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Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy James Honea conducted a digital press briefing with the U.S. Department of State’s Asia Pacific Media Hub, November 24.
MODERATOR: Greetings from the U.S. Department of State’s Asia Pacific Media Hub. I would like to welcome journalists to today’s on-the-record briefing with Admiral Lisa Franchetti, Chief of Naval Operations, United States Navy, and Master Chief Petty Officer of the United States Navy James Honea. Admiral Franchetti will discuss her first international trip as the 33rd Chief of Naval Operations to Japan and the Republic of Korea, as well as the U.S. Navy’s focus on the value of allies and partners across the globe, but especially the Indo-Pacific.
With that, let’s get started. Admiral Franchetti, I’ll turn it over to you for your opening remarks.
I think we have you on mute, Admiral Franchetti, if you’re able to unmute yourself, please. Okay, we may – Admiral Franchetti, can you hear us? Okay, we may be having some technical difficulties.
All right, we are having trouble hearing. Let’s stand by for one moment while we figure out how to get the Admiral back on the line.
ADMIRAL FRANCHETTI: Katie, it’s Admiral Franchetti. Can you hear us?
MODERATOR: Yes, now we can hear you. Thank you so much. Okay, wonderful. Please go ahead, and sorry for the technical difficulties.
ADMIRAL FRANCHETTI: Okay, thank you. Well, good morning, and thank you, everyone, for joining us today as we conclude our weeklong trip to the Indo-Pacific. It’s great to speak with you from Busan, Korea, where I served as Commander, Naval Forces Korea, from August of 2013 to August of 2015. And it’s great to have the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, James Honea, who also served with me then as my Command Master Chief, by my side here in Korea today.
I was just confirmed as the Chief of Naval Operations on the 2nd of November, and I purposefully chose to come to the Indo-Pacific region for my first trip because of the strategic significance of this region. The security and stability of this region affect every American, it affects every nation around the globe, and again, I’m really happy to be here with the MCPON in our concerted effort to underscore our focus in the Indo-Pacific.
My message to my counterparts during this trip has been clear. The United States Navy is committed to working with allies, partners, and likeminded nations in the Indo-Pacific and upholding a free and open region founded on respect for international rules, laws, and norms. This region remains America’s foremost priority, and that is why no matter what is happening around the world, the United States Navy continues to deploy and operate forward here in the Indo-Pacific.
Our National Defense Strategy directs the Department of Defense to act urgently to sustain and strengthen deterrence in this region, and to do so alongside our allies and partners. That has been a common thread across each of my engagements: our shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. Our alliances underpin the stability, the security, of this region, and facilitate the preservation of the rules-based international order.
For more than three-quarters of a century, the U.S. Navy has been the anchor of world stability, deterring war, upholding international law, and ensuring access to the seas. Today our Navy’s role has never been more important or consequential. Our Navy is America’s away team. We operate forward with allies and partners on, under, and above the sea, and in the same space and the same domains as potential adversaries every single day.
Today we are training, exercising, and cooperating with allies and partners throughout the Indo-Pacific so that we are not just interoperable, but, where possible, we’re interchangeable. Our allies must be fully integrated into our planning and our operations.
As we speak, the United States Navy operates forward alongside allies and partners, prioritizing this Indo-Pacific region.
For example, the USS Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group, which MCPON and I will visit here in Busan later today, is deployed and supporting our allies and partners and reinforcing those strategic relationships in this very critical region of the world. The Vinson Strike Group just completed a training exercise involving multiple large-deck ships with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, bringing together 150 aircraft and more than 10,000 sailors to demonstrate integrated air and naval power.
The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, which MCPON and I visited yesterday for Thanksgiving, recently completed its patrol in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific. During this patrol, they participated in numerous multinational integrated military exercises with participants including the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, the Royal Australian Navy, the Republic of Korea Navy, and the Indian Navy. They also operated in the Indo-Pacific with NATO Allies, including the French, Canadian, and Italian navies, and demonstrated the growing connective tissue between U.S. alliances in the Indo-Pacific and in Europe.
And throughout this year, we’ve executed many other operations and exercises in the region. Exercise Sama Sama in October, Exercise Noble Wolverine in September, and Malabar in August. Each exercise and operation demonstrates that we are committed to working together to increase our interoperability and strengthen deterrence across the region.
In addition to our trip’s focus on key allies and partners in the region, MCPON and I wanted to spend time with our sailors, our civilians, and our families to thank them for their operations in this critical region – thank them for their service and their sacrifice, serving overseas and deployed, especially during this holiday season.
Our Navy has the very best ships, submarines, and aircraft, but without our people, they go nowhere and they do nothing. I think our people are our true secret weapon. They give us a decisive edge, and because of them our Navy remains the preeminent fighting force on, under, and above the sea.
I’m really happy to be back here in Asia. My visit has been incredibly important. MCPON and I chose this region, again, to be my first trip as CNO, to underscore the significance of our maritime operation and our alliances in the Indo-Pacific. And we chose this visit at this time to celebrate and recognize our sailors, their families, and the sacrifice they make every day.
I look forward to answering your questions about our trip and our sailors, but I’ll stop now and turn it over to MCPON to say a few words.
MASTER CHIEF PETTY OFFICER HONEA: Well, good morning.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much, Admiral Franchetti. I’m turning it over to Master Chief Honea. Thank you.
MASTER CHIEF PETTY OFFICER HONEA: Thank you very much, ma’am. And good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us and helping us tell the story of the American sailor and how important this region is to all of us. I’m proud to be back with my boss, Chief of Naval Operations Lisa Franchetti, and to visit the sailors and the families that are stationed here in Korea and across the theater, as well as visit the sailors of the Carl Vinson later on today.
What they all do provides that stability that allows all of us to enjoy life and prosper. And I’m proud to also be back in the area and visiting with my partners of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, the Republic of Korea Navy, and the Royal Australian Navy. I have so many friends here and across the theater, and I’m always so glad to return to my second home in the Pacific.
I look forward to your questions and helping tell the story of the American sailor. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much for that great introduction, and we will now turn to the question-and-answer portion of today’s briefing. So our first question today came in in advance from Sangho Song of Yonhap News Agency, based in Washington, D.C., who asks: “South Korea, the U.S., and Japan plan to operationalize a trilateral system for real-time sharing of North Korean missile warning data. Can you explain when that is expected to begin and what your expectations on that are?”
Over to our speakers.
ADMIRAL FRANCHETTI: Well, thank you for your question. I was in Japan the past two days and I had some really good conversations about strengthening the trilateral relationship of the U.S., Japan, and the Republic of Korea, and I’m looking forward to having those same conversations today with my Republic of Korea counterparts. Building on the Trilateral Leaders’ Summit at Camp David earlier this year, this is a really important opportunity that we have to build on our trilateral cooperation, and my conversations echo those of Secretary Austin and his counterparts earlier this month when they stressed the importance of the rules-based international order and expressed strong opposition to any unilateral actions that seek to alter the status quo by force or coercion.
I am very excited about the opportunities for multilateral cooperation, especially trilateral cooperation in this region, and I look forward to the development of a plan to further enhance that trilateral cooperation going forward. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Okay. Our next question comes in via the Q&A tab from Seong Hyeon Choi of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, who asks: “China held live-fire drills in the South China Sea while the U.S. and the Philippines carried out joint sea and air patrols. What is your opinion on China’s actions in the South China Sea, and what are some of the aims you have with the joint sea and air patrol with the Philippines?”
ADMIRAL FRANCHETTI: So the Navy has operated around the globe for centuries, demonstrating our ability to be present, to assure our allies and defend our interests, and there’s nothing new about that. No member of the international community should be intimidated or coerced into giving up their rights and freedoms. So again, we will always continue to fly, sail, and operate alongside our partners and in accordance with international law. We are welcoming the strengthening of the ties between the United States and the Philippines. Again, we see historic momentum in the alliance, which has upheld peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region for over 70 years. And I’m looking forward to further exploring opportunities to strengthen the bilateral operations and planning, including through our upcoming Balikatan 2024 exercise, and look forward to expanding even further into multilateral activities with likeminded partners.
As it pertains to China’s recent provocations, dangerous maneuvers against the U.S. aircraft and ships operating in the South China Sea, we are committed to preserving the rights of all nations to fly, sail, and operate safely and responsibly wherever international law allows.
MODERATOR: Okay. Our next question goes to the live queue. We have Colin Clark from Breaking Defense, based in Sydney, Australia. Colin, you should be able to unmute yourself now.
QUESTION: I am unmuted. So let’s look at the Wall Street Journal story that claims U.S. sub dominance is now at an end in the Indo-Pacific. I’m not sure I bought their argument, but I’d love to hear what you have to say about this, Admiral, especially in light of some of the arguments that in the next seven to 10 years subs are going to become so transparent to technology that they will lose their effectiveness.
ADMIRAL FRANCHETTI: Well, thank you for your question. Our submarine force is the finest in the world, and I am confident that they will remain – and we will remain – the strongest Navy in every domain: under sea, on the sea, above the sea. And our submarine force really is a strategic advantage. I’m also really excited about the opportunities presented through AUKUS, the relationship between Australia, the United States, and the UK, to build on our strong relationship in a once-in-a-generation opportunity in both submarine development as well as in all of the other opportunities that AUKUS is affording to enhance our capabilities and our interoperability with our two other very key partners who operate not only in this region but around the globe.
MODERATOR: Okay. Our next question came in in advance from Jaewoo Park of Radio Free Asia, based in the United States, who asks: “The Indo-Pacific region, especially the 7th Fleet, is the most extensive area compared to other regions. You have to deal with the China-Taiwan crisis, the South China Sea crisis, and the Korean Peninsula crisis. Can the 7th Fleet deal with multiple situations at the same time?”
ADMIRAL FRANCHETTI: Thank you for your question. The United States Navy is a global force. We operate effectively all around the world. We’re effectively postured to work all around the world. Our 7th Fleet has our most high-end capabilities. I, as CNO, prioritize sending our most up-to-date capabilities there with our best trained people, and I am confident in the 7th Fleet’s ability to deter and to operate freely alongside our partners, and that they are always going to be ready to respond to anything that comes their way.
Let me turn it over to MCPON here and help answer that question a little bit too.
MASTER CHIEF PETTY OFFICER HONEA: And for sure we pay attention to the things that are extremely important to us, and we have partnerships across the region, at all levels – so not just at the commander’s level, but also at our senior enlisted levels; we’re continuing to interoperate. Right now our Pacific Fleet master chief has a master chief from the Royal New Zealand Navy working side by side with him in the headquarters. We have continued to work on these partnerships so that we have a great interoperability and to be able to keep our focus and our eye on all things across the globe at the same time.
MODERATOR: All right. Our next question goes to Gordon Arthur, who asks via the Q&A tab. Gordon comes to us from Naval News based in Christchurch, New Zealand. Gordon asks: “China and the PLA are becoming increasingly aggressive in places like the South China Sea, as exemplified by last week’s use of a destroyer sonar against Australian naval divers. What is the U.S. Navy doing to counter such reckless and bad behavior? Do you fear that there is nothing anybody can do to reduce such aggression by the PLA?”
ADMIRAL FRANCHETTI: Thank you for your question. As I said earlier, the Navy continues to operate around the globe with our allies and partners, and we expect all navies to operate in international waters to uphold the rules and norms of proper military behavior on, under, and above the sea. So our effort and our focus area is ensuring that we operate professionally at all times. We continue to send that message that navies need to operate professionally and continue to have those positive interactions.
That’s how we lead, by our example with our allies and partners. And we expect the PRC and every other navy around the world to abide by those customs and traditions of safe and professional operations at sea that do not endanger the lives of our sailors around the world.
MODERATOR: Our next question goes to Kym Bergmann of Asia Pacific Defence Reporter, based in Canberra, Australia. Kym, you should be able to unmute yourself now.
QUESTION: I think I have. First of all, Admiral, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us. Now to my question. This relates to AUKUS and the rotation of submarines through Western Australia from 2027 onwards. Noting that the USN is already forward deployed to various locations in the region, how does the Australian rotation contribute to regional security?
ADMIRAL FRANCHETTI: Well, thank you for your question. I’m very excited about AUKUS and the many opportunities that that affords for the security and the stability in this region. As you know, we’ve already had the opportunity for our submarines to visit in Australia, and I think this sets a great path for the relationship and our continued rotational operations with Australia and throughout the Indo-Pacific. I think, again, having a strong submarine force that can operate together with our three strong partners, as well as integrate with other submarine forces in the Indo-Pacific, provides an incredibly strong deterrent message to anyone that would want to change the rules-based international order and rewrite those rules to be in their favor.
MODERATOR: Okay. Our next question goes to Damien Cave, who is with The New York Times, based in Sydney, Australia. Damien asks: “It’s clear that some U.S. partners, including India, are increasingly concerned about China’s undersea capacity with both submarines, unmanned underwater drones, and surveying of the ocean floor. There are also obviously concerns about the Chinese coast guard in the South China Sea. What do you see as the greatest competitive challenge that China poses in the maritime domain, and how do you see it evolving with time?”
ADMIRAL FRANCHETTI: Well, as we’ve all seen, China continues to develop its capabilities in the maritime and in all other domains. We will continue to operate together with our allies and partners, which, again, I think are really our strategic advantage, something that China simply doesn’t have, nor do many of our other adversaries or potential adversaries around the world. So by operating together, continuing to build with our interoperability through exercise training and planning, the United States and all of its allies and partners will continue to deter China and other potential adversaries around the world.
Again, I think this is our greatest strategic advantage. So as we watch China and their development of their military, I’m focused on what we can do to develop incredible capabilities with our allies and partners and be able to operate together in the maritime ecosystem to deter, to defend, and, if necessary, defeat any adversary.
MODERATOR: Okay. We have a lot of China-related questions today. We have one from Albert Lee of Naval News in Kuala Lumpur. Albert asks: “The Australian divers that had a PLA navy destroyer use its sonar against them were in the Eastern Pacific on a mission enforcing sanctions against North Korea. The PLA Air Force has also recently conducted unsafe intercepts of Canadian maritime patrol aircraft enforcing those sanctions. Are recent PRC actions changing standard operating procedure for how sanctions-enforcement missions will be conducted?”
ADMIRAL FRANCHETTI: As the chief of Naval Operations, my focus is really on the manning, the training, and the equipping of developing all of our forces that we provide over here to operate in the Indo-Pacific. And again, I’m committed to providing the most capable, the best trained forces that we have here in the Indo-Pacific region to underwrite the security and the stability of this region. Our Pacific Fleet commander and our 7th Fleet commander and our 3rd Fleet commander are always working together to be able to develop these capabilities, to have the operations, and work with our partners on all their techniques, their tactics, and their procedures to counter any behaviors that come their way.
MODERATOR: Okay. And we have a question coming in from Donghui Yu of the China Review News Agency of Hong Kong, based in Washington, D.C. Donghui asks: “Now that U.S.-China military communication has resumed, do you have any plan to restore the naval exchange? Can we expect the new agreement of code of conduct in the high sea could be reached?”
ADMIRAL FRANCHETTI: Well, thank you for your question. And as you know, President Biden and President Xi recently committed to the resumption of high-level military-to-military communication. Additionally, the PRC agreed to resuming telephone conversations between theater commanders. And I’m very excited and I welcome this announcement.
As Secretary Austin has said, these agreements were reached just recently, so we know that we have work to do with the PRC military to solidify the next steps for these actions. But I think it’s incredibly important to maintain open lines of communication between our two militaries. It’s essential to avoiding misunderstandings and miscalculations that could lead to a crisis or a conflict.
MODERATOR: All right. Thank you so much, Admiral Franchetti. We’ve come to the end of our time. If you have any last words for us, I’ll turn it back over to you.
ADMIRAL FRANCHETTI: Well, thank you again, Katie, for the opportunity to talk with you today and for everyone being here today. Again, I’m very excited to be out here in the Indo-Pacific. I am proud of the incredible work that our Navy team is doing out here, alongside all of our allies and partners. We work hard every day to deter, to be ready to respond in crisis, and, if necessary, to win decisively in war.
MODERATOR: All right. Thank you so much, Admiral Franchetti. Master Chief Honea, any last words before we wrap up?
MASTER CHIEF PETTY OFFICER HONEA: Ma’am, again, I would just like to say thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with yourself and everybody that joined us today on the Zoom call. I was really, really impressed with the level of questions and how everybody’s very attentive and concerned about the problems that we’re facing out here in this theater. I’m extremely proud of all the things that our sailors provide to ensure that we maintain peace, security, stability, and prosperity for all of us to enjoy in this theater. I thank you very much again for the time.
MODERATOR: Oh, I was on mute, sorry. Thank you both so much for joining us on this very busy trip and your first trip in the new role to this – internationally. We also want to say thanks to all the journalists who joined us today for taking time and for the great questions. We will provide a transcript of this briefing to participating journalists as soon as it is available. And we’d also love to hear your feedback. You can contact us anytime at AsiaPacMedia@state.gov. Thanks again for your participation, and we hope you can join us for another briefing soon.
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