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Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday speak to media after their remarks at the 2023 Sea-Air-Space Exposition Navy League Luncheon, April 4, 2023.
CDR COURTNEY HILLSON: Good afternoon, so we will go ahead and start with one question each and one follow up and get to as many questions as time permits. Go ahead, we’ll start with Caitlin.
REPORTER: So is this on its own task force or it's just there's going to be directly like under Fourth Fleets command? How's it going to be like structured?
CNO: It’s going to be integrated into the existing command structure and into the existing staff. So intelligence, operations, plans, manpower, so it will all be integrated in. So we wanted to take a different approach, rather than a taskforce this time, because as I mentioned, we're integrating additional sensors into the into the battlespace and we think this is another way to normalize it
SECNAV: And for some time now, Fourth Fleet’s been working with the Fifth Fleet to make this transition, take maximum effect of the lessons we've learned out there. And we've also been baking some of it into the budget as well too. So we have resources started to kick it off, and it'll really kick off as the CNO said with UNITAS in July of 2023 using again manned and unmanned technology together.
REPORTER: Awesome, and to follow up on that -- when do you expect it to be fully established?
SECNAV: Oh, never.
The utilization of manned and unmanned technology will go on forever. And so we're going to be constantly evolving our concepts of operations. There'll be a point obviously, where we will have implemented it with Fourth Fleet initially, but they'll be constantly evolving as the threat evolves as well to whether it's the tactics used by drug runners or the tactics used by illegal fishermen. But the top, the goal here is to have far better ISR across the entire area of operations so that we can actually deter the flow of drugs into the United States, as well as help our allies and partners in the ever challenging situation that they have with regards to illegal fishing. So few of them have to ban(?) resources to be able to aggressively go after these illegal fishermen. You know, we're trying to provide that ISR backbone and allow them to integrate into it with us. So that we can work collaboratively as we have in Fifth Fleet.
CNO: Task Force 59 was iterative so we did almost 20 exercises, right before we settled on the fact that our goal was going to be to get to 100 unmanned platforms in the theater by July of 2023 with six nations pitching in. So as the Secretary mentioned, we're going to kick off during UNITAS. We're going to want to bring in allies and partners, we're going to want to do this iteratively. One of the important things here, as Secretary alluded to is the fact that we're learning so much from the bottom up from the tactical level. It's informing what we do with the operational strategic level in terms of investments. Typically, when we buy ships and aircraft we do that the exact opposite framework, right, where we're driving down requirements down to the tactical edge. We're learning a lot here in terms of how we're doing it and it's informing I think us in a much better way in terms of getting after this and delivering capability fast.
REPORTER: Timeline question and Columbia question. Taiwan presence and the United States, my editors wanted me to ask you this… if in the next couple of years, Taiwan is invaded by China, what capabilities does the US Navy need to have resident now first and by 2027. And on Colombia, now that you disclosed last week, that the schedule margin has essentially going with 10% delay? What signs metrics will you be watching to see whether the contracted delivery schedule is starting to slip?
CNO: So we're watching it on a monthly basis, we get briefed on the progress with Columbia. As the Secretary mentioned last week, right now, the contract delivery is at four months. Our goal is 78 months. So what we're doing is giving ourselves some margin. The Secretary – what the Secretary stated was that we're 10% behind on the 78 month, the accelerated goal. Our goal is to get that back to 78 months so we buy back that margin.
SECNAV: And I was prepared to answer that question. I thought he [CNO] was going to talk about Taiwan.
When I was making reference to the 10% slip, basically, it was on the accelerated schedule, it is basically a six month window essentially.
With regards to Taiwan. Look, our goal is not to go to war with China. We want to do everything that we can from an entire Department of Defense, from an entire joint force, working with all our allies and partners to deter China from ever considering the invasion of Taiwan. We want to provide as much defensive and offensive capabilities in the Indo Pacific and around the globe for that matter, so that basically President Xi wakes up every single day and says, hmmm not today, because the cost of actually taking military action against Taiwan will be too heavy for us to bare from an economic perspective, from a political perspective, from a military perspective. And so we are our national security strategy is, you know, focus singularly that singularly but focus very much on China and the Indo Pacific in addition to the challenges that we faced with Russia and Ukraine, honestly.
CNO: Can I mention for a second just in terms of the modernization investments we're making? So as you know, about a third of the fleet forward on any given day, so about 100 ships, so based on the fact that 70% of those are going to still be in the water 10 years from now, what are we doing to make those ships more capable, more lethal? So with Virginia class submarines, we'll be delivering block five with VPM right here and then we'll putting hypersonics on those. We continue to evolve the lethality of our heavyweight torpedo and the undersea -- XL UUV prototype in the water this year, four to follow the following year. On the surface, maritime strike Tomahawk investments and SM-6. Frigate being delivered in 2026, Flt III DDGs, SEWIP on DDGs, and carriers with an EW capability advanced radar, right, then you look at the airwing -- we're doing life extensions on super hornets right now to give him 10,000 hours and a third of the price of new you’re getting a block three super hornet. We’re integrating F-35 4th and fifth gen at the same time. MQ-25. Block buys of LRASM. Block Buys of AARGM. So we are putting capability out there every year, every month. That gives us a more reach, bigger punch thanks.
REPORTER: Just to kind of follow up moving forward on an unmanned idea so large surface, large unmanned surface vehicle medium, unmanned surface vehicle we've had some test contracts out there, there's some prototypes out there. So you said three to four years until you know under contract, what do y'all what else y'all need in terms of requirements and sort of understanding the space to go and bring this into the fleet because if this is the future, what's the path forward?
CNO: The CDD is being developed right now to deliver in 23 that actually lays out lays out the specific requirements for LUSV. As I mentioned out there on stage within two months, we're doing land-based engineering testing. And so we're doing that instead of standing it up in Philadelphia right now with an engineering plant that we know we want to go after, what we're doing based on the CDD requirements is we are having industry based on our specs do the testing and we'll decide how we're going to put that engineering plan together and then make the investment in a land based test site up in Philly. We'll run that engineering plant just like we've done with DDG just like we intend to do with frigate.
REPORTER: So two quick related questions on your unmanned announcement. Can you just give us a sense of you know, when you get to UNITAS what does this initial integration actually looks like? Is this a matter of you know, you're handing forcefully, you know, X number of capabilities, and they're gonna start using those in their day to day operations? And potentially CNO, about a year or two ago you stood up the Unmanned Task Force (UTF) led by can't think of his name right now,
CNO: It’s led by Admiral Conn right now and Michael Stewart.
REPORTER: That’s it Michael Stewart.
CNO: But it’s in the N9.
REPORTER: But anyways, you know, from our perspective, they haven't been quite as much in the sunshine as Taskforce 59. Can you just offer a little bit on kind of, you know, what, what are they doing and how did they feed into this?
CNO: Yeah, so they're doing a lot of the spiral testing with payloads. Right. So when you think about swarming, loitering, munitions, you think about those I mentioned, very briefly -- classified capabilities. That's what the Unmanned Task Force is working, primarily in the classified space on lethal capabilities as well as command and control enhancements that are going hand in glove with overmatch. I just can't talk about it more specifically than that. And so we're still putting -- the final planning is going on with the respect to UNITAS, more to follow from the Fourth Fleet Commander in terms of what that's going to look like. The timeframe is July to get that rolling.
SECNAV: I think it's fair to say that some of those activities will contribute to the medium unmanned surface vehicles, large unmanned surface vehicles capability.
REPORTER: Thanks. At the McAleese conference, you suggested that you were somewhat reluctant to deploy or to test in large ways unmanned systems in the South China Sea, as opposed to the CENTCOM AOR or now SOUTHCOM AOR. Can you speak to why that reluctance exists and when you do begin to deploy unmanned systems in mass in the South China Sea, what that might look like and how it might be different.
CNO: So I think to your last question, I think that's a step that we're not ready to talk about yet. With respect to what that looks like. I still think we have a lot to learn with respect to a relatively benign environment. And I mentioned Hey, we're still learning a lot here. We want to scale this south. The Southern Command AOR seemed like a perfect environment for us to do this. And to get after this, as the Secretary mentioned, those real world missions that were responsible for with respect to counter trafficking as well as the illegal and unregulated fishing.
SECNAV: And while we can't get into the classified world, let me assure you that we will actually deploy unmanned systems whether they be in the air, up on the surface, under the sea, as soon as they're ready to deploy anywhere in the world.
REPORTER: Is there any timeline on when we might see like a Sea Hunter route in the South China Sea or something like that?
CNO: No, we have no timeline for that. We have been doing testing as you know, during major exercises including RIMPAC. And we expect to do more with allies and partners as those as that dialogue continues. I think today's announcement might be a harbinger for you know, for, for a more of a call to action if you will for others to join us.
HILLSON: Yes [pointing to reporter]
REPORTER: Thank you. Can you just to give us an idea of kind of-- of the scope of this, for the unmanned systems that are going to be integrated in the Fourth fleet? Can you say how many are going to be participating in the UNITAS exercise? And then is there kind of a larger force (inaudible)? I know you mentioned for Task Force 59 -- it's kind of 100 USVs. Do you have any kind of similar force level plans?
CNO: No, not yet. I think it'll evolve as I mentioned earlier. I think it's going to be informed by the progress that we see by getting an understanding of the battlespace you want to cover and what makes the most sense with respect to numbers. We're just not at that point yet. So we'll be doing some learning and the good thing about this capability is we can scale it fast.
SECNAV: And I think it's fair to say whatever they want to start small and build upon it, obviously. And so you know, focus perhaps on experimentations first and expand beyond that. The future then is (inaudible)
REPORTER: For UNITAS then do you have the force level?
CNO: Oh, not yet. But more to follow from Fourth Fleet, as they are doing their final planning now.
REPORTER: Okay, great. And just in terms of project overmatch, you've noticed that there are plans to scale this. Can you to talk about just you know, maybe which unit you know, I know the [USS] Carl Vinson is kind of doing this initial test work is the plan to roll it out to another what sort of the next step once you kind of finish up what you're doing with Vinson and other carrier battle groups.
CNO: I think it's fair to say I want to wait and see what kind of success hopefully we see with Vinson, and that's going to inform how quickly and how broadly we scale or not. You know, if we still have work to do, then we're gonna go back and do that work. Again, with all of these decisions, I've been very deliberate so that we don't get too far ahead of our skis and then make big investments and things that we really regret. So, I don't have an answer for you yet. But I hope to talk about that more. We hope to talk about that more after Vinson’s finished.
REPORTER: Thank you. And another quick follow-up on the unmanned announcement. I'm sorry if I missed this in your remarks, but can you share any of the specific platforms that you're going to start with in terms of integrating into Fourth Fleet or if not specific platforms, just the type of capabilities that you're looking at first?
CNO: Air and surface -- but I don't want to talk about specific platforms yet. We're lining those up. Some of them are represented here on the floor [at SAS], but we're still finalizing exactly as I don’t want to get ahead of that too much.
SECNAV: We’re taking lessons from what we picked up on Task Force 59 and what's worked and what hasn't worked.
REPORTER: And you said air and surface, but any sub-surface like undersea?
CNO: That could follow as well. So we have six different unmanned platforms, undersea platforms. So some of those are torpedo launch. There were three to do mine countermeasures. There were two more that do seabed exploration. And so there's another one that has anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability. As I mentioned, some of those are submarine launch[ed] capability. So the other thing that we've been talking about with the Secretary is, we'll be doing some experimenting with motherships as well. And so there's a lot to learn here. We have a lot of opportunities here in terms of unmanned, we're not trying to self-limit.
REPORTER: A very quick clarification. And then my question is, you know, you said three to four years before getting l USV on contract, but the budget documents had an FY 25 procurement, so I was just hoping you could square that. But then my actual question for Task Force 59. One of the keys to success has been all the international partners, both participating and bringing their own vehicles. So I just wonder what talks have been with Central and South American partners to get involved here.
SECNAV: The discussions I've had in my travels in Central and South America is actually to try to discuss this issue with our international partners and [edit for clarification] help them understand that this really provides a great return on investment on their investment in their countries, right. And the enemy knows no borders as well, too. So illegal fishing crosses many borders. And we need all of those nations to work together and sort of this mesh, open architecture network, basically so that we're sharing intelligence across all countries and then you know, Mexico, for example, actually builds their own drones. So they internalize that capability, are building their own drones. And we're learning from each other. They've actually visited here, I visited there -- their version of their office of Navy research and to discuss the different possibilities of us collaborating together and effectively.
CNO: Megan, I’ve forgotten that you know the budget better than I do…
CNO: You are right, so I should have said two to three instead of three. So, the aim point with the land-based testing -- we're going to do with the engineering plant configuration is to begin that within two months to finish it in [FY]24, so it informs a potential procurement [FY]25.
REPORTER: Okay, perfect. Just wanted to make sure my math was in place.
REPORTER: What's been the level of collaboration or lessons learned with the Army's Task Force 39 effort and maybe how some of those lessons learned gone to you know, your plan now to expand this to new AOR?
CNO: So 39 – you’re talking about Project Convergence?
REPORTER: Yeah, and then I believe the Army's also dealt with one in CENTCOM there?
CNO: Okay, they might I'm not tracking very closely. But I will say this, the CENTCOM commander has stuff going on in the air. The maritime, and on the ground, allowing those three components tightly weaved together. I just haven't been tracking 39 closely, but it wouldn't, it wouldn't surprise me. We have joint officers all the time coming through Task Force 59, as well as allies and partners to learn more about what we're doing.
REPORTER: Are you seeing potential joint interest as it relates to potentially expanding to a new AOR and going Yeah, absolutely.
SECNAV: Especially we can. Yeah, absolutely, certainly amongst the Navy [and] Marine Corps, first and foremost, but across the entire joint force as well. This is about our contribution to the joint force is what it is. And so the Secretary of Defense himself is very excited by Task Force 59 and the initiatives that we're taking [about for] the Department of Navy. And we're all expected to work very closely with the Air Force and the Army and every which way we can to minimize redundancy and learn from each other's lessons and approach this from a very mature acquisition, you know, process basically moving forward.
CNO: One of the things that came up yesterday during the [Service] Chiefs panel was sealift. And so, one of the things that we talk to the Marine Corps about all the time with respect to distributed maritime operations is how we're going to sustain it. We do see a great potential in leveraging unmanned and a lea-follow like manner with perhaps manned and unmanned in order to sustain a force forward. So if you think about what we're doing in the air with next generation, where you would have a quarterback that would be a manned attack air with unmanned as, as his or her wingman, same kind of approach, we think there's a lot of potential…
SECNAV: And a lot of potential to like I say out there actually for small businesses and medium sized businesses to invest and work with our Office of Strategic Capital, as well to you know, as you heard Admiral Foggo say —basically the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition & Sustainment… I briefed him on our project, on our way forward, on our vision, and he's very enthusiastic to sort of embrace this in every possible way, including you know projects that could develop with (inaudible) for example, DDTRE (?) example.
HILLSON: We have time for two more questions. John.
REPORTER: Every single service chief in Congress was asked about two things. Sealift and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). I’ll pick the more explosive question here out of the two — women mariners, it's the lowest percentage by far. You have Lena Benares is a minority woman. Who is running the traineeship program [Merchant Marine?]. And we have so many women in maritime but they don't have the publicity. They don't have the press corps they're not on 60 minutes and such. So what lessons can you guys teach MARAD so we can boost those minority and women numbers? Because we can we can't build the ships we know that. Need the force and we're missing half of our things and you guys are leading so…
SECNAV: Off to a good start, you have Ann Phillips there.
SECNAV: But no look, I am Secretary of the Navy. I'm very proud of the investments that we've made and recruiting momentum [in the] Department of Navy — into the Navy and the Marine Corps. There's much more to do. We actually need tough women to join the Navy and the Marine Corps. Okay, and I've been encouraging that at every meeting on that where we talked about recruiting [and] we talked about retention. They're contributing immensely to our Navy in every possible way. As warfighters, they are across all the different domains that the Navy has today. You know, I graduated from the Naval Academy in 1983 and my class is the first class to actually have women as first class midshipmen at the Naval Academy. Here we are 40 years later, it's been a long road, but boy, we're finally at the point where I hope that we're making a whole lot more momentum. We have senior female officers at the head of our navy our vice [Adm. Franchetti]. You know, as [edit: for] female, I looked at the Marine Corps — we have three female generals as well too. And I think the future is bright for women to come join the Navy and Marine Corps and make the contributions, that they can make so effectively, to our national security and every way that we're tracing it across the board.
REPORTER: Can you on any way can we can
CNO: I’ll just say take a look at… one thing we could share with them perhaps — we've learned a lot from them, perhaps. From us, they could learn how we manage our talent and we're always trying to improve on that. But we've really tried to develop a force that looks like the rest of the country and attract that talent, but then you've got to nurture it and manage it well.
SECNAV: You got to get the message into the high schools, right. Yeah. You know, and so that's tough challenge.
REPORTER: They don't know the Merchant Marine.
SECNAV: Exactly. You know, it's tough, but we got to keep trying and we got to keep you know, advocating on their behalf as well too, because it's, it's so important to our national security in general. Thanks.
HILLSON: Alright, last question.
REPORTER: Switching gears to [amphibious ships]. We've heard a lot over the last year so in general about industrial base capacity, how you need more that you also need to keep it stable, the workforce, the supply chain, but we're also hearing on the amphib line that you're pausing it to do this study, but you know, there's no suggestion in the FYDP that you’re going to buy any more of these ships, and those two things seem to be at cross purposes. So how do you justify those two things and moving forward, giving industry a consistent demand signal while doing this pause?
SECNAV: There's two studies that are at play here. They’ll hopefully come to a conclusion sometime in June or early July timeframe — that’s the BFSAR, obviously the battle force assessment, and as well as the cost analysis that's being done by the Secretary of Defense and CAPE. And I think both once those are concluded they will inform our decisions for President Budget 25. Based upon 25 —the next cycle — and I believe that we probably will see more amphibious ships, come PB25 and beyond.
REPORTER: Everybody, I mean, what do you hear from industry, they look at the FYDP and they say there's no ships in five years, like what, how are they supposed to, you know, manage their workforce?
CNO: it's a 25 buy right. 25 buy. And so it's going to be informed by those two studies that end in June, so there's still time here. You know what we've said publicly is we agree on the 31 requirement, we agree on leveraging the multi-year procurement in terms of doing bundle buy, and hopefully, you know, this study that ends in June [BFSAR] informs these next steps. I think that the contract that the Secretary just signed on Friday and LPD-32 is a real move in the right direction in terms of price point.
SECNAV: So there's also 250 million advanced procurement for LPD-33. We'll see what the Congress does as they conclude the 23 appropriations [and] authorizations as well too. So I think that there will be sufficient amount of work that will remain until the PB 25 decisions actually gets made.
HILLSON: That's all the time we have. Thank you everyone.
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