New US 7th Fleet com­man­der to em­pha­sise train­ing and prepa­ra­tion af­ter two re­cent naval col­li­sions

The New Paper - - NEWS - LIM MIN ZHANG, THE STRAITS TIMES

The op­er­a­tional de­mands on the US Navy 7th Fleet were so high that not enough em­pha­sis was placed on its crew’s prepa­ra­tion and train­ing, said its new com­man­der Phil Sawyer yes­ter­day.

In his first in­ter­view since as­sum­ing com­mand on Aug 23, the vice-ad­mi­ral was shar­ing his take on pre­lim­i­nary find­ings of two col­li­sions in­volv­ing ves­sels in the US 7th Fleet, which looks af­ter the western Pa­cific Ocean and en­forces the Amer­i­cans’ re­gional pro­tec­tor role.

“Over time, the bal­ance shifted too much to the op­er­a­tional side and not enough to mak­ing sure that our teams were rested, were trained, were able to go do the things we were ask­ing them to do,” said ViceAdm Sawyer.

At one point, he said that even if he had the en­tire US Navy out in Yoko­suka, Ja­pan — where the fleet is based — he “still would not be able to do all the things that ev­ery­body would want me to do”.

One of his tasks thus as com­man­der would be to “pri­ori­tise those and ex­e­cute those things that we can ex­e­cute”, he added dur­ing a me­dia briefing.

He re­ferred to the set­ting up of the new Naval Sur­face Group Western Pa­cific to train and cer­tify for­ward-de­ployed sur­face ships op­er­at­ing out of Ja­pan as one of the ways the US Navy was bring­ing this bal­ance “back to nor­mal”.

“Its job is to make sure its units are trained and ready to go be­fore we em­ploy them in all the op­er­a­tions out here,” he said.

Vice-Adm Sawyer was ap­pointed to re­place Vice-Adm Joseph Au­coin as 7th Fleet com­man­der, fol­low­ing a col­li­sion between the guided mis­sile de­stroyer USS John S. Mc­Cain and a mer­chant ship near Sin­ga­pore on Aug 21, which killed 10 Amer­i­can sailors.

The col­li­sion, which hap­pened at 5.24am as the de­stroyer was sail­ing in for a rou­tine call here, left a hole in its hull.

Sin­ga­pore’s Trans­port Safety In­ves­ti­ga­tion Bu­reau is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the in­ci­dent, in a process that typ­i­cally takes up to a year, while the US Navy is also hold­ing its own probe.

The col­li­sion high­lighted con­cerns over the US Navy as a fight­ing force. The Mc­Cain’s sis­ter ship, the Fitzger­ald, had al­most sunk off the coast of Ja­pan in June af­ter col­lid­ing with a Philip­pine con­tainer ship. Seven Amer­i­can sailors died in that ac­ci­dent.

mzlim@sph.com.sg

PHOTO: AFP

US Navy 7th Fleet com­man­der Phil Sawyer.

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