The guided missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald and USS McCain have recently crashed into huge merchant ships. This is shocking, disgraceful, and unacceptable. Two collisions in two months indicates that there are one or more major fleet-wide problems. These collisions occurred in the western Pacific Ocean and reflect poor navigation and ship handling skills.
My limited warship experience
When I was in my early teens, my Sea Cadet division was invited on Chesapeake Bay day cruises aboard 1950s vintage destroyers and destroyer escorts. I remember seeing five to ten sailors on their bridges, together with a large radar PPI (plan position indicator) display. Even this relatively ancient radar displayed a remarkably detailed picture of the Chesapeake Bay out to fifty miles or so. This radar plus alert sailors on watch meant that there was no way that any civilian or enemy vessels could get near these old warships.
Current civilian ship practice
A crew member on a 130 foot long yacht tells me that when underway, they always have two crew members on watch, and radar on the bridge that displays out to thirty miles or so. This sailor tells me that merchant vessels have the right of way because warships are faster, more maneuverable, and enjoy more situational awareness information.
So, what’s happening with our warships?
These possibilities occur to me:
- Sabotage. System software has been maliciously altered.
- GPS signals have been spoofed. While this has been done with civilian GPS signals, spoofing encrypted military GPS signals would be difficult.
- Dereliction of duty. Poor command of ship.
- Incompetent sailors. Obama’s focus on armed forces’ diversity and social issues has diluted sailors’ competence.
The Navy has removed the two senior officers and the senior enlisted man from the destroyer Fitzgerald. Yesterday it dismissed Vice Admiral Aucoin, commander of its 7th Fleet. (He was scheduled to retire soon, anyway.)
A Navy inquiry reportedly has excluded cyber intrusion or sabotage.