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Below is a transcript of the remarks as delivered:
MEGAN CLARK TORREY: So we are so privileged and honored to have our keynote speaker today. And it’s particularly an honor for me, as the daughter of Navy veteran. So please welcome the 32nd Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Michael Gilday.
ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY: Ms. Torrey, good afternoon. Can you hear me?
MS. TORREY: Absolutely. I can hear you, sir.
ADM. GILDAY: Well, first of all, I’m just tuning in now, so I haven’t been able to hear much of the conversation today. Although I have looked at the agenda. I know that you’re talking about the age of instability and have likely touched a lot on both Russia and China, as well as perhaps North Korea and Iran. And so what I thought I’d do, given the 30 minutes that we have, is to talk about two areas in particular with an aim towards maybe setting the table for Q&A on what we’re doing about the age of instability.
The first thing I thought I’d touch on briefly are the importance of allies and partners. And so you have seen us in this administration – in the National Defense Strategy, Secretary Austin talks about integrated deterrence as an objective. And the means by which you achieve that is campaigning. And that campaigning is not solely done by the U.S. military, or even solely with other instruments of U.S. national power, but more broadly with our allies and partners.
And if I take a look at my calendar over the past two months, as an example, I am meeting with or talking to my counterparts from around the world once or twice a week. Last night, and most of yesterday, I was with my Australian counterpart. Today I’m with my counterpart from Belgium. In two weeks, I’ll be with all our European partners at a conference in Italy talking about some key operational issues.
When I think about major exercises we’ve done just in the last 90 days, the Baltic Operations exercise that we do annually had 16 allies and partners, including Sweden and Finland. The Rim of the Pacific exercise, west of Hawaii, had nearly 30 partners. And UNITAS, that we just finished down in the Southern Command [area of responsibility] had about 20 nations involved. So that connective tissue with allies and partners is critically important because we know that we cannot maintain those international norms that were established long ago at Bretton Woods all by ourselves.
I’d also say with some of our allies and partners we’re trying to transition from just being interoperable to being interchangeable. And I’ll give you a couple of examples. In the Middle East there’s an example when we had a gap of a carrier strike group because we had one in the Western Pacific and we had another one in the Mediterranean. We actually relied on the French carrier Charles de Gaulle to provide air support over Afghanistan. And that carrier strike group from France actually came under the tactical control of the U.S. Fifth Fleet commander in Bahrain.
We’ve done the same thing in the Mediterranean, with not only Charles de Gaulle but with also the Italian carrier Cavour. And so we have done kind of this interchangeability piece and tried to use that to our advantage at times when we couldn’t cover down on specific pieces of battle space that we considered critical. Other examples would be the Royal Navy, the Brits covering down for us in escorting ships through the Strait of Hormuz or the Bab-al-Mandeb between the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. And so that happens now almost seamlessly as we shift tactical control of units under each other’s command, and we use our units in those interchangeable kind of ways.
I think that that needs to continue in the future. It’s a little bit easier in the European theater because we have NATO as a framework – as a rigorous framework – we use to tie us all together. But in the Pacific, it’s a bit more of a pick-up game, because we have less structure. And so what we try to do is we try to knit together allies and partners, whether it’s bilaterally, trilaterally, or multilaterally, in order to work together closely, particularly as we stand firm against China’s malfeasance in the Western Pacific, in the Strait of Taiwan, and also in the South China Sea.
A couple of additional examples that I think are noteworthy. The first would the Quad that we stood up with India and Australia, which is – initially it’s actually – the focus of that particular arrangement is diplomatic and economic, but there’s also a military thread there that’s played out very well. I think particularly when we consider India’s strategic positioning, not only relative to the Indian Ocean but also the friction that they have right now and the border they share with China, has forced China to cast their gaze away from the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait over their shoulder at India. We see that to our advantage and are leveraging India and partnerships to that end, to keep the Chinese occupied and to let them know that their circle of friends is diminishing and not growing.
The other relatively new security arrangement in the past year that’s come into place is AUKUS, or the Australia-U.K.-U.S. framework, that is really centered around, number one, it’s providing Australia with their own indigenous capability to produce submarines, to sustain them, and to deploy them in a continuous manner. But secondly, it’s opening the floodgates with respect to sharing information more broadly, and [sharing] technology more broadly. Think AI; think quantum computing; think the use of unmanned – so that we can leverage industry in each of our countries to a greater degree and put them against known operational problems very quickly – so that we can put capabilities in the hands of warfighters in months, rather than years.
I’d like to pause there with the international discussion and shift more to the United States Navy for just a few minutes and talk about where we are now and where we see ourselves going. Based on China being the pacing threat – and that’s well-established in the last two defense strategies – it caused the Navy actually preceding the 2018 NDS to take a hard look on whether or not we thought that given the threat that we would face now and into the future, whether we were posturing the right fleet in terms of not only numbers but, importantly, composition in order to not only deter, but to succeed if we got into a fight.
And we determined that we were not satisfied with the current fleet that we had. But in general, we thought that if we do come at the Chinese, it would be a in more distributed manner. So think multiple vectors in all domains, from seabed to space. And there’d be a transregional aspect of any kind of conflict with China as well, that would go beyond the Indo-Pacific area of responsibility. So there’s this notion that we would fight in a distributed manner across many vectors, physical and virtual.
I think another aspect of that was to take a look at the current fleet that we had, and whether or not in a distributed manner [if] it would be most effective. And we felt that, A) we needed more numbers. But we also needed more capability spread over a vast space. And so in terms of affordability, we know that we cannot continue to build or sustain a fleet like we did in the previous century. So we have taken a deep look at unmanned. We have an unmanned taskforce in the Middle East right now, where we are on track to have 100 unmanned vessels on the sea and in the air by the summer of 2023.
We have a framework of partners involved in that effort. So 80% of the effort is allies and partners. 20% is U.S., in terms of the investment. And the real key to that is taking unmanned on the sea and in the air to sense the environment, and to make sense of it as the tactical edge and operation centers in countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel and Bahrain, so that they have a better sense of what type of potentially illicit traffic is transiting the waterways close to their [exclusive economic zones] EEZs or inside their territorial waters.
And if I use an example real quick to kind of put a punctuation point on it, if you take a look at the Red Sea, as an example, which is about the size of the state of California, and on a typical day we might have three, four, on a good day five, coalition ships patrolling that waterway. That’s akin to having five patrol cars trying to police the state of California. It just isn’t very effective. So leveraging unmanned to sense the environment and then to push that data back to operations centers where we actually leverage applications that are aided by both AI and machine learning, to get a better understanding of what is flowing through that battlespace as proven in the testing that we’ve done over the past eight months to be very effective.
So this effort with unmanned has allowed us to understand how to connect not only platforms, but also importantly the artificial intelligence and the software integration that makes those unmanned platforms really come alive. The secret is the AI software plug, and not necessarily the platform or the payload that the platform carries. That’s helped us to understand how to command and control, how to integrate the assets more effectively.
And that is giving us a better understanding of how we can accelerate our path to larger unmanned vessels, which would give us a hybrid fleet probably in the mid to late 2030s, where we would see 40% of the U.S. fleet to be unmanned or minimally manned, and 60% of the fleet be manned. We’re doing the same thing with our airwings off of aircraft carriers, where by the mid-2030s we think that 40% of our carrier airwings will be manned and 60% will be unmanned.
So that is our path going forward in order to give us a force that gives us both capabilities and numbers that we could come at a potential adversary in a distributed way and, we think, a much more effective manner. For all of these efforts, including high tech offensive weapons like hypersonics and, on the defensive side, laser technology. So directed energy that we’re using on some of our ships that we’re experimenting with, as well as high-powered microwaves in terms of defending the fleet. We’re working hand-in-glove with much of that experimentation with the U.S. Marine Corps, with the U.S. Army, and of course with the U.S. Air Force. And so it is a joint effort to try and change the way not only how we fight, but what we fight with.
So with that, ma’am, I’d like to just pause and open it up to any questions that might be specific to what I just talked about or, more broadly, that might touch back to some of the previous speakers. Thank you.
MS. TORREY: Thank you. So let’s talk a little bit, when we’re looking at the globe – and we know that we’re experiencing climate change, and the melting of ice. Can you comment a little bit about naval operations in the Arctic, and some of the threats and challenges there?
ADM. GILDAY: Sure. So in 2018 – late 2018 – we did our first excursion, our first deployment in the Arctic Basin in a generation. We hadn’t flown aircraft in those kind of conditions or operated ships for long periods of times in those conditions since the late 1980s, early 1990s. Since then, we are operating routinely in the Arctic with exercises and operations going on with allies and partners at least a dozen times a year.
Most recently I was in Iceland. And people tend to think of Iceland, which is obviously part of the NATO – a member of the NATO alliance, in kind of a transatlantic kind of way. But we now have to consider Iceland in a geostrategic position there by Greenland, and the entryway into the Arctic Basin. With the ice cap melting and with trade routes between Asia and Europe fundamentally changing over the next, let’s say, two decades, that space, that battlespace, is going to fundamentally change with respect to competition for resources, with respect to the need to make sure that those trade routes remain open and free for all.
I think that Sweden and Finland joining the alliance here shortly also adds to that dynamic in the Arctic. And so it’s becoming a more competitive space. Our presence in the Arctic is becoming more and more important. It’s also a bit complicated, at least with the U.S. military, we have three combatant commanders that all touch that region. So [Indo-Pacific Command] INDOPACOM, the commander of U.S. [Northern Command] NORTHCOM, and also the commander of U.S. European command. So I think in terms of operations, what we’re likely to see in the future are those strong lines that stand between [combatant commands] COCOMs begin to dissolve a bit as we need to operate fairly seamlessly across those commanders. I’ll pause there, ma’am, for any follow up.
MS. TORREY: Absolutely. So let’s talk a little bit about how you’re approaching the force itself. So in your Navigation Plan that came out this July, you talked a lot about the importance of maintaining a culture of excellence that bolsters warfighting advantage. Can you talk to us a little bit about the principles and practices that are constituting how you’re going about doing that?
ADM. GILDAY: Yes. So four words: get real and get better. So it’s really facing the problems that we have, understanding them, being transparent about the issues that we’re facing in the Navy before we decide to move forward with solution sets. That has to be a mindset to self-assess and to then self-correct. A disciplined mindset that we see in some of the world’s best learning organizations. Companies that have flourished for decades have this kind of learning environment where they’re not embarrassed to admit that they have mistakes.
We need to get beyond status quo behavior. And I’ll give you an example. At least in the Pentagon when people give briefings they want to make sure that they have a stoplight chart with red, yellow, and green. They want to make sure that their slides are green, that they’re showing that everything’s okay, and success is walking away from a briefing without any tasking form their boss. That kind of behavior does not lend itself to actually embracing what’s wrong, admitting what’s wrong, and getting after what’s wrong.
This became a realization to me as we took a look at the readiness of our fighter aircraft, our Super Hornets, that had not punched above 50% in well over a decade. And so one would think in order to get from our baseline performance, which was 50%, to the North Star that we wanted to achieve, which was sustained 80% readiness – one would think in terms of inputs that we would have to lather that with more money and increase the budget to our aircraft maintainers by at least 30%.
We didn’t do that. We took a look at process. And we found that in terms of the way that we were doing our depot-level maintenance, that we had not significantly moved the needle or changed our processes since the mid-1980s, so in 40 years. And so that led us to get real about where we were and then get better about the solution set to where we needed to – where we needed to go. And now for nearly three years we’ve been sustaining that 80% fighter readiness.
So I hope that example kind of sheds some light on, you know, as an exemplar of the kind of behavior that we want to model more broadly in the Navy, so that we can make sure that we – you know, as a learning organization, I believe that, you know, those that learn and adapt the fastest are going to win in combat. There’s no doubt of that. You’re seeing that on the ground in Ukraine right now. And we have to embrace and adapt to that same mindset.
MS. TORREY: On recruiting … there’s been a steady drumbeat in the news recently that the armed forces are struggling in that area. Can you talk about how the Navy is doing? Also, Navy has done a lot with social media and influencers -- is that a way you are seeing success? And in terms of retention, what is motivating Sailors to stay in?
ADM. GILDAY: So in terms of meeting numbers, so we’re meeting numbers with respect to total end strength. We’re meeting our goals with respect to retention. And right now, we are meeting our recruiting goals for the active force, but we’re lagging by 2(00)-300 in the reserve force. So in short, we’re not satisfied where we are, and see the storm clouds not only on the horizon but overhead with respect to being able to recruit.
In terms of, you know, a recruitable population of young people on which to recruit from or to focus on, in the aggregate that group is between 20 and 25 million 17- to 25-year-olds. If you take a look at academic performance, if you take a look at physical qualifications, and then, importantly, when you take a look at their propensity to serve or their desire to serve, that number falls below 400,000 from, let’s say, 21-22 million. So that’s a relatively small pool to go after, not only in the services but industry is also competing for that talent.
The Navy, during COVID, so about 18 to 24 months ago, we shifted to completely a virtual environment in terms of recruiting – near completely a virtual environment. We moved away from television and we moved into social media quite heavily, as well as the gaming industry, and have found a lot of success there. But we’re still not satisfied. I think that person to person touch is important. I think that we’re finding ourselves – realizing that we need to reach out to influencers. You all in the audience are certainly among those influencers that you would hope would be positive about military service.
But also, guidance counselors and teachers in school, professors in colleges, administrators, so that they have a more positive outlook on the military as an option for those that they influence on a day-to-day basis. Thanks for the question.
MS. TORREY: Of course. I think our first question is over here in the audience.
Q: Good afternoon, sir. Midshipman First Class Hummel, Naval Academy.
I was just curious if you could briefly touch on what you think the role of the carrier strike group will be in a potential conflict in the Pacific. Thank you, sir.
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah, so I would say there are two vitally important elements in any kind of fight in the Pacific. One is under the sea, where the U.S. Navy right now has an advantage over any of our potential adversaries. And that kind of competitive advantage is something that we aim to keep. So we don’t want anybody catching up or surpassing us with respect to expertise and capability in the undersea.
With respect to carrier strike groups and surface ships, that’s our striking power, the striking arm of the United States Navy. And our ability – along with our undersea capabilities – to basically conduct our two primary reasons for being. One is sea control and the other is power projection. The carrier itself is the world’s most survivable airfield.
So I’m not sitting far from Reagan National Airport, which is going to be in the same exact spot at 1:50 p.m. tomorrow afternoon. But if it were an aircraft carrier, it could be off the coast of Newfoundland. It could be off of Miami, Florida. Or it could be – if it could go west – I’d be west of the Mississippi and Missouri. So you have that kind of mobility with an aircraft carrier that you do not have with static airfields.
With the carrier airwing itself, we now have the MQ-25 Stingray, which is an unmanned tanking asset that we have on the carrier that’ll have its initial operational capability in 2025. It actually extends the range of the airwing by 20 to 25 miles – by 500 miles, excuse me. So another 500 miles we can push those strike aircraft forward with weapons with range and speed. And so we are investing in a number of weapons that have longer range, higher speed, higher survivability. And that includes an air-launched hypersonics weapon. Half of our [carrier] airwings by mid-decade are going to be a mix of fourth and fifth generation aircraft. So the Super Hornets and F-35s. And by the end of the decade, we’ll be mostly a fifth gen force.
And so the carrier remains an important, potent, survivable, lethal part of the U.S. military. And our investments are really key to what the carrier carries. We’re going to deploy the new carrier Ford here this fall. That’ll be her first deployment. And she has a new catapult and arresting gear system that, instead of being steam propelled, is actually done with magnetic technology that allows us to have an increased sortie rate. So I think we’re in a pretty good shape in terms of where we are and where we’re going with aircraft carriers. And, you know, in the decades ahead we’ll be looking at the aviation combatant of the future. We think there will be a role to deliver some type of effects from the sea downrange, through the air, to an adversary. Thanks for the question.
MS. TORREY: Of course. Next. Over here.
Q: Hello. My name is Joe Cooper. Former Marine.
General Thomas mentioned that China has a weakness when it comes to amphibious capabilities with regard to Taiwan. We have a strength in the United States Marine Corps in amphibious capabilities. And my question is, do we intend to maintain that?
ADM. GILDAY: The commandant and I both signed out an agreed upon requirements document last spring that called for 31 traditional amphibious ships. We believe that we have strong support on Capitol Hill to keep the funding in place for those. There are two amphibious ships in the budget right now that’s being debated on Capitol Hill that was delivered by the president for FY ’23, which is about to begin on the 1st of October. And so the short answer – the answer, sir, is, yes.
And I would say, with respect to amphibious ships, if you consider the spectrum of war in total, the amphibious force plays an important role not only in the fight itself, but also in the mid-to-mid-right part of that spectrum of war where you’re campaigning [and] operating with allies and partners. Those amphibious ships are like F-150 trucks out there. Everybody loves to integrate and play with them, with respect to our allies and partners, also HA/DR missions that our amphibious force has been known for in terms of executing very quickly. And the amphibious ready groups give combatant commanders more options. They’re flexible. They’re responsible. They’re mobile. I hope that answers your question.
MS. TORREY: Excellent. You, next.
Q: Rory from the Air Force Academy.
With me in the room are a number of members of our joint force, both across the active duty and reserve elements. And I was hoping to hear what you had to think regarding what role the joint force has to play and what supporting the Navy needs in order to succeed in the 21st century.
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah, thanks. So I think if you listen to the service chiefs, the Chief of Staff of the Army General McConville, he talks a lot about long-range fires as one element of the Army of not only the future, but really right around the corner. And so the Army and the Navy are working together on a surface-launched hypersonic weapon. The Army will field it first next year, in 2023. The Navy will follow with employment on our Zumwalt-class destroyers in 2025. So it’s a common weapon. We’re working together on it. It’s jointly funded. We’re working shoulder to shoulder in terms of fielding it. And so that’s an example of a weapon that General McConville talks about using to support sea control and sea denial for the Navy in a fight against China.
With respect to the Air Force, we are locked in very closely with the Air Force on F-35, F-35 technology, F-35 employment, F-35 concept of operations, integrated with fourth generation airwings and integration with our allies and partners. The F-35 is the best jet in the world, bar none, in terms of combat capability, in terms of stealth, in terms of the ability to deliver ordnance in a contested environment. So that work with the Air Force continues very closely. And as we look to the next generation of fighter, the next generation of unmanned – so think sixth generation, which truly is achievable by the end of this decade – that’s an area that’s highly classified but that the Navy, Marine Corps, and the Air Force work on together very closely.
As a joint force, that’s one of the powers of the United States military, is that, you know, while, yeah, we do have these serious rivalries, the real power of the U.S. military is our ability to come together as a joint force, and come together against an adversary in a seamless way together, but come at him in many different vectors, both in the physical and in the virtual domains.
MS. TORREY: Thank you, sir. And I would be remiss if I didn’t say where those engines are being made for those F-35s, as I sit here in East Hartford, Connecticut, and I look out in the audience and see so many employees of Pratt & Whitney here. So –
ADM. GILDAY: Well, I’m happy to give a shoutout to Pratt & Whitney and what they do, among other companies in the defense industrial base, to support the U.S. military. Real patriots who are doing some phenomenal work that not only sustain what we have out there today, but they’re making significant investment in new technologies for the future. Thank you.
MS. TORREY: And I think we have an online question.
OPERATOR: So we have a question from Naseem online.
China calls itself a near-Arctic country. Have you seen any movement from them in the region?
ADM. GILDAY: Some. So there’s been some activity by the Chinese up in the Arctic. I would expect that’s going to grow significantly, especially with the diminishment of the polar ice cap and the fact that those trade routes – that northern trade route’s just going to open wide here in the next 15 to 20 years. And so I have no doubt that we’re going to see significant Chinese traffic up there. If I were the Chinese, I would leverage that water space not only in terms of trade, but also in terms of natural resources. I think it’s going to be a very competitive space in the future, and it’s why we need to continue to work with the other countries in the Arctic basin very closely, and as well as to increase our operations in that area.
MS. TORREY: So I think we have time for a few questions. And I do want to make a shoutout to my colleague Naseem from the World Affairs Council of Orange County who just asked that question.
One over here. Oh, yeah. There we go.
Q: Good afternoon, Admiral. First Class Cadet Turnalanafelter from the United States Coast Guard Academy.
To continue along with the questions on the Arctic, so Russia has about 50 icebreakers. And the United States has maybe about two operating at a time, with a handful on the way. So my question to you is: What are the ways the Coast Guard and the Navy, and our other allies, can cooperate and use our assets to increase our presence and our security in the Arctic to combat Russia?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. I think, first and foremost, and you mentioned it, was allies and partners. So you leverage whatever you can whenever you can in order to supplement the capabilities that we have, which are not great with two icebreakers. And so there is funding under the Department of Homeland Security to increase our icebreaker fleet. I’m a big proponent of keeping that funding in place so that we can deliver those ships as soon as possible and get them into the high north. We’re not satisfied with where we are right now. I don’t want to have you leave the conversation with that impression. We need to keep that funding in place and get that capability out there.
It’s just an area – you know, with two decades of ground wars, we have heavily invested in [special operations forces]. We’ve heavily invested in our ground force. And a lot of that has been at the expense of the maritime. And so what you’re seeing now – an example would be the largest shipbuilding budget that we’ve ever had proposed at $27.5 billion for FY ’23 – would be an example of beginning to get more serious about making those long-term strategic investments in the Navy, as well as in the Department of Homeland Security for the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard just commissioned – just put its most capable five cutters in the Indo-Pacific as an example of their commitment to working hand-in-glove with the Navy and our allies and partners in the region as we face up to our pacing threat, China.
MS. TORREY: So I know our time is swiftly running out. And I can ask you one last question about your time as the 32nd Chief of Naval Operations. What do you hope to be your greatest accomplishment?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah, you know, I hadn’t thought about that. My short answer would be, I’m sure that there are plenty of others who have opinions on what my shortcomings or accomplishments have been. I would tell you that my priorities since I’ve come into the job have been readiness, modernization of the current force, and the size of the Navy – in that order. In other words, I’ve not been a proponent of having a Navy bigger than one we can sustain. And I believe that having a lethal, capable, ready Navy is important than having a bigger Navy that’s less ready, less capable, and less lethal.
So we got to have a Navy out there. It’s got to be forward every single day. And places like the Middle East, which has pretty important choke points, remains a maritime theater. In the Mediterranean and in the high north, squaring off with the Russians. And in the Western Pacific with the Chinese. And so we need ships out there in numbers. But they’re irrelevant unless they’re fully manned, the Sailors on board those ships are well-trained and ready for combat, that we actually have magazines that are filled to the brim with ammunition and have supply part storerooms that are filled with those critical parts we need to self-sustain at sea.
You need a force that can be ready to fight tonight, at the same time balancing that against the modernization of the Navy, 70% of which you’re going to have the same fleet that we have today in the water in 10 years from now. I hope that answers your question. But it’s really about readiness, modernization, and capacity, keeping those in balance. And I hope that people grade me satisfactorily on my effort to keep those priorities in place and well-funded.
MS. TORREY: Thank you so much, sir. We’re honored to have you with us today. And if we can all give a big round of applause to Adm. Gilday.
ADM. GILDAY: Thank you for having me.
MS. TORREY: Thank you, sir.
Adm. Mike Gilday
23 September 2022
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