Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Nice To Meet You, Wouldn't Want To Be You

Nice to meet you, wouldn’t want to be you!  That’s how Navy officers must be looking at prospective LCS commands these days.  LCS command is beginning to look like a one way ticket to career suicide.  Two LCS CO’s have been fired this year.  Given how few vessels are in service and how very, very few cumulative days at sea have been racked up by the LCS’s, that’s a staggering firing rate!

“Cmdr. Michael Wohnhaas, who commanded LCS Crew 106, was relieved “due to loss of confidence in his ability to effectively lead and carry out his assigned duties” on Oct. 13 by Commander of Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet (SURFPAC) Vice Adm. Tom Rowden.” (1)

“Cmdr. Michael L. Atwell, formerly the commanding officer of LCS Crew 101, was relieved of his position on Monday as a direct result of the investigation following the Jan. 12 propulsion casualty that has left the ship sidelined in Singapore.” (2)

It would be one thing if these CO’s were fired for committing a crime or for gross personal misconduct but these officers were fired for no reason other than having the bad luck to be in command when engineering breakdowns occurred – the same breakdowns that have systematically afflicted the LCS class and led to every LCS that has put to sea being sidelined for one problem or another.  Six of the seven commissioned LCS’s have experienced engineering breakdowns.  In its infinite wisdom, the Navy has concluded that the engineering breakdowns were, somehow, the fault of the command officers.  I understand the concept of ultimate responsibility resting with the CO but to blame the Captain for what is clearly a class-wide, systemic problem is insane.  All that’s going to do is scare prospective CO’s away from the LCS program!

If the Navy really wanted to affix blame where it belongs and demonstrate a loss of confidence they would fire the person who came up with the minimally manned crew concept that put overworked, overstressed personnel in situations they weren’t prepared to handle.  They would fire the person who developed the obviously inadequate training process for LCS engineering personnel.  They would fire the person who purchased such complex machinery that the best trained engineers in the Navy (according to the Navy) can’t seem to operate the equipment without screwing it up.  They would fire the person who developed a needlessly complex LCS engineering plant.  They would fire the person who specified a speed requirement that has no tactical utility but resulted in an overly complex engineering plant.  And so on.  Unfortunately, the Navy is more interested in PR and scapegoats than actual accountability.

Prospective LCS commanding officers …….  run away !!!


(1)USNI News website, “USS Freedom Crew CO Relieved Of Duty After Investigation Into Engine Damage”, Megan Eckstein, 14-Oct-2016,

(2)USNI News website, “USS Fort Worth CO Relieved Over January Propulsion Casualty”, Sam LaGrone, 28-Mar-2016,


  1. Why don't the COs of the LCS Squadrons take tours as COs and show their officers how it can be done? How about Admiral Rowden trying it? Better yet get PEO LCS and CO NAVSEA to try it.

    Opps that would be leadership.

    1. VADM Rowden should be fired immediately. He ran this program while in OPNAV. He is now responsible for the training and operations of these ships. He is a failure.

  2. This seems to be a collision between the Navy's zero defect mentality, the novel crew manning concept that they put in place, and the 'revolutionary' engineering plant on the ship.

    I'm not defending the crew manning concept, or the ship, but if you want to have a totally new concept, then you have to allow it the room to grow. Once again, alot of this could have been avoided if the first two ships were true test ships that were wrung out to prove the concept.

    We've become a more bureaucratic force, it seems; punishing slights to keep the record clean rather than trying to really problem solve. It can't be the fault of the ship or the concept. Those are transformational for a large(ish) surface ship.

    As an aside, the zero defect mentality is more worrisome to me after I listened to a midrats on Patton. Apparently he'd received some bad performance reviews in his career; reviews that nowadays may have sidelined his career.

    I wonder if we are shelving good combat officers today.

    1. "I wonder if we are shelving good combat officers today."

      You wonder???? Anyone with an ounce of combativeness is ruthlessly weeded out. Great leaders almost invariable ruffle feathers and make enemies of the "lesser" mortals that surround them. If you aren't a milktoast team player today, you don't advance. Only a war can change that. This is no different than WWII when we had to wholesale eliminate the peacetime command levels and find fighters. Unfortunately, a lot of sailors died while that process played out.

    2. Hi
      I'm a longtime reader of this excellent blog, but I have never commented before as I have no naval experience.
      But I have a little forces leadership experience.
      I just wondered are the Chinese army/ navy leaders who shows signs of combativeness being weeded out of there careers.
      There aggressive sailing and flying styles when faced by US surveillance flights suggests that's not the case

    3. MA, welcome! Naval experience is not a requirement to comment, by any means. Common sense, facts, and logic are more than enough qualifications! You can read up on naval history and tactics from many good books and websites, if you have the interest. Please continue to comment!

      You raise a good question. Of course, I have no idea what criteria China uses to promote but, as you point out, there certainly seems to be an acceptance of aggressiveness, at the very least, if not rewards. This may prove to be a challenge for us down the road if/when it comes to war. China may have more aggressive military leaders.

      On the other hand, China's governing style is still centralized which tends to discourage individual initiative. So, maybe a mixed bag when it comes to leadership quality?

      Excellent question and I wish I had a more definitive answer.

    4. China is apparently trying to promote individual initiative in their fighter pilots and from the actions of their navy recently, I think they're well on their way to increasing the military aggressiveness.

      On to the sacking of CO's for LCS failures, I would think that since most of these were maiden voyages, that they would have more experienced Captains to command, at first. Is this me being naïve?

  3. An ex commander of the PLA navy Liu Huaquing published his memoirs, anyone here seen a copy?
    There may be some clues to be gleaned in it. He was commander of the PLA navy from 82-88 according to Wikipedia

    1. I have not heard of that. Thanks for the heads up. I'll keep an eye out for it. It's got to be fascinating reading.


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