WASHINGTON — "The time is now. The future of war fighting is up to us." With those declarations, Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, commander of US Naval Surface Forces, on Tuesday opened the 29th annual national symposium of the Surface Navy Association, a gathering of officers and sailors from around the fleet who man cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships, mine ships and amphibious ships.
Rowden's hallmark after two and half years as the Navy's "SWO Boss" — Surface Warfare Officer Boss — is distributed lethality, an effort to install more powerful weapons on ships while expanding command and control of those weapons, and reinstate a sense of war fighting in the surface Navy. He's directed, for example, that each ship fire at least one weapon each day at sea.
He debuted a stirring video depicting the striking power of the US Navy's surface forces and appeared on camera at the end, declaring: "We, the US Navy, are back in the sea control game, in a big way."
A return to the themes of sea control, once a mantra of the Cold War-era US Navy, is a major facet of Rowden's new Surface Force Strategy. As defined in the strategy, sea control "is the capability and capacity to impose localized control of the sea when and where it is required."
Rowden noted that sea control was a major element of the US military buildup in the 1980s that eventually wore down the Soviet Union's resources. The concept fell out of vogue after the fall of the Soviets and the decline of their seagoing forces. But the resurgent Russian Navy, he noted, required a renewal of the previous strategy.
"The world has changed and so must we," he told the SNA audience.
"The degree that the distributed lethality concept has found its way into every day Navy conversation is gratifying," he said. "But everything leads to sea control."
Among his goals for the surface force, Rowden noted the need to continue to modify over-the-horizon weapons and expand the procurement of weapons.
"We need to get back in the business of killing ships and submarines, and we need to do it at extended range," he declared.
Not surprisingly, Rowden voiced his support for new plans to grow the Navy to 355 ships, but he cautioned that maintaining existing ships was also important. "We need to take good care of the ships we have," he said.
Rowden set a tone not to expect open-ended funding and urged the surface warfare community to explain the value of warships. A buildup, he said, must be done in a cost-effective manner.
"We need a solid narrative to let the American people know what we intend to do with these ships," Rowden said. "The ships need to deter aggression. They need to deny an aggressor the prospect of achieving their objectives. And we need to establish and maintain sea control.
"Everything good we do as a Navy flows from this one pursuit, and the surface forces need to pull more weight in doing it."