U.S. Navy Provides Details of Surface Fleet Review In Wake of ‘Disturbing Trend’ of Accidents

john s. mccain
Tugboats from Singapore assist the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) as it steers towards Changi Naval Base, Republic of Singapore following a collision with the merchant vessel, August 21, 2017. U.S. Navy Photo

The U.S. Navy has provided details of a comprehensive review of the Navy’s global surface fleet operations after the destroyers USS Fitzgerald and John S. McCain were both involved in major collisions with commercial vessels just two months apart.

In a memorandum to Adm. Philip Davidson, Commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. William Moran, provided details of Davidson’s responsibilities as the head of the chief of naval operations-directed review.

In the memorandum, which is dated August 24, 2017 and posted in full below, Admiral Moran describes the collisions involving the Fitzgerald and John S. McCain, as well as other recent incidents, as part of a “disturbing trend” of mishaps involving U.S. Navy ships.

“During the last 69 days, the USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and the USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) were involved in two separate major collisions with commercial vessels while operating in the Seventh Fleet AOR [area of responsibility],” stated Moran in the memorandum. “Recent events indicate these tragic incidents are not limited occurrences but part of a disturbing trend of mishaps involving U.S. warships in the AOR – include the grounding of the USS Antietam (CG 54) in January and a collision between the USS Lake Chaplain (CG 57) and a South Korean fishing vessel in May.”

The memorandum directs Davidson to “lead a Comprehensive Review” of surface fleet operations and incidents at sea that have occurred over the past decade, with a particular focus on those occurring in the Seventh Fleet area of responsibility, in order “to inform improvements Navy-wide.”

“In the conduct of the review, you will seek input and insights from other services, industry, and highly qualified experts outside the services in order to ensure the widest possible perspective as we drive to the heart of the underlying issues and attack the root causes for these mishaps,” Moran writes.

The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) was involved in a collision with the merchant vessel Alnic MC while underway east of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore on August 21.

On Friday, the Navy identified the second deceased USS John S. McCain sailor, 26-year-old Electronics Technician 3rd Class Dustin Louis Doyon, after divers recovered his body from inside a flooded compartment of the ship. Eight others are still missing and are presumed dead. 

In June, seven sailors were killed when the USS Fitzgerald collided with a containership off the east coast of Japan.

Monday’s collision involving the John S. McCain prompted the removal of the Seventh Fleet Commander, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command.

The collision also prompted Navy Admiral John M. Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations, to order a temporary “operational pause” of all U.S. Navy fleets around the world in order to allow fleet commanders to assess and review with their commands “the fundamental practice to safe and effective operations.”

Richardson also said he would order Admiral Davidson to take charge of the comprehensive review that will include representation from throughout the Navy, as well as from other services and the private sector.

U.S. 7th Fleet is the largest of the U.S. Navy’s forward deployed fleets. At any given time there are roughly 50-70 ships and submarines, 140 aircraft, and approximately 20,000 Sailors in the region.

The memorandum is available in full below or at the following link: http://go.usa.gov/xRGNw

AUGUST 24, 2017

MEMORANDUM FOR COMMANDER, U.S. FLEET FORCES COMMAND

Subj: COMPREHENSIVE REVIEW OF RECENT SURFACE FLEET INCIDENTS

1. During the last 69 days, the USS FITZGERALD (DDG 62) and the USS JOHN S. MCCAIN (DDG 56) were involved in two separate major collisions with commercial vessels while operating in the SEVENTH Fleet AOR. Recent events indicate these tragic incidents are not limited occurrences but part of a disturbing trend of mishaps involving U.S. warships in the AOR — including the grounding of the USS ANTIETAM (CG 54) in January and a collision between the USS LAKE CHAMPLAIN (CG 57) and a South Korean fishing vessel in May.

2. You are directed to lead a Comprehensive Review of surface fleet operations and incidents at sea that have occurred over the past decade with emphasis on SEVENTH Fleet operational employment to inform improvements Navy-wide. This review should address the follow areas:

a. Individual training and professional development, to include seamanship, navigation, voyage planning, leadership development, officer and enlisted tactical training in formal schools and on the job;

b. Unit level training and operational performance, to including manning, personnel management, watchbill management, bridge (and CIC) team resource management, contact management, contact avoidance, leadership oversight and risk assessment/mitigation at all levels of the chain of command;

c. Development and certification of deployed operational and mission standards (Force Generation) with particular emphasis on Forward Deployed Naval Force (FDNF), to include validation of required certification standards, gaps between required standards and actual employment practices, effectiveness of leadership and oversight at all levels of administrative and operational chains of command, maintaining and enforcing standards throughout FDNF assignment including self-assessment practices, external inspection reinforcement, remedial action mitigation plans;

d. Deployed Operational Employment and Risk Management (Force Employment), to include Combatant Commander mission requirements, theater security cooperation requirements, maintenance impacts, other competing priorities (fleet experimentation, concept development), and their corresponding impact to operational tempo (OPTEMPO) and fundamental mariner and seamanship proficiency;

e. Material Readiness of electronic systems to include navigation equipment (e.g. AIS, radars, ECDIS, VMS, WSNs), propulsion machinery to include steering systems, combat system modernization, and material availability;

f. Practical Utility of current navigation equipment and combat systems including sensors, tracking systems, displays, and internal communications networks to evaluate their effectiveness at integrating tactical data and providing situational awareness to our people.

3. As part of this review, request you make detailed recommendations with respect to corrective actions necessary to ensure the safety of our people, safe operations at sea, and the readiness of our forces. In the conduct of the review, you will seek input and insights from other services, industry, and highly qualified experts outside the services in order to ensure the widest possibly perspective as we drive to the heart of the underlying issues and attack the root causes for these mishaps.

4. The final results of the review will be provided to me within 60 days, unless an extension is requested and granted.

W.F. Moran