SAN DIEGO — Navy leaders again pledged Wednesday that reforms in the surface fleet are taking hold, but that data proving this improvement will take years to play out.
The remarks by senior officials here at the U.S. Naval Institute’s West 2019 conference follow a testy Senate hearing this week in which Maine Sen. Angus King questioned the Navy’s lack of hard data on these improvements.
“I would like to see specific data on where we stand with issues like certification of sailors and personnel on the ships, maintenance status of the ships, training rules, staffing levels, and I want real numbers,” King told U.S. Indo-Pacific Command head Adm. Phil Davidson. “I don’t want general ‘We’re working on staffing,’ or 'We’re working on more training.’”
Davidson told King that while there were two fatal ship collisions that killed 17 sailors in 2017, “280-odd other ships weren’t having collisions.”
During a conference panel Wednesday, Rear Adm. Ronald Boxall, director of surface warfare, said the Navy has been “very, very open” regarding its reform efforts, but that some data showing progress will take years to manifest.
It was a tense exchange between Adm. Phil Davidson and Sen. Angus King.
“We have a very tight communication path back to the Hill,” he said in response to a question by Navy Times. “If he doesn’t think we’re doing well enough, we need to do better at that.”
After Tuesday’s Senate hearing, ProPublica cited a House Armed Services Committee aide who said Navy reform updates have been largely comprised of oral briefings that offered anecdotal progress.
“They’re not even reports,” ProPublica quoted the aide as saying.
Boxall said that while funding and billeting has improved for the surface fleet, manning remains an issue, and that the readiness reforms will take time.
“We do have some metrics in the near term, some of the things that we’re doing, the points along the way that we are increasing the quality of the types of training, the number of hours, the fidelity,” he said. “We’ve got to buy more systems, get more high-fidelity trainers, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”
Under Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly said Wednesday that the service has “a lot of data and metrics” on reform efforts.
“I’m not sure what the disconnect is on that,” he said.
Modly co-chairs a readiness reform oversight council with Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William Moran.
He said that 90 percent of the reform initiatives that required specific actions to take effect have been completed, and that the missions haven’t changed for Navy vessels.
“We have not all of a sudden stopped transiting through the Malacca Straits,” Modly said. “We’re still doing all the high-temp operations we were doing before, and we’re doing them safely.”
Among its efforts, the Navy is changing how it trains surface warfare officers at sea while investing in simulators.
Modly suggested the Navy needs to better communicate the progress of its reform efforts.
“You’re not going to see the impact of that a month afterward,” Modly said. “You’re going to see that years later.”