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New unit will decide if 7th Fleet ships are ready for action, CNO says

The Navy’s top officer said a recently created unit will make the calls on whether warships in the region are capable of deployment.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson’s statement Tuesday comes on the heels of a report from the secretary of the Navy that says Naval Surface Group Western Pacific is not needed and should be dissolved.

“They operate with the authority of the Pacific Fleet commander,” Richardson told Stars and Stripes in an interview at Yokosuka, home of the 7th Fleet. “They report directly to him … the ship’s not ready to go and operate until they say it’s ready to go and operate.”

Naval Surface Group Western Pacific’s creation on Oct. 31 was one of many corrective actions the Navy launched after a string of mishaps and collisions in the Pacific led to the deaths of 17 sailors and put two 7th Fleet destroyers out of commission.

In January, the USS Antietam ran aground and spilled roughly 1,100 gallons of hydraulic fluid into Tokyo Bay; in June, a collision between the USS Fitzgerald and a merchant ship killed seven sailors; and in August, the USS John S. McCain ran into an oil tanker, killing 10 more.

Some have suggested that lack of time for training, maintenance and certification is at least partly to blame for the collisions. As of June, 37 percent of warfare certifications for Japan-based cruiser and destroyer crews had expired — a fivefold increase in expirations in two years, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report.

A comprehensive review released last month by Fleet Forces Command said Naval Surface Group Western Pacific would serve as the “immediate superior in command administrative headquarters responsible for maintaining, training and certifying [Forward Deployed Naval Force] Japan ships.”

Vice Adm. Tom Rowden, Naval Surface Forces commander, previously told Stars and Stripes the new unit would differ from the Yokosuka-based Afloat Training Group Western Pacific, which certifies individual ship parts but doesn’t evaluate vessels as a whole.

Naval Surface Group Western Pacific is led by Capt. Rich Dromerhauser, a former Fitzgerald commander who once served as the head of 6th Fleet’s Destroyer Squadron 60, based out of Rota, Spain. A previous version of the group worked out of Subic Bay, Philippines, before moving to Singapore in 1992 to become Logistics Group Western Pacific, which is now focused on supporting ships logistically in the region.

A similar group, Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, oversees the maintenance and training of ships homeported at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

However, the Navy secretary’s 2017 Strategic Readiness Review released last week says the new group will create unnecessary “staff headquarter layers” and should be broken up, with personnel reassigned to the existing afloat training groups or destroyer squadrons.

The review was spearheaded by former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead and Michael Bayer, chairman of the Defense Business Board, which advises the secretary of Defense and other senior leaders.

“The Strategic Review does not concur with establishment of Naval Surface Group Western Pacific,” the report says. “Standing up an additional oversight layer provides another headquarters staff and administrative control function that is likely to perpetuate ambiguous and conflicting authorities. The manpower used to establish Naval Surface Group Western Pacific is better applied to fully and competently staffing the existing training commands and squadron staffs in the Western Pacific.”

Richardson told Stars and Stripes Tuesday that the new unit is needed, based on input he’s received from 7th Fleet and Pacific Fleet commanders.

“I think the comprehensive review and the strategic review, they are very complementary of one another,” he said. “In the end, we have to have one plan to execute all of the improvement actions. We will stitch these two studies together to come up with that one proven plan.

“Where [the group] falls in that remains to be seen,” Richardson added. “Having talked to [Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer] of the 7th Fleet and [Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Scott Swift] and some of the folks standing the group up, there is a real purpose to that mission.”


© 2017 the Stars and Stripes

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