Mar 20, 2023

60 Minutes: Is the Navy ready? How the U.S. is preparing amid a naval buildup in China Transcript

60 Minutes: Is the Navy ready? How the U.S. is preparing amid a naval buildup in China Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsChina60 Minutes: Is the Navy ready? How the U.S. is preparing amid a naval buildup in China Transcript

China has spent the last 20 years building the biggest navy in the world. As tensions with that country continue to rise, Norah O’Donnell boarded the USS Nimitz to report on the U.S. Navy’s readiness. Read the transcript here.

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Host (00:01):

The United States Navy helped secure victory in two world wars and the Cold War. Today, the Navy remains a formidable fighting force, but even officers within the service have questioned its readiness. While the US spent 20 years fighting land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon watched China, its greatest geopolitical rival of the 21st century, build the largest navy in the world. China has threatened to use that Navy to invade Taiwan, an important American ally. As tensions with China continue to rise, we wanted to know more about the current state of the US Navy and how it’s trying to deter China while preparing for the possibility of war.

Speaker 2 (00:46):

The story will continue in a moment.

Samuel Paparo (00:55):

The Navy’s always on alert. One third of the Navy is always deployed and operating at all times. The Navy’s mustering right now about 300 ships and there are about 100 ships at sea right now all around the globe.

Host (01:09):

Admiral Samuel Paparo commands the US Pacific Fleet, whose 200 ships and 150,000 sailors and civilians make up 60% of the entire US Navy. We met him last month on the aircraft carrier, USS Nimitz, deployed near the US territory of Guam, southeast of Taiwan, and the People’s Republic of China or PRC.

You’ve been operating as a naval officer for 40 years. How has operating in the Western Pacific changed?

Samuel Paparo (01:40):

In the early 200s, the PRC Navy mustered about 37 vessels. Today, they’re mustering 350 vessels.

Host (01:50):

This month, China’s new foreign minister, Qin Gang, delivered a stern warning to the US. He said that, if Washington does not change course and its stance towards China, conflict and confrontation is inevitable.

This past August, when then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi became the most senior US political figure to visit Taiwan in 25 years, China called it a blatant provocation. The People’s Liberation Army fired ballistic missiles into the sea around Taiwan and encircled the island with aircraft and warships.

So are Chinese warships now operating closer to Taiwan after Nancy Pelosi’s visit?

Samuel Paparo (02:32):


Host (02:35):

The best guess anyone has about China’s ultimate intentions for Taiwan comes from the CIA. According to its intelligence assessment, China’s President, Xi Jinping, has ordered the People’s Liberation Army to be prepared to take back the island by force by 2027.

And if China invades Taiwan, what will the US Navy do?

Samuel Paparo (02:57):

It’s a decision of the President of the United States and a decision of the Congress. It’s our duty to be ready for that, but the bulk of the United States Navy will be deployed rapidly to the Western Pacific to come to the aid of Taiwan if the order comes to aid Taiwan in thwarting that invasion.

Host (03:19):

Is the US Navy ready?

Samuel Paparo (03:21):

We are ready, yes. I’ll never admit to being ready enough.

Joe Biden (03:27):

Yes, [inaudible 00:03:28].

Host (03:27):

President Biden has declared four times, including on 60 Minutes, that the US Military would defend Taiwan, which is a democracy and the world’s leading producer of advanced microchips.

Samuel Paparo (03:42):

604, [inaudible 00:03:43].

Host (03:42):

To reach the USS Nimitz, we first traveled to America’s westernmost territory, the Island of Guam in the middle of the Pacific. Guam was taken by Imperial Japan two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. US Marines recaptured it two and a half years later, and the island, about the size of Chicago, became an indispensable strategic foothold in the Western Pacific as it remains today. From Guam, we boarded a Navy C2 Greyhound. The Cold-War-era transport plane takes people and supplies back and forth from land to the carrier. It was a short flight to the ship and an even shorter landing.


Samuel Paparo (04:31):

First cod landing?

Host (04:32):


Samuel Paparo (04:32):

Oh, very nice. Certain operations [inaudible 00:04:35].

Host (04:34):

Before Admiral Paparo rose to lead the Pacific fleet, he flew jets and graduated from the school known as Top Gun.

When you talk about ships, what’s the most powerful in the US Navy?

Samuel Paparo (04:46):

It’s an aircraft carrier and its air wing is capable of 150 strike or air-to-air sorties per day with, at its surge levels, the ability to deliver 900 precision-guided munitions every day and reloadable every night.

Host (05:05):

So even though China now has the largest navy in the world, they don’t have anything like this in terms of aircraft carriers.

Samuel Paparo (05:11):

They do not, but they’re working towards it, and they have two operational aircraft carriers right now.

Host (05:17):

That’s China’s two diesel-fueled carriers to the US’ 11 nuclear-powered ones that can carry a total of about 1,000 attack aircraft, more than the navies of every other nation on earth combined.

David Ash (05:32):

I’ll tell you this, we are here to stay in the South China Sea and in this part of the world, and I think that’s the message that we really want to convey to not only China, but the entire world. We will sail wherever international law allows.

Host (05:46):

Lieutenant Commander David Ash flies in FA18.

Do you get briefed on China’s growing military threat and the progress that their Navy is making?

David Ash (06:00):

Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely, we do, and they are making great progress in a lot of key areas-

Host (06:05):

The Chinese.

David Ash (06:06):

The Chinese are, from a military standpoint.

Host (06:09):

This video from weapons systems officer, Lieutenant Commander Matthew Carlton, shows his FA18 strafing ground targets with a machine gun on a US weapons range near Guam. The pilots on the Nimitz also conduct air-to-air combat or dog fighting drills daily.

How aggressive has China become in the air?

Samuel Paparo (06:35):

Aggressive, and just some examples include unsafe, unprofessional intercepts where they move within single digits of feet of other aircraft, flashing the weapons that they have on board to the air crew of the other aircraft operating in international airspace, maneuvering their aircraft in such a way that denies the ability to turn in one direction. If they’re safe and professional, then there’s no problem. Everybody has the right to fly and sail wherever international law dictates.

Host (07:08):

But the Chinese are pushing that.

Samuel Paparo (07:09):

They are pushing it.

Host (07:11):

China’s increasingly aggressive moves in the Western Pacific, encroaching on territory, Illegal fishing, and building bases in the middle of the South China Sea, have pushed nations like Japan and the Philippines to forge closer military ties to the US. And this past week, Britain, the US, and Australia signed a landmark deal to jointly develop nuclear power to tax submarines to patrol the Pacific.

This is how China and Taiwan appear on most maps. This is how the Chinese Communist Party sees the Western Pacific, including the South and East China Seas from Beijing. Taiwan is the fulcrum in what China’s leaders call the First Island Chain, a constellation of US allies that stretches across its entire coast. Control of Taiwan is the strategic key to unlocking direct access to the Pacific and the sea lanes where about 50% of the world’s commerce gets transported.

China has accused the United States of trying to contain them. What do you say to China?

Samuel Paparo (08:22):

I would say, do you need to be contained? Are you expanding? Are you an expansionist power? To a very great extent, the United States was the champion for China’s rise, and in no way are we seeking to contain China, but we are seeking for them to play by the rules.

Host (08:45):

China’s navy, a branch of the People’s Liberation Army, is now the world’s largest. China is also using its 9,000-mile coastline to rewrite the rules of fighting at sea, as these images from Chinese state media show. Its military has invested heavily in long-range, precision-guided weapons, like the DF21 and DF26, that can be used to target ships. China’s People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force calls them carrier killers and has practiced shooting them at mockups of American ships in the desert that look a lot like the Nimitz.

Since the United States has been operating in the Western Pacific, China’s backyard, they’ve been developing missiles to attack our assets, haven’t they? Specific missiles.

Samuel Paparo (09:37):

Absolutely, yes. First, I’ll say the United States is also a Western Pacific nation.

Host (09:43):


Samuel Paparo (09:44):

So it’s not China’s backyard, it is a free and open Indo-Pacific that encompasses numerous partners and treaty allies. And yes, we have seen them greatly enhance their power projection capability.

Host (10:01):

How much do you worry about the PLA Rocket Force?

Samuel Paparo (10:03):

I worry. I’d be a fool to not worry about. Of course, I worry about the PLA Rocket Force. Of course, I work every single day to develop the tactics and the techniques and the procedures to counter it and to continue to develop the systems that can also defend against them.

Host (10:19):

About how far are we from mainland China?

Samuel Paparo (10:21):

1,500 nautical miles.

Host (10:23):

They can hit us.

Samuel Paparo (10:24):

Yes, they can. If they’ve got the targeting in place, they could hit this aircraft carrier. If I don’t want to be hit, there’s something I can do about it.

Host (10:34):

US Navy planners aren’t just plotting how to evade China’s Rocket Force, but also how they could effectively fight back. From the vicinity of Guam, none of the aircraft on this ship has the range to approach Taiwan without refueling in the air. Ships, like the US Destroyer Wayne E. Meyer, part of the Nimitz Strike Group, would need to sail much closer towards China to fire their missiles at any force invading Taiwan. One naval scholar we spoke to likened it to a boxing match in which a fighter, in this case China, has much longer arms than their potential opponent, the US.

Samuel Paparo (11:18):

I’ll give you a lot of examples where a shorter fighter was able to prevail over a long-arm fighter by being on their toes, by maneuvering, and we can also stick and move while we’re developing those longer-range weapons.

Host (11:36):

There is another area of modern naval warfare where the US had a headstart and retains a deep advantage-

Samuel Paparo (11:41):

[inaudible 00:11:43].

Host (11:42):

… over China.

I just noticed out of the corner of my eye.

Samuel Paparo (11:46):

This is a 688 class, the Los Angeles class attack submarine. This is the most capable submarine on the planets, with the exception of the Virginia class, our newer class of submarines.

Host (11:57):

The exact number is classified, but our best estimate is that there are about a dozen nuclear-powered fast-attack submarines patrolling the Pacific at any time. They are difficult to detect and track, something China is trying to solve. How much more advanced is US submarine technology than Chinese capability?

Samuel Paparo (12:19):

A generation.

Host (12:20):


Samuel Paparo (12:21):

And by generation, think 10 or 20 years, but broadly, I don’t really talk in depth about submarine capabilities. It’s the silent service.

Host (12:30):

Since Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, China’s military leaders have, themselves, been mostly silent and ignored efforts by the US Military to keep the lines of communication open, even when a Chinese spy balloon breached American airspace and was shot down by the US.

If the US and Chinese militaries can’t communicate over a Chinese spy balloon, then what’s going to happen when there’s a real crisis in the South China Sea or with Taiwan?

Samuel Paparo (13:00):

We’ll hope that they’ll answer the phone. Else, we’ll do our very best assessment, based on the things that they say in open source and based on their behavior to divine their intentions, and we’ll act accordingly.

Host (13:17):

Doesn’t that make the situation even more dangerous if US and Chinese militaries are not talking?

Samuel Paparo (13:24):


Host (13:26):

Several sources within the Pentagon tell 60 Minutes that, if China invaded Taiwan, it could very well kick off in outer space with both sides targeting the other’s satellites that enable precision-guided weaponry. Cyber attacks on American cities and the sabotage of ports on the West Coast of the US mainland could follow.

One recent non-classified war game had the US prevailing, but losing 20 ships, including two carriers. Does that sound about right?

Samuel Paparo (13:56):

That is a plausible outcome. I can imagine a more pessimistic outcome and I can imagine a more optimistic outcome. We should be clear-eyed about the costs that we’re potentially incurring.

Host (14:12):

There are about 5,000 Americans on board the Nimitz. The ship is nearly half a century old. Given the Navy’s current needs in the Pacific and because there’s fuel left in its nuclear reactors, the carrier’s life at sea is going to be extended.

Is it your hope that the power of the US Navy, the force posture of the US Navy will deter a Chinese invasion of Taiwan?

Samuel Paparo (14:39):

It’s not my hope, it’s my duty, in conjunction with allies and partners, to deliver intolerable costs to anybody that would upend the order in violation of the nation’s security or in violation of the nation’s interests. The saying, which is [foreign language 00:14:56], which is, if you want peace, prepare for war.

Host (15:01):

As China’s President Xi prepares for a state visit in Russia tomorrow to strengthen that alliance, we look at critical questions about the state of the US Navy and its readiness when we come back.

60 Minutes has spent months talking to current and former naval officers, military strategists, and politicians about the state of the US Navy. One common thread in our reporting is unease, both about the size of the US fleet and its readiness to fight. The Navy ships are being retired faster than they’re getting replaced while the Navy of the People’s Republic of China or PRC grows larger and more lethal by the year. We ask the commander of the US Pacific Fleet, Admiral Samuel Paparo, about this on our visit to the USS Nimitz, the oldest aircraft carrier in the Navy.

Speaker 2 (16:02):

The story will continue in a moment.

Samuel Paparo (16:08):

We call it the decade of concern. We’ve seen a tenfold increase in the size of the PRC Navy.

Host (16:18):

Technically speaking, the Chinese now have the largest navy in the world in terms of number of ships, correct?

Samuel Paparo (16:25):


Host (16:25):

Do the numbers matter?

Samuel Paparo (16:26):

Yes. As the saying goes, quantity has a quality all its own.

Host (16:30):

At some point, are they going to reach numbers that we can’t prevail over?

Samuel Paparo (16:36):

I’m not comfortable with the trajectory.

Mike Gallagher (16:38):

If you look at a map of the Indo-Pacific, one thing becomes clear, there’s a lot of water on that map, and so ours has to be a maritime strategy.

Host (16:48):

Republican Mike Gallagher and Democrat Elaine Luria-

Elaine Luria (16:51):

The United States [inaudible 00:16:52].

Host (16:52):

… served together on the House Armed Services Committee in the last congress.

What is it about the US Navy that has allowed the two of you to find common cause?

Mike Gallagher (17:00):

I think we share a sense of the urgency of the moment. We see increasing threats from China in particular in the Indo-Pacific. We feel like we are not moving fast enough to build a bigger Navy.

Host (17:11):

Congressman Gallagher is a marine veteran who represents Green Bay, Wisconsin. He chairs the new House Committee on China. He’s concerned that, under the Navy’s current plan, the fleet will shrink to 280 ships by 2027, the same year the CIA says China has set for having the capability to take Taiwan by force.

Mike Gallagher (17:34):

So we will be weakest when our enemy is potentially strongest.

Elaine Luria (17:37):

China’s increased rhetoric and potential aggression against Taiwan, we’re going to have to be ready to respond today with the forces we have today.

Host (17:45):

Former Congresswoman Elaine Luria represented Virginia Beach until this past January. An Annapolis graduate, Luria had a 20-year naval career before being elected to Congress.

What would you say the state of the US Navy is today?

Elaine Luria (18:00):

I think the Navy has not received the attention and resources that it needs over two decades. I served on six different ships. Every single one of those ships was either built during or a product of the fleet that was built in the Cold War.

Host (18:14):

Both Mike Gallagher and Elaine Luria have lobbied for government money for the shipyards in or near their districts, but they say this is less about jobs and more about national security.

Elaine Luria (18:26):

If we don’t get this right, all of these other things we’re doing in Congress, ultimately, that might not matter.

Mike Gallagher (18:30):

If you think about what a coherent grand strategy vis-a-vis China would be, hard power would be the most important part of that and the Navy would be the most important component of your hard power investments.

Host (18:40):

Over the last two decades, the Navy spent $55 billion on two investments that did not pan out. The first was a class of destroyers known as the Zumwalt. The futuristic fighting ships were supposed to revolutionize naval warfare. 32 were ordered, but only three were ever launched. The cost of each ship by one estimate was upwards of $8 billion, making them the three most expensive destroyers ever put to sea. Another example is the Littoral Combat Ship or LCS, designed to be a fast, all-purpose worship for shallow waters. $30 billion later, the program ran aground after structural defects and engine trouble. Within the Navy, the LCS earned the unfortunate nickname, Little Crappy Ship.

The Navy’s last few decades have been described as a lost generation of ship building. Is that overly dramatic?

Mike Gallagher (19:43):

I don’t think so. We’re still struggling to build ships on time, on budget, and that’s something we absolutely need to fix going forward.

Host (19:51):

This past week, we spoke with Admiral Mike Gilday at the Pentagon. He is the Chief of Naval Operations and is responsible for building, maintaining and equipping the entire US Navy.

Is the Navy in crisis?

Mike Gilday (20:04):

No, the Navy’s not in crisis. The Navy is out on point every single day.

Host (20:11):

Is it being outpaced by China?

Mike Gilday (20:13):

No. Our navy is still in a position to prevail, but that’s not blind confidence. We are concerned with the trajectory that China’s on with China’s behavior, but we are in a good position right now if we did ever get into a fight against them.

Host (20:29):

How would you describe what China has been able to do militarily over the last 20 years?

Mike Gilday (20:34):

The most alarming thing is the growth of not only their conventional forces, but also their strategic nuclear forces, their cyber capability, their space capability, and how they’re using that to force other nations’ navies out of certain areas in the South China Sea. Instead of recognizing international law, they want to control where those goods flow and how.

Host (20:58):

What lessons did the US Navy learn from some of the ship building mistakes of the last 20 years?

Mike Gilday (21:04):

I think one of the things that we learned was that we need to have a design well in place before we begin bending metal. And so we are going back to the past, to what we did in the ’80s and the ’90s. The Navy has the lead.

Toshi Yoshihara (21:20):

There is a tendency among the great powers to look at each other’s naval buildups with deep suspicion.

Host (21:26):

Toshi Yoshihara of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments may know more than any scholar in the West about China’s navy.

Toshi Yoshihara (21:36):

China will have about 440 ships by 2030, and that’s according to the Pentagon.

Host (21:42):

Why is China able to build more warships more quickly than the US?

Toshi Yoshihara (21:47):

China has clearly invested in this defense industrial infrastructure to produce these ships, which allows them to produce multiple ships simultaneously, essentially outbuilding many of the Western navies combined.

Host (22:00):

China’s navy piggybacks on a booming commercial shipbuilding industry kept afloat by generous state subsidies, inexpensive materials, and cheap labor. In the United States, it’s a different story. After the Cold War ended, the shipbuilding industry consolidated and many of the yards where ships were both built and maintained closed down.

What do you see when you see China’s shipbuilding program?

Mike Gilday (22:27):

It’s very robust.

Host (22:28):

Do we have enough shipyards?

Mike Gilday (22:29):

No. I wish that we had more commercial shipyards. Over my career, we’ve gone from more than 30 shipyards down to about seven that we rely upon on a day-to-day basis to build ships.

Host (22:40):

One of those yards is run by Huntington Ingalls Industries, which built the state-of-the-art new Ford-class aircraft carrier. After controlled explosions in 2021 to prove it could withstand combat, the Ford got closer to deployment, six years late and billions of dollars over budget. The Navy’s not just struggling to build new ships on time. According to the Government Accountability Office or GAO, there’s a multi-year backlog repairing the ships in the fleet.

Mike Gilday (23:16):

Our maintenance backlog is one of the primary things that I’m working on to correct. So just three years ago, we had 7,700 delay days. That is extra days in a shipyard by ships when they weren’t operational. We have cut that down to 3,000. We are not satisfied.

Host (23:36):

Maintenance delays mean sailors can’t come home because the ship that’s supposed to replace them is not ready. It means longer deployments. It means away from your family more. That’s a big strain on the workforce.

Mike Gilday (23:49):

The more ships that we can have available to send at sea alleviates many of those problems that you pointed out. Sailors join the Navy to see the world. And so it’s my job to make sure that those maintenance delays go to zero and we can get those ships to sea as quickly as possible.

Host (24:07):

In the last year alone, at least 10 sailors assigned to ships undergoing maintenance or working at maintenance facilities have died by suicide.

Mike Gilday (24:16):

It is a problem that we’re taking very, very seriously. And down to every leader in our navy, everybody has a responsibility to look out for each other, take care of each other. There is no wrong door to knock on when you need help.

Host (24:31):

Admiral Gilday says the US Navy’s main advantage over China is America’s sailors. His goal is to modernize the US fleet and have those sailors serving alongside hundreds of unmanned vessels by 2045.

Mike Gilday (24:46):

I think unmanned is the future, and so I think that some 40% of our fleet in the future, I believe, is going to be unmanned.

Host (24:53):

Are these like underwater drones?

Mike Gilday (24:55):

Some of them are, highly capable, capable of delivering mines and perhaps other types of weapons.

Host (25:01):

Admiral Gilday is talking about the Orca, an extra large, unmanned undersea vehicle.

Can you say what it will do or is that classified?

Mike Gilday (25:10):

Well, at a minimum, it’ll have a clandestine mine lane capability. So it’ll be done in a way that is very secretive, but very effective.

Host (25:19):

But the GAO reports that it’s already a quarter of a billion dollars over budget and three years behind schedule.

Mike Gilday (25:28):

That particular platform is behind schedule. It’s the first of a kind. When it delivers, I see a very high return on investment from that particular platform.

Host (25:37):


Mike Gilday (25:38):

Because it will be among the most lethal and stealthy platforms in the arsenal of the US Military.

Host (25:47):

The Navy’s total budget request for fiscal year 2024 is over a quarter of a trillion dollars, an $11-billion increase from last year. The focus is on China.

The US defense posture is viewed as aggressive by the Chinese. The foreign minister just said, :Look, stop the containment. This may lead to conflict.”

Mike Gilday (26:11):

Perhaps the Chinese Minister doesn’t like the fact that the US Navy is operating in collaboration with dozens of navies around the world to ensure that the maritime commons remains free and open for all nations. The Chinese want to dictate those terms. And so they don’t like our presence, but our presence is not intended to be provocative, it’s intended to assure and to reassure allies and partners around the world that those sea lanes do remain open. The global economy literally floats on seawater.

Host (26:49):

How similar is the movie to actual Top Gun?

Top Gun graduates compare the movie to the real thing at

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