Surface Warfare Magazine
Sharing stories and news from Sailors across the U.S. Navy’s Surface Forces
Surface Force Commander Directing the Future of the Surface Fleet

SAN DIEGO – 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.

“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. This resulted in a reduction of operational safety margins,” said Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Adm. John Richardson during a November press conference when he announced the release of the CR.

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.

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.


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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. “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 are leading implementation of recommended changes and tracking 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 who have a role in making changes for current Sailors and developing 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 being tested now are a bridge resource management workshop afloat, a junior officer of the deck course, officer of the deck assessments, and prospective commanding officer competency checkpoints. These initiatives were framed using the CR recommendations as well as Sailor feedback from the fleet.

“We need to revisit basics. These initiatives look at how to train to the fundamentals correctly,” said Rowden. “If we can’t master the basics, it will be challenging to be a proficient warfighter.”

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

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 circadian rhythm watchbill and shipboard routine implementation; and ready for sea assessments. Additionally, subordinate commanders were directed to have more personal involvement with manning, watchbills, training, and certification pillars in order to ensure increased safety and readiness of their units and ships.

“We’ve already implemented a number of the recommendations from the CR, and we will continue to address 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.” Surface Warfare Magazine

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