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Admiral Clark, thank you for that warm introduction. And I want to start off by thanking those who work hard all year to put together this tremendous symposium.
I want to stress the importance of these discussions. It is no understatement to say that our national security depends on what we say and do during these three days.
I am honored to be here for the second year as your Secretary of the Navy. Let me tell you, there is not a day that goes by that I don’t feel humbled and awed to have been entrusted with this enormous privilege—leading close to a million of our great Nation’s finest men and women, both military and civilian. And when I say “lead,” let me be clear about what that means to me: I work for you. My job is to get you what you need day in and day out so that YOU can do YOUR job of keeping our Nation safe.
Though I’m approaching the 40th anniversary of the day I was commissioned, it seems like only yesterday I was in your shoes. As a SWO I could have never guessed that I would one day be here, addressing this audience, you.
And though plenty has changed since my days as a SWO, one thing remains as true today as it was in my day, and as it has been since the earliest days of our United States Navy: our Nation depends on its Sailors for its security, its prosperity, its very existence.
Before I discuss anything else, before I talk about our strategic environment, before I update you on some of the progress we have made as a department, I want to directly address all the Junior Officers and the Junior Enlisted personnel present here today, as well as those watching remotely. Sailors, Ensigns, Lieutenants… What you do matters, perhaps more than you realize on a daily basis. Your presence around the globe serves as constant deterrent to all those who would challenge the rules-based world order. The sacrifices you make drive our economy, keep us safe, allow us to maintain our way of life, and ensure that humanity continues to advance towards greater freedom and opportunity. That sounds very lofty… and it should, because what you do—the choice you made that day when you first held up your right hand and swore a solemn oath to serve your Nation—that is the definition of courage. That is nobility of spirit. You represent the best of humanity, the best of our Nation.
Now, let me put it a bit more plainly: it is because of your daily decision to wear the uniform, to bear discomforts ranging from having to sleep on very narrow racks and take very short showers to not seeing your family for months on end… You stand long watches, training and conducting operations day after day, week after week, month after month…
It is because of the strength, determination, and resilience that you demonstrate every day that, back home, your loved ones, your friends, and even those whom you may disagree with, can continue to live in freedom, in democracy, and can enjoy opportunities the likes of which the world has never seen.
You keep the American Dream going. Every day, every hour, you make it possible for your fellow citizens to keep striving towards our Nation’s vision, penned 236 years ago—and I quote: “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
And as you do that—no small feat—for your fellow Americans, you also enable and inspire people around the world to keep marching towards greater justice, greater respect for human rights, greater freedom.
In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose 94th birthday we are about to celebrate, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Humanity is still struggling—we are not there yet; we still have a way to go as we strive to make our Nation a more perfect union.
But you—your actions, your courage, your dedication—you help bend that arc. You drive our world towards a better future.
If there is one thing I hope you remember from my talk today, it is that this is WHY you do what you do. To be sure, each of you has your own reasons, and that is as it should be.
You are all on your own individual paths of learning and growth and finding where and how you can best find happiness and fulfillment.
I offer to you that whether it is in the Navy or somewhere else, service to others and dedication to a cause greater than yourself are the surest way to live a life of meaning and goodness.
But let me be blunt. We need you. And I hope I’ve made clear why we need you.
Don’t forget it. And don’t let your fellow Sailors forget it.
Now, that’s the why, but what about the how?
I know of the challenges you face. I know that there are things that need to change. Everywhere I go, I talk to Sailors and Marines, and more than that, I listen.
I hear you that mental health is a major issue that is affecting our brothers and sisters at arms, our families, and our ability to bring our best selves to the job.
I hear you that the workload is at times too heavy, and I know that not having enough manpower means increased stress on crews and hinders their ability to accomplish the mission.
I hear you on these issues, and more.
I wish I could solve all of our problems instantly. I can’t do that, but I can promise you that I am working, and my staff is working, together with CNO, the OPNAV staff, and leaders all around the Navy, to deliver the resources, the policies, the equipment you need.
And we will keep going until we’ve done that.
My staff and I are not working in isolation. I believe everyone in this room shares my determination to solve the tough challenges we face.
Whether you are active-duty, a civil servant, or a member of private industry, you are already working to make our U.S. Navy stronger, more resilient, more modern.
And yet, the threats we face demand we do even more. We must redouble our efforts, our innovation, and our investments to stay ahead of our pacing challenge.
I last addressed this audience a year ago. The threats we face have become far more pronounced even since then.
Last February, Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. In so doing, it proved two truths. First, it is always a mistake to underestimate the spirit of a sovereign nation fighting for its survival.
Second, the era of conquest is not over—rather, it was dormant. Revisionist powers will try to assert their will through brute force if they think they can get away with it.
While Russia consumed the headlines, much else has changed in the last year. The People’s Republic of China’s fleet of destroyers grew to forty-one. As the former commanding officer of a DDG, I understand all too well the sheer offensive capabilities of forty-one destroyers.
Further, everyone in this room knows that the PRC is on pace to reach 440 warships by 2030.
As stated in the recent National Security Strategy, the PRC has “both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to advance that objective.”
I must stress that I have no quarrel with the Chinese people. Our differences are not with them; nor, for that matter, with the citizens of Russia, North Korean, or Iran. Our disagreements are with the rulers of these nations.
Our first aim is always to deter. No one wants war. This is precisely why we must prepare ourselves for it. Let me repeat these well-known words of Teddy Roosevelt: “A good Navy is… the surest guaranty of peace.”
So I want to turn now to what we are doing to make sure we remain “a good Navy”—and not just “good,” but a Navy worthy of our great Nation and fully prepared for the challenges we face.
As you know, early in my tenure, I set forth a vision centered on three enduring priorities.
First, we are strengthening our maritime dominance so that we can deter potential adversaries, and if called upon, fight and win our Nation’s wars.
Second, we are building a culture of warfighting excellence, founded on strong leadership, which is rooted in treating each other with dignity and respect.
And third, we are enhancing our strategic partnerships, across the Joint Force, with industry, with academia, and with our allies and partners around the globe.
In the year since I last addressed this audience, our surface Navy warfighters have made tremendous progress across all three priorities. Taken together, the strides they’ve taken have made us an even more formidable force.
The clearest evidence of our strengthening maritime dominance is in our Nation’s shipyards and in contested waters around the world. Right now, we have 54 vessels under construction and 80 under contract. That includes 49 surface warfare vessels.
The numbers are significant, but what is really exciting about the ships we are adding is their tremendous capabilities.
LHA 9, USS Fallujah, designed to accommodate the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter along with surface connector capability, is one of our premier platforms for 5th-generation fighter capability.
It will provide an optimal mix of ground and aviation assets to be employed in direct support of Marine Corps operations.
Much like the Marines and Soldiers who fought in the ship’s namesake battles, the ship is a model of flexibility.
It will accomplish whatever mission we task it with.
In fact, some call these amphibs the Navy’s F-150s for the 21st century.
Our current challenges demand both a distributed fleet and a relentlessly forward posture; Fallujah empowers us to meet those demands.I want to go a bit deeper on the role of amphibs. Amphibs give our Nation unmatched forcible entry capability by air, land, and sea. They, along with their embarked Marine Expeditionary Units, are essential, flexible players in the global strategic competition that is playing out today, every day, below the threshold of armed conflict.
Just a little over two years ago, when China embarked on an effort to illegally bully our partner Malaysia out of its offshore resources, our commanders at CPF/C7F turned to Fallujah’s sister ship, USS America, with embarked elements of the 31st MEU including F-35Bs, to answer the call.
Joined by cruiser USS Bunker Hill, destroyer USS Barry, and Australian frigate HMAS Parrametta, America led the way in a remarkable prototype operation to protect our partners’ civilian mariners from the PRC’s intimidation and harassment in the South China Sea.
In the face of this credibly persistent presence, the PLA Navy backed down.
In the months that followed, no less than three major regional powers strengthened their stances to stand up for their maritime economic interests and the international rule of law—a remarkable victory gained by the Navy-Marine Corps team for freedom of the seas.
I wasn’t exaggerating when I talked about what a difference our Surface Navy makes, and how critical each of you is to our global security.
There’s more coming to add to our maritime dominance; even greater capabilities are on the way.
Our newest Arleigh Burke Flight III Guided Missile Destroyers will soon join the fleet, bringing tremendous lethality to the Joint Force.
We plan to deliver the first Flight III ship, DDG 125, Jack Lucas, this year. That ship will be equipped with the AN/SPY-6(V)1 Air and Missile Defense Radar, providing significantly greater detection range and tracking capacity.
Flight III also incorporates upgrades to the electrical power and cooling capacity, plus additional associated changes to provide enhanced warfighting capability to the fleet.
We are gaining ever-greater mastery of unmanned and autonomous systems. Already, autonomous systems address some of our most dangerous missions, such as clearing mines; they are also vital for gaining intelligence.
Soon, they will be able to take on increasingly complex missions against high-end competitors.
It is through applying leading-edge technology and experimentation such as what Task Force 59 is accomplishing that we are learning how to close our gaps rapidly, and “sharpen our competitive edge.”
TF-59 has recently achieved Full Operational Capability: not only are they experimenting with “on-the-edge” technology, but they are pushing both fleet operators and industry partners to more rapidly employ different unmanned and artificial intelligence capabilities in order to close their Maritime Domain Awareness gaps.
Ultimately, unmanned and autonomous systems will reduce the risk to our personnel and lower our operating costs as we protect freedom of navigation in vital areas like the South China Sea.
What that means, in very concrete terms, is that these technologies will save lives. And nothing is more important to me than doing everything we can for our Sailors to come home unharmed.
Let’s be very real—we are, after all, in the business of Getting Real, so that we can Get Better… Our community has suffered from lapses in safety in recent years. And because of that, lives were lost. People died. We absolutely do have to Get Better.
And this leads to my second priority—building a culture of warfighting excellence. That’s one of the key reasons we have made long-overdue investments in our Surface Warfare Officers’ training.
Last month, I had the privilege of touring the Mariner Skills Training Center Pacific in San Diego.
I have to say: I wish that it had been around when I was a SWO.
The center provides over a hundred thousand square feet of the latest simulators, training facilities, and classrooms. It provides hands-on training without ever needing to step onto a ship.
It is a first-rate, state-of-the art facility, and it is nothing less than what our young officers deserve.
We are putting a lot of thought into how we treat SWOs, what we need to do to reverse years of neglecting the community.
This is but one clear demonstration of the Navy’s commitment to its Sailors and Jos… We are committed to your continued growth. So you can expect more investments in you in the coming years.
A big part of that is investment is going to be in improved training and education. The rapid pace of technological change, coupled with a dynamic strategic environment, means that yesterday’s conventional wisdom is today’s outdated thinking.
We are formalizing a culture of lifelong learning – indeed, I intend for this culture to remain a core element of the Navy-Marine Corps team long after I have retired.
How are we achieving this? First, lifelong learning is now required for promotion. For instance, unrestricted-line flag and general officers must have strategically focused Masters Degrees. Restricted-line flag officers must have the relevant technical degrees.
Just as we are investing in our people, we must also invest in our ships and equipment… I am excited that the 2023 NDAA has $250 million for strengthening the surface industrial base.
Members of the Surface Navy Association will be instrumental in ensuring that money provides maximum return on investment.
As I mentioned earlier, we must be fully prepared for conflict. Our enduring challenges are pressing forward with their investments; they are bringing tremendous resources to bear to build up their military capabilities.
What can we do about it? We must outwork, out-innovate, and out-invest them. And we will. Our strategic partnerships are absolutely essential to achieving this.
We will continue to improve our Rearm, Refuel, Resupply, Repair, and Revive capabilities in order to cement our ability to deter and, if necessary, defeat any competitor.
I know, from personal experience, that mastering these capabilities will be an enormous challenge; yet I also know how much more capable and lethal they make our force.
If we are able to rearm our warships’ vertical launch tubes at sea, we can stay “in the fight” far longer. We won’t have to withdraw from combat for extended periods to rearm.
No longer will we be putting our ships and our Sailors at risk while we rearm in-port, vulnerable to enemy strikes.
That is why I was encouraged by the successful demonstration of at-sea missile reloading in San Diego in November—so encouraged that I had to get an in-person briefing, by the leaders of the USS Spruance, just last month.
The potential operational and strategic implications of this capability are enormous. The successful test is an early step, but it underscores the clear imperative to quickly develop and deploy this vital capability.
Rearm-at-sea is just one tactic to keep our ships out of ports and in the fight. Refuel and Resupply are just as critical.
To that end, we must rebuild the U.S. flagged merchant marine fleet. In any high-end conflict, the entire Joint Force will rely upon the supplies and logistical support that only the U.S. merchant marine fleet can provide.
I strongly support the Department of Transportation’s efforts to improve the Nation’s Maritime Security Program. Our team stands ready to assist Secretary Buttigieg in these efforts.
Simply put, the U.S. flagged merchant fleet must be prepared to meet wartime sealift requirements. We depend on their assistance.
And if history is any indication, the merchant marine fleet will come through with flying colors. It is an under-appreciated fact that we owe our victory in World War II in no small part to the sailors and officers of the Allied merchant navies.
America should be proud of its merchant marines. I believe they will soon once again give us every reason to boast of their accomplishments.
Repair-and-Revive capabilities are just as necessary, as they ensure that even if a potential foe lands the first punch, they won’t win the fight. And that’s a key aspect of deterring conflict in the first place.
We need greater shipyard capacity in order to maintain a credible peacetime deterrent.
We need new approaches. We need more innovation, more investment. To that end, the Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program, or SIOP, is modernizing our four aging shipyards. It will be a cornerstone of our efforts.
Yet we need to be able to repair and revive ships as close to the conflict as possible, so that these vital national assets can get back to the fight.
It is no secret that any high-end conflict is likely to be in the Asia-Pacific region. That’s why we are looking to create significant shipyard capacity in the Pacific.
Once again, the importance of our international allies and partners could not be more clear.
The United States Navy cannot, and does not want to, operate alone. We are stronger together, as a team of like-minded nations working side-by-side to achieve common goals.
I know there are members of our allied and partner nations’ militaries here today. Please know how welcome you are, and how much we appreciate the cooperation between our nations.
I want to have even more personnel exchanges, train together more often and in a more integrated manner, and conduct even more operations together.
You know, speaking of personnel exchanges, I have very fond memories of my time as a midshipman on summer cruise on a Spanish ship…
But that’s a story for another time! The point is: we have so much to learn from each other, so much to gain from knowing each other better.
We need more shipyards, not just in the United States, but overseas. But it is not enough to have shipyards—we need people to build and repair ships!
The Americans who build and maintain our Navy are a national asset, and, like any critical national asset, we must be relentless in our quest to improve their numbers.
High-paying, high-skilled blue-collar jobs that restore America’s manufacturing prowess are a priority of this Administration.
And for good reason. These jobs are not only good for the economy, they are essential to the Navy’s ability to secure our Nation.
We will move to establish programs that build capacity in fields like naval architecture, engineering, and lifecycle management, as well as technical expertise in nuclear welding, robotics, software management, and additive manufacturing, among others.
If some of what you’ve heard today sounds familiar, that is intentional. There’s an old saying at DOD that “nothing happens at the Pentagon until there’s been three meetings about it.”
Consider this the third meeting.
And now, before I take a few of your questions, I want to leave you with a very special announcement.
Let me start with a story about one of our own, a Surface Warfare Officer who, like you, volunteered to serve his Nation. Let me take you back, for a moment, to 1969, in the Kien Ha Province of the Republic of Vietnam.
Thomas Gunning Kelley, a 30-year-old Navy lieutenant, is leading a column of eight river assault craft. They are on a mission to extract a company of American Soldiers on the east bank of the Ong Muong Canal.
Suddenly two things happen at the same time: one of the armored troop carriers’ loading ramp has a mechanical failure—and Viet Cong forces open fire from the opposite bank of the canal.
Lieutenant Kelley orders the crippled troop carrier to raise its ramp manually, and the remaining boats to form a protective cordon around the disabled craft.
Then he manages to maneuver the monitor he is embarked on to the exposed side of the protective cordon—in direct line with the enemy's fire.
He orders the monitor to commence firing. But an enemy rocket-propelled grenade scores a direct hit and the explosion sprays shrapnel in all directions—Kelley is hurled to the deck, with severe wounds to his head, his eyes.
He can’t move, and he can barely speak into the radio, but, relaying his commands through one of his Sailors, he continues to lead his people in their counterattack, until the enemy is silenced and the boats are safe.
For his conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, Lieutenant Commander Kelley was awarded the Medal of Honor.
And today, it is with great admiration and great pride that I am announcing the naming of the DDG-140 after Captain (retired) Thomas Gunning Kelley.
May we all, and especially the future men and women assigned to this ship, always be inspired by Kelley's brilliant leadership, bold initiative, and resolute determination.
Thank you, and may God bless our Sailors, Marines, and their families.
Carlos Del Toro
11 January 2023
12 January 2023
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