Commodities: Navy Looks to Reassess Its Mission After Ship Accidents

By Doug Cameron 
 

Top U.S. Navy officials said they are prepared to reassess missions and redistribute responsibilities, part of a response to the service’s readiness shortcomings following a series of fatal ship accidents this year.

Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer received an independent report this week reviewing the fleet’s readiness after years of funding cuts and demands for more and longer patrols have left sailors overworked and undertrained.

The official Navy investigation and an outside probe into collisions with other vessels involving the USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald that killed 17 sailors said those incidents were avoidable and exposed failures in navigation as well as broader systemic issues that extend beyond the Pacific-focused Seventh Fleet.

Mr. Spencer said the readiness report, which is expected to be previewed by Congress next week before it is publicly released, is intended to take a high-level view of what the Navy can accomplish in both military missions and its broader remit to protect commercial sea lanes.

“What we have to do is balance sustainability in there,” he said, in an interview on the sidelines of the Reagan National Defense Forum over the weekend. “We’re going to have to work with the combatant commanders, the joint chiefs, to really define how we set out requirements and task people.”

The accidents involving the McCain and Fitzgerald have cost high-ranking naval officials their positions. In addition to removing senior officers on each of the ships, the Navy also relieved the Seventh Fleet commander, Adm. Joseph Aucoin.

The new report was prepared by Michael Bayer, a longtime defense-industry adviser, and Gary Roughead, a retired admiral and former chief of naval operations. It also has drawn on safety experiences of commercial shippers, including container giant AP Moller-Maersk AS.

“We’re going to change the whole culture,” said Mr. Spencer, a former Marine pilot and previously the finance chief of Intercontinental Exchange Inc., owner of the New York Stock Exchange.

Mr. Spencer in coming months also plans to draw on his ties with Wall Street to help drive changes to the way the Navy buys ships, he said, especially providing smaller suppliers with more confidence that funding will be available to boost investment.

Mr. Spencer said the Navy has little contact with the nation’s business establishment. “We’re going to try and turn that around,” he said.

Mr. Spencer said he wanted to move away from acquiring single ships toward multiple buys that would secure cost savings, including a proposed purchase of two Ford-Class aircraft carriers.

“If we had the funds to really signal to industry that we were really going to ramp this up, I think we could probably increase throughput maybe 40% to 50%,” he said of the nation’s naval shipyards.

Another test will be plans for a new class of frigates where the Navy will consider foreign designs, though vessels would be built in the U.S.

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