Surface Warfare Magazine
Sharing stories and news from Sailors across the U.S. Navy’s Surface Forces
Commander's Corner
RADM Rowden

I would like to thank VADM Copeman for offering me the use of this space in the “Commander’s Corner” to recap the recently completed Surface Navy Association National Symposium in Washington DC (January 14-16, 2014) and to reinforce the message that I communicated to those in attendance. Before I do that though, I want to offer my heartfelt thanks to everyone who made the event a success, especially the hardworking folks at the Surface Navy Association and the staff of the Hyatt Regency Crystal City. If you have never made the trip, it is something to consider. The speakers and panels are chock full of information about the state of the surface force, and the show floor gives industry the opportunity to showcase evolving technologies and capabilities. But after having attended probably a dozen symposiums over the years, the best part for me is running into shipmates, some of whom I have not seen for years.

At this year’s symposium, I laid out my priorities for the next year for the Surface Warfare Division (OPNAV N96), as I have in my two previous speeches to this forum. We have made a lot of progress in the past two years toward improved resourcing of training, readiness, modernization, and acquisition, and we can be proud of that work. But consistent with the CNO’s first tenet of “Warfighting First”, the time is now to focus more on the core missions of Surface Warfare, and my priorities reflect this change in focus.

My first priority is to “Support the Rebalance to the Pacific.” In his January 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance, President Barack Obama directed the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region in recognition of the changed security environment. Given the maritime nature of the theater, the number of close treaty relationships in the region, and the uncertain nature of China’s rise, the Surface Navy will play a critical role in the rebalance. That role will undoubtedly cause us to re-focus on the core of Surface Warfare, and that is our ability to exercise Sea Control, comprised of Integrated Air and Missile Defense, Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare (OASuW), and the Anti-Submarine Warfare defense of the inner screen. We have not had any other power to challenge our dominance at sea since the fall of the Soviet Union, and in the meantime, we honed our skills in precision strike and maritime security/visit, board, search and seizure to a razor’s edge. These were the missions our nation demanded of us over the past two decades, and I am proud of the way we responded.

But the nation now needs us to shift and refocus, returning to our roots and dominant sea control. Everything our Navy does that makes us unique and powerful flows from control of the seas. We need to work hard to regain proficiency in the “blocking and tackling” of each of these disciplines, and I am confident that we can do so. Both VADM Copeman and I are aware that your plates are already full, and we need to take a hard look at how we can “balance the load” more effectively as we tackle these new challenges.

My second priority flows naturally from the first, and that is to “Build to the Future.” We need to start planning NOW for ships that will join the fleet in the early 2030’s, ships to be built efficiently with an eye to life cycle cost reduction. We must find a way to affordably pace the threat by modernizing our future ships more cost-effectively, and doing so means designing in means to do so from the start. Additionally, we need to build a new cadre of experts who know how to wield our future combat systems to their fullest advantage in order to maintain our advantage over the threat.

The way we build and modernize ships today can and should improve. As it is now, once a ship is commissioned and joins the Fleet, it slowly but steadily declines in capability relative to the ever increasing capability of the threat until its mid-life modernization, at which point a lot of money is poured into extensive and intrusive upgrades to bring it back up to specification. It then begins another long decline until it is taken out of commission—not because it has reached its service life, but because the threat has so thoroughly outpaced it.

Let’s face it—this is really not an optimal way to field/maintain capability. Because we pack so much into new construction and then a mid-life upgrade—the ship spends the vast majority of its service life NOT KEEPING PACE with the threat, rather, it declines comparatively. This is a function primarily of how we design and build ships. But what if we designed and built ships differently? What if we designed and built ships specifically with the goal of future upgrade and integration in mind? What if we—the requirements and the acquisition community—came together to do the really hard work of writing a new group of “non-functional” requirements that will give us the flexibility we need throughout the life of the ship to keep pace with evolving threats? This work is underway now, and it demands that the requirements folks and the acquisition community come together to help define requirements for such things as modularity, scalability, flexibility and adaptability.

My third priority is “Make the things we have today work.” We must continue to take care of the fleet we have, as our ships are significant investments which must be relied upon for decades. We have done some good work on the waterfront in the past few years in defining the maintenance requirements for our ships as they operate under the demanding optempo that national requirements dictate. By more clearly defining the requirement, we were able to justify the resources necessary to fund it, and we’ve closed some critical maintenance gaps including a measurable improvement in AEGIS Wholeness.

Additionally, we continued the introduction of LCS to the Fleet and integrating lessons learned from USS FREEDOM’s deployment last year. FREEDOM and her crew represented the Surface Force proudly, and we learned a lot about the maintenance philosophy for the ships and the process of crew changeout. Later this year, USS FORT WORTH will deploy to the Western Pacific and will remain there for sixteen months with multiple crew changes during her tenure there. I am excited as more and more of these ships join the Fleet, and I am confident they will soon be fighting above their weight.

In summary, our connectivity, our on-station time, and our command and control capacity make Surface Warfare the natural leaders in the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region. Our investments are positioning us to reassert mastery of the core competencies of Surface Warfare, but it will take more than resources to meet the challenges of the future. It will take the earnest application of will, with each of us deciding that we will do what it takes to be better at our warfighting competencies. We can do no less. I hope to see you at the next Surface Navy Association National Symposium in January 2015!

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