NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper emphasized the importance of New England to a crowd of military contractors during a visit to Rhode Island on Wednesday.
“New England remains crucial to American continued maritime dominance,” Esper said.
Esper was the keynote speaker for this year’s Southeastern New England Defense Industry Alliance in Newport. He was introduced by Congressman Jim Langevin and U.S. Sen. Jack Reed.
Esper spoke on a range of topics that are threatening the United States today.
He thanked the congressional leaders for approving funding but said timely funding is important moving forward.
“Our ability to modernize the force requires predictable, timely, adequate funding,” he said.
Esper, fresh off his first trip overseas as the Pentagon’s leader, said the Indo-Pacific region is the department’s focus, calling it “our priority theatre.”
He cited China’s renewed focus on its Navy and Russian involvement in the Arctic region.
In 2014, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke at this same conference and described Southeastern New England as the Silicon Valley of undersea warfare.
Esper agreed with that sentiment Tuesday.
“Today, this region is not only vital to our submarine production but also hosts a diverse set of organizations that develop the technological capabilities and the concepts needed to fight and win at sea,” Esper said.
He said he believes the future of undersea warfare is in artificial intelligence and robotics.
“Whoever gets there first, will have dominance for some period of time,” Esper warned. “We need to double down on our efforts to get there first.”