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Below is transcript of the remarks as delivered:
ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY: Thanks a lot for having me back again. And I just wanted to say upfront, I am so proud of this community, and so proud of the United States Navy. And there are so many in the crowd wearing surface warfare pins, retired officers that have given so much to this community. And we are indebted to you. And I just want to say, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for what you continue to do for the United States Navy and for the surface community.
I’d also like to say that the format for this segment will be a little bit different this year. I decided not to give you a speech, but rather to just take questions. And so perhaps I’ll be a bit more useful, and ask me – assuming you’ll get the same answers. – but give you a chance to pile on, let me know what’s on your mind. So with that, sir, let’s take it all live and get it moving.
VICE ADMIRAL (RET.) RICK HUNT: CNO, thank you for being here. This is really terrific. And you’ve been participating in this for a long, long time. Certainly, during my tenure, you’ve been every single time. And you use it, I think, [to] very effectively communicate. And we are here to continue to do that with you. I’d like to start out and say we’ve had a great day thus far. So we kicked off, we did a – [Vice Adm.] Roy [Kitchener] did a retired flag meeting, which was way beyond just the surface warfare community. We had submariners and aviators. And we should have people at the door, I guess, to cut down on the overflow. But it was a great group, and that was a good beginning.
We followed that up with our international panel, which I think is always one of the most interesting. And one of the things that I’m going to lead with, with you, is they talked about the importance of partnerships. So can you talk about that in the National Defense Strategy. Very critical to everything we do, that was great. In the afternoon, Adm. Kitchener kicked it off. The SWO Boss kind of laid out what he’s doing, what he’s thinking about, the successes of the community. Just very, very positive across the board. And then, as you saw with Vice Adm. Cooper, he just wrapped and I went a little long – sorry to do that to everybody – but it was great and exciting on what’s going on in Fifth Fleet. And I think it’s a shining example of things that we can expand to different areas. So absolutely terrific.
And with that, I’d like to go ahead and begin. So we are doing this as a conversation at the beginning. As we get questions, try to roll those into that conversation. But I’d like to start, you know, one of the things that we’ve spoken about in the past is allies and partners. You’ve been out and about quite a bit here in the last year, whether that’s one-on-one meetings, bilats, trilats, international symposium. Can you talk a little bit about your key takeaways from those engagements? And I’m interested in kind of how the exchange is going. What are your asks of them, and what are the offers? And how’s it all work? And I think it’s critical to everything we do, but your insight would be a great way to start this off.
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. I would say that our asks are pretty demanding. And that may be a surprise to many. But we are trying to entice our high-end partners to go beyond interoperability to interchangeability. And you might have heard me talk about that before, but it’s a push to put us in a position where if we do have to fight tonight we’re not stumbling. And so I’ll give you a couple of examples. The French are not making an investment in fifth-generation aircraft. They’re investing in – continuing to invest in – fourth-generation aircraft. And so we worked very closely with them. And I would expect in a high-end fight that we’ll be shoulder to shoulder.
The first time that we operate those aircraft together cannot be in combat. And so we’re figuring that out ourselves with fourth and fifth gen integration in our own air wings. And so taking that same very highly classified and difficult-to-share-with-allies kind of information and finding a way to share that with them is really, really important. Integrating our ships into their strike groups, really critically important. Their integration into ours. We’ve been doing that for years, but we’ve set the bar extremely high in terms of what we expect. Our taking OPCON (operational control) of their aircraft carriers, operating side-by-side with four or five carriers in the EUCOM AOR (U.S. European Command Area of Responsibility) here a month ago, a big leap for us. And so a big leap for all of us in terms of showing Russia a united front.
I see much more of a transregional focus from allies and partners across the globe. I was at a – what has historically been a regional security conference, maritime security conference, in Italy a couple of months ago, that now is a – transregional conference with plenty of allies and partners from Asia, Pakistan, the Middle East. And so I see that focus as well. And for me, the takeaway there is a greater interest in everybody operating side-by-side. Adm. Cooper is Fifth Fleet. The CMF (Combined Maritime Forces) has grown from the mid-20s to 35, 38 nations. We now have, he probably mentioned, a request out to 22 additional nations to join. So a lot of like-minded allies and partners that are willing to row with us, and willing to row fast.
HUNT: So one of the things that I would take with that, throw this out as an idea, is we talk interchangeability. That, in fact, did come up this morning, very clearly. And go, what are we doing to take advantage of ensuring that interchangeability is also – retains interoperability in partnering on our industry, with our allies’ industry, to make sure that we are aligned in those interfaces to make this all work. Do you see…
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah, I – absolutely. I would use Russia-Ukraine as an example of our information sharing with allies and partners. I will tell you that many of them have seen the same information that I see every morning. They don’t see the sources, but they’re seeing the information in exquisite detail.
So Project Overmatch, where we’re about to – we’re about to go strike group-wide with a deployment here soon. Some of our closest allies and partners are already read into that project. They’re already working with us and they’re already buying that technology. We’re already working on CONOPS together in terms of how we’re going to employ it. The Japanese – the JMSDF just did an SM-6 shot off of Hawaii.
So I can give you more examples, but we are – again, those allies and partners that have proven that they’re willing to operate at a very high level. We are outstretching our hand, you know, while the Russians and others are extending a fist. And so that’s our modus operandi.
HUNT: Going to shift a little bit here and go to NDAA. And this goes to the audience that we have in here in particular. So we have just received the largest shipbuilding budget in history, a bit over $30 billion. What contributed to the record budget? What does that allow you the flexibility to do? And what additional help do you need from Congress as we go forward?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah, so the Congress has been phenomenal in terms of funding a larger, more capable, more lethal Navy. So I would just say that I think we’ve turned a corner with respect to a realization that we have under-invested in the United States Navy for the past two decades because the priority, understandably, has gone to ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They understand the importance of the maritime. We’ve been up on the Hill in classified settings with the How We Fight brief that, at a very highly classified level, gets into all the tools in the toolkit that we intend to put to bear in a fight.
So they understand it’s important that not only Congress but – Adm. Conn, our N9, is here in the front row. And “Satan” Conn has also met with industry in a classified setting to provide a How We Fight brief as well. Because to understand what we need to fight with, we all need to understand how we’re going to fight. That’s absolutely fundamental. And so we have found that those exchanges with both the Hill and industry have been important because it allows them to see two and three FYDPs out where we intend to go.
The shipbuilding budget, you know, I’ve said publicly that I didn’t think that you could put more than 27.5 billion (dollars), which was our proposal, into seven shipyards across this country. So five of which build surface ships. I didn’t think we could put any more money against that problem set. And Congress proved me wrong with a 31.5 billion (dollar) shipbuilding account. Very healthy. In our – in the Secretary of the Navy [30 Year] shipbuilding plan last year, we had an alternative number, three. And that alternative was unconstrained by money. It was informed by the capacity of the industrial base.
And essentially, it said that we really needed a 3-5% increase above the rate of inflation in the shipbuilding account, and the rest of the accounts that keep us whole, in order to get the Navy on a path to 355 in the late 2030s. And so this – the last two budgets have been indicative of our message, I think, getting across inside the Pentagon and on the Hill as well. I think that they understand the importance of our priorities of readiness, modernization, and capacity, in that order. And they know that we need a ready fleet tonight. We need a fleet that’s maintained. We need a fleet that has weapons in its magazines – high-end weapons. We need to make sure that our ships are manned properly, trained properly, steaming hours – steaming days, flying hours – all those things that make us world-class, they recognize that.
At the same time, the friction is in capacity. So we learned our lessons in the past, that we make capacity king, we’re going to pay for that with readiness accounts. You know, 60% of those accounts – personnel [inaudible]– rise at a rate above inflation. If we put capacity king and we buy more ships faster than we can – if we buy ships at a rate faster than we can sustain, we’re going to pay for it. And so I’ve just been unwilling to go down that path. So Congress has said, okay, we’ll fund your readiness accounts, but we need a bigger Navy.
So that’s led to the bigger SCN account. But it’s also led to them preventing us from decomming some ships. And we can talk about that during the Q&A but, you know, the leading argument there is we’re not going to have a Navy bigger than one we can sustain, bigger than what we can afford. And so that caps us at a certain number of ships. And after that, we need to stratify lethality from A to Z and then decide what platforms we’re going to have to consider giving up.
Long answer to your question.
HUNT: So this is kind of related.
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah.
HUNT: Kind of – there’s also a commission, a national commission on the future of the Navy. I think that goes hand-in-hand with you thoughts that you just talked about. Is that good or bad?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah, I welcome that commission. I spoke to the Commandant of the Marine Corps about it a couple days ago, he welcomes it as well. So when you think anytime you want to shine a spotlight into what we’re doing, I think that we can benefit from that. Every study that’s been done on the United States Navy since 2016 has concluded that we need a larger, more capable, more lethal fleet. So I don’t want to presume an outcome, but I think that based on the analysis, the wargaming, the exercises that we’ve done, on which those studies have been grounded, I am hopeful that they will validate what we have found before. And if they uncover things that we haven’t seen, I welcome that. I think it’s only going to make us better.
HUNT: And kind of a final point on NDAA goes to the Title 10 – I think this has kind of been there for a while, but it’s got interests here. So the organize, train, equip responsibilities, I’m not sure I see a major change in it. So I’m going to ask it a little bit deeper and say: How do you think the relationship is with industry to partner with, maybe, to make that as good as you need to make it as you go forward?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. I think the partnership’s really strong. I think – you know, I’ve met with two CEOs in the past week. Those engagements – I think Secretary of the Navy is doing the same thing. I think they’re very open and transparent, very candid. You and I had met with your shipbuilding line as well, the frigates, on more than one occasion. I think that’s a very healthy relationship. We understand where the problems are on each end, where the friction points are. And the phone line’s open if we need to talk about it, you know? Nobody – in my opinion, we’re not suffering in silence, in my opinion. I think that there are challenges with everything from supply chain, to maintaining a viable workforce, that we both have to pay the piper with respect to how well industry does in that regard.
So yeah, I think that – I’m very optimistic about the future in terms of where we’re headed in the relationship with industry. And it’s not just the big primes on the right-hand side of that spectrum of the defense industrial base. It’s also a lot of those smaller, high-tech companies that bring so much to bear. And obviously Adm. Cooper spoke to this in the previous segment. But many of those companies that he is leveraging in order to understand maritime domain awareness in a manner which we have not done before, we’re leveraging many of those small companies.
And so the thing – one of the things – that we’ve learned from them is that their access into the Department of Defense isn’t as difficult as it once was. We have cracked the code in how to attract those companies to what we’re doing, whether it’s through DIU, in Aspen, or in Silicon Valley, or Boston, or whether it’s through NavalX. They know how to get to us. The challenge is still taking new systems, new platforms, new capabilities from prototype to low-rate production in a timely manner. That two to three years is still too long in a sector of business that moves by week, by month, by quarter in a way that we can’t keep up with.
So our PPBE system was set up to buy, to acquire really big platforms. Not that smaller, more agile, more capable stuff that we need quicker. And so I wouldn’t say we need to blow up the existing process. What we need is a separate, parallel process that allows us to field those capabilities much faster. And I’d just say that one of the beauties here that I see in the relationship and this DevOps kind of relationship we have with industry – just a couple of things, briefly. One is that the operators actually influence what we’re buying.
And so typically they’re on the receiving end of things that we designed, and we purchased here in Washington. They’re actually at the tactical edge helping us understand what we really need, and applying that to not just doing experimentation for experimentation’s sake, but to actually apply it, as Adm. Cooper described, against a real-world problem. Learning from that and making quick decisions on what we sundown and what we double down on with respect to investments. And so I think that, you know, back to your original question, I’m very enthused about the direction they’re heading in with big companies and small companies in terms of getting after problems.
HUNT: I’ll go back to the innovation piece. So as you know, Vice Adm. Cooper was here right before. And we were talking about how this is all working, on how it’s fast. I do a lot of interaction with some of the sub-suppliers for key systems. But one of the issues that I have seen are the barriers of entry for people that want to come here – it’s not a missing desire. People want to do the right thing to help national security, to help our Navy. But it's complicated and difficult. What do you think we can do to knock down those barriers? Is there a venue of getting back to the right folks? And who would the right folks be?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah, there are a couple of Band-Aids in place right now. So one of them is funding from the Congress to help small companies get across that “valley of death,” that two to three year lead, in order to survive until we can actually – you know, even if we get something in the ’24 budget, you know, that’s about to go to Congress, we’re not going to see that capability put on contract, you know, for two and a half years, I’d say. So for a small company, how to survive – how to survive that timeframe. The Secretary of Defense just stood up an office as well. And I forget the name of it, some type of strategic investment office, that essentially helps do the same thing. Almost like a venture capitalist kind of framework. Those are Band-Aids.
I think what we really need is, as I mentioned, you have a process in place to buy big stuff. And people can criticize that all they want, but most of it’s grounded in law. What we don’t have is a separate path that’s for the other end of it, the high-tech stuff. And so the example that I am trying to use is how we funded and fielded MRAPs so quickly in Iraq fifteen years ago. And so we did that. We delivered the vaccine for COVID through Warp Speed in record time. We did that. So there are ways to do this. And what we’re trying to do in the Navy is find a few pathfinders. And the pathfinders that we’re working on right now are highly classified. We think they’re very effective. They have the interest of Capitol Hill, and certainly OSD, in terms of moving them to field them quickly.
So I would like to use those as pathfinders to refine that process so that we make things better for not only the warfighter, but also put capability in the hands of the warfighters inside the FYDP. You know, new stuff. But also for those small companies that fill them.
HUNT: Very good. Hybrid fleet. Where do you think we’re going? How quickly is that going to be here? And what are the challenges that hang out there that you wrestle with? Again, I’d say we have a very positive presentation on the sensor network that we’re putting together in Fifth Fleet. And we talk about adjunct missile launcher capability, stuff like that. It gets more challenging because now we’ve got national capability out there exposed to where somebody might be able to plan.
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. So I would say we’re obviously learning a lot from what we’re doing in Fifth Fleet. And the next step would be to scale that to another fleet. And I’m not going to talk about specifically who that might be, but we are working in that direction. I’ll be taking briefs on that shortly. And so I do want to move quicker in terms of scaling what we’re doing in Fifth Fleet beyond Fifth Fleet.
That said, I also want to move at bigger problems – large USV, medium USV. I think one of the things that we’re learning with the work that’s going on in Fifth Fleet right now is command and control. And so Adm. Cooper talked about meshed networks. And so command and control is a difficult problem that we must get after. Project Overmatch has a lot to do with getting that solution set to try to solve that problem to tie together the ocean of things that a distributed hybrid fleet brings to bear.
The other piece is reliable engineering plants, right? And so that’s a piece that we have to nail. And so those vessels need to be able to operate reliable in a sustained manner for months. And so I think that the investments that we’re making now, or beginning to make, in land-based prototyping is exactly the right path. Drive down technical risk. The stuff we’re learning from Fifth Fleet drives down technical risk in the command-and-control side. The stuff we’ll be doing with land-based prototyping and engineering and HM&E drives down technical risk. We don’t want any surprises. And we want to be able to go to Congress with a high degree of confidence that these vessels work in a reliable manner.
Now, are they going to be unmanned? I’m talking about large and medium unmanned vessels – or, unmanned vessels. I don’t think they’re going to be completely unmanned to begin with. I think that we are on a path to be able to deploy vessels like that with a carrier strike group probably by 2027. I think that will put us on a path to demonstrate in a meaningful way that we can do manned/unmanned teaming with those vessels, much like we’re doing right now with ships and unmanned in Fifth Fleet.
We are on a path right now with MQ-25 on our aircraft carriers to go IOC (initial operating capability) in 2025. That is a significant capability in terms of extending the lethality of the link, freeing up jets that would typically be used – strike fighters – to refuel, and to turn them back to their original missions. And that, for us, is the pathfinder for next-generation air dominance. And that is a phased program through the late 2020s into the 2030s that we need to deliver both sixth generation manned and unmanned aircraft.
Under the sea we’re making investments right now in XLUUV. The first one will go in the water this year. It’s on a path, we think, to lead to another four in 2024. Our intention is to field that capability overseas with a clandestine mine laying capability. There are also – that’s all already out in the public domain – other capabilities in the future at a classified level that we can look at for that platform.
So we’re moving in those three dimensions, under, on, and above the sea. We’re moving out as quickly as we can, but in a deliberate manner that’s informed by experimentation. So what we want to do is make sure that before we scale, we feel very good about what we’re putting money against. Did I answer your question?
HUNT: Yes. You answered exactly. Strengths of the Navy. You’ve spoken a bit before about what makes us world-class. How about your views on our core strengths and accomplishments?
ADM. GILDAY: I think we’re exceptional at the operational edge. When I was the J3 on the Joint Staff, I watched the strike against chemical facilities in Syria. And I watched those strikes largely, almost entirely, from the maritime – from the Eastern Med, from the Red Sea, from the Northern Arabian Gulf. Simultaneous, precise, in a way that – as I watched that unfold – it was almost in a day’s work. That is exceptional. I think that the United States Navy is exceptional at understanding the integration of the art of war with the science of war. And I think the investments that we’ve made, that many in this audience have put their shoulder behind early when perhaps it wasn’t popular, in weapons tactics instructors is paying off.
Every single strike group that we deploy is certified for combat operations. Not every service can say that. So we are – so the other thing that I would talk in terms of what I see as what makes the Navy exceptional – the performance of our commanding officers under pressure is exceptional. I will watch PC COs in the Northern Arabian Gulf go toe-to-toe with an IRGCN vessel with its lights out, with weapons unmasked, and handle that so professionally it would make every single one of you proud. We’re going to toe-to-toe. We just did a Taiwan transit – strait transit – with a destroyer [CORRECTION: strait transit referenced was USS Chung Hoon Jan. 5 and not within the last 24 hours of Jan. 10]. And to watch them – this is– you know, reading stuff out of a textbook. This is handling – this is judgement. This is the kind of judgement that, you know, you read about in history. I mean, you’re seeing this play out day-to-day.
You’re seeing it play out with – you know, with a section of Super Hornets over the South China Sea going toe-to-toe with their Chinese counterparts. And you watch the poise and professionalism. You watch our P-8s in the Eastern Med get challenged by the Russians. And you watch them not even flinch. So I consider that to be exceptional. Not getting lured in, not being too big in their britches, understanding their capabilities, handling things with the kind of professionalism that the United States Navy is known for. That’s what I think is exceptional about us.
And, you know, the United States Navy – the Secretary of Defense, he dictates what our readiness levels are. And so every service has an immediate response force. Your Navy’s immediate response force is at sea. Ninety ships are forward deployed. About half of them are probably underway today, maybe a little bit more. They’re not tied up. They’re not bunkered. They’re not anchored. They’re out there underway, on point, doing the nation’s business. And so I think, you know, the one segment of the NDAA that talked about forward presence of the Navy mission, fundamental of what we do. Day in, day out, have been doing it. Now it’s the law. And it’s very helpful.
HUNT: Great. Great. Let’s go back to people and Sailors. It makes the Navy today what it is. Retention, recruiting challenges across DOD, how are we doing? What’s your sense of the morale of the fleet? And, again, what can SNA, what can this audience, do better to help support what we need to accomplish?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. So I appreciate that question. I think in terms of helping, I think a positive dialogue is helpful. I think public discourse about – everything I just talked about with respect to COs and ships out there, aircraft and submarines – we can’t talk about the stuff with submarines we’re doing in this forum but you know they’re doing some pretty amazing things. That’s not weakness. That’s not wokeness. We are out there. We are strong. We are ready. We are capable. And we’re ready to fight tonight. And so that narrative about weakness is not true. It’s just not true.
And so anything that you can do to talk about, to retweet, to repost, to – you know, even if you just give somebody your own little BZ off your Twitter account or Instagram account, shoot a short video, I don’t care. Do something with a shipmate at a bar that – you know, gives us a thumbs up. Give those Sailors a thumbs up that are doing such a good job. And I tell you – I don’t see that kind of negativity out in the fleet. When I’m out there and when MCPON’s out there talking to Sailors, we don’t get concerns on weakness. You know, we get – their concerns are, what can you do to make us better? And when you ask them, well, what do you think we should do? You get some great answers in terms of where we ought to put our next dollar.
So in terms of – in terms of retention, we’re doing really well. We continue to do well. Have been doing well for a while. It’s not something that we take for granted. I just think that we have a lot of good leaders out there that are taking care of people. The Secretary of the Navy is making big investments in family programs. I think that’s helpful. Readiness begins at home. We underinvested in our shore infrastructure and many other support systems ashore for a number of years. We’re trying not to do that now. We have a strategic approach to infrastructure and modernization that also has the interest and the support of Congress.
On the recruiting side, the Navy shifted to near total digital, virtual during the height of COVID. And we’ve got to come back off of that a little bit. As an example, we completely pulled off of television. And there are influencers out there, key influencers – mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandparents, teachers, school administrators – that still watch television and need to see your Navy – need to see that glimpse of your Navy, because they may not be up on Instagram or Facebook, you pick a social media platform.
We have used those social media platforms to tell the story of the Navy through the eyes of Sailors. So we’re not spending money on, you know, Fifth Avenue marketing agents to tell our story. Sailors are telling our story. If you see fresh Navy, you’ll see that. So we’re trying to leverage – you know, we’re trying to keep it real in terms of what we do. And you see Sailors out there smiling, happy about what they’re doing, doing it, and leaning in. That’s the story that needs to be told.
I would tell you, as you engage in your local communities and you engage with young people in particular, the Navy’s a great gig. You know, all of you, you know, are serving or have served. You wouldn’t be here today if you didn’t believe in us and what we’re doing. Share that enthusiasm with people. It’s helpful. Probably more helpful than you think.
HUNT: Great. Thank you, sir. China, Russia, the Ukraine, got to throw in COVID’s still around a little bit. And the security environment is very, very difficult. How do you deal with that? What kind of keeps you up? What are the worries? And a separate part from that would be, what are we learning from Ukraine, and how are we rolling that into our future?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. So with respect to Ukraine, you know, one of the things that’s absolutely clear – you know, when you talk about – you talk about readiness. And everybody here, it doesn’t matter when you served, always talked about the importance of being ready to fight tonight. Who’d have thought that in 2023 that we’d have a war raging in Central Europe, where we have tens of thousands of people who are dying, millions have been displaced from their homes, the absolute horror of war right in front of us on, on cable news. It’s a reminder to us how important national defense is, and the investment that we make to deter conflict.
For Sailors, the story that I tell is look at how well the Ukrainians are learning to fight war – learning war while they’re fighting war. It’s important. They’re learning so quickly. The way that they’re targeting, the way that they’re sharing information, the way that they’re using deception, the way that they’re using maneuver, concealment, and fires is really breathtaking. And so for any Sailor out there, for any lieutenant out there, that’s what you need to be learning. So how do you think about – you know, how do you think about the fight when you’re out – when you’re training day to day? And that’s the first thing you ought to think about every morning when you wake up, as a professional competency. That’s so critically important. We can’t take our foot off the gas and be complacent about that. So I think learning war, I think, while we’re fighting it is a lesson for us.
I also think that the degree to which we’re sharing information with allies and partners – I mentioned that earlier – has been a game-changer. You know, and for Putin, you know, the United States intelligence community exposed what he was going to do. They took away his strategic surprise. They took away his operational surprise. We called when he was going to cross the line of departure. We took away his tactical surprise. And so we have shared information like we never have before. I talked earlier how I see the bleed over of that into our relationship with allies and partners on critical capabilities. And so those are few things that I think – I think we should take away from Russia-Ukraine.
In terms of what keeps me awake at night, I think it’s the same thing that keeps MCPON awake at night. It’s suicides. That problem, mental health, is a vexing problem for us. And we put more resources against it. We continue to put resources against it. Every destroyer that deploys, deploys with a chaplain. You know, Adm. Brown instituted that back when he was SURFOR. We have mental health facilities available at the tactical edge and in every one of our home ports. We have resilience teams on our ARGs and on our carrier strike groups.
And yet, it’s still not enough. The connectedness between us and amongst us is really critically important. And so, you know, at the, first line of defense, you know, below chief petty officers in terms of understanding or trying to understand what’s going on in the day-to-day lives of our shipmates. And if anything, our message is: Stick around. We need you. We can help you. There are multiple ways that we can do it. It’s still a vexing problem because people still choose to take their lives. And so I would tell you that that’s what keeps us awake at night.
And so, we all – even in the workplace – I mean, you all have experienced it. It’s heartbreaking. It’s a gut punch. And so I’m open to any ideas that anybody has. We are trying, again, to ensure that people are better connected. We are – in some communities it’s a little bit easier in terms of mental health exams, whether it’s EOD or SEALs. But we are trying to do the best we can to invest in those kinds of – in those kinds of mental health capabilities. As an example, we are maxing out the number of corpsmen we send through school, whether it’s a military school, a civilian school, to become behavioral health technicians. So we are trying to do as much as we can on the inside, knowing that across the country and, in fact, across the globe, mental health professionals are at a premium.
HUNT: Let’s go back to weapons and where we’re going with directed energy, the hypersonic. We are being challenged directly by China. Do you feel comfortable on where we are now as a service, and probably as a nation, to handle those threats? Or do we need to continue to ramp up? Your thoughts, your concerns?
ADM. GILDAY: I don’t think anybody’s comfortable with how we handle them. Those are a difficult, extremely complex, difficult problem set. So not comfortable, not satisfied with where we are in terms of the pace at which we are moving or the solution sets that we have in place to deal with that problem, from a defensive nature. I think that capabilities like directed energy or you mentioned, you know, microwave are two potential solution sets that may help us. But, you know, you’ve all been around long enough to know that there is no silver bullet. That we’re going to have to – our investment is going to have to be defense and depth kind of construct. It’s just going to include different weapons than it has before.
On the offensive side, I would tell you that our hypersonics program, that has benefitted by many in this audience, has met every milestone and has remained on price point. So the Army is the lead. So we’re working jointly with the Army with respect to the weapons – the weapon that we’re fielding. The Army will field a mobile weapon this year. The Navy will field our – we just put Zumwalt under contract with Huntington-Ingalls down in Pascagoula. IOC goal is 2025 for Zumwalt. We’ll follow up in 2028 with the first installs on Virginia-class submarines, the Block Vs. And so that’s the path we’re on. It’s got good funding. Technically, it is in a very good place. So I feel good about the capability.
HUNT: Go back and ask you a surface warfare question. So seamanship five years ago, had a couple of serious. You’ve invested a lot, and you’ve done a lot of training. What do you – are we in a good place now?
ADM. GILDAY: I think so. I think we’re in a much better place. When I go aboard ships, and when I’m on a ship underway, and I have the opportunity, as I try to quietly stand in the back of the bridge, if that’s possible, for the CNO to [do so]. It is – but I would tell you that others – I get reports from others who are out there observing this. I’m always interested in their take on performance of our COs and our JOs. And I would tell you, the investments that we’re making on training I think have really paid off.
And so the mindset now – [Vice Adm.] Roy [Kitchener], you correct me if I’m wrong – you have – you know, we’re forcing a mindset that you have to earn the right to drive a ship. You know, this isn’t something that is guaranteed and not everybody out there gets to do it. And so you got to prove yourself. You got to be good enough to meet the standard to do it. And you got to meet checkpoints across your career that people like Adm. Brown put in place after he did the investigation out there on the collisions, to ensure that we made – we stay true to our words, made the right investments, and put the right – you know, put the right accountability measures in place. That cadence of accountability across a career that’s so critically important and, quite frankly, was lacking.
I think the work that we’ve done on fatigue management has been critically important, a huge step forward, and really making us – by changing culture, you know? I mean, how many people pride themselves on, you know, staying up all right? You know, just craziness. So we’ve, I think, turned the tide on that, or are turning. In fact, the reason I’m a little bit hesitant in saying, you know, you never completely nail the problem, right? You’re always learning. You’re always refining. Those WTIs (warfare tactics instructors) as an example, that are out there during SWATTs, and they’re observing ships that certify to deploy for combat operations. So those certifications, those COMPTUEXs, they’re changing, as you would expect, as you would demand, every deploying strike group, right? They have to.
And so we’re trying to make ourselves better. We truly are trying to self-assess and self-correct on this. And I think our best units show that kind of behavior.
HUNT: Yeah, it was interesting. One of the comments that came up earlier today is that we’re actually taking our training capability that now have, with simulators and stuff, and being able to kind of walk through “shouldering” that. So we’re kind of back into Cold War ship handling in many, many areas, like when we were younger. And to put that challenge on folks that haven’t seen it or done it before is very, very difficult. Being able to use the trainers that we have, with the level of experience that we have with the instructors, you know, back in there to do some of that is incredibly impressive. I didn’t realize we were doing that, so.
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. At an individual level, yes. But also, a bridge resources management and the team – you know, what did we learn from those collisions, right? It’s not just a single point of failure. It’s not just a single person. And a single, strong person can rarely, you know, save the day. It happens, but not every time. And so how that bridge team and that CIC team work individually and collectively is vitally important, right? And you don’t take that teamwork for granted. And that has to be assessed, right, with a keen eye.
And so that’s an area, you know, everybody out there knows that, communication among those teams, among the people on those teams, is critically important. Fostering that kind of communication, fostering that environment where that communications going to flow, looking for places where there are constraints and it’s not flowing, identifying those and fixing them. So that’s critical beyond the individual level, that it think sometimes get lost in the conversation, but I think is very important.
HUNT: Very good. A question that always comes up is your message to, say, O-4s to O-6s. What would you tell them, from your experience, that will help them in the rest of their career?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. So remember that you are preparing to command. And preparing to command means preparing yourself to lead in combat. As I mentioned earlier, you wake up every day, professional competency has to be at the forefront. Not for you – just for your individually, but for the teams that you lead and that you build. And the other point that’s critically important is character. We’ve seen what happens. We had failings in that regard. And so both you and your teams need to be grounded on solid character.
I would tell you that I think, you know, the attributes of Get Real, Get Better, with respect to self-assessment and self-correcting, to pulling levers that generate outcomes quickly, and knocking down barriers – you’re looking for help up the chain of command to knock down barriers that are preventing you from excelling are also critically important. The Sailor of the year, Commander – who was the commander of the Princeton? She actually has an online post that’s pretty good. I have her name written down, I think, somewhere.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Corey Campos.
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Corey Campos, yeah. And so you can google her post online. It’s actually pretty good in terms of her advice for JOs. She says it better than I do.
ADM. GILDAY: She was just sitting here – (inaudible) – a bit ago.
HUNT: Very, very good. I want to go and tap into your cyber experience. You know, we’re kind of at a crossroads as we move forward in a couple different areas on taking cyber to a higher level – cyber resilience sort of thing. Thoughts on where we’re going, where you see that information onboard ships, as well as the larger strike group numbered fleet, or global capability?
ADM. GILDAY: So we are – so frigate is the first platform that we’ve built, or are building, from the keel up with cyber resiliency built in. This includes capabilities that allow us to assess the performance of systems, not just networks but think HM&E systems as well, to look for any kind of malign behavior, what doesn’t look right, to at a minimum pop a flare if not take an initial action to isolate that problem.
I think, as you and I have talked about, the Navy right now, we’re taking a look at whether or not we should have a cyber officer on each ship. And so, based on my background, I am leaning towards that. But exactly, you know, what tools that officer would have at his or her disposal. The ITs that right now do a lot of operations stuff, I think – I think our IT cadre are evolving to also play a defensive role – more of a defensive role on our ships. And so that’s a direction that we’re heading in. And so I think that’ll be solidified here over the coming months.
HUNT: How about comments to industry in general? What do you need? And you’ve been, I think, very transparent in conversations on many different levels. But your thoughts on how good industry’s doing, where they need to improve, what they need to do better to develop a Navy that we need so importantly?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah. I would tell you that one of the things that the Navy needs to do, and that the last two shipbuilding accounts have allowed us to do, is to give industry a better set of headlights in terms of the direction that we’re going in with respect to the production lines that expect to invest in over the coming years. And so I’ll just take shipbuilding here for a second, but if I did a walk around the clock and I take a look at, you know, what’s going on up in Wisconsin with frigate. We’re cited on frigate now that, you know, we’re sundowning the work on building LCS. If I move to Bath, Maine, they are now done with Zumwalts. They are laser-focused on Flight III DDGs, phenomenal capability.
If I go down to – you know, if I go down to HII down in Pascagoula, Flight III DDGs, LPDs, LHAs. All those lines right now are strong. We need to continue, in my opinion, to invest in them. And I think that if I go on the West Coast, I take a look at NASSCO’s progress on the John Lewis-class oilers, they are also doing really well. We are making investments in ships that we really need out there right now. And so we have eighty ships on contract. We have 54 ships across seven shipyards under construction right now. This shipbuilding budget is $31.5 billion. The aircraft budget in the Navy is $19 billion. Those are phenomenal numbers.
We are incredibly fortunate and grateful for the support we’re getting. As I said, I think we’re on – I think that the surface navy ought to be really pleased about the direction we’re heading in with respect to the ships that we’re building. DDG(X), early 2030s, that transition. That transition needs to be deconflicted a bit with the investments that we’re making in NGEN, the investments we will make later in the decade in SSN(X), the next generation submarine. And I think in the middle falls DDG(X). We need that platform.
But I also want to make sure – at least, my priority right now is making sure that we get the Flight III DDG lines humming. And so the latest signal from Congress has been three a year. What industry has to do is prove to us that they can produce three ships a year, get them out there at three a year. We’re not there yet. And so that would be my message to industry, would be to pick up the pace. And I know it’s easy for me to say that, but we’re paying a lot of money, you know, and we’re not necessarily getting what we’re paying for with respect to, two or three ships a year. We’re just not at that production rate.
SSN – and I won’t just cast aspersions on the surface side. On the submarine side, we’re buying two attack boats a year, and plan to up through 2040. So shipbuilders have a very clear set of headlights with respect to our expectations on what we’re going to buy out that far. When we’re only producing 1.2 SSNs a year, it’s just not good enough. It’s not good enough for this Navy. So I know people are rowing hard and trying. And I know that there are constraints with respect to the workforce. And we’re trying to get into a better place there. I know that we’re trying to get after supply chain problems. We just need to do better.
HUNT: Let me just slide in on the repair side. Adm. Kitchener, again, talked about the magic number of 75. That if we can get the ships out there. It sounds like an absolutely great goal and initiative to do that. How do you feel about where the repair side of the ship industry is in supporting that? And are we working the right communication to understand kind of the levers that the Navy has to get industry to do things for it? So it goes – I think you were alluding to it a little bit – of the consistency of the demand signal for new construction. Consistency on the repair work, very, very similar. And one of the things that comes up is many hours invest in physical things to support some folks who don’t do it to that level. And are we choosing stuff that take us in the right direction for long-term sustainability?
ADM. GILDAY: So if I could draw a parallel to the submarine community, out to 2040 – about 2040 – we have a really good sense that we’re going to build two SSNs and an SSBN a year. And so quite frankly, because we know what that production rate looks like on the new construction side, we also have a really high confidence on what the battle force looks like for the undersea force. So in turn, we understand – we have a good sense of – what we need with respect to repair capacity, right? On the surface side, we’ve been all over the map, right? We can only afford so many ships. You see a number of ships on the decom list, principally because we can’t afford them. Some because they need to go away, but others because we just can’t afford them.
Having steady, predictable budgets is really important in that respect, so that the shipbuilding plan that we produce every year is credible, right? It’s got to have consistent funding in order to be predictable. And so without that, you’re going to continue to have this sine wave. And it’s going to be very difficult for the repair side to understand what that demand signal is. So that’s the Navy’s job, to get that right, along with Congress.
With respect to – with respect to private yards, which do the work on our surface force, so there are three areas that I think we’re wrestling with. And first, if I can quantify this in terms of delay days. So we had about – in 2019, we had about 7,500 delay days a year out of shipyards in the surface force. Right now, we’re at about 2,500. By 2024, we should be under 1,000 delay days. And so that’s still not good enough, but it’s a far cry from 7,500. That’s going to be keyed in, 75 ready crew days out on the field in any given day.
There are three areas I’d report here very briefly – or, I think are a challenge for us. One is new work. And so I would characterize new work in three kind of baskets. One would be growth work of existing jobs. One would be new work that pops up during an availability. And the third would be rework, and so a shipyard not getting it right the first time and have to go back and do it again. So those are the three areas there that principally drive more than 30% of our delay days. And I would say, for the surface force right now, that’s about 20 to – 22-24% percent of our delay days are attributed right to growth work, and new work, or rework.
The second piece is the materiel side. And so our enemy there is time. For years, we were contracting availabilities at 30 days out. And so our goal now is 120, right? We are trending very close to that. I would like it to be a year out, to give us plenty of time to identify the GFE that we need to have it available in the yards. I think that the ability that Congress has given us to use money across fiscal years has been fundamentally important here. So for an availability, let’s say, it’s going to start in January, we can put that in contract early fall. We haven’t been able to do that before.
The last thing – so new work, materiel, the last thing is workforce. And so the workforce thing, everybody is – as you know, this gets right to the heart of our recruiting problem as well – for the trades, we’re all going after that same group of people, right? Your company is going after them, we’re going after them, the other services are going after them. And so that is a bit of a scrum in terms of attracting and retaining talent. I think the – you know, years ago, we stopped doing this in the Reagan administration, subsidizing shipyards. And so we saw precipitous decline in yards since that time. Now we just have seven that are supporting us.
And so I think there needs to be some type of incentive, whether they come from the government or whether they come from industry itself, that incentivizes the workforce in ways that are more creative than we have in the past. It’s just – not to overuse the phrase “war for talent,” but I think workforce is the true dynamic there that really is at the heart of our maintenance challenges.
HUNT: Very well put, thank you. We’ve got two or three minutes. And I wanted to leave you time to kind of wrap up, make sure you get all your messages out to us.
ADM. GILDAY: Doesn’t – you can get one of those questions on your little machine there?
HUNT: Well, I’ve got another cybersecurity one. But I think we’ve got most of it.
ADM. GILDAY: I’ll just take it. I don’t have any wrap up comments. Except if I did, to just leave off where I began. And that’s just to say thank you. Thank you for all the support for the Navy, for your Navy, for your surface Navy. I know that – it’s great to see a full room here. I haven’t been since 2019 in person, and it’s just uplifting to see old friends. And I think 400 – the SWO Boss has mobilized perhaps the greatest movement of Sailors to Crystal City in history. Four hundred, well done.
HUNT: Thank you very much. Thank you so much. Thanks very much. Thank you. Thank you all.
Adm. Mike Gilday
10 January 2023
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