13 October 2016
PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Adversaries such as Russia and China are increasingly challenging the United States’ dominance of the seas, said the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command Oct. 12.
Rivals are attempting to “deny our sea control and that is a big change,” said Adm. Philip Davidson.
Sea access denial is part of three operational threat paradigms that the two nations are trying to exploit, he said during the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Expeditionary Warfare Conference. NDIA is the publisher of National Defense magazine.
“That is an area when I compare and contrast where we are today and where we were 15 years ago where we took a lot of risk,” he said. “We took that risk over the last 15 years … in order to build cyber forces, in order to build COIN [counterinsurgency] forces, in order to put blue in support of green on battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq and across North Africa. We let some of the sea control capability die,” he added.
The second operational threat is nuclear weapon proliferation, he said. Both Russia and China are building new ballistic missile submarines and testing them.
“This environment has really changed over the last few years,” he said. “For the first time in any of your lives … somebody other than the Soviet Union/Russia can threaten the United States with a nuclear weapon from the sea.” North Korea is also developing more powerful and small nuclear weapons, he noted.
The third threat area is the rise of the information domain, he said. Both state and non-state actors are exploiting networks and gaining access to them.
These operational threats come as a time when the United States faces challenges from a variety of actors, he said. In what has become known as the four-plus-one threat environment, the country’s adversaries include Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State.
To get at the issue, the Navy is employing a four-pillar strategy. The first includes increasing the service’s situational awareness through the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air concept, which the service has been using for a couple of years, he said.
Through NIFC-CA “we are extending the sensor range of our assets and we’re extending the … reach of the weapons,” he said. The architecture is used as a way to share fire control information throughout the fleet quickly, he said.
“It’s shaping our thinking about how this fleet will operate going forward,” he said.
The service is also putting a premium on modularity and flexibility throughout the fleet, he said. For example, the configuration of a carrier air group will need to be adjustable going forward.
“We can make that air wing whatever it is we want,” he said. “It’s shape and form today is to handle the pressures that are over there in the Middle East. The shape and form that we plan for in the years coming forward is different.”
Underwater vehicles and sensors will also be important in the future, he said. “If you can connect undersea [assets] to a network … you can solve a lot of problems. Now trust me that, that’s not a panacea” but it helps.
The service also took some risk when it came to training sailors and the Navy can no longer afford to do so again, he said. The service plans to take advantage of live, virtual and constructive training, he said.