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Interview with Rear Adm. Thomas Rowden: BMD, FFGs, New Weapons and the Fleet

Director, Surface Warfare (OPNAV N96) Part 3 of 3

Rear Adm. Thomas Rowden is the director for Surface Warfare on the Chief of Naval Operations Staff (OPNAV N96), and responsible for requirements and resources for the surface Navy of the future.

Rowden served as commanding officer of Surface Warfare Officers School Command, Newport, R.I., where he oversaw the training of every officer en route to duty on ships at sea. His first flag assignment was commander, U.S. Naval Forces Korea. At sea, he has commanded USS Milius (DDG 69), served as reactor officer in USS George Washington (CVN 73); commander, Destroyer Squadron 60; commander, Carrier Strike Group Seven; and commander, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) Strike Group. His most recent assignment was commander, Carrier Strike Group 11, and commander, USS Nimitz (CVN 68) Strike Group.
Rowden talked with Edward Lundquist about his priorities, critical ship programs and challenges facing the Surface Navy and surface warfare today. In Part 1 and Part 2 of this interview, Rowden discussed his three priorities, DDG 1000, LCS, and DDG 51 Flight III plans. Today’s excerpt covers his thoughts on the Oliver Hazard Perry class FFGs, ballistic missile defense, new weapons, and upgrades to existing CGs and DDGs.

The Aegis cruisers in our fleet are getting older. We have gone through modernization on 52 through 58. We will be accelerating the decommissioning of seven CGs. Given the fiscal constraints that we are in, the decision to decommission those ships early allows us take those resources and apply them to more pressing needs.

 

Edward H. Lundquist: How are the CG modernization and DDG midlife upgrade modernization programs progressing?

Rear Adm. Thomas Rowden: The Aegis cruisers in our fleet are getting older. We have gone through modernization on 52 through 58. We will be accelerating the decommissioning of seven CGs. Given the fiscal constraints that we are in, the decision to decommission those ships early allows us take those resources and apply them to more pressing needs. With that being said, the cruisers remain a lynch pin in strike group operations. And those individual ships that do remain will be able to significantly contribute throughout the remainder of their lives.

USS Cowpens (CG 63)

The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens (CG 63) fires Standard Missiles (SM) 2 at an airborne drone during a live-fire weapons shoot, Sept. 20, 2012. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Paul Kelly

The Cruiser and Destroyer Modernization programs continue to provide cutting edge combat system capability and hull, mechanical and electrical improvements to the warfighter. Capitalizing on advancements in commercial off-the-shelf technology and open architecture designs, significant weapon system and engineering control system designs and structural alterations are reducing total ownership costs, and enabling manpower reductions and will increase surface warfare capabilities against current and future threats. The complete integration of all these systems serves to enhance the capability of a ship to engage and defeat numerous multi-warfare threats simultaneously while extending service life and increasing interoperability.

Capitalizing on advancements in commercial off-the-shelf technology and open architecture designs, significant weapon system and engineering control system designs and structural alterations are reducing total ownership costs, and enabling manpower reductions and will increase surface warfare capabilities against current and future threats.

 

You mentioned BMD. BMD has evolved into an important mission for the surface Navy. Can you give us an update on how we’re doing with Aegis BMD for our CGs and DDGs, as well as forward deployed Aegis ships and Aegis Ashore?

USS Cowpens (CG 63)

The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens (CG 63) fires a Standard Missile (SM) 2 missile at an airborne drone during a live fire weapons shoot, Sept. 20, 2012. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Paul Kelly

Aegis BMD capability is currently installed on 23 ships (5 CGs and 18 DDGs). Twenty-one of the current 23 Aegis BMD ships have the Baseline 3.6.1 weapon system, the basic level of BMD capability. The second generation Aegis BMD Weapon System, BMD 4.0.1, is installed aboard USS Lake Erie (CG 70) and USS Shiloh (CG 67). Aegis BMD 4.0.1 was operationally certified earlier this year. The latest variant of BMD capability, BMD 5.0, is being developed in Advanced Capability Build 12 (ACB 12). ACB 12 is scheduled to be installed aboard USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) in 2012. The ACB 12 capability is programmed to be installed on Flight I, II and IIA DDGs (DDG 51-112) during their mid-life upgrade availabilities. The record of success for Navy BMD on the live fire range continues to be unprecedented for a development program of this complexity. The MDA, Navy, Industry team is currently 23 of 27 in firings against actual ballistic missile targets between 2002 and 2012.

The second generation Aegis BMD Weapon System, BMD 4.0.1, is installed aboard USS Lake Erie (CG 70) and USS Shiloh (CG 67). Aegis BMD 4.0.1 was operationally certified earlier this year.

In 2011, USS Monterey completed the initial European Phased Adaptive Approach deployment in the Mediterranean Sea. This mission is being sourced on a routine basis today, with USS Vella Gulf currently deployed in support of this mission. USS The Sullivans, USS Stout, and USS Cole have also been on station in support of the president’s European defense initiative.

 

We still operate a significant number of Oliver Hazard Perry-class (FFG 7) frigates. How are we sustaining that class as it comes to the end of its service life?

FFGs remain a relevant contributor to the surface fleet. The FFG 7 class is capable of operating independently or as an integral part of a carrier strike group or surface action group. They are primarily used today to conduct maritime interception operations, theater security cooperation, and presence missions, as well as counter-piracy and counter-drug operations. In addition to these more common missions, FFGs also remain a viable anti-submarine force with the embarkation of SH-60 helicopters, and can provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) support with embarked Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicles. FFGs have undergone modernization improvements to assist the class in reaching its 30-year expected service life while maintaining the FFG 7 class ships’ combat relevance to execute future missions. The final FFG undergoing modernization, currently in dry-dock [USS Rodney M. Davis], is expected to leave December 2012.

But when I got to be DESRON 60, I was working the Black Sea and the west coast of Africa, and the value of the FFG to the United States Navy came through to me in ways I had never even imagined. Talk about fantastic ships; with motivated crews; with shallow draft and that can get in and out of port without any assistance.

Make no mistake about it, those ships continue to deliver. I really hadn’t had much interaction with the FFGs until I became commander of Destroyer Squadron 60. But when I got to be DESRON 60, I was working the Black Sea and the west coast of Africa, and the value of the FFG to the United States Navy came through to me in ways I had never even imagined. Talk about fantastic ships; with motivated crews; with shallow draft and that can get in and out of port without any assistance. They were of tremendous value to me as I operated between Senegal and Angola and every place in between. I can always count on the FFGs to get the mission done. As LCS comes online, and we [finalize] the mission packages – specifically SUW mission package – and get her squared away, while we’ll be operating with fewer individuals on LCS, they will be a very nice fit for the capability slot that the FFGs currently are occupying.

 

What are some of the new weapons, sensors and systems that N96 is investing in?

USS Vandegrift (FFG 48)

The guided-missile frigate USS Vandegrift (FFG 48) performs maneuvers during the maritime exercise Koa Kai 12-2, March 31, 2012. The Oliver Hazard Perry-class (FFG 7) frigates will continue to provide invaluable service to the U.S. Navy for the foreseeable future. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel Barker

We are hopeful that new developments in the areas of directed energy weaponry [such as lasers and high-power microwave emitters] will provide us a more cost-effective alternative to conventional missile engagements in providing our ships with defensive capability. We are also interested in new ideas emerging from both ONR [the Office of Naval Research] and the Navy’s Warfare Centers that will help us evolve our future fleet design along the pathway of modular design based on open architecture principles.

I have the great good fortune of having had Rear Adm. Matt Klunder as a classmate of mine from the Naval Academy. He’s the chief of naval research and a great friend, and comes by on a not infrequent basis and we sit right there at this table and talk one on one about where I am and where it is I think we’re going. We talk a lot about getting on the right side of the cost curve associated with weapons. A potential enemy out there is going to throw their weapons at us, and if our weapons to defend against them cost more than their weapons, then we’re on the wrong side of the cost curve. This kind of drives back to where we’re going with rail launchers, rail guns, and directed energy weapons. As we mature that technology, the opportunity to incorporate that into our ships in the future is certainly there.

A potential enemy out there is going to throw their weapons at us, and if our weapons to defend against them cost more than their weapons, then we’re on the wrong side of the cost curve. This kind of drives back to where we’re going with rail launchers, rail guns, and directed energy weapons. As we mature that technology, the opportunity to incorporate that into our ships in the future is certainly there.

 

The Navy still says it needs 313 ships. Will we get there? And if so, how?

People understand hulls – whether it’s 300 or 313 or the 285 that we currently have. From the beating heart of a surface warfare officer, more is better. Given the value that surface ships bring, the more you have the more things you can go out and do. But we also need to focus on the capability that our ships are delivering.

Office of Naval Research (ONR) Electromagnetic (EM) Railgun

The second of two Office of Naval Research (ONR) Electromagnetic (EM) Railgun industry prototype launchers is being evaluated at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division. Both General Atomics and BAE Systems have designed next generation prototype EM Railguns capable of increased firing rates. The EM Railgun is a long-range weapon that launches projectiles using electricity instead of chemical propellants and is under development by the Department of the Navy for use aboard ships. U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams

The Navy submits a shipbuilding plan to Congress every year. That plan has many influences, which includes but is not limited to guidance and direction from the president, National Security Council, SECDEF, CNO and Congress. Additional influences include:

  • the readiness, age and capability of the current fleet;
  • the composition of the fleet;
  • current and projected missions;
  • fleet commander demand signals;
  • industrial base considerations; and,
  • available funds.

The current document (FY13) states that the Navy will have “about 300 warships,” which is also what that CNO stated in his March 2012 Posture Statement before Congress. We’re on a path to support both of those needs.

I am less focused on counting hull numbers than I am on getting the right mix of capability to support current and future warfighting needs. While the drive to have the appropriate number of ships needs to be there, we should ensure that we have the capability that we deliver rather than drive toward a specific number. We’re at 285 now. I think we can get to 300 by the latter years of this decade, and where we go beyond that is going to be indicative of the value that surface warfare ships bring in general – and in particular surface warfare – brings to the Navy, the COCOMS, and the nation.

By

Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...