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Home : Press Room : Transcripts
SPEECH | June 4, 2020

On The Horizon: Navigating the European and African Theaters Episode 18

Presenters: Admiral James G. Foggo III, Commander, NAVEURNAVAF

Guest: Secretary James Geurts, Assistant Secretary of the Navy

Host: Lieutenant Bobby Dixon

Record Date: May 29, 2020


LT. DIXON:  Welcome to the 18th episode of “On the Horizon: Navigating the European and African Theaters.” In this episode, Admiral Foggo talks about how the U.S. Navy sailed under waters it hasn't sailed into for 35 years and he saves the best for last, a conversation with Mr. Jim "Hondo" Geurts, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisitions. The two leaders discuss present and future technologies that will help the Navy face any adversary or challenge we face like COVID-19. 


LT DIXON: It is good to be back with you Admiral as it has been a while since our last conversation.  I hope you and Mrs. Foggo have been doing well.

ADM FOGGO:  Hey, Bobby, great to be back and we have been doing well.  We have survived this period of uncertainty of the coronavirus and we're looking forward to getting back to a new normal.

LT. DIXON:  Well, sir, thank you so much and for now we have some great news.  European countries are starting to lift some restrictions and open up as countries like Spain and Italy lift restrictions.  I understand the Navy Command of Facilities in Europe and Africa will follow a measured approach, ensuring the safety of our service members, civilians, dependents and host communities. As we adjust our work and personal lives due to coronavirus, the Navy hasn't stopped operating and providing deterrence.

ADM. FOGGO:  Bobby, you're absolutely right and because of COVID-19 we've adjusted how we move our sailors around this theater, keeping them, their families and our allies and partners safe and as isolated as possible from the coronavirus, as hard as that is to do. That said, we've taken some very prudent measures to ensure the safety of our sailors, civilians and families and our host nation communities.  We're doing our part to reduce the community spread of the coronavirus.

LT. DIXON:  And sir, I've heard around the staff the phrase "open for business."  Can you help our listeners know what we mean when we say the Navy here in Europe is open for business?

ADM. FOGGO:  So, Lieutenant Dixon, "open for business" basically means that our Navy, no matter what the circumstances, will provide maritime security where and when it's needed. No matter how tough this thing, the coronavirus, gets, we just can't let our guard down.  Our adversaries are not going to take a knee.  Earlier this week, Russian fighter aircraft conducted an unsafe and unprofessional intercept of one of our Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft operating in international airspace in the Eastern Mediterranean. This is the third unsafe intercept this year.  These types of intercepts put pilots, their crews and the aircraft in danger.  It's irresponsible and unnecessary behavior.  As I've said many times in my tenure here in Europe, if Russia wants to be considered a global power, they need to act responsibly in international airspace.

In addition to our aircraft operating in the Eastern Mediterranean, however, we had a destroyer in the Black Sea working with our Romanian allies, as well as a destroyer in the Baltic Sea and a third in the Atlantic. Likewise, during this period, USS Harry S. Truman came through the Mediterranean and operated with our allies and partners before returning to the United States, I might add, COVID-free.  So there you have it. We're operating in three different seas, all at roughly the same time, with destroyers in transition presence of an aircraft carrier strike group. 

Finally, we conducted operations from air defense exercises to maritime steaming alongside the Italians in the Med, the French and the Spanish in the Atlantic and our British allies in the Norwegian, North, and Barents Sea.  We've been pretty busy.

LT. DIXON:  Wow, sir.  So, if I may recap for our audience, we conducted exercises and operations with our NATO allies and partners over the past few months, all the while ensuring to keep our sailors and their families safe. And just before the 75th VE Day, our ships and a key ally were operating in a location we haven't operated in for three decades.  What can you tell us about this event?

ADM. FOGGO:  Well it was pretty exciting.  We sent a Surface Action Group, or a SAG, as we call it in the Navy, to the Barents Sea to assert our right to freedom of navigation and to conduct maritime security operations. This was the first time in 35 years, Bobby that we've operated in the Barents.  Just as important as operating the Barents Sea, however, is that we didn't go alone.  The Royal Navy Frigate, the HMS Kent, joined our Surface Action Group, which included three guided missile destroyers from FDNF Rota, USS Porter, USS Donald Cook and USS Roosevelt, our newest addition to the team, and the fast combat supply ship, USNS Supply.

So Lieutenant Dixon, while in the midst of a global pandemic our Navy showcased its agility and our ability to operate anywhere we need to.  We chose the location and the time of this Surface Action Group's operations.  That's what I mean when we say we're open for business. So we're seeing the importance of presence as we work together to fight the coronavirus pandemic with our allies and partners.  Countries look to the United States for help and leadership and when they do, our allies and our partners see the U.S. Navy on the horizon in Europe and Africa, providing the deterrence needed during these very uncertain times.

LT. DIXON:  Thank you, sir.  And for our second segment of the podcast, we have a special guest on the phone all the way from Washington DC, Assistant Secretary to the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisitions, Mr. James Geurts, who is responsible for equipping and supporting our U.S. Navy sailors and Marines throughout the world with the platforms and systems in technology. Mr. Secretary, welcome to the show.

SEC. GEURTS:  Hey, it's great, thanks for having me here.

LT. DIXON:  And sir, for our audience, can we get to know you better and can you tell us about your role there in the Pentagon and your focus?

SEC. GEURTS:  So probably the most you know about me is I've got an 18 inch neck.  I think I may be one of the only people who did a military career at CS and now a political appointee in kind of three different services.  Acquisition all my life but I really see myself as a pulling guard.  Big guy with a big neck, loves to make holes for teams to run through and then watch them hit the end zone.

So it's been an absolute pleasure and really an amazing opportunity through the career to put tools in the hands of our, in this case, Sailors and Marines and just watch the amazing things they can do, whether it was, you know, in this job or in Special Operations in my last job or in the Air Force.  I'm always amazed, the creativity, the ingenuity, the bravery, the courage of our folks out on the edge.  When you can enable them, it's amazing what can happen. And so that's my job here in the Pentagon.  Anything to do with new technology, acquisition programs, ship-building, sustainment, it's all about enabling that force to do the amazing things that they do and carry the heavy weight that the nation puts on their shoulders.

ADM. FOGGO:  Hey, that's some amazing stuff, Secretary Geurts. I want to thank you very much for taking the time to be with us today.  You've got a really impressive background.  I know you've been doing great things and hitting the ball out of the park for Navy Research, Development and Acquisition in your position and a storied career as a Special Operator, particularly with the United States Air Force. So we're thrilled that you're able to do this with us today, to share your thoughts on agility, mobility, flexibility and the new dynamic nature of the force, both manned and unmanned.  You know, back in DC a couple of months ago before the coronavirus, we talked about all of the great work your team is doing at NavalX.  And I went over to the place you call the Garden during the day, I met some of these incredibly dynamic characters like Mohawk Matt and your team and we talked a lot about innovative solutions for the United States Navy as we do what we do around the world. And then, you know, when the coronavirus broke, you recall, I called you up and I said, Hey, we could use some help.  We've got 3D printers, can we make N95 masks?  And you went to work on that. So with that, sir, can you expand on any of those things that you're doing, and why you're doing it?

SEC. GEURTS:  Yes, Jamie, it's a great point and appreciate your engagement.  You know, one of the things I've learned over time, really, you know, cemented in me, you know, in the early days of the war with Stan McChrystal and all the things there was, any time we can close down the distance between, you know, the end operator and then the technologist and the business folks, we do better.

When we can move away from transactional, you know, somebody works on requirements and they hand it over the fence, and then somebody works on the contract and they hand it over the fence and I'm sure you've been the victim of, you know, something somebody's working on for years and years, was interesting but irrelevant to the problems you had. But they were you know, they were proud because they were working hard and they should be proud, they worked hard, they were just you know, we had lost kind of the focus.

And so one of the goals, coming in to the Navy, that I thought where we had opportunity was figuring out how to close that distance down, and make it easier, if a sailor had a problem and they needed to go find a solution, having them figure out where in the Navy infrastructure that would, that's a hard job, takes a lot of time and, quite frankly, they're busy.

If you're a new company and you have an idea but can't afford to hire a bunch of, you know, retired military people as business development, if you have to go figure it all out, you're not going to take the time because you're a busy person.

And so part of what I'm trying to do with NavalX and all these Tech Bridges, is really lower the barrier to get from idea to somebody who cares, or a need to somebody who can service that. And it turns out if you could do that well, then we really get to leverage one of our competitive advantages, and that's our diversity, right?  The more different folks you can bring to look at a problem, the better ideas and the better solutions you're going to get. And we've got all the raw material.  My sense in the Navy, it just wasn't accessible and we were re-learning the same thing, over and over, which takes a lot of time. You know, one thing about me, I'm not that smart, and I’m a hell of a poacher, right?

The fastest way, and that is why SOCOM could do things fast, we had great relationships and we would take an idea or a product or a different way of doing business quickly, and bring it into the field. So that's what I'm trying to help promote.  The Navy has got awesome ideas, we've got great ideas out there in the fleet, we've got good ideas in our warfare centers, and we’ve got good ideas from folks that want to help us.  We just made it really hard for those ideas to actually get to anybody that could help out.

ADM. FOGGO:  Outstanding, sir.  And you know, we talked about Tech Bridges.  And I read some articles recently, particularly U.S. Naval Institute, about six new Tech Bridges that you've established, how you're going to expand our network across the fleet and into industry and acquisition, and then give people a chance to come in who have these great ideas that otherwise may not make it past, you know, the front door. So what's your plan with the tech bridges? 

SEC. GEURTS:  And so you know, one of the things I saw abundance of was lots of great ideas, lots of great small companies who want to help us.  But we weren't making it easy for them to connect to us. So the Tech Bridge idea is, you know, if there's an area, you know, a fleet concentration area or a technology area or maybe where we have a warfighting center, just creating a place where all those come together, and make it easy to walk in the door.  And you can walk in a door with a problem, you can walk in with an idea. And so we started with one Tech Bridge, then we went to six.  Last month, we doubled it to 12.  And what we're looking for are those areas around the country where we've got the nexus of the fleet, of warfare centers and technology development, and then what's happening at the state and local level.

What NavalX does with all those bridges, is connect them together.  And so the idea is, if you think of it as a network, and we want to operate innovation at network speed.  And so you've got to have lots of different nodes, and you've got to make it easy to access those nodes. So NavalX now connects up that network, and so that you know, an idea that may pop into a Tech Bridge in San Diego that could solve a problem in Portsmouth, now can travel there at network speed not at, you know, does somebody know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody, to get it there.

You know, one of the things where we're seeing great innovation is in our naval shipyards.  You know, historically, if you had a great idea or you had a need, you know, at, say, Puget Sound at the naval shipyard there, to get to the Office of Naval Research, you know, not only is it 3,000 miles, it's probably the similar distance, organizationally, kind of between here and the moon. And so breaking down that organizational distance so that now, we've got $30 million of small business innovative research that is focused just on bringing new technology into our naval shipyards, which then allows us to maintain ships better and faster and cheaper, which then supports the fleet.

Where I think we still have opportunity to go is, tying soldier or sailor needs to that for them to recognize there is this whole network there to support them, and that's where I see things moving forward is creating those relationships so that, you know, as you said and COVID was a great example.  You called me with a need, I've got an enterprise that could engage.  They did, and we could solve a problem. We need to now do that across the entire fleet, and you know, thicken our relationships up with the fleet so they understand this whole enterprise that they're in support of.

ADM. FOGGO:  Hey, absolutely fantastic.  I deal with NATO, I'm calling you right now from NATO headquarters. Partners and allies, we've got 30 allies, 41 partners.  I assume that because of the way you structured this, there's probably rules about who gets Small Business Innovation Research loans and American companies. But if a partner or an ally from another nation or an enterprise had a good idea, would you entertain that idea at NavalX?

SEC. GEURTS:  Yes, absolutely.  I spent a lot of time with the first and second sea lords in the U.K., we share our business, and you know, best practices.  They're creating and we've learned from them, they're learning from us. The two best traits in the world for me are I call bold humility, right?  Humble enough to know that you probably don't have the best answer and that it's okay that somebody else has got a better answer that you can use, but be bold in action and bold in creating relationships.  That's part of what we're trying to promote culturally.

And so, yes, either, you know, with the NATO Innovation Group, we're tied in with them, we're tied in with a number of our allied countries.  The Navy is DOD's leader in cooperative development programs.  It's not like a foreign military sale where we sell something to them, we actually develop technologies and capabilities together.  And so certainly, innovations that sit in any of these other spots are primed to be integrated into that concept.

ADM. FOGGO:  That's absolutely fantastic, sir, And I know we only have a little bit of time left.  I wanted to kind of go down and rapid-fire some of the coolest things that are out with there you and get your thoughts. 

A few days ago we saw articles about directed energy weapon systems on amphibious ships like USS Portland in the Pacific theater; magnificent picture of this shot.  Can you tell us a little bit more about that from your seat as ASNRDA and what you see for directed energy in the future?

SEC. GEURTS:  Yes, you know, again, proud of the team working hard there, and that's just one of many projects, right?  And again, part of this is, how do you change the game?  And then, when you're in a competitive game, you know, you've got to be able to act fast and get your enemy reacting to your action, not you chasing your enemy.  And if you think of what directed energy brings to the table, suddenly now I can save missiles for offensive tasks.  I don't need to, you know, save them all for defensive tasks.

You know, one of the unique things about the Ford is it has three times the power of Nimitz.  And so if you think in the future of carriers and insuring we can keep carriers, you know, operationally and safe, man that power can do some amazing things, as you saw in that video clip.

ADM. FOGGO:  Absolutely fantastic.  Speaking of Ford, great to see seven carriers at sea.  You know, can you tell us any more about Ford and how we're doing there?  I've watched very carefully as you've put everything back together and guided the ship out.

SEC. GEURTS:  Yes, no, I can't be prouder.  And again, when I talk about closing down distance between, you know, operator, acquisition folks, industrial partner, you know, Ford's been a great example over the last 18 months and how we've done that. You know, COVID's tough; sailors are tougher, right?  We have not missed a beat on Ford on COVID.  That ship is out to sea over 50 percent of the time.  It's currently the only carrier on the East Coast qualifying new aviators on deck, and it's out there knocking it out.

They're doing cyclic ops with the airwing.  We had just given the crew the lower elevator so they could bring weapons up from the ammo and do the full cycle of operations. You know, first, of anything's really hard, you've got to invent the training.  You've got to invent, you know, procedures.  You've got to work through all that stuff.  You know, first of anything is really hard.  Those guys are rocking it.  I couldn't be more proud of that combined team.

You know, what's also a little amazing is we've got 200 to 300 shipbuilders out there working on elevators while it's at sea.  Those are some super-dedicated shipbuilders.  There are about 130 percent ahead of plan.  They're just rocking it across the board.  So great team effort there.

ADM. FOGGO:  That's fantastic.  Well, I sent, when I was Sixth Fleet commander after just after I left here to go back and be director of Navy staff, I sent my aide-de-camp to the ship as one of the shooters with EMALS, and I used to ask him about it, and he was really excited about electromagnetic-assisted launch, and it sounds like with that being the only carrier out there doing deck quals for the new aviators, it's a win.

SEC. GEURTS:  Yes, they're over, I think, over 3,000 cats in traps. And for all you aviators out there, I don't think we've had an EMALS launch that's been less than a half a knot off prescribed at launch. And so for any of you that've been around long enough, you know, to do 3,000 of those shows you the kind of capability that's going to really bring to bear here. 

ADM. FOGGO:  Well sir, we're really excited about the FFG(X) also, so the frigate, I'm really excited about this design that you have undertaken, and can you tell our listeners a little bit about that?

SEC. GEURTS:  Yes, I mean, it's going to be an awesome ship. A great thing in frigate is we changed our internal process here in the Navy where we had a much more integrated requirements acquisition team than we've ever had before; shaved six years off of that program by getting in this integrative process versus a transactional one.  And what you're going to get out of it is going to be a kick-ass frigate. 

You know, it's big.  It's almost the size of a DDG-51 in terms of size, which means it's got a lot of room to grow.  We talked about directed energy.  It's going to have an Aegis combat system on it.  It's going to have, what we're hoping for is nimbleness and agility of a frigate class with the firepower that we've been able to demonstrate on a number of other combat systems. And so, if I'm a competitor looking at that, that one's going to create some real challenges for them, and that's exactly what we wanted.

ADM. FOGGO:  Absolutely perfect, and perfect for the missions that we have out here, and we hope that we'll get some either forward-deployed or stationed in our theater. 

SEC. GEURTS:  Absolutely.  If they're sitting in port, they're not doing the job for the Navy, so…we aim to get them out there.

ADM. FOGGO:  Fantastic.  Just the last couple questions here.  Can you tell us how you got your call sign, Hondo?


ADM. FOGGO:  Okay.

SEC. GEURTS: As with most good call signs, it has something to do with a dumb act as a junior officer.

ADM. FOGGO:  Got it. 

SEC. GEURTS:  I'll give you that.

ADM. FOGGO:  All right.  And then I know you said you've been affiliated with three services, and so I have to ask, now that you're with the Navy.  Who are you rooting for in the Navy-Air Force game that'll determine the finalist for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy this year?

SEC. GEURTS:  Yes, we'll see.  But most folks probably don't know I had a grandfather in World War II on an oiler out in the Pacific and a daddy was a plank owner on a Rickover sub.  So my parents would say I was confused for 30 years. And actually, in Tampa I ran a charity for an old victory ship that was still up and operational.  So I've got plenty of Navy roots here, but I think the Air Force will probably take care of business.

ADM. FOGGO:  All right, sir.  Thanks very much.  Hey, this has been a terrific opportunity to talk to you about technology integration, interoperability and some of the new platforms that are out there kicking it, and the ones that you're bringing in as designed, so that'll soon be afloat and helping us out here in great power competition throughout the theater.

SEC. GEURTS:  Yes, no, thanks, Jamie, and appreciate all you're doing to help, again, draw us all together.  You know, if we come out of this crisis where we came in, I think that's mission failure, right?  It's how are we experimenting, learning, taking all the things we've figured, you know, figured out here and building the new way of operating where we've got, you know, the output and the resilience. And a big piece of that's connecting up our network and breaking down those kind of barriers we put between organizations.  And I thank you for being a leader and doing that; a great partner as we're working this across the Navy.

ADM. FOGGO:  Hey, thanks a lot, sir.  Thanks for everything you're doing, and out here from Naples.

SEC. GEURTS:  All right, out here.  Thank you.

LT. DIXON: “We hope you have enjoyed this episode of “On the Horizon; Navigating the European and African Theaters.”  Please share the Podcast with your friends and family.  And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. 

Join us next time to hear about what the U.S. Navy is doing throughout Europe and Africa.  Until next time, thank you.










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