Home » Budget Industry » Head of Naval Reactors Appointed to Oversee Additional Disciplinary Action for McCain, Fitzgerald Collisions


Head of Naval Reactors Appointed to Oversee Additional Disciplinary Action for McCain, Fitzgerald Collisions

Adm. James F. Caldwell, Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, gives remarks during an senior leader all hands at Sharkey Theater, July 11, 2017. US Navy Photo

The admiral in charge of the Navy’s nuclear reactors program will oversee any additional punishments related to the fatal collisions of guided-missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG-56), USNI News has learned.

Adm. James Caldwell was appointed by Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran on Monday as the “Consolidated Disposition Authority (CDA) for administrative and disciplinary actions related to the Fitzgerald and McCain collisions,” Navy spokesman Cmdr. Bill Speaks told USNI News.
“As CDA, Adm. Caldwell will review the evidence regarding causes of these collisions, and he will make a determination regarding what administrative or disciplinary actions are warranted, if any.”

The military uses CDAs in cases centered on an incident or a set of related incidents that involve several service members.

A CDA “ensures one set of eyes on a set of related cases – one legal advisor, one convening authority – which should lead to consistency in decisions among multiple accused,” Rob “Butch” Bracknell, a former Marine and military lawyer, told USNI News on Wednesday.

News of Caldwell’s appointment comes as the Navy has released a summary of the investigations into both collisions that indicate multiple failures in basic seamanship, leadership and navigation that resulted in the death of 17 sailors.

“I would expect to see more than a handful of formal disciplinary measures from each ship’s commander down to junior watchstanders, at various levels,” Bracknell said.
“Seventeen cumulative deaths of the sailors’ shipmates probably means at least a few people are going to stand trial by court-martial, and this situation is tailor-made for a CDA to exercise his solitary judgment as to the outcomes.”

To date, the Navy has removed commanders and executive officers of both ships; Capt. Jeffery Bennett, commodore of the Japan-based Destroyer Squadron 15 to which both ships belonged; the Japan-based task force commander Rear Adm. Charles Williams; and the commander of U.S. 7th Fleet Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin.

Additionally, an unspecified number of sailors related to the collisions have received non-judicial punishment, USNI News understands.

The Navy has a CDA assigned to the Fat Leonard Glenn Defense Marine Asia corruption case – Fleet Forces commander Adm. Phil Davidson – to handle wrongdoing that didn’t rise to the level of criminal prosecution by the U.S. Department of Justice. The Marines appointed a CDA to oversee punishments from the Taliban urination case in 2012. The Navy also had a CDA for the fallout from the Tailhook ’91 incident.

The career submariner Caldwell will “provide a fresh, independent perspective. The complexity, scope, and the tragic consequences of these collisions warrant that the Navy exercise due diligence to ensure that the Navy acts fairly and appropriately,” Speaks said.
“Appointing a CDA ensures that the process will be thorough, fair, impartial, and efficient.”

  • OddMan

    This old boomer sailor can think of nobody better to investigate this than Adm. James F. Caldwell, Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. As a nuc I went through too many ORSE boards, these folks know their stuff.

    • Duane

      ORSE was the spotlight that every sub CO and crew had to pass inspection from to keep their careers going. The same methods need to be applied to the surface fleet.

      • NEC338x

        There’s a reason why filtride of the nuclear pipeline ends up in the conventional fleet. There’s a wonderful story in the MIT Special Collections on the success in the 1920’s of making a silk purse from sows ears. Just because something can be done doesn’t make it an effective use of resources. Impressing the 08 world onto the fleet will do nothing for morale and retention. Its also unnecessary to promote professional seamanship. Critically look at the changes that got us to this point, suck it up, put on the big boy pants, and reverse those changes (and don’t set the expectation of miracles overnight.)

        • Duane

          It’s about accountability and high standards, that’s what separates the sub force from the surface force. That translates to any command scenario, and does not depend upon whether a vessel operates on the surface, or can dive .. and does not depend upon the design of the vessel or its powerplant.

          If the mentality of naval command, at the Pentagon, is that surface warriors are held to lower standards than our exclusively nuke submariners are held to, that is the beginning of the problem. Low standards inevitably results in low performance.

          In World War Two, the Navy made it a practice on the fleet boats – all non-nuke, of course – to replace up to 1/3 of the crew after every war patrol. They seeded the new construction boats with war patrol experienced submariners,so as to spread the knowledge and more importantly, the culture of the wartime submarine force so that no boat ever left the pier with a totally green crew, despite the huge demand for submarine patrols in the war.

          Well, maybe today the Navy needs to seed the surface fleet with some percentage of nuke subsailors, to spread the culture. From enlisted through senior command officers. Doing that, and greatly increasing the emphasis on crew selection, training, and accountability, could, in a matter of a decade or so, create an immensely positive effect on the performance of the entire Navy.

          Yes, doing that will greatly increase training costs. It’s the price of competence.

          • Rocco

            Nicely said! Kudos!!

          • wilkinak

            There is a healthy number of nuke trained officers in the surface fleet who have that mindset. The problem is that power school doesn’t teach navigation, it teaches nuclear power. Even SWO(N)s are hampered by the same lack of seamanship as conventional SWOs.

            It would help the SWO community if the Navy just kicked out the attrites of other communities rather than just defaulting to making them shipdrivers.

          • Duane

            Yes, the specific technical training that Nukes receive is not what sets them apart. It’s the attitude and reality of accountability that sets them apart. Ditto with aviators – there’s no hiding from accountability when you’re sitting alone at the controls in the cockpit of a Super Hornet or F-35.

          • William Higgins

            We get taught navigation during officer accession programs, and during the Junior Officer tour at sea. Most take years to qualify as OOD Surface, and then OOD Submerged. The three department heads all stand watch sections. Only the CO and XO do not.

          • Capt DJ

            It’s also about the degree of support. The US submarine Navy has been described as the “best Navy that money can buy.” Unless you support the surface Navy with the same level of training, logistics, and maintenance support – (not to mention special pay and bonuses) you will never achieve the same result. I remember having an investigation conducted by CCDG-1, the Nuc Cruiser destroyer Group – back when we had Nuc cruisers. I was on a conventional cruiser found deficient because I had not requested a special maintenance procedure after an incident resulting from a unclear procedure in a maintenance card. The CCDG-1 Weapons Officer (who was a Nuc) lectured me on how I should have had a special maintenance procedure written for my equipment configuration- because that’s the kind of support the nuclear Navy receives. I remember getting a response to my request 8 months later telling me that the maintenance procedure was applicable to many different configurations and I should just line out anything not applicable to my equipment. The problem is that I was held accountable for something that the nuclear navy received as a matter of routine, but the surface Navy is routinely shortchanged on. The Nuc engineer had no concept of the routine lack of maintenance support the system provides for the surface fleet. It’s not accountability and high standards- it is support and training.

        • Rocco

          You have no idea what your talking about!!

  • Marauder 2048

    ..and the submariner takeover of the Navy is practically complete.

    • sragsd0416

      Well based on the report….maybe it is time to embrace some of that philosophy. The report is a damning to say the least.

      • Marauder 2048

        Didn’t mean to imply it was necessarily a bad thing. But it does need to be acknowledged.

    • Stephen

      No finer outfit for finding the root cause. Thorough, factual and reliable results. There’s a good reason the Nuclear Navy has such a good safety record, operating record and most importantly, ready to go and get things done… We invented Colombo long before Peter Falk. Another man of short stature, but cast a long shadow, Rickover.

      • NEC338x

        Absolutely. I expected that ADM Caldwell will leave no bilge, cofferdam, and vent space uninspected in identify the critical failures.

  • sragsd0416

    Having served with ADM Caldwell a couple of times I am sure this is the last thing he would like to have placed on his desk. However that he will be fair and just is a surety.

    • William Higgins

      I served with him on his first ship, USS Boston, was his plebe summer roommate, and he was the best man at my wedding.

  • Duane

    This is OK …. much better would be for this guy and NR to have a big input in redesigning the surface navy altogether. With assistance from the aviators too.

  • vincedc

    I’m sure the Navy has identified the poor shmucks who are going to be sacrificed for these disasters, but I hope they also have the integrity to blame the politicians and bureaucrats who put them in the position of trying to do too much with too little. While resources were sequestered in Washington, the requirements in the Western Pacific were not. The report was quite thorough about corners cut over more than a decade. Here’s hoping everyone who was involved with the overall deterioration of operations takes their fair share of the responsibility for letting it happen

    • wilkinak

      Looking at the reports, I have a hard time referring to anyone on the watch teams as ‘poor shmucks’. They deserve everything that’s coming their way. In nuke parlance, it’s a self-inflicted gun shot wound. Even with stretched resources, there is no reason for a watch team to be unable to shift control from the helm to the lee helm without running into another ship.

  • Pete Novick

    It absolutely boggles the mind that the officers on watch aboard FITZ (OOD, JOOD, CICWO) did not, as a matter of routine, calculate course and speed solutions for “pass no closer than” CPA’s for the contacts of interest on her starboard side, or for other situations for which the vessel was burdened under the COLREGS. When this is a routine task, the OOD’s call to the captain reads like this:

    Captain, this is the officer of the deck. I have Skunk India broad on the starboard bow, range 8,000 yards. India is on course ______, speed _______, and the CPA is close aboard to starboard. My intention is to alter course to starboard to _______ degrees and to maintain present speed. On this course, the CPA will open up to 4,000 yards, with good left bearing drift, and we will pass under her stern. When clear of Skunk India, I will turn to port to regain track.

    To which the CO would say, “Very well, make it so.”

  • wilkinak

    Kristian Saucier may be getting some new friends. Nukes are fair, but not tolerant of stupidity or ineptitude.

  • ICC Retired WESTPA Chief

    Wow! The WESTPAC 7th Fleet and DESRON 15 leadership surely have made a complete change since I left there back in 1995. After many successful tours as LPO/LCPO in E Division/V-2 Division aboard the USS Midway (79-82) and (90-92: Desert Storm); USS Kirk (86-89); USS Cochrane (89-91); USS Fife (91-92); and CFAY (92-95), it is sad to see so many incidents happen and leadership go down. When I was station in Japan for 12 years, it was an enjoyable overseas tour of duties, great liberty without incidents, successful deployments without incident (many Battle “E”s won) but unfortunately, the good sailors (homesteaders) were kicked out for new blood. I remember how the crews dreaded OPPEs, rigorous ATG and 3-M Inspections for proper preventive/corrective maintenance. The teams drilled you but for a reason (plant safety, successful light offs, and getting underway properly and safely) Sorry to say, the steam ships were the heart of the Navy in the pacific fleet back then but I hear from some retired folks ….those went away and inspections have become much more lenient (passing) and keeping the ship’s crew underway, stressed and undermanned, untrained, and extensive deployments. I would love to go back to the Navy. ICC (SW/AW) Retired