[August 22, 2017] All accidents in the U.S. military are taken very seriously and large accidents are investigated thoroughly. Safeguards are so advanced that the U.S. Navy has brought ship safety to a new level. Yet collisions between ships, as recently occurred between the USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) and an oil tanker, are rare; often the result of multiple levels of failure.
What exactly happened aboard the USS John S. McCain (U.S. 7th Fleet) is under investigation and special review as of this writing but will be quickly resolved … as announced by the U.S. Navy Chief of Operations Admiral John Richardson. He also ordered an “operational pause” in the aftermath of the accident (see his Facebook page here).1 The short-term effort is, of course, the on-going search for the 10 missing Navy sailors.
The problem? Admiral Richardson says this accident is indicative of a trend. Richardson’s comment in itself is a serious admission and could mean anything. What they will look at is possible senior leadership failure, problems with fleet operational tempo, equipment deficiencies, or a host of troublesome issues or combination thereof. His task is to get to the “root cause” of why accidents are happening at sea with the fleet and fix it.
This is a classic senior leadership issue. The problems are big, requiring resilient and flexible leadership, considerable resources, strong command of the issues, an understanding of military tradition, regulations, code of conduct, and endless energy. In addition, the sailors must have the trust and confidence of their leaders to do those jobs necessary to get to the bottom of any problem.
Openness is one of the key traits of any investigation and special review. However, the results of the investigation will not be made public (nor should it be) although we may see some of its aftermath. Conclusions from the special review however may be made public to some extent; dependent upon the cause of the accident. Naval personnel however will be fully informed and will be expected to learn valuable lessons from it.
There will be considerable speculation as to the cause of the accident and talking-head “experts” providing numerous theories about the cause or causes. This is pure entertainment and should not be taken seriously. If there is anything to be gained it will be from a retired senior U.S. Navy officers with experience in these type of events and only what they say about how the procedures for the investigation and special review will be carried out.
The motto of the USS John S. McCain is “Fortune Favors The Brave.” The Captain and her crew will need that over the next few weeks as they recover from the accident and with good fortune, the safe return of her missing sailors.
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- The “operational pause” is a short-term measure for the U.S. Navy and comes with specific review of all safety procedures; top to bottom. The idea is to get everyone’s attention, take all immediate action to ensure safe and effective operations, take things slower for the moment, and avoid anything that might lead to another incident. The operational pause involves all of the U.S. Navy’s fleets around the world.
- The USS Fitzgerald (U.S. 7th Fleet) was involved in accident less than two months ago.