WASHINGTON — US Navy Rear Adm. Thomas Rowden, director of surface warfare, came into his position with an initial focus on “making the stuff we had today work” and getting the littoral combat ship to the fleet. He was also charged with building to the future, and to do that, he’s reaching back into the past.
“I started thinking about how we are supporting the strategy of rebalance to the Pacific,” he said during a Jan. 8 interview at the Pentagon. “Most of my team here was commissioned in the early 1990s, and we have some folks who were around in the ’80s, but when I think about when I was commissioned back in the ’80s, we were operating pretty heavily in the Western Pacific.”
Serving on a Japan-based cruiser, the Soviet presence manifested itself almost as soon as his ship left port.
“The Cold War was in full motion. The Soviet Union was still in existence,” he said. “I remember getting underway from Yokosuka [Japan], heading out of Tokyo Wan, and whether we turned right or left, within hours we would be flown on by some form of aircraft out of the Soviet Union.
“You had to be on your game the second you went past the sea buoy, whether you were executing air defense, executing the inner screen and defending the carrier or defending a high-value unit,” he said. “Whatever you were tasked to do, you had to understand the maritime domain where the potential adversaries were. We practiced it every single day.”
Comparing Cold War experiences with today’s environment, Rowden has renewed a focus on the surface community’s core competencies: integrated air and missile defense, including the ballistic-missile threat, anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and anti-surface warfare.
“I think that the Navy is about sea control. We need to make sure that as people respond to us, we can do the things we have been tasked to do,” Rowden said. “I think the surface-warfare portion of that is making sure those three big areas are well covered.”
With the fall of the Soviets, some of the US Navy’s warfare emphasis changed, he said.
“We’ve had unfettered access to the ocean domain really for the last two decades, unchallenged,” Rowden said. “It allowed us to concentrate very heavily on power projection, and we have. We have gotten phenomenally good at strike. We can generate sorties off aircraft carriers. We can shoot things with Tomahawk [cruise missiles] at range, and we can do it from a sea base that is not vulnerable.”
But the rebalance to the Pacific is driving the return to basics.
“There are anti-access/area-denial weapons that may cause us to have to defend that sea base, defend that carrier strike group, defend that amphibious readiness group or the logistics force that’s going to support those operations,” he said.
“That is a key enabler that we must do as surface warfare officers in order to enable that power of projection that we’ve been able to do in an unfettered manner for the last two decades.”
Improvements are needed, he said, like the SQQ-89(V)15, the latest upgrade of a long-standing underwater warfare system. “Where are we on that, and is it focused properly, is it resourced properly, is the training and maintenance properly in place?” he asked, describing his concerns.
The ASW package under development for the littoral combat ship, Rowden said, will have a “significant” warfare capability.
“We need to concentrate on [ASW] and how that fits into the addressing of the global issue of anti-access/area-denial,” he said.
The advent of Aegis Baseline 9 — the latest version of the Aegis combat system — along with the new Standard Missile-6 surface-to-air missile, “allows us to have greatly increased range and changes the landscape to how we’re going to be able to push the air-defense battle farther out from the strike group, farther out from the sea base in order to be able to gain that sea control that we have to have in order to enable that power of projection.” ■