Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, Commander of the U.S. Navy’s surface forces, addressed the troubled year his branch has suffered, and what can be done to resolve some of those issues at the annual Surface Navy Association’s National Symposium this week. After a slew of ship collisions, two of which involved merchant vessels, claimed the lives of 17 sailors last year, Rowden explained that a safer Navy requires more of two specific things: ships and time.
They need help, and by help, they mean time,” Rowden said of his sailors. “Time to maintain their gear, time to refresh their basic individual and team skills, and time to unwind. Time will only come from two things, or a combination of them: more ships and fewer obligations. It is hard to see things any other way.”
Separate incidents involving the USS John S. McCain and the USS Fitzgerald colliding with commercial ships in open waters happened within two months of one another, along with other incidents including a running aground and a massive search and rescue operation mounted to find a sailor who turned out to be hiding in his ship’s engine room compounded to make 2017 a troubled year for the U.S. Navy, particularly in the Pacific.
After leaders from a number of the involved vessels were relieved, and even the commander of the entire 7th fleet himself, the Navy now faces the challenge of identifying and correcting the problems that led to this rash of incidents. In order to expedite that improvement process, the Navy conducted a comprehensive review of fleet operations in the Pacific last year.