Tune in to the U.S. Naval Institute Annual Meeting on 30 April at 4:00pm EDT to hear live remarks from Admiral Foggo followed by audience questions. Registration and details on joining the webcast are at www.usni.org/annualmeeting.
The world currently is gripped in the throes of what may be the most devastating pandemic since the influenza outbreak of 1918. Countries around the globe are fighting the coronavirus, an unseen but dangerous adversary. The number of cases—and fatalities—is growing exponentially, with the United States and NATO allies being particularly hard hit. The rapid spread of this virus, aided by our hyperconnected world, highlights a new domain of warfare—the pandemic. Even as we work to defeat COVID-19, we must be mindful that we may be entering a new era of pandemics, either introduced unwittingly or weaponized by enemies seeking to inflict damage. To protect our national security, we must improve our ability to fight pandemics—germs, the seventh domain of warfare.
In this new domain our great Navy will be challenged to adapt its warfighting skills, combining traditional elements of combat with innovative thinking to defeat an adversary unlike any we have seen in recent decades. Agile forces must be as ready to provide humanitarian assistance as they are to engage in traditional combat. As always, our brave men and women in uniform will be on the front lines—fighting the virus and rendering assistance all while maintaining combat readiness should an enemy attempt to exploit the pandemic. Our Navy must be on high alert. As Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday has noted, everyone has a role—no one sits on the bench.
Pandemics are not new; viruses and diseases have long plagued mankind. The World Health Organization defines a pandemic as “the worldwide spread of a new disease.” Left unsaid in this simple, geographic definition is the potentially devastating impact on human and economic security. The most devastating pandemic was the second Bubonic Plague—commonly referred to as the Black Death—that killed nearly 25 million people in 14th century Europe, or nearly a third of the population. In more modern times, the influenza pandemic of 1918–19, also known as the Spanish Flu, inflicted far more fatalities than did the combat of World War I. Troops suffered tremendous losses from this unseen enemy, with 121,225 Navy and Marine Corps patients admitted at naval medical facilities in 1918 alone. Of those, 4,158 died, and sick patients accumulated more than one million sick days in the facilities—a daunting loss of manpower. By the end of the 1918–19 pandemic, more than 5,000 sailors had lost their lives to this invisible adversary. More than 36,000 Army soldiers succumbed to the influenza before reaching the battlefields in France, with more than 12,000 dying on troop transports. The global impact on civilians and military forces alike was devastating.
We are again facing a dangerous adversary. Germs can invade and occupy the biosphere in which we live and operate. This is a lethal and unseen enemy, for which there are no rules of engagement or treaties. There is no “due regard” for “collateral damage.” It attacks both combatants and noncombatants—men, women, and children. We must fight adversaries such as COVID-19 with the same determination we would fight a great power competitor. Pandemics require bold action and flexibility. Our greatest assets are our young men and women in uniform, who are prepared to respond with innovation, perseverance, and tenacity. Confronting a pandemic requires an all-hands approach—we must work with our interagency and host-nation partners to leverage mutual strengths to stem the spread of the virus, while offering our support to those in need. Yet we must be mindful of our operational readiness, retaining the ability to respond immediately if challenged in another domain of warfare.
As Commander, Naval Forces Europe–Africa, and Commander, Allied Joint Force Command Naples, I have witnessed the immense impact of COVID-19 during the outbreak here in my theater. As I lead the fight against the coronavirus from my Naples Headquarters, I am mindful that this may become a new form of warfare. I want to share some of the lessons we have learned and offer thoughts on how we might better prepare for the next pandemic.
Protect the Force. My top priority is to ensure the health and safety of the force. In the face of a pandemic, commands must immediately implement creative solutions that allow operations to continue. Yet there is no single solution—a warship cannot sail with one-third manning, though that may allow a headquarters staff to operate. Ashore, we need to optimize telework procedures and confront bandwidth issues reminiscent of limited shipboard capabilities. At sea, our ships and submarines are designed to be self-sufficient, but we need to exercise this capability to ensure sustainability. We can learn from the 1918–19 influenza, where the hardest hit U.S. ship was the USS Pittsburgh (ACR-4), with more than 58 deaths and 663 crew infected. The captain had allowed normal liberty and working parties ashore in Rio under the premise that the lethal flu strain was not yet in the city. Consequently, the Pittsburgh was unable to get under way or perform any missions for more than a month, highlighting the vulnerabilities ashore for afloat units. Commanders must look carefully at how to best protect the force while being mission capable—and we must stand ready.
Continuity of fleet operations. Although we face a formidable adversary, we must be aware that other adversaries or near-peer competitors may seek to leverage a pandemic for nefarious purposes. Just last week, the Russians conducted two unsafe and unprofessional intercepts of our Poseidon P-8 aircraft operating in international airspace over the eastern Mediterranean. But we continue our message of deterrence and demonstrate our unwavering abilities to defend if necessary. We sailed the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group through the theater. We have three guided-missile destroyers operating throughout the European theater—from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean to the Black Sea—over the past month, partnering with France, Italy, Lithuania, and the United Kingdom. We sent a powerful message: We are open for business. We are seeing the importance of presence and partnership, as we work together to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries look to the United States for help and leadership.
Solidarity with allies & partners. I have witnessed the devastating impact of COVID-19 on our host nation. Though particularly hard hit, Italy is not alone in fighting this deadly virus. We stand in solidarity with our host nation even as the United States and other NATO allies work to fight the virus at home. Yet you cannot surge trust; our ability to fight with our allies and partners is cultivated from strong relationships built during peacetime and forged through the fires of conflict.
Do no harm. We must learn from the mistakes of the 1918–19 influenza pandemic and ensure we do not exacerbate the spread of a virus. History is replete with examples of devastating diseases multiplying in military bases and on board ships, only to be spread by those sailors and soldiers. Contagions can spread rapidly in a shipboard environment, and the greatest care must be given to ensuring we do not further contribute to the globalization of a pandemic. At my commands in Naples, we have worked expeditiously to understand the virus and how to implement appropriate protocols to prevent the spread on our ships and within our community—and beyond. We are respecting the decrees of our host nation, and it is incumbent on leaders to understand how host-nation restrictions can affect operations and staffing by limiting movement of personnel. Our highest priority must be the protection of the force and the host-nation communities in which we live.
Communicate early and often. These are unprecedented times for most of us, and it is essential to remain open and transparent with sailors, DoD civilians, families, and, as in the case of my headquarters here in Naples, our host-nation partners. We must ensure teammates understand what they need to do and what to expect in terms of base services, support, and host-nation decrees. This happens through a variety of means, such as virtual town halls, fragmentary orders, ad hoc notifications, all-hands emails, frequent social media updates, and daily flag meetings. Doing so enables the entire community to understand the situation and its role in this battle. We must all contribute to the fight while also demonstrating solidarity with our allies and partners.
Rely on Experts. Pandemics require a robust cadre of medical professionals and public health experts. Our medical team—from the base hospital staff to our force medical officer to the Navy Surgeon General—all have been tremendous assets as we worked to determine the best measures to put in place. We should further cultivate experts on pandemics within the force, so they can provide timely and critical information to ensure we protect the health and readiness of the force.
Leverage other domains. Exercise Trident Juncture in 2018 taught me that logistics are the sixth domain of warfare, the Achilles heel of any military force. When fighting pandemics, the logistical capabilities of the force are paramount. When global airlift capacity is required, services do best by pooling resources. Skilled logistics leaders will rapidly identify flexible supply chains to keep the force at the highest level of readiness despite the loss of traditional supply routes.
We must also leverage cyber domain advantages as we seek to minimize spread of the virus. COVID-19 has taught us that we can indeed function through minimally manned headquarters. We must set the conditions early to ensure success in fighting across a dispersed organization. Sailors must have versatile technology that will enable them to remain connected—whether in the office or fighting from home. The rapid response and creative thinking of our communications team was critical in ensuring our sailors could work remotely. Innovative solutions will yield a force that remains fit to fight.
Prepare for humanitarian assistance early. As we have seen with COVID-19, pandemics can be devastating. The U.S. military is uniquely suited to respond quickly and effectively to those in the greatest need. We have tremendous abilities to rapidly move medical supplies, set up and man field hospitals, and perform myriad other functions. The Navy has employed two hospital ships, the Comfort (T-AH-20) and Mercy (T-AH-19), to provide medical aid—a unique capability that should be rapidly leveraged in future pandemics as well. Yet we must also be mindful of the potential need to redeploy these assets if there is greater need elsewhere—whether because of conflict or greater humanitarian crisis.
“Exercise, Exercise, Exercise.” Bill Gates foresaw this pandemic in his 2015 TED Talk – “GERMX.” We need be prepared, to start having our own GERMEXES, just as we have table-top exercises and composite training unit exercises. The Naval War College, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab had a remarkable war game in September, Urban Outbreak 2019, in which they examined infectious disease outbreak response.
The Navy is exceptional at training sailors to confront future challenges. We drill early and often for crisis and war. Sailors perform countless drills to sharpen their skills to fight fires, shore up flooding, down enemy missiles, or thwart asymmetric threats. We have honed skills in every domain, but we must improve our abilities to respond to pandemics. From dusting off old contingency plans to implementing drills and ensuring excess capacity of personal protective equipment and sanitation supplies, we must accept that pandemics may become a new norm. Operational plans need to incorporate pandemic plans.
Stay calm and carry on. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt so eloquently captured, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” We must treat pandemics as we do any other warfighting problem. Our sailors must be able to trust their training and know that they have the tools to respond and win against any adversary.
As I have learned firsthand from command here in Naples, the military is uniquely positioned to confront enemies such as COVID-19. The Navy offers tremendous value in its ability to maintain presence and act as a deterrent if isolated at sea from pandemics ashore. We are entering a new era of warfare where pandemics may feature more prominently. Increased globalization and the potential for bioweaponization make it vital to ensure we are prepared to fight in this new, seventh domain of warfare. Now and into the future, the Navy must protect the force, stand ready to confront any adversary, and contribute to homeland defense. The onus is on us to prepare for the next pandemic even as we are battling COVID-19. We will be tested again—but the next pandemic may demand our force balances a fight against an invisible adversary as well as a traditional one.