Defense Forum Washington 2023
7 Dec 2023

Gen. Mahoney (00:00):

It’s always a great pleasure to come here for Naval Institute events, regardless of what they are. So, I'm, I'm truly humbled Ray for you bringing me up here, and I hope you're enjoying your new position, today. Look, I wanna provide my perspective. You heard some of the jobs that I've had. I spent a lot of time, uh, in the Pacific on, on naval strategy, primarily focused on force structure to get after and answer the question, just not respond. We, as you know are a maritime nation.

Gen. Mahoney (01:01):

We rely now as we have throughout our history on Navy and expeditionary forces, Marine forces for self-defense and the preservation of our way of life. So not just defending what we value, but protecting how we do it. Our naval force structure is not just a Department of the Navy issue in that regard. It's, it's a national issue. In fact, you know, I don't think I'm stretching the bow too far. It's not overly dramatic, uh, to argue that the composition of our fleet from end to end our ability to plan, to budget, to build and maintain that fleet is more than a national issue. When you compare that with our strategy it's a direct reflect... reflection of our commitment to defend a world order that we brought up and matured. So we have departmental exigencies, we have national exigencies, and I would argue we have global exigencies directly tied to the force structure of the fleet.

Gen. Mahoney (02:08):

It's critical that we get this more right than wrong. Uh, the insinuation there being that we've got a lot of things right, but let's work on getting it more right, not only for ourselves, but as I alluded to for the preservation of international trade security and prosperity. Last week, I was in Simi Valley at the Reagan National Defense Forum. I had, I had the great pleasure and fortune to share a stage with, with one of, uh, the Titans of leadership Admiral Aquilino, the commander of INDOPACOM. And on that panel, we discussed our national defense strategy as it interleaves or as it relates to competition, specifically techno-competition with China as a setup to that panel out there in Simi Valley. As, as you might know, the Reagan forum puts out a survey to the American public, different demographics, pretty, pretty large survey. And in it, they asked for a side-by-side comparison, with capabilities with China.

Gen. Mahoney (03:16):

When they compared U.S. Naval forces, they asked the question, compare U.S. Naval forces and capabilities to Chinese naval forces and capabilities. The U.S. Naval forces received very, very, very, very high marks. In fact, 50%, 57% of Americans polled believe the U.S. Navy maintained superiority over the PLA-N over the Chinese Navy, 57%. Uh, as far as our naval superior superiority goes, I, I agree, globally, there is no force on earth and this, this isn't cheerleading that can do what the sea services do, and all you have to do is read the paper or look at a map to realize how true that is. But yes, there are, but, and there is always a, but it is critical that we are critical when it comes to these assessments that we don't ride on the assessments and assume them to be true. In fact, I think if you look deeply into that assessment, I'm a bit more pessimistic.

Gen. Mahoney (04:18):

We can't allow the non-critical factor to be a force in our force structure development and our strategy development going forward. The, the critical look at what we do, how we do it, how we plan and budget for it has to take the forum. If we are ahead, as the assessment suggests in areas like joint and combined interoperability, which I believe we are, we need to keep the pedal down. We need to keep accelerating. That's a snapshot in time. If we wanna be ahead next week, next year, we have to continue to accelerate in areas where we're equal, where there's parity perhaps, or where we're behind areas like ship building. Uh, we need to take a hard look at how we get better and get better faster. We need to look critically at how our strategy and our structure apply to our ability first to deter so we don't have to fight.

Gen. Mahoney (05:12):

And when the fight comes that we can win not just globally in a general sense, but at a specific place, at a specific time to bring the capabilities to prevail. Most importantly, any assessment, whether it's formal or informal, whether it's scientific or otherwise, can't diminish the sense of urgency that is right now. Secretary of the Navy spoke at Harvard a few months ago. Maybe some of you saw that, and what he said is really of significance to what we're talking about today. In his remarks, he talked about the warships that the PLA-N has today. Some 300 said, depending on how you count over 370, let's just leave it there ships and submarines to include aircraft carriers in the Indo-Pacific with a handful that are based out of Djibouti. I agree with our secretary that the PLA-N represents a formal challenge. And for the purposes of what we're talking about today is because they're building more ships faster than we can keep pace.

Gen. Mahoney (06:15):

Our battle force inventory is consistently adjusting. But suffice to say, according to the Congressional Research Service, they reported our battle force inventory out at 291 last month. The PLA-N is likely to have over 450 ships, 450 ships submarines by 2030 in this battle force inventory. They're, they're likely to have five carriers, five aircraft carriers. And it isn't just our assessment of this that matters, addressing this form in 2020, Mark Milley, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said that the U.S. Navy will have to significantly increase the size of his fleet, got a soldier saying that the Navy needs to significantly increase the size of his fleet. Why? To deter China in the future. So he, like what I just alluded to a snapshot in time, you've gotta look forward more specifically, and I'm quoting here, he said, we're going to have to have a much larger fleet than we have today if we're serious, if we're serious about great power competition and deterring great power war.

Gen. Mahoney (07:30):

Once you consider the home field advantage that China has in the first island chain, the problem, the issue in my mind becomes more acute. Taiwan Strait is only about 80 miles wide. Um, and it's approximately depending on what speed you steam at at least 11 steaming days from the West coast. To get to a point of relevance near the first Island chain l look, I, I would, I would pit our carrier strike groups, surface action groups, amphibious ready groups and submarines against anyone in the world. But as we remember what we used to say about the USSR, uh, quantities got, got a quality all its own, a relative naval combat power analysis in and around the first island chain near our friends, the Chinese where they operate with over 370 combatants or ships in their fleet is not trending in our favor. The bottom line is this problem cannot be solved by the Department of the Navy alone. It doesn't matter as a criticism. It's meant as a call for advocacy, advocacy for resourcing the Navy to what we need, not to what we think we can manage advocacy for an enterprise solution, an end-to-end solution to what is an American, and a rules-based order issue. As I alluded to. More broadly, it's advocacy for a larger conversation about what our sea services need to preserve our place as the security guarantor in the global commons. Today, we find ourselves converting a challenge of our own making, the size and shape of our Naval forces, not by accident. It didn't happen overnight, nor are the deficiencies of that force. A matter of dereliction or incompetence. Not at all. Over the last 30 years, our nation optimized our defense and defense structure for a very different security environment. Point blank, the peace dividend following the Cold War, if you wanna call it that. And the Global War on Terror shaped the way we structured the joint force. And rightly so, the department's focus rightly turned to supporting sustained land combat operations. But our priorities have changed as they should have, as the world has changed to meet the changes in the security landscape.

Gen. Mahoney (09:52):

In 1974, Stansfield Turner asked, Hey, have things changed so much that we need to change the structure of our force to, to address fundamental structural changes? And I would argue that if you look at the 2022 NDS, uh, the answer to Stansfield Turner's 70... 1974 question right now is, yes, the demands of great power competition and increasingly shape the international security environment to use a technical term, have simply altered the calculus for our force structure and initial requirements. Simple, simply put, we need more Naval and Marine capabilities forward now. For this reason, General Neller testified that the Marine Corps of 2019 was not man, trained or equipped for the demands of operational environment against a peer threat. If for that same reason, General Berger embarked on a transformational modernization of the force for our Marine Corps today, Commandant Smith is continuing to implement that vision, and you can call it what you want.

Gen. Mahoney (10:57):

You can come at it from different perspectives, but the bottom line is, if the security environment has changed, if the character of that security environment has changed, and the tasks we with which we have to perform within that environment change, you have to adjust to that. To me, in the simplest sense is what we're talking about. I know that our shipmates in the Navy, including the CNO, feel the same way, in the same sense of urgency. I know that as the Navy modernizes, they'll face similar headwinds and inertia that we have faced in the Marine Corps. Frankly speaking in the Marine Corps changes hard, a changing Naval and Marine force structure to meet the demands of our strategy, and we have to do it at speed. But I can tell you we're not likely to succeed on our own. We need an enterprise solution to this immense challenge, which has become greater than the internal capabilities of the Department of the Navy to solve on its own.

Gen. Mahoney (11:49):

That's my thesis. Our Navy needs more resources, plain and simple. And if our department's budget remains flat or decreasing, we want, we must make the difficult choices. during a critical time, we have to choose, choose to invest in a fleet that gives our nation the assurance of winning at the time and place that we choose. We need to choose before our investments or lack thereof. Make the choice for us. It's not simply a resourcing challenge, it's a ship building challenge. It's a whole of government challenge. And every minute we don't act is a minute long. Can't get it back. Last year during this testimony, Admiral Gilday spoke to distinct challenges. Our defense industrial base faces every day to preserve and employ a workforce capable of meeting our requirements. Couldn't agree more. Insufficiencies in our defense industrial base are severely, severely impacting readiness in the global coverage of Naval and Marine forces. As we speak our ability to provide ARGMEU support to the combatant commanders is consistently falling short, can't put enough out there. Five out of the last six ARGMEU formations were delayed and did not meet their deployment schedule with gaps in our ARGMEU coverage, we're severely reducing the combat, the combatant commanders' options, and really that's what we're there to provide. I don't wanna sound like I'm only concerned about the Marine Corps. This is a Naval problem. Every platform, every ship, every submarine's readiness is a matter for national concern. Fluctuations in demand from the DOD, restricted capacity of our shipyards, limitations that are now ingrained in our domestic ship building enterprise each diminish our ability to support our National Defense Strategy. Fixing this will not be easy, and we must meet the challenge with a sense of urgency, resources. Most importantly, the ingenuity to overcome it is what's required.

Gen. Mahoney (13:47):

But our domestic ship building industry, both commercial and military, is a vulnerability we can't not ignore. The U.S. has witnessed a precipitous decline in a world, in, in our ability to produce ships since World War II. And I read an article the other day that really snapped me to reality. By some estimates, we build about 2... .2% of the world's commercial ships by gross tonnage, 0.2%. I'm not that, that's a small number. While our ship building capacity has declined our, our requirements globally have gone up. So we have an inverse proportionality relationship there. Our allies and partners are identified in our national strategy as a source of asymmetric advantage if we do not have domestic capacity on its own to produce the fleet that we need at scale and at speed. What about our allies? AUKUS has started to chart a path for increased ship building capacity in Australia, South Korea, and Japan's combined ship building capacity rivals China's. Even the European ship capacityship building capacity. Outstrips our own. Our allies, they host our troops. We will fight alongside our allies in combat. Why would we not empower them by inviting them to help us build and maintain our ships? Invest in our ship building. Representative Moulton, who I think will, will speak here today, argued last week that expanded ship building and ship repair, capacity, specifically talked about Australia, uh, supports deterrence. Representative Whitman, who I think also will be on the stage highlighted that the China has 23.2 million ton ship building capacity versus 23.2 million versus a hundred thousand ton ship building capacity for the United States. We need to better integrate our allies and partners to bring about real conventional deterrence in the private sector. Companies like Toyota build vehicles in the United States. I drive one. 2001 Tacoma's good truck. They invested more than $8 billion in U.S. Manufacturing operations last year alone.

Gen. Mahoney (15:57):

We should encourage our allies to make similar investments in our commercial ship building. We'd absolutely need the help of Congress clearly, but I think the magnitude of the challenge requires us to scrutinize any policies that diminish our ability to produce more than the five or so heavy tonnage commercial ships that, that we've been building since about the 1980s. You may hear more about that later. I also think the military can help, but maybe, maybe not in the way that you think. Each year the Marine Corps alone separates 20 to 30,000 Marines, sends them back to the civilian world when they go. Some go to school, some go into business, and a lot go into the trades. We need a national plan to incentivize our youth to work in the shipbuilding age, focus those trades on the ship building industry. We've made great strides over the years, and I've visited Connecticut, Virginia, and Mississippi to build out the labor force.

Gen. Mahoney (16:52):

However, this is a national imperative. We can be part of the solution if the Navy and the Marine Corps similarly prioritize and incentivize our departing Sailors and Marines to pursue the trades that support shipping. Community colloquialism offers to lead us to believe that one specific platform or ship or aircraft is critical to building the war fighting advantage. My last tactical flight was in an F-35C, so that will clearly solve our national problems... only if I'm in it. The thing is, look most of the time, the sum of the capabilities and capacities of multiple platforms, when you add 'em up, they're greater than each, each one of them alone. No big surprise there. What we need to guard jealously and what, what really hammered it home from me out at Reagan is that what we have that most others do not is an ingrained team fight mentality.

Gen. Mahoney (17:50):

Call it jointness, call it enterprise mentality, but that's something that we need to guard. All elements of the joint force need to compliment each other. We need to build that way. They should reinforce the strengths of each other and pre... Importantly, protect each other against weaknesses. We have the most capable Naval force with the most capable ships and the world's most capable Sailors and Marines. I see it every day. Our Navy possesses the most survivable element of the nuclear triad and resource in Columbia has got to remain a top priority for the nation. Our CSG's are the most capable war fighting formation to have existed on the planet in its history. Our Amphibious Ready Groups and amphibious warships remain a true Swiss army knife for our combatant commanders. They bring a hospital, they bring a restaurant, a hotel, a gas station, an airport, an arms warehouse, a marina, and a battalion of angry Marines all on mobile and maneuverable sovereign U.S. Soil.

Gen. Mahoney (18:55):

A statutorily mandated risk assessed minimum of 31 L class ships is the minimum structural foundation to provide that flexibility and those capabilities to the combatant commanders. History recent history is replete with examples where the naval team was able to respond because of those attributes I talked about. And when they weren't there, they could not limited the options. And our response in my mind, was suboptimal either in time or capability. Going back to the maintenance argument, you can have a hundred of anything, but if they're not available, you got zero. So back to the maintenance argument, we have to ensure the availability of those capable ships, those capable Sailors, those capable Marines. There is no substitute that is as flexible as that Naval force. Additionally, going forward, we need to get after the 80 versus 8,000 mile tyranny of distance. And one of the answers to that is at least a two-tiered approach to global positioning, a terrestrial approach where we have stores forward in places where we have access and basing.

Gen. Mahoney (20:07):

And I think most people here are familiar with the late EDCA deals that we have, what we do in Australia and my home old home turf Japan, to have terrestrial stocks forward to destroy that 8,000 mile vulnerability. But importantly, we need maritime positioning stocks that once again, by virtue being afloat, are resilient and maneuverable and can show up in places where otherwise other people could not. Critical. That said, cruisers, destroyers, oilers, survey ships, mine, sweepers, manned, and unmanned aviation, preferably manned. Each community is it's critical to our overall lethality. I go back to the teaming aspect. I go back to interleaving the joint capabilities. We must for the Marine Corps teamed with our Navy brethren, we must be able to win the reconnaissance and counter reconnaissance fight knowing that our adversaries will take advantage of any large, slow or mass formation, speed mobility, the attributes of any Naval force, the attributes of any fleet equate to survivability and I reject the survivability binary.

Gen. Mahoney (21:26):

If anybody wants to talk about that. For the Marine Corps, the landing ship medium, the LSM will give us an edge needed to operate in a contested environment. The LSM will enable the Marine Corps and the Navy to rapidly distribute forces from the Marine littoral regiments and other adjacent units. They're not exclusive to any type, model, series of cargo or human within the INDOPACOM region to gain a further edge in that competition with the pacing challenge. But let's not over bake this thing. It's not an amphibious warship and it shouldn't be. It's, it enables our ability to remain at the forward edge. It enables our forces to move, maneuver, and sustain in the littorals that are relevant to the fight. We don't need, you know, the cyber truck. We don't need a $3 billion sports car. We need a Ford F-150 with crank windows and, and maybe a cassette deck instead of an eight track tape player, you know, but we need them at scale. A hundred percent of nothing is zero. We need to have them at scale and we need them to be available. Like Admiral Franchetti said and is fond of saying, we need more players on the field.

Gen. Mahoney (22:39):

I think we, we only need to look at the Ukrainians and what they have done in the Black Sea to gain insights and how they have been able to contain pressurize and push the Russian Black Sea fleet, and in some cases sink them to see the utility of littoral maritime maneuver elements teamed up with other elements to have an impact on naval operations from our adversary, highly mobile units in the littorals, armed with long range precision fires, man and unmanned systems in, in that particular fight have made an invaluable, in some cases decisive contribution to sea control and sea deny. We're rapidly gaining insights into littoral warfare from our friends, the Ukrainians in the largest state on state conflict in Europe since World War II. So what's the right answer? The topic for this event is, do we have the right Naval force structure to execute our nation's strategy?

Gen. Mahoney (23:39):

The answer is that we've identified some attributes of the right structure of the Navy Marine Corps team and ultimately the right Naval force to support, once again, the joint force. We're working with the Department of the Navy on a plan to get there, but I again, go back to the Secretary of the Navy's comments that this is a whole of government approach. It's an end-to-end approach. It's an enterprise approach, private sector, public sector approach. This summer, the congressional budget office analysis of fiscal year 2024 shipbuilding plan concluded that each of the three alternatives presented for shipbuilding would require appropriations that were 31 to 40% more than the average of the past years. Let that let that wash over you. 31 to 40% greater than the last five years. That's a, that's a pretty big swing. They estimated that the total shipbuilding costs were 16% above estimates, and that's not even including O&L.

Gen. Mahoney (24:39):

What this tells me is the old P&R guy, the old money guy. it's not that the Navy is asking too much, but there's, in every case presented, there is a need for more resources. Simple math, in every case, it won't be an overnight effort, but there are immediate and critical steps where we can gain ground. We can make simple informed resource decisions to keep American shipbuilding lines open, strengthen them two year centers for LPD flight, two, four year centers for LHA class ships and block buys that save hundreds of millions of dollars for the taxpayer and give a sense of predictability for our friends that are building our ships. We can leverage our allies and partners as mentioned, not just for ship building, but to sharing the maintenance efforts of our ships. I'm ready today to start working with industry partners or whoever is interested to increase pathways from Marines seeking once they exit to go into the trades and serve another way in the ship yards.

Gen. Mahoney (25:43):

What I would ask is that we prioritize our Naval forces during these critical years and make critical investments while, while there's still time on the clock, as I mentioned earlier, you know, every cycle that goes by, every opportunity is bypassed for one reason or another. You're not gonna get that back. You can't buy it back. Are we funding the department, the Department of the Navy, to a level that can compete with what Admiral Aquilino last week described as the largest military buildup in history since World War II, at a speed that has not been matched since World War II? Can we compete? I think you have my answer and I'll leave the rest of the answer to you. Thanks and all. You can come back to that. Thanks. Semper Fidelis.

Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps