JUST IN: Navy Secretary Previews New Strategic Guidance

By Jon Harper

Navy photo by MC3 Nathan Burke

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro on Oct. 5 said he will release new strategic guidance later this week that will lay out his top priorities.

Del Toro, who took office in August, previewed his vision for the sea service during remarks to Midshipmen at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

“Priority one of my strategic guidance is maintaining maritime dominance,” he said, noting that China is the top threat that the Navy and the Pentagon are focused on.

“You've been hearing a lot about Beijing's military buildup, and with good reason,” the Navy chief told the Midshipmen. “From cyber capabilities to anti-satellite missiles to integrated air defense to anti-ship ballistic missiles, they are advancing in every domain.”

The Chinese navy possesses the largest fleet in the world with about 350 ships. China’s forces also include hundreds of coast guard and maritime militia vessels, he noted.

“With the development of anti-access/area-denial capabilities, Beijing now threatens our ability to operate in the international waters of the First Island Chain,” Del Toro said, referring to a key strategic area in the Indo-Pacific region.

The U.S. Navy needs the right number and combination of platforms and weapons to address the “full spectrum” of future threats, he said.

During a meeting with reporters after his speech, National Defense asked Del Toro if he believed the long-standing goal of a 355-ship manned battle force was the right number to aim for.

“I would like to very much work towards a 355-ship Navy,” he said, noting that is the fleet size Congress has called for in legislation.

“But, you know, whether it's 355, whether it's 330, whether it remains 300 [the approximate size of today’s fleet], obviously depends on how you continue to modernize, how you can continue to invest in new technologies that do make a difference,” he added.

Del Toro noted the Navy is developing a variety of unmanned platforms.

“We're piloting a lot of different technologies and a lot of different capabilities to see how exactly they're going to evolve,” he said. “So, the exact number [of ships in the fleet] to me is not as important, quite frankly, as the lethality and the capabilities that we actually bring to the fight in order to be able to deter China.”

However, the U.S. industrial base needs to have stability in shipbuilding plans, he added.

The Navy needs to decide exactly what the numbers are going to be over the future years defense program and “stick to that and be disciplined with that,” he said.

“It's important for our industrial base also to be able to understand that ... there's a certain number of ships, and which ships we're going to build, and when are we going to build them, and when are they going to be delivered, so that they can have a stable workforce,” Del Toro said.

In June, the Biden administration released an update to the long-range shipbuilding plan, which called for 321 to 372 manned ships and 77 to 140 large unmanned vessels.

“There were a lot of ranges in it,” Del Toro noted. “We're going to try to get to more definitive members in terms of what we expect needs to happen over the next five to 10 years.”

The new shipbuilding plan will likely be released around the same time as President Joe Biden’s fiscal year 2023 budget request, Del Toro said. That blueprint is expected early next year.

During his speech, the Navy secretary highlighted several technologies the sea service needs to invest in, including artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, unmanned platforms, directed energy, hypersonics and distributed power.

“These are the frontiers that will define your advantage against the People’s Republic of China, and it’s crucial that we field them expeditiously,” he told the Midshipmen.

Investments in shipyards and maintenance facilities will also be critical for enabling maritime dominance, he noted. “Platforms and weapons are only worthwhile if they’re ready when you need them.”

Another key priority in the forthcoming strategic guidance is strengthening international partnerships. Other nations are also under threat from China, Del Toro noted. They bring to the table capabilities and warfighting skills that could serve mutual interests and deter Beijing, he said.

It’s important for the Navy to work closely with countries such as Australia, India, the Philippines and Indonesia, and to provide the arms and technology necessary for Taiwan to be able to defend itself, he said.

“China can look around and basically say, ‘We don't have any friends. We don't have any maritime allies who will work with us,’ … and hopefully that will deter them from what some believe is their ultimate goal, which is to take Taiwan,” Del Toro said.

Addressing climate change is another priority for the new head of the Navy.

Receding shorelines, melting sea ice, extreme weather and natural resource constraints could fuel international conflict, he said.

“The climate crisis is a destabilizing global force,” Del Toro said. “We must plan and prepare for its impact alongside our allies and our partners.”

The U.S. military needs to build resilient infrastructure and better logistics “webs,” he said.

More efficient fuels, better batteries and conservation measures are also of interest, he noted.

The final priority that Del Toro highlighted in his speech was “empowering our people.” That includes greater investment in professional military education, recruitment and retention.

The new strategic guidance will not be a complete break from the recent past. It will build on Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III’s concept of “integrated deterrence,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger’s “Force Design 2030” and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday’s “Navigation Plan” for expanding the fleet’s capabilities for distributed operations, Del Toro noted.


Topics: Navy News

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