The US Navy has rightfully been undertaking a considerable review and revaluation of the problems that led to the recent ship collisions between the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain with commercial vessels, resulting in the deaths of 17 sailors. The results so far are rather mixed. A report issued on November 1 on the two collisions, deemed the sailor’s deaths to have been “avoidable” and criticized mistakes made by the ships’ sailors and their commanders prior to the collisions. A US Government Accountability Office report in September highlighted deficiencies in training resulting from lengthy deployments of US ships based in Japan. Some in the the Navy have also pointed out the risks of getting inadequate sleep onboard these ships due to demanding watch schedules.
The reports, by and large, all sounded very familiar and have a tendency to focus on the end results of mistakes and deficiencies rather than their underlying causes. A recent article in Stars and Stripes, however, addresses failure in Navy culture as addressed in a Navy review released recently which spotlights weaknesses contributing to decreased efficiency and safety in the fleet. They also raise the Balisle Report, a scathing 2010 internal Navy report on the surface fleet’s readiness, which urged officials to counter the “underway at all costs” mentality. They write:
The review makes clear that the never-say-no ethos has been a factor in undermining the Navy’s readiness — particularly the Japan-based fleet — where too few officers with authority in the chain of command have drawn a red line over safety and training concerns.
But the Navy also faces other entrenched mores as it attempts to institute a system of “near-misses” reporting for Pacific Fleet ships and continues to grapple with a fleet-wide problem of commanders being removed for personal misconduct.
“We have a can-do culture,” said Adm. John Richardson, chief of Naval Operations, during a Sept. 19 Senate hearing about the collisions. “That’s what we do. Nobody wants to raise his hand and say, ‘I can’t do the mission.’ But it’s absolutely essential that when those are the facts we enable that report.”
Richardson described the pervasive culture of deploying without proper training and certification in 7th Fleet as “kind of this boiling frog scenario over time,” meaning that problems of a lukewarm level slowly built up into a deadly boil before being fully perceived.
But the Navy has long been aware of this particular ethos hamstringing its surface fleet.
In the wake of several high-profile ship disasters this year, a Navy comprehensive review released Thursday takes aim at the consequences of a widespread culture of “getting to yes,” a go-go approach that has left many of the fleet’s forward-deployed ships inadequately maintained and crews overworked, undermanned and short on training.
The so-called Balisle Report [from 210] noted that the Navy’s decade-long policy of seeking greater efficiency — primarily through rejiggering maintenance and manning schemes — had “served to steadily reinforce the notion that less readiness is acceptable.”
“From the most senior officers to the most junior petty officer the culture reveals itself in personal attitudes running from resignation to frustration to toleration,” the report said.
“While the severity of current culture climate may be debated, its decline cannot. If left unchecked, a declining culture can only generate a worsening level of surface force readiness.”