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Good morning! Thank you Brigadier General O’Meara for the kind words of introduction, and thank you to the National Defense Industrial Association for providing me this opportunity to speak with you.
For more than 100 years the NDIA and its predecessor organizations have worked tirelessly to provide forums for us—the stakeholders of national security—to come together and engage on how to tackle the toughest challenges facing our nation’s Joint Force.
This conference’s focus on expeditionary warfare is of particular importance to me as your Secretary of the Navy. Maintaining our nation’s premier expeditionary force is a responsibility I take extremely seriously.
Our Naval Services have a long and storied history of conducting expeditionary operations, dating back to the 1776 raid of British military stockpiles at Nassau.
Building upon this legacy, our Marines and Sailors fought in campaigns throughout the Pacific and European theaters during World War II.
Time and time again they went back to the Indo-Pacific, defending democracies in Korea and Vietnam.
Our naval expeditionary forces played a crucial role in defeating Saddam Hussein in Iraq not once, but twice.
They fought valiantly to give the people of Afghanistan a chance at self-determination.
It is for all these reasons that I chose to take my oath of office at the Iwo Jima Memorial, in honor of the brave Marines and Sailors who have served so proudly for so long.
Marines and Sailors continue to operate around the world today in remote and austere environments both at-sea and ashore.
As we speak, our Naval forces are actively training beside our allies and partners to deter, and if necessary defeat aggression in multiple theaters.
Our warships maintain continuous patrol to ensure the freedom of navigation for uninterrupted maritime commerce. And our Marines stand ready for the unknown, as the nation’s crisis response force, irrespective of time or place.
Our expeditionary campaigns are enshrined not only in our naval heritage, but in our world’s history as decisive moments that ensured the freedom of millions.
It is this very commitment to freedom by the United States and its citizens that inspired my parents, with me as an infant, to flee Castro’s Cuba and start anew in Hell’s Kitchen, New York.
It’s what inspired me to serve our country for 22 years in Naval service.
And after seventeen years of running a defense-focused small business with my spouse and partner Betty, it’s what inspired me to once again take the oath of office, in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial, down the road in Arlington.
The world is changing around us at a lightning pace. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and illegal annexation of part of its territory showed us a willingness to upend international norms and a disregard for human life through the targeting of civilians.
Press reporting highlights Iran’s provisioning of one-way attack drones to Russian forces, supporting Moscow’s campaign of terror against Ukraine’s women and children.
It is no surprise the regime in Tehran continues to spread its malign influence beyond its own borders as it tries to distract from challenges at home.
On the other side of the world, the People’s Republic of China continues to operate its maritime forces in a way that threatens free, uninterrupted economic activities in the South China Sea.
From economic coercion to military confrontation, the PRC continues to pressure its neighbors as it seeks to dominate the region.
Russia, China, and Iran’s current regimes all are testing boundaries to see how much the international community will tolerate.
Our primary aim is to deter. And the most effective deterrent is the clear, unquestioning certainty on the part of potential adversaries that we, the United States of America, will prevail in any conflict.
This is why we must always be ready to deploy a naval expeditionary force capable of meeting our defense obligations.
Our Navy and Marine Corps have never been stronger. We continue to deliver new systems and platforms that increase the Fleet’s lethality and mobility.
We do this not just to preserve our advantages at sea, but because our National Defense Strategy demands it as part of a “lethal, resilient, sustainable, survivable, agile, and responsive force.”
We work to realize the vision set forth in the NDS through integrated deterrence, campaigning, and building enduring advantages.
And a well-trained, well-equipped naval expeditionary force is foundational to these lines of effort.
Our ability to project this power forward at a time and place of our choosing is supported through the three enduring priorities I set forth in my initial guidance to the Department when I took the helm in October of 2021.
Our first priority is maintaining maritime dominance in defense of our nation. We do so through the combined strength and interoperability of our Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
We project power forward by operating in the same environments and domains as our adversaries, demonstrating our ability to sustain operations ranging from competition to conflict.
Maintaining an expeditionary force forward requires a tremendous sustainment effort to preserve warfighting readiness.
We are able to do so through the strength of our partners in the industrial base, many of whom are in this room.
They work tirelessly to get our ships back to sea, our aircraft back in the air, our vehicles running, and to keep our systems online.
I’ve been on both sides of the defense ecosystem, and I am well aware of the challenges you face in competing for business as well as in training and retaining skilled labor.
And I also know that you share our dedication to ensuring our Sailors and Marines have what they need to operate forward.
Another key focus area supporting maritime dominance is innovation and modernization.
Force design—and by extension, Fleet design—drives our modernization plan as we look to provide current and future Sailors and Marines with the right mix of platforms, capabilities, and capacity to operate around the world.
We look forward to accepting LHA 8, USS Bougainville and the future LHA 9, USS Fallujah, and the capacity they will bring to our “Gator Navy.”
Beyond these two capital ships, the Light Amphibious Warship will play a key role in maritime expeditionary operations in a contested environment.
As I look out in the crowd, I see many of our industry partners who are working hard to make sure these ships are delivered on-schedule and on-budget.
We are fortunate to enjoy a strong partnership with Congress, who makes it a priority to invest in the United States’ Fleet Marine Force.
As part of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, we received funding for construction of a San Antonio-Class LPD, a critical platform for delivering an expeditionary force forward.
Further, with the support of Congress our Marines continue to make advancements in maritime domain awareness, joint all-domain command and control, and long-range fires.
I am grateful for the strong relationship our Department has with those on Capitol Hill, and I look forward to our continued collaboration as we work together to field a modern, well-funded Fleet.
The Department continues to support rapid innovation and experimentation as we look to adopt systems and technologies that help us maintain our advantage.
From NavalX and the Office of Naval Research to the recently announced Naval Innovation Center at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, we are partnering with academia and industry to leverage their solutions and expertise as we integrate cutting edge technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning into the Fleet.
TASK FORCE 59 in Bahrain continues to test the ability of manned and unmanned maritime platforms to work together in a contested environment, expanding and refining conceptual thought across the Department.
We look forward to taking these experiences and demonstrating this capability in other regions of the world.
Besides unmanned surface vessels, we are investing in highly capable unmanned aerial systems.
These include the MQ-25 Stingray for air-to-air refueling and the MQ-9 and RQ-20 Puma for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support to Marines operating in austere environments.
Through these investments, we buy down risk for our manned aircrews while simultaneously adopting platforms that are force multipliers, capable of supporting distributed operations.
Bringing these unmanned systems online is possible because the strength of our defense industrial base and their ability to research, develop, test, and field platforms capable of supporting our expeditionary forces wherever they may go.
As we think about how we ensure our maritime advantage, it is important to acknowledge our planet’s evolving climate.
Nature always gets a vote in our operations, and as sea levels and temperatures change, we must consider the impacts our climate has not just on us and partners, but on the environments we desire to operate in.
My Department looks forward to collaborating with all of you to ensure we can sustain a forward maritime presence while also being responsible environmental stewards.
My second priority is to empower our people.
Our Navy and Marine Corps are a diverse team, with individuals from all over our country and all walks of life.
And that’s exactly the way it should be.
It’s what we want and what we need, not just because in a democracy and as an all-volunteer force, we should be representative of the American people, but because we are stronger, we are more capable, when we have many different experiences and viewpoints to draw from.
Everything we do, everything we achieve, we do through teamwork; and teamwork is only possible when all members of a team are valued, when everyone feels that they have a voice and that their contributions matter.
This type of atmosphere, this environment is founded on trust.
Leaders at every level set the tone.
Leaders, when your words and actions demonstrate respect to all, and openness to differences of opinions, that’s when new ideas can come to light.
That’s when out-of-the-box thinking can flourish.
That’s when we fully utilize the asymmetric advantage we have over other nations’ militaries and societies, where freedom of thought and expression are repressed.
Never forget that our people are our greatest advantage, and that to build and sustain a combat-ready expeditionary force, we must take first and foremost care of our people and their families.
And that starts with treating everyone with the respect and dignity they deserve.
Our third and final priority is enhancing strategic partnerships. We cannot deliver an expeditionary force without the support of our allies and partners around the world.
Through basing agreements, use of maintenance facilities, and allowing our units to resupply in their waters and on their land, our international partners allow us to sustain operations far from our shores.
More than that, together with our allies and partners, we are able to present a unified front against totalitarian regimes, against would-be foes, against those who would see the current world order overturned.
A world order that has allowed humanity to advance towards the greatest prosperity, economic exchange, improvements in health and living conditions, and technological advancements that our planet has ever seen.
This progress is not uniform, and it is not uni-directional—but it is real. And we cannot take for granted that it will continue without our deliberate and determined efforts.
The people in this room share a focus on maintaining naval supremacy, which it is without a doubt A, if not THE central piece of our national security strategy.
But it is important to remember we do not operate alone.
Our Navy and Marine Corps are critical enablers for the Joint Force. Our ships provide forward staging for Soldiers and Airmen.
Our Marine Corps’ Stand-In Forces concept is not just about sustaining a naval campaign. S.I.F. provides the Joint Force with domain awareness through persistent reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance efforts and the ability to refit and re-arm while forward.
They are also ready to engage on behalf of the Joint Force if necessary.
We must continue to develop strategies, concepts, and capabilities like these that enable us and our partners to achieve desired results.
I am determined that during my time in office, we will together build an even stronger, more ready, and more lethal Navy and Marine Corps team.
There is no other choice—we must prepare for the worst, in order to have the best chance of averting it.
We can only do this through a resilient industrial base, supported by investments and commitments from Congress and the Department of Defense to maintain production capacity and drive innovation that preserves our enduring advantage over our adversaries.
In that spirit, I ask you to think about which ideas presented today and tomorrow can be implemented as solutions to sustain a Navy and Marine Corps designed to deter conflict and, if necessary, deliver decisive victory in combat.
Thank you all. May God bless our Marines, Sailors, Coastguardsmen, and their families.
And now, I’ll take your questions.
Carlos Del Toro
22 February 2023
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