Vice Admiral Rowden's Message


You can read the text of it over at Salamander’s place.  Micromanagement?  Possibly.  Necessary?  Some folks, among which is a guy named Greenert, seem to think so.  From where I sit, it seems there is some serious concern (finally) on the part of Navy leadership from the CNO on down, including SURFPAC, that our numbered Fleet Commanders don’t know how to fight their fleets, that Task Force Commanders do not know how to fight their task forces, nor Battle Group Commanders their Battle Groups, or individual COs and Officers, their warships.   There is, it is suspected, a lack of understanding of warfighting at all levels.  From the Operational Arts, to doctrine and tactics, down to techniques, and procedures, there is an alarming lack of understanding in areas for which we should strive for mastery.  In addition, it is likely that there is serious question about the true state of readiness of our fleet and the ships and aircraft (and Sailors) which comprise it.  Maintenance, training, proficiency, mindset, all these are suspect.


I think SURFPAC’s message is a very good step in the right direction.  It may also shake out the most egregious impediments to training for war, both self-inflicted and externally imposed.  This includes peripheral tasks that take up inordinate time and attention, maintenance and manpower shortcomings that render weapons and engineering systems non-mission capable, and jumping through burdensome administrative hoops required to perform the most basic of combat training.


I cannot say whether or not VADM Rowden dislikes Mission Command.  I hope that he does not, because the ability of junior commanders to take the initiative and act boldly across widely-flung battlefields in the absence of orders has been the critical element of success for many centuries.  But Mission Command requires junior leaders who are positively imbued in their craft, and senior leaders who understand what must be done and can clearly express their intent (and then have the courage to trust their subordinates).   The entirety of the US Navy, more so perhaps than the other services, must rely on such leadership for its survival in combat with an enemy.  Unfortunately, the Navy may be the service that has become the most over-supervised and zero-defect-laden bastion of micromanagement in all of DoD.

Gunnery training aboard U.S.S. Astoria (CA-34), spring 1942.

Vice Admiral Rowden’s message has an almost desperate tone to it.   As if, to quote Service, Navy leadership realizes that it is later than you think.  One cannot help but be reminded of the myriad comments from US cruiser sailors in 1942.  Following initial and deadly encounters with a skilled and fearsome Japanese Navy in the waters off the Solomons, many deckplate sailors swore they would never again bitch about the seemingly incessant gunnery and damage control drills that interrupted their shipboard lives.    Like 1942, a Naval clash against a near-peer who can muster temporary advantage will be a costly affair where even the winner is badly bloodied.  Unlike 1942, there is no flood of new warships on the slips which can make good such losses.


Words from an earlier post of USS Hugh W. Hadley, on the picket line off Okinawa, reinforce the importance of what VADM Rowden wants:


                      1.  It must be impressed that constant daily drills in damage control using all personnel on the ship and especially those who are not in the regular damage control parties will prove of  value when emergencies occur.  The various emergency pumps which were on board were used effectively to put out fires.  Damage control schools proved their great value and every member of the crew is now praising this training.

                      2.  I was amazed at the performance of the 40 and 20 guns.  Contrary to my expectation, those smaller guns shot down the bulk of the enemy planes. Daily the crews had dinned into their minds the following order “LEAD THAT  PLANE”.  Signs were painted at the gun stations as follows “LEAD THAT PLANE”.  It worked, they led and the planes flew right through our projectiles.

Not the things of (fill in the blank) History Month or of SAPR or “diversity” training….

11 thoughts on “Vice Admiral Rowden's Message”

  1. Setting a training standard is not a violation of Mission Command.

    I’m sure if Esli finds a bit of time, he can devote more to the subject.

    What annoys me is that the front porch at Sal’s is full of people complaining of the lack of warfighting training, and as soon as this message hits, they complain that it’s too hard!

  2. Much like Jack Aubrey discovers that his crew has been lax at gunnery at the beginning of every cruise, I suspect the VADM has discovered that USN is not combat ready, and is taking steps to fix an unacceptable level of readiness. Could also be a directed fix for a lack of maintenance as well. (do we really know our weapons are mission capable?). I have no idea how he derived the quantity or parameters, but I am sure that he did so to a specific purpose. I don’t see this as a violation of mission command, but as an example of it. He has laid out his intent (readiness), provided guidance (albeit very specific), ensured resourcing, and provided a mechanism for an out if they can’t make mission. What he did not specify is how to do the task, leaving all kinds of room for subordinate initiative. My only concern is when every barrel in the entire navy needs replacing at the same time. In a separate note, I would have loved to receive this order… Or is it really just an insidious plan to consume all the navy’s ammo prior to a certain date?

  3. I’m guessing that you saw Commander Lippold (USS Cole) and Captain Rinn (USS Samuel B Robert) at the USNA Museum last summer for their Fight The Ship presentation.

    I note that neither of them said that they wished their crews were not drilled as much, or that the drilling was easier and less realistic. They also didn’t say that they wished their officers and chiefs were more dependent on the CO and took less initiative.

    1. I got the chance to hear Kirk Lippold speak some years ago. Wish I would have seen him last summer.

  4. Main problem with the message is that it could have been a *lot* shorter.

    “Combat preparedness is the #1 priority of the U.S. Navy. Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

    “England expects that every man will do his duty.”

  5. Is it any surprise that the COs don’t know how to fight the ship? In the last twenty years (more or less), what has been rewarded with promotion? Political correctness or war fighting skills? I read the book on the Sammy B Roberts; I think it was called No Higher Honor. Great book. The CO from the git go decided not to have the junior ensign as DCA but an experienced LT (jg). As I recall, the JG didn’t like being put in a billet that more junior officers usually fill, but he ran with and drilled the crew hard on damage control. This guy transferred off the ship prior to the deployment in which she struck a mine, but finagled a trip to the gulf to she his shipmates by getting on the investigating board. Long story short, when he appeared on the quarter deck, the chief that was OOD hugged him and thanked him so much for all the work he put in as DCA. I bet he wasn’t the only one either.

    1. Tell me you’re kidding that the DCA was usually an ENS! I get that FFGs don’t have a huge wardroom, but isn’t the CHENG an LCDR slot? Which should give him an LT for MPA and an LT for DCA!

      DCA (while not known by that name at the time) was an LT job on WW2 DEs.

  6. I no longer have the book, but I do remember that the CO made the assignment above what would be normal. I have never served on an FFG but I did serve on a Spruance class DD and our CHENG billet was a LT. Our DCA was a jg. Spruance DDs had a crew of over 300 but an FFG had about 185 to 200?

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