Surface Warfare Magazine
Sharing stories and news from Sailors across the U.S. Navy’s Surface Forces
 
10/1/2016
Commander's Corner

I hope this finds you well, and that you and your families had a good summer. Now that summer vacation is over and folks are sending their kids back to school, I want to let you know what we were doing here at Surface Forces headquarters during a very busy “Sea Control” August. Before I cover that though, I want to reinforce why Sea Control is so central to my thinking these days.

Put simply, a Navy lacks utility if it cannot seize and protect operationally relevant chunks of the seascape. One cannot project maritime dominance, one cannot control the skies, one cannot project power—without FIRST controlling the seas from which the Navy operates. That control, that dominance—something we enjoyed in a virtually unchallenged fashion in the decades following the Cold War—is increasingly challenged by the sea-denial strategies of a number of nations, including Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. As the vanguard of the Navy’s conventional deterrence posture, the Surface Force has chosen to focus on re-establishing our Sea Control emphasis, and the way we’re going to get there is to implement Distributed Lethality. We are working to make our ships more lethal and more resilient in order to present opponents with a daily reminder of our power and the risk to their forces if they step out of line.

It was with these principles in mind that we held two critical events in San Diego in August. The tent-pole event was the annual Surface Navy Association’s one-day, waterfront symposium at the Naval Base San Diego, and the second (which preceded the first by two days), was one of the twice yearly gatherings of the Surface Warfare Flag community at a meeting we call “SWFOTS” (Surface Warfare Officer Flag Officer Training Symposium). I’ll start with SWFOTS.

Day one of SWFOTS started with my boss Adm. Phil Davidson laying out his view of the future from the perspective of the Fleet Forces Commander. His emphasis on fighting the Fleet as an integrated combat “system of systems” has at its core, a singular emphasis on regaining our edge in Sea Control. Our discussions over during the next two days kept coming back to the central truths he laid out.

 

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Most of the rest of the first day was spent baselining the Flag community’s understanding of the status of the force—with Rear Adm. Ron Boxall (Director of Surface Warfare) laying out his programmatic priorities designed to focus on Sea Control, Rear Adm. John Wade addressing the training and doctrinal implications of a Sea Control emphasis from the perspective of the new Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (SMWDC) commander, Rear Adm. Rob Girrier (Director of Unmanned Warfare Systems) describing the symbiotic relationship between manned and unmanned platforms, and Captains Dave Welch (Commanding Officer of the Surface Warfare Officer School) and Rick Cheeseman (Director of Surface Warfare Officer Assignments) describing how our “people” programs are changing to meet the requirements of a more lethal and distributed force.

Day 2 was all about conventional deterrence of great powers, the pursuit of which demands a Navy to be ready to fight and win. Notice I wrote “Navy”, and not just a Surface Force. This is because along with Adm. Davidson—who obviously thinks from the Fleet perspective—this discussion included senior representatives of the aviation, submarine, Cyber/Electronic Warfare, and Marine Corps communities. One participant told said that it was like being in the room with great NFL coaches—Belichik, Shula, Gibbs—and just listening to them talk football. Vice Adm. Frank Pandolfe (Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) started us off with a world tour of the challenges we face—one theme of which was the requirement for the forces in place to be strong and resilient, due to the likelihood that opponents will strike for limited objectives in rapid fashion. Put another way, our conventional deterrence force must present them with powerful reasons not to disturb the peace.

The rest of the day was spent in classified discussions led by leaders of the warfighting communities. Rear Adm. Chas Richard (Director of Undersea Warfare Division) spoke to us of the Submarine Force’s increasingly networked approach. Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker (Commander, U.S. Naval Air Forces) discussed naval aviation’s contributions to Sea Control and Power Projection in a more distributed force, Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh (Commanding General Marine Corps Combat Development Command) talked about Navy/Marine Corps integration, and Vice Adm. Jan Tighe (Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare and Director of Naval Intelligence) discussed the importance of cyber and electronic warfare. The highlight of the day was the Chief of Naval Operation’s arrival to close out our discussions. We briefed him on our deliberations over the previous two days, and he shared his thoughts on maintaining maritime superiority in an increasingly challenging environment.

The next day, the emphasis was on the waterfront. The Surface Navy Association’s annual San Diego Forum brought together fleet operators from ships and staffs, a large number of Surface Flag Officers who attended the proceedings, retired SWO’s who still have skin in the game, and industry partners who are responding to the call for a more distributed and lethal force.

This audience gathered under the tents at Pier 2 heard much of the same discussion as the assembled Flags the previous two days, albeit at an unclassified level. Speakers included Captain Welch of SWOS, Captain Cheeseman of PERS 41, Rear. Adm. Mark Montgomery of U.S. Pacific Command who gave a superb presentation on the operational challenges posed in the Western Pacific, Rear Adm. Mark Hitchcock who briefed his strike group’s operations in the South China Sea, Rear Adm. Boxall who reinforced his programmatic priorities, and Rear Adm. Wade who talked about the future of NSMWDC. I ended the symposium by gathering up the goodness of both events and bringing it all back to Sea Control.

You’re going to hear Navy leadership talk a lot about Sea Control as we move forward. We’re going to talk about killing ships over the horizon, about multi-convergence zone prosecutions of submarines, about outer air battle Anti-Air Warfare, about distributed logistics, about electronic warfare and the networks necessary to tie it all together. We in the Surface Force are rededicating ourselves to these tasks by creating the requisite concepts, building and buying the right sensors, weapons, and networks, and then providing our Sailors with the training and exercise time needed to hone skills to a razor’s edge. This is what it is all about, my friends. We’re going on the offensive, we are embracing Distributed Lethality, and we are focusing our efforts on Sea Control.

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