SASC Chairman to Navy Leaders: ‘You Must Do Better!’
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
WASHINGTON, Va. — In a generally supportive hearing, Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) members took the Navy’s senior leadership to task for the three collisions and grounding this year among U.S. Seventh Fleet ships and charged the Navy with identifying the causes and taking measures to correct them.
“As leaders of our Navy, you must do better,” said SASC Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., noting that the occurrence of four such incidents “in a span of seven months is truly alarming.”
McCain was addressing Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer and Adm. John M. Richardson, chief of naval operations (CNO), during a Sept. 19 hearing on Capitol Hill. Also testifying was John H. Pendleton, director, Defense Force Structure and Readiness Issues, for the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
SASC members focused on such topics as the increasing level of expiration of mission readiness certificates among cruisers and destroyers of the Seventh Fleet, the lack of dedicated training time for forward-deployed naval forces (FDNF), the delays in maintenance, poor material condition of ships and the long workdays of ship crews.
McCain said he was told that repairs to the destroyers USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain would cost $600 million, a cost that does not include that of meeting the requirements of their presence by other ships. He also questioned whether legislation such as the Goldwater-Nicholls Act emphasized breadth of experience over depth of expertise among the officer corps. He also brought up the budget sequestration, asking if it was a factor in declining readiness and a root cause of the mishaps.
“We have a problem in the Navy and we’re going to fix it,” Spencer said in his opening statement, noting his Strategic Readiness Review and the CNO’s investigation as complementary efforts to determine the root causes of the mishaps, “to turn over every stone,” in Richardson’s words, looking for systemic problems.
Pendleton, who has studied the readiness of the Seventh Fleet, said keeping training and maintenance current for the fleet was difficult because the fleet “was perpetually in motion.”
The GAO made a study in 2015 of Navy readiness and made 14 recommendations to address readiness challenges.
At this point, I’m skeptical that the Navy will be able to make significant readiness gains unless the demands on them are decreased,” Pendleton said.
Richardson said that the 276-ship Navy currently is able to resource less than 50 percent of combatant commander naval force requirements. “We can only resource about 40 percent of the world demand right now,” he said.
The discussion often focused on the impact of the budget sequestration and continuing resolutions on ship material readiness.
McCain noted that “the material condition of our surface ships is well below acceptable levels.”
Spencer said the effects of the continuing resolutions and the budget sequestration were “deleterious and stunning.”
Richardson said the continuing resolutions and sequestration “make everything harder,” and that in the coming fiscal year he may have to delay 11 ship maintenance availability periods.
Nevertheless, the CNO said of the mishaps at issue, “I maintain this is an issue of command.”
Richardson expects the fleet review to be completed by mid-to late October, and the secretary’s Strategic Readiness Review “30 days after that.”
McCain and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, expressed concern about reports that Sailors are working 100 hours per week or more, affecting their alertness to safety. The CNO said that sleep patterns and watch manning requirements were part of the investigation.
McCain stressed that no studies were needed to know that 100 working hours per week were too many for Sailors to maintain peak alertness. “Use some common sense and make some changes!” he told the Navy leaders.
Both Navy leaders affirmed the importance of early warning of slipping readiness.
Spencer said he was a “true believer in metrics” and needed a dashboard to show first indicators of slipping readiness.