By Vice Adm. Tom Rowden
Commander, Naval Surface Forces
“The U.S. Navy exists to control the sea.”
– Vice Adm. “Hank” Mustin
These were the words Vice Adm. “Hank” Mustin told the USS Miller (FF 1091) wardroom 37 years ago. His guidance to the officers that day would have a profound effect on me, serving as a rhumb line throughout my career. His words are as applicable today as they were nearly four decades ago.
As the Surface Warfare community gathers this week for the annual Surface Navy Association’s National Symposium, I can’t help but reflect upon the evolution of the maritime security environment. We are seeing increased competition for resources and deeper economic ties across the globe, making our Navy and Surface Force more important and relevant than ever. The rapid pace of change in technology and information is light years ahead of when I met Adm. Mustin as a midshipman aboard Miller during my first class cruise. Today’s midshipmen – tomorrow’s leaders – have access to information and technology that we never thought possible 37 years ago, and yet, the challenges they face in the world are similar in character. At the heart of the matter, capability and capacity to impose sea control when and where it matters remains timeless.
The global environment is changing and in order to remain the world’s premier maritime force, so are we. To achieve “Sea Control by Design” the @USNavy Surface Force is using Tactics, Talent, Tools, & Training to get us there. More to come from #SNA2018 pic.twitter.com/kLZ2QLgfMm
— Naval Surface Forces (@SurfaceWarriors) January 3, 2018
To this end, as we have been formalizing the principles of “Distributed Lethality” (DL) in the community, we’ve held true to the idea that as more complex and sophisticated challenges arise, we’ll need the time, training, and resources to keep pace with peer and near-peer competitors in the world. DL asserts that if we make each surface ship more lethal and resilient, it causes potential adversaries a variety of operational problems – problems that force such challengers to dilute their available resources and cause them to allocate a finite number of weapons across a larger number of targets. Indeed, to remain the most powerful Navy, we must constantly adapt to prevail in a new environment of peer-on-peer competition.
No other component of the American military arsenal is more closely connected with the nation’s economic vitality than that of the Surface Force. Twenty-five percent of all U.S. jobs are directly or indirectly tied to global trade; sea control is a must. Our country needs a powerful, forward deployed, lethal, and resilient Surface Force as an integral part of the Navy’s unique role of providing global freedom of the seas.
The Distributed Lethality narrative, which has helped to enhance our ship’s lethality and resilience, as seen by increased emphasis on offensive weapons on ships, really was the underpinning for the Surface Force Strategy, which we released a year ago. The strategy is a coherent approach to the Tactics, Talent, Tools, and Training necessary to achieve the key elements in the Chief of Naval Operation’s Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority vision and places sea control as a central tenet to why we have a Navy. We plotted a course for the community to improve warfighting capabilities and to develop our people.
That being said, maintaining our warfighting edge and achieving our future goals relies on executing the basics of navigation and seamanship. That was not the case in 2017; simply put, it was a tragic year for the Surface Force. Our ships had with two collisions resulting in the loss of 17 American Sailors – their families remain in our hearts. In light of these preventable incidents, our community warranted close examination.
The ensuing comprehensive review (CR) revealed that we must take our bearings from time-tested truths regarding our standards. It shed light on five key areas: fundamentals, teamwork, operational safety, assessments, and culture. We own our achievements and failures in these areas and have been aggressively working to improve them.
Leading into the CR, we had already tackled some issues through Ready for Sea Assessments of forward deployed and deploying ships; the establishment of the Pacific Fleet Detachment Naval Surface Group Western Pacific; and implementation of circadian rhythm watchbills and shipboard routines. The CR’s scope and depth highlighted further changes that will require additional time and resources in order to not only restore our legacy, but to also positively transform the force’s culture to one where emphasis is placed on mastery vice sufficiency. Our Sailors deserve to have all of the resources they need – which includes, and are not limited to, access to the right tools, planned and sustainable training periods, and time – in order to obtain and maintain warfighting and ship driving proficiency and sufficiency. As you read this blog, approximately 20 percent of the 58 CR initiatives have been accomplished. However, much work remains to be done. This is not a check the block exercise; this is a change in the Surface Warfare culture that will make us a better fighting force – ready to tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow.
I am confident that the Navy leadership team will find successful solutions to the remaining problems identified by the CR. This is an all hands effort that requires lasting commitment and resources. I encourage everyone to be active participants and to practice patience as our Navy and Surface Force make the necessary changes. To quote the CR, “Everyone, from the most junior Sailor to the commanding officer, has an obligation to use their voice to provide forceful backup when they see a deviation from procedure or dangerous situation developing.” From these tragedies, we will become better mariners and warfighters. A strong demand signal for the Surface Force will continue, as will the evolution of its future capabilities.
I am excited about our operational advancements. Thanks to significant progress made in 2017, our ships are harder to find, harder to kill, and more lethal. Recent Surface Force innovations include missiles that allow enemy ships to be killed at greater range (e.g. Maritime Tomahawk Land-Attack Missile, USS John P. Jones Standard Missile-6 testing), offensive enhancements to existing ships (e.g. USS Coronado firing a Harpoon Over-the-Horizon Missile), networking approaches to integrating the Marine Corps F-35B with our Aegis fleet and attacking land-based targets from amphibious ships at sea (e.g. USS Anchorage utilizing High Mobility Artillery Rocket System).
As I attend this year’s SNA symposium I try to think about what our Navy will be like 35 years from now. I want to look back at some of the things we’ve done the past decade and see how these innovations and advancements have set us on a path to be the dominant Surface Force I know we will be in the future. I am and will always be extremely proud to be a Surface Warfare Officer. It has been a privilege to be part of a truly outstanding group of professionals – the U.S. Navy’s Surface Warfare community!