WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy’s top officer released his first planning guidance Wednesday, the first major document released since ascending to the office earlier this year.

The guidance from Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday retained the “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority” moniker from the previous CNO, Adm. John Richardson, though it is shorter and more streamlined than the previous design.

Eschewing the color-coded “lines of effort” in Richardson’s design, Gilday breaks down his version into three subheads: “Warfighting,” “Warfighters” and “Future Navy.”

Here are five takeaways from the document:

1) Readiness is king. The first priority listed under the “Warfighting” subhead is to improve ship maintenance and modernization.

“As we have learned over the past decade, it is cheaper to maintain readiness than to buy it back,” Gilday writes. “Our toughest near-term challenge is reversing the trend of delivering only 40% of our ships from maintenance on time.

“As the fleet ages, we must continue to invest deliberately to modernize our weapons, sensors, and platforms to outpace adversary trends.”

Gilday’s guidance includes an order to Naval Sea Systems Command to develop a plan and report back to him in 60 days with ways to improve and sustain the maintenance industrial base, and to target an 80 percent reduction in days lost to depot maintenance extensions in 2020.

The Navy’s deployment plan, the Optimized Fleet Response Plan, which governs the entire life cycle of a ship and its crew, is also in the crosshairs. The guidance orders Fleet Forces Command to makes sure the plan provides enough time in maintenance, provides adequate forces to meet the deployment requirements and reserves enough readiness to respond to a crisis. Fleet Forces must respond by January.

Adm. Michael Gilday arrives for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
Adm. Michael Gilday arrives for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

2) Ambitious war-fighting goals. The guidance spends much of its time dwelling on ambitious goals, such as connecting the Navy’s assets on a fleet tactical grid that will allow the force to operate in a more distributed manner over a larger area. The concepts will be proved out in large-scale exercises, which the Navy will execute annually, the guidance adds.

“These exercises and experiments will inform doctrine and tactics; future fleet headquarters requirements, capacity, and size; and investments in future platforms and capabilities,” Gilday writes. “As we develop our plans for future [large-scale exercises], we will leverage experience from Combatant Command, Joint, and other service exercises to better prepare the Navy to integrate, support, and lead the Joint Force in a future fight.”

The concept also call for a heavier emphasis on space, cyber and electronic warfare, as well as integrating more special operations into the way the Navy fights.

3) More advanced training. The guidance goes into some detail on the kinds of training the Navy should pursue, including more live-virtual constructive training, which uses computer simulations to integrate synthetic tracks into real-time sensors to give operators a more lifelike experience in training. The guidance also calls for a continued push toward what the Navy terms as “ready, relevant learning,” or using more technology to get sailors trained faster with the skills they need right away, and eschewing extras that may not be part of their everyday job.

It also calls on integrating more training on decision-making science into leadership development.

“Improved decision-making — from the deckplates to the Flag Bridge — is a decisive advantage in stressful conditions, particularly during combat,” Gilday writes. “Further, the quality of decision-making by our leaders enables successful mission command.”

The Virginia-class fast-attack submarine Texas off the coast of Ketchikan, Alaska. (Kelley Stirling/U.S. Navy)
The Virginia-class fast-attack submarine Texas off the coast of Ketchikan, Alaska. (Kelley Stirling/U.S. Navy)

4. Sub-loving SWO. If surface warfare officers thought the SWO CNO would back off on the recent emphasis on undersea warfare, they were wrong. The first two priorities under “Future Navy” are to field the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine and to “maintain mastery of the undersea domain.” Listed third is to maintain strong forward presence with the carrier fleet.

The guidance continues that the Navy must continue to invest in longer-range precision strike capabilities, and do so through an integrated approach alongside the Marine Corps. And, in short, the Navy must be oriented toward offense, a shift away from the defensive posture taken post Cold War, which focused on protecting the carrier as the main strike weapon.

“We will have an offensive capability from first contact,” Gilday writes. “We will re-examine our force structure and 30-year shipbuilding plans through continuous, integrated assessment with the Marine Corps to define and develop the platforms — both manned and unmanned — needed to provide overwhelming fires to fleet commanders. These capabilities will establish maritime superiority when and where needed.”

5. Cheaper is a must. The focus on fielding cheaper ways to defend ships is nonnegotiable, Gilday writes, meaning that he will continue to push toward directed energy and electronic warfare as a means of bringing down the cost.

“We have developed exquisite defensive capabilities that have a very high cost-per-shot, designed to defeat threats with a very low cost-per-shot,” Gilday writes. “In an era of constrained budgets and facing competitors with similarly sized economies, and with the low barriers to entry presented by rapid technological development, we must be exceptionally disciplined in allocating resources to improve the offensive power and defensive strength of the fleet.”