The guided-missile cruiser USS Vicksburg maneuvers alongside the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise while underway in the Atlantic Ocean.

The guided-missile cruiser USS Vicksburg maneuvers alongside the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise while underway in the Atlantic Ocean. (Harry Andrew D. Gordon/U.S. Navy)

WASHINGTON — A new plan released Monday by the Navy’s top officer lays out the priorities for the service in the next decade in order for the U.S. to maintain its military advantage at sea over China and Russia.

“I don't mean to be dramatic, but I feel like if the Navy loses its head, if we go off course, and really take our eyes off those things we need to focus on with respect to readiness, capabilities, capacity, and sailors, I think we may not be able to recover in this century, based on the trajectory that the Chinese are on right now,” said Adm. Michael Gilday, the chief of naval operations.

The Navy released its “navigation plan,” a road map of the top four priorities that Gilday said he believes the service must focus on in the next decade. The plan comes as a supplement to last month’s Tri-Service Maritime Strategy, which also raised concerns about a rapidly growing Chinese fleet — the primary long-term threat for the Navy, according the plan. That strategy also points to Russia’s aggressive behavior and the need for the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard to prioritize alliances and partnerships and be more assertive in day-to-day competition.

The four priorities in the navigation plan to meet the needs of sea control and projecting naval power in the next decade are investing in the training and education of sailors and eliminating bias and prejudice, readiness by making certain ship maintenance is done on time, capabilities by investing in cyber and intelligence as well as weapons such as lasers that can defeat anti-ship cruise missiles, and capacity with a large hybrid fleet comprised of manned and unmanned ships.

America is a maritime country that follows a rules-based order at sea set after World War II and it is growing more dependent on trade, energy, and communication systems that come via the sea, Gilday said.

“Now more than ever, our lives and our livelihoods literally float on seawater. But now this order and our collective security is under threat. Today, China and Russia are undermining the free and the open conditions at sea. Optimism that they might become responsible partners has given way to the realization that they are determined rivals,” he said during the plan’s announcement Monday at the Surface Naval Association’s 33rd National Symposium, which is being held virtually this week.

The navigation plan emphasizes the Navy’s primary roles of control on the sea and projecting naval power forward across the world, and how the service’s planning for training, equipment, and personnel must meet the needs of those roles, Gilday said.

“If it doesn't drive us to a place where we can better control the seas and project power, we ought to question why we're making that investment. We ought to think about divesting, because it's not core to what we really need to do. There are ships that we've invested in in the past, or capabilities that we've invested in in the past, that haven't necessarily enhanced our ability to do those two fundamental missions,” he said.

The Navy is looking to divest itself of older littoral combat ships because they “don’t bring lethality to the fight any longer,” Gilday said. The service is looking to move to lighter amphibious warships, he said.

Gilday said he’s releasing the plan now because the Navy has to prioritize what it will invest in for the next decade.

“So there will be fiscal uncertainties in the future, no doubt about that. There always is. But we have to have our priorities right… And so the [navigation] plan reflects what I really believe, and even in a budget constrained environment, priorities will be important.” he said. Twitter: @caitlinmkenney

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