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The Navy — its breaking point?

PETER O’CONNOR
Staff Columnist
oconnor@lbknews.com

A timely thinking piece on our U.S. Navy after recent events;(Has the Navy Reached its Breaking Point?  By Seth Cropsey, The Wall Street Journal, Thursday, August 24, 2017)

I embark on adding some to this sad tale of life, and sometimes death at sea.  As most of us know, this is indeed a serious business, not devoid of danger and risk.  I am; I like to use the present tense; a Naval Officer.  So I am saddened by two recent events.  I can’t claim much experience as a seaman, although I’ve spent my professional life both on the sea and around it.  As a Midshipman I was privileged to serve , and to learn, on a similar size and type vessel to those two involved in the recent tragic collisions.  That was a DD, the USS William C. Lawe (DD763).  I rode that fine ship during the summer of 1957 – some 60 years ago.  I not so fondly recall my mid watches on that ship.  Here young sailors and officers learned lessons never to be forgotten.

Quoting Cropsey in the Journal:  “As the fleet shrank, the Navy was diligent about doing more with less.  That strategy has limits.”

“Sunrise in Singapore on Aug. 20 came at 7:03.  Nearly an hour and a half earlier, the guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain – named for Sen. John McCain’s father and grandfather, both admirals  -  collided with a Liberian flagged tanker ship near the heavily traveled  Strait of Malacca.  Ten sailors died.

This was the fourth accident this year for the U.S. Seventh Fleet, headquartered in Yokosuka, Japan.  In January a guided missile cruiser, the USS Antietam ran aground in a high tide and strong winds  after dragging  her anchor in Tokyo Bay.

In May the USS Lake Champlain, another cruiser, collided with a South Korean fishing vessel east of the Korean Peninsula No one was injured.

Then in June the USS Fitzgerald, a guided missile destroyer, suffered significant damage in a collision with a Philippine-flagged container ship in the busy approaches to Tokyo Bay.  Seven American sailors died.

Speculation that sabotage or hacking had anything to do with these accidents seems unfounded.  Navy ships have personnel constantly at (on)  watch Both on and off the bridge, to spot nearby vessels and other potential dangers.

Earlier this year I  prepared and we published two columns on the subject of Sequestration.  All the services noted shortfalls in present and coming budgets.  My sources for these pieces were the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States and Senator/Captain John McCain.

Whether just a money shortage within Navy can be the cause of total fleet wide problems is not easily quantifiable or justified.

It appears to this aging Seabee that some folks in the Pentagon think not.  Thus this ‘stand-down’ ordered by the CNO in the wake of two collisions at sea causing loss of life.

Back to Mr. Cropsey: “On Aug. 21, Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations told ships world-wide to pause their activity for a one-day safety stand down.  He also directed the Navy to investigate how it trains and certifies the forces that deploy to Japan.  This inquiry will examine the pace of naval operations  – whether ships are being overused – as well as maintenance, personnel and equipment.

A no-holds barred analysis is needed, not least because American forces face rising danger on many fronts.  China is moving aggressively in the South and East China Seas. North Korea threatens war in the Pacific and beyond.  The Baltic and Black Seas are as hazardous as ever.  Islamic State is being pushed back by an air war conducted in part from ships in the Eastern Mediterranean.”

More: “The Navy has its hands full simply answering requests from combatant commanders, the senior officers who lead U.S. forces around the world.  The deployable battle force, at 276 ships, is far smaller than what’s needed to meet demand, and it isn’t growing.  So the Navy has looked for other ways to answer the call.  One has been to keep ships at sea longer.

This helps the Navy maintain a constant presence, but at a price.  Longer deployments put wear and tear on sailors, and their families and the fleet.  Equipment problems accumulate, but detailed maintenance must wait until ships return to port.

Adm. Richardson’s specific directive to examine Naval training is pivotal.  In the Fitzgerald and McCain collisions, large merchant ships  approached undetected until it was too late to avoid a mishap.  The questions about seamanship are obvious and they must be asked.  Navy ships have radars, crew standing watch, officers responsible for safe navigation, and computers that calculate other vessels’ speed, direction and closest point of approach.  The Navy needs to understand how the system failed twice in three months.”

Question: “Is there any connection between long deployments and these fatal mistakes? Perhaps ships are being overused, leading to longer repairs once they return to port, which leaves inadequate time for training.  Has the Navy pushed practical training in seamanship and navigation too far into the realm of computers, forsaking harsher on-the-job  learning?”

And finally the question CNO did not ask: “If the fleet is stretched to a breaking point, when does the Navy tell combatant commanders that it cannot safely supply all the ships they request.”

That’s not the way the Navy has learned to operate.  Remember that Motto; CAN DO.

 

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1 Response for “The Navy — its breaking point?”

  1. Brian Duggan says:

    The ships of the most recent Navy are designed for stealth. They operate at times under-the-radar in the sense that they avoid detection when possible. Crews work long hours that ceased long ago in over the road truck cabs, fatigue plus speed equal danger. The crowded seas are a place near harbors where vigilance can be aided by men on deck. We will never know if this was done.

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