Home » Budget Industry » Wide Swath of Surface Navy Reforms Included in 2019 NDAA Conference Bill

Wide Swath of Surface Navy Reforms Included in 2019 NDAA Conference Bill

Ens. Scott Payne observes the tow line from the flight deck of the guided-missile destroyer USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110). US Navy Photo

This post has been updated to clarify a provision that would change the timing of a warship’s Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) inspection. The bill calls for “minimal notice” for INSURVs, not “no notice.”

The Senate and House armed services committees agreed on several major reforms to Navy’s surface forces as part of the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act in reaction to the two fatal collisions of warships in the Western Pacific.

The bill that left conference Monday includes provisions for a clean-sheet study on chains of responsibility for naval operational forces, the creation of a logbook system to record watches for surface officers, a review of the Navy’s qualification to stand watch, a limit to how long a ship can be forward deployed, changes to how ships are inspected and expand the responsibilities of the Navy’s acquisition chief to include force sustainment responsibilities.

The series of reforms combine proposals from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)-sponsored Surface Warfare Enhancement Act of 2018 and House provisions that would more closely align Navy training with international mariner standards.

“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 to USNI News in February. “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.”

The Wicker-McCain provisions put into law several recommendations two internal Navy studies the service undertook in the wake of the death of 17 sailors from two separate collisions with merchant ships in the Western Pacific.

In total, the Navy found 111 areas to improve the safety and readiness of the surface force based on findings from studying the lapses that led to the two collisions and are currently working internally on a series of reforms via a group led by Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran and Under Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly.

The measures, now in the final conference bill, are expected to pass with the larger NDAA later this year.

The provisions include:

  • A complete clean sheet review of command and control responsibilities of operational forces. The Navy studies found poorly defined chains of command contributed to readiness lapses in the Western Pacific that were contributing factors to the collisions.
  • Both committees agreed that officer of the deck, engineering officer of the watch, the officer in charge of a ship’s combat information center and the conning officer log their hours on watch like naval aviators do with flight hours. The log travels with the officer through their career. Additionally, the bill orders a review of the adequacy of the qualifications for the positions.
  • Conducting the congressionally mandated Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) readiness inspection with minimal notice and require the Navy produce an unclassified report of its findings for the condition of the ships in the aggregate. “These inspections should be ‘come as you are’ and provide an accurate representation of the material condition of each vessel without the benefit of dedicated inspection preparation,” read the conference report. The Navy classified INSURV results about 10 years ago and this provision would keep individual ship reports classified.
  • The Navy must maintain the minimum number of recommended crew per established guidelines for each forward deployed ship. If the levels drop, the Secretary of the Navy must notify Congress.
  • The bill includes a limit on forward deploying certain warships for more than 10 years. For ships that have been forward that long or longer, the Navy has three years to change the ship to a U.S. homeport.
  • The Government Accountability Office is ordered to study creating separate career paths for surface warfare officers. The House bill proposed the Navy to establish two career paths for surface warfare officers – one for ship engineering systems and another in ship operations and combat systems. Instead, the conference bill elected to study the issue.
  • The bill calls for a “report on optimizing surface Navy vessel inspections and crew certifications.”
  • The bill would also call for a study that would see if the Navy could more closely align its training standards with the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) qualification process.

  • proudrino

    I’m glad that surface reforms are being taken seriously. Less happy that Congress has decided to tell DoD/DON how to suck eggs. Seriously, do we need Congress to mandate things like watchstander logs and how INSURV is conducted? And the required homeport changes for forward deployed ships comes with a huge bill and no demonstrated need.

    All in all, a mixed bag.

    • Curtis Conway

      When you have PACFLT singing “I did it MY Way” (like Frank Sinatra) you do. ONE Standard, NOT two!

    • gonavy81

      It seems clear that the Navy / DOD needed oversight of surface warfare. Many of us saw this coming for a decade.

  • Lazarus

    Unclassified INSURV’s are just stupid! Let’s just advertise to the Russians and Chinese the current condition of our ships. Members of Congress have always had access to INSURV results; it’s their inspection.Why Congress would want to do this in an era of Great Power competition is just ridiculous.

    • Floridian04072

      I agree they shouldn’t publish the results, but the minimal notice aspect is overdue. Ship’s now take 2 years to prepare, with multiple IRAT/CSRAT teams coming onboard to assess, followed by multiple “Pre-INSURV Assessments” prior to the actual event. It’s more about how well you can prepare than an actual snapshot of a ship’s condition.

      • Matthew Schilling

        What do they do to prepare? Do they fix problems? Do they improve the material condition of the ship and the preparedness of its crew?
        Are these ships better off after doing all that prep work they do to get ready for the INSURV, or not?

        • gonavy81

          That’s the job of the type commanders and squadron commanders, right?

          As an example, hospitals don’t have the opportunity to prepare for CMS and other surveys – the spaces, equipment, and people must be ready at all times. After all, these are 24/7 operations with peoples’ lives at stake. Not much different than a warship.

          • Matthew Schilling

            Thanks for not answering my questions.
            In fact, facing an important upcoming milestone focuses a group’s attention and spurs actions. To say “the attention should’ve been focused and actions should’ve happened anyway” is beside the point. (I’m not against surprise inspections. At all.)

      • Lazarus

        My concern is that short-notice INSURV’s will just another headache for commanding officers already over-burdened with admin requirements and inspections.

    • To be clear, we clarified the report this morning. The individual reports will still be classified but there will be an annual report of the status of the ships in the aggregate.

      • Lazarus

        Thanks for that Sam!

    • CuddlyCobra

      It is easy to cover up institutional problems if it is classified.

      Classifying individual ship reports and having a partially censored unclassified aggregate version sounds like a good compromise.

      • NEC338x

        This isn’t the 60’s where you had 70-80% of Congress being military veterans with actual in-theatre experience. Elected representatives who are veterans in any capacity now make up about 20%, and decreasing every election. The ability to critically vet GOFO statements falls YOY, with more reliance than ever on input from external think tanks who won’t have access to all the information. IMO

  • Lazarus

    Studies on potential, different career paths for SWO’s and different organization methods are good, but not sure GAO alone is capable of getting useful results. GAO will investigate from the financial side, but is not expert in assessing operational effectiveness. GAO-03-520, a June 2003 GAO report on Navy minimum manning gave support to the concept based on estimated cost savings which never materialized.
    Congress ought to commission a board of experts to thoroughly review all of the Surface Warfare manning/training provisions of the 2019 NDAA. GAO is not enough to get the needed answers.

    • Bud Wyllie

      Agreed. We need to get back to Admiral Bulkley’s INSURV Board to assess the operational effectiveness of operational forces.

  • Ed L

    The Navy should reintroduce 6 weeks of Refresher training every 2 years. I fondly remember RefTra at Gitmo. Question, Were did the west coast navy do there RefTra? Johnston Island. On INSURV’s we usually found out if we were having one at the beginning of our Fiscal year. I survived 3 INSURV’s. I was never happy with those white tags with strings use had to use on our deck equipment. I wish that zip ties and plastic tags that could not be faded or torn off were around then. On an INSURV’s we usually had 90 to 95 percent of our deck equipment available thanks to 3M PMS Mostly I found the paper work involved to be a major headache

  • vetww2

    Great idea SWATH (Small Waterplane Area, Twin Hull) is a GREAT idea.

  • David C

    Too bad congress has to run the surface navy! Where has the CNO been?