Post by kiwithrottlejockey on Aug 27, 2017 16:03:10 GMT 12
from The Washington Post....
Deadly Navy accidents in the Pacific raise questions over a force stretched too thin
By ALEX HORTON and THOMAS GIBBONS-NEFF | 7:00AM EDT - Saturday, August 26, 2017
The damaged hull of the USS John S. McCain is visible while docked at Singapore's Changi naval base on August 22nd. — Photograph: Wong Maye-E/Associated Press.
COSTAND DEPLOYMENTS, a shrinking number of ships and high demands on crews have frayed the U.S. Navy, according to naval experts and current and former Navy officers, leading to four major incidents at sea this year and the deaths of 17 sailors.
Government reports, congressional probes and internal concerns have all pointed to systemic problems related to long deployments, deferred maintenance and shortened training periods within the Navy's surface fleet that seem to have coalesced in the Pacific, specifically at the Japan-based 7th Fleet.
Bryan McGrath, a former destroyer commander and deputy director of the Center of American Seapower at the Hudson Institute, said there’s no “silver bullet” for the Navy's issues and that for the past 15 years, the surface fleet has been in decline.
“The biggest problem is that the Navy recognized this and started to make changes, but at the same time the operational requirements became more pressurized,” he said. “The Pacific fleet has really been pressurized in a way that has harmed the surface forces’ proficiency in very basic things.”
The USS Fitzgerald sits in a dry dock in Yokosuka, Japan, after it collided with a container ship on the approach to Tokyo Bay. — Photograph: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Christian Senyk/U.S. Navy.
The combined death toll eclipses the number of battlefield casualties in Afghanistan this year, which stand at 11.
In a written message to his officers, Admiral Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, pointed out that the rash of incidents occurred during “the most basic of operations”.
“History has shown that continuous operations over time causes basic skills to atrophy and in some cases gives commands a false sense of their overall readiness,” he wrote after the McCain collision.
The Antietam, McCain and Fitzgerald are all in the 7th Fleet based in Yokosuka, Japan, raising questions over whether there are particular problems in that command. The 7th Fleet is responsible for 48 million square miles in the Pacific and Indian oceans, the Navy said. Swift also dismissed its commander, Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin.
The spate of accidents also comes amid the Pentagon's shifting of forces to the Pacific, where it will permanently station 60 percent of its naval and combat airpower assets. The Trump administration is also considering plans to expand the Navy to 350 ships. There are currently 276 deployable ships on Navy rolls.
The Navy has been strained by fewer ships taking on more missions. A 2015 study by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments found that deployed ships remained at a constant level of 100 between 1998 and 2014, even though the fleet shrank by about 20 percent.
An inflection point appears to have been the September 11th, 2001, attacks and ramped-up operations across the Middle East and North Africa. In 1998, about 60 percent of ships were at sea at any one time. That number peaked at 86 percent in 2009.
Pressure on the fleets decreased by 2015, yet the Navy still had three-quarters of operational ships constantly deployed as maintenance and fundamental skills such as navigation and ship-to-ship communication wilted, the report's authors said.
The Navy's missions in the Pacific to challenge Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea as well as ramped up patrols and cruises to guard against North Korean attacks have utilized destroyers like the McCain and the Fitzgerald as centerpiece warships, said Ridzwan Rahmat, a defense analyst with IHS Jane's and an expert on naval operations in Asia.
“This particular platform is being stretched in terms of capability and crew,” he said.
A dearth of ships is felt more sharply in the Pacific, where deployments are more frequent and strenuous than other seas, said Rob McFall, a former Navy officer who served as the operations officer for the Fitzgerald until 2014.
Typical deployments for stateside ships occur in predictable two-year cycles, with about six months underway and 18 months of maintenance, training and workups, McFall said.
The cycle is more unforgiving in the Pacific. Deployments vary on mission, but a common routine is three months out, six months in port as the mission to reassure regional allies balloons in importance, McFall said.
Time in a homeport is often overshadowed by nearby adversaries.
“For those six months you're on a tether. You're always on call, in range and operational,” he said.
Open source documents show the McCain spent about seven of the last twelve months deployed before the accident.
“That is a lot of time underway,” McFall said. “But not uncommon for that area.”
The McCain's collision occurred in the Singapore Strait, a 10-mile wide waterway crisscrossed with a thicket of hulking commercial ships. It is one of the busiest waterways on the planet and exceptionally challenging to navigate. A collision occurred in 2003 between a Republic of Singapore vessel and a merchant ship near the site of the McCain's mishap; the area is a bottleneck one former naval officer likened to the on-ramp of a highway.
Accidents in the Pacific appear more likely given the deployment tempo, retired Vice Admiral Peter H. Daly, former deputy commander and chief of staff of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, said in an interview.
Daly, who is now chief executive of the U.S. Naval Institute, said a disruptive deployment cycle could make some commands susceptible to cutting corners in maintenance and training.
“Ships deploying into this environment from the West Coast and Hawaii are not having these particular incidents,” he said.
A number of former Navy officers have said the bridge is the first and last defense for catastrophic incidents. Three junior officers pull duty there, monitoring ship-to-ship communications, ordering course corrections and watching for other ships and obstacles at sea.
The officers must pass what is known as an officer-of-the-deck examination board, which assesses candidates on principles of seamanship and understanding of the international rules governing seafaring traffic.
A navigator acting as officer of the deck during the USS Antietam incident was not properly qualified to fill that role, according to investigative findings provided to The Washington Post.
The three junior officers share outsize responsibility to keep the ship afloat and its crew safe, standing watch for four to as many as nine hours a day on top of regularly assigned duties. The job's demands can erode the senses of even the sharpest young officers. A former surface warfare officer with nearly 30 years of experience said four hours of sleep a day were common among watch officers at sea.
“That's what underway life is,” the former officer said, who declined to be identified given his sensitive post-Navy career.
The grind has not been lost on the Navy, which has long understood exhaustion can spiral into fatal mistakes.
“Fatigue has measurable negative effects on readiness, effectiveness and safety,” Vice Admiral Thomas Rowden, commander of Naval Surface Force Pacific, told the fleet last year.
The case of the Fitzgerald's collision puzzled McFall, who said standing orders set by commanders provide guidance to alert or wake the captain if the ship is within the closest point of approach, the Navy's term for the point at which two objects could collide.
About 3 nautical miles (3.5 standard miles) is common, McFall said, but high-traffic areas might prompt some captains to raise the bar for alerts. The Fitzgerald collision occurred in the early morning, flattening the captain's quarters and knocking him unconscious.
“In all incidents and investigations, almost in every case it comes down to the competency of watch standers, how they were trained and who qualified them,” Daly said.
• Alex Horton is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post and a former Army infantryman.
• Thomas Gibbons-Neff is a staff writer at The Washington Post and a former Marine infantryman.
"Please send us your unwanted glasses or contact lenses, which will be sent to the USA, where they will then be forewarded to the US Navy where they can be distributed among US Navy personel, so they cansail their ships around the oceans without hitting anything. Thanks in anticipation" isc Gleaned from the humour section of the Model Engineer Pro Board.
Post by kiwithrottlejockey on Nov 2, 2017 14:46:01 GMT 12
from The Washington Post....
‘Multiple failures’ by ship crews standing watch contributed to deadly collisions, Navy finds
“The Navy is firmly committed to doing everything possible to prevent an accident like this from happening again,” the service's top officer said.
By DAN LAMOTHE | 10:07AM EDT - Wednesday, November 01, 2017
The damaged guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald is berthed in Yokosuka, Japan, in June after a deadly collision killed seven sailors. — Photograph: Kazuhiro Nogi/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images.
THE NAVY has found that two ship collisions that combined to kill 17 sailors at sea were preventable and caused by “multiple failures” by service members who were standing watch the nights of the incidents, the service said on Wednesday.
The USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain, both guided-missile destroyers, suffered catastrophic collisions on June 17th and August 21st, respectively. The Fitzgerald accident killed seven sailors off the southern coast of Japan, while the McCain collision killed 10 sailors near Singapore.
The collisions shocked the Navy, which prides itself on good seamanship. In the last few months, the service has removed numerous people from their jobs as a result, including the senior officer in charge of the Navy's 7th Fleet, to which both ships were assigned.
“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,” Richardson said. “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.”
The Fitzgerald collision was attributed to its watch teams disregarding established ways of contacting other ships and required safety precautions that were in place. The investigation found that at about 11 p.m. on June 16th, the ship's top two officers — Commander Bryce Benson, the ship's captain, and Commander Sean Babbitt, the ship's executive officer, left the ship's bridge for the evening.
By 1 a.m., the Fitzgerald was moving past Japan's Oshima Island, and approached three merchant ships from the starboard, or right, side of the ship. There was “minimal” distance between the Fitzgerald and the other vessels, and all three presented a collision hazard, the investigation found.
The Navy determined that the Fitzgerald was in a crossing situation with each vessel, meaning it was the U.S. sailors' obligations to take maneuvering action to avoid them. But in the 30 minutes leading up to the collision, neither the Fitzgerald nor the much larger MV ACX Crystal, a Philippine-flagged container ship, did so until just a minute prior to the disaster.
The investigation faulted the officer of the deck, who was not named in the documents, for failing to maneuver as needed, sound the danger alarm on the ship, contact the Crystal or call his own captain, as required.
“Initially, the Officer of the Deck intended to take no action, mistaking CRYSTAL to be another of the two vessels with a greater closest point of approach,” the investigation found. “Eventually, the Officer of the Deck realized that FITZGERALD was on a collision course with CRYSTAL, but this recognition was too late.”
Benson, Babbitt and the senior enlisted sailor of the ship, Command Master Chief Brice Baldwin, were cited for being absent from the bridge at the time of the crash, “during an evolution where their experience, guidance and example would have greatly benefited the ship,” the Navy found. They were removed from their jobs in August.
In the McCain collision, the ship's captain, Commander Alfredo J. Sanchez, and executive officer, Commander Jessie L. Sanchez, were on the bridge, but confusion about how the ship's steering worked caused chaos. Both officers were removed from their positions in August as the service examined what happened.
The investigation found that it was about 5:19 a.m. on August 21st when the ship's captain noticed that the ship's helmsman, who was steering the vessel, was having difficulty maintaining course while in a congested ship corridor. In response, the captain put a second sailor in charge of shifting speed control while keeping the steering with the helmsman. The decision prompted confusion, with the sailors thinking that steering also had been transferred to the second sailor even though it had not.
The helmsman reported a loss of steering, prompting the commanding officer to order the ship's speed from 10 knots to five knots. But the second sailor reduced the speed only on one of the ship's rear propeller shafts, steering it toward the Alnic MC, a much larger oil tanker.
“Although JOHN S McCAIN was now on a course to collide with ALNIC, the Commanding Officer and others on the ship's bridge lost situational awareness,” the investigation recounted. “No one on the bridge clearly understood the forces acting on the ship, nor did they understand the ALNIC's course and speed relative to JOHN S McCAIN during the confusion.”
Three minutes after the steering problems were reported, the McCain's crew regained control. But it was too late, and the ships collided at 5:24 a.m.
“The collision was felt throughout the ship,” the investigation report said. “Watchstanders on the bridge were jolted from their stations momentarily and watchstanders in aft steering were thrown off their feet. Several suffered minor injuries. Some Sailors thought the ship had run aground, while others were concerned that they had been attacked. Sailors in parts of the ship away from the impact point compared it to an earthquake. Those nearest the impact point described it as like an explosion.”
The investigation found that the McCain collision “resulted primarily from complacency, overconfidence and lack of procedural compliance.” It added that “with regard to procedures, no one on the Bridge watch team, to include the commanding officer and executive officer, were properly trained on how to correctly operate the ship control console during a steering casualty.”
• Dan Lamothe covers national security for The Washington Post and anchors its military blog, Checkpoint.