Symposium Examines Surface Navy as “A Credible Force in Uncertain Times”
Surface forces provide strong, flexible forward presence, Navy’s top admiral says
With the ink barely dry on a new national defense strategy, senior naval officers, government officials, and members of private industry – and most importantly scores of active-duty officers and enlisted personnel from both the Navy and the Coast Guard – came together to explore the Navy’s future at the 24th Annual Surface Navy Association Symposium in Crystal City, Va., Jan. 10-12.
The new Department of Defense (DoD) strategy document, “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” released by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Jan. 5, served to underscore the symposium’s theme, “Surface Navy: A Credible Force in Uncertain Times.”
While the strategy alludes to the significant reductions in defense brought about by budget realities, just about all of the goals and objectives in the strategy point to a strong, flexible forward presence, which is exactly what naval surface forces provide.
With the Navy’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposal due to be released soon, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert could offer no specific programmatic details. But, he said, the new DoD strategy placed the Navy “on a good course.”
“The value of the Navy is well recognized in the department,” he said.
Greenert showed a chart of key “choke points” for global commerce, and discussed how U.S. Navy presence and partnerships in these regions were vital.
“We need to be where the maritime crossroads are,” he said. “That’s what keeps the world economy rolling along.”
And while each of the services will look at where it can scale back overseas presence, Greenert pointed to the recent invitation from Spain to send four Aegis-class destroyers to be homeported in Rota to provide ballistic-missile defense for Europe, as well as “Aegis Ashore” facilities being built in Romania and Poland; the invitation from Singapore to base four littoral combat ships (LCS) there; and Australia’s invitation to base Marines in northern Australia.
While the sea service will continue to evolve, Greenert does not foresee a change in course. “My top priorities are the same as those who came before me: to remain ready to meet our current challenges today.”
“Uncertainty surrounds everything we do today,” said Vice Adm. Richard W. Hunt, commander, Naval Surface Forces, agreed. “That is the biggest challenge of all, and that’s the essence of what we must deal with as we train and prepare our surface force – providing credible combat power with properly manned and equipped personnel ready to prevail. That’s where our focus needs to be. The surface navy brings the ability to have contact with other nations and people and shape the situation, perhaps minimizing or avoiding conflict when we can. We are the only community in the Navy who can do that.”
Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe/Africa/Allied Joint Force Command, Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, who led the NATO effort in Libya, shared some detail into the surface navy’s involvement in the Libyan conflict, particularly the initial Tomahawk strikes. He also pointed to the converted Ohio-class guided-missile submarines, SSGNs, that saw action for the first time.
Locklear was reminded of how the U.S. Navy was no stranger in Libyan waters, but that much has changed over the years. “When our force first deployed to Tripoli back in 1803, collateral damage hadn’t been invented yet. Information came by horse. We didn’t have to worry about network interoperability. At the tactical level, the main lesson of the Libyan operation and Arab Spring is that there’s an uncertain world out there and our ships, our systems, and our crews have to be ready to deal with anything. They have to be ready and they can’t focus on just one mission.
“Our primary focus is to fight, win, and protect our nation. We must maintain combat credibility and forward presence and prepare as a surface force for the reality that we may have to operate in non-permissive environments in the future,” he said.
Also drawing parallels in history, Adm. John C. Harvey Jr., commander, Fleet Forces Command, talked about the evolution of the surface Navy, pointing out that 2012 marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, and expeditionary roots of the Navy and Marine Corps team.
“Our services were born and bred to be expeditionary. It is in our DNA,” Harvey said. “It is a Navy and Marine Corps future we are talking about, and we best understand it better than we do now. The Navy/Marine Corps team gives us options as a nation.
“It’s not going to be easy. But ‘hard’ is authorized. Never forget, it is our choices, not our circumstances, that will determine our future. It’s up to you, so get it done,” he said.
“It’s exciting to be a sailor in today’s Navy,” said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick D. West. “When you talk about things like LCS, high-speed vessels, our new amphibious vessels … it’s pretty special.
“At the end of our day, it’s our sailors who make the Navy go ‘zoom!’” West said. “As I speak right now, 50,000 of our sailors are under way or deployed. The surface force is a huge part of that. They’re worldwide, they’re ready, and they’re out there making a huge difference for us.
Since 1985, the Surface Navy Association has promoted greater coordination and communication among those in the military, including officers, enlisted, and civilian, as well as the business and academic communities who share a common interest in naval surface warfare, which has supported the activities of surface naval forces, to include the U.S. Coast Guard.