SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The U.S. Navy wants to quickly advance its technology to keep up with China, but must ensure it remains closely tied to allies and partners during this evolution, the chief of naval operations said this week.

Adm. Mike Gilday told a group of reporters on Feb. 16 that he met in recent weeks with his counterparts in France, the U.K. and South Korea. “Those allies and partners continue to be a key focus for me. We’re exposing them [to] and collaborating with them in areas like [Project] Overmatch, and every area where I can collaborate more closely.”

Using the French Navy as an example, he said the two navies have worked hard to ensure their fourth-generation carrier-based aircraft are interoperable. The French Navy even operated off American carrier George H.W. Bush in 2018 when its own carrier was in maintenance. Both navies use the E-2 Hawkeye, and they found that their fourth-generation fighters — the American F/A-18E-F Super Hornet and the French Dassault Rafale — could collaborate on missions throughout the Chesapeake 2018 bilateral training event.

In recent years, French and U.S. aircraft carriers have worked together in the Middle East.

“They’re a great partner. They have invested in fourth-generation aircraft, they’re not moving to fifth yet. I want to make sure that our fourth- and fifth-gen squadrons can operate seamlessly together. So that’s an area where we want to work closely with them,” Gilday said.

On a call this week with the First Sea Lord of the U.K. Royal Navy, Gilday said they discussed research and development into areas like hypersonic weapons and unmanned systems.

“There are a lot of rich opportunities here for us to leverage what each other is doing, not only operationally but also in the R&D arena.”

Perhaps the research and development effort garnering the most attention is the Australia-U.K.-U.S. partnership on attack submarines. The highlight of AUKUS is the effort to develop a nuclear-powered submarine for the Royal Australian Navy, but it will also include collaboration on advanced undersea systems.

Rear Adm. Jeffrey Jablon, the commander of submarine forces under U.S. Pacific Fleet, said during a panel presentation at the WEST 2022 conference this week AUKUS would enhance the submarine force’s solid partnerships with the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy.

“The submarine force, we share strong ties with allies and partners throughout the world, and in no way does the AUKUS agreement diminish those partnerships and interoperability that we have with the rest of our allies and partners around the world,” he said.

He particularly stressed the close ties with Australia. Two Australian officers are now participating in the current Submarine Command Course; that course sends a submarine into Australian waters every other year to train the next crop of attack submarine commanding officers.

“We’ve had that longstanding history with the Australians and the U.K., with interoperability, cooperation with their submarine forces,” Jablon said.

On AUKUS itself, Jablon said the three countries are in an 18-month consultative period — led by the U.S. Department of Defense and supported by the U.S. Department of Energy — to figure out “how we’re going to deliver a nuclear-powered submarine to Australia in the shortest period of time.”

His primary involvement, and what he said he’s most excited about, is the research and development collaboration under AUKUS that will consider advanced capabilities like cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, quantum technology, unmanned underwater vehicles and subsea and seabed warfare technologies.

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

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