While the Navy is focused on readiness to prevent the pitfalls of an overworked and untrained force, it must also manage the need for modernization with maintaining the current fleet, the service’s top officer said today.
Asked about over tasking sailors and assets and its effects on retention, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday described a need for the service to adequately balance modernization with readiness and operating forward.
“I think that my priority is to field the best Navy we can every day. And also at the same time, I am making focused investments into the future in growing the Navy at a supportable rate. I do think that as we come out of this Global Posture Review that the SECDEF is leading, I think that’s an opportunity to have an honest discussion based on the budget that we have right now, in terms of what we want to spend on current readiness because it is expensive. I do believe that you need and you want a Navy, a Marine Corps, a Coast Guard out there. We have to be forward to be relevant to matter,” Gilday said during a virtual appearance at the WEST 2021 conference, cohosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and AFCEA.
“I think we need to take a deeper look at our day-to-day commitments and make sure that they’re prioritized sufficiently with respect to not only what we’re responsible for today, but our modernization for tomorrow,” he added.
The CNO said his prioritization of training and readiness stems from lessons the service gleaned after the 2017 fatal ship collisions, including the consequences of prioritizing capacity over maintenance and training.
“Some of what we learned is investments that we made 10, 15 years ago came at a cost. And so, we invested in capacity – that is shipbuilding – at the expense of maintenance, at the expense of training, at the expense of sailors, numbers of sailors on ships, at the expense of munitions and magazines and supply parts in supply rooms,” Gilday said.
“And I don’t want to return to that. I don’t want to return to that place because the cost was very, very high in this case with respect to the loss of life.”
During the panel, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger noted that he is reducing the service’s end strength to ensure all of the force is fully ready.
“We’re not going to have a hollow force. None of the service chiefs are going to have a hollow force. So we’re shrinking the force, we’re contracting it to the size we can man at 100 percent,” Berger said. “We can have everybody trained. We can fill – there won’t be holes in our force. So we’re shrinking the size of the force so that it’s sized to what we can afford.”
In response to a question about turning down tasking, Berger emphasized that it’s a hard undertaking for the Joint Chiefs to manage combatant commanders’ requests.
“But in reality, the secretary of defense has to make hard decisions on where he’s going to accept strategic risk. And that’s our job I think to advise him and say – it’s not saying no to a task. That’s not the point. The point is being there’s more tasks than we have forces and capabilities and capacity for, so where as a nation are we willing to accept what degree of risk,” Berger said.
“And I think this secretary has clearly proven that he’s willing and ready to make those kinds of decisions. And we’re giving him the best advice we can give him,” he added, referring to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
On Tuesday, the admiral who oversees the Navy’s budget described readiness as one priority the service focused on in building the Fiscal Year 2022 budget.
“Clearly, the Marine Corps is divesting to invest.” Rear Adm. John Gumbleton, the Navy’s deputy assistant secretary for budget, said during a separate panel at WEST 2021. “The Navy is actually cutting forces to sustain what we have, so we don’t have a hollow force.”