Navy official: Budget, readiness issues led to ship collisions

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The Navy’s No. 2 official told lawmakers Thursday that it was “absolutely the case” that constrained military budgets caused a lack of training that could have led to two ship collisions and 17 sailor deaths this summer. 

Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William Moran said, however, there was no excuse for the June USS Fitzgerald collision and the similar USS John S. McCain incident in August.

“No matter how tough our operating environment or how strained our budget, we shouldn’t be and cannot be colliding with other ships and running aground,” Moran told two House Armed Services subcommittees. “That is not about resourcing; it is about safety and it is about leadership at sea.”

Moran said in the prepared remarks that he was “shocked” by the two incidents, which triggered a Navy investigation into its readiness and safety.

{mosads}The Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a new report found widespread safety and readiness issues with Navy ships in the Pacific after four incidents this year.

More than one-third of training certifications for the Navy’s cruisers and destroyers based in Japan had expired in June, CNN first reported

The GAO noted several more issues in maintenance and training for ships deployed in foreign ports and lacking training time for ships in Japan.

The Navy is also in the midst of the servicewide investigation and safety review to find any operations and training issues.

Chief of Naval Operation Adm. John Richardson ordered the review in August after the McCain collision. Two other Navy incidents this year include a May 9 collision between a South Korean fishing boat and the USS Lake Champlain guided-missile cruiser off the Korean Peninsula and a Jan. 31 incident where the USS Antietam guided-missile cruiser ran aground.

House Armed Services seapower subcommittee Chairman Rob Wittman (R-Va.) called the Navy readiness issues “deeply troubling.” 

“The material condition and the operational readiness of the ships are significantly degraded and not acceptable,” Wittman said in a prepared statement. 

“Overall, the negative trend lines associated with the operational readiness of our forward deployed ships are deeply troubling. These negative training trends clearly contributed to the lack of seamanship evident onboard the USS John McCain and the USS Fitzgerald.”

Moran said the incidents are still being looked at, but added that Congress’s tight purse strings may also be at fault. The Navy has been affected for years by shrinking defense budgets and ship numbers paired with growing operational demands, he said.

“We aren’t big enough to do everything we are being tasked to do and our culture is, ‘We’re going to get it done.’ Sometimes our culture works against us,” Moran said.

Moran also testified that a lack of ship maintenance and training that could have caused the collisions is linked to sequestration.

“I’m on record … that that is absolutely the case,” Moran said. “That along with nine consecutive continuing resolutions, and we’re about to get another one. Those budget uncertainties drive uncertainty in the schedules. The most useful thing we could have out of Congress right now in terms of addressing a lot of our readiness concerns is stability.”

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), chairman of the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee, said he will hold another hearing on the matter after the Navy completes its investigation.

Following the hearing, Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he was “deeply concerned” by the GAO report findings.

“While there is plenty of responsibility to go around, we cannot ignore Congress’s role — years of budget cuts have forced our military to try to do too much with too little,” McCain said in a statement.

“Now it is clear that we are not only gambling our ability to fight and win at war, we are also damaging our ability to operate safely during peacetime. … We must all do better,” he said.

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