Armed Services chairman: Pentagon didn't heed warnings before fatal collisions

Armed Services chairman: Pentagon didn't heed warnings before fatal collisions
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The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee pinned blame Thursday on Pentagon leaders who hadn’t “heeded the warning signs in time” after the Navy released its report on a spate of a collisions that killed 17 sailors.

“These deaths were entirely avoidable had Pentagon leadership in recent years heeded the warning signs in time, taken the appropriate actions and been honest with themselves and the country about the readiness challenges they face,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said in a statement Thursday.

“Those challenges reinforce long-standing committee concerns and in this case result from asking our fleet to do too much with too few resources — forcing the Navy to take shortcuts in training and maintenance in order to maximize operational time,” he said.

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The Navy on Thursday released a report titled “Comprehensive Review of Surface Force Incidents,” which was ordered after two fatal ship collisions, as well as two smaller crashes.

The report recommends 60 improvements in sailor training, navigation, crew requirements, sailor stress management, use of equipment and safety procedures to address the issues.

The report also said that budget constraints make it difficult to operate in busy regions such as the Pacific, where collisions have occurred.

“The risks that were taken in the Western Pacific accumulated over time, and did so insidiously,” the report said. “The dynamic environment normalized to the point where individuals and groups of individuals could no longer recognize that the processes in place to identify, communicate and assess readiness were no longer working at the ship and headquarters level.”

Thursday’s report comes a day after a more narrow report looking specifically at the two fatal collisions: the USS Fitzgerald crash in June and the USS John S. McCain crashing in August. That report found the crashes were preventable and the result of “multiple failures.”

In his Thursday statement, Thornberry said that while the Navy is committed to looking into the problems, Congress must help.

“The Navy is committed to addressing these issues, but they cannot fix them on their own. Congress has a role to play as well,” he said. “I am ready to support the Navy’s request for any additional training, manpower or equipment they need to prevent these tragedies in the future.”

Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerSenator predicts Congress will wrap up tax work in two weeks The Hill's Whip List: Where Republicans stand on Senate tax bill US warship collides with Japanese tug boat MORE (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittee, said in a separate statement that it’s clear from the report the size the size of the Navy was a contributing factor. He and others have been advocating for a 355-ship Navy.

“As I told the Senate on Tuesday, we are asking too few ships to do too many things," he said, referring to a floor speech. "We are wearing out our sailors and their ships. I urge the Navy to implement the report’s recommendations quickly, and I stand ready to help.”