Home » Budget Industry » Wicker, McCain Introduce Surface Navy Reform Bill

Wicker, McCain Introduce Surface Navy Reform Bill

A wave crashes over the forecastle of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Carney (DDG-64) while underway in the Mediterranean Sea on Jan. 22, 2018. US Navy Photo

Two top Senate Armed Services Committee Republicans have introduced legislation that covers a wide swath of Navy-suggested reforms for the surface forces.

Introduced by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and co-sponsor SASC chariman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the Surface Warfare Enhancement Act of 2018 builds off the conclusions of the Navy’s Comprehensive Review of Recent Surface Force Incidents and the Navy Secretary’s Richard V. Spencer Strategic Readiness Review following the fatal collisions of guided-missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) in 2017 that killed a total of 17 sailors.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)

“Our commanders and sailors have been calling for meaningful reform,” Wicker, the SASC seapower subcommittee chairman, said in a statement.
“Overextended and undermanned ships, overworked crews, fewer officers with naval mastery, and confusing chains of command have contributed to a decline in our naval power. My legislation – based on the Navy’s own recommendations – is specifically designed to address these and other challenges. Although I have confidence in the Navy’s leadership, I believe Congress needs to play an active role in helping them to succeed in this endeavor.”

The bill addresses a laundry list of issues that created the conditions that led to the collisions. Those include unfettered requests for naval power from combatant commanders, lack of clear command structure for the surface force, an especially high operational tempo in forward-deployed forces and surface warfare officers aboard that have less time driving ships than previous generations.

The almost 20 provisions include a complete review of the Navy’s command and control structure, requiring surface sailors to keep a log book of their bridge time, a change to the so-called up-and-out rules that would keep experienced mid-level officers in the service longer, and the authority for a service chief to delay the start of a deployment if the ship or strike group cannot prove it is ready.

Other provisions include providing an unclassified annual report of the Navy’s the Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV). The Navy, following an embarrassing string of unsatisfactory results in 2008, classified the reports.

Some on the House side have also called for declassifying INSURVs.

“During peacetime, INSURVs should be declassified, and that makes sure there’s transparency there that we know what’s going on,” House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee chairman Rep Wittman (R-Va.) said earlier this year.
“That creates, again, that direction, that focus to make sure that maintenance is being done, maintenance availabilities aren’t being missed, material readiness is being maintained. All those things are critical.”

While the bill is specific about some provisions, like giving aspiring surface warfare officers time underway on six Navy Yard Patrol Craft (YPs) at the Surface Officer School Basic Division Officer Course, it’s vaguer on other suggestions like command and control.

Some in the House are keen on stripping the responsibility for manning, training and equipping ships in the Pacific from local commands and consolidating that authority to a fleet-wide central point on the East Coast. However, Wicker and McCain’s bill doesn’t take the so-called Inouye Amendment head on and instead calls for a complete command and control review from the Secretary of the Navy.

When reached by USNI News on Monday, a Navy spokeswoman declined to comment on the legislation.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) speaking at the 2016 Arizona Manufacturing Summit at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, Arizona on Oct. 16, 2016. Gage Skidmore photo

Regardless of the process for the reforms, McCain said Monday, “the status quo is unacceptable.”

“As we have seen too often in recent months, the significant shortcomings in our Navy’s readiness can have disastrous results,” McCain said in a statement.
“The ship collisions… degraded the capabilities of our fleet, cost hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, and – most importantly – took precious lives. The status quo is unacceptable. Congress must provide the funding and oversight required to keep our military safe in peace and effective in combat.”

  • So says McCain, near the bottom of his class at the USNA. How can he introduce a bill when he cannot even vote because of his cancer? Talk about fresh blood, he needs to resign and just watch the setting sun. The surface Navy is in trouble because of piss poor leadership from the top down. Start with the CNO and clean house. Clean out the chief’s messes also. Too many politicians worry about their advancement and not enough worrying about their ships and their shipmates. MMCS(SW)(SS) USN Ret.

    • publius_maximus_III

      Two words: wet start.

    • Michael Moore

      Lots of pointless generalities in your comment. Why bother?

  • Lazarus

    Congress has acted in circumstances like this before, but perhaps they should wait until SECNAV’s and the various flag reviews have stalled? Where is the bill on aviation hypoxia issues?

    • the_artist_formerly_known_as_m

      The FY18 NDAA requires the Navy to provide Congress with regular updates on what its doing to address the issue. It also set aside money – several million dollars – for research.

      Regardless you’re focusing in on one equipment problem. The Surface Community is arguably experiencing systemic issues in manning, training and equipping.

      It is fascinating that the Surface Community has to be told to do things that are common sense – and that other communities have long since adapted.

      An example is logging bridge time. Aviators have kept flight logs for over 100 years. Merchant mariners log bridge time. Why hasn’t it ever occurred to the surface community to track this?

      Crew rest is another great example. It’s been well known for decades that operating heavy machinery on minimal sleep is a really, really bad idea. Why were SWOs so slow to realize this?

      Weapons Tactics Instructors (WTIs) have been in naval aviation for close to 50 years. The SWO community got it’s first WTIs two years ago – with much fanfare and self-congratulation.

      I think one could write a fairly interesting organizational psychology paper on this topic. There is just something fundamentally wrong with SWOs in terms of their failure to learn and adapt.

      • Lazarus

        Recent surface combatant collisions were largely the product of poor SWO training since the early 2000’s; notably resulting from the close of the Basic Surface Warfare School in 2003. There are some other issues affecting surface ship operations, but training more than any other has affected the surface fleet. The surface force also has no foundational document like NATOPS or nuclear plant safety to fall back on as do the air and submarine nuke navies. Logbooks for OOD’s are a good idea given that SWO training is no longer the comprehensive program that it was before 2000. Crew rest in aviation and surface ops is different, as a ship divides responsibility for safe operation among dozens vice the small numbers of operators on one aircraft. WTI’s? Every TAO on every ship ought to be equipped with those skills and in some sense they were before 2000.

        Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. Naval aviation has seen its own share of problems, yet former naval aviator McCain has never deigned to legislate their activities to the point of telling them “how to suck eggs.” Senator Wicker’s involvement is probably more to do with him being the “Senator for Pascagoula more than any desire to do something with the surface force.

        SECNAV, CNO and CUSFFC command have a plan and a path forward to fix the problems identified in the CR and SRR. They need to of course update Congress on that progress, but having the legislative branch issue “stick and rudder” orders is not helpful and smacks of unfairness given the problems inherent in other warfare arms of the navy and other services.

        • the_artist_formerly_known_as_m

          Yes, SWOs still don’t have anything like NATOPS. This is yet another “head-scratcher”… since its introduction in the 1950s demonstrably reduced mishaps.

          Your attitude is emblematic of SWOs that I dealt with when I was on staff.

          They were an odd lot. Far more concerned with who was making recommendations vice what was actually being recommended.

          They were decidedly unwilling to look outside their community for best practices or lessons learned.

          They also saw anyone questioning the status quo as a direct threat. Particularly if they happened to be wearing wings or dolphins. Then the discussion would inevitably devolve into “us” versus “them”.

          I never took it personally. I was just amazed at how hard you guys worked against yourselves. Frankly, I think the problem in the SWO community is cultural more than anything else.

          • Lazarus

            I’m agreeing with most of what you said; not disagreeing. I would just like to give the leadership a chance to work their proposed changes before having Congress try to legislate at the tactical level. YP training for example is ok, but it ought to be done at USNA, on NROTC summer events, and OCS. Surface Warfare trainees (BDOC and ADOC) ought to have a TAD period at sea on a CONUS-based ship to gain some practical experience outside the simulator.
            No warfare discipline wants to be told what to do by the others. That feeling should not however prevent us from adapting the best practices of others.

          • the_artist_formerly_known_as_m

            Surface leadership had their chance. These are not new problems. We’re just seeing the results now.

            Personally: I don’t think YP training makes much sense prior to NROTC or USNA commissioning. Service selection doesn’t occur until the tail end of senior year.

            It should probably be more like primary flight training for 13xxs. Centralized. Rigorous. And with clear pass/fail criteria.

          • Lazarus

            Congress could have been more helpful by mandating that the Surface Navy restore and augment its basic Surface Warfare Officer School Division Officer course, and/or that it produce an “ethos” document like NATOPS. Neither Congress nor their staffs will really monitor this and will instead force another layer of useless bureaucracy on an already admin-burdened surface officer community. This sort of “stick and rudder” legislation is really not at all helpful. If Congress is going to do this to the surface navy, what will it do next to other warfare communities?

          • the_artist_formerly_known_as_m

            I imagine if the Navy asked for the money to reopen SWOS – and made a good case for it – then I don’t see how Congress could refuse. Not now.

            NATOPS arose after a spate of accidents in the 1950s. I see definite parallels in what’s going on in the surface community. But waiting for Congress to tell you to do it is not very proactive.

            If the aviation or submarine communities had as many problems as the surface community – I’d want Congress to step in.

        • Curtis Conway

          US Navy Proceedings doesn’t count (Approach equivalent)? Every OOD signs the Bridge Log, or has that passed out of practice too? That is a legal document (log) of ships activities (‘who’, what, where, ‘when’, why, and how).

          • Lazarus

            All still correct on deck logs. The idea of the Officer personal log would be to document proficiency in watchstanding. Some ships (with really good senior watch officers) wound do that, but the log does not follow the officer from ship to ship, but should.

          • Curtis Conway

            What does follow every sailor (O or E) is the personnel jacket, which I suspect is getting more electronic all the time. All training is documented, and experiential evolutions should be as well. Our records on Tico recorded our watch station qualifications, and every Evaluation/FITREP indicated those achievements and time on station. Adding individual watch standing statistics, is not that hard.

            I do think a personal proficiency log is a good idea, except where it duplicates the other records. If the lack of professionalism of the Administration Dept. (that cost us our first Battle “E” on Tico) is a contributing factor, then perhaps Officer Watchstanding Proficiency Logs (perhaps electronic feeding that Electronic Record) may be a good idea. As with Evals/FITREPS, a weighting of and/or rating of, the evaluated officer and reporting officer, and his/her qualifications are also relevant. It’s possible to stand a lot of watches, and be evaluated by mediocre leadership just passing them on, enabling someone to really look great on paper, when they still can’t stand the watch ‘for real’ in stressful times, and do the deal. I have seen that too! If you have not done the deal, evaluated by a competent and qualified authority, you Do Not Have The Qualification!

  • Western

    Given a choice to implement the wishes of the Secretary of Defense or the distinguished senator from Arizona, well, Mr. McCain, thank you for your service. Please sir, leave the field.

  • proudrino

    Sorry but this seems to be nothing more than pig-piling by a couple of the pigs!

    Seriously, the Navy seems to be addressing the clear problems with fleet readiness. The Navy does not need the help of the SASC- especially from an angry irrelevant fossil and a guy who would like nothing more than to see increased shipbuilding in his state.

    • wilkinak

      I was going to agree with you until I saw the article that the Navy is moving toward disbanding A schools and replacing them with computer based training. Just when you think this dog might hunt, he starts chasing butterflies again.

  • SWO79

    Once ship assignments were made at Department Head school (30+ years ago) all students were required to review the latest INSURV report on their ship. SWOSCOLCOM’s library had the current report for every in-service ship plus the associated command/ISIC endorsements. Just one minor lesson, of course there are many of those minor lessons, lost to the reduction/deletion of basic school house courses of instruction. Kick SURFPAC out of that great facility built for SWOS Det Coronado and get back to training baby SWOs in ALL subjects necessary to running their shipboard divisions. Failure to pass the 3M course resulted in an automatic roll-back to the next class. NAB Coronado was a very nice place to attend school but the consequences of failure and 4 more months in school was not an option. Today’s junior officers do not appear to be phased by failure (that easy to push RESET button). Division Officer lessons were coupled with basic navigation, MO Board and rules of the road in the classroom and in practical use aboard the Vietnam era coastal minesweeps on which we spent many evenings out in the South Bay. Yes, a newer school ship(s) would be nice. Those minesweeps are long gone. DIVTACS gave the Ensigns a sense of relative motion that is obviously lacking in today’s junior officers. MO Board has been made obsolete by today’s Integrated Bridge Systems and the plethora of shipboard sensors. Didn’t help those watchstanders in FITZGERALD or MCCAIN. Or ANTIETAM. Who was plotting ship’s position within the anchor drag circle that night. One of the messcranks? Out with the new and in with the old and maybe we will stop killing our sailors.

    • Lazarus

      Good points but would leave off the YP’s/small craft and have trainee SWO’s get underway on COUNS-based ships for short periods of practical seamanship training beyond the simulators.

      • Murray

        Here’s some thinking outside the square. The Royal New Zealand Navy uses P&O’s cruise ship Pacific Jewel to train junior officers. On cruises up to the Pacific Islands the junior officers are expected to undertake all duties expected of P&O officer cadets including standing watches, navigation training etc. Very good practical experience on a big ship for young officers straight out of university.

        • the_artist_formerly_known_as_m

          I found it disheartening that the Strategic Readiness Review didn’t mention adopting any such best-practices from our allies.

          RN, RAN, RNZN and JMSDF. These are all competent, proficient navies. As far as I could tell, the author didn’t even think to talk to them.

      • Curtis Conway

        What do the Coasties do? They have some of the best ship drivers, and they sure know the Rules of the Road (inland, and at sea), and are very proficient on the bridge. There are much lower ranked individuals driving all kinds of things of all kinds of tonnage from time to time . . . because they are qualified. Perhaps SWOs should pursue their Master Mariner Qualification, all tonnage, all oceans by O-3.

      • MarlineSpikeMate

        Put them on US flagged merchant ships with the maritime cadets and an actually sea project. Not some ice cream Navy social cruise.

    • Donald Carey

      Fazed, not phased…(see, I read every word…).

      • SWO79

        Well Done! In my 41 years as a member of the Naval Institute this is my first attempt at commenting on an article or on a comment to an article. I was caught up in the heat of the moment and made the conscious decision to forgo proofreading. Even though I enjoy my career very much, I need your job. After reviewing your comment history on past USNI News articles, it appears you do this, comment on comments, full time. I applaud you. And after discussion with some former shipmates, we have decided to include ourselves in your crusade to police the ramblings of former SWOs.

        • Donald Carey

          Well, I realize you could have been torpedoed by a spell-checker…;-D

  • Marc Apter

    Other than having Bridge Watch Personnel keep log books, just like ship board air controllers have done for over 50 years (I assume they still do that?), maybe we should look at did work well decades ago, and just start from there.

  • Masau80

    Looks a lot like the surface navy training and readiness from the 1970s. The one caveat that is missing – if congress fails to do their job (again) and can’t pass a budget to plan against – does this law become null and void? A lot of the shortcuts (reduced pipeline, reduced manning, extended tours, waiving of qualifications, etc.) are due to the fact that there just hasn’t been a predictable full budget to operate under. That being said, with the exception of the re-invigoration of SWOS, most of these T&R steps are being accomplished now. The FDNF units are the ones that are being shortchanged.


    Yeah, because anything Congress mandates is always so efficiently structured and ran. There is a need to reform but mandating things will just make it harder to accomplish. The one thing that will be needed above everything else, and is actually something only Congress can provide, is funding specifically for training. Fix that first.

  • Chesapeakeguy

    I’m all for REAL improvements, and any initiatives that will lead to those. But an element of political grandstanding does come across in all this, to me anyways. It’s the same impulse we see when tragedies like the recent school shootings manifest themselves, in that some in the Congress will go through the motions of, and presenting appearances of, doing something when after it’s all said and done, nothing is accomplished. Aren’t the SecDef, SecNav, and the CNO addressing these issues? Will their efforts be undermined by this action? Which begs the question: are these just more gamesmanship and turf wars taking place?

  • Capt DJ

    You get what you pay for. I’d like to see how the air and submarine community would fare if they reduced their training budget and pipeline to the same per officer resources devoted to the surface fleet. Getting sailors to the fleet faster and cheaper is exactly what caused the recent deaths of our sailors. Failure to invest time and resources to properly training our surface force is shameful.

  • Tony4

    Of course this is an open rebuke of the Navy – and if the CNO, the one officer in the US Navy with the duty and responsibility to tell CJCS, the GCCs, SECNAV, and SECDEF that the Navy is breaking itself by maintaining the current unrealistic OPTEMPO had done his job, it wouldn’t be necessary.

  • Duane

    Congress needs to stick to reforming laws that degrade fleet readiness, and skip the naval micromanagement stuff like regulating officer experience logs and requiring YP cruise experience. The current naval leadership has responded appropriately to the recent shiphandling accidents, so leave them alone, and let them do their jobs. On the scale of competence in performance of their jobs, the current naval leadership rates vastly higher than the current Congress that five months into the current 12 month fiscal year still has not passed an appropriations bill for 2018.