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A service for agriculture industry professionals · Thursday, September 28, 2023 · 658,271,495 Articles · 3+ Million Readers

CNO Speaks at the Brookings Institution's "The Stakes at Sea" Series

Below is a transcript of the remarks as delivered:

SUZANNE MALONEY:  Good morning to all those of you who are joining us here in our Falk Auditorium at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.  And hello to the many who are joining us virtually online from around the world.

I’m Suzanne Maloney.  I’m vice president and director of foreign policy here at the Brookings Institution, and I’m delighted to welcome you to today’s event on America’s maritime role and the changing global landscape.  This is one of the first events in our new speaker series, The Seas and Strategy, and part of a growing body of Brookings work on maritime issues and naval power.

America has been a maritime nation since its earliest days, and to this day every part of American society is shaped by dynamics at sea – from the flow of goods on the vast container ships that symbolize modern globalization to oceanographic sciences to help us understand our changing climate to American naval power, which is the bedrock of our power projection around the globe.

Of course, America is far from the only nation dependent on sea-based flows.  So are our allies and partners, and so are many other countries, including China.

As we all learned in jarring ways over the past few years, markets are hugely dependent on the safe movements of goods by sea, whether that’s grain ships from Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea or fuel ships through the Suez Canal or commercial goods flowing through the Taiwan Strait.  But as tensions between the world’s top economic and military powers rise, new questions loom about the implications for commercial and scientific cooperation, to say nothing of mounting naval tensions.

Our panel today is here to discuss these complex issues and the stakes at sea today.  Before I turn it over to our moderator and our distinguished guests, please allow me to offer some brief introductions.

Admiral Michael Gilday has served as the 32nd chief of naval operations since 2019.  Throughout his career, he has commanded cruisers, aircraft carriers, and Destroyer Squadron 7.  Admiral Gilday has also assumed significant joint leadership roles, notably serving as the director of operations for NATO’s Joint Force Command in Lisbon and the chief of staff for Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO.  Prior to his appointment as CNO, he most recently served as director of the Joint Staff.

Dr. Margaret Leinen is the director of the distinguished Scripps Institute of Oceanography at UC San Diego – very distinguished and very complex.  She also serves as UCSD’s vice chancellor for marine sciences and is the dean of the School of Marine Sciences.  She leads innovative research that addresses the critical environmental challenges that face our planet.  Prior to her current role, Dr. Leinen was at the National Science Foundation, where she led vital programs in marine, atmospheric, and earth sciences.

Peter Levesque is the president and CEO of CMA CGM North America, one of the world’s largest container shipping companies, as well as CEO of American President Lines.  With over 30 years of international transportation experience, Peter has held several executive positions, including president of Ports America Group, the largest terminal operating company in the United States, and the chief executive officer of Modern Terminals Limited.

And finally, our moderator for our discussion today, my colleague in the Foreign Policy Program here at Brookings.  Bruce Jones is a senior fellow in the Strobe Talbott Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology.  An expert in U.S. strategy and international security, Bruce’s most recent work, “To Rule the Waves” – which you can purchase if you’re in the back – in the back of our auditorium here today or on any online retailer – “To Rule the Waves” navigates the complexities of global commerce against the backdrop of mounting naval tensions.

Before I begin, let me note that we are livestreaming and on the record.  For those who are joining us virtually, please send your questions to or using the hashtag #USMaritime on Twitter.  For those in the audience, we will be passing mics during the question-and-answer session toward the end of our session here today.

Bruce, over to you.

BRUCE JONES:  Thank you very much.

Thank you all so much for being here.  Admiral, Dr. Leinen, Peter, it’s a real pleasure and an honor to have you all onstage with us today.

I’m going to jump right in.  Suzanne highlighted some of the issues that are consequential for the United States/for the world of the maritime sector.  From your vantage point, what are the stakes at sea?  Admiral?

ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY:  So I’ll begin with my bumper sticker would be that the global economy floats on seawater.  And so assuring open access to sea lanes, ensuring that they’re secure and available for all to operate under, on, and above the sea is critically important to achieving that main thing, which is economic prosperity for all.

Seventy percent of the countries in the world touch the oceans, and so we’re all dependent – very much dependent – on the sea lanes to maintain our strong economies, strong trade.  And so the U.S. Navy since Bretton Woods, for the last almost 80 years, has been forward, and we have to be forward to ensure that those sea lanes remain open, working by, with, and through our allies and partners.  We’re not doing this alone.  As I mentioned earlier, we all benefit from this.

And so, for me, that is first and foremost why the Navy needs to be forward and why it’s important that we be out there always.

MR. JONES:  Peter, that’s a good introduction to you.  From your vantage point.

PETER LEVESQUE:  Yeah, Bruce.  Thank you.

I think, unlike the Navy, very much the U.S. is no longer a leader in maritime trade.  We lost that about two decades ago with the sale of APL to Singapore and the sale of Sealand to Maersk.  So today here we are in the United States with a $23 trillion economy that is very much dependent on our relationships and the services of foreign-flagged carriers like CMA.

So today, in the maritime industry for container ships – these big container ships – the U.S., we don’t build them, we don’t own them, and we don’t sail them.  But we’re very much dependent in the U.S. economy that these relationships work, and they do work today thanks to the Navy and their security and helping us to have that kind of security in these sea trade lanes.

I will say, too, that even though these carriers like CMA are foreign-flagged, we also – in CMA’s case we own APL, which is a U.S.-flagged division of CMA.  So we do provide services to the U.S. military, to USAID, and for U.S.-impelled cargo.  Maersk does the same through the Maritime Security Program.  And Hapag-Lloyd in Germany does the same.

So the dynamics are interesting.  And as we look at the supply chain of the United States and who the players are, where it used to be very much U.S., today we rely on relationships from around the world.

MR. JONES:  We were talking backstage right now, of course, people are watching in the news the worker strike at Long Beach.  We saw a couple years ago huge delays in cargo ships at Long Beach.  Long Beach last year I think did 9 million container drops.  Shanghai did 60 million last year –

MR. LEVESQUE:  Sixty-nine (million), yeah.

MR. JONES:  – and is only one of five Chinese ports in the top 10.  That gives you a sense of the scale of Chinese dominance of the – of the commercial trade.

MR. LEVESQUE:  Absolutely.  And China owns or operates 90 ports in 53 countries today.

MR. JONES:  We’ll come back to that.


MR. JONES:  Margaret, from your perspective.

MARGARET LEINEN:  So we’ve heard the emphasis on global trade and how tightly that is linked to security, but there are a couple of other pieces that are related to the ocean that are incredibly important for us and for the world.

The first is that climate change is joined at the hip to the ocean.  The ocean is the flywheel of climate.  About 25% of the CO2 that’s emitted winds up in the ocean, but 93% of the heat generated as a result of those greenhouse gases winds up in the ocean.  So if you think about the changes that we’re seeing in temperature and warming on land, the ocean is protecting us from 93% of the impact of that.  It’s just incredibly important for us to understand exactly how that works.  And we didn’t – we didn’t even know that number until about 15 years ago.  And then the relationship between the ocean and the atmosphere is the basis of the whole water cycle, precipitation.  Everything that you see with atmospheric rivers on the West Coast – people didn’t even know that term until about five years ago – and flood and drought are just integrally tied to the ocean.

The second thing is food.  We don’t think about that too much in the U.S., but 2 billion people on the planet depend on seafood protein for their protein.  And that means that there is a great – and you hear all the time about the overfishing.  So that represents a potential incredible disruption, you know, if we – if we see that food – that food supply becoming insecure.

Another thing that people don’t understand is the very strong relationship between human health and the ocean.  So all over in Southeast Asia and parts of Latin America and South America, cholera is a major problem.  Cholera is – the virus that causes cholera is transmitted through plankton, a microscopic ocean organism, zooplankton, and that transfer link is an ocean link between what’s happening in the ocean and cholera outbreaks.

On the other side, the ocean is one of the foremost sources of potential drugs.  Organisms make toxins to prevent themselves from being attacked, eaten, et cetera, and those toxins are the – you know, some of the primary compounds that are associated with drugs.  So right now there are several antibiotics which would be the first antibiotics approved in almost 25 years.  We have a drug in third-stage clinical trials for glioblastoma, the cancer that took John McCain and Beau Biden and for which there has been no drug.  So it’s an incredible source of resources in that sense as well.  And then we’re talking about all kinds of uses of the maritime environment for wind power, for kinetic energy from currents, from offshore installations for aquaculture, and so forth.

So I’ll talk more about the security link, but these are all pieces that are integrally tied to our economic security.

MR. JONES:  I’ll add one which I think there’s a kind of growing awareness of, but only recently, which is that we live in a data-driven world.  Everything we do – smartphones, Zoom meetings, et cetera – 93% of all data is carried on undersea cables, which I have to say I think of as globalization’s most important and most fragile network.

I want to ask you each – starting with you, Peter, and we’ll send with you – what you see as the major challenge in front of you in your sector.

MR. LEVESQUE:  The major challenge for us is, obviously, what happens in the South China Sea.  Five trillion dollars of goods flow through the South China Sea every year.  It’s a major shipping lane, obviously, for CMA and for the other carriers.  We’re worried about what everybody’s worried about, that two planes go bump in the night or two ships go bump in the night accidentally and spiral into something bigger, and all of a sudden we can’t use those trade lanes or insurance companies won’t insure our ships to go through those trade lanes.  It’s a real concern.  And I think – I don’t think we fully comprehend how big of an impact that would be not only to the global supply chain, but to the U.S. supply chain in particular if tensions get to the point where that’s an unusable space.

MR. JONES:  Yeah.  I’m pretty sure the admiral is going to comment on that. 

But, Margaret, let me let you go first, and then we’ll –

MS. LEINEN:  Sure.  So Peter talked about the change in the dominance in marine transport.  We are at a cusp in marine science.  Twenty years ago, although there were lots of players, the U.S. was, you know, absolutely dominant in marine science.  Two things are disrupting that.

The first is the funding for science by the European Union in addition to the funding of individual nations.  So Europe as a whole has gone together and has a whole cascade of very large projects, 25 (million dollar) to $50 million a year projects, that are marine/ocean science oriented.

And then there’s China.  And the growth of marine science in China is staggering.  Just in the last 10 years, we have seen them invest in whole new oceanographic institutions, each of which are as big as Scripps or Woods Hole, and they have just been constructed out of whole cloth.  And I brought this with me so I can get the names of the initiatives straight, but since about 2005 China has had medium- to long-term science and development plans, MLPs, which prioritize megaprojects.  Every single one of those has had at least one marine megaproject.  And they’re not uniform across all of science, but there have always been marine megaprojects, sometimes more than one.

Early on, it was focused on infrastructure.  So it was observations, certainly satellite but major ocean observations.

Then, in the medium term, it was shipbuilding.  So they had a national engineering research center initiative.  Three of those centers were built – were around ship design, shipbuilding, and ship navigation. And that resulted in just a burst of construction.  Every one of the new oceanographic institutions, as well as two new ocean universities that were just constructed out of whole cloth since 2010, have a research vessel that is larger than any U.S. ocean research vessel.  That has benefitted from this kind of construction.

And the latest megaproject is called deep-sea stations.  And there’s not a lot of information on exactly what China considers a deep-sea station, but you can – you can understand the strategic importance of being able to have a nexus of capabilities that is in the deep ocean.

And so the big challenge for us is not the intellectual ability, but the sheer financial tidal wave of funding elsewhere that we’re trying – that we’re up against.

MR. JONES:  Admiral.

ADM. GILDAY:  I think a common theme here so far in the discussion has been a growth in the reliance on the maritime commons, and we see that increasing.  We talk about the Internet of Things and now we’re talking about the ocean of things.

Examples would be a 100% increase in offshore wind energy by 2030, an increasingly reliance on oil exploration further from shore in deeper waters.  That trend is increasing.

We talked about climate change.  The trade routes between Asia and Europe will fundamentally change in our lifetime due to the erosion of the polar icecap, and so the Arctic becomes now an area of competition that we must think more deeply about.

So I go back to the – to the point that I made upfront about the rules-based international order, how that serves not just the United States, obviously, but it’s been a tide that’s lifted all boats in many different ways in terms of – I think it’s contributed to the reduction in global poverty.  It’s increased the amount of information that flows across the globe.  And so there’s been so many benefits.

So I think for the Navy and our partners – and I spend an awful lot of time with my allies and partners – with allies and partners.  Just met with all the European chiefs of navy two weeks ago to talk about common challenges and opportunities.  We continue to work together.  And I think part of that is to show those that would like to challenge the rule-based international order that it’s unacceptable and perhaps enticing them to join the rest of us in following the rules that we – that we currently all abide by.

MR. JONES:  I’m going to draw you out on a couple of those points, if I could.

First, the Arctic.  You were just in London for the First Sea Lord’s Conference, and one of the things you did there was call for a large fleet exercise in the northern waters.  Just say a word about what was behind your thinking there.

ADM. GILDAY:  So the parallel I would draw is to the Rim of the Pacific Exercise, or RIMPAC, that we do every other year in the Pacific that involves about 30 navies and tens of thousands of sailors.  It’s been a – it’s a been a catastrophically successful venture for navies.  And they’re not just from the Asia-Pacific; they’re from all over the globe that join us for that exercise.

And I think that we could do the same up in the Arctic, and it doesn’t have to be led by the United States.  The United States can be part of it.  Remember, you know, now with Sweden – hopefully Sweden and Finland joining NATO, eight of the nine nations of the Arctic Council are actually part of NATO.  And so I think that that’s a force here.  And I think that as we talk about NATO, we usually frame it thinking about the transatlantic relationship.  And I think that over time we’ll begin to talk more and more about the transpolar nature and interests involved there.

MR. JONES:  Are you keeping a close eye on transpolar routes?

MR. LEVESQUE:  It’s something that – obviously, anything – any trade routes that open up that are going to allow us to move product from the manufacturer to the store shelf faster is something that we’re interested in.  We don’t have a plan today on that, but we are watching it.

MR. JONES:  And, Margaret, you have researchers in the Arctic.  You have participated in international scientific collaboration in the Arctic.  How important is developments in the Arctic, from your vantage point?

MS. LEINEN:  They’re incredibly important.  Not only are the polar regions changing faster than any part of the – any other part of the planet, but what starts in the Arctic or happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.  It affects the general circulation of the ocean and so forth.

And one of the key things is that this change in the Arctic is going to be something that hasn’t happened in millions of years, and we aren’t really tracking it the way that we should be.  Climate modelers are sort of in two camps about the Arctic.  One of them says, yes, summer will be ice-free across the entire Arctic.  Others say that there are feedback loops that certainly will thin the ice, but it’ll never be completely ice-free.  The fact that we don’t know that when everybody is thinking about how to exploit the Arctic is – that’s a strategic weakness.

MR. JONES:  Admiral, you didn’t use the word, but China looms large in this conversation in terms of the pace of the commercial development over the last 20 years, the explosion of scientific research in the last several years, and probably the fastest naval buildup of any country since we did it after Pearl Harbor.  I suspect you spend a lot of your nights thinking about China.  You have Chinese ships cutting across American frigates and destroyers on a – on a semiweekly basis.  To what extent does China’s naval buildup drive your sense of the challenges that we face?

ADM. GILDAY:  The lack of transparency is concerning.  Their intentions with respect to how they – how they intend to use their navy to reach President Xi’s goals are concerning with respect to military expansion.

That said, I go back to allies and partners, our increasing reliance on those relationships.  There’s not a single thing we do out there on the oceans every day – and we have a hundred ships at sea, a third of the fleet out there any given day – that we’re not doing without allies and partners being involved.

When I think about, in terms of being a bit of an optimist, and if I take a look at what we’ve done with a large number of nations to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off of the coast of East Africa, the Chinese have been involved in that and they’ve been good partners with respect to combating piracy, thwarting it, and keeping those sea lanes open and accessible for all.  So that should be a model, I think, for the behavior that we should expect from the PRC, and I would encourage more of that type of collaborative – those types of collaborative operations at sea that benefit all of us.

MR. JONES:  You have to, of course, plan for contingencies that are less positive than that.  Peter, you talked about the potential for a contingency in the Taiwan Strait.  You have ships that sail in those waters doing research.  How worried are you about the risk of a crisis, the risk of disruption?  I mean, this would be a pretty dramatic event if we were to end up in a full-blown naval clash in the Western Pacific.  But how worried are you about those kinds of scenarios?

ADM. GILDAY:  I am encouraged by the most recent turn in dialogue by senior leaders with respect to toning down the, I would say, militaristic tone.  I think that’s been helpful.

I think that we need to continue to operate out there and we need to continue to operate forward.  We need to assure allies and partners.  And at the same time, we need to deter anybody, any nation that intends to challenge those international rules, challenge the security interests of not only the United States but our allies and partners, and put our economic interests in jeopardy.

And so I think we need to be out there and we need to be in the way.  We can’t just be milling about.  It has to be purposeful and it has to be non-provocative.

Let me – let me just underscore that.  We had a destroyer that went through the Taiwan Strait along with a Canadian ship this past week and were challenged by the Chinese.  What you were seeing in those interactions – and I’m very proud of not only the commanding officers of the ships that go nose to nose with the PRC and the Russians, but also our aircrews in the air that are experiencing the same type of at times aggressive behavior.  And so we’re handling that, I think, very well, very professionally.

And remember, those mil-to-mil relationships that we have across the globe with our fellow militaries, those are intended to be a shock absorber.  And so no matter the political climate, those mil-to-mil relationships have to be steady, predictable, and they have to be very measured.  And so that’s what we’re focused on.

MR. JONES:  At this stage, what I want to do is bring in some questions that came from – we have several hundred people listening online, and some of them sent questions in advance.  And I had other questions, but I’m going to kind of fuse mine with theirs.

And one of them – I was going to put this negatively.  Isaac Kardon, who’s at Carnegie, wrote in a positive version of this question.  I was going to ask – I’m worried that in the American polity and in the American debate there isn’t an adequate attention to the issues that you all are talking about, an adequate attention to the stakes we have at sea.  Isaac put it more positively, to ask you:  What is it that federal, state, local governments, private-sector actors can do to raise awareness of how much is at stake in this country and internationally in the sectors that you work?  Peter, why don’t I start with you?

MR. LEVESQUE:  Well, I think the event that kind of brought everybody into the supply chain world was COVID.  A lot of people really didn’t understand how things got to the store shelf until COVID hit and the congestion hit and we had 150 ships off of L.A./Long Beach and what that all meant in terms of gumming up the global supply chain and the U.S. supply chain.  So in a weird way, the conversations that we have today on the Hill and everywhere else are a lot easier because people have taken the time to understand, whether they wanted to or not, how important the global supply chain is and how important the network is and how that works inside the United States.  So COVID actually gave us the awareness that we probably couldn’t have reached in the next 10 years over the course of two.

MR. JONES:  Yeah.  I’ve joked sometimes, Admiral, to your colleagues that when you drive into a Walmart and you’ve got all these containers sitting in the yard, there should be a sticker on them saying “brought to you by the U.S. Navy” so that people could directly understand the relationship between markets and commerce.

From your vantage point.

MS. LEINEN:  Well, I think it’s really our responsibility to be more effective communicators about how important the ocean is in all of these areas, especially in the non-security side.  You know, you do a wonderful job of convincing federal government that our security rests on the Navy as well as the other forces.

But getting across the issues of the economy, not just the – again, the transport economy, but the economy of energy, the economy of resources, and the dependence – it’s no longer – the ocean is no longer optional for policy.  And for many years, it has been.  There would be, you know, for, I don’t know, 20, 22 years we’ve had some kind of a policy document on the ocean, but I think that a lot of it has largely been ignored in terms of action enabled by funds from the government.  And I don’t think it’s optional anymore.  The ocean isn’t optional.  And we have to get that message across.

MR. JONES:  Admiral.

ADM. GILDAY:  I would just reinforce what they both said.  Americans expect that that Amazon box arrive(s) at their front when it should arrive.  They expect it always to be on time.  It isn’t until things are interrupted and they cause inconvenience or – you know, or you feel it in your wallet that it’s actually going to make a difference and really grip the attention of the American – of the American public.  A trainwreck in Ohio with that hazardous material would be another example.  You don’t think twice about a train traveling, the safety of trains in the United States.  And so it isn’t until a vessel like Ever Given goes sideways in the Suez Canal at the potential cost of, let’s say, 10 billion (dollars) a day.  Over time, that will affect people in their pocket, but they don’t see that.  Piracy, the same thing.  Until people really see how that’s going to affect them on a day-to-day basis, they just assume that we’re just going to take care of that and things are going to get back to normal very, very quickly.

And so that said, I will say to the points that the others made that the U.S. Congress recognizes the importance of the maritime commons.  And after –from a military standpoint, after two decades of ground wars we’ve seen a significant shift in investments in the Navy and the Coast Guard in the maritime.  And so it’s overdue, but it’s very welcome, and they’re very serious and focused on that – on those investments.

MR. JONES:  It brings me to another question, which is sparked by something Peter said and also came in from the online audience, which is around shipbuilding.  Do we have enough shipbuilding capacity in this country?  And if not, what can we do about it?  I’ll start with you and then Peter.

ADM. GILDAY:  The short answer is no, we don’t.

So when I first joined the Navy, we had about 30 shipbuilders.  Now we’re down to seven.  I think in the commercial side, it’s not much different.  Back in those days, in the mid-1980s, the U.S. government stopped subsidizing those private shipyards, so you saw a contraction in the number of builders that we have.  And again, we are limited by law in terms of where we buy those ships.  They need to be U.S.-made.

And so we have focused on trying to keep a very predictably calm set of headlights for the shipbuilding industry to give them stability and predictability over time that that business is going to be there in order to replenish – or, keep the fleet updated with respect to ships.  Right now across those seven shipyards we have more than 50 ships in construction and another 70-plus on contract.  And so, again, that’s been due to the help of the Congress.  And so I see that trend moving in a – in a very healthy direction.

On the commercial side – and this is not my area of expertise – but I did notice that the Department of Transportation recently made an investment in grants for some 25 or 27 smaller shipyards to keep them viable in this economy, so.

MR. JONES:  Peter?

MR. LEVESQUE:  Yeah.  It would be great to bring back U.S. shipbuilding in a big way and be able to build these big container ships in the U.S.  Pricewise, it’s almost three to four times more expensive to build one of these ships in the United States.  That’s just the fact.  So China by far is the most aggressive in being able to provide the shipbuilding services.  Korea is another one.  And it’s purely a cost situation.  If you’re a – we have 600 container ships.  So when we build a new ship, you know, we’re not going to go to the most expensive place to do it.  That’s just the way it is.  Even our U.S. – you know, our U.S.-flagged fleet, those are U.S.-flag(ged) under the Marine Security Program, not necessarily U.S. ships but U.S.-flagged.  So U.S. crews and that.

So it would be great to have it come back.  I don’t think it’s possible.

MR. JONES:  And let me ask you specifically.  I mean, China is, obviously, a large player here, but so are Korea and Japan – have large shipyards –


MR. JONES:  – cheaper than ours, heavily subsidized, but also allies.  How much does that factor into your equation when you think about acquisition of your ships?

MR. LEVESQUE:  Well, that’s all we look at.  So those are the places that we would look at to build new ships.  And the complexity of these ships now, too, with the LNG and the methane ships that we’re building, it’s just an area that we don’t have here today.

ADM. GILDAY:  I would say it’s worth examining the market, though, in terms of – in terms of military shipbuilding.  And so there’s an Italian firm that now builds U.S. Navy warships.  They have the contract on our new frigate in Wisconsin.  And so there may be room there for medium-sized shipyards to build those types of ships in the United States in certain areas of the country where perhaps it’s a bit cheaper with respect to the skilled labor.  But that’s a challenge in and of itself, is having the – having the right – yeah, the right skillsets and the right numbers.

MR. JONES:  (This is Fincantieri ?).  I met with them yesterday, and it’s a super-interesting story of a(n) Italian mega multinational –

ADM. GILDAY:  That’s right.

MR. JONES:  – working with the – one of the oldest shipbuilding firms in the United States in Marinette, Wisconsin.  Fascinating story.

Another set of questions that came in online is around research in the underwater space.  And Scripps has been a leader here for many years.  You had the Argo program, one of the first to use unmanned if not fully autonomous vehicles to do climate modeling.  You’re also innovating in unmanned drones.  Could you just say a word about that?  And then I want to ask you what – I know in your shipbuilding plan that’s a big fact, so.

MS. LEINEN:  Yeah.  So many of the things that I mentioned before lead us to focus on the ocean below the surface and being able to get access to that, being able to do what we want to do in it are really, really key.  And a lot of the focus has been on not so much building the platforms themselves – because we have a lot of great platforms – but developing the capability for those platforms to measure new things; to take samples, analyze them, and send back the data instead of the samples.  It’s cheaper.  You can do a lot more of it.

And another piece of this is the growing call for the ocean Internet of Things, and Admiral Gilday referred to this.  Almost all of the focus has been on the things as opposed to the internet piece, and that’s because that piece is really hard.  You can’t – you know, you can’t rely on light waves; you have to rely on either fiber optic or something that’s connected or sound, which is the light of the ocean.  But there you don’t have the bandwidth to send things.  So being able to overcome that hurdle and think about being able to measure, to send back data, to transfer data, to have intelligent swarms of instruments that would go out – which we take for granted in the atmosphere – would really be a game changer.  And so that – getting at that capability for the deep sea is one of the lodestars.

MR. JONES:  This was – these sets of issues were central to your updated shipbuilding plan or your fleet plan.  So maybe just say a word about where you think we are in U.S. Navy terms in terms of unmanned vessels.

ADM. GILDAY:  Sure.  People talk about space as the last frontier, but there’s so much that we don’t know about the oceans and the ocean bottom.

We are shifting significant resources to unmanned.  So, for under the sea, some of those are autonomous vehicles that are fairly large.  Others are launched out of torpedo tubes.  But the key here in terms of the information that they’re able to collect is how you use that data in the best way possible.

And so while the unmanned platforms themselves are fascinating, the AI element is the real secret sauce.  And so AI capabilities are giving us the ability to take a look at that data, to learn more faster, to be – to be much more predictable, I think, in terms of how we understand ocean currents, things going on under the seas that maybe we – maybe we didn’t understand that would take years to figure out crunching data.  And so the reliance on AI, I think, is fundamentally the biggest game changer with understanding – with getting a better understanding of the undersea.

MR. JONES:  Now, you’ve also got programs mostly out of Fifth Fleet doing innovation and UUVs.  How long is it going to take to bring those onstream in terms of actual deployable capabilities?

ADM. GILDAY:  So we’ll have 100 unmanned by the end of the year in the Middle East, and so they’re augmenting our manned ships.  We just don’t have enough manned ships to cover 70% of the world’s surface.  And so we’re shifting that now to U.S. Fourth Fleet, which operates around South America, and so this July we’ll begin.  And our largest exercise down there, called UNITAS, will introduce unmanned to South America and to our South American partners.

Let me say this.  In the Middle East, of those hundred, 80% of the investment is made by allies and partners, not by the United States.  The unmanned platforms are one piece of it.  The data that we’re collecting and are leveraging AI to both display and be more predictable in how things are moving is probably a more important piece of it.

In South America there are a couple of things that we wanted to get after.  Number one is the security of the approaches to the United States.  So think the Caribbean.  Think drug flow.  Think illicit trafficking.  The other is illegal fishing off of both coasts of South America, which is a big problem.  And so this – potentially, unmanned gives us, along with allies and partners – which is really key here – the ability to keep an unblinking eye on that kind of activity, collect data, and if we want to talk about PRC again to expose that gray-zone activity.  That’s the most important thing that we can do about that malign behavior, is to expose it to the world in that it’s not consistent with the rules-based order that, you know, we’ve talked about here earlier.

MR. JONES:  And that’s, I think, a big program in the Pacific where you’ve got substantial illegal fishing, you’ve got major climate issues, and I think there’s a lot going on – U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, allied coast guards, and others in terms of ocean intelligence gathering, essentially.

I want to ask one last question from me and we’ll turn to the audience.  Allies have come up in one way or another throughout this.  Central to your presentation of your approach, you – it factors in in your shipbuilding, in your commerce, et cetera.  It’s part of your collaboration.  But so is China, and you know, they’re in all this.  How do you think about the boundary between those things?  Are there things you’ll do with Korea that you won’t do with Japan?  Are there research projects you would feel uncomfortable having the Russians or the Chinese?  Or how do you – how do you think about that boundary?  Peter first.

MR. LEVESQUE:  Well, it’s been interesting post-COVID or even during COVID we’ve seen this massive – this shift of sourcing from China to Southeast Asia and Latin America/Mexico.  This is a good thing because prior to that I think importers and retailers woke up during COVID and said, my God, you know, all our sourcing eggs are in one basket.  So there’s been this de-risking from China.  That sourcing is moving to allies, the friendshoring concept.  That’s also helped in the supply chain in the United States, because those areas that the sourcing is shifting lends itself to the Suez Canal and to the U.S. East Coast and Gulf.  So instead of aiming everything at L.A./Long Beach, we have a de-risking – we have a risk mitigation of U.S. ports and we have a risk mitigation in sourcing.  So whatever crisis comes down the road in the future, I think we’ll be much more prepared.

But it’s very much around the trust of these – of these allies and where the sourcing is moving.  And that’s what we’re seeing and that’s what we’re supporting.

MR. JONES:  Margaret, how does this work in your world?

MS. LEINEN:  Well, science is a team sport, and the – and the ocean is so big that no individual nation can really do the kinds of observations and experiments just on their own that really are game changers.  And so we’re used to international campaigns.

What we want is for the U.S. to be the preferred partner in all of that.  And in the same way that we think about it in defense, we want to be the preferred partner for allies, and it’s the same for science.  And so, you know, there’s intense competition for the best idea or, you know, the funds to roll out a new ship or new instruments or capabilities.  But in the end, we rely on that distributed knowledge to be able to operate.

MR. JONES:  Any concerns about that?

ADM. GILDAY:  Yes, but let me use an example, and that example would be AUKUS, recently signed by three heads of state – U.S., Australia, and the U.K., of course.  And when people think about that agreement the first thing that comes to mind is submarines, but there’s a whole second pillar of the AUKUS agreement that has to do with the exchange of exquisite technologies in the areas of quantum computing, of AI, unmanned.  And so we have really strong security protocols with those countries, but I also think that that is perhaps the framework that we can look to sharing sensitive information more broadly, perhaps, in working with other nations on a case basis.

I go back to technology.  Zero trust would be an example of those types of firewalls, if you will, that you could put in place to help maintain the sense of security.  But there are good companies out there all over the world, and we can carefully, I think, pick and choose who we work with and to what level and do it in an informed way, in an unemotional way, to benefit ourselves and allies and partners.

MR. JONES:  I’ve definitely seen an uptick in sort of discussion in Asia in particular about Pillar II of AUKUS, and one of the questions that came in from online from a Japanese lawmaker about the possibility of expanding cooperation with AUKUS too.

Let me open the floor to our audience.  I’ll take two or three questions, if you don’t mind, and you can kind of pick and choose what you want to answer.  We’ll do a couple of rounds.  So we’re going to do this side of the room first and then we’ll have a second round, so starting right up front.

Q:  Thank you.  Jon Harper with DefenseScoop.

My question is for Admiral Gilday.  Admiral, can you give us an update on where things stand with Project Overmatch and what’s going on with the Carl Vinson?  And then kind of looking ahead, how do you envision rolling out those capabilities to the rest of the force?  Are you going to do it fleet by fleet, or what’s kind of the path ahead on that?

ADM. GILDAY:  So for the audience that may not be familiar with Overmatch, what we wanted to try and do with this project is to be able to take any data, containerize it, and send it over any network.  So instead of building a whole new operational infrastructure, is to basically leverage what we have, primarily leveraging commercial technology, right, and just pivoting it to a – to a military use.

So think about – think about the fact if you’re watching a YouTube video and then you walk outside these doors, you’re going to – your phone or your handheld is going to instantly switch from wi-fi to whatever carrier that provides your service.  And so it’s the same type of thinking, where it’s actually software-controlled, software-defined in terms of prioritizing what data’s most important and where it ends up and by what path.

So we’ve had great success in leveraging some great technologies from industry, and we have – we’re now experimenting with a carrier strike group – so think about eight ships – across many different networks and many differing types of data.  I think that we’ll likely focus on the Pacific first and then – and then expand globally into our other fleets.

We are also working closely with some key allies and partners with respect to this.  Most notably I think would be the Australians, the French, and the Brits.  And I think that that will – I think that that will expand over time.  It’s going well, but we still have more work to do.  We’re learning every day.

Q:  So is that for the Seventh Fleet if you’re focusing on –

ADM. GILDAY:  Yes, in the Pacific.  And again, it’s a DevOps kind of environment so we’re learning as we’re doing.

MR. JONES:  I’m going to take – if you don’t mind, I’m going to take two or three questions and then you can sort of pick which ones you want to refer to.  So the gentleman with his hand up there and then these two on this side, and then we’ll come back.

Q:  Hi.  My name is A’ndre Gonawela.  I’m associated with the Burn Bag Podcast.

And my question is on naval supply chains and securing those.  So it seems that we operate on a containerized economy, and those containers will often require land-based ports for physical unpacking, physical staging, et cetera.  What happens if we lose access to the ports in the event of conflict?  For example, Guam, a forward distribution site a material processing center; what happens if we lose access to the ports and their warehousing functions?  What do we do to secure the naval supply lines?  Thank you.

ADM. GILDAY:  Can I open it up and then – and then pitch it your way?

MR. JONES:  Do you mind if we just take another couple of questions and then we’ll do that?  So –

ADM. GILDAY:  Sure, yeah.  OK.

MR. JONES:  Just up here, in the center.

Q:  Great.  Thanks.  Caitlin Kenney with Defense One.

In light of the recent interaction between the U.S. ship and the Chinese ship in the Taiwan Strait and the stalled communication between our military leaders, are you seeing maybe a new phase of competition with China that could see dangerous interactions increase?  And is the Navy working on any new procedures or policies on how to operate in that area to remain safe but not reduce our presence?

MR. JONES:  Take one more question and then come back to Admiral and to you if you want to comment.

Q:  Thanks very much.  I’m Jessie Lapin (ph) at the State Department.

And I actually just wanted to really offer to throw into the mix that at State, with colleagues from the Navy, and across USG we’re building out a new initiative for Atlantic cooperation, and that’s Pan-Atlantic.  So all the discussion about partners and allies has been very Global North-focused.  That’s traditionally where we’ve operated.  But as we think of a single ocean, the inclusion of partners in the Global South in Africa, in Latin America is really important.  So we are taking that forward and thinking in sort of the sectors that have been outlined in terms of the security environment and economy.

MR. JONES:  Thank you very much.


ADM. GILDAY:  So to the last point, I think that’s the way we are looking at it – more expansively, more inclusive.  I think that’s competitive space for those that want to follow the rules-based order and those that are maybe challenging it, and so that is a space that we can’t ignore or ignore to our detriment.

To the question about our – you know, how we operate out there with respect to the PRC, we are operating in accordance with international law under, on, and above the sea so that others can too.  And so we are trying to operate very responsibly and, again, to keep things – we are not looking to be provocative.  We want things to remain stable and predictable – that’s our job out there during peacetime – and to deter anybody from doing anything malign as best we can.  And if they do something malign, to expose it, as I mentioned earlier, with respect to the gray space.

In terms of – you made a point about Guam, and this gets to just putting all your eggs in one basket, right?  And I think we’re looking at a more diverse set of allies and partners, where can we operate out.  It’s not just bases; it’s also places that you have to – that you have to think about.  And they don’t necessarily need to have a U.S. flag there.  We can’t afford that and that’s not really what we desire.  I think it’s leveraging those partners in a more wholesome way to be able to operate together, to be able to leverage those ports more effectively.

I also think that there is – that there is another – that there is another piece here with respect to unmanned where we can more effectively leverage unmanned in kind of a lead-follow framework, where you might have a manned ship with a – with a bunch of unmanned that travel with it that allow you to move stuff quicker and more effectively and in a more distributive way in areas like the Pacific.

MR. JONES:  Either of you want to come in on logistics or –

MR. LEVESQUE:  Well, just on Guam that’s an interesting question because Guam just had a typhoon, so we had to go to plan B.  That’s a lot of what we do with U.S. flag on the military side.

The nice thing about container shipping is it’s extremely flexible.  So there’s 700 ports around the world.  We can be wherever TRANSCOM needs us to be and have those contingency plans ready to go and just sail there.  So one place goes down, we can open another place or move to another place fairly quickly.

MR. JONES:  Margaret, thoughts on these?

MS. LEINEN:  Well, I think that what you’re – what you’re hearing in terms of the flexibility and in terms of a wide variety of players and allies holds true on the science side as well.  And we – you know, we – we’re intensely competitive, but we’re intensely oriented toward partnerships.  And that’s what keeps everybody at the top of their game.

MR. JONES:  Good.

I’m going to take a couple of quick questions from this side of the room and then we’ll wrap up as we begin to run out of time.  Gentleman here.

Q:  Hi.  I’m Ethan Chou, part of the Coalition Defense of Taiwan Project at AEI.

So, given insufficient U.S. shipbuilding capability right now with battle force ships even projected to decrease in FY ’24, there’s been some calls to change the law to offshore some naval shipbuilding contracts to Japan and South Korea.  Do you think that would be effective or even tenable, at least in the short term?

ADM. GILDAY:  So I would say that that’s really a political issue that right now is constrained by law.  And so my focus is just trying to field the, you know, most lethal, capable, ready force that I can every day, given the resources that I have.  And if other opportunities open up, I definitely wouldn’t turn my head to them. But we got to deal with what we have.

MR. JONES:  Let me ask you, in terms of opportunities, a country that hasn’t come up – which it strikes me as having sort of enormous potential in this space, but not yet realized perhaps – is India.  And I’m curious from each of your vantage points where India fits into your perspective commercially, scientifically, strategically.  Peter.

MR. LEVESQUE:  Commercially, it’s a big part of our strategy going forward.  I mean, you look at what India’s doing infrastructure-wise now, it looks very much like China 25 years ago.  Imports from India are up 45 percent already.  So I think India is going to be the place in the next –

MR. JONES:  Does that include ports infrastructure?

MR. LEVESQUE:  Port infrastructure in India?

MR. JONES:  Yes.

MR. LEVESQUE:  Yes, absolutely.  Yeah.  And you know, India always had the problems of not being able to connect the road from one place to the other.  It’s really moving at lightspeed now with the investment, and I think what Modi’s doing there around infrastructure, it’s real.  The quality of manufacturing has significantly increased.  And I just think India is going to be a big player going forward.

MR. JONES:  In the oceanographic sciences we’ve seen Brazil, Turkey, China, Korea, Australia, the Europeans.  Have we seen anything like that growth in the oceanographic sciences in India?

MS. LEINEN:  Certainly, and the investment in oceanography has been growing very quickly.  We spend a lot of time in the Indian Ocean.  We work very closely with India on the observations that are allowing much better predictability of the monsoons.

Another piece is everything related to sustainability.  So it’s one of the countries that has a great dependence on seafood protein, and so they’re very interested in all of the issues around the sustainability of those fisheries and everything that they’re based on, the entire food chain.  So we’ve worked very closely with them on that as well.

MR. JONES:  From your vantage point, the Quad and related.

ADM. GILDAY:  Yeah.  Very bullish on the relationship with India.

So you mentioned the Quad.  The Malabar Exercise, which is only growing in importance.  Our day-to-day operations in the Indian Ocean with the Indian Navy, out of their airfields as well.  I would also mention the fact that they – in the past year they’ve joined the Combined Maritime Force in Bahrain at U.S. Fifth Fleet, so they joined the 35 other nations that we have operating together.  I have a very close relationship with my counterpart.  We just are doing maintenance of some of our ships in Indian ports.  So there’s a lot of examples of that relationship heading in the right direction.

I would also say that it’s been helped, I think, perhaps unfortunately by the – by the friction on the border between China and India.  And now India – I mean, now China, instead of just looking east to the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea, must also look over their shoulder at India.  And so I think that that in some regards is helpful for us in terms of strengthening that relationship and their resolve.

MR. JONES:  I have a feeling that both from commercial, scientific, and strategic terms we’re going to spend a lot of time hearing about the Andaman Sea and issues on that side of the Suez.

Ladies and gentlemen, as we wrap I’d like you to do me a favor.  We’re going to ask you to remain seated as I escort our guests offstage.  While we do that, we’re going to play a short video that just introduces this series that we’re investing in on The Seas and Strategy.  But before we do all that, please join me in thanking our terrific guests for spending some time with us today.  (Applause.)

ADM. GILDAY:  Thank you. 

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