The Navy's top military boss, Adm. Michael Gilday, voiced concern Friday about the gap between the safety records of the service's commands, expressing confidence that an improved safety center he traveled to Norfolk, Virginia, to christen could help prevent issues like the service's recent string of high-profile mishaps.
"There's too much of a variance across the Navy between those commands that do exceptionally well and those commands that struggle and then make big mistakes, whether it be a collision, whether it be a fire, whether it be a fuel spill," the chief of naval operations said during a press conference with reporters at Naval Station Norfolk.
In less than two years, the service has seen several major accidents, both afloat and ashore. Along with the fire that ravaged the billion-dollar USS Bonhomme Richard in July 2020, forcing the service to scrap the ship, the Navy has also had to deal with two significant fuel spills at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, that drove more than a thousand families out of their homes over the holidays when their drinking water was contaminated.
In addition a Navy SEAL commander perished in a training accident in December, and the USS Carl Vinson has had five major aviation mishaps over the last several months, the most serious of which resulted in several injured sailors and the loss of an F-35 Lightning II fighter last month.
Gilday said that all those incidents were "very different" from each other, but that he hopes some of the changes that he is putting in place, including the formal launch of a new Naval Safety Command on Friday, would address safety across the service.
"Besides just doing an investigation and being a 'one and done,'" the admiral said he hopes his new approach will look at what "we really learn from that with respect to how we face day-to-day operations."
The Naval Safety Command was first announced in October of last year following the release of two major reports on the catastrophic Bonhomme Richard fire. The Navy took the existing Naval Safety Center and decided it will be led by a two-star admiral instead of a one-star, who will report directly to the chief of naval operations while also advising the Navy secretary -- the service's two top leaders.
"They will do safety assessments at a deeper level across the navy," Gilday said, speaking after an event marking the command's official opening. The command had already gotten to work when it was announced in October 2021.
He emphasized the seniority of the officer in charge of the new unit -- a "post-strike group two-star commander" -- as well as the fact that the officer will have "direct access to me."
"It's also taking their results and taking a look at what that data tells us with respect to recurring trends so that we can get after it more holistically," Gilday explained.
"We haven't done that as well as we should have with the data that we're collecting from the Safety Center," he admitted, referring to the prior iteration of the command.
In October, Adm. Bill Lescher, the vice chief of naval operations and the Navy's No. 2 uniformed leader, reported that the newly charged Safety Command had already "done 172 spot checks across both fleets (Atlantic and Pacific), unannounced, off-hours, weekends, specifically looking at the issues that were illuminated in this report."
When asked Friday about new statistics, a spokesperson for Gilday did not have updated figures ready but emphasized that the command has been busy at work.
Gilday said Lescher will be making visits to Norfolk and San Diego "to talk to senior leaders about where we want to go" with the new training push but noted that the Navy "[needs] to get this into our schoolhouses down to the petty officer level so they understand what we're talking about."
"Chief petty officers will be central to this in terms of getting any traction. If they're not on board … it's going to be a hollow campaign," he added.
-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.