Below are his remarks as delivered:
Good morning...I want to begin by thanking General Lanata, Vice Admiral Lewis, and the whole team here in Norfolk for giving me the opportunity to speak with you all.
It’s great to see Admiral Fitzgerald and Admiral Foggo joining us today. We are so fortunate to have you both here- thank you both for your mentorship and continued service.
I also want to take this opportunity to recognize Rear Admiral Rene Tas who will relieve Vice Admiral Rob Kramer this summer as the Commander of the Royal Netherlands Navy. Rene, congratulations. No pressure.
The cohort assembled in this room, not only in this room, but also virtually, are some of the most distinguished and brightest military leaders in the world.
This is a crucial time. We need your talent, we need your leadership, and we need your solidarity to solve some of the most challenging problems we face on both sides of the Atlantic.
Without a doubt, I think, the prime mover that brought us all here today is our ironclad unity. It’s our partnerships, our friendships and our mutual desire to forge a more peaceful and prosperous world.
Every day…I’m reminded of the importance of unity and the special kinship between our navies, or among our navies.
On my office wall hangs a work of art by the British painter, Bernard Gribble…which shows the arrival of the American Fleet off Scapa Flow in December 1917.
It’s a big painting, probably 12 by 12. It takes up an entire wall. And the perspective of the painting is remarkable. Typically, nautical paintings, something’s blowing up; there are guns in the air, guns smoking, and planes flying.
The perspective of the painting is from the deck of the HMS Queen Elizabeth. Dozens of Royal Navy Sailors are standing together, shoulder-to-shoulder, along the bow and on top of the forward gun turret. Their arms are raised high with their covers in hand, and they’re cheering heartily as Battleship Division Nine steams into the waters near Scotland.
On the horizon, you can make out U.S. Sailors on the rails of their battleships…greeting their counterparts with the same roaring enthusiasm.
This painting, set in the midst of the Great War and the First Battle of the Atlantic, evokes the timeless fraternity between likeminded Sailors and likeminded nations, who always stand ready to secure peace and promote prosperity for a better tomorrow.
Indeed, this tradition of kinship is a mainstay of our profession. We must never forget that. It’s been a hallmark of the NATO Alliance for over 70 years. Our partnership transcends beyond just our strategic interests, which are important, but are built on shared values, shared history, and a vision of our shared destiny.
As we consider the challenges associated with a contested Atlantic this week, let’s keep in mind that our unbreakable bond that remains our key advantage. One might say our asymmetric advantage. It’s the foundation of everything we do. And this bond is just as important in peacetime as it is in wartime.
This year proved it. And despite all the challenges caused by COVID-19, we’ve strengthened our collective defense, enhanced international security, and safeguarded the free and open order.
NATO Sailors navigated every shoal, shared best practices, and operated together from the Eastern Mediterranean to Baffin Bay, in the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea, and nearly everywhere in between.
We aren’t slowing down; and we can’t. Not only will the Atlantic continue to hold both strategic and symbolic significance for us in the years ahead. It will only get more competitive.
Now this conference is all about the future. And I know that most of this group spends a great deal of their time thinking about the future of war. So it’s important to ask ourselves what makes this moment unique and what has changed.
Economically, we are more interconnected than ever before. Within the past quarter century global waterways have become more congested with maritime traffic increasing by a factor of four.
The recent grounding in the Suez, which delayed hundreds of ships and cost the global economy billions per day, highlights the importance of predictable passage through the world’s strategic waterways.
On the seabed, transoceanic cables carry nearly all of our digital information, and new technologies are making undersea resources more accessible.
The polar ice caps are receding, opening new trade routes and exposing new resources. It may be the world’s smallest ocean, but the Arctic basin is a strategic region full of growing geopolitical and global importance, which is spurring more maritime activity than ever before.
And finally, rapid technological advancements in cyberspace, artificial intelligence, hypersonics, and directed energy are changing the face of warfare.
So, in the backdrop of this complex and dynamic environment, eager competitors have signaled their desire to challenge the free and open international order.
China and Russia are testing our cohesion and they’re doing it today. Whether it’s on the Russian and Ukrainian border, or in the Taiwan Strait. And operating in ways that deliberately undermine trans-Atlantic security.
Secretary of Defense Austin has emphasized that NATO’s most important task is to protect our populations and territory by presenting a credible deterrence and strong defense.
This cannot be accomplished without a strong maritime force. Period. So we must continue our momentum and deliver that strong maritime force every single day.
A retired flag officer recently reminded me, as readiness is my top priority. That in combat, our fleet and our commanders may not raise to our expectations, but they will certainly will fall to the level of training. And that remains key.
To that end, I’m encouraged by all the tremendous work happening here in the Hampton Roads area. A new era for the NATO Alliance is underway, and a shared vision is being brought to life by Second Fleet, Joint Force Command Norfolk, and NATO ACT. Together, you are ensuring presence where it matters, coordinating effects on, below, and above the Atlantic, and maintaining vigilance from the Straits of Florida to the Barents Sea.
We also need to remain laser-focused on operating, sustaining, and maintaining ready navies. Our ready forces and capabilities support ongoing NATO operations… and will be the first responders for any crisis. Virtual presence is absolute absence. We have got to be out there.
Readiness translates to presence, and that presence translates into visible deterrence, cooperative security, and defense in depth. It also enables our Sailors to carry out the necessary high-end training and exercises they need to get better.
In order to carry out the full range of NATO Missions into the future, we need to innovate and we need to modernize. Early adoption of emerging and disruptive technologies as well as the need to protect our infrastructure and technologies from strategic competitors is absolutely critical.
We must pursue interoperability and interchangeability wherever possible. Mutual capabilities and enhanced capacity will help close those seams in the Atlantic that potential adversaries could exploit.
I’ll close with this: A military conflict on the Atlantic seems unlikely. But then again, military conflicts often seem unlikely until the moment they begin. We have to be ready, and we have to think differently and challenge our own assumptions.
The battleships that arrived in Scapa Flow during World War I represented the ultimate expression of naval power. But it’s also worth remembering that they were nearly rendered practically useless against a devastating, new kind of war machine: the U-Boat.
Fortunately, new antisubmarine technologies and tactics were already in progress, which empowered our Allies to eventually win.
Much depends on developing outcomes that will make our Alliance more ready for the future. So this week, bring your expertise, bring your ideas and bring your candor.
Let’s continue to forge even closer relationships. There can be no doubt that our prosperity both here in the United States…and around the world…are linked to freedom of movement and security on, below and above the world’s oceans.
I’m honored to work with you, and I’m grateful for all the NATO Sailors who are holding the line on both sides of the Atlantic. Thank you very much, and I’m happy to answer any of your questions.
Adm. Mike Gilday
14 April 2021
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