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Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday participates in the Sea-Air-Space 2023 Sea Service Chiefs Leadership Panel, April 3.
FRANCIS ROSE: Thank you, Mr. Undersecretary. It’s great to see you. Folks, it’s great to see you again. Thank you very much for participating today.
I want to thank the Navy League for inviting me to be a part of this event again this year. Mike Stevens, very gracious and kind as always. Julia Simpson is just crushing in putting this event together. Jamie Foggo is here somewhere; Jamie, I appreciate your help in preparing me for this event.
A lot of folks that I’ve seen so far today have said: When are you going to be back on television again? And I’m pleased to – a little plug, if you don’t mind. “Fed Gov Today with Francis Rose” debuts on Channel 7 here in Washington April 30th, Sunday mornings at 10:30 every week after that. So I look forward to, hopefully, seeing all of you on the show.
We have microphones in the room for taking questions and I want those questions to be a part of this conversation. I made sure I have my glasses so that I can see when there are people at the microphones to take those questions, and we’re going to begin with a few moments of conversation with each of the chiefs. I have a few questions and then it’s all up to you.
So we will begin, please, with the maritime administrator, Ann Phillips. You have the stage.
REAR ADMIRAL ANN C. PHILLIPS (RET.): All right. Thank you, sir. It’s an honor to be here. It’s an honor to see everyone this morning. Welcome. And I’m thrilled and very humbled to be here with my colleagues Mike Gilday, General Berger, and Commandant Fagan.
So Maritime Administration, let’s talk. Let’s talk about what’s actually going on in the Maritime Administration right now. Our mission is to foster, promote, and develop the maritime industry of the United States to ensure the nation’s economic and security needs are met.
I can tell you that it’s an extremely busy time at the Maritime Administration right now. It’s a small but scrappy agency, about 730 people. A third of them are here in Washington, D.C. A third are at the Merchant Marine Academy; you know the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point. And a third of them are on our fleet support sites around the country overseeing the maintenance of our Ready Reserve Force; our ghost fleet, which the secretary referred to earlier; and our port and infrastructure gateway directors. There are 10 gateway directors around the country.
Our budget is about $2.2 billion in the FY ’24 budget request. About $809 million of that comes from DOD in support of the Ready Reserve Force. The rest comes from DOT, including a substantial influx of funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law in support of port infrastructure development. So just so you know, that’s the things that are keeping us busy.
My top three priorities and, I would add, challenges.
First of all, safety. Safety is the North Star of the department. Safety is certainly our North Star within the Maritime Administration. Safety for mariners at sea is a critical part of what we are working on within the administration.
Along with that we are, as many other agencies are, challenged to find enough mariners. I know the secretary referred to the goodness of serving a career in the military. Well, there’s goodness to serving in a career in the Merchant Marine as well, and we need you. We need mariners. We’re short, and you know that, and we share that need with, certainly, the armed services and many others around the country.
We are working to develop a strategy with the many stakeholders involved in this process. It’s really a whole-of-government process to recruit, train, retain, and reduce barriers to joining the Merchant Marine.
In that end, it’s kind of a two-pronged approach. First of all, practice ship safety, ensuring safety for our mariners at sea. And, secondly, building new training vessels. The national initiative multi-mission support – National Security Multi-Mission Vessel (NSMV) is under construction now in Philadelphia. Four are under construction. All five are authorized and appropriated.
The first ship, Empire State, will be delivered later this summer. If you haven’t seen them, you should come see them. Very interesting and successful program. And I was – as I was telling folks earlier, however, the proof is in the pudding. Once we put to sea, then we’ll know what we truly have. But Philly’s done an exceptional job, and if you haven’t had a chance to get up there to take a look at those ships please do so.
Back to the safety of mariners. In December of 2021, the Maritime Administration – and all credit goes to my current deputy, Lucinda Lessley, who was acting administrator at the time – developed the EMBARC – Every Mariner Builds a Respectful Culture – program. That program was to ensure safety for mariners at sea. If you have served in the military, you’re very familiar with sexual assault prevention and response programs. There was no comparable program in the maritime industry. Now there is. The EMBARC program was put into law in the FY ’23 NDAA – we thank Congress for doing that – and it now requires that in order for our U.S.-flagged vessels to take – (inaudible) – they must be a part of this program. And it gives us some teeth to ensure their interest over time in that we kind of hold a stipend that they receive under the Maritime Security Program.
All – I’m proud to say and thank the industry and labor – all of our operators are involved in the program. Sixteen operators are enrolled, and that makes 140 ships available for cadets to sail on. But, really, in working with our partnership in the Coast Guard, this is ensuring safety for all mariners at sea, not just midshipmen. Our focus is midshipmen because we are concerned about Kings Point cadets and state Maritime Academy cadets going to sea, but this is to improve safety at sea for all mariners.
Why does that matter? Back to the recruit, train, retain, and reduce barriers. We need mariners. Seven percent of the U.S. mariner(s) in the U.S.-flagged fleet are women. We’re very short of women mariners and we’re very short of minority mariners. We want mariners to think that when they go to sea they will be valued based on their experience and their ability and their knowledge and their skills. We don’t want them to be afraid of what might happen to them when they’re out there.
We’re taking this very seriously. And again, we thank Congress and all stakeholders making progress there.
Moving to the Ready Reserve, recapitalizing the Ready Reserve Force is one of our priorities. Secretary Raven mentioned it. We have a fleet of 45 ships and growing that are maintained on a five-day notice to move to provide support to the Transportation Command – General Van Ovost – anywhere in the world in support of our nation’s bidding.
These vessels are stationed around the country. If you’ve seen a gray ship with a red, white, and blue stripe on the stack, that is a Ready Reserve Force vessel. I say that because I spent quite a bit of my years in the Navy wondering what those things were. Now you know.
They activate when called upon. We have nine vessels activated now, eight from the Ready Reserve supporting needs of TRANSCOM, which range from exercises to support for the Ukraine operations. It’s very important that we continue our work to recapitalize these vessels. The average age is 45. I can politely say there are some that are as old as I am, and you will have to guess how old that is.
However, we are working a two-pronged approach right now of the three-pronged strategy developed by the Navy in its document – (inaudible) – the Nation Needs DOD in 2018. The two prongs are service-life extension for some of the vessels in particular and buying new vessels – used vessels, new to us – through the Vessel Acquisition Manager Program. We’ve purchased two. We have three more coming on board soon. Later this month, we’ll start that process. And we are authorized to buy two a year to continue to recapitalize this force so that we can focus on working on with more modern and more current vessels as we move forward.
The third prong would be to buy – to build new. We received an authorization in the 2023 NDAA to do that. We did not receive an appropriation. And I want to get that out there that is considered as an option.
So, finally, for infrastructure development – I mentioned that earlier – we run a Port Infrastructure Development Grant Program. Thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure law, there’s an infusion of $450 million a year over five years. This is the second year that we will have that amount of money plus an appropriation on order – on offer. Last year, we had almost $700 million on offer and were able to dispense 41 grants for 22 states and one territory.
This grant program is focused on improving movement of goods throughout our nation’s ports. Roughly 25% of ports that are awarded grants from this program every year are strategic sealift ports, which are of great interest to our Department of Defense because that is how we would outflow materials in support of our nation’s needs.
So that’s what we’re doing at the Maritime Administration right now. There are other grant programs as well, which Secretary Raven mentioned, but I want to focus on PIDP because that is the one that has so much capacity right now. And the notice of funding opportunity is posted. Grants close April 28th. We look forward to passing out 600 and some million dollars again this year. Thank you.
MR. ROSE: Administrator Phillips, thank you very much. Appreciate that.
Commandant Fagan, the floor is yours, ma’am.
ADMIRAL LINDA FAGAN: All right. Thank you. It’s a privilege to be here with everyone this morning. I very much look forward to the Sea-Air-Space every year, to the conversations, questions, opportunity to talk a little bit about our nation’s Coast Guard.
I’ve been serving just short of a year now as commandant and have grown to appreciate even more the capacity and capability that the United States Coast Guard brings to the nation as a maritime force and to partners and allies, truly, around the world.
My predecessors often talked about the global demand on the Coast Guard. We are a global Coast Guard. We’re a global force. Coast Guard men and women are serving literally around the world in support of every one of the combatant commanders. So whether it’s fast response cutters based in Bahrain or a national security cutter based in Honolulu that’s operating in the Western Pacific alongside our Navy and Marine counterparts, we truly are able to bring our capability, authorities, capacity, culture, and leadership to maritime governance problem sets around the world.
And so that demand has never been higher, which as I consider our priorities as an organization, the largest acquisition programs since World War II we are in the midst of now and we remain committed to those acquisition projects. So, for example, polar security cutter, the ’24 president’s budget funds us through a long lead time for the third polar security cutter. We are an Arctic nation, and it is critical to our national sovereignty and security that we field a polar security cutter. We’re building it with the joint program office with the Navy. And we’ll continue to commit to that activity as well as all of the other new acquisitions that we have going on.
Our role in the homeland – the maritime administrator talked about MARAD and their role, and we help ensure the security and resiliency of the maritime transportation system in the country. It contributes $5.4 trillion to our U.S. economy. Truly, our well-being, our economic prosperity as a nation relies on a resilient, reliable port infrastructure and access, and the Coast Guard plays a key role in ensuring those cargo and goods flow safely and securely for the nation.
Your Coast Guard is involved in cyber. We have cyber protection teams and cyber mission teams that we’ve stood up. We’ve been investing in that capacity not just for ourselves and our own IT infrastructure, but to begin to partner with industry again in the ports and harbors of the country to ensure that cyber is not a weak point for those goods and flow.
My highest priorities – I’m not going to unpack sort of the Coast Guard strategy that’s out there, but you know, the highest priority is around people. You’re going to hear it, I think, from all of us – that, well, it’s great to be on budget for new assets, new ships, and aircraft; if we don’t make the investments in the people, it won’t – the aircraft won’t operate, the ships won’t be able to maneuver. We’ve been investing in recruiting capacity/marketing strategies to bring people into the service.
One thing, I recently was in Cape May, our enlisted accession point, and graduated a company there. I will tell you that the talent we are getting is second to none. I was incredibly impressed with this group of young people. They knew why they joined the service. They knew what the value proposition was. They were excited to be in uniform and knew that they had joined something bigger than self and that they would be making a difference for their nation as they – as they serve. That talent is out there, but each of us is – you know, needs to inspire that generation into service, into uniform, into government service.
So we’re working a lot of personnel policies that help eliminate barriers to joining, eliminate barriers to staying, and then retaining. And part of that investment focus is around childcare, health care, medical access, things that become critical to the families that we are retaining.
We’ve got a number of initiatives going on around data and analytics. I won’t unpack those here, but look forward to the questions.
And suffice it to say your Coast Guard is ready. We’re fully integrated with the other maritime services, and we are campaigning every day here in the homeland and abroad to ensure our nation’s security and our economic prosperity. Thank you.
MR. ROSE: Commandant, thank you very much. Appreciate those comments.
Commandant Berger, the floor is yours, sir.
GENERAL DAVID BERGER: Also thanks to the Navy League for organizing this. This is a great event. We get the benefit of looking out and seeing this audience. It strikes me looking around how many different uniforms are here.
So I’m mentioning that because I’m grateful that all of the international military leaders could make the trip this week. Our strategy depends on you and our alliances and partnerships with you, so I’m grateful you’re here.
Last week, Sergeant Major Black and I – the sergeant major of the Marine Corps and I – went to San Diego, one of the two places where we make Marines. The other is Parris Island. And a few days before that on Friday and Saturday before that, we went to Iwo Jima. And it’s the annual commemoration of that battle, and there were seven veterans of the Battle of Iwo Jima that made the annual trek this year. There aren’t many left.
And I start there because, as the admiral mentioned, if you’re ever frustrated at the discussions and priorities and activities or whatever you want to call them in Washington, D.C., all you have to do is go see where servicemembers are trained or a battlefield where they fought and you realize the focus that they have, and the talent, as Linda said, that we’re fortunate to lead. You’re in very good shape people-wise.
And at this time of year I think you would expect us to talk about budgets and programs and resources, but I’m going to focus on people also. I think for us in the Marine Corps the focus has to be on people because our force design modernization effort is not primarily about equipment. It’s not about formations or how to organize units. The centerpiece for the Marine Corps’ modernization program is the same place that the Marine Corps focus has always been, which is our people – the Marines and their families, and the sailors who serve with us. And that means how we bring them into the service, how we train them, how we educate them, how we develop them, how we retain them. All of that we have to focus on.
And I think sometimes as senior leaders we think we’re doing the right job by talking with Marines or talking with sailors or talking with Coast Guardsmen and -women. But if nothing else, I’ve learned in the past years most important thing most often we can do is to listen, actually, not talk.
If we ask them what’s important to them, it’s not all that complicated. They live somewhere, the barracks or their family housing. And they get up and they work out in the morning at fitness centers. And then they go home and if they have kids they’re going to need to find a place to watch their kids during the day, child development centers. And they’re going to work somewhere in a hangar or a maintenance bay or go to the field. Where they work, where they eat, where they live, all these are things that some people call quality of life but for us I think they’re – they are the centerpiece. They’re the focus, and we must invest in that now. We have to keep the focus on that for years now. We can’t take anything for granted.
Oh, I think if we listen more and understand what their priorities are, one good thing is that this age group from 18 to 30, they are not bashful about telling us anything – if we listen, and they’ll let us know what their priorities are. So I think for me the Marine Corps is in great shape. Our modernization effort is in a good place. But the focus – the primary focus for us is on people.
And I look forward to the questions, sir.
MR. ROSE: General, thank you very much.
I noted backstage, Chief, that this will be our last exchange on stage as the Chief of Naval Operations. I look forward to hearing your comments, sir.
ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY: Thank you, Mr. Rose. Congratulations to you on your new opportunity with your program.
MR. ROSE: Thank you.
ADM. GILDAY: So the Institute – thank you for the Navy League – I’m sorry – thank you for all you’ve done to make this conference come alive this week. It has great potential for great conversations and, I think, a lot of learning.
And, lastly, Undersecretary Raven, thank you for your leadership, sir. We all appreciate it very, very much.
It’s interesting to have us up here today with different perspectives but yet focused on the singular mission, really, and that is in the maritime. And the maritime is beginning to get more contested, more congested by scale, by scope, by range of complexity. And it’s driven us, I think, to search for multiservice, multidomain, multinational, and interagency solutions.
I think that our operations every day, whether it’s Obangame Express, an exercise off the coast of Africa; or whether it is the Makin Island ARG and the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group in the South China Sea operating as a Seventh Fleet battle force right now; together, we see that kind of collaboration every single day.
I appreciate the opening comments of my distinguished colleagues, and I thought that I would – I’d talk about modernization for just a moment to open up – to open up that vector.
So 70% of the fleet that we have today we’ll have a decade from now. And often we talk about numbers with respect to the size of the fleet, and we spend a lot of time talking about readiness including our most important asset, our sailors. But in terms of modernization, when we take a look at what investments that we’re making for the fleet to ensure that we are ready and more lethal – that’s informed by the pacing challenge that is the PRC – I think about six imperatives. And I talk about them in my Navigation Plan, and it not only informs the hybrid fleet of the future but actually what we’re investing in today.
So the first has to do with distance. And I think if you look at our FY ’24 budget, the multiyear procurement authorities that we’re leveraging for bundled buys with weapons with range and speed is going to be vitally important – SM-6, naval strike missile with the Marine Corps, LRASM, AMRAAM with the – with the Air Force, the investment of MQ-25 and that IOC in 2025, and what it does to extend the range and the lethality of a fourth- and fifth-gen integrated airwing at sea. So distance is, first and foremost, very important for us with respect to joint long-range fires.
The second is deception. So how do we maintain our maneuverability and, hence, our survivability? At a classified level, a lot of effort goes into the space and cyber domains and a counter-C5ISRT campaign that we are busy bringing to life for the Navy. Also, battle management aids. And some of you in this audience have helped us to leverage the EW spectrum in a way that we haven’t before to give us more power in that particular domain. I also think about the investments we’re making along with the Air Force and the Marine Corps in the next-generation air wing that we’ll field later on in this decade.
The third pillar is defense. And we talked a little bit about SM-6, Evolved Seasparrow Missile, but also soft kill capabilities as well in the EW arena: the Surface EW Improvement Program – SEWIP – Block 3 that we’re putting on some of our destroyers and our carriers to make them more lethal not only in how they sense the environment, but also in electronic attack.
The investments that we’re making in cyber are also extremely important with respect to – with respect to our ability to maneuver. A whole range of unmanned, as well, brings something to the table with respect to that.
In terms of – the next point I would make is distribution and our distributed fleet with respect to unmanned primarily, what we’re doing right now in fleet battle problems and integrated exercise, leveraging manned and unmanned teaming to bring together a hybrid fleet in the years ahead. We are scaling the operations that we’re doing in the Middle East and scaling them to other AORs soon.
The investments we’re making – if I could just go back to defense for a second, high-powered microwave and directed energy are also not just theoretical, not just aspirational; they’re in the fleet today.
Important for the Marine Corps and for the Navy is delivery. And so our investment in John Lewis-class oilers, there are six in the budget. There were six medium landing ships for the Marine Corps in support of force design. We’re building two sub tenders in this FYDP. We’re building three next-generation logistics ships. We are experimenting with unmanned in terms of how we increase our ability to effectively and efficiently sustain the fleet and the Marine Corps at their forward operating bases.
And, lastly, with respect to position advantage, Project Overmatch is in full swing right now with the Vinson Strike Group off the coast of California. We hope to scale that based on what we hope to see out of that experimentation in the next coming months.
Also, our investment in integrated combat system that allows us to – historically, it’s taken us about eight years to get hardware changes to the fleet and six years to get associated software changes; to completely flip that with software updates within 30 days and hardware enhancements within six months. That’ll completely change our combat systems – those systems and our approach in the future.
So with that, Mr. Rose, I will turn it back over to you and cast off.
MR. ROSE: CNO, thank you very much.
I note that all of you at some point in your remarks, generally upfront, addressed people, and you each referenced to some degree or other investments in people. And, Administrator Phillips, I would like to start with you. Can you elaborate a little bit on the investments that you’re making in people or the investments that you’d like to make in people and how you want to move that forward now?
REAR ADM. PHILLIPS: So thanks for the question. I’ll build on comments I made earlier about the NSMV. And in the maritime world of the – our international U.S.-flagged trading fleet, privately-owned vessels – 85 of them – plus the Ready Reserve Force is how we move forward.
We need people to man those vessels and they need to be U.S. mariners. So, to be able to get those people, you have to train them, and that is what the NSMV that I talked about is predominantly for. It is a multi-mission vessel because it is a national asset. It could be called upon to do the nation’s bidding for other requirements – humanitarian assistance, defense support of civil authorities are two examples that could come up. But they are predominantly training vessels, state of the art, and they will train our future generation of mariners working with our state maritime academies, also working with Kings Point. That is an opportunity to train our licensed mariners.
We are also investing in people’s safety at sea, which I talked about. If you – if you feel that you aren’t going to be safe in an environment, you’re probably not going to sign on for that as a career choice. And so this is a long-needed culture change and mindset shift within the industry. We are seeing industry and labor and stakeholders come forward and embrace this, but this is a whole-of-government set of challenges and there will be a whole-of-government set of solutions.
I think I should also, as I talk about this, remind everyone that these are just the first steps in what we do to move forward as this is an ongoing process and we’re, as I mentioned, very closely aligned with our Coast Guard partners. They are our law enforcement authority. There are items in the Coast Guard Act that help expand upon the EMBARC process that will actually impact all vessels, and that’s very important as well.
The last piece, I think, I would say in the context of people is very similar, General, to your comments. When you listen to mariners and ask them what they want now about their quality of life, they will tell you and it’s pretty simple. They want internet. They want gym equipment. They want good food. And I can tell you, in the Ready Reserve Force good food is not a problem. And they want that connectivity, and they want a modern quality of life. In other words, they want vessels that are well-maintained, that are cared for, and that give them some opportunities to be able to move up, to have an established career path so that they can move forward.
So to do that you need enough vessels to – for them to see that there’s a career path coming. That gets to building these training vessels, but it also gets to things we’re doing like the Tanker Security Program, which will begin to grow U.S.-flagged fleet opportunities and to grow opportunities for different kinds of training requirements over time.
So all this fits together. Got to have people. To have more people, you need more spots for them, which means you need more vessels. And then you need things for those vessels to carry. They have to have cargo. So mandatory carrying by U.S.-flagged commercial vessels of all DOD things, 50% for civilian agencies. But the opportunity to continue to increase that capacity drags – gives us the opportunity to pull more people into the training environment, get them trained up, get them at sea, and get them to see that there is a place for them at sea and a sustained career path over time.
MR. ROSE: Ma’am, thank you for that.
Admiral Fagan, you referenced investing in marketing specifically. How much of that marketing is to people that you want to bring in to the Coast Guard? How much of it is for people that you want to stay in the Coast Guard that have already signed up?
ADM. FAGAN: Yeah. Thank you.
Right now the – you know, the primary focus is on bringing additional people into the force. So, you know, I’ve learned in time – a lot of time in uniform in the Coast Guard, and stunningly, many people in the nation do not know we have a Coast Guard, know what the Coast Guard does or the true opportunity that the service represents. And so there’s an awareness that we need to work to reduce so that a young person in Kansas knows that there’s a Coast Guard and that there’s opportunity to serve in a – in a maritime sector.
So I will tell you those young people that I’ve referenced in Cape May, usually what I’ll – I’ll ask them: How did you find us? And sometimes it’s the internet. Usually it’s just kind of a random encounter either in a recruiting office or in a high school guidance counselor’s office. We need to do better at sparking awareness.
But every one of those kids, when I’ll say, you know, how did you find us, there’s some path to it. But then they all go: If I had known about the Coast Guard, I would have joined much sooner. If I’d known that I could work on aircraft and fly one, you know, as part of my job, had I known about the humanitarian mission, I would have joined sooner. In addition to increasing just recruiting capacity – nine new recruiting offices – we’re standing up Junior ROTC programs as a way – in addition to this sort of additional outreach/advertising to increase awareness about who we are as a service and an organization.
For the workforce that I have now, we’re in – we’re in a good place from a retention standpoint. But if we don’t make investments in what – again, people want the same things. They want a, you know, safe environment to go to work in. They want to know that their families are in adequate housing, that they’ve got access to childcare, that – you know, that they have connectivity. We’re working on those types of investments as well to ensure that the people who are already serving with us have the quality of life and experience that’ll help keep them – keep them in the service. Thank you.
MR. ROSE: Thank you, ma’am.
General Berger, did you hear things from the people that you talk to, or does your team hear things from them, that maybe you didn’t expect, that surprised you about what they want? The things that you laid out seem pretty fundamental, and I wonder if there are other things there that caused your team to say maybe we need to move on that also.
GEN. BERGER: The visible ones that you mentioned – the places where they live, the facilities where they work – those are the visible ones that most people would certainly think about. And we have to put the resources into there, because they aren’t at the standards that all our service members expect, not across the board. We have to raise that.
But to your point, yeah, there are definitely other areas where we have to deliver on expectations that they have. Health care. We have – there has been a contract, an understanding between service members and the nation that if you join the military you’re going to have the very best military care in the world and you’re going to have it accessible to you where you are. And we have to make sure that that’s the case for as long as they serve and if they retire afterwards. We have to deliver on that wherever they are stationed, wherever they deploy. We have to provide them the mental health care, the reproductive health care. I mean, those are all – to us sitting up here, that’s health care, period. We got to make sure we deliver on that.
Quality of life. The other thing probably that most people wouldn’t inherently, intuitively think about. Quality of life for Marines in one key aspect is how well trained they are. If you’re a leader, in other words, winning depends on the very best trained, well-led units you can have. So quality of life means the most realistic training we can provide. We have to put money – we have to resource that, as the CNO said, because that’s our best chance of winning. To have the best equipment possible. So we have to modernize our training and education and bring that into the – today’s date and not the way, perhaps, that we trained 30 years ago. Which was great then, but we have better methods of training now. So we have to evolve that, too.
MR. ROSE: What’s the delta, do you think, General, between where you are today and where you’d like to be vis-à-vis training?
GEN. BERGER: If it’s going to through a course, we have to evolve from all of us check in on the same day at the same classroom, and we’re all going to graduate three months from now no matter what. Nobody does that anymore. We all learn at different paces. And we have to match that. We have to incentivize performance in training and education.
The training itself, what’s the delta? We have to – and we’re partway down this path – we have to be able to link the ships that are training off the East Coast, with an exercise that’s going on in the South China Sea, with something unmanned that’s happening in Fifth Fleet in Bahrain with some Marine unit that’s flying F-35s in Twentynine Palms. We have to tie all that together so that the virtual, live, constructive – all aspects of that are all woven together. That’s how we take it to another level, and we’re headed there. We got to keep the resources behind it or it will fall off again. We can’t let that happen.
MR. ROSE: Commandant, thank you.
Admiral Gilday, you and I have talked about readiness on a number of occasions regarding personnel. Same question as to your colleagues. Where are you investing and where do you want to go? What’s your vision for where the fleet is, in good shape at some point in the future?
ADM. GILDAY: I’ll make two points, the first on training. As the commandant mentioned, we’re making significant investment in live virtual constructive training. So, in other words, being able to tie together ships at sea off the East Coast of the United States, with an ARG that’s in the Middle East, with ships that are tied up pier side that aren’t underway but you would think they’re underway if you’re in a combat information center and you’re working a battle problem. And to make it extremely realistic we are leveraging the technology from the gaming community in Orlando. We’re a generation of gamers. That is the future. We found it to be highly effective. And we’re going to continue on that path. The secretary has supported that very, very well.
The other area is ready relevant learning. To the commandant’s point, the traditional brick and warehouse training that we’ve done is not necessarily the way it needs to be in the future. And so putting the right information in the hands of our sailors and Marines at the right time is what we’re endeavoring to do. And it’s not cookie cutter. It’s more innovative and creative. But that is the path with respect to training.
I would say with respect to talent management what we’re trying to do in the Navy within the enlisted side with Detailing Marketplace is to truly be much more transparent in terms of what’s available to sailors so that if it’s a single sailor or one with a family, they have a much greater – play a much greater role, have much more leverage in deciding what they’re going to do next and how they manage their own career from apprentice to journeyman to supervisor. They’re thirsty for that. We are committed to delivering it. We’re relatively early in this process of delivering that to the fleet, but we’re very optimistic in terms of where it’s headed.
MR. ROSE: Thank you, sir.
GEN. BERGER: Can I just –
MR. ROSE: Please.
GEN. BERGER: One other thought I think that’s relevant to this problem. It’s not necessarily the investment, but part of that realistic training that we’re all talking about has to happen with our allies and partners and this – the secretary of defense and Deputy Secretary Hicks have put the effort behind finding ways to share information and train alongside the people that we have to operate alongside. Sometimes we get in our own way by over-classifying, over-compartmentalizing, and yet we say our strategy is underpinned by allies and partners. You can’t have it both ways.
So I’m glad to – we’re glad to see the last few years of finding ways where we can share information systems and information in a much better way than we could in the past. We have to get to that point. And both Dr. Hicks and Secretary Austin put their shoulders into it. It is paying off.
MR. ROSE: What’s facilitated that, General?
GEN. BERGER: Everything from the most highly compartmentalized programs that we have, of actually putting them under a microscope and do they have to be at the level of classification they’re at? Could we consolidate them to our combat information centers aboard ship and on land where we can – we can’t – we can no longer have this section only for U.S., these screens only for U.S., if you’re going to operate as a team. They’re finding ways not to bend policies but actually to adjust policies within the law so that we can train.
MR. ROSE: Chief.
ADM. GILDAY: Just one follow up on that. I think Ukraine opened up doors with respect to information and intel sharing in an unprecedented way. And I think that has caused us to really take stock in the framework that we have and what the potential is in the future in terms of, you know, turning allies and partners to a greater degree with respect to how we share some of our most sensitive information.
MR. ROSE: Well, I think that’s a good direction to go in and what – how do you see warfighting looking differently, Chief, in five years, 10 years, as a result of what we’re seeing in Ukraine? And you’ve each mentioned PRC at least once. What’s that evolution look like in the future?
ADM. GILDAY: I made comments. I talked about multinational, multiservice, multidomain. That’s absolutely the way of the future. But I think what you see – what you see in Russia and Ukraine, particularly from Ukraine, is the power of people. And the ability of the Ukrainians to learn war while they’re fighting war and to turn quickly ideas into actionable – and take use of that technology.
The fact that they are bringing technologists from the private sector to the frontlines is actually force-feeding new technology that you typically wouldn’t get through our much more laborious PPBE system, into the fight today. And so I think, as everybody here has foot-stomped, that people remain our asymmetric advantage. And that’s really the priority of investment.
MR. ROSE: I’d like to shift to platforms for a moment. Then we have some questions from the audience. There’s been a discussion lately about a couple of platforms. Chief and Commandant Berger, tell the audience where you are as far as some of the platforms that you’re asking for now and the status of some that are in progress.
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. Overall, we are in really good shape with respect to both the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s support for and the Congress’ support for shipbuilding and aircraft procurement. And so right now we’ve got 55 ships in the FYDP, nine in the budget for ’24. All of our production lines are humming at seven shipyards around the country. Most recently on Friday we put LPD-32 on contract at a good price. And we hope to leverage the multiyear authorities that we have to keep that great line of ship going.
So I think – I don’t want to speak for the commandant, but I think we’re optimistic about the direction we’re headed in with respect to stable, predictable funding for ships, whether it’s the frigates, the destroyers that we’re building in Bath and HII, the logistic ships, that John Lewis oilers, we’re building out at San Diego, the submarines out of both Newport News and also Groton, or the work that Austal is doing as well. I think that we are headed in a very good place, and we hope to sustain that.
MR. ROSE: Commandant?
GEN. BERGER: I think that I would – I would totally agree. I think the – although my horizon as a service chief, I’ve tried to from the first day stay about 10 years out because I think that’s my value to the service. I think the – contrast that with the modernization effort for us, which is – like them, is actually fielding capabilities now. Not five years or 10 years from now, but now.
The platforms are everything from the individual equipment that a Marine wears, which is extraordinary now and carries with them, all the way to the warfighting ships that move us around. The aircraft modernization of the Marine Corps, which is about 12-15 years in the making, is now just so far down the road. It’s incredible the capability that – you put together all of our aviation capabilities and command and control and logistics it’s pretty eye watering.
But I would say – not a platform, but we have to – we have to focus on logistics. Because the time to set the theater, which we grew up thinking was 30, 60 days, 45 days, is shorter than that now. We have to be ready now. We’re not going to get a lot of time for – (inaudible). So logistics in a contested environment really important.
But I couldn’t echo – I couldn’t say it any stronger. I think the power of information in a conflict right now is extraordinary. And the ability of which – of either side to understand how to use that information, and make the adjustments that Admiral Gilday talked about faster than the adversary, is going to have a great advantage.
Commandant Fagan, both of your predecessors were very outspoken about the need for the polar security cutter. You referenced it a few moments ago. That’s maybe your highest profile platform but tell us about the others that you’re advocating.
ADM. FAGAN: Oh, thank you, and, obviously, you know, as an Arctic nation we need that polar capacity. Polar Star, which was my first unit as a young ensign, is in the process of returning from her twenty-sixth deep freeze. And so there’s a sense of urgency to get that capacity fielded for the nation. The offshore patrol cutter is really front and center as now the cornerstone of the fleet. They’re replacing the medium endurance cutters. And, you know, the ’24 president’s budget we’ve got funding support now for OPC-6 and -7 and are looking forward to have OPC-1 Argus in the water here soon. So just great state of the art vessels.
Waterway commerce cutters program, office stood up for an additional Great Lakes icebreaker. We’re in a great place with regard to acquisition. And we’re enjoying just great support from our authorizers and overseers. We still have significant infrastructure backlog. Every one of our Coast Guard missions starts and ends at a shore facility. And some of these shore facilities are in pretty rough shape – you know, piers in Maine that you can’t actually handle any kind of weight to load buoys onto ships.
And so getting support for 3-5% of growth in our infrastructure funding account is a priority area for us. Any growth in perceived budget rise right now is going to operate the organization. So ensuring that we’re making the right infrastructure investments, IT investments. All of those key enablers around the new ships and aircraft are a priority of focus area. But we are excited with the polar security cutter.
Administrator Phillips, you referenced the Empire State Program and you said that there were some lessons that you’ve learned there that might be useful for the other services. What are some of those and what are some of the other things that you’re focused on, platform-wise?
REAR ADM. PHILLIPS: So thank you for the question about the – I’ve spoken about NSMV several times already. What’s different about that program for us is, first of all, this is a commercial vessel. It is built to a commercial standard. So American Bureau of Ships, think INSURV for those who aren’t familiar with that organization, Coast Guard regulations and requirements of SOLAS – Safety of Life at Sea – is an international requirement. So we’re not building using gen specs. We’re building using a commercial standard. We started to a hundred percent design at a firm fixed price contract. So we are able to move through that so far with great success, and are optimistic that we will continue to be able to do so.
As I mentioned earlier, the proof is in the pudding. We’ll be going to sea shortly with the first hull, Empire State. And we’ll see how we do there. But that has helped with the special construction manager oversight program. We have, you know, an authorized contractor. TOTE is our contractor supporting that work for us. Provide oversight in the yard and we believe this is an effective model and it is a way to build commercial-grade ships, and it must continue.
Let’s talk about building capacity there a little. Philadelphia Shipyard is building these ships. They build a series of five for me. Then what’s next? Well, they have – they’ve shown by their ability to build these vessels and other vessels before them that they can continue. They have other orders coming in from private industry, from commercial carriers. That’s good. That’s one yard.
So how do we keep this going, to the point, more nationwide? And I would add that just because you can repair a vessel – and, oh, by the way, we’re competing for repair capacity with the Coast Guard, with the Navy, with the Army Corps, and with commercial industry. And so we find ourselves constantly having to work together to trade spots, to trade time, to make sure that we can get ships in when we need them so the operational course is ready to go. And that – often our ships take a backseat there, which we understand and completely support. But more capacity in dry docks is definitely needed. And yards that repair don’t necessarily have the full skill set to build. So more capacity to be able to build as well.
This, again, is a whole of government challenge. We are a piece of that puzzle, but we are not the entire solution. It has to be something that we think about, you know, as a national asset and as a national requirement responsibility, particularly in light of the threat that General Berger was talking about here. This is – we are entering a world and a time where we’re going to need this lift. We’re going to need sealift.
We’re going to need our U.S. flag vessels and we’re supposed to be carrying the majority of our import and export overseas commerce. We carry about 2% with the U.S. flag vessels that we have right now with the U.S. flag. So plenty of things come in and out of this country but most of that is carried on our vessels that belong to our allies and partners and others. So something else to think about in this mix is what do we want to be here and how are we preparing ourselves to have control of our own destiny in this context.
MR. ROSE: We probably could have done the whole hour on shipbuilding and, unfortunately, we couldn’t.
I’ll ask you, question folks, for your name, who you’re with, who your question is for if it’s directed to a particular member of the panel. And then I’ll ask you to get right to the question so we can do as many as we can. First one there, sir. Welcome.
Q: Absolutely. Captain John Konrad, U.S. Merchant Marine, and I – editor with gCaptain.
General Berger, you said at the Senate hearing: logistics, logistics, logistics. In the last year, I have – especially in the last few months – I’ve been hearing from merchant mariners all over that Marines at every level are reaching out to learn about the sealift ships, and learn about what the job is, and what needs to be done, and invited to the conversation. So a real heartfelt thank you.
But logistics requires ships. The U.S. Air Force’s entire air cargo capacity is less than can fit on one Maersk container ship. We need ships and, Admiral Gilday, NAVSEA has the most diverse workforce. These are really highly educated people who are working really well. But the Coast Guard’s projects are out-building them. And MARAD’s project is the only one major ship, multi-mission vessel here, that’s on budget and on schedule. And how they did it – and it’s run by Lena Ramirez (sp), a minority woman engineer. They’re doing a great job.
NAVSEA has 86,000 people. That’s twice the entire size of the Coast Guard. And MARAD has only 800. So how are they out-building them? And I talk to NAVSEA, and they’re with quality management programs and they’re doing red tape and they’re at meetings. I think MARAD’s success is twofold. One, they have an office on Wall Street, so they understand the finance. And two, they only have Lena (sp). They don’t have someone, anyone, to put this red tape on.
So how are we cutting red tape at NAVSEA to unlock this amazing workforce, one? And two, my neighbor, Great Barrington’s Keith Sharman of “60 Minutes.” I’ve been talking to him consistently about this – your thing. And saying can we get Ann Phillips on the “60 Minutes” show? And he said she – you know, she does not have the weight. People don’t know her. You have the weight. General Berger has the weight. I know. So can we get – (laughter) – I talked to the press corps – DOD press corps. They don’t know the merchant marine. So can you guys promise me that you’ll get Lena (sp) and Ann to the Pentagon briefing room and –
MR. ROSE: Sir, let’s leave it there. Thank you for the question –
Q: All right. Thank you.
MR. ROSE: – and get a response.
ADM. GILDAY: I’ll just say, with respect to sealift. And so we recognize the problem. What we’re trying to do to get after it quickly, I mentioned in my opening comments the next-generation logistics ships. And we have a few of those in the budget. What people don’t see is the used ships that we’re buying, the used sealift. And so at probably about 10-20% the cost of new, some of the – the age of these ships range from maybe 11 years to 26 years. We bought two last year. We bought another three in February of this year. And we have two across the FYDP. I know that – I know that doesn’t blow your socks out of the water, but it’s at a much faster pace in terms of outcomes than a new hull. So that’s the – that’s the –
Q: Well, what lessons did the Navy learn –
MR. ROSE: Sir, I apologize, but we have a long list of people behind you that are waiting to ask questions also. Thank you very much for that.
Megan, welcome. It’s good to see you.
Q: Good to see you. Megan Eckstein with Defense News.
My question is for Admiral Gilday. Last week at the Senate Appropriations Committee you were asked about an upcoming force structure assessment that’s due directly to Congress, not going through DOD. And you mentioned that you thought the number might be upwards of the current 373, and that the character and the balance of that fleet might look a little different. I know you can’t get into specifically what that looks like, but I wonder if you could just describe why the character of the fleet might be changing. Is it a difference between manned and unmanned? Small and large combatants? Just kind of what did you mean by that, changing?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. The reason I said that is because we have a new defense strategy in 2022. And we have new force-sizing constructs that are classified that actually shape the force of the future. And we see those guidelines come alive in defense planning scenarios that are really foundational to any analysis that we do. And so there are known unknowns there with respect to the analysis we’re going into. The reason I said I can’t see it going below 373 is because just what I see on a day-to-day basis with respect to demand, the war games that I’ve participated in, and what I believe to be the importance of the naval force in a maritime fight. So fundamental, obviously.
Q: Thank you.
ADM. GILDAY: You’re welcome.
MR. ROSE: Sir, welcome.
Q: Hi. Justin Katz with Breaking Defense.
Administrator Phillips, I also wanted to ask about sealift. And perhaps I’ll cut right to the chase. In 2018, General Lyons, the TRANSCOM commander, characterized 2025 as kind of the year potentially for crisis, where the capacity could dip so low that there’s going to be alarms ringing. Now that 2025 is not so far off, I wanted to get your kind of comments and confidence level on how is sealift recap going? Is 2025 still the year, potentially, of crisis or do you think it’s been averted?
REAR ADM. PHILLIPS: So thank you for the question. I be interested to know what General Lyons was cataloging as crisis at the time. So I will say this, as the CNO and the rest have discussed, we are buying used. And as I mentioned earlier, the sealift of the nation needs requirements study. Three prongs. Recapitalize, which we’re doing. Buy used, which we’re doing. Consider building new, OK, Congress has told us to consider that. They appropriated – they authorized something, but they didn’t appropriate. So we’re moving forward. And if you refer to my testimony and General Van Ovost’s testimony last week, with all the best speed to execute the vessel acquisition manager program, and to buy used with the assets that we have available.
So that – we will continue to do that. If capacity or opportunities present to accelerate that, that is another way to move forward there. I’ve heard people speak about it. We spoke about it at our hearing last week. But with these three prongs, we’re focusing on the two that we have right now, the tools at our disposal, recapitalize and buy used. And that’s what we’re doing, and that’s what we’ll keep doing. And so as long as we are able to keep doing that, we begin to make headway. But we can’t afford a lapse. I’ll be honest here. Any hesitation, and we’re going to start to slip backwards.
ADM. GILDAY: May I add one more thing? And this has to do with requirements. And so I just talked about the fact that we’re going through another drill with respect to our analysis to double check our requirements based on a new – based on a new strategy and evolving concepts of operation in terms of how we’re going to fight in the future, including the joint warfighting concept. That applies to sealift as well. And so the sealift we needed – the current figures that we have are grounded on analysis that was done decades ago. And so that’s an obvious question to ask. The Marines are operating differently. The Army is operating a little differently. Exactly how much sealift do you need?
MR. ROSE: Thank you for the question. Welcome, sir.
Q: Thank you. My name is Matt Brown (sp). I used to be the captain of one of our Navy’s warships.
I left active duty a few years ago to start a mental health care company because my very best young officer went to a Marine Corps exchange, and bought a 9mm pistol, and took his own life. So since then, I’ve partnered with every academic that I can find that works in suicide prevention and force mental health. And we’ve created a(n) expeditionary cognitive behavioral therapy tool to eliminate suicide in our sea services.
I’m proud to report that with the Marine Corps we’ve been able to make some inroads, frankly, because there was just like a dogged willingness to get the job done. We have the right people in the seats. Dr. Lillian Brady (sp), in particular, she just would not take no for an answer, and found the money. But we have been talking to everyone that would listen within the Navy and Coast Guard team to try and get contracts for this cognitive behavioral therapy course to put our troops through, and have been met with not resistance but a lack of funds or ability to do anything.
And so I know a little bit about defense acquisitions. And what I’m interested to know – I think maybe, Admiral Gilday, this would be for you, sir – are you open to using the existing capital tools that we have, like Defense Innovation Unit, other transactional authorities, or any of those sorts of things to address force mental health, specifically suicide prevention? We have the tools now.
ADM. GILDAY: We have been using them. And so you might not be the only vendor in this space. And I’d be happy to connect you with the right person to talk about what we are investing in so that you can get a better sense of where we are.
Q: Thank you, sir.
MR. ROSE: Thank you for the question, sir.
Q: Thank you. Jon Harper with DefenseScoop.
Admiral Gilday, you mentioned that Project Overmatch is in full swing right now with the Vinson, and there are plans to scale that. Can you say which units will be getting that next, and what the timeframe might be for rolling it out to other carrier strike groups or other units? And then, more broadly, are there plans to bring the Coast Guard into that Project Overmatch networking construct and how do you see that?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. To the latter I would say absolutely. We have allies and partners tied in now. The Marine Corps is tied in now. I won’t talk about publicly where we’re going next. We’re learning from each iteration and making informed decisions based on that. Based on what we’ve seen so far with Vinson, we’re on schedule, I will say that, and on track in terms of the objectives that we’re seeking and where we want to go with it. So I think that this joint tactical grid that we hope to yield for the force becomes a reality at scale.
Q: Thank you.
MR. ROSE: Thanks, Jon.
With apologies to the rest of you in line, I’m very sorry but this will be the last question.
Q: Good morning. First Class Cadet Turner Linafelter. I’m here from the United States Coast Guard Academy with my Arctic area research group course. So my question is directed at Admiral Fagan but I would appreciate answers from the rest of the panel as well.
So, Admiral Fagan, you continue to highlight that the United States is an Arctic nation, with the Coast Guard as the lead agency in Arctic strategy. I’m curious to know how and if you are working to include and broaden Arctic cooperation across the interagency, especially with the Department of the Navy and our merchant mariners to increase buy-in to Arctic importance.
ADM. FAGAN: Yeah. Thank you. And it’s great to see that we’ve got some cadets here at the Sea-Air-Space.
While I emphasize that we are an Arctic nation, we don’t do this alone. And allies or partners in the Arctic are absolutely critical. And so things like the Arctic Coast Guard Forum, the Arctic Council, and I was recently in Copenhagen, in Norway – all critical partnerships to all of our shared national security and security interests in the Arctic. And so while the Coast Guard will operate the surface fleet of icebreakers for the nation, we will continue to partner with the Navy, allies, and partners to ensure that we’ve got the resourcing and the partnerships that we need as a nation to afford our security in the Arctic. Thank you.
GEN. BERGER: What year are you?
Q: First class cadet, class of 2023. So graduating this summer.
GEN. BERGER: Are you working on the final paper or something? Is that why you asked that? That was a good call.
MR. ROSE: Now I see why you’re investing in the people aspect. Very well done.
Thanks, all of you, very much for joining me again this year. It’s been a privilege to have this conversation with you all. My thanks to the Navy League, to Mike and Julia and the rest of the team. And my thanks to all of you for your attention. I hope to see you Sunday morning April 30th on ABC 7 at 10:30. Thank you all very much.
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