De­fi­cien­cies in sea­man­ship dis­cov­ered af­ter fa­tal col­li­sions Navy finds con­cerns with most of­fi­cers

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

The Navy has iden­ti­fied deep de­fi­cien­cies in sea­man­ship among its ju­nior of­fi­cers, with just 27 of 164 first-tour of­fi­cers passing com­pe­tency checks with “no con­cerns,” ac­cord­ing to an in­ter­nal re­view ob­tained last week by The Wash­ing­ton Times.

The study was or­dered af­ter two naval col­li­sions claimed the lives of 17 sailors last year and put the Navy in the spot­light.

Both mar­itime dis­as­ters, the Navy con­cluded, were avoid­able and stemmed from fail­ures of lead­er­ship aboard both ves­sels.

In the in­ter­nal mes­sage, writ­ten by Vice Adm. Richard Brown, com­man­der of Naval Sur­face Force Pa­cific, the Navy iden­ti­fied con­cerns with 137 of 164 ju­nior of­fi­cers who were ran­domly tested. The re­view found “some con­cerns” with 108 and “sig­nif­i­cant con­cerns” with the sea­man­ship skills of 29.

Specif­i­cally, the re­view found is­sues with of­fi­cers’ op­er­a­tion of radar and their abil­ity to ap­ply naval “rules of the road,” es­pe­cially dur­ing times of low vis­i­bil­ity.

The study also found that while most of the 164 of­fi­cers were able to steer clear of near-col­li­sion sit­u­a­tions, those who found them­selves in harm’s way were of­ten un­able to take the im­me­di­ate ac­tion nec­es­sary to avoid hit­ting an­other ves­sel. The fail­ure to nav­i­gate through dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions was a ma­jor fac­tor in both fa­tal naval col­li­sions last year.

Navy of­fi­cials said the tests, which were con­ducted by the Sur­face War­fare Of­fi­cers School from Jan­uary through March, con­firmed a need for im­prove­ment, but they ex­pressed over­all con­fi­dence in the of­fi­cers steer­ing U.S. ves­sels.

“So, out of 164 what we ended up see­ing was kind of what we ex­pected: We got a bell curve dis­tri­bu­tion. We had 27 who were on top, we had 108 who were in the mid­dle and we had 29 who were kind of at the lower end,” Adm. Brown told De­fense News, which first re­ported the in­ter­nal sur­vey. “We want to make sure the changes we are mak­ing are ac­tu­ally hav­ing an im­pact in the fleet and if we are in­creas­ing the level of ex­pe­ri­ence and per­for­mance. … We want to move that bell curve to the right.”

The in­for­ma­tion gained through the re­views, Navy of­fi­cials said, will be used to guide train­ing pro­grams mov­ing for­ward.

While the in­ter­nal mes­sage writ­ten by Adm. Brown didn’t di­rectly ad­dress ei­ther of the fa­tal col­li­sions, those in­ci­dents have cast a shadow over the Navy and the com­pe­tency of its of­fi­cers.

In June 2017, the Navy de­stroyer USS Fitzger­ald struck a con­tainer ship off the coast of Ja­pan, killing seven sailors on board. The ship was car­ry­ing a crew of nearly 300 sailors.

Just two months later, the USS John S. McCain col­lided with a Liberian-flagged mer­chant ship off the coast of Sin­ga­pore, killing 10 sailors.

While the cir­cum­stances of each case were dif­fer­ent, Navy of­fi­cials said both could have been avoided.

“Both of these ac­ci­dents were pre­ventable and the re­spec­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tions found mul­ti­ple fail­ures by watch standers that contributed to the in­ci­dents,” Chief of Naval Op­er­a­tions Adm. John Richard­son said in a state­ment fol­low­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. “We are a Navy that learns from mis­takes and the Navy is firmly com­mit­ted to do­ing every­thing pos­si­ble to pre­vent an ac­ci­dent like this from hap­pen­ing again. We must never al­low an ac­ci­dent like this to take the lives of such mag­nif­i­cent young sailors and in­flict such painful grief on their fam­i­lies and the na­tion.”

Navy of­fi­cials said the Fitzger­ald crash re­sulted from ship lead­ers’ fail­ure to fol­low “sound nav­i­ga­tional prac­tices.” In the case of the McCain, the Navy con­cluded that there was a “sub-stan­dard level of knowl­edge re­gard­ing the op­er­a­tion of the ship con­trol con­sole.”

Navy lead­ers have vowed to im­prove, and Adm. Brown’s in­ter­nal memo says progress has been made.

Key Se­nate Repub­li­cans in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion this year as part of the broader Na­tional De­fense Au­tho­riza­tion Act that would re­form naval prac­tices and specif­i­cally ad­dress some of the con­cerns with train­ing and com­pe­tence laid out in the in­ter­nal memo.

The Sur­face War­fare En­hance­ment Act, spon­sored by Re­pub­li­can Sens. John McCain of Ari­zona and Roger F. Wicker of Mis­sis­sippi, would, among other things, set “min­i­mum at-sea and sim­u­la­tor-based train­ing re­quire­ments to qual­ify for crit­i­cal po­si­tions on the ships.”

“In the wake of the tragic ac­ci­dents in­volv­ing the USS Fitzger­ald and USS McCain, our com­man­ders and sailors have been call­ing for mean­ing­ful re­form,” Mr. Wicker said this year. “Overex­tended and un­der­manned ships, over­worked crews, fewer of­fi­cers with naval mas­tery and con­fus­ing chains of com­mand have contributed to a de­cline in our naval power.”

In the short term, Adm. Brown laid out im­me­di­ate ac­tions to ad­dress spe­cific prob­lems ex­posed by the re­view.

On the op­er­a­tion of radar, he said, he will push for ad­di­tional money to add two more weeks of radar train­ing for ju­nior of­fi­cers.

On deal­ing with near-crash sce­nar­ios, he said, the Sur­face War­fare Of­fi­cers School is part­ner­ing with Naval Sta­tion Nor­folk to de­velop ex­treme-ex­trac­tion train­ing de­signed to re­duce or elim­i­nate de­ci­sion paral­y­sis among ju­nior of­fi­cers.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.