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Admiral: If ships aren’t ready, ‘they’re not going’

Adm. John C. Aquilino, commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, delivers remarks during the COMSUBPAC change of command ceremony aboard the Virginia-class fast attack submarine USS Mississippi (SSN 782) in Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Shaun Griffin/U.S. Navy)

Ships have been delayed or stopped from going on missions if they have been found not to have the necessary certifications or manning for the mission, two fleet commanders told Congress during a hearing Tuesday.

“If the ships in the Pacific Fleet are not ready to safely sail, they don’t get underway. And that is my responsibility,” Adm. John Aquilino, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, told the House Armed Services Committee subpanel on readiness.

Aquilino said he stopped two deployments after he assessed they did not have the level of training needed to deploy and conduct their mission.

The separate collisions in 2017 of the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain in which 17 sailors were killed forced the Navy to examine issues concerning service readiness, training, manning and operation tempo.

The problems and recommendations were laid out in a Fleet Comprehensive Review by Adm. Phil Davidson, now the commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2019 also put in place changes for the surface fleet, including calling for improvements for skills training.

The subcommittee hearing was held Tuesday to discuss whether reforms implemented by the Navy since the collisions have been making a difference and what other improvements need to be made.

The Fitzgerald and McCain collisions happened in the Pacific Ocean, where most of the world’s trade occurs and rising tensions, especially between the United States and China, make the region an active area for the U.S. Navy.

Aquilino said they are implementing recommendations laid out in the comprehensive review as well as the Strategic Readiness Review and a report from the Government Accountability Office.

He added they are confident that they have made and are making changes to ensure that the fleet is “operating safely and it is certified to execute all the missions assigned.”

Also at the hearing Tuesday was Adm. Christopher Grady, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command and U.S. Naval Forces Northern Command, who said he also has on several occasions stopped ships from going on missions for which they are not certified.

“We know what the requirement is and if they’re not ready, they’re not going,” he said.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., chairman of the sea power and projection forces subcommittee, asked the admirals what the process is for deciding whether a ship is ready to deploy.

Aquilino said he is briefed three times a week about the readiness of forces deployed and speaks to his commanders every week. He also has a weekly meeting on ships in maintenance. If he finds a problem with things such as manning, certification, equipment, Aquilino said he speaks to his combatant commander Adm. Davidson about terminating the ship from its mission.

“As you know the world gets a vote, so depending on what’s going on, we have had very frank conversations,” he said. “And again in the instances I identified, Adm. Davidson concurred with my recommendations and we did not deploy those ships.”


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