SEA-AIR-SPACE NEWS: Navy Chief Calls Out Industry for 'Not Helpful' Behavior

By Yasmin Tadjdeh
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday

Navy photo

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday had some tough words for industry as he spoke at one of the country’s first in-person defense conferences since the COVID-19 pandemic struck last year.

Speaking Aug. 2 during a panel discussion at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space conference in National Harbor, Maryland, Gilday called out defense companies for behavior that he views as counterproductive to the needs of the military.

“Although it's in industry's [financial] best interest — and I just saw your second quarter reports and I know it's a happy audience out there for the most part — building the ships that you want to build, lagging on repairs to ships and submarines, lobbying Congress to buy aircraft that we don't need, that are excess to needs — it's not helpful,” he said. “It really isn't in a budget constrained environment.”

In the U.S. military's tri-service maritime strategy — titled “Advantage at Sea: Prevailing with Integrated All-Domain Naval Power,” which was released late last year — the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard tried to highilght the sense of urgency that the services feel every day as they face threats from China and a slow-moving bureaucracy, Gilday said.

The Pentagon needs help dealing with these challenges, and industry is also affected by the same competition the military faces, he said.

“This is about the prosperity of this country, the economic security of this country, the national security of this country,” he said. “For this audience, it's going to take a new approach, I think, in terms of what we build, how we build it and the timelines on which we deliver. It has to change.”

Gen. David Berger, commandant of the Marine Corps, echoed Gilday’s comments.

“If we approach Congress together sometimes to try ... to break down the bureaucratic rules that slow us down, [then] we'd make some progress,” he said. “Sometimes we come at them individually from different perspectives, but I think there's ground to plow there if we were to talk to them collaboratively about, OK, what is actually slowing us down.”

While there is a lot of blame to go around, “we have to get beyond the blame and look forward in terms of how we're going to do this better,” Gilday said.

To stay ahead in the competition with peer adversaries, industry needs to be more agile in pivoting to new technologies and new platforms, he said. Additionally, companies must work harder to meet their repair and maintenance obligations on time.

Gilday was recently presented with data that examined 11 programs over 13 years. The study found that there were 98 years of delays among them. “That's an example of … unacceptable outcomes that we cannot live with in this decade,” he said. “We can't keep going down this path.”

The Navy chief added that he was not trying to talk down to industry and he recognized that the service shares a responsibility with contractors to improve the current situation.

One silver lining that has presented itself during the COVID-19 pandemic is increased transparency into the defense industrial base's supply chains, he noted.

There has been a “lifting to a great degree of this opaque curtain that runs down [Interstate] 395 between Crystal City and the Pentagon,” he said.

“The transparency in the supply chain … during COVID has been absolutely phenomenal, where we had really good insights, both on the repair side and on the production line where industry was having problems,” he added. “We need to continue that transparency.”

Adm. Karl Schultz, commandant of the Coast Guard, noted that communication with companies is key.

“There needs to be transparent exchange with industry,” he said. “[We need] that transparent exchange about ideas, what can industry offer, how can we bring that into our wheelhouse … and [how] we come up with solutions.”

Topics: Defense Department

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