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Top Navy, Marine officials talk future threats at San Diego trade show

Senior military officials and hundreds of defense contractors are in San Diego this week for the annual WEST conference, which bills itself as the premier naval conference on the West Coast.

Admiral Lisa Franchetti, the chief of naval operations and the service's top officer, opened this year's WEST conference with a warning about changes in maritime operations.

"For the first time since World War II, we no longer operate ... against competitors who cannot threaten us," Franchetti said during a speech Tuesday. "Today, sea control is neither guaranteed nor freely given."


Franchetti is just one of several senior officers who made appearances this week. The commanders of the Navy's numbered fleets and its warfare communities — such as aviation, surface forces and special operations — also spoke to audiences eager to hear from them.

Ongoing conflicts in the Middle East were front and center. Over the last three months, U.S. and allied naval ships have battled drones and anti-ship missiles launched from Yemen, where Houthi rebels seek to disrupt trade through the Red Sea.

Franchetti praised the sailors currently deployed in the area.

"They are working tirelessly to preserve the free flow of commerce ... shooting down over 70 UAVs, seven cruise missiles and, for the first time in history, 14 anti-ship ballistic missiles," Franchetti said. "How about that? That's combat power right there."

On the convention center floor, more than 900 vendors demonstrated the latest in military hardware and software, such as unmanned systems, virtual reality and AI.


Paul Fredenburgh is a retired Army brigadier general and the executive vice president of conference co-sponsor AFCEA International. He said it's important for people in the defense industries to hear from military brass.

"We have some threats out there to our national security," he said. "It's very important to bring all of those partners together to solve those challenges."

The conference ends Thursday with a speech from Navy secretary Carlos Del Torro.