Why is the Navy suddenly accident prone?

Maybe Romney was right about more than Russia.

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A friend and I were chatting about the rash of naval accidents – 3 collisions and a ‘ran aground’.

How can that happen?

Conspiracy theorists wonder if the collisions were intentional acts of terror (remember the USS Cole bombing?) … or the result of computer hacking (military computer systems haven’t been immune from).

So far there hasn’t been any evidence of either terrorism or cyber-attacks.

Regarding the latter, there are back-up systems.

You know, sailors eyes – watching out for ships in the vicinity.

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So, what the heck is going on?

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According to an informed commentary in the WSJ

All 4 accidents involved ships from U.S. Seventh Fleet, headquartered in Yokosuka, Japan.

Note: The problem seems isolated … but, the 7th is the fleet that is in a ‘hot zone’ with intensive activity … suggesting that the accidents may be related to the level and nature of activity.

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3 of the 4 ships were guided-missile destroyers.

Question: Aren’t guided-missile destroyers our most sophisticated ships?

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Navy ships have radars, crew standing watch, officers responsible for safe navigation, and computers that calculate other vessels’ speed, direction and closest point of approach. Where’s the breakdown?

The Navy has opened an investigation into how it trains and certifies the forces that deploy to Japan.

The inquiry will examine the pace of naval operations—whether ships are being overused — as well as maintenance, personnel and equipment.

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One hypothesis: The deployable battle force, at 276 ships, is far smaller than what’s needed to meet demand.

Remember when Obama mocked Romney in one of their debates?

You mentioned, Governor, that the Navy has fewer ships than we did in 1916.”

Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military’s changed.

We have these these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them.

We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.

So the question is not a game of battleship where we’re counting ships.

Maybe former President Obama’s mock  missed a very a big point.

The implication of a reduced fleet: Given increasing commitments, the Navy has been keeping ships at sea longer …. much longer.

So what?

“Longer ship deployments put wear and tear on sailors, their families and the fleet.”

Specifically, equipment problems accumulate, but detailed maintenance must wait until ships return to port and leads to longer repairs once they return to port, which leaves inadequate time for training.

A Government Accountability Office report noted the possibility of inadequate training:

“The Navy has several options for mitigating extended maintenance availabilities and overruns, including the following: Condense training period (most common according to Navy officials) … ”

English translation: Less training time.

And, the nature of training has shifted to more computer training  and less “practical training in seamanship and navigation.”

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Then, there’s the question of senior leadership accountability and competence.

Accountability seems to be kicking in …

The Admiral in charge of the 7th fleet has been relieved of duty … and a couple of the ship commanders have walked the proverbial plank.

Competence may loom as the elephant in the room.

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We spend a lot of time in Annapolis and occasionally rub shoulders with folks with ties to the Naval Academy.

They tell me that the politicization of the military has taken a toll.

First, there are suspicions that promotions – especially at higher levels — aren’t necessarily going to the most capable candidates. They’re sometimes going to those with the best political skills. Those who “show well” to the civilian leaders and those who “gulp hard”, executing civilian leaders’ orders that may be detrimental to their missions.

More subtle is the impact on morale.

I’m told that a critical mass of officers have become disillusioned by the political pressures and rather than make waves (<=pun intended) … they are just marking time until they reach “20 and out” and start receiving their pension checks. They don’t “own the problem” any more.

It’ll be interesting to see what the investigation finds … and whether the findings will be made public.

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P.S. Think about it. If only Romney had won …

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#HomaFiles

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