News Branch Navy

Captain of missile submarine USS Alabama fired for ‘loss of confidence’

The submarine can be armed with 20 nuclear missiles, which it can fire in a matter of minutes.
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fired sub captain USS Alabama
Cmdr. Michael Lyle was relieved of command of the USS Alabama on Sep. 22 by Rear Adm. Nicholas Tilbrook, Commander, Submarine Group 9. Navy Photo.

The ballistic missile submarine USS Alabama’s commanding officer Cmdr. Michael Lyle has been fired, Navy officials said on Monday.

Rear Adm. Nicholas Tilbrook, commander of Submarine Group 9, relieved Lyle of command on Sept. 22 “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command,” a Navy news release says.

The phrase “loss of confidence” is catch-all wording commonly used by the military branches when officers and senior enlisted leaders are relieved and the Navy release did not offer specifics on Tilbrook’s reasons.

“Navy commanding officers are held to high standards of personal and professional conduct,” the release says. “They are expected to uphold the highest standards of responsibility, reliability and leadership, and the Navy holds them accountable when they fall short of those standards.”

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As a ballistic missile submarine, USS Alabama can carry up to 20 nuclear-armed missiles, which it can launch in a matter of minutes. Missile submarines make up one leg of the United States’ nuclear triad, which also includes land-based nuclear missiles and bombers capable of delivering nuclear-weapons.

All three are meant to deter adversaries by ensuring the United States would retain the ability to respond to any surprise nuclear attack.

Missile submarine commanders are among the most scrutinized positions in the US military because of their direct operational oversight and control of nuclear weapons. Senior officers on a Navy missile submarine are among just a handful of positions in the entire military — along with the air crews of nuclear bombers and launch officers of hardened missile silos — classified as “critical” under the Pentagon’s Nuclear Weapons Personnel Reliability Program, which sets out the requirements, monitoring and disqualification guidelines for working with nuclear weapons.

A fictionalized version of the Alabama was the setting of the 1995 movie Crimson Tide, starring Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman. As the ship’s captain and executive officer, the two square off for command of the ship when one doubts the authenticity of an order to launch the ship’s missiles.

The Navy declined to assist the filmmakers over objections to the script.

Lyle was commissioned in 2004 after completing Officer Candidate School and he has served on the attack submarines USS Houston and USS Buffalo and later as the executive officer aboard the ballistic missile submarine USS Louisiana, according to his Navy biography.

He been on three strategic deterrent patrols, four Western Pacific deployments, and deployed to Afghanistan from 2010 and 2011 as the leader of a Navy postal platoon responsible for the mail mission in three of the country’s provinces, his biography says.

Before becoming the USS Alabama’s skipper, he served as the operations officer for commander, Task Force 69, a submarine unit in Naples, Italy, from 2019 to 2021.

Originally from Fairport, New York, Lyle holds an undergraduate degree in history from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School in New York.

No further information about Lyle’s relief was available on Monday, a spokesperson for Submarine Force U.S. Pacific Fleet told Task & Purpose.

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