Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Michael Gilday paid a visit to the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) on July 9 – a virtual visit – to impart his vision of navigating through the troubled waters of 2020 and well into the future.
Directly engaging over 1,000 members of the NPS community via live videoconference, Gilday walked through how his initial intentions upon becoming the 32nd CNO were challenged through national crises, and the critical role of education in staying the course, for the university’s latest Virtual Town Hall.
Gilday talked about education in the context of his Fragmentary Order (FRAGO) issued last December, which streamlined the Design for Maritime Superiority into three themes – Warfighting, Warfighters and the Future Navy.
“I prioritized some things that I really thought we should get our arms around quickly, primarily the readiness of the existing Navy,” he said. “If we can’t take care of what we have now, I’d have difficulty going to Congress with a straight face and asking for a lot of money to invest in more ships that we can’t sustain well.”
This involved putting the brakes on buying new ships in favor of pursuing military overmatch throughout space, cyber and maritime domains against our near-peer competitors, the ‘clarion call’ of the National Defense Strategy (NDS).
Gilday explained that he approached achieving this prerogative though three timeframes – the current operational window of zero to two years; a two to seven-year range of force development; and a five to 15-year horizon for force design.
“You don’t always get to pick your adversary and you don’t always get to pick what’s going on with current affairs, yet you have to respond,” remarked Gilday. “Where I do have the ability to influence is in the two-to-seven-year point.”
This is the time for doctrinal concept development: for the Navy, it’s Maritime Operations; for the Marine Corps, it’s Littoral Operations in a Combat Environment (LOCE) and Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO). It’s also the time for experimentation, wargaming and analysis.
“That has to be tied together in a cohesive way through the lens of the NDS to not only get the most out of the Fleet’s current capabilities, but to double down on our investments in weapons like hypersonics and directed energy, to think differently about how to apply those, and to invest in air wings so that we have longer range and speed,” Gilday observed.
These advances will come into focus and fruition over the five to 15-year timeline, which means having eyes on the Fleet of the Future in the present. The bottom line, however, is the top line of DOD spending is not going to grow for the foreseeable future.
“We cannot afford to continue to wrap two billion dollars’ worth of ship around 96 missile tubes” Gilday said. “I just don’t have the money to do that and to deliver a fleet in number.”
No plan survives first contact, as the saying goes. On November 17, 2019, the first case of a novel new infectious disease, the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), was confirmed; by March 11, 2020, COVID-19 had swollen to a global pandemic.
“My vision this summer was to do a large-scale exercise of five carrier battle groups and two amphibious ready groups, probably the largest exercise in a generation, to really test distributed maritime operations,” Gilday said. “Unfortunately, COVID-19 had an effect on that.”
But Gilday’s response was to keep calm and carry on.
“I think the first thing that you have to accept is that we’re going to have COVID-positive warfighters across the Navy, across the Marine Corps, across the joint force and operational units,” he said. “The question is, how are we going to deal with it?”
Prevention and containment strategies have been imperative, but embracing inherent cultural change as Sailors adapt to the demands of confined spaces aboard ships is critical.
“How do you move around a ship?” he asked. “It’s changing the way that you eat your meals, it’s social distancing as best you can, it’s a complete and utter change in terms of how we’re operating out there in our units … It becomes the new normal.”
Gilday then transitioned to a critical, “extremely high priority [program] for both myself and the Secretary of Defense,” he said, Task Force One Navy. He described a litany of connected possibilities that “essentially go from street to fleet,” … Barriers to service, free mentorship programs, scholarship opportunities, talent management with respect to assignments, detailing fitness reports, evaluations, accountability among others.
“It’s even deeper than that,” he said. We must “help Task Force One Navy take a deeper look at this.”
Gilday also linked an important focus of the Education for Seapower effort to increasing the opportunity for education, especially for mid-career officers in warfighting curriculums as well as relevant technical degrees for the enlisted community. “It’s important to me that we allow people to have opportunities to further their education and expand their minds, but it’s also a warfighting advantage for us,” Gilday noted. “I believe, particularly for the enlisted force, that this is an asymmetric warfighting advantage.”
“We want to make sure that every Sailor, Airman, Soldier and Marine is better than his or her [foreign] counterpart,” he continued. “Beyond core competency in your MOS [Military Occupational Specialty], I can’t think of a better way to do that than to be critical thinkers.”
In concluding his first-ever Virtual Town Hall engagement, he encouraged the students, faculty and staff to stay connected, in spite of the distance between them. And he offered an extra ‘thank you’ to the faculty of the university.
“I really appreciate the personal investment that they make and the passion that they have for their work and the intellectual capital that they invest in the student body and each other,” he said. “We just have magic out there in the Monterey Peninsula and we can never lose sight of that … Thanks so much for all you’re doing out there.”
Gilday then spent his remaining time fielding several questions from a team of university students. NPS’ next virtual engagement is an SGL, coming July 21 at noon, when university alumni retired Army Gen. Keith B. Alexander and retired Vice Adm. Jan E. Tighe discuss the grand economic competition of 5G.
CNO Gilday Virtual Town Hall Video (Internal users only/login required).