U.S. Navy's Surface Warfare Chief Calls for "Fewer Obligations"
At the annual Surface Warfare Association symposium this week, the U.S. Navy's top leaders said that the service is moving as fast as it can to implement changes in the wake of last year's deadly warship collisions, which claimed 17 lives.
After the accidents involving the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain, chief of naval operations Adm. John Richardson convened a 34-member review panel to examine the structural reasons behind the casualties. The panel concluded that the vessels' sustained, high-tempo operations had eroded readiness, slowly and "insidiously," to the point that slim safety margins became normal. Both vessels had missing certifications for key competencies, and a review by the Government Accountability Office found that this was not unusual for other warships in 7th Fleet.
The Navy has emphasized that it will own its readiness problem and resolve it. "Trust me . . . we're going to get after this. There's no doubt about it," said Adm. Philip Davidson, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, in a speech Thursday. "There's a lot of energy and effort and money going into this to get this solved."
Many of the strategic review panel's recommendations focused on basic competencies, notably watchstander training. "We need to revisit basics and these initiatives are a look at how to do and train the fundamentals correctly," said commander of Naval Surface Forces Vice Adm. Tom Rowden. "If we can't master the basics, it will be challenging to be proficient operating at the tactical level."
The Navy already taken many steps to address the deficiencies identified by the panel. Well before the final report was published, Vice Adm. Rowden ordered the fleet to transmit AIS (where feasible); to implement a circadian watch schedule and shipboard routine instead of the "five and dime;" and to reinforce each vessel commanders' obligation to ensure proper training, manning, certification and readiness. "We will continue to address all of the remaining recommendations, ensuring all our initiatives put sharp focus on building better mariners, enhancing our ability to safely operate at sea and ultimately strengthening our warfighting capability," Rowden said.
But the Navy may need changes from outside as well, Rowden said. In an address at the symposium, he called for the Navy's operational tasking to be reduced in order to give it enough time to fix longstanding issues. “[Our sailors] need help, and by help, they mean time,” said Rowden. “Time to maintain their gear, time to refresh their basic individual and team skills, and time to unwind. Time will only come from two things, or a combination of them: more ships and fewer obligations. It is hard to see things any other way.” Many observers inside and outside of the military have identified a persistently high op-tempo and overwork as key factors in the Navy's recent difficulties, but Rowden's call to reduce the service's workload was unusually direct.