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January 19, 2015 / iDriveWarships

Distributed Lethality: The Beginning of the Beginning

Vice Adm. Tom Rowden, Commander of Naval Surface Forces, discusses up-and-coming warfighting technologies during the 27th annual SNA National Symposium.

By Vice Adm. Tom Rowden, Commander U.S. Naval Surface Forces

Earlier this month in the U.S. Naval Institute’s “Proceedings Magazine,” Rear Admirals Pete Fanta and Pete Gumataotao and I introduced the idea of “Distributed Lethality,” and then we followed it up at last week’s Surface Navy Association (SNA) National Symposium with presentations designed to continue the discussion. After a couple days to think about the speeches, sessions and sidebar conversations that took place, I have some thoughts to offer.

The first is that I am thankful SNA continues to host the symposium where there is a free flow of ideas, and where a range of leaders can say what’s on their minds in sessions, panels and in keynote roles. Not many venues bring together such a wide variety of speakers, including the Secretary of the Navy, to address Surface Navy issues with our leadership and our industry partners. There is always much to learn about the status of our Surface Force, as well as maritime industry that supports it. These accrue to the benefit and professional development of our community.

I want to follow up on my remarks about the future of our Surface Force using the concept of distributed lethality. Distributed lethality is the Surface Force’s contribution to the CNO’s first tenet—Warfighting First—by taking a long, hard look at our Force’s strengths and weaknesses, and thinking through how best to maximize the former and mitigate the latter.

This is a relatively simple yet powerful idea. By applying the principles of distributed lethality, the Surface Force can help sustain and extend America’s competitive advantage in power projection against a growing set of sea-denial capabilities. Distributed lethality is the most effective and efficient method of capitalizing on the Fleet we have today, and the one planned for the immediate future. We simply need to make better use of the ships we have today, and think differently about how we equip and employ them.

For those who follow events in the Pacific, you know how sea lanes are being threatened by some nations with conflicting claims of sovereignty. Think of sea lanes as arteries that have to remain open allowing the free flow of commerce. The U.S. Navy is a primary enabler of protecting open maritime navigation, preventing anything that might slow or stop free access of the world’s oceans by potential future threats of peer or near-peer adversaries.

Our Fleet is planned to grow to 309 ships by 2019, and as we look around the world at the challenges that will face that enlarged fleet, we see the opportunity to create uncertainty in the minds of our adversaries by changing the way they view our existing and planned force.

America is a maritime nation and we require a strong maritime force. The oceans aren’t getting smaller and the world isn’t getting safer. Threats to our naval forces or the fleets of partner nations cannot be allowed to escalate into open aggression. As we face adversaries that are becoming more technologically advanced, it makes sense to inject some uncertainty into their war-fighting calculus. Should rounds be exchanged, a distributed lethality construct allows the U.S. Navy to respond rapidly, with agility, and taking an offensive posture. More ships with more firepower acting more independently will increase the planning complexity and resourcing of our potential challengers.

This isn’t going to happen overnight, and as Secretary Mabus continues to grow our Fleet, now is the time to consider how we will use our resources to their best effect and bring about the increased lethality of each ship.

In short, we want our Sailors and the ships they serve on to have the upper hand for success in combat. The objective is to cause the adversary to have to think differently about how to attack our forces by giving them more targets to contend with. Adversaries will have to shift their own defenses to counter our offenses, thereby improving our operational advantage to exploit adversary forces.

Again, it was a great week and I thoroughly enjoyed the exchange of ideas and the opportunity to engage with so many facets of our Surface Force and industry partners. I look forward to continuing this dialogue to ensure we continue to provide our nation’s leaders with the most powerful Navy in the world.


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