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Navy head concerned with sailors' ability to drive ships

Navy head concerned with sailors' ability to drive ships
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The Navy’s top officer, Adm. John Richardson, expressed concern on Thursday that sailors throughout the fleet may not have enough training to drive their ships.

The chief of naval operations told reporters at the Pentagon that following four major Navy ship incidents in the Pacific in the past year he’s “concerned enough” to back assessments looking at whether sailors are ready to go to sea.

“These ready-for-sea assessments are going around and doing that look, that grading to ensure we get a solid look and understanding of what the proficiency is at sea,” he said.

Richardson appeared at the Pentagon following the release of a Navy "comprehensive review," a wide-ranging assessment that found troubling issues with the training for those who man and drive the country’s multimillion-dollar Navy ships.

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The report followed a 60-day review, which Richardson ordered after the USS John S. McCain collided with the Liberian oil tanker Alnic MC on Aug. 21. Ten sailors died in that incident.

Before that, on June 17, the USS Fitzgerald smashed into the ACX Crystal off the coast of Japan, killing seven sailors.

The report’s lead, U.S. Fleet Forces Command head Adm. Philip Davidson, found that there are “weaknesses in the command structures in-place to oversee readiness and manage operational risk for forces forward deployed in Japan.”

Defense budget constraints also make it difficult for the Navy to meet the demand for ready and certified ships to operate in the Pacific.

“The risks that were taken in the Western Pacific accumulated over time, and did so insidiously. 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,” according to the report.

In addition, Naval officer training — which sometimes happens on the job — doesn't offer the readiness needed to operate in high-risk situations and leaves gaps.

Richardson acknowledged that starting in 2002, for a seven-year period, the Navy provided sailors with on-the-job training in the form of CDs.

“We’ve moved away from that system where we had a set of CDs and we did all that training on the job,” Richardson insisted. “[We] have been making steady improvements to both the officer and enlisted training throughout.”

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

Davidson also advises a senior Navy officer be appointed to oversee implementation of the recommended changes.

Richardson would not say that the report points to an accident waiting to happen, offering instead that “what happened was a gradual erosion of the margins of safety.”

On Wednesday, the Navy released a separate report that details the “multiple failures” that led to the separate incidents involving the Fitzgerald and John S. McCain.

That report found that performance and training mistakes led to the “preventable” collisions between the U.S. guided-missile destroyers and foreign commercial ships.