With the San Diego-based Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group sailing toward an increasingly aggressive North Korea, the Pacific Fleet’s top submariner reminded everyone Wednesday that one of his underwater hunters got there first.
In a morning address to the San Diego Military Advisory Council, Rear Adm. Frederick Roegge — commander of the Pacfic Fleet’s Submarine Force — noted the Monday arrival of the Michigan in the South Korean port of Busan.
“What I can tell you is what the Seventh Fleet’s press announcement said — that the USS Michigan, one of my guided-missile submarines, carries about 150 Tomahawk missiles,” Roegge said. “It’s equipped to support the Navy SEALs, the Navy’s special warfare warriors. I can tell you that our ship is visiting our friend and partner and ally of South Korea on a scheduled port visit. You’re on your own to draw your own conclusions.”
North Korean officials continue to build and test nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to strike America. Repeated statements made by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other top officials that “all options are on table” to confront Pyongyang’s proliferation programs “should give military commanders pause” and take them seriously, Roegge said.
But Roegge isn’t just watching North Korea. Headquartered in Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor, Roegge’s command stretches from the coast of Washington to San Diego and Guam.
During his speech Wednesday, he termed the Indo-Asia-Pacific region straddling his command the “demographic center of gravity.” Drawing a circle with an epicenter in China, a circumference running through Japan, Indonesia, India and western Russia, he noted that more people on Earth live inside the circle than outside it.
China and Beijing’s neighbors continue to contest territory in the Western Pacific and the South China Sea. Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan spar over a wide range of disputes. And the region continues to serve as a global center of economic activity.
Fifteen of the world’s 20 busiest seaports are in Asia, six in China alone. Because America is a maritime trading nation with vital interests in the region, Roegge said that the speed, stealth, endurance, lethal punch and electronic connectivity of his submarines help keep the peace.
His underwater arsenal includes attack submarines that hunt enemy warships; the ballistic missile boomers that help to maintain America’s deterrence against an enemy’s first strike nuclear attack; guided-missile submarines like the Michigan; and an increasing fleet of submerged drones.
They don’t hold an underwater monopoly on military might. Fourteen different nations rimming the Pacific Ocean deploy 309 submarines, with another 63 under construction, and competitors are gaining against the U.S. Navy.
During the Cold War, American shipyards launched three to four new submarines every year, Roegge said. Those subs are being decommissioned at about the same rate now, but America’s industrial base can sustain only a pair of replacements annually.
Congress appears committed to supporting 66 nuclear submarines, with the top priority given to replacing aging ballistic missile submarines. Beginning in 2031, the Columbia-class of nuclear submarines promises to go four decades without refueling — twice as long as the subs they will replace.
Often overshadowed by San Diego’s large number of surface warships, Navy aircraft and Camp Pendleton’s units, five Los Angeles-class attack submarines homeport here and two more will join them in 2021, part of an ongoing pivot of America’s military power to the Pacific Ocean.
The Navy’s Undersea Rescue Command also is headquartered in San Diego, ready to save distressed submariners worldwide, and the local sub forces boast a floating dry dock for maintaining the vessels.
At sea, Roegge served aboard the submarines Whale, Florida and Key West and commanded the Connecticut before he took the helm of Submarine Squadron 22 and Naval Support Activity La Maddalena, Italy. He took command of the Pacific Fleet’s sub force in 2015.
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