The head of the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on seapower and projection forces said last week that he wants Navy leadership to report to lawmakers every 90 days on the progress they are making in implementing reforms recommended in two reviews undertaken after warship collisions last summer killed 17 sailors.
Virginia Rep. Rob Wittman said areas where he wants regular updates include those dealing with getting forward-deployed ships back stateside every seven to 10 years for deep maintenance, as well as command changes that would put U.S. Fleet Forces command as the overall head of the man, train and equip authority for the surface fleet.
Wittman, a Republican, also called for requiring surface warfare officers to specialize and move away from being generalists when it comes to deck and engineering jobs.
He stated that junior officers should be given more time to develop their basic skills.
“We have significant challenges that face our surface forces,” Wittman said. “But with time and resolve, I am confident that we can right the surface force that are perilously askew.”
Testifying before the subcommittee on Jan. 18, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said the service is working to get ships homeported overseas back to the states every eight years for deep maintenance.
Wittman pointed out that the destroyer John S. McCain, which collided with a tanker in August, killing 10 sailors, had been permanently overseas with no U.S. maintenance time for 20 years.
Asked about recent news that the Navy is pursuing charges of negligent homicide against the commanders of the destroyers Fitzgerald and McCain, Wittman said such charges send a message as to the severity of the incidents.
“I think the Navy has taken the proper actions,” he said. “It sends a very strong signal to everyone.”
In his opening statement, Richardson said the service had already acted on many of the 58 recommendations for change that were in the comprehensive review he ordered after the Fitzgerald and McCain disasters.
He also said the service is committed to implementing needed changes with a sense of urgency.
Richardson and Navy Secretary Richard Spencer also took the opportunity to once again mention the scourge of continuing resolutions, a stopgap budget measure where Congress bankrolls the service at the previous year’s level, throwing military budgets into disarray in the process.
In a response to a lawmaker’s point about the current threat environment worldwide not leading to fewer Navy obligations, Spencer told lawmakers that a new 30-year shipbuilding plan will be introduced with the president’s next budget in the coming months.
The Jan. 18 hearing came as the Navy continues to grapple with the aftermath of several at-sea disasters in the service’s 7th Fleet command.
Before the fatal collisions, the cruiser Antietam ran aground in Tokyo Bay in January 2017. A few months later, the Lake Champlain collided with a Korean fishing vessel.
The Fitzgerald collided with a merchant vessel off Japan in June, resulting in the loss of seven sailors. Two months later, the McCain collided with an oil tanker while entering the Strait of Malacca near Singapore.
A comprehensive review ordered by Richardson looked at the tactical failings that led to the collisions, while Spencer ordered a broader strategic review that looked at Navy culture.
That review, released late last year, found that the Navy had cut corners over the years to keep meeting a growing list of mission requirements, even as manpower and ship numbers shrunk. As a result of this continued deviation, such shortcuts became the norm.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at email@example.com.