Surface Forces Commander: ‘The World Has Changed, and So Must We’
By OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent
ARLINGTON, Va. — Because a growing Chinese navy and re-emerging Russian fleet are challenging the nation’s long-assumed dominance of the sea, “we in the U.S. Navy are back in sea control, in a big way,” Vice Adm. Thomas S. Rowden, commander, Naval Surface Forces, said Jan. 10.
Addressing the Surface Navy Association’s National Symposium, Rowden noted that the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union removed any challenge to the U.S. Navy’s dominance at sea. Adjusting to that changed environment, the Navy focused on power projection and lost some of its surface offensive power and anti-submarine capabilities.
But then China developed sea-denial capabilities projected from its shores, and then the ability to do that further away. And Russia has emerged as a naval power, Rowden said.
“Simply put, the world has changed, and so must we,” he said.
As a result, the Navy is designing capabilities for maintaining maritime superiority, he said. While all lines of effort in that design are important, the most important is sea control, which means “increasing naval power at and from the sea,” he said.
The Navy must maintain a fleet that is trained and ready to fight from the sea, to outer space and in the information domain, Rowden said.
“We are being actively challenged from all those places,” and it is his job to prevent that, he said.
The first step in that is the concept of distributed lethality that he introduced two years ago. While a lot has been done to execute that, he noted, putting more weapons on ships “is not sufficient.” In an era of constrained resources, Navy leaders had to make a case for more offensive weapons, which he believes they have done.
“We aren’t doing distributed lethality for its own sake — we are doing it to enable sea control,” he said.
The next step, Rowden said, was the New Surface Force Strategy document, subtitled “Return to Sea Control,” which was distributed at the forum’s opening session.
The strategy links together the ends, ways and means needed “to achieve sea control at a time and place of our choosing,” he said.
Rowden said his priorities are to increase the offensive firepower of surface forces, “to get back to the business of killing ships and submarines … at extended range.” But to do that, service leaders need to improve battlespace awareness by adding persistent organic information, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
They also need to support the Navy’s plan to build the fleet, he said, while at the same time work on ship maintenance “to take good care of the ships we have.”
In response to questions, Rowden said unmanned systems, surface, subsurface and air absolutely must be a part of the drive to gain and maintain sea control.