When Admiral Bill Gortney, US Navy Commander of the US Fleet Forces Command, spoke at AFCEA West 2014 earlier this year, he knew his peers were probably expecting him to talk about strategy. But that’s not what he’s about.
“Strategy is not in my lane,” he said. ”I do readiness. I produce forces to go forward, anywhere in the world, and fight and win ready on arrival. That’s what I do.”
The conference’s theme “Shaping the Maritime Strategy: How Do We Make It Work?” ran throughout many sessions at the event that week. Gortney’s keynote was no different. Each military branch is experiencing belt-tightening as budgets are trimmed while the Navy is in the middle of a huge shift of capabilities from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Given his position, Gortney knows full well the situation the country’s military branches are facing. He proceeded to explain how he intends to keep the US Navy ready and how he intends to improve that readiness in coming years despite a shrinking budget aimed squarely at that ready fleet.
“The process isn’t going change based on the strategy that’s going to come about, because the strategy is going to be based on the need,” he said. “There’s going to be a need for naval forces—the need for the Navy and Marine Corps to be out and about.”
Despite entering a time of peace, Gortney foresees a greater demand for naval forces throughout the decade. “As we exit wartime and refocus on the Pacific, the demand for naval forces is going to be even greater than it is today,” he said.
According to Gortney, the transition of military forces to the Pacific has been in progress for a while. “I think the Navy has never stopped focusing on the Pacific in those 12 years of combat,” he said. “We continue to send our very best. We have most of our Navy migrating to the Pacific, and so we have never stopped.”
Gortney said he was relieved to see the intellectual shift inside Washington, DC. “For the last 12 years, they have been rightfully focused on fighting and winning the wars that we’re in,” he said. “Now that intellectual focus is on the Pacific, the critical part of the world that we know we’re going to be heavily engaged in.”
The Demand for Right-Sizing Naval Forces
Gortney pointed out that naval forces and forward-deployed naval component commanders are historically successful at phase zero and phase one of operations.
“We actually size our headquarters—forward-deployed headquarters—at phase zero and phase one,” he said. “We live there; we work with our partner nations out there. The challenge of that is we’re not sized to go bigger than that. We’re sized for phase zero and phase one, and so our manpower and our size aren’t sized to go to the phase two and phase three.”
Gortney noted that the Navy is the first on the scene of any international crisis. “We will continue to be rushed to crisis, because we go there and we have the ability to bring the threat of relevant combat power to bear to stop the crisis and de-escalate it,” he said. “Or, if necessary, take it to the next level, and our leadership doesn’t have to ask permission to use it.”
No matter where those future crises occur, Gortney’s is going to have his Navy ready. “What about the world out there? I have no idea where those crises are going to be. All I know is that when I turn out those forces, they have to be able to fight and win at the high end,” he said. “We don’t have the size of the Navy that we used to. We’re not going to have the time to ramp up in training. Our surge Navy is already forward deployed.”
After having made his point about readiness, Gortney did address strategy after all. “Regardless of what the strategy is going to do, I know in the production of readiness and this training of naval forces that however it’s going to be, the missions that we’re going to have to be able to perform, and the standards that they have to be trained to, will not change,” he said. “We’re not the first leaders to go through an economic downturn in our budget coming out of a major conflict.”
“So we have two potential courses of action as we work with this: We can sit around and we can complain, or we can lead,” he said. “We’re choosing to lead.”
Now, About That Secret Sauce
The most important element Gortney said the US Navy has at its disposal now and throughout the rest of the decade is the well-trained men and woman of the naval ranks.
“They are our secret weapon. When we stir in the sauce on top of them, which is training, they are our most capable people,” he said. “We take the very best of the youth of America, give them the proper training, and I tell you, they do amazing things.”