It turns out that most of the 7th Fleet ships were not—are not—current on their training. In my old USAF parlance, that would render them non-OR—not operationally ready, not capable of doing their wartime mission.
As of late June, eight of the 11 cruisers and destroyers in the Seventh Fleet, and their crew members, weren’t certified by the US Navy to conduct “mobility seamanship,” or basic steering of the ship….
“And their crewmembers.” That means, to me, that not only were the crewmen individually not positionally qualified, they weren’t qualified as the ship’s unified crew—the ships were not qualified. Not operationally capable.
The Navy also said that seven of those ships had expired training certification in the areas of cruise missile defense and surface warfare, which test a crew’s ability to defend a ship or to conduct attacks.
That’s a cynically euphemistic way of saying those ships—63% of the cruisers and destroyers—were not capable of carrying out their wartime tasks or missions. This is appalling.
It is unclear what role the lack of proper certification played in the collisions, and Pentagon investigations are under way both into the collisions and into larger questions of naval operations.
What it means is that the crews were not current in their training in these things. What it means is that the crews were not capable of performing those tasks. It’s likely that most of the individual crewmen knew their specific tasks (the old heads, anyway, maybe not the new accessions), but the lack of certification—the lack of being Operationally Ready—meant they had not practiced their tasks recently, more importantly, had not practiced in concert with their fellow crewmen in their respective departments or across departments, and most importantly, had not been evaluated by independent examiners on their ability to perform.
The crews were not capable of coordinated action in the stress of a crisis.
And that’s on each ship’s commander, on his Training and Standard/Evaluation (or the Navy’s equivalent independent testing section) Officers, and it’s on the 7th Fleet’s commander and his Fleet Training and Stan/Eval Officers for not enforcing the requirements down to the individual ship level.
It doesn’t end there. This is a failure of the entire chain of command and adjacent staff chain—the quintessential REMFs, which folks here earn for the staff the MF part of the acronym. The commander and training and stan/eval officers of the United States Pacific Fleet, which owns the 7th Fleet, should be required to explain, publicly, why they allowed this to happen, and their jobs, their continuance in the Navy, should be at peril of their own failure to perform. Nor should it stop there. The Chief of Naval Operations and his staff are responsible, among other things, for the training of Naval personnel and units, and so they are responsible for not pressuring the chain of command. These Pentagon wonders also should be called to account at peril of their continuance in the Navy.
These ships are not toys for imitation officers to play with; they’re necessary—and expensive—instruments of national security. Every Pilot in Command, whether Navy, USAF, Army, or Marine, is fully aware of the importance of his jet or helicopter or prop-driven cargo aircraft every time he straps it on to go fly a mission. There’s no excuse for a ship commander not constantly carrying the same understanding.
It would be interesting, did the White House, certain Congressional committees, SecDef and SecNav have the political courage to publish, for us to be able to see the correspondence exchanges among CNO/staff, USPACFLT commander and staff, the 7th Fleet commander and staff, and the ship commanders and staff regarding the status of training, why the status was that way, what the respective higher ups were doing about those statuses—and whether the correspondence even exists.
Nor is this the fault of President Barack Obama’s (D) sequester agreement with Congress. Effective training can be carried out with existing resources, given only two things: a threshold resource level sufficient to sail and remain at sea, and commanders, training officers, and stan/eval officers with the imagination, initiative, and level of interest in their duties needed to develop and carry out training programs and exercises.
I’ll close this with a thought and a couple of questions.
A great man once said, In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.
It’s critical to train like you’ll fight, for you will fight exactly as you’ve trained. (I have to ask the ship commanders in particular: “Do you expect to throw your human relations training slides at the PLA Navy?”)
Along those lines, a question for the 7th Fleet and USPACFLT commanders: “How do you expect your ships in a flotilla or task force to maneuver under fire without colliding with each other if your ships can’t even maneuver in a peacetime, if busy, strait or harbor approach?”