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Home : Press Room : Transcripts
SPEECH | May 1, 2020

Admiral James Foggo, U.S. Navy, speaks at the U.S. Naval Institute's 147th Annual Meeting

Ladies and gentlemen, warriors past and present, supporters of the U. S. Naval Institute—good evening! A big thank you to the Institute’s CEO, Vice Admiral Pete Daly, for inviting me to speak at the 147th Annual Meeting. I’ve long admired the Naval Institute. I’ve been a member for years. After a 39-year career, I can attest to the importance of having a professional organization for the Sea Services, giving us a platform “to read, think, speak, and write.” My first Proceedings article was published thirty years ago, in May 1990. I was Lieutenant Foggo then, but the focus was great power competition. The Cold War was in its final days. I encourage our younger leaders—especially junior officers, chief petty officers, and sailors—to join the debate, share your insights and innovative approaches. We have much to learn from each other. 

The founders of the Naval Institute were visionary leaders and remain inspirations to us all. A group of 15 officers first met in the lecture room of the Naval Academy’s Department of Physics and Chemistry in October 1873, organized by Lieutenant Belknap and presided over by the Superintendent, Rear Admiral John Worden. Admiral Worden would go on to command the European Squadron. In fact, many of those founding fathers served in the same waters my forces sail today. Commodore Foxhall Parker, who inspired the idea for the meeting, served in the Mediterranean as a lieutenant and was later the Commodore and Chief of Staff of the North Atlantic Fleet. The European theater has long been an important one to the United States and our Allies.

Pete Daly and I go back a long way to his mentorship of me in the Pentagon many years ago when he was the Deputy to Vice Admiral John Morgan, who was the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Strategy, Plans, and Policy (N3/N5). I later had that same job. It was one of the most enjoyable jobs I had at the Pentagon. At the time, Vice Admiral Morgan was leading the development of The Cooperative Strategy for the 21st Century. He took the draft strategy on the road to obtain feedback in major cities and fleet concentration areas all over the United States in a series of town hall meetings that became known as “A Conversation with the Country.” 

While Vice Admiral Morgan was on the road, Pete ran the office and he did so with aplomb, just as he has run the Naval Institute since 2011. Pete, my hat’s off to you. You’ve done a tremendous job, as reflected in that magnificent Annual Report you just delivered to the stakeholders—the sailors and Marines, active duty and retired, of the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps—and the American people. 

So, in the spirit of Daly and Morgan, I’d like to have a “Conversation with the Country” about what your Navy is doing on the pointy end of the spear! So, “Helmsman, All Ahead Full!” 

As Commander, Naval Forces Europe and Africa, and Allied Joint Force Command–Naples, I can tell you the theater remains at the forefront of great power competition—the core of our National Defense Strategy. We face two big strategic competitors—China and Russia—and we cannot forget other serious threats coming from North Korea, Iran, and violent extremist organizations. Competition can be good. It keeps us innovating and makes us better. If we rise to the challenge, prosperity and success will follow. We Americans must continue leading the way as innovators, as well as guarantors of the global economic system.

We deter and defend against multiple adversaries who threaten the American way of life and the freedom of our allies and partners. But if that’s not enough, we are now facing unprecedented times as we adapt to the new normal of the Coronavirus pandemic. I’m proud to say, your Navy is leading the way—in fact, your Navy has provided 70 percent of the Defense Department’s deployed medical forces!  

Nothing was more compelling in recent days than the sight of those two big, beautiful U.S. Navy hospital ships, the USNS Comfort and Mercy (T-AH-20 and -19) sailing into New York City and Los Angeles harbors. When I served as N3/5B, I was in the “chop chain” for orders to get those ships underway. It was a minimum 30 day “Prepare to Deploy Order.” When America called its 911 response force recently, however, the Navy got those ships to New York and Los Angeles—manned and ready—in under two weeks! 3,000 Navy corpsmen, doctors, and nurses made a significant contribution to medical treatment on board the Comfort and Mercy, in New York’s Jacob Javits Center, and in civilian hospitals. 

We are entering a “new normal” in terms of defense and deterrence in great power competition. I found “logistics” is the sixth domain of warfare during Exercise Trident Juncture—the largest NATO exercise since the end of the Cold War, which included 50,000 troops, 70 ships, 265 aircraft, and 10,000 tracked and rolling vehicles operating in Norway. Recently I opined that the Coronavirus pandemic represents a seventh warfighting domain—fighting germs that invade and occupy the biosphere in which we live and operate. This is a lethal and unseen enemy. There are no rules of engagement. There is no “due regard” for “collateral damage.” It attacks combatants and non-combatants—men, women, and children alike. 

Bill Gates foresaw this pandemic in his 2015 TED Talk “The Next Outbreak—We’re Not Ready.” The military must be prepared. We must start having our own pandemic exercises, just like we have table-top exercises and composite training unit exercises. The Naval War College, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS), and Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Lab had a remarkable war game in September called “Urban Outbreak 2019,” where they examined infectious disease outbreak response. 

We should put books like Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone and John Barry's The Great Influenza on our required reading lists. Barry details the onset and terrible effects of the 1918 Spanish Flu. His analysis is stunning—the death toll was as great as 50 million people worldwide. Garrisoning and transporting troops to and from World War I contributed greatly to the virus’ “community spread.” Now 100 years later, science and medicine are better, but parallels exist. It reminds us that pandemics will happen again. 

No matter how tough this thing is, we can’t let our guard down. Our other adversaries are not going to take a knee. We have seen this recently with harassment of U.S. Navy warships in the Arabian Gulf by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy elements. 

Just last week, the Russian fighter aircraft conducted two unsafe and unprofessional intercepts of Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft operating in international airspace over the Eastern Mediterranean. China continues to challenge us in the western Pacific, with activity in the South China Sea and Bashi Channel off Taiwan. But here in my theater, we had three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers operating in a surface action group with P-8 support. We sailed the Harry S. Truman carrier strike group through the theater. We sent a powerful message—we’re open for business. We are seeing the importance of presence, as we work together to fight the Coronavirus pandemic. Countries look to the United States for help and leadership.

To be effective operators in all seven domains, we will have to do more to maintain readiness. As Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday recently said, “Our top three priorities are: 1) the health and safety of the fleet, 2) ongoing fleet operations and support to the coronavirus effort, and 3) supporting both #1 and #2. As the CNO said, “Everyone has a role. Nobody sits on the bench.” 

So, let’s think about that. What can and will we do differently? Well, I pulled this little yellow piece of cardboard out of my old medical record. Everything is thankfully online now. But back in the day, to deploy you needed one of these—a shot card. Yellow fever, smallpox, polio, etc. All shots were recorded on one of these. You had to be physically capable of deploying; your medical and dental exams had to be Class A—no cavities, no impacted wisdom teeth, no potential acute or chronic medical problems. Today, all that is still necessary, but it is not enough. Ships’ crews must remain free of Covid-19 until we get a vaccine. That presents challenges in the sixth domain—logistics. 

Here in Naval Forces Europe–Africa, we’re monitoring ashore and at sea to ensure our ships and sailors are ready. We are diligently monitoring, isolating, and testing. We’re evacuating where necessary to facilitate recoveries. It is no small challenge because Italy has been devastated by the virus. But we are working through it—and these steps must become part of our routine, and we must innovate. 

I talked to Assistant Secretary of the Navy Hondo Geurts [Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition] a few weeks ago. He’s working hard with NavalX to develop innovative solutions, like 3-D printing of critical supplies. We have 3-D printers on our ships; we’ve recently figured out how to print N-95 masks. As we evolve our thinking and our technology, there are other creative solutions out there to minimize exposure to and “community spread” of a communicable disease. 

Since the onset of the virus in Europe and subsequent government mandates, we have made excellent use of information technology and virtual meetings—just as we’re doing right now. At my NATO Headquarters in Naples, we’ve used a 3-D VTC system that provides a 3-dimensional representation in high-def. It’s so good, it’s almost like being in the same room with people at the other end, but at low risk during this time of physical distancing, and at less cost than temporary duty travel. The DoD School System in Europe has gone to virtual learning as many universities and even the Naval Academy have. As challenging as this is for students, parents, and our teachers, it is working. Technology that connects us virtually is worthy of additional investment, and part of that investment must be protection of the networks. 

The Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the immense role of China in industry and the maritime realm. This concerns me. We need a stronger and more independent industrial base. Maritime trade is crucial to economic prosperity. Steel forged into ships makes us stronger as a nation—whether those ships are commercial or military. Our Navy is ‘forged by the sea,’ but our ships are forged by Americans, in places such as Bath, Maine; Pascagoula, Mississippi; Newport News, Virginia; and Groton, Connecticut. 

The world’s oceans are economic superhighways—free and open trade routes that are critical. More than 90 percent of trade by volume transits the seas. Last year world maritime trade reached 11 billion tons and about 793 million twenty-foot-equivalent units, the standard 20-foot shipping containers. Rail and airlift, by comparison, provide a small fraction of global trade movement. If maritime access is cut, global commerce will be devastated. Yet the United States is not competitive in this market. About 90 percent of global maritime trade is moved by ships from three countries: China (40 percent), Japan (25 percent) and South Korea (25 percent). 

It isn’t just goods that rely on freedom of the seas. Alfred Thayer Mahan asserted that the raison d’etre of a Navy was to maintain sea control, particularly the sea lines of communications (SLOCs). But he never envisioned the importance of critical infrastructure on the ocean floor. Approximately 99 percent of transoceanic data traffic is made possible by undersea cables, including international financial transactions, emails, and phone calls. This the backbone of the digital economy. As Representative Rob Wittman noted, we must protect these new SLOCs of the 21st century. The Cable Ship Security Fleet established in the fiscal year 2020 NDAA is a good start, providing for a fleet of active, commercially viable cable-laying vessels to meet national security requirements. But we must do more—the cable-laying fleet described by the NDAA includes only two vessels. 

A strong Navy protects U.S. national interests and ensures goods and data travel when and where they need to. We have entered the 4th Battle of the Atlantic. Last fall, the Barents Observer reported 10 Russian submarines underway in the Arctic and North Atlantic at one time. That number would have grabbed the attention of Lieutenant Foggo at the height of the Cold War. The Barents Observer recently reported that five new Russian Yasen-class attack submarines—such as the Severodvinsk—will sail for the Northern Fleet once completed. The Russians are operating first-rate submarines. We still have an advantage in the undersea domain, but they are very good. We’re seeing competition emerge in new areas. The High North is attracting global interest with abundant natural resources and opening maritime routes. Russia has taken an aggressive approach in the Arctic. They have recently unveiled a new icebreaker, the Ivan Papanin, that can carry dangerous Kalibr cruise missiles. Who puts missiles on icebreakers? Russia is also deploying long-range S-400 surface-to-air missiles to Arctic bases. We are seeing Russian Navy surface ships and new hybrid Kilo-class submarines operating more often and more widely, particularly in the Black Sea and eastern Mediterranean. While we can track them closely, they are very capable, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has made it clear he is willing to seize any and all opportunities to reestablish regional hegemony. That extends to partnering with China—when it serves both nations’ interests.

There has also been an increase in Chinese activity in the European and African theaters. Just as China is a rival economic power, it is emerging as a first-class military power. The Chinese employ a long-term state-driven strategy for economic and military aspirations. We’re seeing this globally with their Belt and Road Initiative. We have been watching this closely in Africa where we are seeing tremendous investments, but on Chinese terms. They bring in their own support structure, their own workers. This is in stark contrast to how the United States and our allies do business. In Djibouti, for example, local companies provide services to our Camp Lemonnier, contributing millions to their economy—about 8.5 percent of their national GDP. The Chinese aren’t focused on improving the local economies in Africa; they are focused on gaining access.

That is a concern. China has invested more than $20 billion into foreign ports since 2010. Not only is COSCO the world’s third largest shipping container line, but it has investments in 61 port terminals around the world. China Merchants manages 36 ports in 18 countries. I am concerned that Chinese-owned or -influenced ports could refuse to provide services to U.S. Navy ships.

Likewise, the threat of Chinese 5G internet technology looms large on the digital horizon. It is a virtual Trojan horse. Many nations have fallen for the heavily subsidized, cheap price of Chinese-provided networks and services, but once the horse is inside the village and darkness falls, the Chinese intelligence services are inside. 

The U.S. military needs to be out and about as we seek to counter Chinese influence. Our advantage is that we’re the ‘friend of choice.’ Africa is a large and complex continent. By 2050, ~1 in 4 persons will live in Africa (~2.5+ Billion). I’ve spent a lot of time there, and I can tell you most countries would rather do business with the United States than with China or Russia. They respect our values, our commitment to freedom, and the quality of our equipment and services. I have been involved in the Africa Partnership Station now for a decade. Those nations know we don’t attach strings to partnership. We are simply there to help them sail ships, to help them fix ships. The only ask is for friendship! With the growing competition in Africa from Russian and Chinese interests, the presence of violent extremists, as well as the immense, expanding African population and enormous economic potential, we ignore Africa at our own peril.

Building alliances and partnerships improves global security and stability. We recently celebrated 71 years of NATO—the most successful Alliance the world has ever seen. Earlier this month we held a ceremony at our headquarters to welcome our 30th ally, North Macedonia. 

Alliances and partnerships allow us to remain competitive and interoperable. We must maintain access to key ports and markets. To do that, we need to shore up our relationships and build trust – as former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said, “You can’t surge trust!” It has to be developed over time. A big part of building trust involves strategic communications, including social media. We need to ensure the right messages are getting out. Other nations aren’t bound to the same ethics and rules that we adhere to. One of my colleagues, Vera Zakem, just published a great article in the New York Times discussing the disinformation adversaries are putting out about the coronavirus. She noted that Russia, China, and activists will use the infodemic as a weapon, exploiting divisions with disinformation and influence campaigns.

So, I encourage all of you to express your opinions, like Vera did, but use Proceedings as your platform. Dare to read, speak, think, and write! I’ve given you much to think about today, and I hope it inspires you in your service to our great nation.

I first started to think about service in the Navy as a young man. Sometimes people ask me, “Why did you join the Navy?” Most do not know that I grew up “on post” in an Army family. I joined the Navy because I was inspired by a chief petty officer when I was a kid. That chief was Richard McKenna, a former gunboat sailor on the Yangtze River in China. In 1962, he wrote a book, The Sand Pebbles, [published by the Naval Institute Press] about the story of the USS San Pablo, a gunboat leftover from the Spanish-American War. It went right to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. 

The main protagonist of the book was Petty Officer Jake Holman, played by the iconic Steve McQueen in the 1966 movie. I admired McQueen for his role in The Great Escape, but it was his role as Jake Holman that sold me on the Navy. Despite the tragic ending, the movie was about accomplishing the mission and doing your duty against insurmountable odds. 

Later in my life, I had the pleasure of working for Admiral Mike Mullen, one of the greatest mentors I ever had. He came from Los Angeles to the U.S. Naval Academy. His dad was a Hollywood agent, and Steve McQueen was one of his clients. Admiral Mullen knew Steve McQueen when he was a kid. How cool is that? 

When I worked for Mike Mullen, I traveled with him all over the world. There was tension everywhere—in Iraq, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan. As Chairman, he used to say, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” He was right. When he was having a bad day, I’d say, “Hey boss, you remember that story you told me about Steve McQueen.” He would light up. 

And so now, 43 years after entering the United States Naval Academy, inspired by a chief petty officer who “dared to write,” I am proud to show you that I wear the anchors of an honorary chief. To paraphrase Admiral “Bull” Halsey, warships are carried to sea on the backs of chief petty officers. 

I have been fortunate to have great chiefs mentor me throughout my career. Master Chiefs Raymond Kemp, Paul DeClerq, Rob Danielson, Gunny Ravan, and Ric Giberti all come to mind. Tonight, I’m sharing the podium with one of the most dynamic and successful master chiefs in the U.S. Navy, my Fleet Master Chief, and the first SEAL to ever occupy that post—Master Chief “Wally” Walters. He is going to talk about our sailors in the 21st-century Navy and their resiliency. 

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