Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden turned over the reins of the Naval Surface Force Pacific Thursday after a recommendation that he be relieved. (MCSN Jesse Marquez Magallanes/Navy)
The Navy’s top surface warfare officer stepped aside Thursday, turning over to reins to the former commanding officer of Navy Personnel Command.
Vice Admiral Richard Brown took over for Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden as the head of Naval Surface Force Pacific, inheriting a community and force searching for answers after one of its most troubled years in recent memory.
Rowden stepped down this week after the Navy’s consolidated disposition authority, tasked with overseeing disciplinary actions in the wake of this summer’s deadly collisions, recomended he be relieved. He was planning to retire within the next three weeks. Defense News reported his likely decision earlier this week.
Brown is a 1985 Naval Academy grad who has spent the vast majority of his time at sea on cruisers and destroyers. He has previously commanded the destroyer The Sullivans, the cruiser Gettysburg and Carrier Strike Group 11.
Rowden made leading a renaissance in surface warfare the pillar of his time at the helm, calling for his ships to shift from a primarily defensive mission to developing offensive capabilities and tactics in order to complicate the calculations by potential adversaries in the Pacific theater.
He oversaw the reorganization of the littoral combat ship program, moving from a complicated manning system that split three crews between two ships to a blue/gold crew model, dividing two crews between each ship.
He also moved the program away from rapid switching out of mission packages to single-mission ships where the crew were experts in their warfare areas, be it mine warfare, surface warfare or anti-submarine warfare.
But over the past year, his command has been shaken by questions about how much he knew about ongoing readiness issues in 7th Fleet and how much he did to ward off the disasters that befell McCain and Fitzgerald.
In his final speech to the Surface Navy Association annual symposium last week, he called on the military to give the Navy more ships and ease its commitments to fix the issues uncovered by the reviews conducted by U.S. Fleet Forces Command and the secretary of the Navy.
Rowden said the sailors he spoke with in the Pacific told him they need more support.
“They need help, and by help, they mean time,” Rowden said of his sailors. “Time to maintain their gear, time to refresh their basic individual and team skills, and time to unwind. Time will only come from two things, or a combination of them: more ships and fewer obligations. It is hard to see things any other way.”
Both Rowden and Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Scott Swift announced their retirements in the immediate wake of the accidents. Both the commanding officers of Fitzgerald and McCain were relieved as well as senior leaders on the ships. Both the one-star Reagan strike group commander and the head of the Japan-based Destroyer Squadron 15 were relieved, as well as the three-star head of the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet in Japan.