Surface Force CDR Directing the Future of Surface Fleet (Multi-Video)

Sailors assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Chafee (DDG 90) and the USNS Pecos (T-AO 197), break away from a replenishment-at-sea. Chafee is part of the U.S. 3rd Fleet and U.S. Naval Surface Forces, currently deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility on a routine scheduled deployment. The forces of both fleets complement one another across the spectrum of military operations in the Pacific. (Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Benjamin A. Lewis)

Commander, Naval Surface Forces (CNSF), Vice Adm. Tom Rowden is taking a holistic approach to implementing recommendations from the Comprehensive Review of Surface Force Incidents (CR) to ensure safe and effective ship operations at sea, the safety of our Sailors and the readiness of our surface forces.

In the wake of three collisions and one grounding involving U.S. Navy ships this year, Vice Chief of Naval (VCNO) Operations Adm. Bill Moran assigned Adm. Phil Davidson, commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, to lead a thorough review of surface ship mishaps over the last decade in order to inform improvements Navy-wide. 

(On Nov. 2, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson briefed the USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) collisions, as well as the Comprehensive Review of Surface Force Incidents. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy and YouTube. Posted on Nov 2, 2017)

“The comprehensive review found that over a sustained period of time, rising pressure to meet operational demands led those in command to rationalize declining standards – standards in fundamental seamanship and watchstanding skills, teamwork, operational safety, assessment and a professional culture,” said Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Adm. John Richardson during a November press conference when he announced the release of the CR.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson

“This resulted in a reduction of operational safety margins.”

Davidson’s report states, “Going forward, the Navy must develop and formalize ‘firebreaks’ into our force generation and employment systems to guard against a slide in standards.”

Based on the recommendations, Rowden and his staff continue to take decisive action to make the Surface Force safer, more proficient and more effective.

Many of the CR recommendations fall within the scope of CNSF and are connected with the surface warfare community.

However, the CR Oversight Board (OSB) is not only focused on implementing the recommended changes from the CR, but also broader initiatives to refine Navy policies, procedures, culture and training.

This process will enhance the readiness of surface combatants.

USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62)

Seventeen sailors were killed this summer when two U.S. Navy destroyers, in separate incidents, collided with commercial vessels in the Pacific. 

The first occurred June 17, when the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald struck the Philippine-flagged tanker ACX Crystal off the coast of Japan, claiming the lives of seven sailors when compartments flooded.

(The commander of the USS Fitzgerald and two senior officers were relieved of their commands for the horrifying crash in June that killed seven sailors. Courtesy of the CBS Evening News and YouTube. Posted on Aug 17, 2017)

The USS Fitzgerald Sailors Lost:

  • Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, from Palmyra, Virginia
  • Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, from San Diego
  • Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25, from Oakville, Connecticut
  • Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, from Weslaco, Texas
  • Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, California
  • Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, Maryland
  • Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, from Elyria, Ohio

USS John S. McCain (DDG-56)

A second incident occurred two months later, on Aug. 21, when the USS John S. McCain hit the Liberian-flagged container ship Alnic MC near the Straits of Malacca, causing the deaths of another 10 sailors.

(As the search for missing sailors from the USS John S. McCain continued, Navy officials said they were looking at multiple possibilities as to what caused the crash. Courtesy of NBC News and YouTube. Posted on Aug 22, 2017)


The USS John McCain Sailors Lost:

  • Electronics Technician 3rd Class Kenneth Aaron Smith, 22, from Cherry Hill, New Jersey
  • Electronics Technician 1st Class Charles Nathan Findley, 31, from Amazonia, Missouri
  • Interior Communications Electrician 1st Class Abraham Lopez, 39, from El Paso, Texas
  • Electronics Technician 2nd Class Kevin Sayer Bushell, 26, from Gaithersburg, Maryland
  • Electronics Technician 2nd Class Jacob Daniel Drake, 21, from Cable, Ohio
  • Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Timothy Thomas Eckels Jr., 23, from Manchester, Maryland
  • Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Corey George Ingram, 28, from Poughkeepsie, New York
  • Electronics Technician 3rd Class Dustin Louis Doyon, 26, from Suffield, Connecticut
  • Electronics Technician 3rd Class John Henry Hoagland III, 20, from Killeen, Texas
  • Interior Communications Electrician 3rd Class Logan Stephen Palmer, 23, from Decatur, Illinois

Vice Adm. Tom Rowden serves as one of the members of the OSB, which the CNO tasked the VCNO to lead.

“The oversight board is going to make sure that we properly prioritize the recommendations in a framework that gets after the great needs of the fleet, and looking at it from the commanding officers’ perspective,” Moran said.

The panel, which includes senior leaders like Davidson and Rowden, meets monthly to evaluate the progress toward implementing the CR recommendations.

Taking this holistic approach, the Navy and its Surface Warfare community are moving quickly to implement immediate actions, as well as moving mid- and long-term initiatives into planning phases for the entire Surface Force.

The efforts made today will set the surface warfare community on the right course to address issues identified in the CR and improve the surface fleet for decades to come.

Vice Adm. Tom Rowden
Vice Adm. Tom Rowden

“I owe it to our Sailors to provide them the tools they need to be the most capable mariners and warfighters possible,” said Rowden.

A combined effort between Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific (CNSP) and Atlantic (CNSL) fleets will lead implementation of recommended changes and track those changes throughout the surface fleet.

Their teams consist of representatives from Naval Sea Systems, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, Naval Personnel Command, Naval Education and Training Command, and other commands that have a role in making changes for current Sailors and how to develop future officers and Sailors to drive their ships, fight and win at sea.

CNSP and CNSL serve as the central node for both realizing recommendations on the deckplates and relaying progress to senior leadership.

At the time this article was submitted for publication, 11 CR recommendations had been accomplished by the Navy.

The Surface Force continues to focus on completing all CR initiatives.

Examples of other initiatives under consideration are a bridge resource management workshop, a junior officer of the deck course, officer of the deck assessments and prospective commanding officer competency checkpoint assessments.

These initiatives were framed using the CR recommendations as well as Sailor feedback from when Rowden visited with commands and ship crews in Japan, Singapore, and Everett, Washington, following the incidents.

“We need to revisit basics and these initiatives are a look at how to do and train the fundamentals correctly,” said Rowden.

“If we can’t master the basics, it will be challenging to be proficient operating at the tactical level.”

While the CR was gathering its information, Rowden, in concert with U.S. Pacific Fleet, commander, Adm. Scott Swift, took immediate action to address needed changes and improvements to the surface fleet at every opportunity.

Following an operational pause directed by the CNO, Rowden recognized a need to improve confidence and competence in the surface Navy.

(The U.S. Navy Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson announces a worldwide operational pause and an investigation into operations into Navy forces around Japan on Aug. 21, 2017. Courtesy of the US Navy and YouTube. Posted on Aug 21, 2017)

To that end, the CNSF commander issued guidance directing a concerted focus on the basics upon which safe navigation rests:

  • Contact management
  • Bridge resource management
  • Subject to the cognizant policies of fleet commanders, the transmission of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) while operating in restricted waters and high-traffic areas
  • The aforementioned circadian rhythm watchbill and shipboard routine implementation, and
  • Ready for sea assessments

Additionally, subordinate commanders were directed to take specific actions such as ensuring more personal involvement with manning, watchbills, training and certification pillars in order to ensure increased safety and readiness of their units and ships – at sea and in port.

Navy banner“We’ve already implemented a number of the recommendations from the CR, and we will continue to address all of the remaining recommendations, ensuring all our initiatives put sharp focus on building better mariners, enhancing our ability to safely operate at sea and ultimately strengthening our warfighting capability,” said Rowden.

“The one thing that remains constant as we implement these initiatives is the dedication of the young Sailors that serve aboard our warships.”

“They take great pride in their profession, as they should.”