The Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) last week repeated pleas to industry to stop lobbying Congress for platforms the Defense Department wants to divest from and called the Navy’s efforts to divest from legacy platforms an imperative.

“Industry, by leveraging the Congress, forces us to buy things that we don’t necessarily need or that’s excess to need perhaps, in a decade where we’re trying to move with a sensor of urgency away from stuff that isn’t going to make us more lethal, that isn’t going to help us deter a fight with China,” Adm. Mike Gilday said during a panel at the West 2022 conference in San Diego.

The annual conference is co-hosted by both AFCEA and the U.S. Naval Institute.

“And so in those instances I would ask industry to hear our pleas to move away from those legacy platforms, on to something else,” Gilday continued.

This was a repeat of Gilday’s criticism of industry at the 2021 Sea Air Space exposition last August, where he told industry to stop lobbying Congress to keep pushing programs the Navy wanted to end and move past. At the time, Rear Adm. Andrew Loiselle, Director of Air Warfare Division (N98), confirmed Gilday was referencing how the Navy was trying to end production on new F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and funding would be more useful toward upgrading older aircraft to the new Block II configuration (Defense Daily, Aug. 4, 2021).

This time, Gilday added that he is asking industry to “think about what other production lines you could shift to,” like moving legacy production lines to an Air Force or Army program. 

The CNO emphasized it is important for the services to be able to shift away from legacy platforms given budget constraints and the challenge of China.

Gilday said this is a tough decade “where, for most of us, our buying power has been static since 2010 and so when we’re trying to shift from legacy stuff, we’re serious about that shift. And we feel like we’re doing it because it’s a warfighting imperative and not because we’re picking on a particular program.”

He also admitted the Navy needs to provide a clear roadmap to both Congress and industry, with clear transition points to increasing the size of smaller or larger ships classes and when they intend to double down on unmanned systems.

The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Hue City (CG-66) transits into Naval Station Mayport, Fla. in August 2017. (Photo: U.S. Navy)
The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Hue City (CG-66) transits into Naval Station Mayport, Fla., in August 2017. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Gilday said industry needs a buffer time to look at workforce and internal infrastructure planning on a five- to 10-year planning horizon versus the current short term planning budgets often provide.

“Right now that planning is probably a year or two” particularly with FY the ’22 budget only looking one year ahead, referencing how the FY ‘22 budget request did not include the five-year FYDP horizon, he said.

Gilday argued that despite congressional limitations on the service trying to ‘divest to invest,’ it really means finding priorities and will not increase the size of the Navy without a higher budget topline.

He reiterated the Navy’s current funding priorities, in order, are the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program, readiness, modernization and capacity. 

“So the way that divest to invest has been incorrectly categorized in one’s mind is that as you divest of older platforms or legacy platforms that no longer provide the lethality that you need given the threat that we face – if you look at them on the left hand side of the equal side and then on the right hand side of the equal side what people have characterized is as see stuff going away but I don’t see the size of the fleet growing. Based on the priorities that I just outlined, you won’t, not unless the topline goes up,” Gilday said.

“Because I won’t sacrifice the readiness of the fleet and the modernization of 70 percent of that fleet that’s going to exist in 10 years at the expense of building capacity. In other words, I won’t have a Navy bigger than the one we can sustain,” he added.

Gilday said if people, especially Congress, agree the U.S. needs a larger and more capable Navy, “then we obviously need more resources to actually grow it. “

While speaking to reporters later that day, Gilday said he was talking about cruisers with legacy program issues.

“And so if you take a look at the beginning of this budget cycle, there was…the number seven.  You know, the Navy was going to be forced to keep seven cruisers. I think in the NDAA we ended up with two. I wish the number was zero. We need to transition from those platforms for a number of reasons. I talked about the 2,700 delay days that we have right now out of private yards.  More than half of those belong to the cruisers that are in maintenance right now, that are in there for the cruiser upgrades.”

The CNO said that cruiser upgrades have cost the Navy tens of millions of dollars over budget.

“Why? Because of growth work and new work that we didn’t expect with ships that are over 30 years old.”

The FY ‘22 budget request sought funds to retire five Ticonderoga-class cruisers as previously planned and add two more cruisers to the chopping block due to growing costs of modernizing that class (Defense Daily, May 28, 2021).

However, the Navy faced pushback in Congress from some members who were concerned about retiring a ship class that features 122 Vertical Launch System (VLS) cells each, providing significant firepower

During a House Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee hearing last July, subcommittee ranking member Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) noted if all seven requested cruisers are decommissioned, that accounts for 910 VLS cells total, more VLS capacity than the entire British Royal Navy (Defense Daily, June 17, 2021).

In the end, the final version of the FY ‘22 defense authorization bill allows the Navy to retire up to five cruisers total (Defense Daily, December 8, 2021).

Gilday said that given the current budget levels, for the Navy to pivot to a more lethal force, “we need to five up some stuff.  And you can’t just look at it through the lens of surface VLS tubes.”

He said when looking into the mid-2020s the Navy expects to be delivering multiple missile platforms beyond surface VLS tubes. This includes Block IV Virginia-class attack submarines and being “on the cusp” of Block V vessels that carry additional VLS tubes and are set to host hypersonic missiles; Constellation-class frigates in 2026; Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers; investments in Standard Missile(SM)-6 missiles; maritime-strike Tomahawk missiles; and hypersonic missiles going on the Zumwalt-class destroyers by 2025.

Gilday also said by the mid-2020s the Navy plans to transition half of the carrier air wings to have integrated both fourth and fifth generation aircraft along with usage of the Lockheed Martin [LMT] AGM-158C Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) and AGM-158B Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range (JASSM-ER) as well as the MQ-25 Stingray operating as an unmanned carrier-based tanker.