Jim, thank you for that introduction, and for assembling this conference.
Let me start by sending my prayers to the brave Ukrainians standing strong in the face of Russian aggression.
As a Cuban refugee myself who fled communism as a young child in the 1960s, I deeply sympathize with their cause and plight. I can personally empathize what they are going through.
We stand united in our support of the Ukrainian people. And I pray that the evil destruction raining down on them by Putin will soon come to an end in a more peaceful and diplomatic manner – as elusive an outcome as that may seem today.
Again, thank you for this invitation. It is an honor to be speaking to you today.
I deeply respect this audience. You understand how important our military, and especially our naval forces, are to the defense of our nation, and to the protection of our national security interests that directly contribute to the advancement of our economy. I often say our national security is tired to our economic security and vice versa.
As some of you may know, I spent the first half of my adult life serving the U.S. Navy in uniform. Then for 17 years I served our nation, like so many of you, as a defense professional from the private sector.
I am thankful for the many lessons I learned from both my naval and private sector service as I now fulfill my new role as your Secretary of the Navy.
As I begin today’s discussion, let me first share with you why the Navy-Marine Corps team is more relevant today than it has ever been.
First, we protect our nation’s commerce. The oceans are indeed the lifeblood of the global economy. 5.4 trillion dollars of annual U.S. commerce, and more than 31 million American jobs depend on ocean-going trade.
Each year, 11 billion tons of goods traverse the oceans. The over 400 underwater fiber optic cables that crisscross the oceans carry 97 percent of international communications and over a trillion dollars of financial transactions every day.
Without an ever-present Navy-Marine Corps team keeping sea lanes of trade and communications safe from malevolent actors, the global economy could easily shudder to a halt.
That reality is perhaps nowhere more relevant than in the South China Sea, through which one third of all international shipping passes.
Second - a lethal, forward, present, and always dominant Navy-Marine Corps team is an essential pillar of our Nation’s Joint Warfighting Concept.
With a clear strategy, ready warfighters, and capable platforms, we can deter any foe, and win any conflict.
And finally, strong maritime diplomatic engagement is vital to strengthening America’s partnerships with our allies to uphold the rule of law and deter malevolent behaviors wherever they may exist.
I am proud to note that the Biden Administration is committed to making the necessary investments to ensure the Navy-Marine Corps team remains the world’s most capable maritime force.
With this Administration’s strong commitment, we will act smartly and forcefully to deter our pacing challenge, namely China.
We will also collectively work together with our allies in NATO and around the globe to prevent Russia from sowing even greater chaos.
The Navy-Marine Corps team understands its mission to deliver combat ready forces to our nation and Commander-in-Chief.
It’s also important for you and all Americans to understand our mission and purpose as well.
We do have a clear strategy to achieve that mission, rooted in three guiding principles.
First, we must maintain and strengthen our maritime dominance in every domain, to deter potential adversaries and when necessary, to fight and win at sea.
Second, we must empower our Sailors and Marines by fostering a culture of warfighting excellence in all we do.
And third, we must strengthen our strategic partnerships, with our sister Services, with industry, and with our international partners around the globe.
Strengthening our maritime dominance in defense of our nation and our national security interests is critical.
This means we must be able to respond quickly and decisively, whenever and wherever required.
Secretary Austin has provided clear guidance for projecting that force where it matters in an integrated manner.
Today, 75 ships are deployed around the globe, actively campaigning forward. We also have over 30,000 Marines forward deployed at sea and in over 50 countries.
Active naval campaigning where it matters most speaks to our readiness and our commitment to train aggressively as warfighters with our allies and partners to deter our adversaries.
Further capability investments in strengthening our maritime dominance are also paying off.
Over the next decade, we’ll bring to life lethal, agile, and technologically advanced platforms like:
Similarly, VIRGINIA class submarines, non-kinetic electronic warfare, and offensive cyber capabilities will help us achieve maritime dominance through deception and counteract our competitors’ purported advantages.
Linking all of these new warfighting capabilities together will be a new Naval Operational Architecture we are developing through Project Overmatch.
Aggressive deployment of these game-changing capabilities and technologies are critical priorities for our naval forces and their contribution to the Joint Warfighting Strategy.
Our strategy for strengthening our maritime dominance also consists of deterring our adversaries with agile, networked, survivable naval forces that can deliver long range fires and unmatched lethality while neutralizing their perceived advantages.
This audience understands better than others why such a clear strategy, backed by substantial investment, is necessary.
However, our maritime dominance is not a foregone conclusion, and can never be overestimated.
For the first time since the Cold War, we have a strategic competitor with naval capabilities that rival our own. The PLA’s Navy is indeed our pacing challenge. China’s navy is strong and getting stronger.
China has 17 shipyards, and now has the world’s largest fleet, with approximately 350 ships. With continued investments, it will have over 450 by the end of the decade.
Perhaps even more concerning is Beijing’s testing and eventual production of hypersonic weapons and advanced Anti-Access, Area Denial capabilities.
China has signaled malign intentions behind these investments, threatening its democratic neighbors, particularly Taiwan.
If Taiwan were to fall to Beijing’s military aggression, America would not only lose our eighth largest trading partner, but the world could see China gain exclusive control of the South China Sea.
That is simply unacceptable.
A strategy based on our ability to fight in a distributed manner and strike adversaries across all domains at range, and to sustain lethal combat power in contested environments, will perhaps prevent that outcome.
Yet even the perfect strategy will fail if it does not have the best warfighters in place to implement it.
Our success will depend on the warfighting skills and commitment of the Sailors and Marines I am proud to serve.
As General George Patton once said, “wars are fought with weapons, but they are won by men.” I, of course believe they are won by both men and women.
(Please, don’t tell General McConville the SecNav just quoted an Army general, or I’ll never hear the end of it!)
Our second guiding principle, then, is empowering our people by fostering a culture of warfighting excellence. We must ensure we have a talented Navy-Marine Corps team capable of winning any fight, empowered with the training and tools it needs to succeed.
So far, we are making much progress. Morale is high, and our people have a clear sense of mission. I am not just saying this. I have the benefit of experience to understand it.
As one example, consider USS MUSTIN’s crew, who recently shadowed the Chinese Carrier Liaoning in the South China Sea. While the Liaoning was engaged in training exercises, USS Mustin sailed within visual range of the carrier, well inside the perimeter Laioning’s escorts intended to enforce.
USS MUSTIN’s crew proved a point: America’s Navy will not back down just because China, or any other competitor, issues an implicit threat. Shadowing the Liaoning said more than Pentagon officials and senior brass could say in a hundred speeches.
It is our responsibility to ensure that Sailors and Marines throughout the force live by the same culture of warfighting excellence that imbued the crew of USS MUSTIN.
To be clear, we are making the investments necessary to uphold a strong culture of warfighting excellence.
Investments in initiatives like Ready Relevant Learning, the Learning to Action Board, and Talent Management 2030 are producing more capable, more accountable Sailors and Marines.
Equally important is that we ensure Sailors and Marines understand that character creates competence. A good leader is an empathetic one.
If commanding officers berate instead of teach, we must teach them the correct approach.
If talented individuals believe they cannot serve because of their race or gender then we must root out the malign forces that tell them they are not welcome.
Let me be clear, these are not political statements. They are part of a coherent strategy designed to attract the best talent and build trust amongst warriors.
That kind of force will undoubtedly deter our adversaries who are often simply scripted in how to fight.
Our Sailors and Marines, our people, are indeed our most significant competitive advantage.
In the coming budget, we must double down on the investments we have made in them. We must provide them proper training and guidance throughout their time in uniform to help them unleash their full potential.
Given our strategic threats, everyone on the Navy-Marine Corps team, be they uniformed or civilian, must unleash their full potential. We cannot do that without our partners in industry.
This brings me to our third guiding principle, strengthening our strategic partnerships.
I will start with the Department of the Navy’s partnership with industry. Let me be frank. We need more.
I spent 17 years as a business owner serving the Armed Forces, so I understand how much we rely upon you.
We will not forget that the innovative platforms and technologies that are so essential to the Joint Warfighting Concept would not exist without the private sector’s involvement.
Yet that is not enough. We need our partners to manage costs, fight requirements creep, and deliver platforms on-time and on-budget.
We also need our partners to think about the large-scale challenges the Department of the Navy – and, indeed, the entire world – is facing and do their part to tackle them.
Ultimately, we need our industry partners to be good stewards of the taxpayer’s money.
We are committed to engaging with industry, understanding your own challenges, and making potential investments when needed.
But we also demand a higher return on investment. We must always ensure we operate in the best interests of the men and women who protect us and with regard to the American taxpayers that support us.
Given how much we demand of our people, we must provide them the best. In this global age, they are not just the best warfighters in the world. They are also some of the most effective diplomats in America’s arsenal.
They are essential to a core element of our deterrent strategy, namely the commitment to collective defense.
That commitment is strong, and it is one of the greatest competitive advantages we have over China and Russia.
We have countless examples. Last year our Sailors worked alongside other navies in dozens of exercises, including MALABAR with our Indo-Pacific allies and STEADFAST DEFENDER with our NATO partners.
Given Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, I must also mention USS MOUNT WHITNEY operating alongside the Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Romanian, and Turkish navies and the Georgian Coast Guard in the Black Sea.
Our Marines are equally a critical component of our maritime diplomatic strategy. They undertake joint operations every day, like the embarked F35b squadron aboard HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH.
I am proud of the fact that, as Forbes put it, “there are exactly six classes of warship all over the world that can launch and land F35b stealth jump jets. In 2021, the U.S. Marine Corps operated on five of them.”
Deck hopping among our allies is not a dream. It is real.
That level of interoperability will deter and confuse China. It will also make China understand that the U.S. and its allies fight as one, giving us overwhelming numbers.
That’s a level of cooperation and military diplomacy neither China nor Russia can ever hope to achieve. As Thomas Friedman wrote, “China has no friends, only vassals.”
To paraphrase President Biden, the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps team can “own the finish line.” Our people, our alliances, and our innovation are enormous competitive advantages.
It is incumbent upon us, then, to adhere to a strategy that capitalizes on those advantages for maritime dominance is not optional. Yet neither is it guaranteed.
That is why we must remember that keeping a strong deterrent is a sacred responsibility. We must act as if lives depend on the decisions we make.
Because they do.
When we deter wars, we save lives.
When we strengthen our maritime dominance, we save lives.
When we foster a culture of warfighting excellence, we save lives.
When we strengthen our partnerships and alliances, we save lives.
Let me close by thanking all of you for your support for 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. Thank you.
Carlos Del Toro
09 March 2022
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