what may be behind Navy collisions

A recent spate of collisions involving US Navy ships from the Seventh Fleet, two of them fatal, has led the Navy to relieve that fleet’s commander, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, reportedly after his superiors lost confidence in his leadership.

The latest collision, Monday off the coast of Singapore, was between the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain and a Liberian-flagged tanker. Ten sailors were reported missing, and the Navy says divers have located the remains of some of those missing in flooded compartments of the destroyer.

The mishap follows a similar tragedy in June, in which seven sailors died when the USS Fitzgerald collided with a merchant vessel south of Japan. That followed two less serious but nonetheless unusual incidents involving ships of the Pacific-based Seventh Fleet in January and May.

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According to analysts, the collisions call into question the Navy’s level of military preparedness and point to potential problems with training, maintenance, and the workload endured by sailors.

What is going on?

It could all be down to coincidence – Monday’s collision, for example, occurred in a heavily traveled shipping lane – and any final conclusions on their cause will have to await the results of multiple investigations. Nevertheless, many analysts agree there may be some systemic problems at work here.

There is no indication yet of malicious intent, whether by cyberattack or other means, according to the Navy; rather, analysts say, there is concern that financial constraints, coupled with high demands, are taking their toll on the ability of the military to safely and efficiently execute all that is being asked of it.

“Over the last three or four years, there’s been a realization that the Navy is being stretched pretty thin,” says Bryan Clark, former special assistant to the chief of naval operations, the Navy’s highest ranking military officer.

“It can all be taken back to this major root cause, which is supply not being able to keep up with demand,” adds Mr. Clark, who is now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), a public policy research institute based in Washington, D.C.


It is hard to deny that the collisions have tarnished the reputation of the Navy as well as called into question the safety of its sailors. And the organization is taking the situation seriously.

Adm. John Richardson, chief of…

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