Senators push for Navy readiness legislation in wake of deadly collisions

In a Aug. 21, 2017 file photo, the damaged USS John S. McCain is docked at Changi Naval Base in Singapore for emergency repairs following a collision with a civilian merchant vessel while underway east of the Straits of Malacca.


By CLAUDIA GRISALES | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 27, 2018

WASHINGTON – Two key senators have introduced a measure that they say will restore Navy surface force readiness in the wake of a series of deadly crashes last year.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and a senior member of that committee, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said they introduced the Surface Warfare Enhancement Act of 2018 to address root causes of the Navy’s declining readiness.

“As we have seen too often in recent months, the significant shortcomings in our Navy’s readiness can have disastrous results,” McCain, who has been battling brain cancer from his home in Arizona since December, said in a statement. “The status quo is unacceptable. Congress must provide the funding and oversight required to keep our military safe in peace and effective in combat.”

The legislation is based on the Navy’s own recommendations from the service's most recent strategic readiness review and another comprehensive review.

The effort will require the Navy to conduct a review of its organization and chains of command, put a senior Senate-confirmed Navy civilian in charge of ship maintenance, give the Navy more time and flexibility to spend maintenance funds and require the service to deliver realistic projections of sailors’ workloads and ship maintenance.

The plan would also require Navy record-keeping on watch standing and training completed by surface warfare officers, set minimum at-sea and simulator-based training requirements to qualify for critical positions on the ships and equalize staffing between ships overseas and at home.

The legislation follows a deadly year of Naval crashes at sea. In 2017, the Navy lost 20 sailors in major incidents in the Pacific. Of those deaths, 17 were killed in crashes last summer involving the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain.

‪On June 17, the Fitzgerald crashed into a civilian merchant ship about 60 miles southwest of Yokosuka, Japan, killing seven sailors. ‪On Aug. 21, the McCain collided with an oil tanker near Singapore, leaving 10 sailors dead.

Soon after those incidents, the Navy launched several investigations, including a comprehensive review probing contributing factors at tactical and operational levels and a strategic readiness review examining systemic issues. The Navy released its findings late last year, issuing a series of recommendations that included improving seamanship training, navigational skills and equipment aboard ships, as well as reducing fatigue and stress among sailors and officers.

The investigations showed the crashes were due in large part to human error and failures of leadership. Several Navy leaders connected to the crashes have since been released from duty and some of them are facing criminal charges.

Following an operational fleet pause, the Navy also increased its required ship certifications, implemented new safety measures for sailors, revised reporting criteria for navigation, steering, propulsion and damage control issues to address equipment problems faster, mandated reporting of near-mishaps and boosted ship communication.

It also established an oversight board led by Adm. Bill Moran, vice chief of naval operations, to track progress of other new actions.

In December, a temporary funding bill directed nearly $674 million for repairs to the Fitzgerald and McCain.

“In the wake of the tragic accidents involving the USS Fitzgerald and USS McCain, our commanders and sailors have been calling for meaningful reform,” Wicker said. “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.”

Twitter: @cgrisales

The USS Fitzgerald arrives back at Yokosuka Naval Base Monday, Nov. 27, 2017.

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