It was in many respects a year of sailing dangerously for the U.S. Navy. Or perhaps “just muddling through” is more apt. Doing more with less, realizing that the impact of the Budget Control Act of 2011 might indeed be real, reducing funding in a flurry of activity come January 2013, while waiting for the other shoe—the sequester—to drop. In short, the Navy was doing the nation’s business while waiting for America’s political leaders to do theirs.
The Navy was buffeted throughout the last year by unremitting global commitments that have increased the operational tempo across the Fleet, while at the same time dealing with dramatically less funding arising from Congress’ inability to pass appropriations bills. The impact of these intersecting issues was evident in the unprecedented decision to postpone deployment of the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf. The Navy’s leadership, with Department of Defense approval, determined that accepting some short-term operational risk was better than breaking the overall health of the Fleet.
As Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Jonathan Greenert acknowledged in the 2013 edition of the U.S. Navy Program Guide, “Our Nation and military face unprecedented fiscal challenges. . . . Continued high demand for Navy forces, combined with the imperative to reduce the Nation’s federal deficit and debt, requires the Navy to make tough choices to ensure our ability to both defend the United States and be responsible stewards of America’s resources.”
He also stressed that, during 2012 and into 2013:
[T]he Navy remained the Nation’s front line in conflict and in peace. The USS John C. Stennis [CVN-74] deployed twice to the Middle East in support of our troops in Afghanistan, and the USS Bataan [LHD-5]Amphibious Ready Group operated forward there for nearly 11 months. We honed our coalition mine warfare skills in a 34-nation exercise in the Arabian [Persian] Gulf. We demonstrated our combined anti-submarine, missile defense, surface warfare, and humanitarian assistance and disaster response capabilities with 22 partner nations in the 2012 Rim of the Pacific exercise. And we assembled 25 ships and 14,000 personnel to reinvigorate Navy-Marine Corps amphibious warfare skills in Exercise Bold Alligator.
On any given day last year, more than 50,000 sailors were under way on about 145 U.S. Navy ships. Some 120 operated forward independently or in rotationally deployed carrier strike groups and amphibious ready groups. More than 125 land-based patrol aircraft and helicopters, 1,000 Information Dominance personnel, and some 4,000 Navy Expeditionary Combat Command sailors were on the ground or in the littoral, supporting critical missions around the world. But, truth be told, in many ways 2013 was already like 2012—past proving to be prologue, once again.
The “requirement” to station two carrier strike groups in the North Arabian Sea was the result of a “temporary” request from U.S. Central Command in 2010 to support the surge of forces in Afghanistan and to hedge against Iranian hostile actions in the gulf. Keeping two of the Navy’s ten carriers virtually tethered in one region became increasingly difficult to sustain over time—especially since this added deployment was not accompanied by additional operations funding. The two-carrier requirement also exacted a toll on the health of the carrier fleet, Navy officials said, noting that the carriers have been burning through their nuclear reactors faster than originally planned. For example, the USS Abraham Lincoln’s (CVN-72) midlife refueling will occur at 23 years of service rather than the normal 25-year mark. These costs are occurring sooner than planned and have to be accommodated amid budget constraints, in addition to the extra cost being exacted from the use of the embarked air wings, the accompanying escort ships, and their crews.
ISO A Budget
The early 2013 budget stalemate between the administration of President Barack Obama and Congress thus provided the Navy an opportunity to revisit this “temporary” force deployment issue and save roughly $300 million a year that could be used to reset the carrier force for long-term sustainment of a carrier in the gulf into 2014 and beyond. As 5th Fleet Commander Vice Admiral John Miller said in a March interview, surging two carriers has been “a fairly substantial investment” for the Navy, and now with sequestration kicking in, sustaining readiness “is going to be a messy problem for us.”
The decision not to deploy the Truman carrier strike group was rooted in the budget morass that has plagued Washington decision-making and upended prudent naval planning for at least the last two years. Failure to pass a Fiscal Year 2012 budget—with Congress instead passing a Continuing Resolution (CR) that locked in Navy funding at 2011 levels—dealt the service a $4.6 billion hit to requested funding levels. Admiral Greenert told Congress in February this total includes $3.2 billion less for operations and maintenance funding, and $1.4 billion in unplanned FY 13 costs stemming from unforeseen ship repairs and expanded naval presence in the Persian Gulf.
The CR also stymied any new programs or initiatives, which has affected high-priority Navy efforts like the Virginia Payload Module, restarting Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) production, the buy of P-8 Poseidon maritime-surveillance aircraft, and up until the end of March, moving ahead with the nuclear refueling of the carriers USS Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71). Furthermore, the CR prohibits $675 million in new military-construction projects, Greenert told Congress. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter labeled the 2013 budgetary situation a “double absurdity” of cutting defense spending across the board while being kept at last year’s funding. “We’re in the absurd position that it is only lawful to build the ships we built last year,” Carter told a mid-March defense-industry conference in Washington.
The “sword” of sequestration is expected to cost the Navy another $4.6 billion in lost FY 13 funding, resources that must be cut in the remaining seven months of the fiscal year ending in September. Moreover, sequestration is an extremely blunt “sword,” affording Navy officials no option for prudently cutting spending vertically; all programs must incur the same 8 percent reduction, horizontally, across the board. A greater concern is that this $8.6 billion in mandated cuts must come from the remaining $20.2 billion available in Navy operations and maintenance accounts before the end of FY 13. Sequestration will also have an impact on Navy acquisition, generating a $7.2 billion hit that can be implemented only by reducing buys of platforms like the F-35C Strike Fighter, P-8A, and E-2D Hawkeye 200 aircraft. As Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told the Surface Navy Association in January, “both of these things pose big risk for the Department of the Navy,” and don’t “let us put dollars against strategy instead of simply cutting the top line.”
To cope with sequestration’s impact, the Navy instituted a list of dire actions. Depending on whether Congress can pass a new defense-appropriations bill for the remaining months of FY 13, some of these actions may not come to pass, but as this review goes to press, that issue is still unresolved. Actions the Navy announced include:
• Cancel 70 percent of ship maintenance in private shipyards and all aircraft maintenance scheduled for the second half of FY 13. This will impact 25 ships and 327 aircraft and generate a maintenance backlog of $3 billion.
• Cut by one-third the days at sea and flying hours for ships and aircraft forward stationed in the Asia-Pacific region.
• Halt all amphibious ready group deployments to Middle East/Persian Gulf in FY 14.
• Eliminate five of six ship deployments to South America scheduled for the remainder of FY 13.
• Cancel all ship and aircraft deployments to Africa.
• Halt training and certification of Aegis ballistic-missile-defense (BMD) ships.
• Plan to furlough 186,000 civilians for up to 22 days.
The Navy has been operating at a torrid deployment pace for more than a decade, and the service is experiencing first-hand the impact that has on a smaller overall force structure. The duration of deployments is increasing from the “nominal” six months to eight or nine or even more. Lengthening deployments is not just confined to the service’s flagship aircraft carrier strike groups, but extends to all parts of the Fleet and all types of ships. For example, the crews of the Navy’s aging fleet of mine-countermeasure ships, although forward-deployed to Bahrain and Sasebo, Japan, are routinely pulling 10- to 12-month deployment tours followed by only five or six months in San Diego before deploying again. Likewise, the Navy’s BMD-equipped cruisers and destroyers have been in high demand, enduring deployments of up to ten months to meet urgent requirements by the 7th Fleet in Japan and the 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf, before quickly resetting for return engagements.
The past year has seen the Navy sailing in dangerous shoal waters, evidenced by what one observer called a “banner year” for mishaps. But there are good news stories, as well, from the two of the Navy’s warfare areas that cannot be further separated across the span of operations: mine warfare and ballistic-missile defense.
Iran threatens to mine the Strait of Hormuz, petroleum markets react, world economies take notice, and more U.S. and allied naval forces are sent to the region, upping the ante for Tehran and the Navy. Iran’s top naval commander, Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, warned that closing the strait would be “easier than drinking a glass of water.” The Obama administration publicly dismissed the threat as “saber-rattling,” but also privately informed Tehran that attempting to close the strait would trigger a U.S. military response.
“The laying of mines in international waters is an act of war,” Vice Admiral Mark Fox, then-Commander 5th Fleet, said in a published interview. “We would, under the direction of the national leadership, prevent that from happening. We always have the right and obligation of self-defense and this falls in self-defense. If we did nothing and allowed some mining,” Fox noted, “it would be a long and difficult process to clear them.”
Mine-“rattling” or not, it was a threat not to be taken lightly. Since the end of World War II mines have seriously damaged or sunk four times more U.S. Navy ships than all other means of attack combined. Fifteen of 19 ships have been mine victims. And that does not include many more ships sunk or damaged by mines, from the Corfu Channel crisis of 1946 and the Persian Gulf Tanker War of the 1980s to the Tamil Sea Tigers sinking of the MV Invincible in 2008.
Iran has perhaps as many as 6,000 mines, mostly unsophisticated but still dangerous bottom-moored buoyant contact mines like those that nearly sank the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) and damaged the USS Tripoli (LPH-10). Other Iranian weapons, like the Manta that severely damaged the USS Princeton (CG-59), are bottom-influence mines that fire when increasingly sophisticated target-detection devices sense various signatures of their targets.
In response to Iran’s mine-rattling and an urgent request from Marine Corps General James Mattis, Commander U.S. Central Command, for more mine countermeasures (MCM) capabilities in the region, the Navy last year deployed four additional Avenger-class MCM ships, for a total of eight, as well as two more MH-53E airborne MCM (AMCM) Sea Dragon helicopters added to the two already based in Bahrain. Four more Avengers were based in Sasebo, leaving only two MCM vessels in San Diego for training and responding to domestic requirements.
MCM crews have shouldered some of the heaviest burdens in the Fleet. While the ships are forward-deployed in the gulf, the MCM crews are now routinely slogging through 10- to 12-month deployments, with only five months allotted for reset before they deploy again, Vice Admiral Thomas Copeman, Commander U.S. Surface Forces, noted. To lessen this unsustainable operations pace the Navy formed two new MCM crews comprising individual augmentees.
“I came to the conclusion we could do better setting the theater,” the CNO told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a FY 12 congressional hearing. “I wanted to be sure . . . that we are ready, that our folks are proficient, they’re confident, and they’re good at what they do in case called upon.”
The Navy also quickly refurbished, refitted, and deployed in June the USS Ponce (LPD-15) to support naval forces in the region—an interim Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB-I) focused on the MCM mission. Her “main battery” includes AMCM helicopters and support craft. In addition, the Navy acquired and sent advanced Sea Fox remotely operated MCM vehicles to the region, which complemented a $500 million “plus-up” of funding for critical MCM vessel repairs and upgrades throughout the force.
“The afloat forward staging base gives us the ability to deliver this mine countermeasure capability directly to the scene of operations,” Rear Admiral Kenneth M. Perry, then-Vice Commander of the Navy’s Mine and Antisubmarine Warfare Command, explained in a published interview. The Navy intends to acquire four new-design purpose-built Mobile Landing Platforms, with MLP-3 to replace the Ponce. MLP-1, the USNS Montford Point, named after the first World War II Marine Corps base for African-Americans, was christened on 9 March in San Diego.
The Persian Gulf MCM “order of battle” included several Royal Navy MCM vessels and Royal Australian Navy assets, as well as MCM capabilities of America’s regional maritime partners. That swelled to 33 countries in the fall of last year when the Navy kicked off the largest-ever international MCM exercise (IMCMEX 12) involving the U.S. Navy and allied Gulf-state navies and coast guards, but including as well assets from Canada, France, the Netherlands, and Japan.
The official focus of the exercise was not on any specific threat. Rather, the requirements and capabilities to protect maritime infrastructure––shipping lanes, ports, and facilities––from terrorist mining and the ability to counter that threat was the intended goal. The wholly defensive exercise comprised two distinct phases. The first was a symposium in which senior leaders from participating countries exchanged ideas. In the second phase, ships, helicopters, small craft, crews, and observers got under way to train together to prepare for tactical execution.
A PBS NewsHour special on the exercise noted that one of the outcomes underscored how difficult it is for the United States and its partners to detect and defeat mines and waterborne improvised explosive devices. Of the 29 simulated mines that were dropped in the water, “I don’t think a great many were found,” retired Navy Captain Robert O’Donnell, a former deputy commander of the Navy’s erstwhile Mine Warfare Command, told the NewsHour. “It was probably around half or less. I just felt that they should have done better.”
The Future of IMCMEX
Navy officials, though, said the exercise was constructive and asserted that focusing on the number of mines detected alone painted an incomplete picture. “Numbers alone do not tell the story of IMCMEX’s effectiveness and success,” Lieutenant Greg Raelson, a media officer with the 5th Fleet, explained. “We operated ships, helicopters, divers, and unmanned undersea vehicles with accuracy and effectiveness, confirming our ability to respond to maritime mine threats in the undersea environment. Because of this exercise, we were able to enhance partnerships and further hone the international community’s ability to ensure the safe and free flow of navigation.”
Indeed, Perry noted that he was “very pleased with the performance and professionalism of the 3,000 sailors and mine-countermeasure forces from every continent that contributed. It strengthened relationships and enhanced mine-countermeasures interoperability among participating navies.” The Navy had such a good experience last year that more than 40 countries have been invited to participate in IMCMEX 13 planned for May, just as the Naval Review issue hits the street.
“The broad international participation in last fall’s exercise on mine countermeasures reflects extensive cooperation for maintaining open and secure lines of commerce,” Mattis explained in February. “This year’s effort will reaffirm the ongoing, global cooperation that this mission enjoys with the international community’s strong support for free trade in a region critical to the worldwide economy.”
It was not all good news for the Navy’s mine-warfare forces during the past year. One of the Bahrain-based MH-53E helicopters crashed on 19 July 2012, killing two sailors. On 17 January 2013, the Sasebo-home ported USS Guardian (MCM-5) ran aground while in transit through the Philippines’ Tubbataha National Marine Park, a World Heritage Site coral sanctuary in the Sulu Sea about 400 miles southwest of Manila. The World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines said that an initial visual inspection showed that the Guardian damaged at least 15 yards of the reef. It suffered additional damage from the ship’s motion until she could be removed. The Navy determined that the Guardian was a complete loss, and the only way to minimize further danger to the reef was to cut up the wreckage and remove it in sections. Initial assessments indicated that digital nautical-chart errors contributed to the grounding. The ill-fated ship was decommissioned on 6 March.
In mid-March, 29 Aegis BMD surface warships were in service––five cruisers and 24 destroyers. Sixteen were assigned to the Pacific Fleet and 13 to the Atlantic Fleet. Twenty-five of these warships were equipped with the first-generation Aegis BMD 3.6.1 configuration, one had the second-gen Aegis BMD 4.0.1, and three had more advanced BMD 4.0.2 capability. In response to the increasing demand signals from combatant commanders––the question “where are the BMD ‘shooters?’” is now being asked as frequently as once was “where are the carriers?”––the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and Navy are committed to increasing the number of Aegis BMD–capable warships, as quickly as increasingly scarce resources permit. These efforts include continued upgrading of Aegis destroyers to the BMD capability and incorporating Aegis BMD into new-construction destroyers. A critical need was to incorporate into cruisers and destroyers the Aegis Baseline 9/Naval Integrated Fire Control Counter-Air capability for truly integrated, simultaneous air and missile defense across the board.
And none too soon.
On 11 March 2013, North Korea declared invalid the 1953 armistice agreement that ended the three-year Korean War and cut off direct “hot-phone” links with South Korea at the border village of Panmunjom. By early April, Pyongyang was also vowing to restart its nuclear facilities and mobilizing missile launchers. All this comes in the midst of increasing bellicosity and rhetoric coming from above the 38th Parallel.
Since 2006, the North has conducted three underground nuclear tests, the most recent on 12 February, and has launched several long-range rockets and missiles. Pyongyang has deployed a No Dong short-range ballistic missile capable of reaching Japan and South Korea and U.S. bases throughout the region, and the North continues to develop the Taepodong-2 intermediate-range ballistic missile capable of reaching Guam and the Aleutian Islands. The April 2012 parade appearance of the KN-08 mobile missile, capable of moving around the country to complicate counter-targeting, also sparked U.S. concern. Admiral James A. Winnefeld, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted, “We believe the KN-08 does have the range to reach the United States.” Tensions thus remained high during the past year, as the North carried out several tests.
In April 2012, a three-stage rocket exploded just after launch. The (North) Korea Central News Agency declared it a success, but U.S. officials stated the rocket disintegrated over the Yellow Sea. The test did indicate the new North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un—declared the “Great Successor” after the December 2011 state funeral of his father, Kim Jong-il—could ignore international pressure to end the North’s missile program and refuse to abide by sanctions against its nuclear program.
North Korea launched a three-stage “non-military” Unha rocket in December 2012, saying it successfully put a satellite into orbit; U.S. officials confirmed an object in orbit but that it was tumbling and appeared dead. (The Unha is the space-launcher “carrier rocket” version of Taepodong-2.) “Initial indications are that the missile deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit,” the North American Aerospace Defense Command said. “At no time was the missile or the resultant debris a threat to North America.” South Korean technicians found evidence of the rocket’s military purposes. “They efficiently developed a three-stage long-range missile by using their existing Rodong and Scud missile technology,” a senior military intelligence official said. Analysts doubted North Korea had mastered the technology needed to make a nuclear weapon sufficiently small to integrate in a missile, however.
“It was confirmed that the nuclear test that was carried out at a high level in a safe and perfect manner using a miniaturized and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously did not pose any negative impact on the surrounding ecological environment,” the Korean Central News Agency announced in February. North Korea’s supreme military body declared that the “higher level” test––analysts estimated yields on the order of 6-10 kilotons high explosive––was part of its military deterrent in its defiance of the United States, the “sworn enemy of the Korean people.” Formally rejecting a unanimous U.N. Security Council resolution demanding an end to its nuclear-arms program, the North threatened the United States with a pre-emptive nuclear strike that would turn Washington into “a sea of fire.” Speculation in the media had indicated that the North could have as many as 20 nuclear weapons, but until now—if the agency is to be believed—none was sufficiently compact to be integrated into existing missiles.
That said, on 15 March Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that the United States would deploy an additional 14 ground-based missile interceptors to the 26 already in Alaska. “The reason that we are doing what we are doing and the reason that we are advancing our program here for homeland security is to not take any chances, is to stay ahead of the threat and to assure any contingency.”
The response to the December 2012 North Korean missile test illustrated the importance of the Aegis BMD system in the “Asia/Pacific Pivot” announced last year in the new Defense Strategic Guidance. It also underscored the value of regional maritime partners in what looks to be a nascent Aegis BMD “enterprise,” at least at the regional level. Japan deployed three of its four Aegis BMD–equipped Kongo-class destroyers to be ready to carry out missile-interception tasks.
The U.S. Navy deployed an additional two Aegis BMD destroyers—the USS Benfold (DDG-65) and Fitzgerald (DDG-62)—to augment two BMD warships already on station, the USS John S. McCain (DDG-36) and Shiloh (CG-67). Their combined mission was to detect, track, and be ready to intercept North Korea’s missile—thereby “providing assurance to our allies and friends in the region,” according to Navy officials. Underscoring the tactical if not strategic agility and flexibility of ship-based BMD, “It should seem logical that we’ll move them around so we have the best situational awareness,” Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, Commander U.S. Pacific Command, said during a Pentagon news conference.
In what looks to be an “Aegis regional enterprise,” Japan is to upgrade its Atago-class destroyers with Aegis BMD; South Korea is building six Aegis BMD KDX-IIIA warships to complement its three Aegis Sejon-Daewan KDX-III destroyers; and Australia is building five Aegis Hobart-class air-warfare destroyers while contemplating Aegis BMD in its next-generation surface warships.
Meanwhile, Aegis BMD warships continued to patrol the Mediterranean, as part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach for European BMD operations, and the Persian Gulf to maintain a deterrent against Iranian provocations. Plans also continued for home-porting four Aegis BMD–equipped destroyers in Rota, Spain.
Pacing the Threat
Concerns about U.S. and its allies’ and partners’ vulnerabilities to regional ballistic missiles are shaping today’s and tomorrow’s capabilities, and testing of the Navy’s Aegis BMD systems continued to pace the threat during the past year.
On 9 May 2012 the cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG-70) successfully intercepted a short-range non-separating ballistic-missile target over the Pacific Ocean. This flight test was the first successful live-fire intercept test of the second-generation Aegis BMD Weapon System, BMD 4.0.1, and the SM-3 Block IB missile, demonstrating the ability to engage longer-range and more sophisticated ballistic missiles that could be launched in larger raid sizes. This was Aegis BMD’s 22nd successful intercept out of 27 missile firings with the SM-3 missile against various targets since the first test in January 2002. When including the SM-2 Block IV missile, the hit rate is 25 out of 30, including one successful engagement of an errant satellite.
On 26 June 2012 the MDA and Navy successfully tested an SM-3 Block IB missile that intercepted a separating ballistic-missile target. The newly developed SM-3 two-color seeker discriminated and tracked the target in a dense debris environment. This flight test was the first combined developmental/operational test of Aegis BMD 4.0.1 and the SM-3 Block IB missile.
During Flight Test Integrated-01 on 25 October 2012, the Aegis BMD 3.6.1-equipped Fitzgerald performed a near-simultaneous engagement of, first, a short-range separating ballistic-missile target with the SM-3 Block IA interceptor and second, a cruise-missile-like antiair warfare target with an SM-2 interceptor. This was the first-ever integrated live-fire flight test with multiple firing platforms––Aegis BMD, Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense and Patriot PAC-3—engaging multiple ballistic-missile and air-breathing targets in a realistic national BMD system-level architecture. While the SM-3 Block IA interceptor missed its ballistic-missile target, the SM-2 interceptor achieved a successful intercept of the cruise missile, and the Patriot interceptor destroyed a short-range ballistic-missile target.
The MDA and Navy are developing next-generation missile-defense capabilities to counter future projected threats. One such enhancement first tested in April 2011 is the “launch-on-remote” (LOR) capability to sense a threat remotely and transmit tracking information to a BMD weapon system in order to launch a guided missile earlier and farther downrange than the weapon system radar’s detection range.
On 12 February the in-orbit Space Tracking and Surveillance System-Demonstrator (STSS-D) detected and tracked a unitary, medium-range ballistic-missile target and sent track data to the Lake Erie before the warship’s SPY-1 radar could detect the target. Equipped with the Aegis BMD 4.0.1 weapon system, the warship used LOR doctrine to launch an SM-3 Block IA guided missile based on STSS-D tracking data. As the target continued along its trajectory, STSS-D data were used until the target was detected and tracked by the Lake Erie’s SPY-1 radar, which transmitted guidance commands to the SM-3 interceptor. In the final phase of the engagement, the SM-3 maneuvered to a point in space where it released its kinetic warhead, which acquired the target reentry vehicle, diverted into its path, and destroyed the target, underscoring the reality that the Navy was already in the middle of a “space war.”
A ‘Banner’ Year?
“The past year has been a banner one for the U.S. Navy in at least one unhappy category—major mishaps,” Defense News reporter Christopher Cavas wrote in early February. In addition to the Guardian incident, there were three other serious afloat “Class-A” accidents during 2012–13—the collision between the USS Essex (LHD-2) and a Military Sealift Command oiler, the USNS Yukon (T-AO-202) off the coast of California in May; the collision between the destroyer USS Porter (DDG-78) and a commercial oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz in August; and the collision between the submarine USS Montpelier (SSN-765) and the Aegis cruiser USS San Jacinto (CG-56) off the U.S. east coast in October. A Class-A mishap is defined as an incident with a total cost of more than $1 million, a destroyed vessel or aircraft, fatal injury, or total disability.
The unbudgeted repair bill is just one more factor squeezing Fleet maintenance in the middle of a defense fiscal crisis. Cavas quoted Admiral William Gortney, Commander U.S. Fleet Forces Command, who outlined the problem: “As a result of mishaps at sea—ships and submarines—I have an $850 million, unforecasted maintenance bill.” Although not an afloat Class-A mishap, the estimate included the USS Miami (SSN-755), which was torched in May 2012 by an anxious shipyard worker.
In response to the Essex/Yukon incident, Congressman Duncan D. Hunter (R-CA), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, suggested the Navy try harder to reduce the costs. “For the military, there will always be mishaps but limiting this [sic.] incidents is absolutely necessary because they translate into greater budget liability and constraints elsewhere,” he said in a prepared statement. “The Navy will need to take a serious look at some of its operations and ascertain how it can limit the rate of mishaps, especially with tighter budgets on the horizon.”
Not included in these afloat mishap data was the most breathtaking, if not bizarre, but certainly most expensive incident in recent years: the arson fire on the Miami. The submarine was undergoing a 20-month overhaul at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. A shipyard worker who set fire to rags because he wanted to go home was sentenced to 17 years in federal prison on 15 March for the blaze that injured seven people and pretty much “trashed” the sub. Casey James Fury was ordered to pay $400 million in restitution.
The Navy estimated the total bill to return the sub to service to be $450 million. Cavas reported that a $94 million planning contract was awarded in August, and programmers looked to spread the rest of the bill throughout several budget years to lessen the fiscal impact. Sequestration threatened $294 million of that in 2013, and in early March repairs were postponed under mandatory budget reductions, bringing some to doubt the Navy’s plans to resurrect the ship.
Captain Charles E. Litchfield was relieved of his command of the Essex in June 2012 following the collision with the Yukon on 16 May. According to official Navy and numerous other sources, an investigation found the Essex’s starboard rudder had become jammed, but the collision still could have been prevented. While both ships managed to avoid colliding at their bows, inattention and poor communication during the next minute resulted in the ships colliding near their sterns. They were stuck together for about a minute, with the Essex’s starboard aircraft elevator on the Yukon’s aft flight deck, before the Essex got enough power to pull away. Navy officials reported no injuries or spilled fuel, but both ships suffered damage.
Vice Admiral Gerald Beaman, Commander U.S. 3rd Fleet, in his final endorsement of the investigation, wrote: “It was this lack of clear, forceful direction—not the collision itself—that caused my lack of confidence in his ability to command. Unfortunately, this commanding officer on this particular day, and under this specific set of circumstances, was unable to meet the challenge facing his crew.” Administrative actions for dereliction by the Essex’s executive officer, officer of the deck, conning officer, and helm safety officer were also recommended.
No one was injured when the 9,200-ton guided-missile destroyer Porter and the 300,000-ton Japanese owned/Panamanian-flagged bulk oil tanker M/V Otowasan collided in the early morning of 12 August while transiting the Strait of Hormuz. The collision left a breach about 10 feet by 10 feet on the warship’s starboard side. And the Navy on 30 August announced that Rear Admiral David Thomas, Commander Naval Surface Force Atlantic, relieved the Porter’s commanding officer, Commander Martin Arriola, citing “loss of confidence.” The Porter sailed under her own power to Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates, for repairs that cost about $700,000.
There was some chatter in the various Navy blogs about whether the Porter was on the correct side of traffic-separation lanes in the strait, insinuating the warship was to blame for the accident. As “The Diplomat” website noted, “the destroyer suffered damage to its starboard (right) side, approximately amidships. Since ships normally pass port (left) side to port side, much as cars do on highways (in countries where you drive on the right-hand side, anyway), the sequence of events remains a tad mysterious. You would expect the damage to be on the port side, much as it would be if someone sideswipes you on the road.”
On 25 October the Porter chopped to the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) Carrier Strike Group 12 for transit back to her Norfolk home port. This was the final deployment of the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier—22 deployments in all since her first operation as an element of the Navy’s response to the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962—and the flattop was deactivated on 1 December 1. The Aegis BMD-capable Porter is scheduled to be one of the four guided-missile destroyers to be home-ported in Rota, Spain, beginning in 2014.
The collision between Los Angeles-class attack submarine Montpelier and the Aegis guided missile cruiser San Jacinto occurred the late afternoon of 13 October. No personnel on board either ship were injured, and the submarine’s propulsion plant was not affected. Both were conducting routine training at the time of the accident, a “group sail” antisubmarine exercise in preparation for an upcoming deployment with the Harry S. Truman carrier strike group. A complete surprise, the San Jacinto’s bridge watch the saw the Montpelier rise to periscope depth about 200 yards ahead. The bridge ordered an “all back,” but still collided, shearing off the submarine’s rudder and causing a complete depressurization of the cruiser’s sonar dome.
The Montpelier required at least $32 million for expert inspection, repair, and material-support services, which were expected to complete by July 2013. Repairs to the San Jacinto were on the order of $9.7 million for the sonar dome and peripheral hull and equipment damage.
On 4 January Captain Blake Converse, Commander Submarine Squadron 6, relieved the Montpelier’s commanding officer, Commander Thomas Winter, due to loss of confidence in Winter’s ability to command. The investigation revealed that the principal cause of the collision was human error, poor teamwork by the Montpelier watch crew, and the commanding officer’s failure to follow established procedures for operating at periscope depth. In addition, the investigation identified contributing factors among Fleet Forces Command organizations that provide training and operational oversight.
Up in the Air
Aviation safety was also in the news during the past year. As noted previously, two air-crew members were killed in the crash of the Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 15 (HM-15) MH-53E Sea Dragon AMCM in Oman on 19 July. That incident, coupled with the hard landing of another HM-15 MH-53E a month later, resulted in the firing of the squadron’s commanding officer and command master chief. Captain Paul Esposito, Commander Helicopter Sea Combat Wing Atlantic, relieved Commander Sara Santoski for a “loss of confidence” in her ability to command, a Naval Air Force Atlantic news release said. Command Master Chief (AW/SW) Bobbie Anderson also was fired because of “unsatisfactory performance.”
In March 2013 three crew members died when their E/A-6B Prowler aircraft from Electronic Attack Squadron VAQ-29 “Vikings” stationed at Whidbey Island crashed during a low-level navigation mission. While no Prowlers have ever been lost in combat operations, several have been lost in peacetime accidents. The last two mishaps involving loss of life in Prowlers happened in 1998.
On 6 April 2012, an Oceana-based F/A-18D Hornet aircraft crashed into a Virginia Beach apartment complex, destroying 27 units. The two naval aviators were able to eject safely; one of the aviators and several people on the ground needed medical care, but most were released quickly. There were no fatalities. The Navy investigation determined that the aircraft experienced double engine failure shortly after takeoff, an unusual event. “We have never had a dual, unrelated engine failure in the F/A-18,” according to Rear Admiral Theodore Branch, Commander Naval Air Force Atlantic. “We don’t have a smoking gun, a definitive source of the malfunction.” The investigation found the crew had ten seconds to consider and execute a course of action—try to keep the aircraft flying or eject.
Amazingly, on 8 January of this year, the Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 41 “Seahawks” celebrated 170,000 operational flight hours without a Class-A mishap. Even more remarkable is the fact that this has been since the squadron was stood up. HSM-41, which began service as Helicopter Anti-Submarine Light 41 in 1983, accumulated the hours over the course of the fleet replacement squadron’s lifetime. This truly demands a Bravo Zulu.
From January 2012 through mid-March 2013, 32 commanding officers, 8 executive officers, and 21 senior enlisted leaders were removed for cause, with “loss of confidence,” “unprofessional behavior,” “offensive comments and inappropriate behavior,” and “poor command climate” cited frequently. Sadly, a “banner year,” indeed.
It’s the Vision!
As the nation resets after more than a decade of war ashore and U.S. land-based military services come home to an uncertain future, the Sea Services are reassuming their traditional role of shouldering—from the sea—more of the operational burdens overseas.
Despite the budgetary conundrum, the Navy is focused on implementing Admiral Greenert’s core principles of warfighting first, operate forward, and be ready. While these principles will be challenged in an era of increasing fiscal constraints, Secretary Hagel’s 15 March directive to relook the findings of the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance provides Navy leaders with an opportunity. “We must think and act ahead of this uncertainty, and not in reaction to it,” the Secretary outlined. And in that, the Navy will have a bully pulpit to explicitly detail the service’s relevance and importance to the nation’s future and help answer the fundamental question: “Why a Navy?”
Mr. Holzer is a senior national security analyst in TeamBlue. This overview relied on many articles, commentaries, and materials from published and DOD/Navy sources.