Making sure the US fleet’s warships are ready for combat is the responsibility of Vice Adm. Tom Rowden, the US Navy’s top surface warfare officer. He manages some of the Navy’s newest ships, such as the littoral combat ship and soon, the Zumwalt-class destroyers, along with cruisers, destroyers, minesweepers and amphibious ships that have been in service since the 1980s and 1990s. All of those ships need to be manned, trained and equipped between heavy operational commitments and strained maintenance budgets.
Q. What are your priorities for 2015?
A. It’s all about warfighting first and the competence and confidence that will lead to that. I am driving to ensure we have confident commanding officers, confident department heads, confident chiefs. Confident in their ability, their training, and in the ship that they’re standing on, and that we’ve created competence in their mind so that whatever mission they’re assigned, they can go execute it.
Q. The Navy proposed inactivating a number of cruisers and amphibious ships for several reasons, including prolonging the lives of the cruisers, dealing with manpower shortages in the fleet — specifically sea-going billets — and saving some money. What are your plans now that Congress has rejected those proposals?
A. Certainly there is work that has to be done with respect to all of the players involved in the execution of the cruiser modernization. I think there’s flexibility in that these ships will remain in commission and the individuals that would require a long time to get back, we’re maintaining those billets. If a national emergency comes and we have to move rapidly to return those ships to service, we can do that.
With manpower, the trend I’m seeing is that we’re filling the billets to a higher level and the required skills is at a higher percentage as well. The other thing is manning levels fluctuate within the cycle of the ship — typically, when a ship returns from deployment, a lot of individuals will transfer off, causing a dip in the manning and a dip in personnel readiness. Then we start to build that back up through the maintenance period into the training phases. There has been, I would say, not significant but certainly perceptible movement towards getting that manning up earlier in the cycle. As I have circulated around the fleet and talked to the wardrooms and the chiefs’ messes, the trend is positive with respect to where we’re going with manning.