By Lt. Tia Nichole McMillen, Submarine Force Pacific Public Affairs
Rear Adm. Roegge is Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet and has served sea tours of duty aboard USS Whale (SSN 638), USS Florida (SSBN 728) (B), USS Key West (SSN 722), and command of USS Connecticut (SSN 22). Roegge most recently served as the director, Military Personnel Plans and Policy Division with a concurrent period as director, Total Force Manpower Division on the Navy staff.
In your mind, what is your role as Commander, Submarine Forces Pacific (COMSUBPAC)?
As a type commander, my staff is responsible to man, train, and equip Pacific Fleet submarines for their missions. Those missions are the same as the ones that Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet (COMSUBLANT) submarines perform, but of course we tailor our efforts for the unique operating areas of the Pacific, whether in deep-water broad-ocean areas or in shallow-water high-contact-density environments.
COMSUBLANT and COMSUBPAC differ from other Navy type commands because of our operational command responsibilities that are in addition to our man/train/equip functions. Here in the Pacific, I command Task Force 34, responsible for Theater Undersea Warfare (TUSW) in the Eastern Pacific under Commander Third Fleet, and I also command Task Force 134, responsible for the strategic deterrent mission under Commander, U.S. Strategic Command.
COMSUBPAC is also the one type commander with Navy-wide man, train, and equip responsibilities for some unique undersea missions. These include our submarine escape and rescue capabilities under Submarine Squadron 11 in San Diego, Calif.; the fixed arrays and the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System (SURTASS) ships of our Integrated Undersea Surveillance Systems (IUSS) under Commander, Undersea Systems in Dam Neck, Va.; the research and development programs such as Unmanned Underwater Vehicles under Submarine Development Squadron 5 in Bangor, Wash.; and our two submarine tenders now home-ported in Guam.
In order to achieve this, I provide guidance and set priorities, such as we did last year when we published our "Commander's Intent for the Submarine Force and Supporting Organizations."
This is sort of a "textbook" definition of my role, but I think a simpler way to describe it is that my job is to provide what our submarine crews need in order to be successful at the challenging missions we assign them and to help Sailors accomplish their own personal and professional goals.
The combination of this important work, our superb Submariners, and the fact that I wake up each morning in Hawaii, means that I clearly have the best job in the Navy!
What challenges do you see today in the Pacific Theater?
Our challenges are pretty clear from every newspaper's headlines and from watching the news banners scrolling across your favorite cable news program. Competition among nations often plays out first in competition on the high seas, and so there are many Indo-Asia-Pacific nations adding to their naval capabilities and, more specifically, their submarine capabilities. Russia is operating at levels we haven't seen since the Cold War, and they've modernized their force with new platforms like the Severodvinsk SSGN and the Dolgorukiy SSBN and with new capabilities like the Kaliber weapons system. China is expanding its capabilities and also the areas of their operations. They've deployed surface action groups around the world and even into the Bering Sea, and their submarine operations are similarly expanding in their reach. This year both North Korea and India launched ballistic missiles from submarine platforms, and around this region there are now more than 20 nations operating submarines or pursuing that capability.
With RIMPAC 2016 concluding, what lessons did we learn from the exercise?
We confirmed what we already knew: no matter what flag they fly, naval forces and their Sailors and Marines have much more in common than they have as differences. The most important commonality was the talent and professionalism of each nation's mariners and their focus on improving our ability to work together. This was no small task, as RIMPAC 2016 had 26 nations participating and brought 45 surface ships and five submarines to Pearl Harbor. As both the RIMPAC TUSW Commander and also as the submarine operating authority (SUBOPAUTH), we invested heavily in ensuring exercise safety, and I was pleased that we had no untoward events. The personal relationships that develop through such multi-lateral operations build trust, and we have long understood that, for trust to be an operational enabler, it must be built. You cannot surge Trust.
What role do our international partners play in the Pacific Theater in the Undersea Domain?
COMSUBPAC submarines benefit from the great partners, friends, and allies we share in the Pacific. Our boats and their crews benefit from port visits and logistics stops in traditional locations like Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Singapore, and Australia. This year we've also had submarines or tenders in Malaysia, Palawan, and Vietnam. This access is essential for us to maintain our boats at high readiness throughout their lengthy and demanding deployments. In return, we've had visits to U.S. homeports from submarines from Japan, Korea, Australia, and Chile; and many more nations send Submariners to attend courses and use the trainers at our training centers in Pearl Harbor and in Guam. This not only gives our subs the opportunity to train against advanced and highly proficient diesel subs, but it improves our interoperability; and this is paying off now in increasing multi-national cooperation—and success—in TUSW.
What is your favorite memory or sea story from your junior officer or department head tour?
All my fondest memories are associated with great shipmates doing impressive things during challenging operations, and the common theme running throughout has been that I can't believe I get to do such cool—and important—stuff. Some of my favorite memories are overseas port visits—fun, taking green water over the bridge—memorable but not fun, dodging ferries through the Strait of Messina—challenging, surfaced officer of the deck on the midwatch at AUTEC—the night sky is awesome, surfacing through the ice—even more awesome, and of course every mission vital to national security—challenging and awesome.
How has the role of a Pacific SSN changed since you were a junior officer?
Our submarines have so much more capability now, and the quality of our Submariners is the best it has ever been. But our SSNs still rely upon the same core characteristics of stealth, mobility, endurance, and firepower. Our Navy and our nation still rely upon us to use those attributes to demonstrate warfighting prowess that will deter aggression; we must be able to operate undetected anywhere in the world, and be able to hold at risk the things that potential adversaries hold most dear. To that extent, our role hasn't changed at all.
What is the greatest lesson you learned as a junior officer?
To be myself. I originally thought there was some textbook approach to being a division officer or a watch officer that had to be followed. Over the years I've learned that there are many different ways to be a successful leader, and trying to act against your own nature in an effort to emulate someone else's approach is usually as unsuccessful as it is unnatural.
Where do you see the Pacific Submarine Force going in the future?
I think our future is informed by our past. On December 7th in Pearl Harbor we remembered the successes and the sacrifices of our World War II Submariners. After that attack, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Harold Stark gave the order to "EXECUTE AGAINST JAPAN UNRESTRICTED AIR AND SUBMARINE WARFARE," and our submarines were the only forces able to immediately begin war patrols. They carried the battle across the Pacific and into Imperial Japanese home waters while our fleet was repaired. And although submarines made up only 2 percent of our entire Navy, they sank 30% of all Japanese warships and 55% of all Japanese merchant ships sunk during the war.
But today's Submariners are another greatest generation, and what we do every day is adding to the proud history of our Submarine Force. Undersea superiority is just as important to our national security today as it has been throughout our past, and we're making significant investments in modernizing our submarines, in adding capabilities like UAVs and UUVs, and in our people through initiatives such as those in Sailor 2025 in order to ensure we maintain that superiority.
As potential adversaries develop capabilities designed to thwart the United States, the risk to aircraft and ships grows daily, but the Submarine Force retains the unique ability to go undetected anywhere in the world and to hold at risk the things that potential adversaries hold most dear. So should the future hold another Pacific competitor to challenge the United States, then in that future it will once again be the Pacific Submarine Force that will lead the way. That makes this an incredibly exciting time to be a Submariner, and an incredibly important time for our Submarine Force to maintain its superiority. Our Navy and our nation should expect no less.