In the wake of two destroyer collisions this summer that cost 17 sailors' lives and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage, the Navy is putting all ships in its surface fleet through a one-time readiness assessment to ensure they and their crews can safely operate.
The move, announced Oct. 11 by Naval Surface Force Pacific, comes days before the expected completion of a comprehensive readiness review initiated after the second collision, involving the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer John S. McCain in August.
"[U.S. Pacific Fleet commander] Adm. [Scott] Swift, he and his Pacific Fleet team wanted to take immediate action where they could take action while the comprehensive review was underway," Cmdr. John Perkins, a spokesman for Naval Surface Force Pacific, told Military.com.
The two-day assessments have already begun, Perkins said, with eight ships forward-deployed to Japan and forward-based at Yokosuka Naval Base having already completed the assessment period, and two additional assessments ongoing.
The plan, he said, is to complete assessments for all cruisers, destroyers, amphibious ships, and mine counter-measure ships in Japan by the end of January 2018, and to finish assessments for the remainder of the surface fleet by June 2018.
Both collisions, involving the McCain and the destroyer Fitzgerald in June, took place in the Pacific; both ships were forward-based in the U.S. 7th Fleet.
Congressional hearings following the tragic accidents emphasized reports from the Government Accountability Office that showed many forward-based ships in Japan lacked crucial certifications and did not have built-in time for training.
In addition, the reports showed sailors aboard these ships frequently worked 100-hour weeks, raising the question of whether exhaustion played a role in the collisions.
Under the supervision of Naval Surface Forces commander Adm. Tom Rowden, the Navy has already implemented several measures to mitigate these conditions, including an order to ensure sailors underway get guaranteed sleep on a reliable schedule.
The assessments, which began last month, include one day in port and one day at sea, Perkins said.
The first day focuses on administrative items, including manning qualifications, watch bills and equipment checks, he said, while the second includes assessments of watch team proficiency, propulsion and navigation drills, and other at-sea evolutions.
Between 12 and 15 assessors will be involved in each evaluation, depending on the size of the ship, Perkins said. They will include senior surface officers, senior enlisted sailors, and limited duty officers, he said.
"I have absolute confidence that our crews are working very hard to care for their ships and to meet operational requirements," Rowden said in a statement. "These assessments are about taking an honest, hard look at how we do business and adjusting, as required, to remain the world's pre-eminent naval force, uniquely capable of operating in the waters of the world's oceans."
Perkins said the Navy would not disclose which ships, or how many, failed this two-day readiness assessment for operational security reasons.
If a ship does fail the assessment, he said, Naval Surface Force Pacific will make a recommendation to U.S. Pacific Fleet that the ship is unavailable for operational tasking until the deficiency can be corrected.
If the recommendation is accepted, the ship may then be given a deadline to correct the problems that were identified.
"Pacific Fleet will assess the operational requirements versus correcting the deficiency in order to make an informed risk decision," Perkins said.
Rowden, according to a public release, is "taking a steadfast stance" to ensure ships also receive appropriate training time and certifications prior to deployment, and to standardize best practices across the the Navy surface force and the service as a whole.
"Every day, we owe it to our Sailors and their families to explore opportunities to mitigate risk where we can -- from immediate daily fundamentals to instituting complex organizational change," he said in a statement.
Editor's Note: The second graph was updated to show the assessment was announced Oct. 11.