July 15, 2024

The Navy fired the commander of one of its ballistic missile submarines on Friday, the service announced in a statement Monday.

The commanding officer of the USS Alabama sub’s blue crew — Cmdr. Michael Lyle — was relieved by Rear Adm. Nicholas Tilbrook, the commander of Submarine Group 9, “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command,” the Navy said.

Lyle has become at least the eighth Navy commander to be removed from command this year and the first ballistic missile submarine skipper to be publically relieved in recent history.

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The Navy’s statement did not offer any more information about why Lyle was removed from leadership, outside of the usual remark that the service expects its commanders “to uphold the highest standards of responsibility, reliability and leadership, and the Navy holds them accountable when they fall short of those standards.”

Cmdr. Amelia Umayam, a spokeswoman for the commander of the Submarine Force U.S. Pacific Fleet, told Military.com in a phone interview that the relief was not due to misconduct.

Senior officers of ballistic missile submarines like Lyle are subject to even further scrutiny since ships like the Alabama can carry up to 20 Trident II D5 ballistic missiles and they are considered a critical part of America’s nuclear deterrent.

The Pentagon’s Nuclear Weapons Personnel Reliability Program — a series of security and medical screenings for individuals with access to nuclear weapons — classifies the position as “critical.”

Other positions in the military that share the same classification are nuclear bomber crews and missile silo personnel.

According to Lyle’s official biography, he was commissioned in the Navy in 2004 and served aboard the USS Houston and USS Buffalo, both attack submarines, before moving to ballistic missile submarines as the executive officer of the USS Louisiana in 2017.

Lyle took command of the submarine’s blue crew in August 2022. The boat is homeported in Bangor, Washington, but was in the shipyard as of last summer. It is not clear if the submarine has since left the yards and returned to an operational state.

Each Navy ballistic submarine has two sets of crews — blue and gold. They take turns manning the submarines and taking them on patrol.

According to the Navy, “this maximizes the [submarine]’s strategic availability, reduces the number of submarines required to meet strategic requirements, and allows for proper crew training, readiness, and morale.”

During his career, Lyle completed three strategic deterrent patrols, four Western Pacific deployments as well as “nine missions vital to national security” and an Afghanistan deployment where he was “the leader of a Navy postal platoon responsible for the mail mission in three provinces,” his biography said.

The Navy said that the deputy commodore of Commander, Submarine Squadron 17, Cmdr. Larry Arbuckle, has stepped in as the submarine’s interim commanding officer.

— Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on X at @ktoropin.

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