Navy Fleet Commander Relieved of Duty; First Since Pearl Harbor?
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
ARLINTON, Va. — The commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet has relieved the commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet following a series of at-sea mishaps that resulted in loss of life or damage to ships.
“Adm. Scott Swift, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, today relieved the commander of 7th Fleet, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command,” said an Aug. 23 statement from the 7th Fleet. “Rear Adm. Phil Sawyer, who has already been nominated and confirmed for the position and promotion to vice admiral, will assume command immediately.”
The relief of Aucoin is believed to be the first relief for cause of a U.S. Navy fleet commander since the aftermath of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. The Pacific Fleet commander, Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, was relieved 10 days after the attack.
The Seventh Fleet, forward deployed to bases in Japan, has suffered four incidents so far this year, two involving loss of life:
■ The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG 54) was damaged Jan. 31 when it ran aground near Yokosuka, Japan. No one was injured. The commanding officer was relieved.
■ The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57) collided with the South Korean fishing vessel 502 Nam Yang in the Sea of Japan on May 9. No injuries were reported, and the damage to both ships was slight.
■ The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) suffered severe damage when it collided on June 17 with the Philippine-flag container ship ACX Crystal near Yokosuka. Seven Sailors died and three were injured. The commanding officer, executive officer and command master chief were relieved by Aucoin. Additionally, a number of officer and enlisted watch standers were disciplined, the Navy said.
■ The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) suffered severe damage when it collided on Aug. 21 in the Straits of Malacca with the Alnic MC, a Liberian-flag tanker. Ten Sailors are dead or missing.
With Fitzgerald and John S. McCain out of operation for the foreseeable future, the 7th Fleet’s force of eight DDGs has been reduced by one-fourth. These ships are part of the ballistic-missile defense force based in Japan.
“This trend demands more forceful action,” Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations (CNO), said in an Aug. 21 video on the recent collisions. “As such, I’ve directed an operational pause be taken in all of our fleets around the world. I want our fleet commanders to get together with their leaders and their commands to ensure that we’re taking all appropriate immediate actions to ensure safe and effective operations around the world.
“In addition to that operational pause, I’ve directed a comprehensive review to ensure that we get at the contributing factors, the root causes of these incidents,” he said.
Adm. Phil Davidson, commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command, has been named to take charge of the review.
“This [review] will include, but not be limited to, looking at operational tempo, trends in personnel, materiel, maintenance and equipment,” the CNO said. It will also include a review of how we train and certify our surface warfare community, including tactical and navigational proficiency. … We need to get to the bottom of this, so let’s get to it.”