Surface Warfare Magazine
Sharing stories and news from Sailors across the U.S. Navy’s Surface Forces
 
12/21/2016
Indeed, There are ‘Ratcatchers’ Among Us…

Those who follow naval history will note the recently marked 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland—a story masterfully told by Dr. Andrew Gordon in his book, Rules of the Game. Great Britain’s naval mastery was perceived as a birthright, but after what Gordon termed “the long, calm lee of Trafalgar,” he assessed that the Royal Navy had strayed away from its fighting past. The Royal Navy was undeniably full of what Gordon termed “regulators” – people who advanced within the established bureaucratic framework and were comfortable thinking inside the box – rather than the “ratcatchers” who were dearly needed in the prosecution of war.

In the Navy’s “A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority” Adm. Richardson calls for “a Naval Force that produces leaders and teams who learn and adapt to achieve maximum possible performance, and who achieve and maintain high standards to be ready for decisive operations and combat.” In this call to action, in our own age and our Navy, ratcatchers are once again needed to safeguard our prosperity as a maritime nation.

The news surrounding the anti-ship missile attacks on USS Mason (DDG 87) from armed militant groups in Yemen while Mason operated in international waters in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb was shocking. Our subsequent shift to the “active defense” by the USS Nitze (DDG 94), however, is a telling example of how Surface Forces operate where sea control and power projection are not guaranteed and a reminder that the ability to maintain even temporary superiority will be contested.

America truly is a maritime nation, and our prosperity is tied to our ability to operate freely in the maritime environment. Threats ranging from low-end piracy to well-armed non-state militant groups to the navies of high-end nation-states pose challenges that Surface Forces are prepared to counter and, should the call come, defeat.

 

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What many of us have learned from recent Distributed Lethality Task Force sponsored events is that while more lethal and distributed Surface Forces are designed to increase the offensive options available to the Joint Force Commander when the shooting starts, equally important is the ability to enhance conventional deterrence postures that limit an adversary’s options for escalation and buy time for leadership to make informed decisions on the further use of force. Simply stated, a more lethal and distributed Surface force gives an adversary a much more difficult operational problem with which it must contend.

We’re seeing the direct results of the concerted effort to provide the right tactics, talent, training, and tools to detect, deceive, target, and destroy enemy forces. Moreover, this warfighting ethos – that of toughness and tactical mastery of sea control operations at and from the sea – is being ingrained in every one of the crews that fight our warships.

The recent incidents in the Bab al-Mandeb involving Mason and Nitze serve as an unambiguous reminder that adversaries who wish to challenge U.S. interests in strategically vital sea areas do in fact get a vote, and it is unlikely that all of the elements of the Navy’s Fleet architecture will be available when the shooting starts. Available assets are based on the day-to-day presence and persistence of the Surface Force, which means it must be prepared to absorb the first salvo and immediately go on the offensive in order to create conditions for the success of follow-on forces. As Under Secretary of the Navy Janine Davidson recently stated, “credible conventional deterrence can only be achieved through lethal forces distributed globally with the staying power and endurance to absorb or deliver the first punch.” To be sure, forward, visible, and ready Surface Forces backed by credible combat power is a cost imposition for which an adversary must consider in its decision calculus.

The gravitational center of the Navy is controlling the sea in order to project more power, in more places. Recent events in the Red Sea highlight that we must get this right. And making sure we get things right is all about shaping the future, a future in which our men and women have the tools, the training, the tactics and the talent they need to fight and win against opponents who wish to challenge our interests and do us harm.

Our Surface Forces are indeed forward, they are visible, and they are ready. In a world where the pace of operations has clearly never been higher, my main job as the Surface Forces Commander is to ensure all our surface warships are ready. I’ve also directed a redoubling of our efforts in pursuit of a renewed emphasis on sea control to ensure we maintain the advantage.

To the ratcatchers in USS Mason and USS Nitze, and throughout the Surface Force, thank you for your fighting spirit. I am ever more hopeful for our future!

This story was originally published on the USNI Blog. [https://blog.usni.org/2016/11/08/indeed-there-are-ratcatchers-among-us]

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