Surface Warfare Magazine
Sharing stories and news from Sailors across the U.S. Navy’s Surface Forces
 
4/1/2016
Commander's Corner
VADM Rowden
"Whoever rules the waves, rules the world."
- Alfred Thayer Mahan

This statement from one of our greatest naval thinkers speaks to the role sea power has played throughout history. From the Royal Navy after Trafalgar to the United States Navy following victory in World War II, it is hard to argue that command of the seas provides an extraordinary advantage for the nation that has the will and ability to do so.

But history also reminds us that more often than not, no one nation rules the seas exclusively and in my early years in the Navy during the Cold War, this was certainly the case. So when my peers and I reported to our first ships in the 1980s, we knew that Sea Control, the ability to control a portion of the sea to support power projection and other naval missions, was an essential competency in our profession.

In fact, we talked about Sea Control, we planned hard to execute it, and we drilled ceaselessly to achieve it. For any new SWO, it was a rite of passage to pass the first sea buoy, cease all emissions, and head to blue water while remaining "untargeted and unlocated." Once we got further out to sea, the tactical thinking didn't stop as we practiced surface-to-surface strikes, Silent Sam tactics, you name it. The Soviet Union, our adversary at the time, wasn't at rest either, with many of us having the encounters at sea with Soviet ships and aircraft to prove it.

But then a remarkable thing happened toward the end of my first decade of naval service - thanks in part to the role of the United States Navy, the Cold War ended, not in conflict as many imagined but in peace. As a result, for much of the last 25 years, the United States enjoyed the unfettered access to the sea that came with being the world's single great naval power.

This advantage enabled us to operate wherever and whenever needed, but as a consequence, we largely focused on Power Projection. Indeed, our focus on Sea Control, largely a given since 1990, atrophied. As we focused on other maritime missions such executing Tomahawk strikes from the sea and defending carrier strike groups, we simply stopped thinking about Sea Control as much as we should have.

 

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Today, the world has changed. Our Secretary of Defense and the Chief of Naval Operations have both spoken eloquently of the re-emergence of great power competition in the world and on the seas as well. Launching Tomahawk missiles and defending our valuable carrier and expeditionary strike groups remain vitally important missions, but let there be no doubt, we need to return to being a Sea Control Navy as well.

Over the last eighteen months, I've thought a lot about our return to being both a Power Projection and a Sea Power Navy. Quite simply, as the world and threats have evolved, Sea Control to support Power Projection must be taken into account. This notion also nests well under CNO Richardson's Design to Maintain Maritime Superiority, which, among other things, charges us to "enhance power at and from the sea." To do that, we must control the sea in order to project power or conduct any of the other missions we may be assigned or take on.

Sea Control - over the coming months and years you will hear, think and read more about these two words as we articulate our role in this core naval function. I'm excited we are re-opening this important chapter of our warfighting playbook and am proud that the men and women of the Surface Force will be with me on this journey! Surface Warfare Magazine

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