The U.S. Navy’s top surface warfare officer has issued a call to action — or a warning — to his crews: They need to develop a “sense of urgency” regarding the Russian and Chinese navies.
In an address to the Surface Navy Association in Washington, D.C., this week, Vice Adm. Richard Brown said that U.S. warship crews, for the first time since the Cold War, must make ready for aggressive actions by adversaries with peer or near-peer capabilities at sea, such as when a Chinese navy destroy came within yards of ‘scraping paint’ off a U.S. destroyer last fall in the South China Sea.
Also, for the first time since World War II, junior officers and enlisted personnel may have to step in for senior leaders if they are cut off our killed outright during a surprise attack using sophisticated new weapons, Breaking Defense reported.
Brown painted a much different threat picture than what has existed for much of the past 25 years, when American naval commanders had little to worry about in terms of facing a real threat at sea.
The resurgence of Russia and China’s rise has changed that dynamic, however. Brown noted the next major war could well resemble what the U.S. faced in the South Pacific when battling Japan — a military with great skill and zeal that often overcame superior American technologies.
“You know, the Battle of Guadalcanal was a brutal campaign, but shows us what the next fight could be like,” Brown told an audience of naval officers and industry executives, Breaking Defense noted.
“The naval engagements went something like this: Usually at one or two in the morning, a sailor, either Japanese or American, saw a silhouette on the horizon, the search lights came on, and the opening salvos of 5- to 16-inch shells began slamming into ships at an average range of 3,400 yards. Usually, the CO (skipper), XO (executive officer) and senior officers – even admirals – were killed immediately – but what happened?” Brown said.
“Quartermaster[s] 3rd [class] took command of pilot houses and kept the ships in formation, engineers kept steam to the main engines and the screws turning, damage control teams kept the ships afloat, and ensigns and JGs (lieutenants, junior grade) put their gun mounts in local control and continued firing – continued firing – and we won,” he said.
Modern weapons preclude those kinds of scenarios — the distances are far greater and guns aren’t used much anymore — but the rapid decent into combat and the need to fill in for senior staff who are killed or wounded definitely exists, Brown emphasized.
“Most importantly, we must prepare for this great power competition by embracing the concept of Mission Command,” Brown said, a concept where superiors set clear objectives and that instruct subordinates how to step up and continue the fight when needed.
“Mission command requires innovation and creativity, experimentation and rapid learning,…. While we need to deliberately plan for large-scale fleet engagements– and we’re doing that — emphasizing mission command will prepare our commanders to react to an environment rife with the fog of war, loss of communications, and imperfect information, while still executing commander’s intent,” Brown said.
At the end of the Cold War, the U.S. Navy had complete sea dominance. But over the past two decades, that’s changed, Brown noted. U.S. warships are shadowed by modern Russian and Chinese vessels and submarines. At the same time, highly advances weapons such as missiles and radar have eroded American superiority at sea.
As a way of training up surface fleet officers, Brown said he’ll rely heavily on the three-year-old Surface & Mine Warfare Development Center, a kind of Top Gun school that teaches naval combat techniques, as well as a newly forming Surface Development Squadron, which will experiment with ways to integrate small, medium, and large unmanned surface vessels.