Happy New Year to all of my fellow Surface Navy Warfare Officers and Sailors, and partners in industry.
From everything I have heard so far, despite COVID, this has been an incredible gathering.
On Tuesday, you heard Admiral Gilday talk about all the ways we are making our Surface Fleet – and our Navy – more ready, more capable, and more lethal.
You heard from MCPON Smith about the strength of our deckplate leadership.
And you heard from Admiral Schultz about our evolving partnership with the United States Coast Guard.
It was also great for me to walk the floor yesterday and personally meet with so many of you in industry.
As you now know from my fellow speakers and from our Tri-Service Maritime Strategy that was released a little over a year ago, we are working more closely together than ever before, along our shores and overseas.
Tonight, I am eager to again add my voice to theirs as we continue this journey together.
One of several galvanizing themes define this year’s conference, and indeed it must continue to define our Nation’s strategic thinking as we look towards the Indo-Pacific and globally.
That theme is: The Surface Navy is back, stronger than ever, ever present, and ready to meet its mission.
The Surface Navy is back and needs to remain at the center of our national security strategy, from the South China Sea, to the Mediterranean, to the Black Sea, and to the Arabian Gulf.
The Surface Navy is back at the center of our maritime diplomacy, forging and strengthening bonds with allies and partners.
And the Surface Navy is back at the center of the Joint Force…. Forward deployed, ready, maneuverable and lethal, as called upon by our Joint Warfighting Concept.
Yet being so central to our nation's future is also a formidable responsibility.
It means we must hone our strategy, invest wisely, capitalize on our strengths, and be clear-eyed about our adversaries and the threats they present.
I am confident our Surface Navy is ready to shoulder this responsibility.
Everywhere I go as Secretary of the Navy, I see the increasing agility, lethality and capability of our surface ships.
But more importantly – and despite the obvious challenges that face our fleet today – I am constantly struck by the high morale of the Sailors and Marines who serve aboard them.
Right now, approximately 135,000 Sailors are on operational sea duty - the highest levels since 2014.
Right now, there are 58 commissioned ships deployed around the world protecting our Nation at sea.
Despite what critics may say, today, in every theater and on every ship, our Navy-Marine Corps team has a true and well-defined sense of mission.
If you doubt me, just ask the crew of the USS Mustin (DDG 89) who courageously and strategically shadowed the Chinese Carrier Liaoning in the South China Sea.
By the way, I need someone to send me one of those patches to display in my office.
But let there be no doubt, there is much left to do in the months and years ahead.
We must first better understand our adversaries tactically and strategically, and set in motion a practical and realistic strategy to deter them and, if necessary, prevail over them.
We must prioritize investments to address current and emerging threats.
The pace of technological change requires constant progress and innovation.
That also requires resources – both to maintain our high operational tempo today, and to build for the future.
It also demands that we make tough choices.
As Secretary of the Navy, I vow to you that I will fight every day for more resources for our Navy and Marine Corps to make still greater contributions to our Joint Warfighting Concept in every domain.
We know our competitors are making those investments as we speak.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy now has the world’s largest fleet, with around 350 ships.
And with its accelerating shipbuilding program, that number is likely to exceed 450 by the end of the decade.
Perhaps even more concerning is Beijing’s testing and eventual production of hypersonic weapons.
For the first time since the end of the Cold War, we have a strategic competitor with naval capabilities that rival our own.
As a nation, we must face up to that reality now and make the necessary investments today to deter Beijing in every possible manner.
Yet as recent events have proven, Beijing is not our only concern.
I began my surface warfare career chasing Kilo and Akula-class submarines around the Mediterranean and Russian surface ships around the Black Sea.
Now, Russia’s unrelenting aggression has, once more, turned the Black Sea and Eastern Europe into a cauldron of hostility that demands our attention.
These are just some of the threats proving our Surface Navy has never been more relevant to protecting America’s interests.
When we speak to others, we should be crystal clear about what “protecting America’s interests” means:
Today, all Americans need to understand that the oceans are the lifeblood of the global economy.
The Navy protects those oceans.
It is not hyperbole to say America’s economy – and, indeed, the global economy – relies on the actions and decisions of those who man those ships and who attend this conference.
And the impact today is greater than ever.
When I was a surface warfare officer back in 1990, the world had one underwater fiber-optic cable.
Today, there are more than 400, carrying 97 percent of international communications responsible for over a trillion dollars in financial transactions each day.
Global shipping on the seas has nearly tripled, from 4 billion tons in 1990, to over 11 billion tons in 2020.
And shipping in the Arctic has increased by over 400 percent – in just the past three years.
Overall, ninety percent of global trade now travels on the ocean, through vital sea lanes protected by our naval forces and our allies.
So you can thank our Navy when Amazon brings a package to your door.
But our impact on the global economy is measured in more than just packages.
It is measured in livelihoods and GDP.
5.4 trillion dollars of annual U.S. commerce, and 31 million American jobs, depend on ocean-going trade.
Our economy, prosperity, and security have always been linked to the seas and define us as a maritime power.
That is why our Nation needs a strong Navy-Marine Corps Team.
That’s why we must always have an ever-present, postured, and persistent surface fleet and Navy ready to deter aggression and defend the sea lanes wherever called upon well into the future.
That’s why we must have greater resources to both maintain an effective Navy-Marine Corps team today, and also build a stronger one for tomorrow.
As Secretary of the Navy, I am excited about the ships, manned and unmanned, and weapons platforms we will acquire, introduce, or modernize over the next decade.
The lethality, maneuverability, and technology on warships like the Constellation class frigate even make me long for command at sea again.
I envy all of you Junior Officers and young Department Heads who serve in these most exciting of times.
But we must also see these investments through with the right maintenance and operational resources throughout their service life.
We must check unnecessary rising operations, maintenance, and sustainment costs. Industry has an important role in doing so.
Thanks to Admiral Lescher’s Performance to Plan initiative, we have cut maintenance delays in private shipyards by nearly 20 percent.
In fact, overall maintenance delays have been reduced by 41 percent since 2019.
In the last year alone, we have cut our manning gaps at sea in half.
These are just a small sampling of how P2P’s “Get real, get better” effort is driving genuine, measurable improvements in the fleet.
Today, more so than ever as described yesterday, we use data analytics to anticipate and solve problems before they happen.
And if we fall short, anywhere in the Department, we respond with a strong sense of urgency, transparency, accountability, and a determination to learn and improve.
Thanks to this rigorous approach, our ships are more ready and available for tasking, with better safety procedures and certifications.
However, these results are only possible because of the investments we are also making in our people.
Our Sailors now have access to better education, training, and advancement opportunities at sea.
They are operating with excellence and skill alongside counterparts from our allies and partners.
I have seen this firsthand.
This Fall I visited with Sailors and Marines from USS RONALD REAGAN, forward deployed in Japan.
They had just completed a 5 month deployment, executing missions with Sailors from Japan, Singapore, India, Pakistan, France, Germany, and the UK.
Last year our Sailors worked alongside other navies in dozens of exercises, including:
USS MOUNT WHITNEY sailed alongside the Bulgarian, Romanian, Turkish and Ukrainian Navies and the Georgian Coast Guard in the Black Sea.
And USS HERSCHEL WOODY WILLIAMS circumnavigated Africa, conducting port calls around the continent.
That’s a level of cooperation and naval diplomatic engagement neither China nor Russia can ever hope for or achieve.
Collective organizations like NATO, strategic partnerships like the Quad, and trilateral agreements like AUKUS preserve peace and security at sea.
These agreements also encourage other nations to pursue the path of cooperation and prosperity.
This is naval diplomacy at its very best.
Rooted in friendship, not coercion.
Values, not vulnerability.
Respect, not fear.
As China and Russia continue to demonstrate contempt for international norms and free democratic nations such as those threatened today, our fleet forms the vanguard of allied conventional deterrence.
Our fleet is the pointy end of the spear, backed by the weight of true alliances and partnerships.
The United States Navy has been crucial to the stability and security that has defined the high seas since World War II, particularly in the Indo-Pacific.
And today, the surface fleet is the centerpiece of the Joint Force’s warfighting readiness, integrated deterrence and allied assurance efforts.
That’s the message I will take to Capitol Hill this budget season.
We need to keep building the right platforms, with the right capabilities in greater numbers, for tomorrow’s fight.
And the American people are with us in that effort.
Just last month, a Gallup quarterly survey showed that Americans consider the Navy the most important military service for national defense.
When you combine the Navy and Marine Corps, that recognition is even stronger.
The American people know the same thing you all know - our Sailors, Marines and civilians protect the shorelines, the sea lanes, and our way of life.
As the Surface Navy is back at the center of our security needs, it is our responsibility to ensure it is back at the center of our national priorities.
Every warship must contribute to our global posture, our distributed power, and our integrated deterrence in the most efficient and effective way possible.
Admiral Gilday’s initial order stated it best:
“Mission One for every Sailor—uniformed and civilian, active and reserve—is the operational readiness for today’s Navy.”
That must be the mission for everyone at this conference as well.
As I said earlier and the CNO said on Tuesday, it all starts with a culture of warfighting excellence, rooted in integrity, accountability, and respect.
We must train our Sailors and Officers to defend our freedom in times of peace and to fight wars when called upon.
I know the excellence of every surface warfare officer here, because I have been in your shoes.
I know the skill of every government official here, because I have been in your shoes.
I know the commitment of every industry partner here today, because I have been in your shoes.
And I look forward to our work together, as it is an honor to work alongside those who share our commitment to our beloved Navy and Marine Corps, now and long into the future.
So keep the lines of communication open.
Keep challenging assumptions together.
And keep challenging your Department to do better.
From my 17 years as a business owner, I know how motivated our private sector partners are to help build our edge against potential adversaries.
My goal is to build true partnerships, where we understand each other’s needs, limitations, and goals.
That’s why I’m holding town hall meetings with industry partners to hear about the challenges they’re having doing business with the Department and how they can do more to help us.
In November I met with IT and ship maintenance suppliers right here in Arlington.
And last week I met with professional services and logistics partners in Beaufort, South Carolina.
We owe it to the taxpayer to ensure money is spent effectively, and efficiently.
We owe it to all who serve to ensure you are prepared, trained, and equipped for your missions.
And we owe it to the families who serve at our service members’ side as well.
Our Navy, our Nation, and our World, depends on the success of our surface fleet.
We have always been challenged by limited resources, unexpected crisis, evil adversaries, and even occasional rust.
Yet, we always rise to the occasion. My promise to you is we will continue to do so, always bold, always taking care of our people, always transparent to the American public, and always resolute in meeting our mission!
I know we are up to the task because I know the caliber of Officers and Sailors on every ship in our fleet.
I know we are up to the task because of the investments we make in people, platforms, and technologies.
Most of all, I know we are up to the task because the Surface Navy is back, stronger than ever.
Let me close by thanking you all for your support to our Sailors and Marines as they protect our Nation at sea.
And to all who wear the uniform today, may God protect you and your families in this New Year and beyond.
Carlos Del Toro
13 January 2022
14 January 2022
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