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Problems plagued U.S. Navy destroyer Fitzgerald before fatal collision (navytimes.com)
157 points by rmason 29 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 131 comments

Root causes for this mess:

* Navy culture where chronic sleep deprivation is used as substitute for battlefield heroics. Navy aviators have enough sleep scheduled. Surface Navy has not seen battle for ages. Being tired is a way to show you are pushing it to the limit. Everybody being so tired that they microsleep in the bridge is the standard condition. People in the bridge start teleporting from one place to another because you keep falling asleep constantly. Driving a car that tired is not allowed, but it's OK in the Navy.

* Lack of basic seamanship skills and experience. Officers are rotated inside the ship and outside the ship to completely unrelated posts. They learn basics of everything but master nothing. Navy officers have less experience in basic ship driving than anyone in the merchant fleet. Other navies specialize officers for different areas. Training is cut because there is no time for it, but that's not the core reason. You would need less training with more specialization.

* 7th fleet leadership continues to be a corrupt mess. Most of the ongoing bad stuff related to Navy happens in the 7th. Fat Leonard scandal, collisions...

To the culture of deliberate sleep deprivation, the medical profession had(?) something similar which resulted in the Libby Zion Law .

According to retired officers, the issue stems from training cuts.

>For nearly 30 years, all new surface warfare officers spent their first six months in uniform at the Surface Warfare Officer’s School in Newport, Rhode Island, learning the theory behind driving ships and leading sailors as division officers.

But that changed in 2003. The Navy decided to eliminate the “SWOS Basic” school and simply send surface fleet officers out to sea to learn on the job. The Navy did that mainly to save money, and the fleet has suffered severely for it, said retired Cmdr. Kurt Lippold.

“The Navy has cut training as a budgetary device and they have done it at the expense of our ability to operate safely at sea,” said Lippold, who commanded the destroyer Cole in 2000 when it was attacked by terrorists in Yemen.


The Navy is still centered around too many overly expensive to build and maintain carrier groups. They had their glory days but tactics pretty force them into only being useful against smaller opponents. They do sure look pretty. Part of this inter service rivalry but part is just its too hard to give up what you are used too. However there was both traction in moving away from that[1] and the old guard coming back for more[2].

They are expensive to put together, twenty billion to thirty billion per task force and hundreds of millions per year just in crew salaries to run.

[1] https://www.defensenews.com/naval/2019/01/15/the-us-navy-mov... [2] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-defense-carriers/u-s-...

Ok, I don't like these bastards who attacked Cole, but how can they be terrorist? They attacked a military target. Is it because they masqueraded as civilians - didn't follow the laws of war?

The word "terrorist" has been reappropriated, possibly because "guerilla warfare", "asymmetric warfare" etc sound too glamorous. In the US it mostly means any military action by non-state actors against the US and its allies.

When you say non-state, you surely mean by parties whom aren't favourable to US interests.

It's interesting that when a government or party that's not in the US's best interests is in power, it's okay for the CIA to use asymmetric tactics to fund rebels and favourable terrorism, stage coups d'etat, overthrow governments and meddle in foreign elections but when those parties seek to do the same to the US, it's terrorism.

Kind of hypocritical really. But that's US exceptionalism for you. It's only bad when someone else does it.

It's almost impossible at this point to point a finger and say "there's the bad guy, right there" because both sides are as bad as the other and both using much the same tactics on one another, both spewing rhetoric and hatred in the face of the other terrorists. It's like trying to mediate a kindergarten playground fight where the cost of losing the fight is death instead of being dragged to the principal's office by your ears. It's so undignified it's nauseating.

> When you say non-state, you surely mean by parties whom aren't favourable to US interests.

No, I meant non-state. The US doesn't generally use the T-word for, say, Russia's actions in Crimea or in Syria. Being opposed to US interests is necessary but not sufficient to make you a terrorist in this definition.

I imagine when a country is founded on an illegal uprising against a significant world military and economic power that they go on to win, exceptionalism ends up baked into their cultural DNA.

Isn’t every armed uprising “illegal” in the eyes of the group that used to be in control?

Depends on which side wins.

Vietnamese exceptionalism?

There is a term for it. "Act of war".

The war media and armaments lobbyists don't like using the actual word "war" much. That tends to highlight the fact that none of the military actions currently underway have been sanctioned by Congress as required by the Constitution. The last legal declaration of war occurred in 1942. "Terrorism" has been a useful catch-all for some time now, but when it wears out through overuse they'll come up with something else.

That's not strictly true. The recent wars weren't "declarations of war", but most (not all) were authorized by Congress. Congress voted on military action against those countries and it passed both chambers, but they didn't "declare war". To be honest I don't understand the difference, other than the words used.

Here are the possibly relevant enumerated powers of Congress:

- define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations

- declare War

- grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal

- make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water

- raise and support Armies

- provide and maintain a Navy

- make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces

- provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions

- provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States

Nowhere in that list is "for an indefinite period of time, kill a bunch of unidentified people in unspecified foreign lands for unspecified reasons". Wars fought among nations are generally bad things, but historically there has been a protocol that the Constitution references in the simple phrase "declare war". Various acts of violence against various parties for various purposes have been considered necessary for the peace and security of any political unit, but those acts have been limited to the territory of that political unit.

Ever since the USA army wasn't properly stood down from WWII, the requirements of the military-industrial complex have dictated the invention of another procedure for killing thousands of innocents every week on an ongoing basis. A cursory examination of the Constitution reveals that this new innovation violates the enumerated powers of Congress and the executive.

They were part of a group that is classified as a terrorist organization.

Ok, I can buy that - it's not perfect, but the world is messy. :-/

It's also worth noting that it was a suicide bomber attack, which is rarely a facet of conventional warfare.

Rare, though with one prominent usage in the 40s:


It's pretty simple. Read the definition of terrorism under U.S Law [1]. Keep in mind, while it was a military target, they were not in a state of war. The goal of al Qaeda with this bombing was to coerce the U.S. to leave the peninsula.



I don't see the relation between any of the things you mentioned. I gave you downvote because I believe your comment seeks to inflame and distract from the conversation at present.

Related to the war, maybe he wanted to say don’t go to war, use (some of) the money for the training.

> The probe exposes how personal distrust led the officer of the deck, Lt. j.g. Sarah Coppock, to avoid communicating with the destroyer’s electronic nerve center — the combat information center, or CIC — while the Fitzgerald tried to cross a shipping superhighway.

I was shocked to read above. You don't personally trust someone or people in CIC so you just don't communicate with CIC when you are crossing the most congested patch of ocean on the planet?

What is this? High school??

Distrust of management is extremely common. I cannot stress enough just how common it is both in the military and the corporate world or how potentially toxic this is. Most people outside of management are absolutely incapable of seeing it, even when its excessively rampant, because they don't recognize the symptoms. The common reasons for not recognizing such symptoms, even when immediately apparent and excessive, are due to: self-centered desires, incompetence, and perceptions of hostility.

Trust issues can occur from top down as well as bottom up. I have observed management not trusting their people far more commonly than opposed to people not trusting their management. When management does not trust their staff the staff will not be used or properly developed. It may be that the leadership believes it takes less effort to do the job themselves than watch their staff struggle and fail. This is a benign form of toxic leadership. Staff must be made to do their jobs and properly mentored to just before the point where the incompetence is likely to result in criminal/policy violations or immediate harms.

Most people outside of management are absolutely incapable of seeing it

Isn’t it the opposite - that management/officers are oblivious to their own toxic behaviour that led to the rank-and-file distrusting them?

Yes, that is also correct. Toxic behavior is present for a variety of unrelated reasons of which many can be cured with a humble dose of self-reflection. Sometimes that lack of self-awareness becomes catastrophic in extreme cases like Bathsheba Syndrome.

People occupying positions of management are more capable of seeing trust issues simply because they have the responsibility to talk with subordinates of their own and reason upon the effectiveness of that dialogue. People without managerial experience generally lack the tools to perceive the behaviors driving the decisions thrust upon them. People outside of management also tend to lack the necessary exposure to situations where these behaviors are present.

There is also the power dynamic. A boss can more easily terminate a toxic employee than an employee can terminate a toxic boss. This power distance prevents many toxic employees from establish trust issues against a superior until there exists a pattern of identifiable behavior beyond a single employee.

I was more shocked of the pee-filled bottles on the bridge. This hints to deep cultural problems being present and an utterly incompetent upper management.

That's pretty normal. You get people on watch for 4 to 6 hours at a time. They can't leave. The bottle is sometimes the only option.

You can try and get a relief so you can go to the head, but it's generally frowned upon if your that guy that always needs a head break, and in the middle of the night, no one wants to wake up so you can go pee.

As I said, that's poor management. You will loose to an enemy who does it properly. The US was once envied for their officers training and education.

Edited to add: Also, what will people do? They will drink less than they should to avoid the humiliation. On top of a tired crew you will get also a dehydrated one. This is a surefire recipe for bad things to happen.

> You will loose to an enemy who does it properly.

I agree with the need to always keep training in top shape.

There is no naval enemy on earth that is even remotely competitive with the US in any regard.

Iran? North Korea? ISIS? What enemy?

Russia has no global naval projection, it can barely sustainably push beyond the Black Sea with its surface ships. Their sub fleet is a medium threat. The US is also not at war with Russia, they aren't actually an enemy. There is no war coming with the Russians, they're only good for boogeyman status. They've got a perma stagnant economy (Australia will surpass it soon) and melting social-economic position (see: pension cuts making Putin unpopular), crimping their ability to continue to spend on anything military (most of their military is badly dilapidated, so they've taken to focusing very narrowly because they can't field a high quality force across the board any longer; this is also why Putin puts so much effort into screaming about his magic super weapons that are unstoppable, their conventional military is rotting).

Could China one day be a naval enemy? Sure. At some point in the next 20 years there could be a naval conflict near Chinese territory. The US isn't winning that near-shore conflict short of going to a WW2 level output of ships. The dumbest thing the US could do from a navy perspective is get into a naval conflict with China close to their shores 10-20 years from now. It wouldn't matter how well trained the officers are, it's an inherently losing position.

> There is no naval enemy on earth that is even remotely competitive with the US in any regard.

I find this hilarious in the context of the incident,

Who would win: the greatest navel power on earth operating a highly sophisticated and technologically advanced destroyer, or one container ship?

Just because there isn't an enemy now doesn't mean that you can just forgo training. They shouldn't sink to a lowest common denominator, but rather strive for a higher standard. They're hardly in top shape according to the report

>There is no naval enemy on earth that is even remotely competitive with the US in any regard. >Iran? North Korea? ISIS? What enemy?

It's a good thing the US is still friendly with Europe. Everything I've read about their (admittedly much smaller) navies is that they're far more professional and better run, and look at the Americans as unprofessional and even dangerous when they have to do training exercises with them.

Of course, this shouldn't be too big a surprise; just take a trip to Europe and see how much better day-to-day stuff is run. Public transit is excellent and much larger in scope, unlike America where the subways are falling apart and Amtrak is a joke. Airports are smoothly run, unlike America where they aren't even paying the security people (TSA) to come to work. Bridges in Europe aren't dilapidated and literally falling down like they are in America.

> It's a good thing the US is still friendly with Europe. Everything I've read about their (admittedly much smaller) navies is that they're far more professional and better run, ....

I wouldn't be so sure about that.

Norway managed to sink one of their own frigates.


Germany doesn't have anything left to sink.


Good point about the Norwegian ship, but I have no idea what you're talking about with the German Navy. They have over 60 ships, including 10 frigates, 5 corvettes, and 6 submarines, plus various other support ships. Their close allies in Italy have 2 light aircraft carriers, 3 amphibious assault ships, 4 destroyers, 12 frigates, 8 attack subs, 1 corvette, plus others. Their other close allies in France have 1 aircraft carrier, 3 amphibious assault ships, 14 frigates of various types, 6 attack subs, plus some other frigates and corvettes, as well as 4 ballistic-missile subs. I haven't even gotten to the other powers in continental Europe (Netherlands, Denmark, etc.). All together, they seem to have a pretty sizeable defense force.

Japan also has a pretty sizable Navy with over 120 ships.

Ships afloat does not mean they're operational or combat effective. Some of those ships are quite old and are badly in need of replacement or upgrades. Many of them are under crewed. The numbers of ships are a starting point, but really don't tell much of the story.

None of Germany's 6 subs were operational at the beginning of last year. That may have changed since, but the underlying reasons, poor planning and lack of spare parts, are still there. Only 9 of 15 Frigates were operational and the lead of their new class of frigates, the F125, failed sea trials. The Navy subsequently refused to commission the ship. Admittedly, these are not necessarily crew training issues, but crews without operational ships are not likely to maintain a desirable level of combat readiness. These issues aren't just limited to the Navy; ground forces are also in a bad state.

France and the UK are in better shape, but the Royal Navy in particular has holes in its capabilities where the US Navy is expected to fill in. They're regaining some capabilities with their new (and only operational) carrier, but it's not even clear if it has a functional air wing yet as the F-35B's they purchased only began carrier operations this past September. Another carrier is under construction, but it may be awhile before their carrier based naval aviation becomes combat effective.

The remaining European Navies are pretty small and pretty limited in what they can do. They tend to focus on ASW with some surface warfare capabilities, but are again dependent upon one of the larger Navies for air defense.

Japan may well be the most combat effective of the bunch, but that's a completely different theater of operations.

This isn't intended to be a rah-rah, USA forever sort of rant. Everyone, including the US, seem to have let things slip to the extent that combat effectiveness is becoming questionable.




Also, ballistic missile subs don't really matter unless you're planning to throw nukes at someone, in which case the makeup of surface fleets quickly becomes irrelevant.

Only on HN will a thread about the US Navy devolve into public transit.

Funny, but it's not devolution of a comment thread, I'm pointing out that things are falling apart in the US, and the problems in the Navy are merely one facet of a much, much larger problem with the way the government is operating (at both federal at state levels, but most of these issues have a lot of federal involvement, e.g. bridges, and public transit usually spans states because most of our major cities span states, and long-distance trains necessarily are a federal issue).

There is no naval enemy on earth that is even remotely competitive with the US in any regard.

Ship to ship maneuverability and tactics, even? How can you be so sure? Do you think that it's impossible for a US ship to lose a "dogfight" at sea in Asia as tensions escalate? If the lack of training is as bad as they say, I have a hard time imagining them winning one.

If our naval superiority is that vast, perhaps we should retire a few warships, pick commanders for the remaining vessels from the competent members of the officer corp, and force-retire those that no longer have ships to command.

The Navy wants 350 ships.

They have more Admirals now that ships.

I agree that there is no coming hot conflict with Russia in the short term, but they are absolutely, objectively an enemy to America.

If, in the United States Navy, a peacetime crew on a vessel doesn't have time to use the head without pissing in a bottle, we are doing something wrong.

Isn't most of the point of military training and operations to always run an operation as if though it was wartime?

Otherwise if there's a war what are these crews going to be doing? Pissing themselves on the bridge, or have a bottle in one hand and their dick in the other while trying to man their station, possibly while undergoing hard maneuvers?

This seems to be some fundamental failure of crew management. Crews should be allocated in such a way that there's time for toilet breaks.

Presumably they don't run realistic exercises all the time - that sounds like a military equivalent of always being in crunch mode and we all know how well that works out!

Wartime can last years, you can't rely on only being able to withstand that for a couple of weeks or months.

I can't say I have any experience with the military, but from listening to "Life and Work on HMS Enterprise"[1], they are constantly running realistic exercises (in their case, mostly simulating fires and people overboard, since it's a research vessel).

[1] http://omegataupodcast.net/277-life-and-work-on-hms-enterpri...

Not always - we don't have everyone at a military base going around with rifles 24-7 because the risks of doing so are higher.

But yeah it is a failure of crew management certainly - at very least there should be a solid "relief" procedure that can handle it - and even stable in the long odds of a crewman getting killed out of line of sight by say a glancing hit.

Exactly, the fact that this is apparently considered normal sounds like a pretty big problem

The officer of the deck is named "Sarah". How does a woman urinate in bottles in a public work setting? If she was the boss, why did she tolerate others doing what she can't? If she wasn't the boss, it seems she has a pretty good case for having been subjected to a toxic work environment.

Of course this must be balanced against the fact that her poor performance killed sailors.

The Sarah officer was not officer in CIC which had pee bottles, Sarah officer was the one who did not contacted CIC.

Also, the answer to "If she was the boss, why did she tolerate others doing what she can't?" assumes a lot about the boss. Tolerating something boss himself cant do by boss is pretty normal. (Not that I think pee bottles are sign of good management.)

The answer to "If she wasn't the boss, it seems she has a pretty good case for having been subjected to a toxic work environment." is that well, that happen and soldiers tolerate a lot. She might have good reasons not to open that can of worms. It is usually better not to.

The officer on deck - Sarah Coppock - was responsible for the entire ship while the captain was sleeping. She was on the bridge, not in the CIC where the bottles were.

However, the officer in charge of the CIC - Natalie Combs - was also female.


In a surprise move during a Tuesday hearing in a Washington Navy Yard courtroom, defense attorneys representing Lt. Natalie Combs held up a new piece of evidence that might exonerate her at her upcoming court-martial trial.

It’s a photograph — a still image captured from digital footage recorded by an aft Vertical Launching System camera mounted on the guided-missile destroyer Fitzgerald on June 17, 2017, seconds after it was speared and spun off the coast of Japan by the hulking ACX Crystal, a Philippine-flagged cargo vessel.

What it reveals is something that hasn’t surfaced in any of the Navy’s publicly-released probes or even a secret military “dual-purpose” investigation obtained by Navy Times and completed 41 days after the tragedy.

It shows a string of lights on the ACX Crystal that Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Janaro — an attorney who also commanded vessels at sea — called an “improper lighting configuration,” one that appeared to the defense team to be “recklessly unlawful.”

That’s important because if the ACX Crystal’s lamps were positioned incorrectly, that alignment might’ve fooled the watchstanders on the Fitz’s bridge who were trying to track multiple vessels in one of the world’s busiest maritime superhighways, piecing together a picture of the night through radar readings and visual clues.

Ship travel is governed by the “rules of the road,” a set of guidelines regarding speed, lookouts and other best practices to avoid collisions. Those bylaws include how lights are configured on ships.

The green lights on the side of a vessel should be visible from three miles away, six miles for the bright white lights running from bow to stern.

“This picture tells us it didn’t look right,” Janaro told Navy judge Cmdr. Arthur Gaston. “We think the Crystal was very negligent in this matter.”

Few people have seen the image — maybe only a handful of attorneys in Washington, Lt. Combs and Navy Times — but it “might be worth a thousand words,” as Gaston put it.

It’s unclear if even the Coast Guard investigators working on a National Transportation Safety Board probe into the Fitzgerald collision have a copy of it.

n the night of the collision, Combs never would’ve seen the lights of the ACX Crystal with her own eyes. She was in charge of the Fitz’s electronic nerve center below the bridge, what’s called the Combat Information Center, or "CIC.'

Her team was supposed to use advanced sensors like the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer’s SPS-67 radar to track vessels near the Fitz and relay what they detected to the watchstanders on the bridge.

But the secret probe helmed by Rear Adm. Brian Fort determined that Combs' CIC had "zero communication” with the bridge team before the Crystal loomed seemingly out of nowhere to ram the Fitz’s starboard hull.

Although listed as operational, the CIC’s SPS-67 system actually had fallen into a “degraded status,” according to Fort’s report. Some CIC sailors didn’t appear to know how to use the equipment — much of it in various states of disrepair — and the room itself was heaped in garbage, human waste and exercise equipment.

In the aftermath of the ACX Crystal collision, Fort found a stack of abandoned forms where Combs had been sitting.

“She was most likely consumed and distracted by a review of Operations Department paperwork for the three and a half hours of her watch prior to the collision,” he wrote.

Fort determined that Combs was derelict in her CIC duties, but an investigating officer assigned to her initial Article 32 hearing, Cmdr. Anthony Johnson, sifted through the same evidence and recommended that she skip court-martial proceedings and go instead to a Navy board of inquiry to determine if she should remain on duty.

Adm. James Caldwell, the convening authority in her case, disregarded Johnson and charged Combs with dereliction of duty that negligently resulted in the death of fellow sailors and the negligent and improper hazarding of a vessel.

To Janaro and star military defense attorney David Sheldon, the photo casts into doubt the first charge.

It relies on a “but for” clause — but for Combs' derelict leadership, the mishap would not have occurred. They believe that the ACX Crystal shouldered much of the blame for the accident, and bad Navy practices set her up to fail.

They pointed to the recent settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice and Olympic Steamship Company, S.A., Panama, the owners of the ACX Crystal.

They’re forking over $26.7 million to the United States.

While finding plenty of fault with Combs and other Americans on the Fitzgerald for the collision, Fort’s report also takes aim at the crew of the ACX Crystal, in particular an unnamed second officer.

Among a long list of failures listed in the Fort report, that officer “failed to maintain a proper lookout so as to make a full appraisal of the risk of collision” with the Fitzgerald, "failed to determine if a risk of collision with FTZ existed by using all available means” and “he failed to appreciate, by radar or visual observation, that FTZ was on a constant bearing with a decreasing range, which observation would have led him to deem risk of collision to exist.”

Sheldon and Janaro want to interview two Filipino officers from the ACX Crystal about their vessel’s lights captured in the photo, plus the many other problems raised in Fort’s report.

The attorneys have a series of transcripts from previous interviews the officers did, but their words are marked “indiscernible” 203 times.

The defense team thinks their testimony might free Combs.

Military prosecutor Lt. Cmdr. Kate Shovlin told Gaston that Naval Criminal Investigative Service made a good faith effort to talk to the men, but they avoided the agent who visited their homes and workplace.

Their family members also told NCIS the ACX Crystal crewmen wouldn’t cooperate with American investigators.

Combs' defense team wants to trigger a treaty between Washington and Manila that would prod authorities in the Philippines to compel the ACX Crystal’s officers to testify, but that threatens to push the court-martial trial well past its slated late May opening.

That’s also around the time the highly-anticipated NTSB probe is expected to be released.

CIC tracks radar. Lights don't show up on radar. This might make sense as an excuse for poor visual watchkeeping, but won't save the officer on duty in CIC. Also how can anyone claim that grainy black & white blob proves anything about what lights were on or what color those lights were?

That sort of thing happen in companies a lot. It is certainly not something limited to high school - where it actually happen less as analogical situation never arises.

We are in the context of CIC being full of bottles of pee and crew members who didn’t know how to use radar controls.

The personal mistrust may mean various things, but likely means something like "they rarely provided something useful and last x times I passed information it caused unnecessary complications, slowdowns and problems". The perception may be true of false of course, may be caused by technical incompetence or by people causing dramas for no reason or whatever. It is just something common in large badly managed groups where you cant rely on other people.

> What is this? High school??

According to most of the ex-Navy people I've met, it's high school part 2. None of them had been officers, and I'm a tiny bit surprised it extends to the officer class, but only a tiny bit.

Surface Warfare Officers eat their own. It's a constant game to make sure you don't get passed over for promotion.

I had a friend who was an SWO, was brilliant in school, extremely physically fit, spoke multiple languages, etc. He got out after the minimum enlistment and couldn't stop talking about how terrible the culture was and how you basically needed to do whatever it took in order to secure your next promotion.

Is "combat information" necessary in order to navigate? Most civilian vessels would not have a CIC. Some vessels don't even have lots of the navigational electronics that container ships have, yet are still safely piloted on the ocean.

They should get Captain Marquet of "Turn the Ship Around!" to go get them ship shape. The book has some really good lessons on how shifting leadership style and culture can produce dramatically better results.

"It's Your Ship"[1] is more directly applicable. That's by a captain who turned around a troubled US Navy surface warship.

I'm amazed that serving naval officers flunked a quiz on the Rules of the Road, and even more amazed that the XO of the ship refused to take such a quiz. That's so basic. It's the driver's handbook for ships. See rules 11-19, which are about How Not To Run Into Other Ships. These are simple right of way rules. There's a one-page summary in "Power Boating for Dummies."[3] That anyone on the bridge of a US Navy vessel would not know these is terrifying. That the Navy brass tried to cover that up is worse.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Its-Your-Ship-Management-Techniques-e...

[2] https://www.navcen.uscg.gov/pdf/navRules/navrules.pdf

[3] https://www.dummies.com/sports/following-right-of-way-boatin...

To be fair on the captain, he was facing a court-martial, why would you willingly give them more rope?

Great book, great lessons on leadership. I gave a copy to my CEO and ask my team read it. Simple summary, enable the people below to make the call and enable and emporwer them to want to own it.

After reading the article, no, the Navy probably does not need more overpaid business consultants with powerpoints full of easy answers. It needs to do something about inexperienced, undertrained, overworked crews in its ships.

The CO and XO shouldn't be sleeping while their ship is crossing a busy sealane full of behemoth freighters driving on autopilot in the dark.

The author of the book commanded a US Navy nuclear sub. At the time he assumed command, it was one of the worst performing subs in the fleet. The book is about the organizational and management lessons he learned as he transformed it into a top performing sub.

> The CO and XO shouldn't be sleeping

The Navy deliberately understaffs their vessels to meet unrealistic budgets. Overwork, fatigue, mistakes, and catastrophe are the inevitable consequence.

The only thing more predictable is the scapegoating of ship personnel and the untouchability of those who create the conditions which guarantee eventual disaster.

My experience in the navy was the opposite: Ships were typically crewed with about 1.5X the number of sailors that were actually needed.

I always suspected this was partly because lots of sailors means a big navy base, and a big navy base means a booming local economy in that congressional district.

If the crew is the same crew that is deployed in wartime, there is a reasonable chance that there will be casualties but the the ship has to keep going as best it can. It would be very sensible if naval doctrine had the ships somewhat over crewed as a routine measure.

If that also helps politically that is a bonus.

Source: I once talked to some dude who was both important and in a Navy.

You're literally the only person I've ever seen make this claim. Why do we get so many stories of sleep deprived sailors if ships are over-crewed?

In my time on a ship we were always undermanned. All the development I've seen in new systems to replace those I worked on (arresting gear and catapults) focus heavily on reducing required manning. We never did busy work or work that was unnecessary when we were under way and flying aircraft. In port - yeah sometimes.

Most current sailors I talk to are overworked, training gets gundecked, following safety procedures and impede advancement - what's reworded is a "can do" approach that takes large risks.

I don't know anyone currently serving, in any command, who says they have too many people.

I was on a nuclear sub from 1996-1999, so it's possible that my observations are no longer valid or don't apply to surface ships. But I suspect that my assessment would be the same even today. I worked with enough surface sailors to see that the amount of bullshit work they did was comparable to ours, and they didn't have nearly the physical space limitations that a submarine does.

It's not so much that we were doing "unnecessary" work, but rather that many tasks which required a dedicated person were so trivial that any reasonably competent sailor could easily handle two or three of them at once, or the task could be even more reliably automated.

One quick example is the fathometer operator: When we were sailing in shallow or uncharted waters, a sailor had to spend hours doing absolutely nothing but watching the depth gauge so he could give a verbal warning if we were in danger of running aground. This is not a job that requires a person's full attention even in the most challenging undersea terrain.

To some extent it's necessary to break jobs down into simple repetitive tasks so that they can reliably be done in a high-stress environment, but the navy really took it to an extreme. The end result was the overwork and fatigue that others are referring to.

An over-crewed ship can still have an overworked crew. It’s just that much of the work isn’t really necessary.

Possible explanation: a navy ship runs on rotation of three watches, each in turn taking control of the ship for 8 hours. Thus a ship ought to have a crew of 3x the manpower needed to run it. So by "crewed with about 1.5X the number of sailors that were actually needed", GP means a very understaffed vessel.

I accounted for the three watches in my comment.

My anecdote: enlisted and officers sleeping in hallways. Not enough time to sleep much less walk to their rack.

If you don’t believe a warship needs that many personnel on duty, that is different. Most of the crew aren’t there to sail. Cargo ships, for example, have a dozen crew at most. And their duty is to sail the ship from one port to another.

Adding another data point. That was not my experience. So far from it, I could not imagine what a 1.5X crew would look like.

Any mention if this was a reserve (TAR) ship? The last ship I was on (FFG-19, 1995-1997) was ship designated for training reservists. We had 2/3 of the normal crew as active duty sailors and on weekend a month we would spend the weekend at sea with the full crew (complimented by reservists). We still deployed (on counter-narcotics operations) just like the rest of the ships on the waterfront even though we were 33% short on personnel.

The CO and XO shouldn't be sleeping while their ship is crossing a busy sealane

Why aren't these people "the best of the best", to quote the trite line from Top Gun?

According to Wikipedia, the US Navy has 282 deployable combat vessels. It employs a total of 325,673 active duty personnel plus 270,265 civilian employees.

So out of those 600,000 people, they can't find a few thousand who are willing, able, and capable of commanding a destroyer? The US Naval Academy alone graduates 1000 people a year. Where do they all go? What do they all do?

Really? I'm serious. My understanding is that the absolutely most prestigious military assignments are in "command" positions. Those assignments are the key to climbing the promotion ladder.

This whole thing makes no sense to me.

The top grads of the academy get their pick of jobs and most of them pick aviation or nuclear surface/subs.

Surface warfare officer is not the most desireable job for most people.

And it sucks so bad most people have much better options and leave after the initial five year commitment.

Why is that? Battleships are badass and you don't have to spend the whole time in a tiny metal box underwater. If you're joining the Navy, don't you want to be in command of a big ship in the open seas?

The US Navy doesn't own any battleships. After fleet carriers, the next level is going to be destroyers and missile cruisers.

According to Wikipedia, the US decommissioned its last battleship in 1992. Even then, the US Navy largely forswore battlehsips after WWII, and battleships were decommissioned and recommissioned twice during the Cold War. The last time two battleships ever fired at one another was the Battle of Surigao Strait 74 years ago.

Not sure if it's true, but I heard that smaller than aircraft carrier surface vessels feature microwaved meals instead of a full mess (cost savings).

This was from a younger Navy guy and older Navy guy swapping stories. The older guy was horrified.

This was a destroyer though. Pretty small compared to a battleship or a carrier. Not really a high prestige command.

Battleships were phased out decades ago.

Really, the advent of military aviation made them more or less obsolete in WWII.

There were almost no ship-to-ship battles involving battleships in WWII; they were used almost exclusively to shell inland targets close to shorelines, but there are much more efficient ways to do that and those ways aren't limited to striking targets within gun range of the shoreline.

So it's pretty much carriers and destroyers as far as combat ships on the surface these days. (Not sure the term "destroyer" is used much these days, but the non-carrier surface combat ships are roughly comparable in size to what would have been called a destroyer in the old days)

And then of course you have the many amphibious assault ships, support ships, etc.


Top Gun vs Master and Commander.

Don't underestimate how effective a bureaucracy can be at making the best of the best.. completely mediocre.

From my readings of US Navy of WW2 and personal experience in modern day tech companies, I think it's not just the bureaucracy that's at fault. Rather, the organization (actually any organization) by default favors those who manage their superiors well for more/faster promotions. So a lot of times, the best of the best doesn't necessarily rise to the top, but rather those who are good at self promoting.

1. IN WW2, US Navy admirals learned painful lessons to trust captains who manage subordinates well, not the superiors.

When US was suddenly pulled into WW2, the submarines of US navy in WW2 did not achieve much at beginning. For months, US navy submarines failed to sink enemy ships. One big factor was faulty torpedoes. US navy had recently finished developing a new type of torpedo with a magnetic detonator. It was supposed to be a very effective weapon. But due to budget restrictions before WW2 (in the Great Depression), not enough testing was done. If I recall correctly, after spending the precious budget to develop a new type of weapon, not one complete torpedo with live warhead was actually fired in a realistic manner. But I digress.

The real reason US submarines did not achieve much initially at beginning of WW2 in the Pacific theater was the captains on the submarines. A captain in a WW2 submarine disproportionately influences how well or badly the submarine's crew performed. The captain's aggressiveness, skill, carelessness, excessive cautiousness, and etc all directly determined what the crew in the submarine achieved. When the US submarines in Pacific theater finally began to sink Japanese ships at a satisfactory level, it was discovered not a single (or very few) US Navy captain who had reached the rank before the war was still in command of a US submarine. They had failed to achieve results, and were replaced with proven captains who knew how to actually manage the crew below him on the submarine, not manage the higher officers in officers' club.

Basically, before WW2, a US navy officer who was competent enough, projected image fit for a captain, AND managed his superiors well got the promotion. Well ok, previous statement is my own assumption. But the fact is when a shooting war began, it was discovered the officers who got command of a submarine prior to the beginning of WW2 couldn't find the enemy or shoot straight when it really mattered.

US navy finally began promoting officers who knew how to manage the crew below him well and had a killer instinct, not the ones with superior social skills. US navy brass learned that the enemy did not care how good a US Navy officer was at self marketing/promoting.

2. My own managers who moved onto bigger firms.

I've been in US tech scene (IT), about 15 years. Of the managers I had during that time, 2 managers (at separate firm/time) who were above me went on to work at globally well known tech/entertainment firms in tech VP roles. I mean really well known firms. Not Google or Facebook but older, established firms. Top of the heap. Because I worked in small companies with these managers, I got to observe them in close proximity.

What I remember the most of them 2 is how incessantly they visited/chatted/hung-out with the CEO. Sure a lot of it was work I'm sure, but I also know it was a lot of befriending, kissing up, using one's social skill. I as a staff member was given slices of their time, but nothing like the attention given to the CEO.

And sure enough, both firms were closed down. Of course a LOT of it was beyond their control. But it also shows they as managers couldn't find the right project to tackle or manage their subordinates effectively so the company could make $ to survive. Well, maybe or maybe not.

But I do know they spent a lot of time and energy befriending the higher-ups above them. And, I trust the hard lessons US Navy admirals in WW2 learned, that were paid for with lives. The lesson that you should avoid those who spend much energy at self promoting, as they don't actually deliver when it matters.

The trouble with that advice is that people on the receiving end of smooth talking don't think, "this guy is smooth talking me so I should promote him," instead they feel a mysterious attraction and then promote the guy for a reason they can't really explain but can come up with a justification for.

>>> they feel a mysterious attraction and then promote the guy for a reason they can't really explain but can come up with a justification for.

For a domain (tech industry) that is supposedly dominated by facts and numbers, there is a lot of promotion and hiring based on such mysterious feelings, not based on actual facts and numbers. Culture fit?

The US Naval Academy alone graduates 1000 people a year. Where do they all go? What do they all do?

In the Star Trek reboot Kirk goes straight from Academy sophomore to commanding a capital ship in a matter of days.

It is not like that. It takes many years. Only a small percentage of Academy graduates will ever get there. And many have no ambition to either, there are lots of other challenging and prestigious jobs in the Navy. You could be a fighter pilot or a SEAL platoon commander, neither of those career paths leads to commanding a destroyer.

But being a fighter pilot (and now, very rarely, a helo pilot), is the only way to command an aircraft carrier. Which is a pretty cool command!

Are there any active members of the US Navy that remember our last real boat fight?

I think some really big fights and even a bit of an ass kicking has some rejuvenating powers for big military apparatus. The military likes to really teach from mistakes, they make lots of noise about what does and doesn’t work after a big fight, they change. I’m not saying the navy hasn’t seen action but they definitely have t seen WWII style battleship to battleship action in 70 years, we don’t even have battleships anymore...

Even the best of the best need to sleep.

Which is why the post you replied to is suggesting "a few thousand" competent people in these slots for 282 ships.

The question isn't why one person is asleep, it's why there's nobody filling the role.

There is exactly one CO and one XO for ship.

If most of their subordinates are on a 12-on/12-off schedule, two people who don't do physical work can be on the bridge whenever necessary.

That's why I said "the role" instead of specifically that job title.

Either they're slacking or there aren't enough, and you can fix either problem with 10 quality candidates per ship.

The role here is supposed to be that the big boss watches so that everyone behaves. Plus so that big boss takes blame. It is not like that person would be required for something active.

Maybe the environment does not allow for good people, and/or for people to be good?

Office job never got somebody stuck in the middle of the ocean for a month

> The CO and XO shouldn't be sleeping while their ship is crossing a busy sealane full of behemoth freighters driving on autopilot in the dark.

That was certainly how it worked 40 years ago aboard the USS Enterprise (the aircraft carrier, not the starship). Day or night, the CO would always come to the bridge whenever another ship got to within about two- to four miles and was predicted to come within one mile. And in traffic, e.g., transiting the Strait of Malacca, the skipper would be on the bridge pretty much continuously. (Not the XO; his full-time job was basically running the ship's internal operations.)

It makes you wonder if this is a Nasa / Challenger situation, wherein the captain decided not to come to the bridge during one incident, nothing happened, and so that rapidly became SOP on this ship.

Or, as the broader lesson goes, taking a risk without it blowing up doesn't necessarily mean the risks are less. It might just mean you were lucky.

Floated alongside the Enterprise in the 70's on a nuclear cruiser. In engineering we didn't change watch getting underway on entering port until past the sea marker or tied up.

Yeah, I was a nuke SWO on the Enterprise; it was the same in engineering as on the bridge. (I was there '76 to '79, so this is probably not the first time you and I have crossed paths <g>.)

Would that have been feasible (in terms of the captain being a human being that needs rest) on a ship like the Fitzgerald that operates pretty much 24/7/365 in busy waters?

I'm not asking rhetorically -- honest question.

I never served aboard a "small boy" (a.k.a. "tin can" a.k.a. destroyer), so I don't know what their operational tempo is like. On the carrier where I did serve, if we had extended up-tempo ops, there'd be times when the most-senior officers other than the CO and XO would take turns as "command duty officer" on the bridge as a backstop for the more-junior officer-of-the-deck (OOD), so that the skipper could get some rest. Of course, a carrier has lots of pretty-senior officers — small boys, not so much.

And to be sure, it's not quite apples to apples. An aircraft carrier normally spends most of its time in the open sea: To launch and recover aircraft (other than helos and vertical take-off and -landing aircraft), the carrier needs miles and miles of room to steam at high speed into the wind without having to change course for traffic. (If you're steaming into the wind at, say, 30 knots, the aircraft being launched or recovered get a head start in staying above stall speed.) Depending on the circumstances, even in peacetime a carrier might have one or more weapons-loaded aircraft in alert status, ready for launch on comparatively-short notice as a combat air patrol (CAP). When that's the case, the ship would need to be away from traffic, in case it had to quickly turn into the wind to put up a CAP. That's why, except when entering or leaving port, or transiting, carriers usually stay away from highly-trafficked areas.

This was really informative, and I appreciate it a lot. Thank you!

> The CO and XO shouldn't be sleeping ...

If the CO and XO are so critical that the ship needs one of them during normal operations I think there is a bigger problem.

What happens in a conflict that lasts more than 24 hours? They alternate schedules and just don't talk to eachother much?

What happens if one of them is incapacitated? The ship is ineffective for half of every day?

I was stationed on a Destroyer from 2015-2017 and subsequently deployed with them as an IT in the radio shack. CIC looks like something out of a movie (and really the only part of the ship that does) - it's very dark, has lots of glowing monitors covered in charts, surveillance feeds, and a whole lot of people. In the radio shack, we worked 12 on, 12 off, 7 days a week. I cannot remember CIC's watch rotation exactly but it was similar. On that deployment CIC had one sailor who went up to captain's mast for falling asleep at his station. I remember emphasising with him - sitting in a chair, in the dark, for hours on end while monitoring a feed that never changes. That being said, it was our only incident in CIC and our captain "Hammerin Hank" took care of the incident appropriately. There are several things in this article id like to speak on:

>He saw kettlebells on the floor and bottles filled with pee.

Peeing in bottles is something i have only heard of engineering doing - in engineering spaces. You will get labeled a nasty-mothafucka if anyone catches you regardless. To fill a bottle in CIC (with the exception of a few curtained off spaces) would require the complicity of several watchstanders. Where was chief? Where was LT? The kettlebells are really not a big deal - we all would "borrow" things from the gym to get a little pump on watch because there is a LOT of downtime. I can imagine sitting at a CIC station just knocking out some curls to stay awake. We did pull-ups on light fixtures in radio.

>Some radar controls didn’t work and he soon discovered crew members who didn’t know how to use them anyway.

HA! Most of the equipment on ships is ancient. Things are ALWAYS breaking. How we treat the topside steel is analogous to how we treat equipment - prime and paint over it! When something breaks you submit a casualty report to let Big Navy know. If you need a part you have to wait to hit port or receive it at-sea replenishment. Troubleshooting consists of tribal knowledge and talking over the IP phone to a shore station. Watchstanders not knowing how to use the equipment is completely UNSAT (there is of course an "A" team and a "B" team on every ship, but the basic knowledge should be there). While there are a lot of useless bodies on a ship, you should not be sitting a watch station unless you have completed your personal qualification standard which needs to be signed off by someone who is qualified. Some of them even require you sit a board and get quizzed. That also being said, i have traded dip for signatures before.

We had this poster in our chow line that talked about when the exception becomes the rule (wish i could find the quote). Basically, all the little "exceptions" you make to the rules start to become normal and then new and junior sailors think these exceptions are actually rule. These all build and build until you are so far from baseline you don't even remember what baseline was. The fitz and mccain no doubt were a result of this phenomenon. Failures on every level from junior enlisted to the Captain. It breaks my heart these sailors lost their life as the result. I really loved my time in the Navy (and miss it!) but the operation tempo in the current climate is just not healthy and i imagine this won't be the last tragedy to happen unless something changes.

> We had this poster in our chow line that talked about when the exception becomes the rule (wish i could find the quote).

Sounds like normalisation of deviance [1]. The exception happens so many times that it becomes normal, then the exception to that normal and before you know it you’re way outside the original normal and you’ve blown up a space shuttle [2].

1: https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Professionalism/Diane_Vaughan_...

2: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Challenger_disas...

The boredom is an interesting risk factor, and I'm wondering what could be done to address it.

For software, I'm familiar with a process of intentionally designing and executing a safe breakage as a sort of drill to keep people's heads in the game---no better way to find where you accidentally didn't have redundancy than by turning off a system that should have a fallback and seeing what else breaks. Is that practical for CIC, or is there insufficient redundancy in CIC to do something like that safely?

Thanks for your perspective, very interesting.

I'm really surprised that all it takes to be declared qualified is the signature of someone else who's qualified. That leaves lots of room for slippage and social pressure, like the dip you mention. It also leaves no one specifically responsible for the crew's level of qualification. A cynic might say that was the point of the system: we know this is going to fail, so make sure no one is directly in the line of fire when the shit cannon goes off.

There is generally written testing involved, along with a multi-person board/interview that is a direct knowledge test under that inherent stress of face to face.

I would also add that a paperwork heavy culture around discipline, can lead to all kinds of unwanted behaviors, especially when combined with exception creep. An example from the article was the reference that numerous events occurred that dictated contacting the CO, were the CIC did not. Administrative/Promotion fear is real and can effect behavior.

While I understand the need to honestly record and fit-rep staff. If leaders are not also teachers and if ALL failure has dire consequence, then how do people learn?

You end up with qualification programs and skill sets like there were on this ship. That culture created an environment where questions were taboo.

Technology problems are also people problems, so I am curious about your opinion of the report's comments on the lack of a quartermaster chief petty officer and a "dysfunctional chief's mess."

And, how could the fleet command be ignorant of the culture problems on this ship?

Seems like those NCO issues should have flagged long-term problems to both the ship's command and to the fleet. I don't understand why they would ignore something like that.

The most amazing things to me is that all of the non-military vessels in the area at the time were transmitting AIS. Isn't a warship supposed to be able to navigate in a combat environment, with the presence of jammers, based only on its radar data?

Having precise AIS data flowing in for every ship in the area is navigating on "easy mode".

In a related article at navytimes.com published two days earlier, the Panamanian owners of the other ship involved, have agreed to pay the U.S. government ~$27 million in a settlement. https://www.navytimes.com/news/your-navy/2019/01/11/ship-own...

Naturally we're not supposed to infer “any liability, negligence, breach of duty, or wrongdoing” by either party as a result of such a settlement.

That seems likely to be more related to specifics of law of the controlling jurisdiction than to anything else. I don't blame the Panamanians or their insurance company for wanting to just put this all behind them. Collisions with USN are sort of like "Acts of God" anyway...

> Since 2015, the Fitz had lacked a quartermaster chief petty officer, a crucial leader who helps safely navigate a warship and trains its sailors — a shortcoming known to both the destroyer’s squadron and Navy officials in the United States, Fort wrote.

The accident took place on June 17, 2017. So for 2 - 3 years, they couldn't find a chief petty officer to accept the assignment?

I wonder, were potential chief petty officers avoiding the ship knowing it was a bad assignment, with crew that had low morale and not enough training?

Interesting how the Navy blames the sailors for the accident, but they couldn't even find someone to fill this position that's seemingly so necessary to avoid accidents like this in the first place.

It reminds me of companies failing in the marketplace and blaming their employees instead of their upper management.

Couldn't "find" one? Wouldn't they just order someone to fill the position? I didn't realize that postings in the Navy were optional assignments. Maybe they are for enlisted crew positions?

Ordering people to take such positions in peace time is a good way to stop them from reenlisting.

The normal way to encourage people to take shit jobs is to increase the compensation until the positions are filled. When the admirals ask why they're making less money than QMs, the answer might rouse their slumbering curiosity about conditions on ships under their command. Of course it's against regulations to adjust compensation in order to fill required combat roles, because the admirals don't actually want to know any of this shit.

So they're publishing a Navy report on the issue, they withheld publishing until the Pentagon gave them the OK, and the report seems to place as much blame as possible on the sailors. But it's not blatant propaganda because the Navy really doesn't want this public!

If the Navy feels understaffed and overworked, they can stop illegally blockading countries.

Umm, the Navy has do what they are told, even if they feel they don't have enough people/equipment.

Also, which countries is US actively blockading illegally?

I think the OP refers to the (de facto) blockade of Yemen - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blockade_of_Yemen .

Quoting from that link, "The United States had joined the blockade in October 2016" and "According to the international law of naval blockade the naval measures conducted by the coalition led by Saudi Arabia do not amount to a naval blockade in the legal sense" and "Due to the devastating famine in Yemen and supply shortage of essetinal goods, which are caused by the enforcement measures, the naval operations off the coast of Yemen are criticized as a violation of international humanitarian law."

>Umm, the Navy has do what they are told, even if they feel they don't have enough people/equipment.

They are supposed to require a deceleration of war going through Congress, but that has largely been circumvented. They are not just some puppet, the ballooning budget shows their input is considered. If there were some sense that the Navy was resisting the current state of affairs, I'd be more sympathetic.

And the other poster is correct, I was considering the Yemen blockade. Any pretense of legality requires deliberately bending the description of what's taking place, or acknowledging that the US has made itself exempt from prosecution for war crimes.

I'm glad that OP changed the title from the goofy "Worse than you thought" that TFA has. As usual, when USA military keeps secrets, a prudent person assumes the absolute worst. This is actually sort of good news, in that we can probably determine at this point that there wasn't a meth-fueled sex orgy going on the bridge at the time of the collision. (although, those urine bottles...) Now as for the ongoing binge at 7th fleet HQ, that probably continues unabated...

Navy Times should hold its readers in higher esteem. Of course we assumed the worst.

It's useful to remember that the first instance of the government using "State Secrets" as a defense to withhold evidence was in a civil trial about culpability in the deaths of contractors that were testing Cold War equipment...

... and when the relevant documents were declassified, it was revealed that the secret the government was hiding was that test was run on a plane with a grossly-substandard maintenance history.



Please don't post like this! The guidelines are pretty clear.


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