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Below is a transcript of the remarks as delivered:
THOMAS GOMART: Just a quick announcement before starting. If you don’t want to practice your French you can use receptors which are with this gentleman over there or at the table, because I will speak French and switch to English for the session.
(Translated from the original French.) I think it is going the first time we are on time at the IFRI. It is a good sign.
I suggest we get started. General officers, ladies and gentlemen, I am of course very happy to welcome you at IFRI, whether the 27 in the conference room or those remotely, for this first Paris Naval Conference. Allow me to start with well wishes in, obviously, wishing you good luck for 2023.
So, as you certainly know, this conference is the result of a common initiative between the Marine Nationale and the IFRI as part of the partnership that they tied in 2019. So this is the opportunity for me to greet, to thank Admiral Pierre Vandier for his support and trust.
This initiative is the result of a double observation. The first observation is that we noticed a multitude of formats related to maritime and environmental issues since, fundamentally, globalization is maritimization. And we also noted the absence in France of a regular appointment exclusively dedicated to naval issues, so we decided to jointly set up this conference.
And that, obviously, leads me to thank very warmly Admiral Gilday and Admiral Key for their presence today. Thanks to their presence, we are immediately giving an international dimension to our work.
So before giving the floor to Admiral Vandier, allow me to make two short personal remarks – one specific, the other more general – to try to tally with the subject of the naval combat hypothesis which is our main topic today.
My first remark consists of proposing to you a trip from Kursk to Moscow, which may seem very paradoxical for a naval conference. Kursk, as you know, is a Russian city near the Ukrainian border. It is also the name of a Russian submarine, which reminds us that the reign of Vladimir Putin started with a shipwreck. Moscow is the capital of the Russian Federation, and it is also the name of a sunken Russian cruiser in the Black Sea last April. This short trip reminds of the importance of naval episodes even for a continental power like Russia.
The second remark is to emphasize the tension that exists and that we can all feel between the return of the competition of powers and commercial globalization. On one hand, we observe the temptation from some to transform open lakes into closed lakes and, on the other hand, we know that in order to work globalization needs to guarantee the fundamental principle of freedom of navigation. I believe that through our collective reflection today, which is obviously called upon to continue in the months and years to come, that reflection on the return of naval combat -through this reflection on the return of naval combat, sorry – the question arises of the very close links that we are constantly studying at IRFI between security and prosperity.
And so it is with these two keywords, security and prosperity, that I am very happy to open the first Paris Naval Conference by giving the helm to Admiral Vandier. (Applause.)
ADMIRAL PIERRE VANDIER: (Translated from the original French.) General officers, ladies and gentlemen officers, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, here we go.
First of all, I would like to thank Thomas Gomart for this introduction and most of all to share with you my joy and satisfaction at being able to organize this event. We worked on it for a long time. It’s an idea that we launched more than two years ago, and the support of the IFRI – I will come back to that – is extremely important in the progress of our reflections. They allowed us to start working on and to contribute to the strategic national journal, and then they also irrigated the reflection on the work on the military proclamation law.
Here we go. We are in January, so I have to introduce these wishes – my wishes – for this year which begins. So I wish you all happy new year 2023 although, ultimately, with the war in Ukraine which was mentioned by Thomas, we will continue to have turbulence and I am deeply inhabited by a sense of acceleration and urgency. So I think the development of problems goes much faster than our ability to solve them, which makes the world a little complicated.
So, before getting to the heart of the matter – the matter, I would like to begin with a few words by thanking the IFRI, especially its president, Thierry de Montbrial, who got involved alongside us in setting up the preparation of this conference. And so it was – it is a bet that today is taking shape.
Here we go.
(Continues in English.) Well, I would also like to acknowledge the presence of my esteemed colleagues Admiral Michael Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations; and Admiral Ben Key, First Sea Lord. Despite our busy schedules, we manage to see each other quite regularly. The last time was in November in Tokyo for the WPNS, the Western Pacific Naval Symposium. It’s an honor to have you here and to have time with you, and I am certain our presence will contribute to the quality of the discourse making this inaugural naval conference in Paris as an exciting event. So I thank you for coming of all this way.
And now I will say a few words in French to explain the objective of this day to our audience. This will be an opportunity to test the translation system. (Laughter.)
(Translated from the original French.) So I am going to come back a bit to the point that was raised by Thomas: Why this Paris Naval Conference? When we started working two, three years ago to try to resume our strategic analysis by saying, what is our navy for, which ball should she be on, well, what did we find? The acceleration of untidiness with, as I told you a few moments ago, an acceleration of worrying phenomena which shows that the strategic fundamentals on which we had worked for 15 years were being deeply abused.
So, obviously, there is the war in Ukraine. If we turn back exactly a year ago, everyone hoped that it would not happen. Many thought that it would not happen; that it was not possible; and, moreover, in the calculations, well, it was not relevant to embark on this war. And as Thomas recalled – here we go – Putin’s story started with a shipwreck, and the question is a little about the sinking that this war represents.
And so you, obviously, have in mind the Nord Stream affair, the marine traffic security incidents. So some are a little under the radar, but they are real. It is a little more aggressive postures all over the world where finally we assert our presence by use of force, we take collision routes, we illuminate with fire lines, and then issues that are more dual such as illegal fishing, INN fishing.
We entered the great battle of common spaces. I sort of call it the last Wild West. These are environments where technology defines the usage, the usage defines the right, and the usage plus the right defines the competition. So we can clearly see that claiming spaces we are, therefore, capable of laying down the keys of a change in the balance of power.
I am going to take an example in space. The people who are able to put the most satellites in the air will claim the orbits, will resell tomorrow. And therefore it is them who will define the rights, the usage, and ultimately the balance of power.
So in the – in this battle for common spaces – cyber, space, and the sea – we can clearly see that we are dealing with resources. We are talking about flows. We are talking about environments that are relatively unregulated if we come back to the maritime, where there is all the discussion that was mentioned during the One Ocean Summit on the BBNG. So the regulations that go beyond the LE (sp), within the really common spaces, and then these have fluid environments where finally the connection between the powers is total.
Leaving Brest, leaving Toulon, we can meet a Chinese fleet, a Russian fleet. Everyone can meet everywhere depending, ultimately, on the movements that have been decided and the orders that have been given. And often I take the marine as an example: the passage from high to low intensity and vice versa, it’s a matter of seconds and orders. Here we go. A boat, when it leaves its port, it has all its ammunition, its crew is trained, and it is just about giving the orders to change gears.
And that brings me to the third point of the observation. It is the intensity of the naval rearmament which we see everywhere. So we tend to think that it is a matter of China and Asia whereas, today, we really see it everywhere, a proliferation of high-end means: drones, submarines, aircraft carriers. And we also see it in the Mediterranean.
And so when we look in the world where we were in the years 2005-2010, where finally the general idea was the (inaudible) – it was, in fact, from the sea we are more or less in a safe space where we can go from sea to land. We see today, and it is really the idea of this naval conference. It is that we are obliged to reclaim the fundamentals of naval power.
So the, as – as the second point – so, wait, I am losing my notes. As a second point, the – this conference also has a goal. It is to illustrate the dialogue we have between allies and partners. So the presence today of Admiral Gilday, of Admiral Ben Key is to give strategic signification to the fact that we are communicating. And we are working together on something that is the heart of our common work, which is interoperability, which is our capability to think alike, to act in a world where we understand developments in the same way – which means that our forces are able to train and then operate in spaces under the water, above the water, whatever the oceans, where ultimately the action we are going to take will bear consistency.
The three navies – the American Navy, the French navy, and the Marine Nationale – have numerous common points, in the forefront of which is oceanic deterrence. They are world navies which are deployed on the four vast oceans, and all three have high-level equipment that they develop based on industrial, technological, and national bases.
And therefore, they are confronted with their measures – with the same military challenges, and therefore it makes their navies that have great proximity – technical, tactical, and strategic proximity. And this proximity has an aggregating effect. It sets a certain number of standards, ways of doing things, and therefore it pulls all three of us up and it pulls up all our allies and our partners with whom we work. And it is this strategic intimacy that has an effect of concentration and an entrainment effect.
To just give you an example, I did the numbers not long ago. Within 15 years, 12 nations have participated in the escort of the French air and sea group. So it really is very, very international object. This strategic proximity is precious. These efforts irrigate all our partners, and therefore it benefits from this vitality – from the vitality of this cooperation. And I was referring to it earlier in a short TV interview a moment ago just before we started: It revitalizes our training to face an uncertain world.
So, in conclusion, we have in this room and by videoconference a particularly rich and impressive panel of expertise and competence. There are political and military authorities, diplomats, researchers, journalists. And therefore, I am convinced that this very great diversity will make it possible to bring out ideas that will help us to better understand the world of tomorrow.
One of the important points – and I come back to the objective of this conference – was that we, the military, were not to be judge and judged, meaning we are not manufacturing a world that fits the goals of the system, not having the world we would see as nails when we have a mind shaped like a hammer. So, it is this idea, it is to have – (continues in English) – honest brokers – (translated from the original French) – people who are capable to challenge us, to contradict us, to show us that we can be wrong, which will shape the quality of our analysis.
We don't have many moves to make. The reacceleration will take time. The change of portage between a world that believed in eternal peace and a world that is much more volatile is going to take time. And therefore, to make good strikes, to aim straight, we need you and we need this audience to be able to ask the right questions.
(Continues in English.) Well, to conclude my remarks in English, to transition to the first panel, I have explained why we’ve organized this conference: to understand the war, to become learning institutions, and to maintain vitality of our partnerships. You probably expect to hear me quote Napoleon or Foch as a good French officer, but today I will be quoting Admiral Ben Key. Your words have crossed the channel. I promise I will pay you royalties. (Laughter.)
“Military history,” you said, “is a struggle between wartime rat-catchers and peacetime regulators. The regulators have taken over. We need to find a new balance. So we have to wake up the rat-catcher in us. Victory is, above all, a matter of mindset, pugnacity, and commitment.”
That sets a high level of ambition for this day. I want to leave here with new ideas which will allow us to build more effective cooperation. I wish you a good day. (Applause.)
MR. GOMART: (Translated from the original French.) I don’t know who will play the role of the pincer between the hammer and the nail. Another conversation.
(Continues in English.) Well, let’s start the first session of this conference, which is dedicated to challenges, key priorities, and prospect of Western navies. I have no introduction but only maybe two questions to try to drive this discussion between the admirals.
The very first one is to get your respective viewpoints on the preparation for possible high-end naval combat. The second one is maybe to try after our discussion to underline the similarities between the three navies but also the dissimilarities because, certainly, there are different approach in addressing the challenge of a likely naval combat.
So the process will be the following. Each admiral will have a short period of time, approximately five, six, seven minutes, to make his first statement. After that I will ask you a few questions and, obviously, I will give the – those in the room to ask question if they’d want.
So let me start with you, Admiral.
Admiral Vandier? (Laughter.) There is – there are too many admirals, you know, at the table. So –
ADM. VANDIER: OK. So it’s a difficult task to starting this first panel.
So, as I’ve already said in my introducing word, we are witnessing the strategic return of the sea and this is due to our ever increasing dependence on its natural resources and the flows of commerce and information that pass through it.
First, the sea is space that has deeply evolved in recent years. The president of the French Republic has remarked that the 21st century will be maritime and so, of course, it’s my deep conviction.
The number of states that have understood this increases every year. First, the sea has several characteristics that place it at the forefront of our strategic concerns. In the maritime domain, as I say, technology gives rise to use which gives rise to law. For example, the range of cannons gave rise to our demarcation of territorial waters.
This rule also applies to space. The first user of an orbit becomes its owner, and for the seabed the first to be able to exploit the depth of 4,000 meters will be tempted to take ownership of the space.
The second characteristic is the fluidity of the environment. This means that there are no physical barriers, no trenches between users. Every day the commercial boats crosses path with the fishing trawler, who crosses paths with the destroyer. Competitors also cross paths every day. We sailors live this reality.
The last characteristic is the opacity of the underworld. What happens under the water is not all transparent. The best proof is that less than 3 percent of seabed is mapped with metric precision, while we know every rock on the moon. This opacity enables our SSBNs to hide, guaranteeing our ability to strike in retaliation.
The other consequence is that the attribution of a hostile action in the underwater domain is complex. The sea is, therefore, by nature a hybrid environment. In this context, in the mid of the ’20s – the beginning of the century – we have seen a vast naval rearmament. This is true in Asia. China constructs and deploys the equivalent of the entire French fleet every four years.
In addition, closer to home in the Med, between 2008 and 2030 in terms of tonnage many fleets will double in size. This is also true in terms of quality as well. There is a leveling effect caused by the diffusion of new technologies, drones, and cruise missiles, which are differentiating technologies have become accessible to regional navies.
So we have an environment without barriers, without borders, with more and more guns and sophisticated technologies. You understand that this creates a form of volatility. Avoid misunderstanding is a challenge and relies on the professionalism of the sailors.
Second, this increases strategic uncertainty. It creates a personal discomfort and potentially tactical inferiority, and this is what we must be prepared for. The first thing I say to my sailors when I took office as the head of French navy was be prepared for the unexpected.
At sea, going from patrol to war could occur with a single action of order – or order, therefore, in a matter of seconds or minutes. The ammunition is aboard. The crew is trained. Things can change very quickly.
So you have to think in terms of reconfiguration. Get used to changing plans and short decision cycle. Think ahead rather than in terms of feedback. It’s really a matter of mindset to be ready on the first day of combat. Wars at sea may be a single-day war.
The second point I would make is that we must review our relationship with risk. We are coming out of 30 years with little appetite for taking on more risk than absolutely necessary. The aim was to do everything possible to prevent the unexpected from happening in the logic of risk avoidance.
This works in peacetime with the superiority of principle. Today, we must embrace the (red ?) during the preparation phase and adapt our methods to overcome and remain resilient. We must acknowledge that the unexpected will happen and make our crews, our ships, and our procedures resilience in the face of this adversity, capable of continuing the fight.
In this sense, I very much appreciate the order that Admiral Woodward gave to his sailors when he sailed on the Atlantic tours of Falkland in 1982. “Replace your safety rules with common sense. Think war. Your lives depend on it.”
My final thought is that we must master technology. We must first master the totality of the performance of the new systems. The pilots say you must be able to use every corner of the flight envelope. To know tactics you must know weapons. There will be no victory without a perfect knowledge of our tools.
The most recent technology has produced performance at the expense of resilience. We must also know how to operate in degraded modes for the day when the automatic functions become damaged or denied. This is a form of resilience, avoiding the cliff effects, going from the hyper-technology to paralyzes after the first enemy salvo.
In conclusion, we have fine assets but the challenges are many. Mahan said in the 19th century good sailors with bad boots are better than bad sailors with good boots. This maxim remains true, but today I think we need both good boots, good boats, and good sailors. (Applause.)
MR. GOMART: Thank you very much, Admiral.
I turn now to Admiral Ben Key. The floor is yours, sir. The microphone if you want to be listening.
ADMIRAL BEN KEY: (Translated from the original French.) Thank you, Thomas, as well as IFRI for the warm welcome. A particular thank you to Pierre for this invitation. We had high-quality exchanges for more than a year. And to be here by your side and by Mike’s is a very clear sign of the deep friendship that unites the Marine Nationale and the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy.
(Continues in English.) And that is, more or less, the extent of my French. And so if you’ll forgive me, reverting to a language I am much more comfortable with but confident that as Pierre was speaking very few people were wearing headsets, I’d like to pick up pretty much where Pierre has left off for two reasons.
Firstly, there was nothing that he said that I disagreed with and, secondly, the remarks I have here build on it rather than repeat.
Of course, as sailors the language that we all have in common is that of the maritime domain, the great global common. We understand the interconnected nature of the world’s seas and oceans, the necessity of them for national and international prosperity, and, importantly, the increasing challenges we are facing at sea.
And through history, as navies most of our time we have spent securing prosperity and rather less time securing borders. But the challenges to that prosperity and those borders are becoming ever more prevalent.
Across all environments but particularly in the maritime domain we have seen an increase in what we call subthreshold, or gray zone activity: illegitimate territorial claims, transnational crime, unsafe interactions at sea in the air, and the prevalence of climate change, all of which are challenging the manner in which for many centuries we have gone about our business.
And confronting this behavior has always been a central role of maritime forces. As professional mariners and navies we cannot tolerate this activity. We continue to advocate for and seek to ensure free, safe, and peaceful use of the high seas by everyone.
And so even though 2023 begins with war once again on the European continent, I am clear that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are more than just a land-based conflict. As Thomas has remarked, the sinking of the Moskva, the strangling of trade, and the laying of numerous sea mines in the Black Sea have been more about the impact more widely than just that held within the Ukrainian border.
They are rippling outwards. Food and energy prices are rising and, in fact, in nations that seem completely unconnected with what is going on in Ukraine, such as Africa, challenges of hunger are apparent.
So this has reinforced in the minds of the public and, hopefully, the British political leaders what we as maritime officers have been saying for decades. The sea is essential to our economic prosperity and our security, and it is, perhaps, telling and something that I’m particularly proud of that in the United Kingdom we gifted two mine countermeasure vessels to the Ukrainians long before we started to discuss tanks.
So I don’t see a return to a continental strategy. I don’t think that the discussions we’ve had recently about Mahan and Corbett being right as being overturned. We will always depend upon the sea, and navies will be required to ensure that maritime activity is peaceful all around the world. And this requires us as navies to invest in what I believe is one of our strongest attributes, which is an ability to operate and engage closely with each other every single day of the year and in every part of the world.
That same maneuver on the high seas mandates for us an ability to operate together wherever we meet. We do not need permission to see each other on the high seas, and that ability to quickly, seamlessly demonstrate close operational capability wherever we are is an important message, and I sit alongside two of my closest fellow naval chiefs in our commitment to making sure that interoperability and interchangeability are global capabilities that we have.
We are international by design, operating worldwide, fielding the strongest deterrent capabilities we can offer from aircraft carriers to ballistic missile submarines, and always seeking to be at the cutting edge of technology.
And we are witnessing technology and the threat advancing quickly. Artificial intelligence and autonomous systems are now commonplace, and, excepting Pierre’s observation about how much of the seabed we have not properly mapped, will allow us to monitor cables and pipelines upon which our prosperity and energy depend and provide us with persistent aerial reconnaissance in a manner we have not done before.
But that information is also available for our adversaries and so we have to be agile, and one of the challenges we face is that the lifespan of the ships is measured in decades and, yet, technology is turning around in a few years and sometimes only months. So, somehow, we have to balance how we build something that lasts for 30 years but within it we can cycle at the speed of relevance.
At the same time, retreating sea ice is offering new opportunities for trade, fishing, and engagement whilst rising sea levels threaten low-lying islands across the Pacific and Atlantic and so we have to maintain – sorry, we have to play our part as maritime forces in reducing the impact of what we do on the world around us whilst also responding to some of the already unavoidable consequences.
But we are not just about technology. We are also about our people, and I’m sure I speak for Pierre and Mike when I say that, despite all of our advanced equipment, the use of artificial intelligence, autonomous and uncrewed systems, our navies will be nothing without the outstanding men and women it is our privilege to lead.
But we face changing attitudes to employment as we compete for the best and the brightest and so we must do so by becoming an employer of choice and attracting diversity, offering careers that reflect the needs and desires of the young men and women who are coming into the workforce today and whose families will support them so that we can properly harness the incredible talent out there.
And, finally, we need to make sure we’re part of a broader national endeavor. As navies, we have never done it of our own and even the briefest glance of history for all three of our nations can see the impact of what being maritime countries is on the way that our shipbuilding, our supply chain, even our agriculture has adapted to support our maritime ambitions and we have to continue to invest in that, providing, I believe, a cohering threat to the national maritime endeavor.
There is much to be positive for our future. Our relationships have never been stronger and there is more that we can and must do together and alongside our other partners and allies around the world. Whether on the seabed, under or on the water or in the air, our interests and opportunities have never been more closely aligned.
This matters because the future threatens to be more contested and less stable than in many decades and we must confront that as part of our endeavor to ensure peace and prosperity on and from the sea. (Applause.)
MR. GOMART: Thank you very much, sir.
I turn now on my right to give the floor to you, sir.
ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY: Thank you.
Admiral Vandier, Admiral Key, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.
Let me begin by expressing my sincere gratitude to Admiral Vandier, to the French navy, and to the French Institute, and for all of those who work behind the scenes to bring this first – this inaugural Paris Naval Conference to life. Congratulations.
I’d like to forego my formal remarks and build off what Admiral Vandier and what Admiral Key have already eloquently laid out by beginning to address the question, Thomas, that you posed in your opening comments and that question – essentially, if I could rephrase, you asked, given the security environment that we face what is the approach of our navy to face that security environment, number one; number two, where do we see similarities across the three navies and where do we see some divergence.
And so with that, I think it’s important when you think about our navies to realize that it takes a long time to make significant changes in the production lines of capital ships with respect to their design and their production, which takes time.
I would say the same in this century for our aircraft – for our fighters and for our bombers, fifth- and on the verge of developing, sixth-generation aircraft. And so the reason why that’s important is because we all must realize that a fight not only tonight but in five years’ time, six years’ time is largely going to be had with the force that we have today.
And so one must recognize, as Admiral Key said, the investment that we make in our people is fundamentally important. The art of war is as if not more important than the technology that we bring to bear against an opponent.
So, given the fact that we’re going to fight with what we have it’s important that we make investments now in those game-changing technologies and training aids that will make us more capable and more lethal. That’s how we make – that’s how we improve upon what we have today.
At the same time it’s taking stock in the navies that we have today and asking ourselves some difficult questions on whether or not in the future that’s the Navy that we need to fight with. These are the things that are going to be important in a fight of the future.
In order to answer that question one must understand not only the evolving threats that we face but how we would fight in the future. How we fight has to inform what we’re going to fight with and those acquisition strategies that we’re going to pursue to give our people the absolute best platforms and capabilities.
So that’s the approach. Improve upon what we have and at the same time be honest with ourselves in designing fleets of the future.
For our own Navy, we’ve come to the realization that the trends that we see, going forward, are more submarines, are less larger surface combatants, more smaller surface combatants, more auxiliary ships and definitely more unmanned under the sea, on the sea, and in the air.
And the reason for that is because we intend to come at an adversary in a distributed manner. So that is to say that we would leverage all domains from seabed to space, and in the physical we would come and try to present a vexing challenge to any opponent that we face across the physical domain by coming at kind of a multi-dimensional multi-vector approach.
In terms of similarities – I think Admiral Vandier mentioned this – this is the age of naval rearmament. After two decades of land wars in Afghanistan and Iraq where, quite understandably, based on the fact that those fights were the priorities – counter violent extremist organization focus was at the fore for our nations – I think it’s fair to say that we under invested in our navies, and then, as Admiral Key so eloquently explained, the reason why navies are important, the reason why our prosperity and the national security of our nations are heavily dependent upon unimpeded access to markets and on free trade routes.
And so those things, fundamentally, haven’t changed but I think our national leaders have recognized that we need to rearm our navies and so this is the age of naval rearmament. We’ve all been blessed with senior leaders who support an increased investment in our navies. And so I think that’s point number one with respect to the vector that we all seem to be on right now.
I think Admiral Vandier made the points about interoperability and interchangeability, which we all believe in. I think our day-to-day operations out there are testimony to that. In the month of November you saw five aircraft carriers – allied aircraft carriers – underway in the Euro-Atlantic area at the same time: the Italian ship Cavour, Queen Elizabeth, Charles de Gaulle, the USS Gerald R. Ford, and our newest carrier, and also the [USS] George Herbert Walker Bush. And so formidable, formidable message, I think, to anybody watching and there were many who were.
But, at the same time, that just doesn’t happen. We are comfortable not only working alongside each other but more increasingly you see our ships in each other’s strike groups and formations. You see our authorities being leveraged by each other. And so that path is on firm ground and heading in the right direction.
With respect to differences, I think that you’ll see investments in different areas to a different degree. One I might point out that Admiral Key and I have the challenge right now of not only building up our conventional force but at the same time rebuilding our nuclear force.
And so when you’re trying to manage your budgets and you’re trying to set priorities, nuclear deterrence is a no-fail mission and so balancing that at this time in this decade of urgent action is sometimes a bit tricky.
So I think that you’ll see, perhaps, some differences in terms of where we invest and I think that’s OK because, at the end of the day, we’ve been very transparent with each other in terms of our investment strategies.
We share technology with each other, I think, fairly well in terms of those game-changing technologies that I mentioned earlier, and I think that the fact that we have some differences we have to think hard about where we turn those into strengths and minimize any vulnerability as we work together as a team and go beyond just operating as separate navies.
So with that, Thomas, I hope I set the table and we’re off and running. (Applause.)
MR. GOMART: Thank you very much, sir. We are on time so I can start with a general question to three of you, also for those who are online that can use the system to raise questions and I will turn to the room after we stop.
My very first question is related to the tension between the fact that navy are very difficult to be built. It’s a very long process, at least one, two, three decades, and at the same time we are facing a very fast-moving geopolitical context. So you see my point.
How should we manage this tension between something, once again, very difficult, very costly, to be built, which can be also destroyed in one day and, once again, this very fluid geopolitical system?
So I would suggest to reverse the order and maybe, sir, you can start with that to explain to us how the U.S. Navy tried to combine this tension – to articulate, maybe, would be the proper word.
It would be better with your microphone, if I may.
ADM. GILDAY: I will offer a couple of thoughts.
First of all, with respect to the platforms that we invest in, we talked about it takes a long time to design and field those platforms. You want them faster but, more importantly, you want to make sure you get it right because if you build ships or aircraft that are not fit for purpose you’re going to live with them for a long time, perhaps a couple of decades, perhaps longer than that.
And so those aren’t – those are not insignificant investment decisions that you make -- not just as a Navy but as a nation, and so they deserve some thought and some critical thought from folks that are outside the Navy as well.
I think – I go back to what I mentioned in terms of game-changing technologies and I think that’s where we can make some significant headway with the help of industry. So many of the – if I used unmanned and Artificial Intelligence (AI) as an example, most of that technology, especially unmanned, is technology that already exists in the civilian sector.
So the important piece about that is that technical risk is already driven down to an acceptable level in most of those cases. We are just repurposing those platforms for military use.
With AI, it’s a little bit different. But we have coders that are very smart and are able to take the platforms that we have and the purpose that we need – the function that we need them to perform – and actually write that – write those algorithms fairly quickly and then we can test them in an operational environment.
And so I’ll just close by focusing on the development – the testing and development piece, which, I think, is a really important point. Typically when we design ships and aircraft, at least in the United States, we do that in Washington, D.C., which is far removed from Sailors and the waterfront, right.
But when we’re looking at these new unmanned technologies and we’re looking at AI, we’re actually putting these platforms and the computer software – what we’re doing is we’re applying it against real-world problems.
We’re not experimenting for the sake of experimenting but we’re trying to solve real-world problems now, and so that gives us insights on which one of those platforms we want to sundown and which we want to double-down on so that we can get it in the hands of our Sailors very quickly.
So I’d just offer those thoughts. I think the DevOps kind of environment is a game changer for us and I think it gives – it brings small companies that are very ambitious into the game. It gives them skin in the game and allows them to be relevant in an important area.
MR. GOMART: Before turning to Admiral Ben Key, can I challenge you on your personal viewpoint of the recent, more significant transformation of the geopolitical environment?
How could you resume things very quickly? How do you see the main transformations – the main recent transformation?
ADM. GILDAY: Could you give me an example? I want to make sure that I’m understanding your question correctly.
MR. GOMART: For instance, what is the consequences of Ukraine in your vision? What is the –
ADM. GILDAY: Oh. So in terms of what can we possibly learn from that – from Russia/Ukraine, when I talk about this tragic situation right now and when I talk to our Sailors about it, which I think is the most important conversation I can have – Admiral Vandier hit at this this morning in a private conversation – but the Ukrainians are learning war while they’re fighting the war, and they’re doing so in a way that is so agile and so flexible and so nimble. They’re leveraging technology down at the tactical level. Again, this goes down to the soldier in the battlefield. And I think for all of our – for our navies and for our Sailors, that’s the kind of spirit that we want. That’s the kind of – that brings an asymmetric advantage to our navies that perhaps puts you in a position of advantage in a fight. And so I think for me that’s one of the most important lessons that we learned.
MR. GOMART: Thank you. So turn now to you, sir. You were to articulate the long-term program with the fast-moving transformation of the strategic environment.
ADM. KEY: I think there are just two points that I’d bring out, to in part build on Mike and also to address one of the challenges you made at the beginning of this section, Thomas, which is if there are these amazing weapons being developed which are rendering big ships too vulnerable for the amount of time and investment, then why should we be continuing to do it? And the history of warfare – and there are people in the audience much better qualified than me to comment in detail – the history of warfare is littered with those moments when you had that kind of revolution in military affairs. And someone had said: We have found the moment in which all else now is rendered obsolete. And actually, subsequent analysis proves that not necessarily to be true.
The second observation I would make is, and picking up on what Pierre said, there sinking of the Moskva reminded us that the loss of ships at sea is something we are out of practice of seeing. And in many ways, it is a tactical action. It just happens to be with something that is larger and, sadly, will take many more lives in one go. The reference of Admiral Woodward is timely. Forty-one years ago was the last time that we in the U.K. lost a number of ships . And they were tactical actions. And because the leadership of the Royal Navy at the time, particularly Henry Leach, my predecessor, had been brought up in the Second World War, they were able to go into the political leadership and calm their anxiety that suddenly the loss of the Sheffield meant that the endeavor was over. It wasn’t. It was a tactical action.
And we, therefore, have a responsibility. And it’s being ready to fight tonight with what we’ve got. We also need to understand the threat that is against us and adjust our pattern of maneuver accordingly. The last 20 years has taught us in many ways, sadly, that we will – we will operate with impunity, except at the tactical action of the person on land, because that is the nature of many of the operations we have been conducting, particularly in the Middle East, where we were not threatened in the air and we were not particularly threatened at sea.
The lesson we’ve got to take on board now is that those threats are balancing out. And they’re adjusting and changing. But it is perfectly possible, with the same imagination and ingenuity that we have shown over the decades and centuries, to respond to it. Because what is the other choice? That if you believe – and I don’t – but if you believe that the hypersonic carrier killer missile problem capability now exists and the targeting is completely assured and it can get through every single time. If you believe that, then actually nobody’s going to go out anyway. That’s not how we are.
And if the carrier missile capability – carrier killer missile capability is solved, and the Chinese have done that, then why are they building aircraft carriers as well? So we have to have courage and confidence that the ingenuity that both Mike and Pierre have talked to, and the courage of our convictions to be able to operate in a tactically proficient manner at sea and allow us still to do the things that we ought to be doing, and within that is an acceptance that loss at sea is an inevitable outcome of brutal war. And that is what happened to the Moskva. And we need to adapt.
Now, clearly, I’m not advocating for a minute that I’m going to expose HMS Queen Elizabeth or HMS Prince of Wales to undue levels of risk. That’s, you know, traditional role of the escort fleet is to deal with that, and to harness all of the information, all of the capabilities that we can make available to ourselves to balance the operational advantage in our favor. But we just need to think these problems through, not cower away from them in the face of a single, stated this moment of change is now complete and total. That is, I think, the bit that is actually really challenging and enthusing the young men and women who are joining the Royal Navy today, and no doubt the navies around the world. Because these are proper problems around which actually the answers are within their minds, not ours.
Because the other thing I know is not only are their lives far disconnected from the decisions made in capitals – Washington, London, Paris, I’m sure. We all have those same challenges. But in age terms, they’re far disconnected from now I see the world. And the people who are going to embrace those opportunities and going to find those solutions are the ones that are going to be out in the battlespace at the time dealing with them. And they’re going to be younger than me. They’re going to be more agile in the way they approach technology. And they’re going to be way more innovative because of the pressures they’re going to feel at the time, just as we’re seeing with the people of Ukraine contending with a problem set that 12 months ago everyone thought if there was an invasion – a big if, turned out to be the case – that it would be over very quickly. Clearly a position that President Putin believed to be the case when he directed the order he did.
MR. GOMART: Before moving to Admiral Vandier, I would like to give you the opportunity maybe to describe quickly the main transformation you are driving right now for the Royal Navy. What are the main challenges for the Royal Navy, the difficulties, and possibly the success you have already made?
ADM. KEY: The Integrated Review of 2021 confirmed for us a very exciting forward program of new ships. And at the same time, we are also in the process of building the next generation of strategic missile carrying nuclear submarine. So for the Royal Navy at the moment, we are going through a degree of proportional change over the next 10 to 15 years that we have not experienced since the end of the Second World War. And we are also doing it in a really strange way for us. Which is, we’ve been directed to get bigger, which is not the habit of navies over the last few decades, when we’ve tended to be told to get smaller. So we’re having to learn some new habits.
And the key challenge for us now actually is – and we’re having a conversation with industry about this all the time – is how do you manage that degree of proportional change for the future whilst remaining tactically proficient and credible today. And we’re doing the bridging bit that both Mike and Pierre have alluded to. And I can only do that with the complete support and buy-in of the shipbuilding and support industries that exist across the U.K. and elsewhere. They cannot take liberties with their delivery time scales. They cannot take liberties with their scope. Schedule has to come in on time. And it’s changing the nature of the sort of conversation we’re having with them.
And I credit – I credit them – some of the companies are represented here. I credit them with leaning into this. But we’re having to change a mindset that now says the premium on any conversation is not the cost. It’s not the scope. It’s the schedule. Because if we can’t stick to the time, then my ability to integrate the various challenges across a number of transitions, we will fail in what we’ve been set to do. And we have to do this at the speed of relevance. That’s causing us to create a different way of thinking in the maritime industrial base in the United Kingdom, and getting them to think about: Where are the future skillsets? Where are the investments in the young men and women? Where are the security of the supply chain? That sort of shift in our thinking is one of the biggest challenges we face today.
MR. GOMART: Thank you very much.
Admiral, your point on this articulation between long term and adaptation?
ADM. VANDIER: I think navies are probably the one among the three services where this question is the more difficult to solve. Because the timeframe for a platform is a very, very long timeframe. And so it’s a very difficult challenge to make elephants be as flexible as judokas. So this is the challenge. So if we consider timeframes, I will take an example. The Rubis-class submarine that has to be replaced on the beginning during this decade, this submarine were designed in the ’70s. They were commissioned in the ’80s. And they are still operating until the end of the decade.
These submarines are very different today of what they were at the beginning. They have new systems, new sonar, new concept, new tactics. And so what – the way we employ these submarines are different from the way they were employed 20 years ago. So we have different cycles, different timeframes. We have the timeframe for the platform. Today, the are new pieces for the future SSBNs are under construction, and for a submarine that will last up to the 2080. So it’s a time of the platform. And we need not to miss the design of the platforms. Platforms has to be built to be adaptable.
Then there is a time of platform modifications. So it’s what we call midlife upgrade. It’s something we do each 10-15 years, where we make a refit that is able to give new capabilities, to include new systems. Then we have the timeframe of system update, which is something which is in loop of years, perhaps two, three years, to experiment and implement, test, and then put in service. And then we have another loop, which is a new one, which is the technological implementation of new technologies. Where on all digital tools, all the IT is able to be implemented on very short loops.
Perhaps you know it occurring that some software, as Uber or delivery, have been used in a military function very quickly. And so the IT and the digital world has to be taken in account on this loop. What is at the end of these loops which are linked together, able to give us the opportunity to adapt, to refresh, to invent new courses of actions. And so it’s what we try to do now with our POLARIS exercises, with our (Perseus?) organization, which is trying to let our commanders have the opportunity to adapt to something which is new, not waiting for a midlife upgrade.
Third point, we speak a lot of technology today. I think we need to be prudent and don’t make mistakes on technological assessment. We have a precedent in the French history. It’s called Jeune École. It was at the end of the preceding century, just to refresh the idea. In fact, it was a time after the 1870 war where the navies – the French navy had not that much money. And so they said, OK, we don’t have money; we will have ideas. And so they took – (laughs) – they took great advantage of new technologies, as torpedoes. And they thought that they were – it was time to be rid of big destroyers, and then realized that it was a mistake. I won’t develop because it’s a French-British story. (Laughter.)
No, so just to explain, it’s the Fashoda events. So you know that the – it makes quite a good example. So there was a fight about controlling Fashoda between Lord Kitchener and Colonel Marchand. And this fight was nearly – was won by the French on the field, but the Royal Navy, the British, went to say: OK, if you don’t leave this position, we will strike your home ports with our destroyers. And at that time, French forces are only torpedo boats that were able to go outside for a maximum sea state of three. And that was their discussion. And President Delcassé said, I would say in France – (translated from the original French) – we have the arguments, they have the weapons. (Laughter.) (Continues in English.) OK? It was the end of it. (Laughs.) So that was the story.
So I think we need not to mistrust what technologies are able to do. So I do think that drones and unmanned are very useful, but I’m not sure they will replaced manned in all conditions in the next decade or two decades. They are more useful to do things we are not able to do. They can overcome some difficulties we have. And especially we are speaking of personnel, of contested environments. But they’re saying, OK, all things will be unmanned, I think it’s a mistake. And nobody can do that. No IT will not replace manned thinking. And what we are doing is not in IT yet. (Laughs.) And I hope it won’t be.
And it’s the same idea for persistent surveillance. You think – and I follow some of my ships on my – on my – on Twitter accounts. And so sometime after reports on Twitter, better than by my stuff. But I know the timeframe is inconsistent with warfighting, with tactical assessment, with engagement. So it just, to be funny here, but really even the persistent surveillance is not able to solve all the tactical situation we are facing too. So, yes, technology is good, but we have to incorporate that in a more long-term perspective, and in a strategical and geopolitical perspective, which is grounded. So this is the reason why we are here.
MR. GOMART: Let me continue on that. Because in terms of dissimilarities between the three navies, very certainly the difference in direction with respective naval industries. So, Admiral, on that, I would be interested in knowing on which point, in your view, some improvement can be made in the future to improve this transformation process through the interaction between the Marine Nationale and the industry.
ADM. VANDIER: I think we need to take advantage of field experimentation. So if you open the box and you let your commanders try to invent something, if you put the engineers of the industry alongside them and understanding what kind of problems they have, what kind of solutions they can build with them, we’ll make a cycle that will be quicker.
Today, the loop is going in the staffs. So you need to be a captain, then you go in to état-major des armées, and then you try to design something, and it will take years to be in the field. I was in MMA in 2009 and I designed standard F3 rifle which is under service last year. So this is the time, 10 years to make something in the field.
So I think the engineers, when they – when they work with the forces, they will gain – they will give better solutions, and so it will be an accelerating loop. And so what we try to do with the Perseus concept, the idea is on big exercise to embark some engineers coming from the industry to see what we do and to be able to report to their companies: OK, we’ve seen that. We think that that kind of problem could be solved by what we have. And so the DGA, which is at the center of the acquisition progress – the acquisition process, would be more – actually more agile and they will fulfill our needs more quickly.
MR. GOMART: Well, before turning to those in the room, I have question in on my screen. The thing is, I cannot read them. So I really value them, it’s not your problem, but if you can find a way to let me read them precisely it would be helpful.
But before going to the room, I would like to raise a second issue for your view, related to human resources. Because, Admiral, you mentioned – you quoted, you know, Mahan on that, and I think it’s a very significant quotation. I would be interested in having your viewpoints on human resources through three things – recruitment, training, and I would say fighting spirit. How could you describe that for the Royal Navy? Similar question for the Navy and for the Marine Nationale.
ADM. KEY: Thank you. And I think actually of those three you’ve missed out the most challenging, which is to retain. So recruitment for us is going OK at the moment. We continue to offer attractive careers that young people want to engage with. And the nature of the skills investment we make in young men and women is attractive, not just to them but, dare I say it, also to their parents, who see it as a good way of getting their children good skills for very little money, because we bear the cost of the training. So in that sense, we are – we are still providing something which is aspirational and attractive, and seen as a worthwhile organization to be part of.
We know that we’ve got to change the way that we train because young men and women today draw on information and data differently. They learn differently. And frankly, we know that some of our traditional methods of education and training are very slow. We’ve got to get away from linear investment in the human skillset and try and find the sort of concurrent manner that young people want to learn in. But I think the real challenge is how do we – how do we move, again, create a career for people who have far greater confidence that they can move laterally between employers, between roles, between tasks, who feel much more comfortable with variety looking ahead, when we three lead, like most navies of the world, very bottom-fed structures?
And the real challenge for us in the Royal Navy over the next 10 to 15 years is to fundamentally rethink what a naval career looks like. It’s got to be lateral. A phrase that some on my team are using is zig-zag. It needs to be as easy to rejoin the Royal Navy as it is to join it in the beginning. We need to be able to recognize that skill sets derive not just in maritime industries, but potentially in something completely different, as a buy-back that we would want to invest in. And that, and finding renumeration, pension, development skills that appeal in that way over time, is really, really important. And is the biggest HR challenge I think we face over the next 20 years.
MR. GOMART: Thank you. Sir, what about the Navy on that?
ADM. GILDAY: I’ll start off with retention, briefly. So in two words, talent management. We are in the business of developing and retaining warfighters. But the way we’ve done it in the past doesn’t necessarily lend itself to retaining – we have a higher – a much higher percentage of our force is married, as an example, with children. And so developing a marketplace approach that gives Sailors more say in their next assignment, again, putting them in a job that matters, that matches their skillsets, where they’re going to make a difference. But also, allowing them to have a sense of purpose, right? As a war fighter, that they are part of – a meaningful part of a larger team. And so talent management for us has taken this new twist with respect to – with respect to this marketplace approach that we just started testing over the past year. And we see the benefits of it.
It's also paying much – of course, much more individual attention to each Sailor. And, as Admiral Key mentioned, we have made it far too easy for our Sailors to transition out of the Navy. We want to make sure – we want to make sure that they transition well back into civilian society. But now the first question to ask is: What can we do to keep you in? What can we do to retain you? So this, again, is giving them, empowering them to have a greater say in that next assignment.
With respect to attracting talent, so we have largely shifted to social media platforms in the virtual world. But that’s where we find that the younger population, we can get their attention. And we’re also trying to tell the story of the United States Navy through the eyes of Sailors. And so short videos, as an example, that are not scripted, that allows Sailors to tell their story, why they’re doing – why they feel fulfilled doing what they do. And so we found that to be very effective. We have also reached out to the gaming community, as you might imagine. And we’ve also found a lot of success in trying to reach out to that sector.
That said, there was a period during the height of COVID, before we had the vaccines, where we zeroed out our spending on television commercials, as an example, and we went completely digital. We’ve learned that that was probably not a sound decision, not necessarily with respect to the young audience but you also have to consider influencers. And so parents, grandparents, school administrators. They still watch television. And so back to – back to making those investments in those commercials, for reasons that are quite obvious.
But we are – it is a war for talent. And, you know, we were talking about the industrial base a few minutes ago. And for the United States, the size of that industrial base, with respect to workers, has shrunk 35% over my career. And so we are fighting for that. We are – now when I talk to CEOs of – whether they’re aircraft companies or shipbuilders – it’s clear to me that we’re all going after the same talent. And so trying to make ourselves stand out in a way that’s different from everybody else has been – has been something that we’ve had to really think about.
Because the population that we have, that’s available, is pretty small when you consider the age group of, let’s say, 18 to 25, which might be – which might be, you know, millions of – millions of young people. But then when you get down to those that are physically qualified, that have test scores that are acceptable, and that, importantly, want to serve in the military, that’s a smaller group. And so we are very much focused on how to attract people to the United States Navy in a way that’ll be a win-win for them and a win for us.
MR. GOMART: Thank you.
Before turning to Admiral Vandier, please let me know, for those in the room, if you want to intervene. You have a unique opportunity to challenge three admirals, so use it. But just let me know before giving you the microphone.
Admiral, on the human resources.
ADM. VANDIER: So as I finished my speech – my previous speech about Mahan, the core of our issues are human resources. For the time, the recruitment is going well. So we recruit nearly 4,000 people a year. And it works – it still works pretty well, despite COVID and the difficulties of employment in France. The biggest problem we are facing to is to retention, as you say. Because what happens? Sea life is difficult. And a full carrier at sea is something less and less people can afford because their wives or their companion is working too, they have children, and it’s difficult to take that in account.
And so the seamen are so well paid outside when they quit the navy with their skills that it’s really difficult to pay them sufficiently to keep them in. So at that time, we observe that we have a gap – a rising gap – between experience and competitiveness. We have – it’s easy to have competent people, but we have less and less experienced people. And so it’s a new risk we have to take in account, is to have talented people, to have trained people, competent but not experienced. And so it’s a new way to do things. And so we are working on rebuilding our education and training system.
It used to be as a Playmobile factory. You use plastic and then you have the same guys which are getting out of school, and so you just have to paint them. And so giving them a patch, and then they will go on submarine, they will go in aviation, and so they will do the job and then they will graduate. This is no more affordable. In the French navy, 80 percent of our jobs represent, each of them, 1 percent of the people. Which is nightmare in a human resource. So the idea we are working on as a new concept.
In fact, we will spend less time in schools and less time for education, and more time for training, for training on the ships. We will renew our ships. And so our new ships will be our simulators. It’s on these ships that we will be able to train our people. And so the idea is to deliver them with the health of internal technologies about education. The proper courses, the proper training, adapted to what they are doing actually on the ship, and not what they are supposed to do from a school point of view.
And so it’s a huge change. And we expect to have less people in the schools, to use the schools as sort of a – I’m searching for the word – a sort of help for the commanders to train the people, more than a separated organization from the – from the three commands. And so it will be a huge change we are working on in the next decade, because we know we don’t have much more people within us in the next decade.
MR. GOMART: Thank you. So I have a question online but in the room. Row number six. So I think that if you could introduce you very briefly, it would be helpful for the admirals to respond. And let me know if you want to intervene. After that, this way.
Q: Thank you. My name is Lee Willett. I thank you for the chance to be with you. I’m an independent writer about Navy stuff.
I wanted to explore the issue of leveraging technology, please. All three admirals have mentioned it as a theme. And Admiral Gilday mentioned the particular issue of unmanned systems and AI. But I wanted to ask the question in two parts, the second part relating to how you make it relevant in the current context. For example, operations in Ukraine. I saw a story on the news in the U.K. the other week about the average life expectancy for UAV in Ukraine. They need a system that is very, very technologically capable to do the surveillance that it needs, but it lasts about six days before someone shoots it.
So you have a new kit that you need that must be capable, but you need it quickly and then it gets destroyed quickly. So I wondered if I might ask the admirals to comment on what key technology, maybe one in particular, they think is really, really relevant in today’s operational environment, given that – the kinds of challenges you see in Ukraine. And then also, how you can shorten the concept through OpEx, through operational deployment cycle, to get that kit into service really quickly. Thank you.
MR. GOMART: Thank you. I will take the second question over there. If there is a third one, please let me know to gather the thing.
Come to me, Romain.
Q: Brent Sadler from The Heritage Foundation. It’s really kind of a follow-up on that question.
Admiral Gilday, you haven’t talked about Task Force 59 and what lessons you’ve learned from that of employing – you know, learning from actually using unmanned systems in concert with manned systems. And if you could kind of give kind of a top kind of overview of what you’ve learned and where you see the U.S. Navy going. But then I’d like to pivot and hear from the French and our British allies how they’re taking lessons from what we’re doing, and how we might be working more collaboratively across our three navies.
MR. GOMART: Thank you. Admiral.
ADM. GILDAY: Sure. I’ll try and address both questions at the same time. So I think the first part of Mr. Willett’s question had to do with, if you will, you know, the lifecycle of an unmanned platform in combat, and the – and the amount of money that you would invest in some of the systems that we have today at very high cost. I think you need a mix of platforms. And so the first question is, what do you actually want them to do. Do you want them to deliver weapons? Do you want them to gather information? And what’s changed over the past few years is that there are a – the problem is not the availability of the platforms.
The parallel that I draw that some have heard me talk about before the is automobile industry in the United States. So Tesla is the digital twin. And everybody wants to be like Tesla. Everybody has the platforms. The magic is the AI software plug, right? That is the magic. It’s the AI. And so AI is what really brings that platform alive and gives it operational relevance in a theater like the Middle East. And so for Mr. Sadler’s question, that’s one of the key takeaways for me, is the value of that AI software plug.
And also, the fact that instead of having a large company be the integrator of the software and the platform, I want to be the integrator. I want those sailors at the tactical edge making the decision of what’s that best software patch matched against that platform that actually produces what they need with respect to – with respect to useable information.
The other thing I would tell you that we’re leveraging is micro-processing. And what I mean by that is applications just like you have on your phone. And so at the tactical edge, taking this huge data lake of information that we’re – that we’re collecting with unmanned platforms, making use of it, and leveraging applications that can be changed very quickly. So users at the tactical edge saying: I want to make these changes to this application. Some of them can actually code, and they can make that change themselves. We can test it and then apply it very quickly.
So the devops, the development operations, cycle that we’re in right now with unmanned has allowed us to learn very quickly and to make informed decisions about what we’re going to invest in, what we’re going to invest in to field, and what we’re going to – what we’re going to put aside. And what we found is the venture capitalists who live in this kind of environment every day, they’re accustomed to making high-risk decisions. They’re accustomed to, you know, putting a bet on a capability that may or may not pan out. And so they are eager to bring – to fund companies, to bring these capabilities – whether it’s the platform or whether it’s the AI – to bear. And so we’re learning a lot every day. I don’t think that that’s going to stop. And I think that it’ll help us actually put good capability in the hands of war fighters quickly.
MR. GOMART: Thank you, sir. Admiral, on these two questions.
ADM. VANDIER: I have two points on your questions. First, I think what is – this is technologies which are relevant to fasten the OODA loop at war is the core. So it’s observe, orient, decide, and assess. And so this is, I think, one of the biggest lesson of the Ukraine war. The speed of OODA loop for the Ukrainians may be perhaps 10 times faster than the Russians. And so all the technologies that are able to fasten this decision-making process is something which is at the core of the system. And so all the systems we are building are using more and more digital systems. And so the investment in these technologies, I think, are decisive.
The second point, just to give an example, you need to – perhaps 1,000 – (inaudible) – to kill 1,000 tanks. But if you have a proper OODA loop, you will send two high mass munition on the depot. And then it will be finished. And so this is what the Ukrainians did, quite with good success. The second point is we spoke a lot of drones and new weapons. I think we have – we, the Western countries – a price per shot problem. If we need to shoot at a $10,000 target with a 1 million (dollar) missile, one day we will lose. It was the question that Israel asked themselves with the Iron Dome. And so I think we need to have a better protection of our forces for low-end threats. We can’t spend huge missiles, big missiles, to do just dumb targets. And so it’s the other point.
And so just to finish my point, I think between our navies, because it was one of your question, what kind of subject we have together. I think the core is data interoperability. Because if we want to act together, it’s the OODA loop which is decisive. And so we have to be able to share this data, and this process, and these softwares that make us be efficient in war fighting, much more than weapons.
MR. GOMART: Thank you. Sir.
ADM. KEY: Two very quick points, because anything else I was going to say has been covered already. We need to create an environment in which the practitioners, which are the young men and women in the fleet, feel permission to fail fast and to move on. And one of the challenges when you’re spending public money or government money is this concept that you haven’t wasted it. But actually, what we’re discovering is that the learning is the investment. And how we create that environment within our structures will allow us to leverage the technology at the speed of relevance.
And then, in a compare and contrast with what we’re seeing in Ukraine, as opposed to some of the challenges we have in United Kingdom at the moment, is the regulator environment needs to adapt to the speed at which we’re trying to bring in new technology. In Ukraine, the risk appetite of the Ukrainian population for things not quite being as safe as they once were is enormously high, because their lives are implicitly quite dangerous – you know, quite threatened at the moment.
We, for very understandable reasons, have invested in huge systems to ensure safety of life in what we go about. But it has actually created a significant bureaucratic burden in the regulatory environment where very often now our regulators do not know or fully understand how to regulate in the modern, high-tech space. And there is a really challenge for us with the defense military regulators in the United Kingdom, and I think also more broadly, that we have a really – a fresh think about what does risk and reward look like? Because it cannot be that the paperwork that allows you to test a new technology takes so long that that technology gets overtaken by the next generation. But I fear that in some spaces that is what we’re going to see.
Of course, one of the joys for mariners is we can head out into the high seas, where population is not necessarily at risk. And if something falls out of the sky or sinks, it’s probably unrecoverable from about 2,000 meters down. (Laughter.)
MR. GOMART: Thank you very much. (Laughs.) Well, the only word I remember from my reading of Clausewitz is frictions. So to avoid frictions or to anticipate frictions between session one and session two, and to respect the schedule, I will conclude this first session by thanking you warmly for this presentation and for your answer. And I’m sure that you deserve our applause. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Adm. Mike Gilday
18 January 2023
20 January 2023
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