing to address mental health of Sailors? And do you think that the fear of career repercussions prevents Sailors from seeking help? And what is being done to address that?

GILDAY: I’ll give you a few examples of things that we're doing. Every deploying destroyer has a chaplain that now deploys with it. Every strike group and every amphibious ready group (ARG) that deploys has a resiliency team. So chaplains, behavioral health technicians, psychologist, wellness experts -- so in the area of physical fitness and diet and so we're trying to take a more holistic approach, and to have those people available for Sailors to connect. In terms of if we would go to, let's say, Groton, Connecticut, or if we go to down to Norfolk, Virginia, you'll see waterfront wellness centers that have psychologists, social workers, behavioral health technicians, for Sailors to, for Sailors to be able to use.

The challenge is still breaking down the stigma to have people have people reach out and use those resources. But that said, there are a lot of other resources available in terms of medical health, telephonic medical help, as an example, if they want to be more anonymous and talk to talk to a counselor, we are trying to focus on connectedness of senior leaders to their Sailors so that we're looking them in the eye and we get a better sense of perhaps when they're having a bad day, and we can help them out.

Not every problem is, not every mental health problem should be characterized as mental health disease, or somebody needs to be hospitalized, in many cases that somebody's having a bad day, and they just needed, they just need to talk to somebody.

On the USS George Washington, we have this resiliency course that we began to offer kind of mid-level supervisors in the fleet. And we tried to do that at a at a much we try to scale it up on board, GW as a pilot program, just to see if we could improve, you know, the ability to stay connected to sales. And so I would tell you, where we're trying to use best practices, wherever weekend, wherever we can find them, whether it's from another service, whether it's from mental health professionals out and out in the commercial world.

DYER: And this message is getting out to the CO level who are often that point of contact with Sailors who are NJPed or when they are discharged?

GILDAY: I think so I can't think of -- perhaps there’s a medical separation where somebody goes, you know, through a process, but we're not trying to in any way avoid helping people. If that's you know, kind of the insinuation. We want to help people -- we don't want to, you know, ignore problems.

HILLSON: And that's all the time we have.

GILDAY: Thank you everyone.


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