US Navy leaders urged to do better amid deadly ship collisions

Andrew Cummings
September 20, 2017

Already the Navy has fired six senior officers, including the commander of America's Japan-based 7th Fleet, citing a loss of confidence in their ability to command.

Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, commander of US 7th Fleet, Sept. 18, relieved the commander of Task Force 70 (CTF 70), Rear Adm. Charles Williams and the commander of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15, Capt. Jeffrey Bennett. Last month, the Pentagon removed Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin as commander of the Seventh Fleet just days after the USS John S. McCain accident.

Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, said that Navy commanders are ultimately responsible for insuring their forces are combat ready and operating safely and effectively.

The John S. McCain's sister ship, the Fitzgerald, nearly sank off the coast of Japan after colliding with a Philippine container ship on June 17. John McCain, R-Ariz., the committee chairman, introduced family members of several of the sailors killed aboard the destroyers. In January, the cruiser USS Antietem ran aground while weighing anchor off the coast of Japan, leading to major damage to the ship's propulsion.

Richardson told the hearing that the Navy was conducting reviews and probes, while blaming the incidents on "the corrosive confluence of high operational tempo, inadequate budgets and budget uncertainty".


"At the core, this issue is about command, " he said, which includes the spiraling consequences of a "can-do" culture that agrees to take on missions despite perilous gaps in training and certifications created to measure how ready ships and sailors are for combat.

The incidents will cost the United States taxpayer about $600 million (RM2.5 billion) in repairs, McCain said, and put several ships out of service during a time of heightened regional tensions in the western Pacific and South China Sea.

The announcement comes a day before the top US Navy officer and the Navy secretary are scheduled to go to Capitol Hill for a hearing on the ship crashes.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer will soon testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the string of accidents in the Western Pacific.

The report, released after the four incidents this year, found more than one-third of training certifications for the Navy's cruisers and destroyers based in Japan had expired in June.


U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Scott Swift has moved on improving shortcomings ahead of the review, fleet spokesman Capt. Charlie Brown said Monday. It is unclear if this request is also related to recent accidents.

"If we know somebody is working a 100-hour workweek, I'm not sure we need a study", said McCain. The USS John S. McCain is named after McCain's father and grandfather.

GAO said crews are being overworked and undertrained, and vital maintenance is not being completed on time.

Pendleton said he was skeptical that the Navy would be able to increase readiness until aggressive deployment schedules and other demands on the force were decreased.


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