Skip to comments.Collisions: Part IIIóMaintenance (Fitzgerald/McCain)
Posted on 08/30/2017 11:15:04 AM PDT by Presbyterian Reporter
The discussion regarding the recent collisions of the USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and the John S. McCain (DDG-56) has moved beyond how could this have happened asked at a micro-level to the same question at a macro-level. Concerned perhaps with public perception, the Navy has leaped forward in drawing conclusions in a way that would, under other circumstances, be considered unseemly. Already a fleet commander has been relieved. Two investigations and two operational pauses have been ordered.
This furious activity is taking place while the investigation into what happened in the John S. McCain is barely started and before the Fitzgerald investigation has been released to the public. This suggests that key issues are already so evident there is no need to wait for the conclusions of unit-level investigations. It would appear the Navys leadership has decided these collisions were not simply two disconnected lightning bolts of bad luck striking Seventh Fleet.
The media is afire with experts, many of whom are former senior naval officers, all of whom are drawing conclusions. If they all know, then certainly current Navy leaders must also know the following:
► Training is (and has been) deficient for surface ships officers and crews for at least 15 years.
► The operational tempo (OpTempo) imposed on surface ships steadily is increasing, owing to a combination of declining fleet size; mission creep; diminishing average, unit-by-unit capability, as the littoral combat ships (LCS) come on line; increased tension in the Asian theater; and a relentless and steady demand for ships from combatant commanders.
► Ships home-ported in Japan are subject to a different standard from ships based in the United States.
Simply put, through no fault of their own, ships crews are stretched far too thin, and they are insufficiently trained, top to bottom. What has not been discussed, but which should be significantly more concerning, is the fact that if ships officers are not up to the fundamental task of safe navigation, how can they possibly be up to the task of complex warfighting?
While everyone suddenly seems familiar with these issues at least enough to vault over process directly to the firing of a vice admiral the element that has so far eluded discussion is the material condition of these ships. To understand the inexplicable fact that, every day, ships are operating in the most extraordinarily suboptimized ways, several factors need to be understood.
Individual-level training for both officers and enlisted personnel has been gutted. Testing and other performance-related standards were eliminated to improve throughput, reduce attrition, and make seniors happy. Follow-on training such as Communications and Engineer Officer of the Watch Schools were eliminated for new accession officers. B Double E and similar training were reduced for new accession enlisted personnel. As a result, new accessions showed up on ships not ready to be productive. Officer career paths were changed to the detriment of readiness, with long stretches ashore to meet other requirements like postgraduate degrees, joint credit, individual argumentations, Washington-time, etc . At the same time, we combined executive officer (XO) and commanding officer (CO) training to the detriment of both, and Command Qualification Boards were pushed back for XO tours when officers already had been selected for command. Enlisted journeyman and master-level training (both formal schoolhouse training and informal in jobs such as shore intermediate maintenance activities [SIMAs]) was shredded. Senior officers and enlisted personnel no longer can make up for the shortfalls elsewhere because they increasingly dont know their jobs either. General military training (GMT) and other similar requirements have exploded to the detriment of shipboard training programs.
Manning initiatives such as perform to serve, top six rolldown, and others decimated journeyman-level manning and expertise (and morale) across the force.
On the maintenance side, depot-level maintenance periods were decreased. Intermediate maintenance activity (IMA) periods were reduced; lifecycle maintenance requirements such as corrosion control, vibration monitoring, and other periodic and condition-based maintenancewere reduced or eliminated. SIMAs were eliminated or cut, to include ship-to-shop capabilities like valve barges. Level II (IMA) work was transferred to the ships crews, causing huge maintenance backlogs and untenable ships force worklists. Operational propulsion plant examinations, light-off assessments, and configuration status accountings were eliminated in favor of death by a thousand cuts from afloat training groups, with no forcing factors to ensure discrepancies were repaired in a timely manner.
Maintenance funding was taken from ships in maintenance and doled out to ships scheduled for inspection-and-surveys (InSurvs). The supply system and systems commands failed to plan for obsolescence and stopped paying for many replacement parts. At the same time, ships on-board stocks of replacement parts were reduced. As a result, casualty reports skyrocketed, and ships ability to be self-sufficient has disappeared. Funding for tech reps was curtailed or eliminated in favor of distance support.
The number one factor, though, is money. As a percentage of the Navys budget, funding for parts and repairs remains fairly static. Heres the problem for the surface force: Neither naval aviation nor the submarine force will agree to operate without fully funded maintenance coffers. Theyespecially submarinerssimply wont. The reasons seem obvious. While a ship can be almost completely broken and still get under way, the cost of mechanical failure in a submarine can be catastrophic. Because the budget is flat and the fleet is aging, the community-by-community demand for maintenance funds rises against a fixed-size pie. The result is that if you hold the maintenance budget for submarines constant, or even increase it, the surface ships segment of the pie decreases.
All these things were pointedly discussed in the Balisle Report. This all begs the question of why nothing was done to remediate the problems. The problem is maintenance has no constituency. There are three agencies at work here: Congress, the defense industry, and the Navy. Congressman Tip ONeil said, All Politics is Local. If military programs dont provide local jobs, they are not of interest to our elected representatives in Washington. This is increasingly true in todays charged, partisan environment. Maintenance has very little pay-off to elected officials. On the other hand, building new things, like submarines or aircraft carriers or new missiles or radars or aircraft, means jobsi.e., votes. The net result is that Congress has no energy to increase funding for maintenance, especially if it comes at the cost of programs that provide local jobs.
The second element of this triad is industry. Anyone who imagines that the most important consideration in any publically traded company is not the stock price is laboring under a charming illusion. The profit margin for parts and labor associated with maintenance is trivial compared with while the margins for building big, new things. Just as Congress is not interested in fixing ships, neither is industry generally.
Finally, there is the Navy. Unfortunately, the needs of the fleet are many and varied. On the operational side of things, there is a cacophony of strident and competing voices, originating from a universe of different, competing interests. As it turns out, the various warfare communities of the Navy are set up in direct competition with one another in a mortal fight for funding. In this ugly competition, the surface community is the loser.
Whose fault is this? Its mine and every other surface officer because we failed to say no we will not take these ships to sea until they are fixed and their crews are trained.
Captain Eyer served in seven cruisers, commanding three Aegis cruisers: the USS Thomas S. Gates (CG-51), Shiloh (CG-67), and Chancellorsville (CG-62).
Editor's Note: Part I of this feature was published Wednesday, August 23, on Proceedings Today . Part II of this feature was published on Thursday, August 24, on Proceedings Today
Collisions: Part IWhat Are the Root Causes? (Fitzgerald,McCain)
Collisions: Part IIOperational Pause (Fitzgerald/McCain)
Collisions: Part IWhat Are the Root Causes? (Fitzgerald,McCain)
Collisions: Part IIOperational Pause (Fitzgerald/McCain)
Thank you for posting. Other than being aware of how downsized our Navy has become, a far cry from thirty years ago....what can we do?
Trump should use this to beat some sense into Congress and the Military brass. The military needs more money, but it also needs more accountability. I suspect the waste and diversion of funds for purposes other than intended, has been enormous.
“This is a radar plot. When you see something on a converging course, you move out of the way. Any questions?”
In my best Sam Kinnison voice,
“Say it! Say it! Say it!”
The Clintons gutted the Navy.
somebody needs to ask some questions,
applies to both collisions.
was the search-radar turned on?
was AIS turned on.
why was the ship darkened?
was either ship outside of the recommended track
or at an unreasonable speed
Graduate degrees? Wtf do sailors need graduate degrees for? It’s the infiltration of “modern management” crap that’s ruined the military. The Navy isn’t a business. Jeez.
REMFs and careerists everuwhere. Maybe the Chinese will kick the USNs butt.
Even accepting the validity of all three reports, I still can’t believe that 50% of the ships capable of intercepting Nork or other missiles have been “accidently” put out of commission a couple of months prior to the need to destroy the missiles.
For several decades the military has required some kind of graduate degree for officers to be promoted to Field Grade ranks. In most cases the type of degree does not matter as long as an officer has filled that square.
I saw tons of basically worthless degrees programs being offered, and taken, just to fill that requirement.
I was a Sonarman aboard the USS Biddle DLG-34 from ‘67 to ‘70.
The Sonar Control room was adjacent to the CIC (Combat Information Center).
When on PIRAZ station, the ship was an air traffic control center, stationed off the coast of Viet Nam.
I remember hearing the Radarmen reporting the position of an ever present Russian Trawler, designated “Skunk Delta”.
I did a search on Skunk Delta and found this blog post from a guy from that era about what it was like in CIC:
Just an excerpt:
“Unknown contacts or targets were called skunks, thus the first one of the day was Skunk Alpha, then Skunk Bravo, Skunk Charlie, etc. We would have to track them over a short period of time to gather their course and speed. This would have to be calculated taking into account our own forward course and speed. Ahhhh, ya gotta love relative motion! We could then tell the bridge Skunk Delta is on a course of 260 degrees at 14 knots and will pass 1000 yards astern of us at 2312. We would still track it to watch for any deviation and then send updates to the OOD on the bridge.”
Soldiers dont need that crap. It detracts from their purpose. And college mostly teaches false information anyhow.
Priororty One FReepmail for you!!!
I have been saying this over, and over, and over again since I began paying attention to the condition of the Navy after the Fitzgerald collision. I have said it in so many different ways, until I am blue in the face and have grown tired of saying it, as some of you I have pinged well know.
This isn't some stupid sabotage, or hostile action, or muslims, or death rays from communists, Russians, or aliens.
This is poor readiness, pure and simple. Overall readiness is a triad of training, material maintenance, and leadership. If any one of these three things fails, overall readiness will suffer.
To my horror-and yes, I am not being theatrical or hysterical-horror, I have come to understand that our Navy is not just failing in one of them, it is (and apparently HAS been) failing in all three of these things.
I have not been paying close attention in many ways, and have been looking at the Navy over the last 10-20 years from various specific aspects, assuming that the triad was still functioning.
I assumed that training was taking place. That it was adequate and relevant. How, I thought, could it not be?
I assumed that material maintenance, even if new platforms and systems weren't being acquired or updated, was taking place, even to a minimal level.
I assumed that leadership was still practiced, even though I knew full well that the Navy was chock full of corrosive politically correct stupidity, even beyond the Army or Air Force, hard as that seems to believe. I had a naive view that there were enough individuals to ensure there were still islands of crackerjack ships and units out there operating on the sheer will of some people to be leaders and drive quality and readiness.
I can see now I was wrong. Very wrong. And I cannot tell you how much this angers and hurts me.
I came from a Navy family, my father served for 30 years. We grew up on Navy bases all over the world. As kids, we watched Navy life, saw all the drama, the crazy parties, the massive entertaining, the broken marriages, the infighting, the good, the bad, and the ugly. As kids, it wasn't hard to see and understand, it was right out there in the open, everyone talked about everything all the time in every house you went into, and it wasn't hidden.
My dad was a high functioning alcoholic who drank off hours but was always squared away and ready for work at 0500. My mother was a Navy wife who did her duty, but she could often not restrain her tongue in the appropriate circles and occasionally made things difficult for my dad in his chain of command. Sometimes she just could not be "The Good Navy Wife".
There are some of you reading this who recognize all that and nod your heads in understanding. You have seen it too.
I did a tour in the Navy myself, as did a brother. I served in the mid-late Seventies, a time that is universally recognized as the nadir of the military services in many respects. Supposedly, morale was low, professionalism was low, racial tensions were high, discipline was lax, money was short, systems were dilapidated, and leadership, from the Commander in Chief Peanut Farmer on down was in the toilet.
That is how many look at the Post-Vietnam military, and some of it is true.
So, when I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and began looking at the Fitzgerald situation, it was a wake up call for me. Anyone who knows ANYTHING about the way ships operate knew that something was terribly wrong on that ship. But to me...it still seemed...isolated.
And then the McCain collision occurred. That indicated to me that something was seriously amiss, but...could it just have been a bad coincidence?
And yesterday (Thanks to Presbyterian Reporter who provided the link) I read the official finding of facts document from the US Navy on the grounding of the USS Antietam.
WHAT I READ SHOCKED ME.
I am 100% convinced that the processes in the US Navy are rotten to the core, and I came to that conclusion after reading that document.
As bad as things were in the Seventies by some accounts, I was dumbfounded to read that document on the grounding of the Antietam. In the Seventies, I had plenty of occasion to closely watch sailors on various ships getting underway, pulling into port, doing underway refueling and replenishments, etc.
Even in the so-called horrible Seventies, they carried out seaman's tasks in my eyes like professionals. I was an Airedale, but because I was good at my job, I could recognize professionalism in theirs as they carried out their tasks. They were where they were supposed to be, and did the things they were supposed to do, and did it with confidence in a businesslike manner. I never, ever, even once, saw a hint of the complete and inexcusable (to my eye) incompetency that the Antietam grounding report conveyed to me.
Reading that Antietam report depressed me in ways I cannot fully express.
I grew up in a Navy family, served a tour myself, and as you can probably tell, am prouder of the job I did as a jet mechanic in the Navy than I am of nearly any other job I have done in my life since then. And I am grateful to my government for allowing me to serve, and the US Navy for the wisdom and life experience I got out of it.
But I am going to be a harsh critic, because there is no excuse, none, for this terrible, terrible state of affairs. We will count ourselves lucky if we can avoid getting into a real shooting war, because for the first time in my life, I believe our Navy will be unable to put up a real fight, even with our numerical advantages.
As I said at the beginning, if we cannot navigate from a pier to an anchorage without putting on a goddamned clown show like they did on a 10,000 ton Ticonderoga class cruiser and running it aground, what chance are we going to have in combat?
Well stated rlmorel.
As a non-Navy guy I had the feeling there was something fundamentally wrong in the Navy when I heard about the Fitzgerald collision.
After the Fitzgerald collision I read too many commentaries written by former Navy men/women who offered several screwy excuses for the accident and they were generally blaming the ACX Crystal.
After the McCain collision I have noticed the Navy people “who wrote the screwy excuses regarding the Fitzgerald collision” became quiet. Which is good.
Now Captain Kevin Eyer (retired Navy) has written a three part commentary on both collisions and the commentary seems to focus on how to fix the problems instead of how to coverup the problems. Which is good.
I would hope that all FReepers who want a strong military would keep aware of how our military is spending our money.
The problems with training and maintenance cross all Services and has been around for decades.
I joined the Air Force in 1975 and volunteered to be on Titan II ICBM Missile Combat Crew. We were the crews that lived underground and had the keys to the ICBMs.
When I went through training Strategic Air Command, SAC, thought it was so important that we, as students, were never a part of Air Training Command, ATC, during technical school. We were SAC assets and SAC actually paid ATC for our room and board as well as classroom spaces. All of the NCOs and officer instructors were SAC. We were trained well beyond what we needed to know to perform the basic job. SAC thought it important that we should be over-trained so we would understand the weapon system to the point that we could think on our feet and take care of things that may not be written down in the tech data. That excess training saved my life twice.
I was very good at my duty and was promoted to the position of Instructor in just two years. There were three phases of training that ended up lasting close to ten or so months and the third phase was instruction at the primary base; that was were I fit in.
Anyway, I loved being an Instructor but around 1978, due to the Carter decimation of the military, budget cuts forced SAC to transfer the first stage of training over to ATC and they decided that the huge amount of training we got was too much. ATC, to save money, cut back training to just teach the minimum needed to perform our basic duties, and not worry about making sure we were smart enough to get out of a jam that was not in the books.
Our lives as instructors took a hard turn because we were now receiving troops that were not trained well enough to keep themselves out of trouble when pulling Alerts in the complexes. We spent way too much time on trying to get them competent rather than fine tuning them for duty.
Almost all of our instructors and also the Standardization/Evaluation crews believed the lack of training (done to save money that the Carter Administration cut) directly led to the two massive disasters, one at my base in 1978 and one in Arkansas in 1980, that killed three troops and destroyed two Titan II ICBM complexes.
The Left, and now too many that call themselves conservative, have allowed training in the military to disappear for the convenience of saving money and this directly affects our ability to perform our mission of protecting the USA.
Sigh. I know things were tight, in the Seventies, we were up above the Arctic Circle at sea in September-November, and the only cold weather gear we had were foul weather jackets made for 30-40 F, we had to stuff clean cleaning rags inside them to make them warmer on the flight deck.
But I never saw any cutting corners of training that I could tell, though I suppose the lifers would have told us they did it differently back then.
I just didn’t realize it had gotten worse than the Seventies.
New FReepmail for you — with a single question. Things are starting to make sense!
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