The following is video and the transcript of the Nov. 2, 2017 press conference with Cheif of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson on the results of the investigation of the collisions with USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62), USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) and the comprehensive review the Navy undertook to examine the root causes of the lapses that led to each collision.
Department of Defense Press Briefing by Adm. Richardson on results of the Fleet Comprehensive Review and investigations into the collisions involving USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain
ADMIRAL JOHN RICHARDSON: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I’ll just start with an opening statement. I want to thank you first for the opportunity to be here today and brief you on the recent incidents involving surface forces in the Western Pacific, a comprehensive review that examined the systemic issues surrounding these incidents, and then review the corrective action.
Before I begin I must say that throughout this investigative process, our first and last thoughts have been with our fallen sailors and their families. And I want to offer my deep condolences to those who lost a loved one, and ensure them that they will always be part of the Navy family.
A review of your Navy today shows that this morning there are 100 ships and 64,000 sailors and Navy civilians forward deployed. This includes three carrier strike groups and their embarked air wings, three amphibious readiness groups, and their embarked Marine expeditionary units, six ballistic missile defense ships on station, 11 attack submarines, five SSBNs. The vast majority of these ships are conducting their missions, some of them extremely difficult, effectively and professionally, protecting America from attack, promoting our interests and prosperity, and advocating for the rules that govern the vast commons from the seafloor, to space, and in cyberspace.
And we do much of this work with our allies and partners, enhancing our combined capacity to contribute to maritime security and improve our lethality in warfighting at sea. In the recent three week period for instance, we conducted over 19 exercises with our partners involving 30 partner nations. This is what you expect of your Navy. This is why we exist.
The Navy’s been run hard in the past 16 years of war and the pace is picking up, especially in the Pacific. Recent experience has shown that if we’re not careful, we can become overstretched, overextended. And if we take our eye off the fundamentals, we become vulnerable to mistakes at all levels of command.
In response to the series of incidents in the service force in 2017, culminating in the collisions involving the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain, the Navy conducted both independent investigations into the specific incidents to determine what happened onboard and also a comprehensive review to identify any systemic causal and contributing factors as to why these incidents occurred. Both of these efforts developed the actions needed, to prevent them in future operations.
I’ll be clear, these accidents were preventable. The causes for the collisions included a failure to plan for safety, failure to adhere to sound navigational practices, failure to execute basic watchstanding principles, failure to properly use available navigation tools, failure to respond deliberately and effectively when in extremist of collision, a loss of situational awareness and high traffic density, failure to follow the international rules of the road and for John S. McCain, insufficient knowledge and proficiency of the ship’s steering system.
We are a Navy that learns from our mistakes. U.S. Fleet Forces Commander Admiral Phil Davidson recently concluded a comprehensive review which was informed further by other mishaps going back 10 years.
The comprehensive review team was made up of 34 uniformed and civilian personnel and their backgrounds ranged from specialists in navigation to officers and civilians with extensive experience and a float leadership, underway operations, institutional training, equipment and systems research, development, acquisition and ship maintenance. It also included civilian experts and military members from other Navy Warfare communities and from other services. Multiple members also had substantial experience in conducting investigations and audits. Several distinguished individuals, a four star retired general and flag officers from the Army, the Marine Corps, a naval aviator and a naval submariner as well as the president of the Maryland Pilot — Harbor Pilot Association and an academic from MIT were on the team to advise Admiral Davidson.
And the comprehensive review found that over a sustained period of time, rising pressure to meet operational demands led those in command to rationalize declining standards, standards in fundamental seamanship and watchstanding skills, teamwork, operational safety, assessment and a professional culture. This resulted in a reduction of operational safety margins.
Further, the demand for ready and certified ships to support operations exceeded the quantity to be supplied lacking an effective process clearly defined, available supply and associated readiness. Steadily increasing risks were not understood or appropriately mitigated as the ships were routinely assigned to high priority, short notice tasking.
This practice became the norm and resulted in situations where individuals and teams could no longer recognize that the processes in place to identify, communicate and assess readiness and risk were no longer working on ships or at headquarters.
To address this, we have taken some of immediate actions. These actions include restoring a deliberative scheduling process in the 7th Fleet, conducting comprehensive ready for sea assessments for all Japan-based ships, establishing the Naval service group in the Western Pacific: an independent body in Yokosuka, Japan that will keep their eye on readiness generation and standards for the Pacific Fleet Commander, establishing and using a near miss program to understand and disseminate lessons learned, and establishing policies for surface ships to routinely, actively transmit on their Automatic Identification System.
ADM. RICHARDSON: A system that lets other ships in the area know that — what they’re doing. We have other ongoing immediate actions focused on upgrading the training of navigation fundamentals, assessing operational demands against available resources, grading the base line readiness of all 7th Fleet cruisers and destroyers, optimizing the authority and accountability for readiness, implementing schedules that ensure everybody gets sufficient rest, and baselining the force generation model for the Japan-based ships.
We also have some midterm actions that are focused on developing the process to generate sustainable ready forces, starting with the Japan based ships, reviewing the qualification standards, establishing comprehensive policies on managing fatigue, revising readiness- assessment standards, aligning the operational requirements to available resources, and accelerating the — some of the electronic navigation systems upgrades.
And we have additional longer term actions, so there’re immediate actions, short term, and then midterm, and then long term. Long term actions include improving individual and team training skills with an emphasis on basic seamanship, navigation and integrated bridge equipment, evaluating core officer and enlisted curricula with an emphasis on fundamentals, navigation skills.
I have to say that fundamental to all of this is how we prepare leaders for command. We will deeply examine the way that we prepare officers for increasing leadership challenges, culminating in assumption of command with the capability and the confidence to form, train and assess war fighting teams on the bridge, in the combat information center, in engineering and throughout their command.
Our Navy, from the most junior sailor to the most senior commander, must value achieving and maintaining high operational and war fighting standards of performance. And these standards must be embedded in our equipment, our individuals, our teams and our fleets.
The Navy is absolutely committed to doing everything possible to prevent a tragic loss like this again. We should never allow an accident like this to take the lives of such magnificent young sailors and inflict such painful grief on their families, the Navy and the nation.
We must get this right. And we will. We own this. And we’re moving out.
Thank you for your time again, and I look forward to your questions.
Q: Admiral Richardson (OFF-MIKE) …
Q: Admiral, obviously this review was about the Seventh Fleet, but as you look across the Navy and its’ ships as a whole, don’t some of these problems also exist perhaps in other AORs? And what are you doing to look at some of those? And how do you replicate some of this across the other ships in your fleet? Or is this just Seventh Fleet …
ADM. RICHARDSON: Right.
Q: … and you need more ships there?
ADM. RICHARDSON: So we take — to start — to get started, we had to contain the investigation — the scope of the investigation. And so we did concentrate on where we were seeing the problems, which is the cruisers and destroyers out in the Seventh Fleet.
That’s where we started, both with the incident investigations, obviously, and also with the comprehensive review.
Now that we have that investigation complete, you know, it’s my intention — in fact I just transmitted a message to all commanding officers — similar audience that I transmitted the Operational Pause message; for them to study this at all levels of command to figure you and — and determine, you know, where are they might be vulnerable to the findings in the comprehensive review and also to take a look at what of the recommended actions might apply to them.
And I’ve asked them to put together a report, report to their superiors. And I’ll see the consolidated result of that effort.
Q: Do you think it’s likely that this — some of these problems will just (inaudible) …
ADM. RICHARDSON: I will tell you, we have — the ultimate test for our effectiveness is combat operations.
And as I pointed out, you know, we have a forward-deployed fleet. And over this year, in the not too distant past, and currently right now, they are performing exquisitely in the highest degree of combat. And so we’re going to go out with the sense that we want to look at everybody and find the vulnerabilities and plug them where they exist.
Q: While you say that you and the Navy own the problem and we understand, with all due respect you serve at the pleasure as the president, you’ve described a series of ongoing, very comprehensive problems that underlie all of this.
So the question is, why do you — as CNO, why didn’t you know about any of these problems? Because if you knew, you certainly would have fixed them. So how is it that you didn’t know, and as chief of Naval operations, what response — while you serve at the pleasure, what responsibility as CNO do you bear on this? With all due respect, do you believe that you still have the confidence of the sailors and the Navy families?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Barbara, I think there’s no doubt that I made very clear from the beginning that as the CNO, I own this. And I won’t dodge from that ownership. As we’ve studied similar catastrophes, incidents in the past both in the Navy and outside the Navy, there is this slow degradation that happens.
And what you end up is a process where it’s — you become — a situation where deviancy becomes normalized. If you can’t meet the — or you don’t meet the standard — the absolute standards, you come up with a system of standards that you do meet.
So we’re aware of this, I do own it, we’re taking firm corrective action and we’ll get this right.
Q: With all due respect, I understand that Admiral. The question really professionally is what responsibility is there in the — with the chief of Naval operations for not knowing about all of these problems that led to the loss of so many lives?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Well and again, you know there …
Q: … I’m asking you how you feel about it.
ADM. RICHARDSON: I feel responsible for this.
Q: And do you think you can remain with the confidence of the fleet, of the sailors?
ADM. RICHARDSON: I do.
Q: Admiral, thanks — thanks for your time on this. You mentioned sleep deprivation, you mentioned managing fatigue. Could you give the sense if sleep deprivation had anything to do in the two accidents?
And then what are the Navy recommendations for sleep? Is it four hours, is it five hours?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Yes, so the — the fatigue did play a role in — in these incidents. And we’ve recently gone to a — throughout the Navy now, the service force recently made it mandatory to execute their at sea schedule with respect — paying respect to what we call a circadian rhythm.
A 24-hour cycle, inside that cycle getting six to eight hours within a 24-hour period.
Q: So that’s not mandatory?
ADM. RICHARDSON: That’s mandatory, right. You should be getting that — that type of sleep every 24-hour cycle.
Q: Hi, Sam LaGrone with USNI News.
So when you read the comprehensive review, you see that there’s institution of the organization and institution of additional oversight. What — what didn’t — wasn’t readily apparent when you read it was how do you say no to a combatant commander?
Bob Work, former Deputy of Secretary of Defense said earlier this week that the problem, particularly with the Navy is a simple one. It’s there are not enough ships to do the missions that are out there. So in 1999, there were 330ish with 100 ships deployed.
Now there’s 276 with about 100 ships deployed. How do you tell those combatant commanders and what responsibility do you all have to say no to them, and how do you do that?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Yeah this is the — the responsibility and accountability that comes with command. It’s — it’s fundamental in the nature of command, that you — if you’re not ready to execute the mission that you’re assigned, you’ve got to make that clear.
And we have a number of examples, again, where that happens, at every level of command. Admiral Davidson and I have those conversations. Admiral Swift and I have those conversations and that happens all the way down to unit level commanders.
When we fail to do that, we’ve got to – we become vulnerable. We get assigned for missions for which we’re not prepared. So we have to insure that we create a climate. This is this idea of culture that’s discussed in the comprehensive review, that values these discussions, and is open and listening to those commanders that are saying that I’ve been stretched too thin.
Q: You sort of talked about the culture. I mean, you can improve training, you can institute their sleep cycles, but obviously none of this would have been possible if there wasn’t a culture of sort of ignoring some of the things that happened.
How do you build a culture where people will start listening and sort of — it takes decades for that to build out. How do you build that?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Yes. No, I disagree that it takes decades. And there are a number of examples where large organizations with forceful action can really get at this and turn very much more quickly than that, and so this is what it’s going to take.
You know, a forceful effort by every level of command in the Navy, that’s what we hope to catalyze through this comprehensive review, and keeping our leaders in this discussion from the four star level all the way down.
Q: Thank you. To get back to the culture question, he says that, you know the high pace of operations led to a culture of accepting a lower grade of readiness, and lowered standards.
Were you part of that culture? Did it get to a point where you felt pressure that you couldn’t say no to something and you needed to resource?
ADM. RICHARDSON: I never felt those pressures, so there’s — yes.
Q: But were you part of that culture, sir?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Well, I’m the chief of Naval operations, and so just to Barbara’s point, it’s hard to escape that level of responsibility. We’re all — everybody in the Navy is part of this, including leadership.
Q: I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about your training, or a lack of training? It used to be in years passed that an ensign would leave the service academy, your ROTC go up to Newport for surface warfare school, spend months if not more than a year up there learning how to drive a ship, going out on patrol craft, a lot of classroom time.
In 2003, after decades, they changed that. They gave 21CD’s. They sent some of these ensigns out to ships and basically said you’ll learn how to do it on the job. That lasted for seven years.
Admiral John Harvey, who ran the Atlantic fleet, went to the Hill in 2010 and said this was a mistake, this didn’t work. So first of all, talk about the lack of training.
And do you have dozens, if not scores of officers out there that simply don’t know how to drive a ship because of that lack of training, and you talk about overextended, overstretched.
You talk about sleep deprivation, you talk about rising pressure, but the report says that the commanding officer of one of these ships didn’t know how to operate a console when there was a steering mishap.
Now, he didn’t know how to drive his ship. So what does that have to do with the sleep deprivation, or being overstretched, or rising pressure, this officer couldn’t drive his ship. How do you explain that?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Oh, you’re exactly right. These are failures of command. And when you talk about training, just to your point, we’ve moved away from that system where we had a set of CD’s and we did all that training on the job.
We’ve reinstituted the basic division officer courses, we’ve reinstituted an advanced division obstacle course, and have been making steady improvements to both the officer and illicit training throughout.
We’ve got more work to do here, the comprehensive review identifies several areas where we can do that. Then these ready for sea assessments are going around and doing that assess — that look, that grading to ensure that we get a solid look and understanding of what the proficiency is at sea. And again there are many, many examples of where our ships — their commanding officers, their crews are doing very well, but if it’s not monitored on a continuous basis these skills can atrophy very quickly.
Q: My question is…
Q: My question is, during that seven-year period where you had lax training we gave these people CD’s. Are you worried that there are too many officers out there in the fleet, who simply don’t know how to drive a ship?
ADM. RICHARDSON: We’re doing these ready for sea assessments to determine that exactly.
Q: Don’t you worry that there are…
ADM. RICHARDSON: I’m concerned enough that I support these ready for sea assessments. We’re going to get a solid baseline of that readiness and proficiency.
Q: Admiral, what are the biggest mistakes your sailors made that led to these collisions?
ADM. RICHARDSON: These were fundamental mistakes of ship driving and so the basic responsibility to maintain situational awareness of the ships around you to know the basics of the rules — nautical rules of the road, how to respond when you get into a crossing situation, the basics of understanding the ship control console, it was actually the operator who didn’t know how to do it, not the commanding officer. Those are some pretty fundamental things.
Q: Do officers today have more training than the officers of 15 years ago aboard these ships?
ADM. RICHARDSON: In some areas yes, they certainly have more training than they got when there was a box of compact discs and on-the-job training so we have been reinstituting that training steadily. And in the comprehensive review, there is an appendix that lists exactly that journey that we’ve been on in training.
Q: Admiral, today compared to 15 years ago are you convinced that your officers aboard these ships have more training than 15 years ago?
ADM. RICHARDSON: It’s more than just about hours, it’s about the quality of the training and overall it’s just the hours is a false metric and so this is exactly what the comprehensive review looked at; it identified some areas we can beef that up and we’re moving out to do that.
Q: Patrick Tucker from Defense One. All the failures that you just described are very human failures. As you know, (inaudible) is now looking at a — they’re testing an unmanned ship that actually can follow rules of the road and has demonstrated great hazard or safety potential. Did the committee that looked at this make any recommendations in terms of next-generation software, autonomy, things like that, to reduce the cognitive load that’s being placed on these human crewmen?
ADM. RICHARDSON: We’ve done a lot of examination of that, certain Navy-wide already, outside the scope of the comprehensive review, and so we’ll continue that effort independent of the comprehensive review. It’s actually a — it’s making progress, and we’re monitoring that closely.
Q: Thank you, Admiral, (inaudible) context of it? If you look at that in a context…
ADM. RICHARDSON: No we were studying that outside the context of the review.
Q: Admiral, you’ve used the word “failure” many times, but you haven’t used the word “negligence.” Was there negligence involved in either of these accidents?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Yes.
Q: By whom?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Well by several people. I mean, we found that the commander officers were at fault, the executive officers were at fault. There were watchstanders on the ships. And we’ve been pretty clear about identifying where there was fault and taking appropriate accountability actions, up to and including the 7th Fleet commander.
Q: OK do you anticipate legal action against some of those guilty of negligence?
ADM. RICHARDSON: I have assigned Admiral Frank Caldwell to be a consolidated disposition authority to take a look — comprehensive look at all of these and to make his recommendations with respect to any further action we may do.
Q: Admiral, you said that the vast majority of ships are operating safely and effectively. I mean, some of the findings here are pretty stunning. For example the training continuum of surface warfare officers and candidates, quartermasters and operations specialists — my humble rate — does not provide sufficient seamanship and navigational knowledge in advance of milestone assignments.
So I mean, I guess the question is how could you possibly know if the ships out there is — if the ships out there are operating and training, you know, safely and effectively, especially since there doesn’t seem to be — and the review finds — a good way of measuring the performance as these people go along in their careers.
ADM. RICHARDSON: No, you’re right. A big conclusion of the comprehensive review is that we’ve got to beef up the assessment process across the board, both in individual and in team training and effectiveness.
But in many cases, that assessment is going on right now. So while we did focus on this area in the 7th Fleet their assessments of readiness going on throughout the Navy which give us a sense of that proficiency and that effectiveness.
Q: Admiral, in reading through and listening to it sounds like the way this was going these were accidents were almost destined to happen to some ships or ships out there. Would you say that’s a fair statement that this was an accident waiting to happen with the way it’s been going all along?
ADM. RICHARDSON: I would — I would rephrase that. I would say that what happened was a gradual erosion of the margins of safety. And so, when the system has that and you get this reduced margins of safety, you combine that with a stressful situation then you’re much more vulnerable — you’re much more vulnerable to that.
Q: You’ve described a number of changes that are being put forth, but as you know, a few years on the Balisle Report a lot of the same recommendations were put forth. They were also some of the same forms of recommendation that you’ve made now.
Why is this iteration of problems that were first brought up years ago going to be addressed this time? Why should people — the American public and the Navy community have confidence that in this iteration these problems are actually going to be addressed? And then, the report goes on to describe a real fundamental problem in training, in leadership, in culture, and even the quality of the ships. It talks about how they’re some of the oldest ships in the fleet.
In an AOR where the U.S. is dealing with a very real threat in vis-a-vis North Korea, given that you’ve got a 7th Fleet that hasn’t mastered the fundamentals, what confidence should the American public have that 7th Fleet can handle what is probably one of the highest risk from a national security perspective?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Yes. I’ll tell you these ships in the 7th Fleet did not master the fundamentals and we noticed some issues at headquarters that may have set them up for that. We’re correcting that very quickly. But, again, there are ships in the 7th Fleet that are out there doing their job.
They’re ships are old by since they’ve been built but they’re also been some of the most modernized ships, as well. So, we have been consistently sending our most advanced capability out to the 7th Fleet.
Q: Admiral, thanks for your time.
Dan Lamothe, Washington Post.
Wanted to ask you about transparency through all of this. Your report that you released yesterday mentioned you were trying to balance the legal concerns for the country along with trying to get information out about the McCain incident and the Fitzgerald incident.
ADM. RICHARDSON: Right.
Q: At the same time the Navy is still withholding all documents requested from FOIA on the Lake Champlain collision. Can you explain that dichotomy and what will be happening there?
ADM. RICHARDSON: I’ll take a look into the request on the Lake Champlain incident. I wasn’t familiar that that has been held up. There are legal concerns that have to be recognized and addressed but it has been a pretty consistent thrust through this effort including the release of the full comprehensive review release of the descriptions of the Fitzgerald and McCain incidents to maintain that level of transparency. So, I’ll check on what we can release on the Lake Champlain.
Q: (Inaudible) similar level of transparency with these other incidents?
ADM. RICHARDSON: I — I’ll tell you what. I — I will do that. The Lake Champlain, we’ll come up with similar description of that incident that we put together for Fitzgerald and McCain.
OK? All right.
Q: Carla Babb, Voice of America.
I just want to kind of follow up on Champlain. There are people that said more should have been done after the Champlain incident, after the Antietam incident in January that might could have prevented these two deadly incidents that occurred after. Why wasn’t more done? Why wasn’t an investigation or a more thorough investigation put in place before these happened?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Yes. There were thorough investigations done on those two incidents you just referred to them. And those — those incidents were shared on a more local level. This effort to instill this Near Miss and Lessons Learned Program will improve our ability to get those lessons out more broadly, more quickly, so we can prevent this in the future.
Q: Yes. Hi Admiral.
James from Aviation Week.
The nation has spent billions of dollars on these — on these ships to take out ballistic missiles and, you know, the past couple of years intercepted no North Korean missiles during all that testing. Why haven’t they done so and with what — the fleet that you’ve got out there at the moment, could you do that if required by the President?
ADM. RICHARDSON: You know, the details of that capability are classified, as are the decisions that go into it. So it’s just inappropriate to discuss those things of here. You know.
Q: Why wasn’t the Lake Champlain CO relieved? The Antietam, you know, runs aground in Tokyo Bay, that CO’s relieved. The Fitzgerald CO triad is relieved, McCain triad relieved. You guys won’t not only release that report, but this guy changed command last month and you guys put out, you know, the Navy news press release –
ADM. RICHARDSON: Each — each one of those cases is evaluated independently, consistent with this commitment. I’ll get to that answer as well.
Q: The report said that the Japanese-based ships were — were adequately resourced with the exception of manning. As — as much of this comprehensive review says that the issues were inherent, impactfully in — in 7th Fleet. How much of that responsibility for manning however is a U.S.-based function? Either from, you know, from — from y’alls office in OPNAV or fleet forces, that manning component that you indicated in the comprehensive review that was under resourced. How much of that is PAC Fleet, 7th Fleet responsibility? How much of that is a U.S. based responsibility?
ADM. RICHARDSON: I think that there’s responsibility for everybody in that regard, in terms of how that manning, you know, assigned and then allocated. We realized this on our own before the incidents happened. And, you know, the manning fluctuates throughout the fleet and there’s always an effort to make sure that we are ensuring that first and foremost our at sea and our deployed forces amongst them are manned with the highest priority, and we’re filling those at sea gaps.
We made some adjustments recently to, you know, re-address what has been a slight degradation in manning levels out in the Pacific. We’re already starting to see the returns on those, but that was put in place before these happened. So, you know, it’s a constant balancing and optimization effort that we strive to achieve.
Q: Amy Hudson, Inside Defense. Could you give us an update on the initial cost estimate for repair? SECNAV said in September it was going to be about $600 million, that’s what you were asking Congress for.
ADM. RICHARDSON: Yes, that’s about right. And the John S. McCain is still on their way to Yokosuka. We’ll get a better estimate when she gets there.
Q: Admiral, could I follow up on something you said about the commanding officer. He was aware on how to operate the ship control system. But the report says —
ADM. RICHARDSON: No, I didn’t say that. Go ahead.
Q: The report says, no one on watch on the McCain, including the commanding officer was properly trained on how to correctly operate the ship control console.
ADM. RICHARDSON: Right. I just want to make clear it was the operator there that mis-operated that. The commanding officer wasn’t any help in that regard, so.
Q: But including the commanding officer, it says, did not know how to correctly operate the ship control console. Is that good enough?
ADM. RICHARDSON: That is not good enough.
Q: But again, that gets back to lack of knowledge, lack of training, doesn’t it? Not your over — you’re not getting enough sleep or you’re stretched or extended. That gets to the basic knowledge of how to drive your ship, doesn’t it?
ADM. RICHARDSON: That gets to the — yeah, exactly, the training and qualification standards that were residents on that ship were not right.
Q: During the McCain investigation, it’s said that at least three of the officers on the bridge were from another ship, were not appropriately equipped and trained to operate …
ADM. RICHARDSON: Right, this goes to the question about the ship control console. And so what had happened there was …
Q: First of all, what — how that happened and if that happens on other ships, that this is a systemic problem.
ADM. RICHARDSON: Right. So the — what had happened specifically is that the operators — a couple of the operators on the bridge at the time of the collision, particularly the helm were actually crew members from Antietam who were temporarily assigned to the John S. McCain.
Now when that happens, what — when you get a watch stand — this is not unusual. Right, ships and maintenance will — it’s not uncommon for them to — if they need to get their sailors at the experience or qualifications and training.
They’ll assign their sailors to a ship that’s going to sea and get some underway time. When that happens though, the requisite training and qualification for the systems that are on that receiving command have got to be in place to ensure that before they operate the equipment, they’re trained, qualified and certified to do so.
Accounting for any differences in equipment configurations is between the two commands specifically. And that was a gap on John S. McCain. They did not go to any kind of rigorous steps to ensure those watch standards from Antietam were qualified on the equipment on the John S. McCain.
And that ended up contributing to the confusion that led to the collision.
ADM. RICHARDSON: I would just say that there was no rigor to the re- qualification standard.
Q: Admiral, with the culture issues we talked about before, you know you’re an 05, 06 mid-level officer. You know, are you really going to tell your ISIC that your ship is not good to go when that could realistically lead to a blemish on your FITREP and affect your career?
ADM. RICHARDSON: It shouldn’t lead…
Q: And prior to that — I didn’t mean to interrupt you, but prior to that, when you were at the 05, 06 level, whatever command you were at, did you ever tell your immediate ISIC that, you know your unit was not good to go?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Yes, absolutely. The alternative is to go to sea unprepared or unsafe. All right, so you’ve got to do that. And — what’s that?
Q: You know, when you’re in the high stakes waters of 7th Fleet …
ADM. RICHARDSON: I was in those high stake waters, all right? So this is the — this culture issue where you — the can-do aspect of our Navy is something that we want to preserve. It’s this bottom up, effusive enthusiasm to get things done.
People — it’s not, you know going and getting tasks done, it — this is a positive in our Navy. When that turns around and becomes a sense of sort of a must do, I’ve got to go out at any cost, this is when it becomes toxic.
And this is the culture adjustment that we have to make where appropriate. We have to make it OK. We have to set the standards for going out and executing your missions. The commanding officers have to be absolutely blunt about whether they are meeting those standards or not.
And if, you know — for instance, a material failure or some kind of a training — a missed training opportunity, you know, some adjustments have been made. And as I said, those conversations do happen. These are — these are not things that never happen. It just wasn’t happening regularly in the 7th Fleet.
Q: Admiral, are the cultures different between a submarine and a surface ship?
ADM. RICHARDSON: There are, I would say, tribal differences — you know, in our warfighting areas — submarine, there’s aviation, the special warfare — information warfare. You get the slightly different cultures for each of those different warfare specialties. And those things are — are healthy things. They contribute to, you know, overall Naval power. When though, they — they start to — those differences lead to, I would say — you know, lax standards, this — there’s — that’s completely inappropriate.
Q: Sir, just a follow-up on the submarine or — and a surface warfare officer, as — as opposed to navigation?
ADM. RICHARDSON: No.
Q: Sir, just a follow-up on that point. If you’re — if you’re in the aviation and you’re out of compliance with NATOPS procedures, you can say I’m out of compliance of NATOPS procedures. If you’re on a submarine and you’re out of compliance with Sub Nav or — or whatever other operational conditions that you have —
ADM. RICHARDSON: Right.
Q: You can say, I’m out of compliance in this rulebook —
ADM. RICHARDSON: Right, we enable that conversation to happen.
Q: Where is — but where is that equivalency in the Surface Fleet?
ADM. RICHARDSON: So there is some of that in the Surface Fleet and a part of the — recommendations in the comprehensive review are to reinforce that.
Q: So part of the review does talk about circadian rhythms and sleep. And what I’m wondering is, are you looking to integrate the same kind of crew rest policies that aviation community had in to the surface warfare community?
ADM. RICHARDSON: No — the fundamentals of it, the principles of it, yes. You know, how they specifically execute it — each of the missions will give rise to, you know, differences in execution. But the fundamentals of making sure that, you know, before you go and you operate on watch or you operate equipment, you are sufficiently rested, those will be instilled.
Q: Do you need more ships?
ADM. RICHARDSON: What’s that?
Q: Admiral, do you need more ships in the 7th Fleet? Does this suggest to you that, perhaps undermanned but also maybe you need additional various types of ships?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Absolutely. A part of this highlighted that there’s a mismatch between the sustainable level of naval power that we can generate with the current assigned forces in the 7th Fleet and the mission set — the growing mission set that is emerging out there. And so, you know, when — if we are going to define that sustainable level of force generation at appropriate training and — and readiness standards, and there’s a gap between that level of forces and what — the missions that are out there. That gap can really only be met by additional Naval forces, more ships.
We’ll see what that — I mean, it — it’s a dynamic number — right — because the missions keep changing. What we are developing right now is — hey, with the currently assigned force, given maintenance, and training, and the certification requirements, what is that sustainable level of force generation?
Q: Can I follow-up on that? Because the other alternative is to say no — to Sam’s point, that if the ships aren’t there, the way to fill the gap is not just more ships. But to say, no, that’s there’s only so much we can do –
ADM. RICHARDSON: No, that’s —
Q: And you were talking earlier about how you had said no in — in your career. Why are we — are we not hearing about an announcement of some sort about reducing the demand, given that you have such problems on a fundamental level and you’re trying to encourage a culture of saying we’re not ready?
ADM. RICHARDSON: The demand — the demand is defined by the security environment. And our ability to respond to that demand is defined by — throughout the Joint Force, not just the Navy, you know, the — the quantity of ready forces to meet that — that — the demand of the security environment. When you have a gap between those two, that’s risk, right? And so, it — it’s all part of that is, you know, day-to-day assessment. Every commander has to wake up each day at their command level and say, what has changed in my security environment? How is — what is my new risk posture? And how am I going to accommodate or mitigate that risk? And at some point, it may get to the point where I can’t. And at that point you’ve got to, you know, say no.
Q: At the beginning of the briefing — at the beginning of the briefing, you were mentioning about the size of the U.S. Navy and just the number of ships in general.
But are these two incidents — they kind of proof, or are indication that the U.S. Fleet may have become too large to effectively manage, or supervise?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Yes. No, we’ve got command structures in place that allow, you know, that to — proper oversight and command to exist. So it’s not a question of being too large to command.
ADM. RICHARDSON: Thank you all very much. All right.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Thank you.