By Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden
Commander, Naval Surface Forces
Speaking from the flight deck of USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) in 1963, President John F. Kennedy addressed the crew of the carrier and stated, “Any country which wishes to protect its security and the security of those allied with it must maintain its position on the sea.” His remarks aboard Kitty Hawk are relevant today. In order for the U.S. Navy to continue to “maintain its position” on the seas, our warfare communities must work together, blending and optimizing our respective skills and tools.
It was fitting, then, that the theme for this year’s Surface Warfare Flag Officer Training Symposium was “Return to Sea Control.” The discussions during the two-day symposium focused on controlling the sea, because sea control is the great enabler of all other naval missions necessary to secure the maritime commons, maintain regional stability, protect our security interests, and prepare to fight and win wherever and whenever required.
I’m proud to say that some of our most senior leaders joined us as we focused on sea control, including Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson; Commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Adm. Phil Davidson; assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Adm. Frank Pandolfe; Commander, U.S. Naval Air Forces Vice Adm. Michael Shoemaker; Commanding General Marine Corps Combat Development Command Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh; deputy chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare and Director of Naval Intelligence Vice Adm. Jan Tighe; and director of Undersea Warfare Division Rear Adm. Charles Richard. These senior leaders provided their insights into their warfighting roles and participated in positive and frank discussions regarding the challenges the Navy and the United States face in the rapidly evolving security environment.
While we discussed these challenges, we also focused on the missions at hand, and how whole of our efforts can – and must – be greater than the sum of our individual contributions. We had constructive conversations about how to capitalize on each warfare community’s strengths and how to find innovative ways to strengthen integration in order to preserve our nation’s military superiority.
Today in an era with new challenges and constrained resources we all need to ask ourselves every day “what can we do to make each other better, more distributed, and more lethal?”
Mark Twain is sometimes attributed with saying, “history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” As I’ve grown older, I’ve seen the wisdom of Twain’s words proven time and time again.
I’m reminded of a time in the early eighties when in the middle of my summer training as a Naval Academy Midshipman 1st Class, I had the opportunity to meet one of our great naval leaders, Vice Adm. Hank Mustin aboard USS Miller (FF 1091). During our interaction, he left me with guidance that has stuck with me for more than 30 years. He simply said, “The United States Navy exists to control the sea.” More than 30 years later, his words have never been more relevant.
But with the ending of the Cold War that so many of us in the 80’s remember, the Surface Navy saw some of its core sea control missions and competencies deemphasized as new power projection missions gained prominence. Adversaries changed and strategies shifted to address the new challenges. With new challenges to our security, came new ways of approaching solutions. Sometimes these new approaches meant less focus on our traditional role of sea control. Yet, sea control is where we must head once again, something our senior leaders are aggressively supporting.
The Secretary of Defense and the Chief of Naval Operations have both spoken eloquently of the re-emergence of competition at sea. Defending critical assets such as carriers, amphibious ships, and logistics vessels, remains at the top of our priority list. But we can and will do so much more, leveraging capabilities we already have with modest investments that provide significant capability upgrades. We will hold more of the adversary’s fleet and infrastructure at risk from more angles across a wider expanse of geography. We cannot project power, we cannot secure the commons, we cannot deter aggression and we cannot assure allies without the ability to control the seas when and where we desire.
So I think it was fitting that the leaders of all of our warfighting communities – not just surface warfare officers – joined together to discuss how we can enhance our unity of effort, actions and mindset in the pursuit of sea control. As a collective maritime force, we must find ways to integrate across all domains in order to increase the combat effectiveness in establishing sea control, better articulate the value of our Navy as a deterrent force as other great power competitors emerge, and through our combined efforts, maintain a persistent forward presence posture to ensure regional stability.
Our responsibilities are great, but so are our capabilities and talents. We recognize that while we are members of the world’s finest Navy, we can always do better when we work together. To paraphrase a well-known Japanese proverb, “All of us are smarter than one of us.”