Navy Aims to Change 'Myopic' Culture with New Pacific Watchdog Group

In this file photo, ships of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group steam together during training in March. (U.S. Navy/MC3 Craig Z. Rodarte)
In this file photo, ships of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group steam together during training in March. (U.S. Navy/MC3 Craig Z. Rodarte)

After three ship collisions and a grounding in the Pacific earlier this year, the U.S. Pacific Fleet is creating a new group, headed by a senior Navy officer, to ensure that no ship leaves port until it is trained and ready to do so.

On Tuesday, PacFleet commander Adm. Scott Swift established Detachment Naval Surface Group Western Pacific, giving the detachment authority to oversee the training and certification of deployed surface ships in the region, according to an announcement from Naval Surface Force Pacific.

The detachment will answer to Naval Surface Forces Commander Vice Adm. Tom Rowden, reporting readiness concerns to him.

"I am forming [the detachment] to address an organizational gap in [ships deployed to Japan] that allowed a culture to grow myopically focused on operations to the detriment of readiness," Swift said in a statement.

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After 17 sailors died in two ship collisions months apart this summer, congressional hearings highlighted unaddressed failures in readiness specific to the Pacific region.

Government Accountability Office reports found forward-deployed ship crews in the Pacific had no scheduled time for training, and many operated with lapsed certifications that compromised warfighting readiness.

"I personally made the assumption, and I have made the assumption for many, many years, that our forward-deployed Naval force in Japan was the most proficient, well-trained, most experienced force we had, because they're operating all the time," Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran told members of the House Armed Services Committee on Sept. 7. "It was a wrong assumption, in hindsight."

The new detachment will be led by Navy Capt. Rich Dromerhauser, who previously commanded Task Force 65 and Destroyer Squadron 60 in the U.S. 6th Fleet, which covers Europe and Africa. He will oversee training, personnel assignment, and preparation for all ships deployed to Japan.

"I am here to protect the most precious resource we have: time -- time for the maintenance and modernization of our systems and time for the focused training that builds the confidence and competence to fight and win at sea," Dromerhauser said in a statement. "This is about taking care of our entire Navy family and ensuring that they have the resources and tools to get the job done right."

In a statement, Rowden said the new detachment will be his "eyes and ears" in the Western Pacific.

"Not only to consider the operations we have to execute, but also to ensure we understand how we are going to properly generate the readiness we need," he said.

The formation of the new detachment comes shortly after the Navy announced it would conduct two-day assessments of all surface ships in the fleet, beginning with those in the Pacific, to ensure they could operate safely.

Four separate incidents in the Pacific prompted these moves.

In January, the cruiser Antietam ran aground in Tokyo Bay, spilling more than 1,100 gallons of hydraulic oil into the water.

In May, the cruiser Lake Champlain collided with a South Korean fishing vessel off the Korean Peninsula.

And in shockingly similar incidents June 17 and Aug. 21, the destroyers Fitzgerald and McCain collided with civilian vessels. Seven sailors were killed in the Fitzgerald collision and 10 in the McCain collision.

On Wednesday, the Navy released investigation reports into both deadly collisions, finding that failures in leadership and watchstanding were to blame for the disasters.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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