Home » News & Analysis » Swift Calls for Navy Readiness Improvements Before Fleet Buildup in PACFLEET Retirement Speech


Swift Calls for Navy Readiness Improvements Before Fleet Buildup in PACFLEET Retirement Speech

Adm. Scott H. Swift, outgoing commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, right, and Adm. John C. Aquilino, incoming commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, left, salute each other during a change of command ceremony. Seated are Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, left, and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, right. Navy photo.

The outgoing commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet used his change-of-command and retirement ceremony speech to address the external threat of nations increasingly willing to use military means to exert their influence, and the internal threat of insufficient time and funding to create a ready fleet.

Adm. Scott Swift, at times emotional, made multiple references to last year’s two deadly collisions involving Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers, USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG-56), killing 17 sailors serving aboard PACFLEET ships.

“The readiness environment that created the conditions for those individual failures, and the deaths of the Fitzgerald seven and McCain ten, must be improved,” Swift said during the Thursday ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

Speaking of last year’s fatal collisions, Swift said individuals are responsible and must be held accountable, but the Navy must also address the operational atmosphere that created the situation where such collisions were possible.

“First, fully fund the readiness accounts of the Navy we have before we start building a Navy for the future,” Swift said.

The Navy is in pursuit of a 355 ship fleet – up from today’s 283. Service reports, government studies and congressional leaders indicate the Navy is struggling to keep current ships – especially the forward-deployed ships in Pacific Fleet – on regular maintenance schedules.

“For all of us wearing the uniform, the greatest burdens of service are the memories of shipmates we’ve lost along the way,” Swift said.

A pair of in-depth Navy studies, a Comprehensive Review and a Strategic Review – both ordered in the wake of the collisions and completed last winter – provide the Navy with a good plan to improve its operations, Swift said, but the catch is following through and implementing recommendations from the reports.

The collisions and the readiness challenges that led to them, which were found to be endemic throughout the surface fleet, possibly cost Swift the chance to lead U.S. Pacific Command and hastened his retirement from the Navy, several defense officials previously told USNI News. Swift requested to retire in September, after Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson informed Swift he was not going to be the Navy’s choice to lead U.S. Pacific Command, several sources have told USNI News.

Swift joined the Navy after graduating from San Diego State University, receiving a commission in 1979 through the Aviation Reserve Officer Candidate program. Before leading Pacific Fleet, Swift served as director of Navy Staff at the Pentagon. Among his operational assignments, Swift served as the commander of Strike Fighter Attack Squadron (VFA) 97; commander of Carrier Air Wing 14; deputy commander of naval forces at U.S. Central Command; commander of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 9; and commander of U.S. 7th Fleet. On shore, among Swift’s assignments included commander of Strike Fighter Weapons School, Pacific; officer of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics staff; and the director of operations for U.S. Pacific Command.

Swift decided to retire while the Navy was conducting several investigations into last year’s spate of Pacific Fleet incidents. The McCain and Fitzgerald collisions were the most serious incidents, but one other U.S. warship suffered a collision while another ran aground in 2017.

Adm. Phil Davidson, who led the CNO-ordered Comprehensive Review, was nominated and recently approved to be the next head of Pacific Command.

Relieving Swift at Pacific Fleet is Adm. John C. Aquilino, who had been commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and U.S. 5th Fleet. Pacific Fleet, which covers 100 million square-miles – half the Earth’s surface – and employs about 140,000 active duty and civilian personnel.

“A great power competition has reemerged as the central challenge to security and prosperity against our nation. Nowhere are the stakes of that great power competition higher than here in the Indo-Pacific region,” Aquilino said.
“To any potential adversary that wishes to challenge us, the Secretary of Defense said it best: ‘You can have no better friend, or you can have no worse enemy’ than the U.S. Pacific Fleet, that choice will be yours.”

Swift’s bosses, CNO and current PACOM commander Adm. Harry Harris, both spoke very highly of Swift. Richardson called the ceremony “a celebration of Pacific Fleet, and a celebration of Adm. Swift’s time in Pacific Fleet.”

Harris cited a few of Swift’s successes. For example, Harris explained Swift developed the 3rd Fleet Forward program to fully leverage PACFLEET power, which includes ships based on the West Coast of the U.S., in Hawaii and in Japan.

“He did this under his own authority,” Harris said. “The result is more lethality, more broadly applied.”

  • Matthew Schilling

    Why can’t more ships lead to improved readiness? I thought a big part of the problem was overtaxed ships being deployed too much for maintenance and training? If someone else can sail instead of you, doesn’t that mean you can take the time to work on maintenance and training?

    • DaSaint

      It takes time to build, train crews and deploy new ships. What happens in the interim? You’ve got to stabilize what you have first. I have to agree with him.

    • Curtis Conway

      First establish the fact, then develop the habit. Then training & exercises must rise to the challenge. Growth or no growth is less the issue, and in fact if you grow before you establish the fact and develop the habit . . . you have a problem. This all stemmed from thinking force levels of the time were not necessary, and the divestation habit set in. Some needed to go, but to go down to the force levels we were at by 2010 was irresponsible, particularly in the face of the existing evidence of to the contrary, and lack of rising to the challenge of our Allies. Thank you LORD, we woke up.

  • Leroy

    The best way to prevent war is to make the enemy think winning is not possible. Over-match! We need to both train-up and build-up. Concurrently. There’s no reason why a nation of our tremendous resources and industrial capabilities can’t do both.

    Right now we look weak. That invites war. We better change quickly because the status quo leaves us in danger.

    Train and build – we can do both. Get to 355 as quickly as possible. If we want peace, we had better. The wolves at the door in the South China Sea and in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, won’t wait while we grow stronger. Predators don’t behave that way.

  • proudrino

    This very nature of this article hits on a key aspect of why Swift and the 7th Fleet failed so miserably when it comes to readiness and keeping our sailors safe and our ships operated by professionals instead of a motley crew of half-trained officers on poorly maintained ships.

    Senior leaders have tended to concentrate on the strategic level where the problem is that “A great power competition has reemerged as the central challenge to security and prosperity against our nation. Nowhere are the stakes of that great power competition higher than here in the Indo-Pacific region” Ignored in that equation is what it means at the operational/tactical level where overcommitment and disregard for maintenance and readiness have created a hollow fleet barely able to perform peacetime steaming and operations- let alone being able to fight the ship in wartime.

    There is no need to rehash, yet again, the causes behind the groundings and collisions of the past few months. The results of benign neglect are more than clear and although there seems to be an effort to fix the problems the effectiveness of the “solution” is still very much an unknown. ADM Swift’s retirement is only a celebration of the Pacific Fleet if it leads to the kind of change envisioned by those two studies. Only time will tell.

    • publius_maximus_III

      A Potemkin village fleet.

  • proudrino

    Relieving Swift at Pacific Fleet is Adm. John C. Aquilino, who had been commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and U.S. 5th Fleet. Pacific Fleet, which covers 100 million square-miles – half the Earth’s surface – and employs about 140,000 active duty and civilian personnel.

    Editorial note: I presume the Pacific Fleet covers half the Earth’s surface, not 5th Fleet. Not the best sentence construction.

  • proudrino

    I agree but I am still angry that Navy leaders were not more vocal about readiness until after all those collisions and groundings put a spotlight on the problem. No ship CO said that their ship was unable to get underway due to readiness issues. No ISIC pushed back tasking due to the inability to complete the mission safely. The Fleet Commander only talked in broad terms about readiness concerns when speaking to Congress. In the meantime not one ship in the 7th Fleet was fully certified for operations, there were systemic problems with the surface fleet, and sailors died. Calling for fully funding readiness in a retirement speech seems like too little too late when it comes from a senior officer who should have done more all along to ensure fleet readiness and safe operation of the Fleet.

    • publius_maximus_III

      If an airline pilot is not satisfied that his plane is ready to fly, the tug won’t be pushing it back from the gate until he is.

  • publius_maximus_III

    Nah, I think the “one step forward, two steps backward” is a much better approach.