During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday, September 19, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson announced the creation of the Naval Surface Group Western Pacific, a new command intended to ensure the 7th Fleet properly trains and certifies its vessels. LibertyNation previously reported on testimony by the Government Accountability Office which showed 37% of ships based out of Japan had expired training certifications.
During his remarks to the committee, Admiral Richardson expressed the need for this new command. “What we do is inherently dangerous,” Richardson said in his remarks. “It is a leadership responsibility to ensure we provide the right oversight and training to keep our team at their operational peak.”
The Navy was Warned
The Government Accountability Office had previously informed the Navy of significant issues within service. The GAO highlighted increased operations tempo (OPTEMPO), maintenance overruns, expired training certifications, and overworked crews as areas of concern.
The United States Navy maintains approximately 100 ships on deployment. While the number of vessels in the service has decreased significantly since the late 1990s, the number of ships deployed remains more or less unchanged. This OPTEMPO has led to longer deployments and increased crew work cycles, and an uptick in maintenance time. GAO reported that crews were working more than 100 hours per week and that maintenance overruns between fiscal years 2011 and 2016 resulted in the effective loss of 0.5 aircraft carriers, three surface warfare vessels, and 2.8 submarines per year.
Taking Remedial Action
The creation of the Naval Surface Group Western Pacific is one of many steps now being taken to remedy these issues. The Navy issued new directives to implement and enforce work/rest rotations that better fit the natural sleep cycles of the human body. Ship Captains have until December 20 to submit their plans.
Navy leadership has also been held accountable for their part in this year’s various accidents. Not only have the command teams of the ships involved been relieved but Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, Commander of the 7th Fleet, was fired last month for a “loss of confidence in his leadership.” His replacement, Vice Admiral Phil Sawyer, subsequently sacked Task Force 70 commander Rear Admiral Charles Williams and Destroyer Squadron 15 commander Captain Jeffrey Bennett, whose organizations help tactical and operational control over the 7th Fleet vessels involved in accidents this year. Vice Admiral Thomas Rowden, head of Naval Surface Forces, requested early retirement due to “recognition for new leadership in the Surface Forces.”
Systemic Problems Require Systemic Solutions
As the Navy faces the scrutiny of Congress and the American People, it must ensure that its solutions are lasting and not knee-jerk reactions. As our veterans and current service readers know, the military is often prone to sudden and overwhelming shifts in policy when in the face of national backlash. The result is not always pretty and, at times, has created the addition of more “annually required training” that serves as little more than a block check.
The Navy has received a significant wakeup call. The old way of doing business does not work, and the chickens have come home to roost. Will the Navy right the ship? What steps should the Trump Administration take if it does not? Tell us in the comments!