Home » Aviation » SWO Boss Rowden Out Early As Part of Additional Disciplinary Actions for Fatal McCain, Fitzgerald Collisions

SWO Boss Rowden Out Early As Part of Additional Disciplinary Actions for Fatal McCain, Fitzgerald Collisions

Outoging commander of Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet Vice Adm. Tom Rowden speaks with the crew of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Higgins (DDG-76) on Sept. 17, 2017. US Navy Photo

The head of U.S. naval surface forces will be replaced this week following the results of an independent investigation into the two fatal collisions in the Western Pacific that claimed the lives of 17 sailors, several defense officials confirmed to USNI News this week.

Vice Adm. Tom Rowden was set to retire in a ceremony on Feb. 2 before being replaced as commander of U.S. Surface Forces (SURFOR) and U.S. Surface Force Pacific (SURFPAC) but will instead quietly depart the position to allow his replacement, Rear Adm. Richard Brown, to take charge sooner.

A spokesman for Rowden did not return messages for comment.

Rowden’s earlier-than-expected departure was a direct result of findings from an independent look into the factors behind the collisions of USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) and USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) in the Western Pacific by head of Naval Reactors Adm. James F. Caldwell.

Caldwell reported his findings to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and other Navy leaders over the weekend that included unspecified disciplinary actions for Rowden that resulted in the early turnover, several sources confirmed to USNI News.

Rowden had already agreed in September to leave the Navy early following a preliminary investigation into the Aug. 21 collision between McCain and a chemical tanker that found a poorly trained watch team lost control of the destroyer in a busy waterway off Singapore, USNI News reported at the time. The collision killed 10 sailors.

The McCain incident followed a June 18 collision between Fitzgerald and cargo ship ACX Crystal in which a watch team and the officer of the deck on duty ignored the commander’s standing orders and led to a collision that killed seven sailors and injured three others, including the ship’s commander.

Adm. James F. Caldwell, Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, gives remarks during an senior leader all hands at Sharkey Theater, July 11, 2017. US Navy Photo

Rowden’s early exit precedes additional action from the Navy as part of Caldwell’s findings. It’s unclear what additional accountability actions Caldwell recommend for those beyond Rowden.

Caldwell was appointed as the Consolidated Disposition Authority (CDA) for administrative and disciplinary actions related to the Fitzgerald and McCain collisions by Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran in late October.

He was tasked to “provide a fresh, independent perspective. The complexity, scope, and the tragic consequences of these collisions warrant that the Navy exercise due diligence to ensure that the Navy acts fairly and appropriately,” read a Navy statement provided to USNI News in late October.
“Appointing a CDA ensures that the process will be thorough, fair, impartial, and efficient.”

CNO Richardson and Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer are set to appear before the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee on Thursday to testify on the two reviews conducted following the Western Pacific collisions.

To date, the Navy has removed commanders and executive officers of both McCain and Fitzgerald; Capt. Jeffery Bennett, commodore of the Japan-based Destroyer Squadron 15 to which both ships belonged; the Japan-based task force commander, Rear Adm. Charles Williams; and the commander of U.S. 7th Fleet, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin.

U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Scott Swift announced his earlier-than-expected retirement in late September.

  • Ed L

    The navy could start by reassigning 8 or 10 the 24 YP hulls currently resident in Annapolis. To various naval stations for NROTC and junior officers to practice. A SWO starts in the Navy at the time he or she picks the surface warfare community in the various commissioning source—the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA), Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC), or Officer Candidate School (OCS). With the exception of the Naval Academy, time under way and introduction to the art of seamanship is brief. For NROTC midshipmen, it is relegated to a three-four week summer training. At OCS, future officers receive only a cursory introduction to navigation. On the other hand, the Naval Academy exposes midshipmen to yard patrol (YP) craft for exercises, underway cruisers, and familiarization throughout the academic years and over the summers. While this privilege is part of the Naval Academy experience, it is a poor return on investment (ROI) for the YPs. Also the YP’s could be used by junior officers for ship handling training under the guidance of department heads and Commanding Officers. All things in the Navy, especially when it comes to ships, come at a cost in manning, maintenance, and time. The mind-set instead needs to be on what opportunities are created. For manning, each YP would have a dedicated and permanently assigned “craftmaster,” typically a seasoned boatswain mate chief (BMC), and a mid-to-senior petty officer engineer. This could be further augmented by temporary additional duty (TAD) sailors with journeymen quartermasters and rising navigation plotting operations specialists to fill out the enlisted support from the waterfront. In addition, this would create a solid, post-division officer tour for those navigators rolling to shore duty to serve as training craft detachment officers in charge (OIC) and keep talent sharp while fulfilling the SWO clock requirements. Since afloat training groups are the “eyes and ears of the type commander,” their resident BMCs and QMCs can assist in watching/growing these junior officers. These detachments would be able to perform just as the aviation model has done for years, as a home squadron. For example, a YP squadron at the Naval Academy with a minimal staff footprint to coordinate parts and repairs of the detachments could be as few as two post-department head billets.

    All above is from a Proceedings December 2017 article by Lieutenant Commander Andrews USN.

    As for myself I think a YP or 2 at naval station Great Lakes would be nice. I would also like to see the Navy purchase a number of schooners ranging in size of 40 to 80 feet for additional seamanship navigational training

    • MarlineSpikeMate

      I think tracking people early would really help, such as their freshman year!

    • Rocco

      Agreed!!! The Perry’s are also a great example of this if they can’t or refuse to put them in the fleet!!! Back in my time old Garcia class gun boats FFG were in active reserve & as a sea cadet went out on 2 weeks training.

  • leroy

    Heads are rolling at the top of the food chain. The Navy usually tries to pin the blame, end careers, as far down the chain of command as they possibly can. Seems not this time. Good!

  • D. Jones

    Still nothing on the OOD of either ship.

    Agree with heads rolling at the top, but why is the Navy protecting those who were directly responsible ? (on-duty & apparantly negligent)

    • Guest

      Looks like the 3 JOs (2 LTs and 1 LTJG) on the FITZGERALD are being referred to Art 32 hearings. Most likely one of them is the OOD and maybe the others are the TAO, Conning Officer or JOOD. They are caught up in the risk going to Courts Martial too.

  • OldHickory21

    It’s good to see top Navy leadership make a clean sweep here. The optimal training pipeline for Surface Warfare should be redesigned starting with a clean sheet of paper. I recommend a panel of top education experts in different fields together with top trainers from around the Navy and around DOD to oversee the redesign and implementation. It’s sad that prior top leaders let training get cannibalized to the point that we were putting people out in the Fleet who were set up to fail, and which resulted in totally unnecessary loss of life and humiliating loss of Navy and National pride. This failure is unprecedented in that these were not isolated accidents like, for example, the Belknap collision—-this was a systemic failure cause by prior leadership who completely disregarded the importance of training in the Surface Warfare community. It’s eerily reminiscent of the systemic failure caused by shortening of overhauls for nuclear subs in the 1960s that probably caused the loss of USS Scorpion, and resulted in the SUBSAFE program.

    • wilkinak

      Clean sweep? They haven’t changed anything. Brown is as much a part of the problem as Rowden. He was in charge of SWOS for pete’s sake, which everyone pretty much agrees is a big part of the problem, so they give him the lead of fixing it.

      If they put an aviator, or a submariner in charge, I would call it a clean sweep. The senior SWO ranks ARE the problem.

      • Rocco


    • Rocco

      What clean sweep??? That starts at the top With the CNO & SECNAV!!

  • b2

    What about CNO and VCNO themselves? They were accountable and responsible for these tragedies on their watch too, right? Everyone of flag rank who commanded over the past 5-10 years is responsible for the state of the USN today. As a further specific example, what about USMC aviation? Over the past 5 years they have suffered from a horrible non-combat mishap rate leading to more lost life than the US Navy ship handling mishaps referenced in this article… Seen any Marine generals “canned” lately? My point is, the entire USN/USMC leadership are infested with the same “mediocrity of leadership” and that label probably goes for the USAF and US Army too…. SECDEF? Leadership is failing across the board. Even the potentially effective officers form this modern crop know when to keep their mouths shut for self preservation…IMO, the culture of leadership needs to change and we must get back to basics and Naval tradition like what was done during the first Reagan administration…. Tighten it up.

    • BillyP

      And did not the C-in-C not drive this collapse in professional culture? Just look at the way he would casually wave as he jogged down the steps of the helicopter – call that a respectful salute?
      Why does he not appear in the list of the accused?

      • publius_maximus_III

        Because he’s THE ONE.

    • Rocco

      I was just thinking the same thing as I red this & you took the words right out of my mouth!!! Especially the past CNO!!

    • Automatemarine.com

      President Nixon, started the EPA and he recognized that Univac size computers wer necessary to backup human OOW’s
      and I founded a company to do Real Time situation Collision Avoidance and Nixon mandated DigiPLOTin US Marad tankers. President Carter’ 1978 port and tanker’s law intending to prevent any more Argo Merchant type collisions, allusions (which occurred 5 times as often in US waters than moving ships in a 10 year USCG study) or groundings that essentially federalized all 1973 state laws of Al, Ca & Wa that put in place to proven oil spills in those states for the 100’s of huge tankers that would be taking Alaskan oil to the lower 48. Six US Navy tankers volunteered to comply with the law plus 2 destroyers and 8 other ships. All Combat ships were recommended, BUT excluded due an erroneous HW decision that their expensive weapon radars andNTDS, and several OOW’s using WW II Manual plotting aids like grease pencils were a cheap solution. From 1971 to 82 when
      Manual ARPAs were allowed stifling all
      Innovation in marine radar automation.
      After 550 ships were fitted fo $40M
      That were on 24/7 for 60 m safe hours!
      Ready to resume New NAVYproduction

  • Yoda

    The bad guys here are the 565 idiots that sit in the nation’s capital every day trying to shave budget dollars for pet projects. On both boats, the primary causal effect was from fatigue and overwork. When you’re pushing people to work 100 hour weeks for weeks at a time, you are brewing up the perfect disaster.
    We’re gonna build a wall because a couple of Texas yahoos want it – for the same amount of money we could bring forces up to levels where training and R&R are possible.

    The whole chain of command from the Congress and the President (and I mean all four consisting of the current and last 3) is responsible for these tragedies.

    • RRL

      So true. How is it that year after year congress can’t get their heads out of the cave and do their job. Oh yeah…right…they have more time off than on and no accountability. They make the rules but don’t have to follow them…already shown us that multiple times.

    • Charles S Arrants

      Yoda….you are spot on sir….how can we make them see that “root cause” is how many times we saved money on the backs of our surface fleet. Please check out Proceedings and the article “what happened to our surface forces”…Jan. 2018

    • publius_maximus_III

      I disagree that the failure was due to fatigue and overwork, or a lack of funding. In at least one of the mishaps, one of the crewmen at the controls was a transfer from a cruiser to a destroyer. Apparently he thought he knew all that he needed to know about the controls on a much smaller ship. After all, he had driven a cruiser. Turns out his assumption was a mistake. A fatal mistake.

    • Jay

      Actually, NONE of the Texas Congressional delegation — in the House at least — want a wall. Hard to tell what Cruz and Cornyn want at any hour…. serial liars.

    • Rocco


  • Guest

    What a joke. Rowden is “forced” to retire a couple of weeks early. That is a really harsh punishment. I bet that the Navy will also make note of this fact in his “permanent record”. None of this will prevent Rowden from getting some fat $$$ as a defense consultant.

    • wilkinak

      or his fat retirement pay

  • proudrino

    “CNO Richardson and Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer are set to appear before the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee on Thursday to testify on the two reviews conducted following the Western Pacific collisions.”

    I’m sure it is just a coincidence that announcements of courts martials and an unscheduled early departure for VADM Rowden comes a couple days before the CNO and SECNAV meets with Congress.

  • BillyP

    I like your turn of phrase. However, I doubt that DT has been there long enough to have this effect. I was thinking more of B Hussein Obama who seemed to act as if he was working actively to destroy the US military: capability, ethos, pride, …
    Or maybe I could shorten that last phrase?

  • BillyP

    You shouldn’t assume. We don’t get Fox here. I read the WaPo and WSJ – as if that is of any relevance to the debate.
    I don’t understand your “white bread” comment – worth explaining?

  • Rocco

    Lol kudos

  • Chesapeakeguy

    Rowden is the guy who started the ‘distributed lethality’ concept, isn’t he?