The United States Navy has a problem in the Pacific.  As America’s military force in a region that has seen near historic levels of tension recently, including a newly-nuclear North Korea as well as a rapidly expanding Chinese military in the South China Sea, the challenges facing our seaward troops are formidable enough.  Unfortunately, those international tensions aren’t the only obstacles our Navy has been facing. The recent rash of tragic collisions between U.S. Navy ships and commercial vessels has not only given America’s military reputation a black eye, it’s raised some serious questions about how effective the Pacific Fleet might be if war were to break out.

Over the past few months, 17 sailors have lost their lives in embarrassing and avoidable collisions with large commercial vessels in open water.  Two more collisions earlier in the year, one with a fishing boat and another running aground, as well as the crash of a Marine Corps Osprey as it approached the USS Green Bay in early August, compound with stories about international search and rescue efforts for a sailor believed to be overboard (but was actually hiding in the engine room of his ship) and a crashed F/A-18 Hornet that went down as it attempted to make a carrier landing a few months prior, and it’s starting to look like our Navy doesn’t know what it’s doing, despite being the largest, most powerful Naval fleet in the history of mankind.

Damage to the portside is visible as the Guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) after its collision with a commercial oil tanker on August 21st

There is no easy solution to what appears to by a systemic problem (or series of problems), but that doesn’t mean there are no solutions; and no matter how complex the issues may be, the Pacific Fleet Commander, Adm. Scott H. Swift makes no excuses for the performance of the ships under his charge, and has resolved to find those elusive solutions as quickly as possible.

This transcends a professional responsibility. I feel a personal responsibility, a personal commitment to get after the challenges we face in the Pacific,” said Swift in a recent interview.  “To be clear, I’m the one that is responsible. I’m the one who has the authorities to fix this. I’m the one to be held accountable for these events and I don’t shirk these responsibilities whatsoever.”

Admiral Swift presides over sixty percent of our nation’s warships, with more than 140,000 sailors under his charge carrying out their duties in locations spanning from America’s West Coast to Australia.  In fact, Swift’s command represents a larger military footprint than could be found in the entire national military of most other countries.  Managing such a formidable force would be no easy job under the best of circumstances, so Swift has proposed the formation of the Naval Surface Group Western Pacific – a 30-50 person committee made up of experts hailing from fields like engineering, safety, maintenance, seamanship and training, all with the clear goal of bringing the Pacific Fleet back to its former glory, and making routine operations safe for our sailors once again.

Swift recently met with leaders from the Navy’s Afloat Training Group Pacific (ATGPAC), as well as staff from Afloat Training Group San Diego and Engineering Assessment Pacific to address these concerns and begin the process of identifying the issues at hand, as well as finding lasting solutions.

Adm. Scott Swift, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, speaks with the staff at Afloat Training Group Pacific (ATGPAC) on Naval Base San Diego last week

It was great to have face-to-face discussions on actions we can immediately take to improve the training and readiness of our forward-deployed crews and ships,” said Swift. “ATGPAC is central in making meaningful and lasting changes to how we meet our operational commitments safely and successfully.”

One area in clear need of review is training.  Earlier this month, it was revealed that both of the U.S. Navy vessels involved in deadly collisions over the summer had failed to fulfill their training requirements intended to keep such tragedies from occurring.  The USS Fitzgerald had reportedly failed to complete ten out of 10 training requirements in key warfare mission areas, and the USS John S. McCain had lapsed on six of their 10.  To be fair, both ships were sporting training records that were below average for Navy vessels in the Pacific, but that likely serves as little comfort to the families of the sailors that died in their flooded compartments.