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2 ships deemed ‘unfit' for combat

Apr. 20, 2008 - 01:59PM   |   Last Updated: Apr. 20, 2008 - 01:59PM  |  
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Tne Hawaii-based cruiser Chosin.
Tne Hawaii-based cruiser Chosin. (MCSN Mark Patterson II / Navy)
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The Norfolk, Va.-based destroyer Stout. (U.S. Navy)

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Most of the missiles couldn't be fired, and neither could any of the big guns. The Aegis radars key to the ships' fighting abilities didn't work right.

The flight decks were inoperable.

Most of the lifesaving gear failed inspection.

Corrosion was rampant, and lube oil leaked all over.

The verdict: "unfit for sustained combat operations."

Those results turned up by an inspection by the Navy's Board of Inspection and Survey — commonly known as an InSurv — would be bad enough if they came from one warship.

But they came from two. In different fleets, in different oceans. Within a week of each other. And each ship represents the Navy's most sophisticated front-line surface combatants.

"This is worse than I remember seeing," a recently retired surface flag officer said after reading the reports of InSurv inspections conducted in March aboard the Norfolk, Va.-based destroyer Stout and the Pearl Harbor, Hawaii-based cruiser Chosin. "I don't remember seeing two that stood out like these."

Copies of both reports were obtained by Navy Times.

See related reading:

* Details of the inspection reports

* Text of Chosin InSurv

* Text of Stout InSurv

* http://www.militarytimes.com/projects/ship_report_chosin_stout/">Interactive graphic of the reports

"I don't think I have ever seen anything so bad," said retired Capt. Rick Hoffman, who commanded the cruiser Hue City, a sister ship of the Chosin.

"The aggregate number of discrepancies is disturbing, particularly in the Combat Systems area," another former senior officer said.

The retired admiral went further. "There's enough commonality between the two to make me think there's an endemic problem in the force," he said.

Navy Times was unable to reach the commanding officer of the Stout, and Navy officials did not make him available for comment. The CO of Chosin also could not be reached.

Naval professionals know the point of an InSurv is to list and detail all known problems with a ship's physical condition, but these two reports are exceptional.

"InSurv is by its nature an inspection that will always reveal a fairly large number of deficiencies, hopefully most of them minor," said retired Capt. Jan van Tol, who commanded a destroyer and an amphibious assault ship. "However, the scale and scope of the deficiencies, spread across all of the ship's departments and including the [executive officer] and command master chief, suggests that there is a severe and long-standing problem with low standards; low initiative in finding/fixing/managing problems and following up on documented problems; poorly managed programs; and an apparent inability to train junior people in material management."

High-ranking officers now are searching for what led to the problems revealed by the two inspections.

"There's a discussion active inside the community about self-assessment issues and processes," said Capt. David Lewis, the assistant chief of staff for maintenance and engineering with Naval Surface Forces in San Diego.

Lewis pointed out that a great number of the problems on the two ships were known even before the inspections. But the InSurvs turned up more problems than were expected.

"The thing that popped at me was the volume of the discrepancies. Normally, we don't get that much on a given ship," he said.

Stout, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer — or DDG — was particularly afflicted by corrosion, which Lewis said has become a problem on all ships of that type.

"DDGs have a corrosion trend, we are seeing that more and more," Lewis said. "We are starting to address that in our work batches for depot-level repair. It's in areas that are generally hard for ship's force to get into, places they don't go routinely. Uptakes and that kind of stuff."

The ships' material condition was not due to lack of funds, Lewis said.

"We are 100 percent funded to our requirement for maintenance," he said.

Among the issues leading to the ships' condition is that they both recently returned from deployments, said Capt. Pete Gumataotao, chief of staff for Naval Surface Forces. Overhaul periods already were planned for the ships, he said.

But under the Fleet Response Plan, ships returning from deployment remain in readiness status for some time, and often are considered "surge-ready" for several months before standing down for a shipyard period.

Lewis also noted the ships are entering mid-life.

"Stout is an earlier DDG and due for a mid-life upgrade in about four years," he said of the 14-year-old destroyer. The Chosin, commissioned in 1991, is scheduled for an upgrade under the cruiser modernization program.

Based on calculations in the most recent 30-year fleet plan, Chosin is meant to remain in service for 35 years, or until about 2026. The Stout and its sister ships are to last for 40 years — until 2034, in the Stout's case.

How common?

The InSurv inspectors pore over about 45 to 50 ships a year. Forty-seven ships underwent the inspections in 2007, Lewis said. Each year generally sees several ships do so poorly that they're rated "unfit" for combat. But it is unusual for Aegis ships — considered the world's most sophisticated and capable surface warships — to perform so badly.

Three ships were rated unfit for combat in fiscal 2007, Lewis said: a frigate, a dock landing ship and a mine countermeasures ship. Since fiscal 2008 began, there have been two more: the Stout and Chosin.

"I don't see a trend," Lewis said.

The last time Lewis and Gumataotao could recall when two ships did so poorly at the same time was in 2006, when two minesweepers stationed in the Persian Gulf were unable to get underway for their inspections. The situation temporarily deprived the Navy of its two best anti-mine assets in the region.

But numerous officers familiar with the InSurv reports are concerned that myriad causes are resulting in such poor material inspections.

"Where was the chain of command? Why did the parent squadron not know of the terrible material condition?" van Tol asked. The ship's command, he said, "has a lot to answer for, either in terms of not finding and fixing the problems, or at least advising his seniors of the problems."

The ship's enlisted leaders also are partly responsible, van Tol said.

"One could also ask where the chief's mess was in all this, since they are the technical experts as well as the senior enlisted leaders onboard."

Minimal manning

Each of the ships has a crew of about 350 sailors. The Navy has been working for some years to reduce maintenance requirements on sailors in order to shrink crew sizes, and the smaller crews planned for future ships such as littoral combat ships and the Zumwalt-class DDG 1000 advanced destroyers mean maintenance issues could become more acute. Navy planners have said a key to maintaining readiness is to transfer more responsibility to land-based organizations.

But the shore establishment also should have been more aware of the conditions aboard Stout and Chosin, van Tol said.

"Many of the problems noted should have been picked up in previous inspections of various kinds," he said. "What were the results of those inspections? Who should have followed up on deficiencies? Why did the chain of command — both within the ship and above the ship level — not monitor progress in fixing said deficiencies?"

A general air of irresponsibility seems to pervade the ships, many observers felt.

"There were a lot of things that should have been found and fixed by the crew," the retired flag officer said. "But there doesn't appear to be a lot of attention to detail going on."

That many of the problems were right out in the open for inspectors to find, he said, was disturbing.

"Both ships had corrosion on the flight deck that they appeared to be ignoring. That's fairly simple stuff. You don't need to be outside looking at that. You need to put sailors to work doing what sailors do."

All the officers who reviewed the inspection reports for this story said they were shocked by the lack of basic preventive maintenance.

"I see in both of these ships a basic contempt for good Navy practices," the retired flag officer said. "Too much rust. Too many [preventive maintenance systems] checks that weren't done properly. Too much equipment InSurv had to tell them wasn't working."

He pointed out that citations for items like finding foreign object debris, or FOD, shouldn't happen during a major inspection.

"FOD on the intake engine screens," the retired flag officer said. " ‘My God — InSurv is coming.' You'd think they'd clean the screens."

The officer wondered where the command structure was in all this.

"There's a serious lack of command involvement in what's going on on the ship," the flag officer said. "That's basic."

Asked about the problems, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Joe Campa declined to address the specific ships' situation, but in general terms, he agreed that his senior enlisted personnel bear some of the responsibility for keeping ships up to standards.

"The success or failure of any commandwide inspection can be placed directly at the entrance to the CPO mess," Campa said. "There are all kinds of challenges, and reasons for failure. But it's been proven that the experience that resides in the mess can tilt the results of any inspection toward success if the chiefs are engaged on the deck plates."

———

Mark D. Faram contributed to this report.

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