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ALEXANDRIA – Good Evening, Drifters

Adm. Mike Gilday is the fourth CNO I’ve covered as a reporter and the cycle is starting to get familiar. This is the good part of the cycle: The part where I don’t know what CNO is going to say, everything is new, and I’m wondering along with everyone else what kind of leader this person is going to be.

The middle part is not so good. That’s the part where you’ve heard the person speak a thousand times, you could recite parts of the stump speech whole cloth, and you know exactly what kind of leader that person is. Every event you cover, you’re just hoping that CNO will say something just a little different than he did at the event last week. But then he doesn’t, really, and you must tell your editor that you didn’t get anything out of the morning other than a free Danish and some coffee.

But right now, it’s Gilday's honeymoon.

Today was Gilday’s first major event as CNO, and he took a wide range of questions from former Navy undersecretary Bob Work. So, for tonight’s Drift, figured I’d just let CNO speak for himself and recount the more interesting parts of the conversation.

Thanks for reading once again!

Let’s Drift.


Gilday Meets the Public

Bob Work is a very good interviewer. He should have my job, he asked a bunch of very good questions of CNO, and so tonight’s Drift really kind of wrote itself.

Her are some of the highlights.

Work pressed Gilday on the impact of Columbia class on the Navy’s big plans to revamp Force structure. Gilday said the Columbia is just a bill that has to be paid, and the Navy will have to get creative.

Work: The Columbia is going to exert such a disproportionate impact on the Navy shipbuilding plan that it could to skew everything you are trying to do in redesigning the fleet? How are you going to approach that problem so that you don’t have another Ford?

Gilday: It’s unavoidable. If you go back to the 80s when we were building Ohio, it was about 35 percent of the shipbuilding budget. Columbia will be about 38 to 40 percent of the shipbuilding budget.

The seaborn leg of the triad is absolutely critical. By the time we get the Columbia into the water, the Ohio class is going to be about 40 years old. And, so, we have to replace that strategic leg, and it has to come out of our budget right now.

Those are the facts.

 So, I have to account that at the same time as I’m trying to make precise investments in other platforms. Some of them will look like what we are buying today, like DDG Flight IIIs, but there is also an unmanned aspect to this. And I do remain fairly agnostic as to what that looks like, but I know we need to change the way we are thinking.

Work asked Gilday about unmanned platforms and what role they will play in the future of the fleet and the upcoming Force Structure Assessment. Here’s part of Gilday’s answer.

Gilday:Typically, a force structure assessment is completely sighted on programs of record. But I know that the future fleet has to include a mix of unmanned. We can’t continue to wrap $2 billion ships around 96 missile tubes in the numbers we need to fight in a distributed way against a potential adversary that is producing capability and platforms at a very high rate of speed. We have to change the way we are thinking. So, we introduced unmanned, with some assumptions, into that force structure analysis with that goal that … we continue to update that every year through experimentations, the investments we are making in unmanned.

Gilday even got into The Drift’s favorite topic, though ever-so briefly: Running rust. It was subtle, but see if you can catch it. And he ties it directly to how seriously potential adversaries will take the Navy.

Gilday: I tend not to think about china in a 2035 mindset, I tend to think about China in a much closer timeframe in terms of potential trouble. That’s not to say that I think a conflict with China is unavoidable. But I do think mindset and attitude is everything: that’s whether you are playing football or are a fireman in an engine room on a ship. It matters the way you think.

We take our peer competitors very, very seriously, and we don’t think about them in a 2035 mindset. I want people focused on readiness; I want our ships looking good; I want our sailors trained well to fight. And I don’t want anyone walking around with the mindset that we won’t have to do it for another 15 years.

On Maintenance:

Gilday: The first thing I talk about in the readiness section [of the new design] is maintenance. We are getting 35 to 40 percent of our ships out of maintenance on time: that’s unacceptable. I can’t sustain the fleet I have with that kind of track record.

 It really goes back to basics. One of the things we’ve found, looking at a substantial amount of data, we’ve concluded so far that 25 to 30 percent of our delays are due to bad planning and poor casting up front. So, there are things we definitely need to do within the lifelines of the United States Navy that we have to get after and we are getting after it.

Finally, CNO took on one of the biggest questions of the past 10 years: The vulnerability of carriers in A2AD environments. To Gilday, it’s not a question of hanging it up because the old CONOPs doesn’t work. It’s about figuring out the new way to operate.

Gilday: Our fleet is too small, and our capabilities are stacked on too few ships that are too big. And that needs to change over time. We have made significant investments in aircraft carriers and we’re going to have those for a long time.

Let’s look at this like a physics problem: “Hypersonics go really fast and they travel at long ranges. Carriers can only travel [x distance] so carriers are going to have to go away.” That’s a very simplistic way to look at the problem. I’ve been in two big war games since I’ve been here and I absolutely believe that we have to wring more out of what we have today in terms of how we are going to fight with it.

There are alternative concepts of operations that we must develop and we have to test, and we’re not going to do it during the certification phase of a carrier strike group for a combat deployment. We have to do that in large-scale exercises, that’s where we are going to experiment with unmanned. That’s where we are going to experiment with new capabilities.

Look, people don’t give us enough credit for the gray matter between our ears and there are some very smart people we have thinking about how we fight better. The fleet that we have today, 75 percent of it, will be the fleet we have in 2030. So we have to think about how we get more out of it.

Will there be carriers in the future fleet, CNO?

Gilday: I think we are going to need an aviation combatant. What that looks like, I don’t know, but I think there will be a requirement to continue to deliver seaborn-launched aerial vehicles that will deliver an effect downrange. I do think that will be a mix of manned and unmanned. The platform that they will launch from? I’m not sure what that’s going to look like.

I don’t know about you, but I thought that was a real interesting conversation.

On to the Hotwash!

The Hotwash

Just the links today.

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David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.

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