Navy: Controlling seas is paramount amid threats

by Jeanette Steele
The San Diego Union-Tribune

The U.S. Navy will have to get used to working in oceans where other nations challenge American control of the sea — a change of focus after more than a decade of desert warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The issue is squarely at the center of attention of Navy and Marine Corps officials speaking at a star-studded defense conference in San Diego this week.

For the Navy’s current leaders, who came of age in the 1980s when the Soviet threat was paramount, it’s a throwback to old times.

“As we defeated the Soviet Union and the Cold War ended, we changed. We had sea control through the 1990s and the last decades. We drove anywhere, we did anything we wanted to do,” Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, commander of naval surface forces, including the United States’ fleet of cruisers and destroyers, said Wednesday.

Today’s resurgence of the Russian military, in addition to the threats posed by China’s rise and North Korea’s aggressive posture, represent a return to former concerns.

Headlines this week underscore the point. Russian jets have been intercepted flying near British airspace, seen as a flexing of muscles by Russian President Vladimir Putin. China has deployed missiles to a disputed island in the South China Sea, its latest move in a growing campaign of territorial claims.

“I think we are back in a time when we’re in a power-projection Navy and we are in a sea-control Navy. We’ve got to be able to do both very, very well,” said Rowden, who is known as the Navy’s surface warfare officer “boss.”

He added: “This presents some tremendous challenges and some tremendous opportunities for us.”

Rowden joined the heads of Navy aviation and submarines in a discussion Wednesday that also included the leader of West Coast Marine units and the commander of the U.S. Third Fleet, which is headquartered in San Diego.

The annual WEST conference, hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and AFCEA International, has pulled the sea service’s center of gravity to the San Diego Convention Center this week. The chief of naval operations and the Marine Corps commandant are expected to speak Friday.

The Third Fleet leader, Vice Adm. Nora Tyson, said she has made progress fulfilling an order to focus on helping out in Asia — normally the sole province of the U.S. Seventh Fleet.

Tyson said she represented the United States at a Japanese fleet review and, in coming weeks, she’ll meet with Australian and New Zealand naval leaders.

“It’s about building partnerships,” Tyson said Wednesday. “If Third Fleet needs to go forward and assist my Seventh Fleet counterpart, I need to make sure I’ve established those relationships out there.”

For the Marine Corps, the future will include a new generation of technology.

“If we were to hold this conference a year from now, there would be an F-35 (Joint Strike Fighter) squadron sitting in Iwakuni,” Japan, said Lt. Gen David Berger, commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force based at Camp Pendleton.

“It changes the equation because, as we have learned over the past year and a half, you begin to have the capability to collect and distribute (information, gathered by sensors on the high-tech fighter jet) that we don’t have today,” Berger said.

With that capability, and upgraded amphibious combat vehicles that the Marine Corps is developing, it’s a new picture for covering territory in the vast Pacific.

“Now you have a credible, mobile force that you can distribute across a frontage you couldn’t have imagined 12 to 15 years ago,” Berger said.


©2016 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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