Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro released his strategic guidance on Oct. 8 focusing on deterrence and advances against China.

The strategic guidance aims to inform all activities within the Department of the Navy covering planning, investments, budgeting and prioritization of resources and personnel.

Del Toro said the document is the principal guidance for the Navy Department and intends to align other service-specific documents like the Chief of Naval Operations’ Navigation Plan, Marine Corps Commandant’s Force Design 2030 and Advantage at Sea Tri-Service maritime strategy with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s overall DoD direction.

“Since my confirmation as the 78th Secretary of the Navy, I have characterized the most pressing challenges facing the Department of the Navy as the “Four Cs”: China, Culture, Climate Change, and COVID. The People’s Republic of China represents the pacing challenge against which we must plan our warfighting strategies and investments,” Del Toro said in the guidance.

He underscored the long-term challenge posed by China is the most significant of the four issues for the department. 

“The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has radically expanded both its size and capabilities, growing to become the world’s largest fleet. Complementing its modern surface combatants are hundreds of coast guard and maritime militia vessels that Beijing employs to compete in the ‘gray zone,’ the contested arena between routine statecraft and conflict,” he said.

“For the first time in at least a generation, we have a strategic competitor who possesses naval capabilities that rival our own, and who seeks to aggressively employ its forces to challenge U.S. principles, partnerships, and prosperity,” Del Toro continued.

He also noted that Russia, Iran and others are also using gray-zone aggression and coercion to challenge “the rules-based international order,” but remained focused on China throughout the document.

The Navy is expected to contribute to the gray zone competition via warfighting potential, deterring additional aggression, and preparing to win a conflict as part of the overall DoD integrated warfighting approach.

“As our central governing concept, the top priority for the Department of the Navy will be to develop concepts of operations and capabilities that bolster deterrence and expand our warfighting advantages vis-a-vis the People’s Republic of China,” Del Toro emphasized in bold in the document.

As he previewed in a speech on Oct. 5, the guidance is divided into three “enduring priorities”: maintaining maritime dominance, empowering our people and strengthening strategic partnerships (Defense Daily, Oct. 6).

For maintaining dominance, Del Toro argued the Navy Department will build toward a more integrated all-domain power within the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

“Developing the Fleet and [Fleet Marine Forces] will require trade-offs and tough, sometimes unpopular, choices. We will prioritize capabilities that create advantage relative to the pacing threat. We will develop and maintain the strategic concepts and warfighting capabilities, readiness, and sustainment necessary to generate integrated, all-domain naval power against an evolving threat environment to secure and protect our economic interests.”

The document divides this priority into four pieces. Del Toro said the Navy will prioritize strategic competitive advantage over China and Russia by expanding forward presence. This will “ ensure the presence of naval forces with the right mix of platforms, capability, and capacity to maintain freedom of the seas, support international law and norms, stand by our allies and continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.”

Del Toro reiterated the Navy will make “tough decisions” to maximize resources while seeking additional resources to support increasing responsibilities in the Indo-Pacific region. 

“It will be essential for us to set our naval posture forward to be able to effectively transition from competition to crisis to conflict as needed,” the document said.

It also noted the importance of enhancing warfighting readiness, which it argued is critical to deterring China.

“To reduce the time our platforms are offline for maintenance and repairs, we will invest in sustainment, critical readiness infrastructure, and the industrial workforce, while adopting the best practices of private industry to increase overall efficiency and reduce preventable mishaps. We will integrate and streamline our combined logistics apparatus and supply chains to ensure constant readiness throughout the Fleet and FMF,” the document said.

Del Toro argued the Navy will redirect savings towards “transformative modernization:” when possible to help long term readiness as well as add targeted investments in advanced training methods, ranges and facilities. 

The Navy intends to make “targeted investments: in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, cyber weapons, unmanned platforms, directed energy and hypersonic weapons.” Del Toro said the Navy will treat information as a strategic asset while making cybersecurity a “top priority.”

The last point under maintaining dominance addressed preparing for and adapting to climate change. 

“Climate change seriously increases the potential for greater conflicts on a global scale. We must be prepared to understand increased threats to other nations and the impact they may have on our own national security interests.”

The Navy is directed to develop a force that considers climate elements in all aspects of training and equipping the force and planning and executing missions.

Del Toro said the department will responsibly invest in sustainable fuels and alternative energy sources, work on conservation, reduce its carbon footprint and reliance of fossil fuels and invest in infrastructure resilience.