Surface Warfare Magazine
Sharing stories and news from Sailors across the U.S. Navy’s Surface Forces
Commander's Corner
Article excerpts taken from the January 2015 edition of Proceedings Magazine courtesy of the U.S. Naval Institute.
VADM Rowden

Of the CNO’s Tenets, “Warfighting First” comes first, and that is no accident. Admiral Greenert assumed office and immediately set about honing the warfighting edge of the entire Navy. Surface Warfare has seized on this mandate, so much so that we really have only one priority—warfighting—and everything we do in organizing, training, programming, maintaining, equipping, and operating the Surface Force ultimately derives from this singular priority.

A shift is now underway within the Surface Force. It is not subtle, and it is not accidental. The Surface Force is taking the offensive to give operational commanders options to employ naval combat power in any Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2AD) environment. The Surface Fleet will always defend the high-value and mission-essential units; that is in our core doctrine. However, the emergence of sophisticated sea-denial strategies has driven a need to shift to an offensive imperative to control the seas. Increasing Surface Force Lethality -- particularly in our offensive weapons and the concept of operations for Surface Action Groups (SAGs) -- will provide more strike options to Joint Force commanders, add another method to seize the initiative, and add battle space complexity to an adversary’s calculus.

The objective is to cause the adversary to shift his own defenses to counter our thrusts. He will be forced to allocate critical and limited resources across a larger set of defended targets, thereby improving our operational advantage to exploit adversary teams. This shift is required for several reasons. First, when the Cold War ended, our Navy emerged unchallenged and dominant. No power could match us at sea, and that dominance enabled the Navy to focus on projecting power ashore. The balance between sea control and power projection tipped strongly in the favor of the latter, and the Surface Force evolved accordingly. Our proficiency in land attack and maritime security operations reached new heights, while foundational skills in anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and anti-surface warfare (ASuW) slowly began to erode. During this period, the mindset of our surface warriors slowly transformed from offensive to defensive. If U.S. naval power is to reclaim maritime battle space dominance in contemporary and future anti-access, area-denial (A2AD) environments, the Surface Navy must counter rapidly-evolving missile, air, submarine, and surface threats that will challenge our ability to sail where we want, when we want.


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Second, the shift to the offensive responds to the development of increasingly capable A2AD weapons and sensors designed specifically to deny U.S. naval forces the freedom of maneuver necessary to project power. Adversaries who counter this advantage diminish the deterrent value of forward-deployed forces and negatively impact the assurances we provide to friends and allies. A shift to the offensive is necessary to “spread the playing field,” providing a more complex targeting problem while creating more favorable conditions to project power where required.

Third, the shift to offense is pivotal for the Surface Navy to reinforce closer integration with the Marine Corps. A more fully integrated Marine Corps – Surface Force combat team will provide persistent presence that can influence and control events at sea and in the littoral, applying the right capability to the right target for the Joint Force Commander. Supported by other elements of the Joint Force, this integrated Navy/Marine Corps striking force will be increasingly called upon to tend to the nation’s security needs around the world.

Finally, the shift to offense makes the most efficient and effective use of significant investments made in Surface Force lethality over the past two decades. These investments in enhanced surface ship lethality create the conditions for a renaissance in Surface Force employment and a return to the core competencies of sea control when applied in bold, new, offensive ways.

Distributed lethality combines more powerful ships with innovative methods of employing them. It capitalizes upon the inherent advantages of surface forces (mobility and persistence) to provide meaningful deterrents to adversary aggression and immediately available war-fighting options should deterrence fail. The more distributed our combat power becomes, the more targets we hold at risk and the higher the costs of defense to the adversary.

This is a relatively simple, yet powerful idea. By applying the principles of distributed lethality, the Surface Force can help sustain and extend America’s competitive advantage in power projection against a growing set of sea-denial capabilities. There are no leaps of technology required, no massive funding increases necessary, and no increase in the number of ships needed to implement it. We simply need to make better use of the ships we have today, and think differently about how we equip and employ them.

What is needed, is will; the fortitude to recognize that we have to change the way we currently do business. We must display the courage necessary to move forward, to question established concepts and methods, to take risks and to learn from our mistakes. A more widely postured and more uniformly lethal Surface Force will play a significant role in maintaining the United States’ position as the dominant naval power, something from which the world has benefitted handsomely for over seven decades. Surface Warfare Magazine

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