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Concerns Emerge Over HASC Attempts to Create Single Head for Ready Force Generation

Sailors aboard Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Higgins (DDG-76) arrive in Hawaii. US Navy Photo

The House Armed Services Committee is looking to change the command and control system that governs naval forces in the Pacific, based on recommendations made in the aftermath of last year’s fatal collisions, but concerns from some lawmakers are already surfacing.

The HASC readiness subcommittee included in its section of the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act language that would require the Navy to designate a single command in charge of “ensuring that forces of the Navy are available for tasking and deployment, including forces that may be operating from a forward-deployed location,” and to create a single command in charge of “oversight and management of the shipyards of the Navy, including shipyards outside the United States.”

This language is meant to address the fact that Naval Sea Systems Command overseas all shipyard maintenance and modernization activities except those taking place in Japan, and U.S. Fleet Forces Command is meant to generate ready forces but does not have responsibility for those in the Forward Deployed Naval Forces in Japan.

“The committee encourages the Secretary to consider designating the Commander, Fleet Forces Command, as the responsible commander for tasking and deployment, as that official performs that function now for all naval forces excepting the Pacific Fleet,” according to the readiness mark, though the subcommittee does not go as far as to mandate that Fleet Forces be the office that oversees all manning, training and equipping – rather suggesting that Fleet Forces be the one to take on that role.

This change would have been previously considered unpassable – House and Senate appropriators every year since 2011 have included language known as the Inouye Amendment, after former Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, which stated that “none of the funds available to the Department of Defense may be obligated to modify command and control relationships to give Fleet Forces Command administrative and operational control of U.S. Navy forces assigned to the Pacific fleet: Provided, That the command and control relationships which existed on October 1, 2004, shall remain in force unless changes are specifically authorized in a subsequent Act.”

That language supersedes anything the armed services committees would do in their defense authorization bill, and it has been included in the spending bill every year since Sen. Inouye first offered it.

However, given last year’s four surface navy collisions, two of which killed a combined 17 sailors, the Navy found there was confusion in the command and control system in the Pacific and that there were conflicts of interest by having dual-hatted commanders in charge of certifying ready forces and then consuming those forces by overseeing their operations. HASC is now looking to act.

Still, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), whose state is home to U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Pacific Fleet headquarters, noted her concern over the language in the bill during the subcommittee’s markup today.

“I’m concerned with the language in the mark and how it could negatively impact the speed, flexibility and agility of our forces operating in the Indo-Pacific region under PACOM’s command and their ability to respond to a very active region. The language offered in the readiness mark would essentially chip away at the existing force structure, resources and authorities in the Pacific and would undo a command and control relationship in the Pacific that’s existed and worked for more than a decade,” she said.
“The current status preserves the ability of the commander of the Pacific Fleet to man, train and equip PACOM-assigned naval forces, including the maintenance, steaming days and flying hours required to ensure operational availability. This command and control structure allows the U.S. PACOM commander to leverage forces under his command to respond with speed and agility in resolving crisis, deterring potential adversaries and assuring allies and partners in the region of our commitment and resolve. It is this structure that provides the framework for our National Defense Strategy. The language currently in the readiness mark could lead to situations where the PACOM commander would have to ask for forces using the request for forces model, which could be slower, more cumbersome and less agile that the current organization.”

Gabbard had an amendment related to this language that she withdrew but said she hoped to work with the committee in the next two weeks, ahead of the May 9 full committee markup, to address her concerns.

Even if the language makes it out of the full committee over her potential objection, the appropriators would still have to jump onboard. HASC staffers on Wednesday told USNI News they are in talks with the appropriators to get their support for the language, so they would not include the Inouye Amendment language in their spending bill this year and allow the command and control changes to take place.

  • MDK187

    The great retroactive truism in life asserting itself again : it’s the consequences that reveal the original purpose. In this case, the purpose behind those collisions.

  • Duane

    The author should have provided some political context to the issue. The politician quoted here is a Hawaiian politician. It is a local political issue that unfortunately impacts the Navy.

    The “Inouye Amendment” came from the late Hawaiian Senator who feared that putting someone in charge of fleet ops worldwide oversight would impinge on the independence and prestige of Pacific/Seventh fleet command, which of course is based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

    The Inouye Amendment is a glaring example of Congressional micromanagement of naval command systems, which is very bad policy. Substituting the opposite approach as in the HASC markup of the NDAA is equally micromanaging.

    The correct way to proceed is to get rid of the Inouye Amendment and let the Navy do its job without Congressional micromanagement.

  • Curtis Conway

    The legacy of Senator Daniel Inouye and his amendment that was intended to make the US Navy more unified, and responsive to the tasking in a coordinated and consistent manner, has had the opposite effect. The elimination of 2nd Flt and all of its commensurate duties (like consistent training in ship handling and safety at sea for SWO community) suffered. Perhaps it should be eliminated.

  • Ed L

    I agree, bring back the 2nd Fleet

  • Duane

    Arguments can always be made for this or that structure, and counter-arguments against same. It is the job of Navy leadership to manage their own processes, and determine how to organize themselves.

    Congress has no business micro managing the Navy, as they have proved themselves incompetent, year after year, at doing the only job that the Constitution mandates the Congress do each year, which is to appropriate funds. Every other thing Congress does is optional.

    And yes, the Inouye Amendment DOES in fact control Naval organization … it is the law, and Navy leadership has requested continuously that Congress strike the Inouye Amendment and let the Navy do its job.