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Navy leadership testifies before SASC on ship collisions, readiness concerns
by Stephen Carlson
Washington (UPI) Sep 19, 2017

US Navy leaders scolded after deadly maritime accidents
Washington (AFP) Sept 19, 2017 - A senior US senator admonished the Navy's top leaders Tuesday following a series of deadly maritime accidents that have turned a spotlight on strains in the force's Pacific fleet.

Senator John McCain, who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Navy must correct its course after the incidents, including one last month in which the USS John S. McCain -- named for his World War II admiral grandfather -- collided with a tanker.

"We must also call you to task and demand answers. As leaders of our Navy, you must do better," McCain told Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson.

The USS John S. McCain collided with a tanker as the destroyer headed to Singapore, tearing a huge hole in the hull, killing 10 sailors and injuring five others.

That incident came after another destroyer, the USS Fitzgerald, smashed into a Philippine-flagged cargo ship off Japan in June, leaving seven sailors dead.

Two non-deadly incidents also occurred this year -- in January, the USS Antietam ran aground near its base in Japan and in May, the USS Lake Champlain collided with a South Korean fishing vessel.

Following the USS McCain incident, the Navy sacked the commander of its Pacific-based Seventh Fleet, and several other officers and enlisted sailors have been relieved of duty or reprimanded.

- 'Triple whammy' -

The incidents will cost the US taxpayer about $600 million 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.

Richardson told McCain the Navy was undertaking several reviews and probes, and blamed a "triple whammy" as pushing the fleet's limits: "The corrosive confluence of high operational tempo, inadequate budgets and budget uncertainty."

"But make no mistake, sir, while these factors do exert a negative force on the challenges we face, at the core, this issue is about leadership, especially command," Richardson said.

A report this month by the Government Accountability Office watchdog said foreign-based US Navy ships suffer multiple headwinds that raise risks and impact military readiness.

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

The US military has also suffered several recent training accidents, including one at Camp Pendleton last week where 15 Marines were injured during an exercise when an amphibious assault vehicle caught fire.

Politicians and military leaders say aging or poorly maintained equipment and tight budgets are taking a toll.

"In the last three years, fatal training accidents have taken the lives of four times more service members than our enemies have in combat. This cannot continue," McCain said.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Monday he was looking at all the recent incidents to see if there is a common thread.

Senior leaders from the U.S. Navy told a U.S. Senate committee on Tuesday that it is "very hard to understand" how two Navy destroyers collided with civilian ships, but chalked up the issues to gaps in readiness and leadership.

Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer, Navy Chief of Operations Adm. John Richardson and Government Accountability Office official John Pendleton testified Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, answering questions about the recent collisions, as well as larger issues of readiness that have been blamed for the incidents, suggesting the branch is stretched too thin.

"The lives of the 17 sailors lost in the McCain and Fitzgerald collisions are priceless, and I mourn their loss," Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in his opening statement.

"Fatal training accidents have taken four times the lives of our service members than our enemies have in combat. This cannot continue," McCain said.

Spencer, Richardson and Pendleton all testified that the Navy is suffering from budget and readiness woes. All three said that too much is being asked of the Navy as a whole, particularly forward-deployed ships like the 7th Fleet in the Western Pacific.

Richardson said that although budgetary and operational problems may have contributed to the training and readiness issues facing the Navy, leadership problems were the primary cause of the accidents.

"I've testified several times about the triple-whammy -- the corrosive confluence of high operational tempos, inadequate budgets and budget uncertainty," Richardson said.

"Make no mistake sir, though these factors may exert a negative force on the challenges we face, at the core of this issue is about leadership. Especially command," Richardson said.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., questioned why the Navy had agreed with GAO warnings over training deficiencies in a 2015 report yet taken no action for two years, with Richardson saying there was "nothing defensible" he could say to explain the hold-up.

Though the theme of the hearing was primarily over how a lack of money, ships and basic training standards are harming Navy readiness, some questioned how sophisticated destroyers like the McCain and Fitzgerald could be involved in collisions with civilian vessels.

"How in the world does a billion dollar destroyer not know there is a freighter is closing in on it," Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, asked Richardson. He questioned how the ship's radar systems failed to warn the destroyers of an impending collision. "I've talked to Maine lobstermen who were scratching their heads, they could tell when a flock of seagulls was descending off their bow."

"It is very hard to understand how these sophisticated warships let a ship get in that close," Richardson said.

The SASC hearing followed a similar one by the House Armed Services Committee last week that mixed understand over the Navy's problems with criticism of operational management.

A number of senior officers have been relieved of duty, and others censured, following the accidents, including the heads of the 7th Fleet and Task Force 70.

The Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine-flagged cargo vessel off Japan on June 17, killing seven sailors and injuring three others, including the ship's commander. The commander and other leadership on the Fitzgerald were later relieved of duty.

The McCain collided with a Liberian-flagged container ship east of the Straits of Malacca near Singapore on Aug. 25, killing 10 sailors, just two months after the Fitzgerald incident.

The two fatal accidents followed two other incidents involving Japan-based surface warfare vessels earlier this year. In May, the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain was struck by a South Korean fishing boat, and in January, the cruiser USS Lake Antietam ran aground while trying to anchor near Japan, leading to serious damage to its propellers.

More officers relieved of duty following deadly U.S. Navy collisions
Washington DC (UPI) Sep 18, 2017
Two more U.S. Navy officers have been relieved of duty following the collisions of the USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald with civilian ships that led to the deaths of 17 Navy sailors. Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, commander of U.S. Seventh Fleet, ordered the relief of the commander of Task Force 70, Rear Adm. Charles Williams, and the commander of Destroyer Squadron 15, Capt. Jeffrey Benne ... read more

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Naval Warfare in the 21st Century

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