Page 6 - NAVAL FORCES 06/2017
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Letter from Washington, DC

        An Epidemic of Deadly Training Accidents Raises

        Questions of US Forces’ Combat Readiness



                                                             th
          The US armed forces, but particularly the   that 40 per cent of the 7  Fleet warships were   Otto Kreisher
        Navy, are reeling from a shocking series of   sailing without current warfare certifications,   is a regular contributor
                                                                                               to NAFO.
        training accidents this year that have killed   in violation of Navy rules, according to a
        more than twice the number of personnel     Governmental Accounting Office study.
        that have been lost in combat and are raising   That finding and the failure of agile ‘Arleigh
        questions about the overall operational rea-  Burke’ destroyers to avoid colliding with lum-  But,  authorisation  is
        diness of the force. The Navy’s string of four   bering merchant ships led to the removal of the   worthless  unless  Con-
                                             th
        accidents at sea that killed 17 sailors, injured   7  Fleet’s three-star commander, the one-star   gress passes the approp-
        scores more and damaged four vitally needed   commander of Japan-based Task Force 70 and   riation bills that actually allow spending. And,
        Pacific-based warships resulted in the firing or   the  commanders  of  Destroyer  Squadron 15   as it has done for nine straight years, Congress
        other punishment of 20 sailors, including two   and of the destroyer USS Fitzgerald.  was unable to pass any of the 12 spending bills
        admirals and four other senior officers. The   Chief of Naval Operations  Adm. John   before the new fiscal year starts October 1.
        three underway collisions and one grounding   Richardson ordered a fleet wide examination   And  the  parts  of  those  authorisations that
        by high-tech destroyers and cruisers forced   by senior Navy officers of training and safety,   go into the ‘base’ budget, which impacts the
        Navy leaders to order an operational pause to   and Navy Secretary Richard Spencer ordered   national budget deficit, are nearly $100 billion
        re-examine operating and safety procedures   a more comprehensive review of Navy De-  above the limits set by the 2011 Budget Con-
        and two sweeping examinations of training,   partment policies and practices by a commis-  trol Act (BCA) that was supposed to reduce
        leadership and general business practices.  sion of business executives, including offici-  deficit spending. Neither chamber has made
          Marine Corps leaders also ordered a safety   als from shipping firm Maersk, boat-builder   any effort to repeal or alter the BCA, meaning
        stand down after a series of aircraft crashes kil-  Crowley Marine and Boeing.  that any base funding over $549 billion would
        led two dozen Marines and sailors, 17 of them   Richardson also created a new command,   be ‘sequestered’, or cut with no distinction for
        in an ageing Lockheed Martin KC-130H that   called the Naval Surface Group Western Paci-  the value of the proposed spending.
        burst into flames at altitude and plunged to the   fic, to consolidate training and certification of   Instead of passing appropriations, for the
        ground, and three in a Bell-Boeing MV-22B   Japan-based ships.          30  time in 10 years, the political encum-
                                                                                 th
        Osprey that fell into the ocean while trying to   Meanwhile, despite a lot of bold rhetoric by   bered lawmakers resorted to the massively
        land on an amphibious ship off Australia.  congressional leaders about finally giving the   inefficient alternative of a continuing resolu-
          Combined with several Army training mis-  armed forces the added funding they so badly   tion (CR), which basically limits spending to
        haps and  Air Force crashes, 56 US service   need, the lawmakers appear to be trapped yet   the same as the previous year, prevents star-
        members were killed or injured from June th-  again in the self-made quagmire that prevents   ting new programmes or shifting funding to
        rough September.                    them from properly executing one of their pri-  more vital efforts and stymies future planning
          The rash of accidents, particularly the four   mary functions – funding the federal govern-  because the DoD managers have no idea what
        involving warships from the Japan-based 7    ment, including the Defence Department.  the final funding will be.
                                         th
        Fleet, led some military leaders and pro-de-  Both the House and Senate have passed ver-  Tied up in the long and futile attempts to
        fence lawmakers to warn that the combinati-  sions of the 2018 National Defence Authori-  “repeal and replace” former President Barack
        on of budget constraints, which have slowed   sation Act that would give the military nearly   Obama’s controversial health care programme
        modernisation and expansion of the services   $700 billion, which would be a major increase   and the chaotic investigations into Russian
        and curtailed training, and the  prolonged   over current funding and what President Do-  meddling in last year’s presidential elections,
        high operating tempo have eroded the combat   nald Trump requested. The two chambers must   the lawmakers kept the government running,
          readiness of the armed forces.    reconcile minor differences in total spending   at a minimal level, through December 10. But
          The shortage of funding and the intense   and some major disagreements on policies and   that date means they will have to try to find a
        operational demand were blamed for the fact   programme allocations.    compromise on full funding for the new bud-
                                                                                get year and increase the national debt ceiling
                                                                                so the Treasury can continue borrowing the
                                               The guided-missile destroyer USS John S.
                                              McCain (DDG 56) was involved in a collision   money it needs to spend more than it takes
                                                with the merchant vessel Alnic MC while   in – a politically explosive issue – in the few
                                                 underway east of the Straits of Malacca   working days left, while trying to deal with the
                                                                      and Singapore on Aug. 21.
                                                                                         (Photo: USN)  soaring costs of recovering from  Hurricanes
                                                                                Harvey and Irma.
                                                                                 That will likely lead to a full-year CR,
                                                                                which defence leaders have warned will have
                                                                                devastating effect on the already struggling
                                                                                  armed services.
                                                                                 Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said
                                                                                  September 20 that the years of budget uncer-
                                                                                tainty,  epitomised  by  the  constant  CRs,  are
                                                                                creating “an existential threat” to the nation’s
                                                                                security.
                                                                                 “If we don’t get budgetary predictability, if
                                                                                we don’t remove the defence (spending) caps,
                                                                                then we’re questioning whether or not  America
                                                                                has the ability to survive,” Mattis said.  NAFO
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