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CHIPS Articles: Return to Sea Control

Return to Sea Control
COMNAVSURFLANT discusses the need for agility and solid communication in today’s Navy
By Heather Rutherford - April-June 2017
Rear Adm. Patrick Piercey didn’t mince words when taking the podium at an April AFCEA Hampton Roads Chapter event in Norfolk, Virginia.

“The days of uncontested seas are past us,” Piercey said. “We need to emphasize the return to sea control. We have to have sea control before we can project power.”

It isn’t difficult to understand why Piercey feels so strongly about the Navy’s return to sea control. He is Commander, Naval Surface Force Atlantic, a widely diversified Naval Type Command (TYCOM) whose area of responsibility reaches far beyond its home base at Norfolk Naval Station.

COMNAVSURFLANT is composed of more than 70 ships, including cruisers, destroyers, LHDs, LPDs, LSTs, and LCS, and an Aegis Ashore site in Romania; an estimated 25,000 personnel including Sailors, Marines and civilians stationed both stateside and on the “high seas” — from the Norwegian Sea in the Atlantic Ocean — to the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. The TYCOM is considered an “important instrument of national policy” in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the Mediterranean Sea, Caribbean Sea, and the Persian Gulf and also provides critical support to drug interdiction operations in the Caribbean Sea and the Eastern Pacific, according to the command’s website.

The United States has enjoyed uncontested sea control since the end of the Cold War, but there are now new and resurgent challenges to the United States Navy, and our allies, Piercey said. He reminded the audience of the April 2014 incident in which a Russian jet repeatedly flew near the USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) as she patrolled the Black Sea.

“CNO [Adm. John] Richardson has been out front in discussing the changing nature of the security environment and the changing character of military competition,” Piercey said. “We cannot assume that the sea lanes of communication will remain uncontested indefinitely.”

For many years, the Navy has ensured the overseas delivery of goods, and that must continue, Piercey explained. The years of reliable shipping of vast quantities of goods coming into the U.S. from overseas has resulted in “sea blindness” — the assumption that goods will continue to be delivered as they have been previously.

A Peacetime Mindset

At the same time, Piercey said that we can’t make assumptions as to the nature of our relationships with other countries, pointing to Germany and Japan, who became U.S. allies after World War II.

The Japanese had once been a formidable foe and demonstrated that in the first battle of Savo Island in 1942 during the Guadalcanal campaign. Although that battle took place nine months after the events of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy still had a peacetime mindset, Piercey explained. Ultimately, the United States lost three cruisers and Australia lost one, leaving 1,077 Sailors dead.

“History provides great lessons for today,” Piercey said. “In our current operational environment, we have to be thinking now about where we’ll be contested and fighting.”

Agility and Communication in Today’s Navy

Piercey was commanding officer of USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) in 2008, while the ship was undergoing modernization. “[She] needed upgraded capabilities, and to be more agile and adaptable in order to pace the threat,” he said.

Like Bunker Hill, the Navy must continue to innovate and adapt in order to succeed. The entire Navy community — including shipyards and industry — must be involved, Piercey said. Over time, some processes have made the Navy rigid, and now it must work within the existing system to create processes that allow us to apply the best concepts, techniques and technologies at a faster rate to meet our challenges.

“The mindset of the return to sea control is important to understand,” Piercey said.

It is crucial that Sailors understand the sea change taking place in their Navy and it is incumbent on leaders to talk to their Sailors about it. “Our core attributes of integrity, accountability, initiative and toughness guides this change,” Piercey said. He emphasized the characteristics of fitness, identity and belonging as being central to toughness.

“It’s a culture mindset,” Piercey said. “In order to have Sailor’s buy in, there has to be a continuing effort to communicate so Sailors understand.”

Rear Adm. Patrick Piercey
Rear Adm. Patrick Piercey
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